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#2051737 - 03/21/13 04:26 AM grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work?
Nikolas Online   content
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Ok,

I'm in the middle of a new project, which, amongst other things, it involved the grading in levels of each (short) work...

and I'm wondering on how I could go about doing that...

I don't have anything to do with the RC, or MTNA, or ABSRM, or other acronyms and their levelling of music, plus I don't exactly agree with them in any case... :P

So, I was thinking that a musical work and its difficulty can be broken down in the following small parts:

* musical difficulty. How difficult it is to get the music out. Rubato, phrasing, careful use of pedal.
* technical difficulty. How difficult it is to actually play the right notes with the right rhythm correctly every time. How much time it takes to learn them.
* sight reading difficulty. How difficult the actual notes are to read. A work may very well be easy to play (for example slow chords), but each chord containing a lot of unusual notes would create a problem to actually READ the notes.
* Memorizing difficulty. How difficult it is to memorize a work. If we're talking about smaller works (like a page long) then I doubt this would be a serious issue, but still...
* audible difficulty. Can the student tell when something (s)he's playing is wrong, if the work is filled with dissonances?

Do you think that the above is too analytical? Cause I think it's the only fair solution I can give to a contemporary work of music (which involves flats and sharps, no set hand positions, but still is VERY easy to play once you get over these obstacles! It'd be very unfair to such a work to actually grade it at a high level, when it's dead easy to play it.)

Oh well...

Here's a short example.



Repeated pattern in the left hand, with little variation. Simple rhythm that's repeated. Long held notes in the right hand. Difficulty in getting the C and the B together (until you get used to it). Black notes. Hand positions intact (no moving around). E# (A LOT so you get to learn this anyhow)

How would you rate this (from 1 to 10)?

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Finally... Around the summer (it's still March) I might need the eager help of a few teachers to grade in difficulty some 100+ short works (like this one, or much more difficult, or easier).

Anyone up for the take?
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#2051744 - 03/21/13 04:53 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
musicpassion Offline
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My best estimate is Level 1. However I should note that I'm used to a Prep level before level one.

Looks like a nice piece. Thanks for sharing!
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#2051779 - 03/21/13 07:29 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: musicpassion]
Morodiene Online   content
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Originally Posted By: musicpassion
My best estimate is Level 1. However I should note that I'm used to a Prep level before level one.

Looks like a nice piece. Thanks for sharing!


I think the tempo with the articulations in the LH (non-staccato, then staccato) make it a bit more difficult than a 1. What it should be, however, I'm not sure. Perhaps 3?


Edited by Morodiene (03/21/13 07:30 AM)
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#2051784 - 03/21/13 07:49 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 66
Loc: North Carolina, USA
I am not as familiar with numerical grading, so after doing some googling, I found this handy chart used by an online music store to grade its works:

http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/help/level-guidelines

I would call your piece early intermediate, or grade 3, mainly due to the accidentals and tempo.
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#2051795 - 03/21/13 08:11 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Yes, I think it's too analytical and while you may have those categories in the back of your mind, you will probably go nuts trying to apply them fairly.

First off, you need to think carefully about what level 1 and what level 10 means. Then you will need to go with your gut, but you will find others disagree with you just like you disagree with AB and the others. smile
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#2051811 - 03/21/13 09:05 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Nikolas Online   content
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TLTH: hmmm... Yes, but remember that we're talking about contemporary music. I mean if the above is around "level 1-2" (and 2-3 for reading the notes, because of the sharps), then the more difficult ones would need some breaking down to why on earth they are so difficult? As a teaching tool I mean.

Other than that, since I will be using my own grading system (YIKES!) then I'll know what level 1 and level 10 mean...
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#2051828 - 03/21/13 09:49 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Minniemay Offline
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I would say 1 (given a prep level). Take a look online at some graded series like Celebration Series or ABRSM materials. That should help you see what kinds of things are in those grades.
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#2051836 - 03/21/13 09:58 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 66
Loc: North Carolina, USA
Are you grading these for your own reference, or as a reference for others that use your music? If it is for your own reference, then of course you can grade them however you want! If it is for others to use, it might be helpful to compare these to other teaching pieces when considering their grade level. I think the technical challenges (tempo, articulation, hand stretches) will affect the level of difficulty more than the sound of the pieces.
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#2051845 - 03/21/13 10:09 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
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The example is Level 1.

