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#2268452 - 04/29/14 12:42 AM Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece.
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
The two things that get a lot of discussion in general is how to start to learn a piece, and how to spit-polish a piece.

Just starting a piece may be maddeningly frustrating, but it's fairly straightforward. And the final push to the fully completed piece might be equally frustrating, but again, it probably will be fairly obvious what to do, it just might take a really long time to do it.

But the middle part is the part that, in my mind, is the riskiest place. It's where you set up whether or not you'll ever really get to the spit-polish stage, and done wrong, you'll spin your wheels for months until you either drop it entirely, or end up having to deconstruct large parts to relearn them. There are so many decisions to make and often you won't know if you did it right or simply kicked the can down the road until much later. Most people are careful and pragmatic in the initial stages, and just as careful at the end, but, at least for me, the middle part can often seem like a nebulous haze of relative inefficiency and indecision.

I never seem to know when to bring up the tempo. Half the time I do it too quickly and reinforce inaccuracies, but the other half of the time I stay way too conservative and never push myself to find out how this is going to need to be later. I don't know whether to get secure with a whole movement or piece first and then bring up the tempo, or what. Do I keep pushing forward or stay in one place until difficulties are surmounted?

I'm fairly good with breaking a piece down into its relative components. I don't go page by page or measure by measure or anything artificial like that. I also make sure I practice transitions so I'm not stuck with knowing how to play the components yet ignoring how one gets from one to the other.

But it's in this stage that I know I spend too much time spinning my wheels and while I've gotten better overall, it's still not second-nature to me. I'm sure over time I'll get better, but at least with specific regard to the chamber piece I'm working on, I have a deadline and so if there's anything to be gained by seeking a bit of advice, now seems like a good time. So I guess I'd like to hear how folks here would describe the way they organize themselves and move through the middle stages of learning a piece.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268458 - 04/29/14 01:00 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
noobpianist90 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/23/13
Posts: 296
Loc: India
For me, if I start off the piece correctly, the middle part, as you've put it, doesn't trouble me too much. It's the polishing that I find hard. If I struggle with that middle part, more often than not, I find that I made mistakes during the initial part.

I have this really bad habit of playing what I already know again and again because I tend to enjoy the music so much that I can't help myself. In this case, if I make a mistake initially it stays with me. Then I have to go back and re-learn it.

About the tempo thing, I generally don't gradually speed up. I start learning at around half tempo or maybe slightly slower. I play it for a long time at this tempo till it is completely comfortable to me. Then I try and push for a much faster tempo(which stretches me). If I can't manage, I come back to the tempo I learned it at and see if I can play that. If I can, then it's a matter of practice till I reach the target tempo.

However, for some pieces I find that starting out at a fast tempo right from the beginning is much more helpful. For example, I found it difficult to play the fantaisie impromptu at a slow tempo. Now I'm learning it at a fast tempo from the beginning and I'm making good progress.

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#2268460 - 04/29/14 01:04 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Philadelphia
Quote:
I never seem to know when to bring up the tempo. Half the time I do it too quickly and reinforce inaccuracies, but the other half of the time I stay way too conservative and never push myself to find out how this is going to need to be later. I don't know whether to get secure with a whole movement or piece first and then bring up the tempo, or what. Do I keep pushing forward or stay in one place until difficulties are surmounted?

I think it's important to take risks. If you never get outside your comfort zone, you'll never know where those boundaries actually are. You also will never push them out further.

That said, I liken bringing up the tempo to jumping off a cliff. I only need to jump once to know I can't make the landing. No need to climb back up and jump off again. wink What I mean is, you're going to practice within your abilities, but you don't need to continually practice outside your abilities to know you can't practice there yet. So, see if you can take it up a notch. If you can, do it. If you can't, figure out why and address it.

This is usually the boring part. The part where most people stop. Why? Everybody who's ever played golf learns to pick up the stick, hold it correctly, and whack the little ball. Everybody wants to get to the US Open. Most people don't want to spend years at a driving range hitting hundreds of thousands of balls with one club.. wink
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2268463 - 04/29/14 01:13 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
That's my problem! I'm happy to whack thousands of balls.** Nothing makes me happier. I just would like to have more of those ball whacks be doing something.

