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#2119754 - 07/18/13 05:51 PM Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score?
ShiroKuro Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3523
Loc: not in Japan anymore
A question (in PW's non-classical pianist corner forum) about whether a particular piece was "easy to play" or not got me thinking about how a score's difficulty is ranked. I sometimes think a piece sounds easier than it actually is, while another one will sound harder but be easier to play. I consider myself at an intermediate level, so I figure that if I can play something, then it's intermediate (or lower). But not only is that totally arbitrary, there is wide variation in difficulty across the various pieces I am currently working on and the pieces that are in my repertoire.

Sheetmusicplus.com lists guidelines for how it ranks scores

SMP Level Guidelines

so I decided to use that as a guideline and see how well I can systematically rank the difficulty of a particular piece.

But I wanted to ask here and see what the good folks in the teachers' forum think about how to rank a score's level. Is this SMP method a good one? How do you conclude whether a particular piece is an appropriate level for a particular student?

If you're interested, here's the thread from the non-classical pianist corner:
Where can I get music sheet for 'Summer?'
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#2119777 - 07/18/13 06:36 PM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: ShiroKuro]
ezpiano.org Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1038
Loc: Irvine, CA
Yes SMP is a good one, I like it.
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#2119800 - 07/18/13 07:23 PM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: ShiroKuro]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5851
Loc: Orange County, CA
The idea of ranking any piece by level is a problematic one. The most obvious problem is that, what's one person's "level 5" is another person's "level 6." It might serve a pedagogical purpose by giving students a general idea which books/pieces are of _similar_ level of difficulty. That's about it.

The most obvious error is to use the list of levels to show that, if I am level 5, I can play all pieces listed in level 5. That's just a common problem I see with students who take CM or any other leveled tests.

My advice is just to be cautious when approaching the idea of levels. It is one with many inherent problems and potential problems.
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#2119842 - 07/18/13 08:50 PM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: ShiroKuro]
ShiroKuro Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3523
Loc: not in Japan anymore
Quote:
The idea of ranking any piece by level is a problematic one. The most obvious problem is that, what's one person's "level 5" is another person's "level 6."


AZNpiano, I agree, especially since my initial, totally arbitrary response to the question "is it easy to play" was "well if I can play it, it is." Obviously that's not helpful at all. It seems like at least the SMP guidelines give some objective ways to assess the score, so based on those measures, this is not "one person's 5,"  it's "does it have only three-note chords or also four-note chords" which seems much more useful.

Quote:
My advice is just to be cautious when approaching the idea of levels. It is one with many inherent problems and potential problems.


So what would you suggest when someone asks if a piece is easy or not? At least the SMP levels make one way of evaluating a score very clear.
_________________________
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#2119866 - 07/18/13 09:43 PM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: ShiroKuro]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7607
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
SMP's listing is good, but hardly the end all or be all. There are numerous problems with the literature they cite and respective levels of difficulty. For example, Schumann's Album for the Young spans a fairly wide range of difficulty, from SMP's level 3 to their level 8. Another discrepancy is the Brahms Op 79, in which n.1 is a level more difficult than n.2, and neither are at the most difficult level of music, as SMPs listing would suggest.

For classical literature, take a look at Henle's scaling. Many piano teaching organizations have listings, such as Piano Guild and RCM. Both have strengths and weaknesses.

Originally Posted By: SK
How do you conclude whether a particular piece is an appropriate level for a particular student?

Frankly, experience is probably the best guide!
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
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#2119904 - 07/18/13 10:56 PM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: ShiroKuro]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1387
Loc: Cameron Park, California
I personally like John's rule of thumb:
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
As a general rule of thumb, if my students cannot sight-read through a piece at 1/2 to 2/3rds tempo, then I don't assign it, because they are not prepared technically to tackle the piece.



Though for horrible sightreaders like myself, it would change my approach significantly, so your mileage may vary. However, with this in mind (that I need to improve on this area of my musicianship), I may actually consider changing my approach to put a greater emphasis on sightreading and its correlation to music with which to work.

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#2119930 - 07/18/13 11:40 PM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: John v.d.Brook]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5851
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
Another discrepancy is the Brahms Op 79, in which n.1 is a level more difficult than n.2, and neither are at the most difficult level of music, as SMPs listing would suggest.

That's why lists like the SMP criteria are totally inadequate for labeling difficult advanced music. There are pieces that are 11 (Chopin Op. 25 etudes) and some are close to 15 (Alkan or Ligeti etudes). They might as well say "beyond 10" for stuff that really has no need to be categorized.

And where do you draw the line?? Chopin Scherzo No. 2? Liszt Grande Etudes? Brahms Op. 79 No. 1 is indeed more difficult than No. 2, and I would say No. 2 is a "10" and No. 1 is "beyond 10."
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#2120038 - 07/19/13 07:13 AM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: AZNpiano]
jdw Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/04/11
Posts: 1172
Loc: Philadelphia, PA
I notice that SMP ranks the Bach 2-part Inventions as more difficult than the 3-part, which seems odd.
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Debussy, La fille aux cheveux de lin
Schubert, Impromptu Op. 142 no. 2

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#2120095 - 07/19/13 10:17 AM Re: Is this a good way to rank the difficulty of a score? [Re: jdw]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7607
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Pedagogically, Bach ordered them as follows: 2 Pt, French Suites, 3 Pt.

Bach introduces 3 voices in the French Suites, with some being relatively easy for the student to perform, and others, quite difficult. Dividing a voice between two hands, keeping them balanced and in proportion to the other two voices, is quite demanding for pianists.
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