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The whole "learning process" - Confusion after rea

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The whole "learning process" - Confusion after rea

Postby lol_nl on Wed Mar 01, 2006 7:51 pm of Chang's book (

This is a topic I wanted to discuss a long while ago, but I doubted and didn't. But there I am, completely stuck on HOW TO PRACTISE EFFECTIVELY, and decided to write this...

I've read:
(Chapter 1:)

And I searched the index, but wasn't able to find a topic title such as: "The practise routine - the right way to practise" (although the first topic is about wrong routines... I still don't know what's the right) or "The whole practising process".

Chang's book has brought confusion to me. Maybe this will help after reading his COMPLETE book, but that's going to take a while and within this while I've decided to play as less as possible, applying methods described by him. And maybe he has written these methods, but I didn't understand all of his writing so I am more or less stuck.

He has described techniques as playing hands seperately, useful things as the chord attack, parallel sets (which I don't understand for 80%), etc.
But what is missing is I think a good discription of what to do with new pieces, what to do after, and how to keep concert pieces "alive" for repetoire.

I:Pratising a piece

This is what I did a while ago, the whole pratising process of learning a piece:
1) Read through a piece. Sight-read the piece and play hands seperately at a low tempo.
2) Put hands together as soon as they both can play well.
3) Bringing up the tempo, using the metronome, bit by bit.
4) Play at full speed for a couple of days. First time to play this piece musical. First time to apply pedal.
5) Difficult passages were getting difficult, so I played these very slow and especially boring (my teacher taught me that!), trying to regain technique (My teacher thinks that playing without musicalitly is the only way to gain technique, and I've dicsovered it's the opposite!).
6) Steps 4 and 5 infinitely repeated.

As you see, I still couldn't get a piece right, difficult passages were never getting good. And also step 5 was a big mistake, because by playing it boring

So that was a next step. I changed my program into more or less this, just about a few weeks ago (!):

1) Read and analyze a piece carefully, before playing it.
2) Try do memorize as much as possible RIGHT FROM THE START. I tried to play everything by heart the first time I would play that piece. And of course this is EXTREMELY difficult, but I have a good memory and I just try to memorize as much as possible by dividing it into smaller parts.
3) Slowly getting up the tempo, with help of metronome.
4) Play any passages that won't go well in the new tempo over and over in a low tempo, then steadily let the tempo rise and I can play the passage without trouble.
5) Practise a lot a low tempo, although still rising the piece to final tempo.
6) Play the piece musical for the first time. Apply pedal for the first time.
7) Keep practising at low tempos, although not permanent and not boring, sometimes I play a higher tempos again.

And this still caused problems. I tried many methods, but couldn't find the right way to practise. After reading the first part of Chang's book, my thoughts go to this:

1) Read piece. Analyze piece. Try to memorize little bits.
2) Sight-read while playing, first hands seperately at a low tempo, then together if it is really good.
3) DON'T bring up the tempo slowly using the metronome, but try to get full speed at once. Do this together with keep playing the piece slow.
4) Make music right from the start. Apply pedal quite early, but not right from the start.
5) Keep practising the piece slowly, etc.

Hmm... I wrote so much, but still don't have my point... how to explain...

So here are just a few questions...maybe that'll make it easier:

1) What is right order of learning, those as I tried to post 3 of them above?
2) How to bring up tempo? Use metronome or not? Steadily bring up, or sudden full tempo in the way Chang discribed?
3) How to deal with difficult passages? I just can't get them right while bringing up the tempo (as the tempo changes, my passages must do as well, and the practising seemed useless..)
4) What if you have a piece at full speed? I'm stuck then because if I continue playing that piece at full speed it becomes a mess.
5) An example:
"I started Mozart's KV 570 Sonata just 2 weeks ago. I haven't had any lessons on that since then. At start I played slowly, brought up the tempo, and added musical effects. Now I'm a such a state that I don't know what to do, because I got this piece at full tempo a while ago, the difficult passages are no longer a problem, but I still make loads of RANDOM mistakes, I don't know how to keep a piece "Fit"".
6) How to deal with old pieces? They are extremely nasty. When you have finished a piece, you automatically go on with the next. But I want repetoire, so I have to keep the pieces "alive". The question is HOW? I can play the piece infinite slow and fast again, but still things are going wrong and I'm facing new mistakes again and again.
7) How to pratise the most effectively using the least time for the most work?

Some of these questions might overlap quite a lot, but I just try to make my point clear.

I hope you get my point. It's hard to explain. What I mean is just a good explanation of how to deal with pieces.

Practising sessions

According to Chang, a session like this is wrong:

(1) First, practice scales or technical exercises until the fingers are limbered up. Continue this for 30 minutes or longer, if you have time, to improve technique, especially by using exercises such as the Hanon series.
(2) Then take a new piece of music and slowly read it for a page or two, carefully playing both hands together, starting from the beginning. This slow play is repeated until it can be performed reasonably well and then it is gradually speeded up until the final speed is attained. A metronome might be used for this gradual speed-up.
(3) At the end of a two hour practice, the fingers are flying, so the students can play as fast as they want and enjoy the experience before quitting. After all, they are tired of practicing so that they can relax, play their hearts out at full speed; this is the time to enjoy the music!
(4) On the day of the recital or lesson, they practice the piece at correct speed (or faster!) as many times as possible in order to make sure that they know it inside out and to keep it in top condition. This is the last chance; obviously, the more practice, the better.