So, for example, bring up tempo on parts that are slow but secure, or keep working on the parts that aren't secure enough? I mean, duh, the answer, ultimately, is that both have to be done, but do you aim for a general balance of relative completion among all parts, or do you tolerate a wider range of completion levels? Do all parts kind of slide into the finishing gate at different times, or would you, say, have the whole piece/movement learned at 50% speed before anything gets pushed?

**metaphorically speaking, that is. There is no scenario in which whacking thousands of golf balls would be enjoyable to me. I can, however, spend 8 hours at the piano and still have to be coaxed to eat some dinner.


Edited by TwoSnowflakes (04/29/14 01:17 AM)
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268464 - 04/29/14 01:33 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
Atrys Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 926
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes

So, for example, bring up tempo on parts that are slow but secure, or keep working on the parts that aren't secure enough?

"As fast as you can, as slow as you need."

Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes

would you, say, have the whole piece/movement learned at 50% speed before anything gets pushed?

The acquisition of many conflicting bimanual tasks in sequence is largely, maybe principally, dependent on working memory function and capacity. In essence, the better one's working memory, the quicker they acquire pianistic skills and pieces.

The best thing to do is to work on as much as you can manage, not what anyone else tells you (50%, 100%, etc.) You want to take full advantage of your working memory and essentially "max" it out. When you start to feel that you're losing a grip on past sequences, you've hit the ceiling.

Where this get interesting is when you start to block larger sections of the piece, and treat each with its own session. That is, let your concentration warm-down and intentionally lose focus. Practice from the last block will begin to potentiate, and you can begin a fresh practice block at a different point in the piece. This process can be repeated finitely, again limited by your own capacity.

Acquiring pieces is much quicker with this method. It lets you fully leverage the benefit of spatial working memory and chunked learning to acquire conflicting bimanual tasks with much more ease. It's also enjoyable, like a game, because the process is (as it also feels) organic and non-artificial.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2268495 - 04/29/14 03:41 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
MarkH Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 853
Loc: Seattle, WA
I really appreciate your posts TwoSnowflakes - they're consistently very personable, articulate, and cute (especially when you tell us stories about exposing your little one to piano).

My approach in this middle place you speak of is to run through the entire piece (if I'm in a place where I can do so yet), and take special note of anywhere that seems slow or cumbersome. Then I isolate that spot and analyze what about it is causing troubles. Often, I'll find that it is just one single transition from one chord to the next (or whatever other single point to the next). I'll play around with that single spot, experiment with changing where my hands are on the keyboard geography (in/out, high attack/low attack), listening for a particular voice or line as an aid, learning the proprioception necessary (if I can't look at both hands for example) or perhaps even altering the fingering. I'll focus on that single spot for 5-10 minutes of really intense practice, and then put it back into context, usually with pretty intensely better flow. Then I move on through the piece until the next spot comes along.

So, during this middle time, in addition to analyzing the piece and working on beginning to memorize it, most of my practice is fine scale polishing and refining of the bottlenecks. In this way, I wouldn't say that I'm so much pushing the tempo (except occasionally, to test whether I've polished enough), but rather thinking really carefully about every single thing that trips me up, and figuring out how to make it not trip me up.
_________________________
Currently Studying: Bach - English Suite No. 5; Beethoven - Op. 27 No. 1; Chopin - Op. 27 No. 1; Chopin - 3rd Scherzo

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#2268527 - 04/29/14 06:43 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7767
One of the interesting things about learning a piece is that different methods and combinations seem to work for different people - there is no "one size fits all" that I know of. And too, different pieces or sections of pieces may need different approaches.

One way of bringing something up to speed (that I have yet to try very methodically, but which sounds intriguing) is the "one beat at a time" approach that I've heard that some very accomplished pianists use. You simply start with the first beat of the piece, plus the first note of the next beat, and get that tiny chunk up to the desired speed (metronome ad lib.). Then you move to the next beat and do the same, working your way through the entire piece. Then you paste all those beats together, and, voilà!, you have the piece up to tempo.

I actually do use this idea in a pretty desultory way, and even then, it shows interesting and promising results. But I seem to lack the motivation to really stick my nose to that particular grindstone. Of course, the texture of the music will make a difference, too - the more regular the texture, the better this works, I think.