The sharps and the reading just isn't that big of a deal. Any diligent student with a decent teacher would be able to play this within the first year or two of lessons. It's just not that hard.
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#2051875 - 03/21/13 11:25 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Kreisler]
TimR Online   content
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Rather than analyze it, could we test it empirically?

Give it to a player of known skill, along with a stopwatch.

That skill level must be significantly above what you think the piece requires. Say, a grade 8 player maybe, or whatever you have handy.

Then a grade 8 player will master a level 1 piece in 10 minutes, level 2 in 20 minutes, level 3 in 30, etc. Substitute more realistic numbers for my guesses.

It seems that if you make a good choice of tester that you'll get more valid results this way than by trying some kind of weighted assessment approach.

Nice piece, by the way, I like it.
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#2051877 - 03/21/13 11:31 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Minniemay Offline
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I don't think that kind of testing would work. For instance, I can play a Chopin Ballade or Scherzo with relative ease, but please don't ask me to play a Bach fugue. We all perceive and experience difficulty differently.
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#2051908 - 03/21/13 12:13 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Minniemay]
Nikolas Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Minniemay
I don't think that kind of testing would work. For instance, I can play a Chopin Ballade or Scherzo with relative ease, but please don't ask me to play a Bach fugue. We all perceive and experience difficulty differently.
Exactly that!

I'm willing to dig deeper and see why each person finds a piece easy or difficult... Thus the breakdown.

The reason for grading them in the first place has nothing to do about marketing or following others. This is a VERY special thing, but I just canNOT spill the beans just yet..

The idea is to have a collection hugely diverse on contemporary music: So diverse that one needs a chart to use it (almost, ok... not so much but...). You get a piece that's level 1, and one that's level 10 on the same score. And all with weird stuff in (weirder than Sketch Music and certainly than Piano Stories). I HAVE to tell the student and the parent and teacher why this is happening, etc, but I'm trying to avoid too much text (though some times it's unavoidable).

I'll try to shape up an example of a few works together and PM a few of you if you don't mind to get some feedback... smile
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#2051938 - 03/21/13 12:54 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
ten left thumbs Offline
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Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
This is a VERY special thing, but I just canNOT spill the beans just yet..




ooooh! a secret! laugh
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#2051988 - 03/21/13 02:20 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Minniemay]
TimR Online   content
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Registered: 08/17/04
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Originally Posted By: Minniemay
I don't think that kind of testing would work. For instance, I can play a Chopin Ballade or Scherzo with relative ease, but please don't ask me to play a Bach fugue. We all perceive and experience difficulty differently.


I was a little afraid that might be true.

But, doesn't that almost render the level concept meaningless?

It might be worth the experiment anyway.
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#2052019 - 03/21/13 03:26 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Candywoman Offline
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Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 832
I think you should give the work to a teacher who is used to teaching children of all levels in the RC or whichever program. Have them test it out on several children and see how long it takes them to learn it, and how they respond to the piece.

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#2052023 - 03/21/13 03:34 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Candywoman]
ezpiano.org Offline
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Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1002
Loc: Irvine, CA
Originally Posted By: Candywoman
I think you should give the work to a teacher who is used to teaching children of all levels in the RC or whichever program. Have them test it out on several children and see how long it takes them to learn it, and how they respond to the piece.


That is an excellent idea!
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#2052040 - 03/21/13 04:17 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: TimR]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 899
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: TimR
Rather than analyze it, could we test it empirically?

Give it to a player of known skill, along with a stopwatch.

That skill level must be significantly above what you think the piece requires. Say, a grade 8 player maybe, or whatever you have handy.

Then a grade 8 player will master a level 1 piece in 10 minutes, level 2 in 20 minutes, level 3 in 30, etc. Substitute more realistic numbers for my guesses.


Some others have already noted challenges with this approach.

But here's another significant one: this approach would mainly be testing a student's reading ability and learning style. You mention level 8 - two of my level 8 students would be able to read it perfectly at first glance of the music (perhaps a little below tempo). But not every student reads very well.
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#2052041 - 03/21/13 04:19 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: TimR]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 899
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: TimR

But, doesn't that almost render the level concept meaningless?

It might be worth the experiment anyway.


The level concept has limitations, but it still has value.
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#2052173 - 03/21/13 10:49 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: musicpassion]
TimR Online   content
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Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3153
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
Originally Posted By: TimR

But, doesn't that almost render the level concept meaningless?

It might be worth the experiment anyway.


The level concept has limitations, but it still has value.