1) Then what is the right order (I know there is a thread about practising sessions somewhere, but I want to hear new comments and... bleh..)?
2) Scales and appergios... Should I follow Chang's advice and don't spend much time practising these and practising this only with MUSICAL pieces in which they are present, or should I always pratise them?

Sorry for a lot of nonsens in such a long text! I hope you know something about this topic and I would like to hear comments.

Yes it's hard to explain what I mean. But my biggest problem is not the start, but the ending. I don't know how to get a piece good enough. Continuous mistakes come and go all the time... infinite if there is no solution to my problem.

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Postby Goldberg on Wed Mar 01, 2006 11:00 pm

Woah! This is going to sound insanely pretentious/arrogant/etc. of me, but this is why I have never really taken warmly to Chang's text. Yes, it has good advice, but in my mind a lot of the stuff he says is too commonsensical for its own good...if that even makes any sense. In other words, he pounds on topics that really should be quite obvious, or done without much thought at all. I think the key to reading the book is that once you're finished with it, you forget everything you read and just PLAY the piano instead of thinking about all these minute, tedious details, or whether you're learning a piece correctly according to what someone else has said. Just learn the piece, learn where it's going, and each time you play it, explore it and see where else it can go.

I'm sorry for the rushed post (I admit, I didn't spend time to read all of your first one), but I think the shortness of it is a little indicative of what I mean by it: I would rather practice piano than read books about how to practice piano, and in fact that's what I'm going to do right now.
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Postby jre58591 on Wed Mar 01, 2006 11:22 pm

Goldberg wrote:I would rather practice piano than read books about how to practice piano, and in fact that's what I'm going to do right now.
haha i love that statement. thats my philosophy when it comes to playing piano, but dont quote me on it. im not that great of a piano player and goldberg here knows that first hand, lol.
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Postby PJF on Sat Jul 15, 2006 8:25 am

I get stunningly good results from this procedure. No one taught it to me, I learned it through trial and error. Do what works and avoid what doesn't.
Learning which is which is the hard part.

A word on technical excersizes:

Once a week for three hours and with minimal breaks, I play Hanon, or Chopin Etudes and Hanon. The next day I rest completely. Mid-week, I choose the Chopin Etudes, playing ten reps of each @ a medium tempo (of the ones I know). I continually learn new Chopin Etudes, my practice is never stagnant or monotonous. Once I've mastered all the Chopin Etudes, I'll continue to use them as my primary source of technical work. I save speed for the end of my practice session. I do not obsess about excersizes. If I'm sore or tired, I skip it.

This routine works best for me, but that doesn't mean it will work for you!
Your best routine will probably be very different.

My Practice Routine

When learning a new piece, I use the metronome 100% of the time in early practice stages. After a few weeks, I use it less and less for that piece. I never completely abandon the metronome, referring to it periodically to ensure metrical stability is maintained.

I choose the fastest tempo that I can play and still be 100% accurate and in TOTAL control, usually pretty slow, but never arbitrarily slow.

1: When learning a new piece, I always start with the left hand. The left hand is naturally weaker and often doesn't get the attention it needs. After a couple dozen super-accurate plays, of the left hand at a moderate tempo, I leave the piece alone for a few days.

2: I play the left hand twelve times, super-accurate. Later in the day, I play only the right hand 24 times at a moderate tempo, concentrating on accuracy. I leave the piece alone for a few more days.

3: I continue this pattern, until I am able to combine the hands. I now learn a shorter piece really fast, usually within a week. A few years ago, it was very slow, taking months. Be patient and don't rush!

Using this procedure, I was able to memorize Chopin's Military Polonaise in just five days and Chopin's Etude 10/2 in two weeks.

Once you figure out a system that works, use it. If you are impatient and try to rush, you will never succeed in finding the best practice routine. You must be willing to work for years without the guarantee of success. Success is, however, very likely.

Figure out what works, through trial and error, and do it. Keep telling yourself that there is a solution, you just haven't found it yet.

Per Sapientiam Felicitas!

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Postby lol_nl on Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:41 pm

Thanks Pete :lol:! I agree with nearly everything you wrote, except that I usually don't use the metronome 100% of the time at the beginning. I try to get it as accurate as possible, but not only with metronome. I try to get the feeling of the beats while playing, especially in the beginning.
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Postby PJF on Sun Jul 16, 2006 4:10 am

You are correct in getting a feel for the beat. Whenever using the metronome, a pianist must not only hear the click of he metronome, but translate those clicks into a pattern of motion. A metronome cannot impose a certain meter upon a listener without participation of that listener. The time in between each click must be filled in with the correct motion.

A perfect example of this is seen when we dance a waltz or clap our hands. This dancing motion is vital to creating a solid, stable rhythm.

Here's some books that explore the subject of creating artistic performance through coordination (technique). They're worthy of a permanent place in any pianist's library, IMO. I especially like these books because they succeed in explaining the technique/art connection. Technique should be used as a means to an end, not as the end in itself.

Abby Whiteside on Piano Playing : Indispensables of Piano Playing - Mastering the Chopin Etudes and Other Essays

Mastering Piano Technique : A Guide for Students, Teachers and Performers by Seymour Fink

Chopin: Pianist and Teacher : As Seen by his Pupils
by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger (Editor), Naomi Shohet (Translator), Krysia Osostowicz (Translator), Roy Howat (Translator)

On Piano Playing : Motion, Sound, and Expression
by Gyorgy Sandor

Per Sapientiam Felicitas!

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