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#2268563 - 04/29/14 08:35 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
hreichgott Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/13
Posts: 890
Loc: western MA, USA
For tempo in particular I find it useful to "check" tempo during the learning phase, plus practicing melody alone at tempo as early as possible.

Checking tempo is playing only very small segments at tempo, for the purpose of verifying that the solution you just found to some problem will still work at tempo. I can't play the whole Toccata from Tombeau de Couperin at tempo right now, but I can play any single measure at tempo. I do that when I'm working on a technique difficulty or planning fingering. I do NOT go through the whole piece playing one measure at tempo, stopping, playing next measure at tempo, stopping. It's just a double-check to ensure that the plan I'm making at a learning speed is actually going to work at performance speed.

(It could be argued that practice in rhythms is just a way to check tempo for different groups of notes at a time.)

Melody-alone practice is always good for expression, and tempo changes the nature of the melodic line a lot. One of my consistent problems is getting used to the way the melody sounds way below tempo and accidentally "planning" an interpretation based on that tempo. Practicing melody alone at performance tempo helps me hear the line the way it really needs to be.
_________________________
Heather W. Reichgott, piano http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com
Sounding the depths of small pieces: Beethoven Op. 33
Daily attempts at 16th notes: Chopin Op. 10 no. 4, Pischna
Totally loving Fauré/Barcarolles and Ravel/Tombeau de Couperin
I love Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and new music

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#2268585 - 04/29/14 09:25 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: wr]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
Originally Posted By: wr
One of the interesting things about learning a piece is that different methods and combinations seem to work for different people - there is no "one size fits all" that I know of. And too, different pieces or sections of pieces may need different approaches.

One way of bringing something up to speed (that I have yet to try very methodically, but which sounds intriguing) is the "one beat at a time" approach that I've heard that some very accomplished pianists use. You simply start with the first beat of the piece, plus the first note of the next beat, and get that tiny chunk up to the desired speed (metronome ad lib.). Then you move to the next beat and do the same, working your way through the entire piece. Then you paste all those beats together, and, voilà!, you have the piece up to tempo.

I actually do use this idea in a pretty desultory way, and even then, it shows interesting and promising results. But I seem to lack the motivation to really stick my nose to that particular grindstone. Of course, the texture of the music will make a difference, too - the more regular the texture, the better this works, I think.


This is one of the methods my teacher did with me just the lesson before last, right before I dropped the Shostakovich.

At slow speeds, I was dead on with the jump to particular fast ascending arpeggio, which ended with a lovely little jump on the other side to some quick alternating thirds. However, at tempo (heck, not even full tempo, but 75% tempo), I had a hit rate of maybe 50%, lol. So she made me do one note, first/second note (landing HARD on the second, and stopping dead), first/second/third (landing hard on the third note, stopping dead), etc., until I was all the way up, including the little leap, which itself had the accent, so the hard hit on the last note stayed.

I must have had to re-do that at least three times the following week after I fell back into old habits, but I had almost totally fixed that place when I had to go to Glinka.

I will try it again, though nothing in the Glinka is so fast I have to abandon thoughts of any individual note.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268588 - 04/29/14 09:32 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: hreichgott]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
Originally Posted By: hreichgott


Melody-alone practice is always good for expression, and tempo changes the nature of the melodic line a lot. One of my consistent problems is getting used to the way the melody sounds way below tempo and accidentally "planning" an interpretation based on that tempo. Practicing melody alone at performance tempo helps me hear the line the way it really needs to be.


I spend so much time at slower tempos that I find I'm doing this a lot. And in the chamber stuff, I then seem to subconsciously find melodic lines where there often aren't any in order to resolve what otherwise feels like there's something missing. I forget, essentially, that there are places where I'm simply accomanying, haha. In the Grieg, my teacher had to point out that there was a distinct break. This is your thing to.....here, NOW GET OUT! IMMEDIATELY!
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268596 - 04/29/14 09:48 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: MarkH]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
Originally Posted By: MarkH
I really appreciate your posts TwoSnowflakes - they're consistently very personable, articulate, and cute (especially when you tell us stories about exposing your little one to piano).