Doesn't progressing from level to level involve mastering a collection of discrete skills? Each challenge may have a continuum of difficulty, but each is mastered separately. That is what is so frustrating about piano; mastering one difficulty doesn't help much with the next, until you've learned a large number of them. If there were a single generalized skill, piano playing, the levels of a piece would be more obvious.

Having thought a bit more, I think the experiment probably is the more practical approach.
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#2052249 - 03/22/13 02:53 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: TimR]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 899
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: TimR
Doesn't progressing from level to level involve mastering a collection of discrete skills? Each challenge may have a continuum of difficulty, but each is mastered separately.

No. The repertoire should relate to the technique (scales, arpeggios, chord progressions, etc.) being studied. Both of them should relate to the theory knowledge. For example you should be studying the form and analaysis for the Sonata Allegro by the time you are learning your first significant piece written in Sonata Allegro form. Same with a fugue... music theory texts generally don't introduce the fugue until rather late. But that corresponds to the reality that students aren't studying significant fugues (such as in the WTC) until they've fairly advanced.

This scope and sequence of learning is one of the values of the levels used by the RCM or CM.

Quote:
That is what is so frustrating about piano; mastering one difficulty doesn't help much with the next, until you've learned a large number of them.

I think music does build on itself. So mastering one level of playing is needed as a good foundation for what comes next.
Yes, playing the piano can be frustrating. I certainly won't deny that.
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#2052346 - 03/22/13 09:02 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: musicpassion]
TimR Online   content
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Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3153
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: musicpassion

I think music does build on itself. So mastering one level of playing is needed as a good foundation for what comes next.
Yes, playing the piano can be frustrating. I certainly won't deny that.

But do you really think piano playing, the physical act I mean, is that kind of monolithic generalized skill?

It certainly does not appear so from here.

To use a sports analogy: Aerobic fitness, strength, and flexibility help somewhat with all activities. But mastery of pushups helps not at all with pullups, or situps, or squats. And the specialized sports skills: throwing, catching, hitting, swinging, etc. have even less to do with each other.

If piano were like general fitness, the levels would be easy to assess analytically, and the simple timed experiment would be statistically reliable for determining the level.

You are aware of the argument over intelligence? over the relative importance of g versus Guilford's 120 cells, e.g.?
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#2052448 - 03/22/13 12:45 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5212
Loc: Europe
Thank you all for the ongoing discussion. I find it fascinating actually!

The problem with what I'm proposing is that it's too hard to explain in words, without giving out a design document or something similar (<-from my experience with computer games a design doc can be hugely complicated... :D).

So, I'm still stuck, but I do see that overdoing it with the grading system would be a big minus...

Still, trying to follow how the global boards are grading is a tad difficult. The link to the sheetmusicplus site offers little help: My music has nothing of what the description offers. It's simply too simplistic (the grading system) for my own use... frown

Geez... I'm becoming a monster! shocked
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#2052497 - 03/22/13 02:02 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
PianoStudent88 Online   content
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Loc: Maine
If the project is just to use the gradings for comparison among the pieces, rather than comparison to an external source, then you can grade them using whatever you want for the scale, and your main worry would be to get the relative grading correctly.
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#2052556 - 03/22/13 03:42 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
pianopaws Offline
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Registered: 03/18/13
Posts: 66
Loc: North Carolina, USA
Could you pick the easiest piece, the most difficult piece, and a piece with a level of difficulty right between those and call those grades 1, 10, and 5? Then use those as the basis for grading the other pieces?

I wouldn't over think it too much. Grading is subjective, and I don't think you will ever have everyone agree with your grading, as this thread will attest! As long as the pieces are graded relative to one another it should be fine.
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#2052592 - 03/22/13 04:31 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Nikolas Online   content
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Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5212
Loc: Europe
Grading is ONLY for the specific project, but I think it's very important.

an example to why in this case 'traditional' grading is a problem:

Quote:
You get a single system, from the one end of the page to the next. In the beginning of the system you get a box with 5 notes in it (in the right hand, tremble clef, high enough notes). The notes are not close with each other, but seem to have quite a bit of space between them (like quavers would have). A bold arrow extends from the end of the box to the end of the system and above that there's the following note: 15" (15 secs). The words ad lib. can be seen inside the box.


The above is a problem that's waiting to be solved. It involves aleatoric material that needs explaining, to a student that is starting to get into what music is about. It takes some explaining to get through the idea of 'randomnly pick any pitch from those in the box and repeat them at random time intervals for 15 secs'.