My approach in this middle place you speak of is to run through the entire piece (if I'm in a place where I can do so yet), and take special note of anywhere that seems slow or cumbersome. Then I isolate that spot and analyze what about it is causing troubles. Often, I'll find that it is just one single transition from one chord to the next (or whatever other single point to the next). I'll play around with that single spot, experiment with changing where my hands are on the keyboard geography (in/out, high attack/low attack), listening for a particular voice or line as an aid, learning the proprioception necessary (if I can't look at both hands for example) or perhaps even altering the fingering. I'll focus on that single spot for 5-10 minutes of really intense practice, and then put it back into context, usually with pretty intensely better flow. Then I move on through the piece until the next spot comes along.

So, during this middle time, in addition to analyzing the piece and working on beginning to memorize it, most of my practice is fine scale polishing and refining of the bottlenecks. In this way, I wouldn't say that I'm so much pushing the tempo (except occasionally, to test whether I've polished enough), but rather thinking really carefully about every single thing that trips me up, and figuring out how to make it not trip me up.


How much time do you stick with a particular solution before you abandon ship and try something else? What you are doing is natural and reliable for someone with a lot of experience in how their own tricky spots get resolved, but for me I sometimes have this...fear that any given solution is not a good one and won't work in situ. Especially since it can take me an hour or two on one particular spot and the reality is there are dozens of these spots for me even in a piece as straightforward as the Glinka. My autopilot just isn't that good yet.

Here's an example: sometimes after my teacher leaves, I'll end up at a place where she and I worked out fingering together. I will wonder why the heck we chose it this way. Sometimes I wrote it down wrong. Sometimes there is more than one way to do it. But sometimes the reason I can't figure out why we did it this way is because with her, I was further in on the keys or my arm was in a certain place and without her, I'm playing differently and, usually, badly.

In other words, sometimes the reason I don't like a solution the reason is not that it's not the appropriate one, but I'm not recognizing a bad habit of my own.

It's a lot of confounding factors, I guess, that are contributing to my general indecision as I work through any particular piece.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268667 - 04/29/14 01:00 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
You know, one thing I am reminded of is a moment in last week's lesson. My teacher asked me to play through a piece she was very happy with the week before, just as a warmup/confidence booster. I told her that I was afraid it has passed into the ruined pile because I feel like after I feel comfortable with a piece, it immediately degrades and it just feels like I can't play it right anymore.

Well, of course after that I was going to have to play it with more scrutiny than I was hoping for.

But the interesting thing was, she said to me that I was playing it significantly faster than I had played it the week before. And I really hadn't noticed.

I think I may be subconsciously speeding up as soon as I feel any level of comfort, and putting myself back into a place where I'm not in total control anymore. Which is a fine part of the learning process when you're deliberately trying to gain speed, and you're rigorous about honing in on the inaccuracies revealed when you do that, but this was not such a piece. It was just fine at the final tempo I played it at the week before. And having sped it up, I unlearned a certain amount of security on several parts, and slowing down didn't fix these errors immediately.

So much necessary attention to detail! So much concentration. And I pride myself at being particularly good at those kinds of things. Nothing like piano, however, to make you feel like you've got intractable ADD.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268682 - 04/29/14 01:27 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
MarkH Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 853
Loc: Seattle, WA
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes

How much time do you stick with a particular solution before you abandon ship and try something else? What you are doing is natural and reliable for someone with a lot of experience in how their own tricky spots get resolved, but for me I sometimes have this...fear that any given solution is not a good one and won't work in situ. Especially since it can take me an hour or two on one particular spot and the reality is there are dozens of these spots for me even in a piece as straightforward as the Glinka. My autopilot just isn't that good yet.


I shouldn't say that I always resolve a spot to my perfect satisfaction in 5-10 minutes. Sometimes there are places that give me consistent trouble. For example, in the Beethoven that I'm polishing right now, I chose a left hand fingering in one section that I thought would be the most efficient, and many months later, when I was still feeling a slight bottleneck there, I finally realized I needed to change it to something else.

I think though, the most important thing is to be really flexible about repositioning your hand on the keyboard. In most situations, you're looking for a series of movements that keep you as close to the keys and as relaxed as possible, and that can sometimes involve moving way "in" towards the fallboard, or something else that might not feel obvious. That's where the serious focusing on each individual transition comes in. When you take two chords out of context, and just play with them, it can be easier to figure out the most efficient way to get from one to the next.
_________________________
Currently Studying: Bach - English Suite No. 5; Beethoven - Op. 27 No. 1; Chopin - Op. 27 No. 1; Chopin - 3rd Scherzo

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#2268695 - 04/29/14 02:01 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
Cinnamonbear Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/09/10
Posts: 3846
Loc: Rockford, IL
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
[...] Here's an example: sometimes after my teacher leaves, I'll end up at a place where she and I worked out fingering together. I will wonder why the heck we chose it this way. Sometimes I wrote it down wrong. Sometimes there is more than one way to do it. But sometimes the reason I can't figure out why we did it this way is because with her, I was further in on the keys or my arm was in a certain place and without her, I'm playing differently and, usually, badly.[...]


I have found that sometimes certain fingerings apply to certain tempi and not to others. Sometimes, one fingering may work at Andante, and not at all at Presto. When working through a fast piece at slow motion, it helps to keep the end result in mind while enduring the seemingly "wrong" fingering. The problem with this is that it takes the experience of playing an Allegro or Presto piece or passage close-ish to speed to finally understand how the fingering that might feel awkward at Andante makes perfect fluid sense at the faster tempo. I share this because I had this epiphany just the other day. What once made no sense when I was not able to play it at a faster clip, suddenly made sense when I was able to hit it near tempo.

On the other hand, if a fingering feels awkward *every time*, and your hand naturally wants to go a different way, it's decision time. I have several pieces that were marked with very specific fingerings by my teacher (years ago and when I was much younger), and when I have brought them out to work on them anew, I now question some of the fingerings anew.

Also, as a dancer, you might keep the kinesthetic awareness in mind regarding the "choreography" of the whole piece. For instance, a fingering/hand position/arm position that feels awkward at the moment while the piece is new, feels totally different when there is a wind up and follow through on either side of it (sorry about the mixed metaphor. I'm not a dancer! wink ) But you know how it is when your dance instructor puts your body in a static position, then expects you to find that position in motion?

Perhaps the right phrasing is this: "Is this fingering open to discussion?" That might lead to some interesting discoveries for both you and your teacher the next time through! smile

--Andy


Edited by Cinnamonbear (04/29/14 02:10 PM)
_________________________
I may not be fast,
but at least I'm slow.

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#2268724 - 04/29/14 03:05 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
Originally Posted By: Cinnamonbear
Also, as a dancer, you might keep the kinesthetic awareness in mind regarding the "choreography" of the whole piece. For instance, a fingering/hand position/arm position that feels awkward at the moment while the piece is new, feels totally different when there is a wind up and follow through on either side of it (sorry about the mixed metaphor. I'm not a dancer! wink ) But you know how it is when your dance instructor puts your body in a static position, then expects you to find that position in motion?


Hilariously enough, my dance teacher is my piano teacher. It's how I found her. Well, she's one of my dance instructors. Less now than before, but she often teaches my main class as a sub. Anyway, before I started piano again, I only knew her as a dance instructor, but as it turned out, her main occupation was as accompanist in the pre-professional levels.

And yes, she often will do something to show me something DOES NOT work while in motion. Case in point, I was taking a class last week and my piano teacher happened to be teaching. I was supposed to finish a movement up on pointe in a position not unlike the one in my avatar, and I was not coming into it with the right angle, so the last bit of action saw me kind of fighting to stabilize the finishing pose.

She came over and with a raised eyebrow, as I initiated the movement, she suddenly pushed my hip so the momentum was right where it had to be and damned if I didn't end up exactly where I was supposed to be.

In piano and in dance, I can often be overly cautious and rather than actually SERVE to save me, it makes things worse. I'll try to increase accuracy in a fast passage by freezing everything down. I think my brain wants to narrow down the numbers of motions it has to execute, and in so doing, actually prevents me from finding the real efficiency.