If you, however, were to see this written in a traditional sense, with all the pitches written out as quavers, and just the word tempo rubato somewhere you would rate this at level 1. The above notation though creates several problems that make the piece much harder than it is...

How can you grade this with traditional grading systems.

(I'm not in the studio to make the example in a score).
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#2052643 - 03/22/13 06:01 PM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
malkin Offline
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Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2410
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Geez... I'm becoming a monster!



But such an interesting and endearing monster!
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#2052768 - 03/23/13 01:12 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: malkin]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5212
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: malkin
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Geez... I'm becoming a monster!



But such an interesting and endearing monster!
aawwww... smile

Thank you for that!
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#2052780 - 03/23/13 02:10 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: TimR]
musicpassion Offline
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Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 899
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: TimR
But do you really think piano playing, the physical act I mean, is that kind of monolithic generalized skill?

No I don't think I would describe playing the piano as a monolothic generalized skill.

Quote:
To use a sports analogy: Aerobic fitness, strength, and flexibility help somewhat with all activities. But mastery of pushups helps not at all with pullups, or situps, or squats. And the specialized sports skills: throwing, catching, hitting, swinging, etc. have even less to do with each other.

If piano were like general fitness, the levels would be easy to assess analytically, and the simple timed experiment would be statistically reliable for determining the level.

Unfortunately I don't think an analogy is helpful. Analogies are always a challenge to start with, and pushups and situps are just too distant from playing the piano to help shed light on your ideas (at least for me).

Quote:
You are aware of the argument over intelligence? over the relative importance of g versus Guilford's 120 cells, e.g.?

How are you wanting to apply theories of intelligence to the discussion?
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#2052783 - 03/23/13 02:22 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5212
Loc: Europe
Tim: I think I'll agree with musicpassion on this one... Every skill in music is related to piano performance, and any performance actually. You don't get to go in too deep but knowing your theory, your harmony, your morphology (form knowledge), your instrumentation and history of music ALL help to a better performance. Otherwise you're just a robot with instincts... :-/
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#2052915 - 03/23/13 11:33 AM Re: grading the difficulty of a (short) musical work? [Re: Nikolas]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4741
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
I don't think that kind of testing would work. For instance, I can play a Chopin Ballade or Scherzo with relative ease, but please don't ask me to play a Bach fugue. We all perceive and experience difficulty differently.
Exactly that!

I'm willing to dig deeper and see why each person finds a piece easy or difficult... Thus the breakdown.

The reason for grading them in the first place has nothing to do about marketing or following others. This is a VERY special thing, but I just canNOT spill the beans just yet..

The idea is to have a collection hugely diverse on contemporary music: So diverse that one needs a chart to use it (almost, ok... not so much but...). You get a piece that's level 1, and one that's level 10 on the same score. And all with weird stuff in (weirder than Sketch Music and certainly than Piano Stories). I HAVE to tell the student and the parent and teacher why this is happening, etc, but I'm trying to avoid too much text (though some times it's unavoidable).

I'll try to shape up an example of a few works together and PM a few of you if you don't mind to get some feedback... smile

Nikolas,

I have struggled with the problem of "how hard is it" for a very long time. Rather than use grades I simply made folders, the first one A, the last one probably closer to Z, and I just dump music into each folder.

Almost all my work is done on my computer, so I have complete control over everything.

What happens over time is that I find out one thing is more easily learned than I thought, so I simply move it to an easier folder. Then something else seems to belong where I put it, logically, but students have trouble with it. So I move it to a "harder" folder.

I don't think we can know how hard something is to teach until we have road-tested it. The composition you showed would be quite simple, apart from minor reading problems, if it was not marked mm = 180 AND did no involved a totally different touch for the LH. It's not even clear to me if the first note of each bar is staccato in the LH - I think not. Whenever one hand is called upon to observe rests, to play staccato, etc. while the other is legato, a bit of difficulty is added. If one hand is louder than the other, another level of difficulty. Etc.

There are two main factors as I see it:

1) What are the skills necessary to just "hit the notes"?

2) How advanced does the student need to be to play the music so that it really comes alive?

And actually a third important consideration - how long will it take to master it?
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Today at 01:03 PM
a solo transcription for Debussy' Petite Suite?
by joonsang
Today at 12:03 PM
KAWAI CS7 + VST Instruments
by mmerino
Today at 12:02 PM
Halloween Fantasy and Tag! - student level pieces
by Axtremus
Today at 09:46 AM
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