Yet another example, from last night's class: I had to finish a combination with a pique arabesque (balanced high up on a straight leg with other leg held out strongly to the back, arms wide and open) and then hold that sucker as if I hadn't come into it with any momentum at all. But in order to get up there and fully over, you can't be tentative leading in. The only way to GET there is to commit to it. But not me, I shortened everything up and......at the moment it was supposed to be held in suspension, I just went tiiiiiiiiiiimber. I almost got there and then did not. Like watching a little ball ALMOST get over that hump, and you're thinking, "go...go....go!!!!!!!!" and then it doesn't and rolls back. LOL! This time my piano teacher was not the instructor, but she was actually taking the class with me and had struck and held the pose right behind me. Argh. Embarrassing.

But not quite as embarrassing as the moment when I sprung out of a combination, did a bourree the wrong way, and triumphantly ended in a pose facing her (and the rest of my group) completely. Four dancers posed on one diagonal, and the other completely opposite. One of these things is not like the other....
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2268791 - 04/29/14 06:08 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
Cinnamonbear Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/09/10
Posts: 3846
Loc: Rockford, IL
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
Originally Posted By: Cinnamonbear
Also, as a dancer, you might keep the kinesthetic awareness in mind regarding the "choreography" of the whole piece. For instance, a fingering/hand position/arm position that feels awkward at the moment while the piece is new, feels totally different when there is a wind up and follow through on either side of it (sorry about the mixed metaphor. I'm not a dancer! wink ) But you know how it is when your dance instructor puts your body in a static position, then expects you to find that position in motion?


Hilariously enough, my dance teacher is my piano teacher. It's how I found her. Well, she's one of my dance instructors. Less now than before, but she often teaches my main class as a sub. Anyway, before I started piano again, I only knew her as a dance instructor, but as it turned out, her main occupation was as accompanist in the pre-professional levels.

And yes, she often will do something to show me something DOES NOT work while in motion. Case in point, I was taking a class last week and my piano teacher happened to be teaching. I was supposed to finish a movement up on pointe in a position not unlike the one in my avatar, and I was not coming into it with the right angle, so the last bit of action saw me kind of fighting to stabilize the finishing pose.

She came over and with a raised eyebrow, as I initiated the movement, she suddenly pushed my hip so the momentum was right where it had to be and damned if I didn't end up exactly where I was supposed to be.

In piano and in dance, I can often be overly cautious and rather than actually SERVE to save me, it makes things worse. I'll try to increase accuracy in a fast passage by freezing everything down. I think my brain wants to narrow down the numbers of motions it has to execute, and in so doing, actually prevents me from finding the real efficiency.

Yet another example, from last night's class: I had to finish a combination with a pique arabesque (balanced high up on a straight leg with other leg held out strongly to the back, arms wide and open) and then hold that sucker as if I hadn't come into it with any momentum at all. But in order to get up there and fully over, you can't be tentative leading in. The only way to GET there is to commit to it. But not me, I shortened everything up and......at the moment it was supposed to be held in suspension, I just went tiiiiiiiiiiimber. I almost got there and then did not. Like watching a little ball ALMOST get over that hump, and you're thinking, "go...go....go!!!!!!!!" and then it doesn't and rolls back. LOL! This time my piano teacher was not the instructor, but she was actually taking the class with me and had struck and held the pose right behind me. Argh. Embarrassing.

But not quite as embarrassing as the moment when I sprung out of a combination, did a bourree the wrong way, and triumphantly ended in a pose facing her (and the rest of my group) completely. Four dancers posed on one diagonal, and the other completely opposite. One of these things is not like the other....


LOL! In other words... you *do* know! grin (I kinda thought so...)
_________________________
I may not be fast,
but at least I'm slow.

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#2269043 - 04/30/14 10:37 AM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
LOL, well, I'm not much of a dancer, either, but I certainly can see the parallels!

Anyway, so far so good. I am now a week into the new piece and I'd say I'm about halfway done with the first movement from a "ready to not drag down a group while playing" perspective.

The places where things were eroding were absolutely due to this newfound discovery that I just keep speeding up without realizing it. I used a metronome to get the tempo, turned it off, played for about 45 minutes until things were starting to go south again, turned it back on to find out I was playing almost 15 bpm faster than I thought I was.

On the other hand, I had gotten better and had the same comfort level about 5bpm faster than I had started. I think my brain knows when it's time to push it a bit, but doesn't know where to stop!
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

Top
#2269131 - 04/30/14 03:09 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
That's my problem! I'm happy to whack thousands of balls.** Nothing makes me happier. I just would like to have more of those ball whacks be doing something.

So, for example, bring up tempo on parts that are slow but secure, or keep working on the parts that aren't secure enough? I mean, duh, the answer, ultimately, is that both have to be done, but do you aim for a general balance of relative completion among all parts, or do you tolerate a wider range of completion levels? Do all parts kind of slide into the finishing gate at different times, or would you, say, have the whole piece/movement learned at 50% speed before anything gets pushed?

**metaphorically speaking, that is. There is no scenario in which whacking thousands of golf balls would be enjoyable to me. I can, however, spend 8 hours at the piano and still have to be coaxed to eat some dinner.

LOL! I didn't expect golf to be everyone's thing. grin

I've been meaning to respond to this for a couple days, but I've been crammed trying to meet a deadline today. However, after working for the last 9 hours straight, I feel I need a break.

I'm glad you brought up the functionality of ball-whacking. I forgot to mention it in my previous post. It's not just about hitting hundreds of thousands of balls blindly, but about correcting and then ingraining something specific about the golf swing. To drop the metaphor, the same applies to the piano.

You mentioned enjoying playing for 8 hours straight. I do, too. But there's almost no way I would ever sit for 8 hours of intense focus and practice one minute aspect of piano technique. (Say, for example, I'm having a problem with my 3rd-to-4th finger transition in a scale. They're mashing together. I discover that I'm actually flopping over from 2, and because of that, my hand is unbalanced to the right -- for the RH -- causing my 4th finger to play early and/or play with the 3rd finger. Would I spend 8 hours sitting there plunking out notes, stopping on 2, playing 3, stopping on 3, playing 4, stopping on 4? No, probably not. But that's the difference between Tiger Woods and me.)

You also mentioned whether you should "segment" the piece, or whether you should bring up the entire piece as a whole. I'll go back to the golf metaphor briefly, before bringing it back to music. Let's say you suck at putting. Why would you split your time hitting a driver, a mid-iron, a chip shot, and then only 25% of your time on the actual problem of putting? Why wouldn't you spend the overwhelming majority of your time putting?

I don't think it's a secret that I've taught martial arts for more than 20 years. When I am teaching someone a kata/form (similar to a single musical work), I always tell the students to practice their weak side twice as much as their strong side. Most martial arts, while attempting to find "balance" theologically, usually favor the "strong" (or "right") side of the body. Most people are right-handed, so this makes practical sense that right-handed masters inventing self-defense would favor their right side. But in doing this, the left side gets neglected. If you simply run through the kata/forms, you will practice each technique 2-3 times more on the right side of your body than you will on your left. This leads to developmental issues in the student. So, I always tell them to isolate and practice that left side more in order to get it "up to par" (pun intended wink ) with the right side.

Same thing for music. Don't hold back what's working well, and don't find a need to over-practice it. When you know it, you know it. Get to the parts that don't work, and focus on them until they do work. Say I'm practicing Chopin's 2nd scherzo, and I have a major problem on the last page with the LH octave jumps and the RH arpeggio combination. It lasts what, 3 or 4 measures? Takes less than 5 seconds of time. I have two ways to attempt to address this:

1. I start from the beginning of the piece, and play it all the way through. When I get to that section, I pay extra special attention, but I really don't slow down or do too much 'extra' because I'm now in "performance/runthrough mode". Even if I do break it down, it still won't be perfect. When I finish the piece, I start from the beginning and do it again.

2. I start right at that measure, figure out the issue, and then iron it out through repetition. When I finish those measures, I don't go to the end of the piece. I play only those measures. When this is done, I might back up a measure or a phrase, and play through at the end the next measure or phrase to make sure there are no hiccups at the entrance or exit to that section.

In the first example, it will take anywhere from 8-11 minutes to run through the piece each time. If you practice for an hour, you might get 6 attempts. You play those measures 6 times. Between attempts, you play nearly 10 minutes of other music. Your mind wanders, it loses the information you processed on your previous run-through, and your practice is highly ineffective.

In the second example, you can take the same hour and run through the few measures up to 720 times (at 5s per run-through). It would take you 120 DAYS to do that in the first example. But let's say you only get through it 100 times. That's still a vast improvement. Now, your brain is focused on just one task, isn't trying to process extra information, and is better able to "learn" and "store" that information for future use.

So, to amend my previous post, it's not just about whacking hundreds of thousands of balls. It's about whacking hundreds of thousands of balls correctly, with just the one club, the one lie, the one swing, the one distance that's giving you trouble, until it's ironed out. Then, you move on to another club, another lie, another swing, another distance, and another hundred thousand balls. wink
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2269146 - 04/30/14 03:46 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
TwoSnowflakes Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1039
This makes sense, thanks.

I wanted to clarify, though, that I certainly don't think a piece is best learned by playing from beginning to end over and over again.

I definitely segment, but my question was, once segmented, do you try to keep all segments evenly progressing, or would you, say, bring the tempo up to final on the easier segments before you have fully mastered the tricky parts that are going to take some time?

I could, for example, spend the next couple of days bringing the first several pages fully up to tempo. But then the chasm between that part and other parts is going to be quite big, even if I work on those other parts at the same time. But if I just put the first part on the back burner for a few days (not ignoring it, but not actively trying to pick up the tempo), I might be able to get the tricky parts up to moderate tempo to match where I am with the first few pages, and then I can just bring the tempo up on the movement as a whole.

Which is better, if, in fact, there is a better here?

And yes, of course those 8 hours are not all spent efficiently. I wish I could do that. Maybe at some point! I sometimes am embarrassed to tell my teacher just how long I've spent at the piano because I don't want her to wonder why something isn't better than it is!

Bit by bit, I can concentrate for longer on the right things. But I'm certainly not up to eight straight hours of truly efficient practice. However, I'd be hard pressed to reduce all that I DO do in less than 1.5 hours.

**And, just to further clarify, I DO have a job. And a family. I don't always, or even frequently, get to spend 8 hours at the piano, even if I wanted to! Which, sadly, I usually do want to.

This morning, for example, I skidded into the piano and did super slow run through of the tricky parts I was working on last night, just to make sure I slept on it right. It was there. So I left for work. 20 minutes, total. Now I'm going to go home soon and spend another hour or two, if all goes well! smile


Edited by TwoSnowflakes (04/30/14 03:52 PM)
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Op. 118 No. 2 Intermezzo A major
Chopin, Mazurka Op. 67 No.4
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2269203 - 04/30/14 06:05 PM Re: Organizing your "mid-game" on a piece. [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Philadelphia
I know how you feel. I spend less than an hour a week (average) at a piano. Some days, I get a good hour in. Most weeks, I go at least a few days without being able to touch a piano. This can be very aggravating, but I try not to let it bother me (read: I often fail). We can only do what we can do with the time we have, after all. smile

Quote:
I definitely segment, but my question was, once segmented, do you try to keep all segments evenly progressing, or would you, say, bring the tempo up to final on the easier segments before you have fully mastered the tricky parts that are going to take some time?

I actually did answer this question, but I think I may have been a little too abstract. Sorry, my brain was all over the place when I typed the previous response.

I wouldn't hold back a segment that works to keep it progressing at the same pace as a segment that doesn't work. But, I wouldn't think of it this way at all. What I would do is spend my time on areas where I need more work. The effect of this is that each section gets up to speed at roughly equivalent times -- but not because I've spent equal time on them. To use the Chopin example from earlier, I might spend 90% of my time on those four measures, and only 10% of my time on the rest of the piece. Why? Those four measures are problematic.

So, in other words, I don't actively cause each section to progress at the same rate. I don't keep something slow for the sake of keeping it slow, or work on fingering for the sake of working on fingering, etc. I just don't spend as much time on it if it's working well, or if I know it will work well. (For me, octaves fall into this category. If there is an octave passage, I'll play it on the initial sight-read, but then I won't touch it again until I've nearly perfected the rest of the piece. Why? I learn octaves very fast; for some reason, they come very easily to me. Other things are much harder, so I spend my time on those things and leave the octaves alone.)

The effect of this is that most of the piece will coalesce at about the same time. (Hopefully.) But it only happens that way because of how I split my time, not because I'm purposefully holding a section back.

Did that make more sense than my previous post? smile
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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