How many new pieces at once

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2handband
Posts: 948
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:31 pm

Re: How many new pieces at once

Post by 2handband » Thu Jul 16, 2015 3:12 am

chesl73 wrote: Interesting, I can see how this would work but I would say it takes a fair bit of discipline because you are holding off the gratification of being able to (roughly) play the entire section/piece by just going very slowly mastering one phrase at a time. I'm not sure I could do this but I might give it a go.
So I suppose what you are saying is it will take you longer to play through the entire piece but when you do it's pretty much completed?

And when you've done a phrase and you move onto the next, do you temporarily ignore the previous mastered phrase or do you incorporate that?

And how and when do you tie these individually learnt phrases together?

When you say a 'phrase', what exactly do you mean? Might this be a single bar or a few bars, I assume it would be a reasonable self-contained snippet of the piece that musically makes sense?
(sorry for all the questions!)

Thanks
I'll take your questions one at a time but not necessarily in order:

1) A phrase is a musical idea. It can be varying lengths. For longer ones or particularly difficult ones I may break a phrase up into chunks. I'll even narrow it down to a couple of notes; if a three-note passage is slowing down the rest of the phrase I will probably reduce it to just those three notes, break out the metronome, and go to work on it. Don't waste practice time on stuff you can do... focus on the stuff you can't do.

2) Once I've learned the second phrase i'll try to play the first two phrases together. If the transition between phrases proves problematic i will work the transition until it's flawless. Basically I tie everything together as i go. I'll start a session by playing up to where I left off; that way I make sure I can still do what i did yesterday. If I can't i don't move on until it's fixed.

3) Correct: once you've gotten to the end you have a flawless, performance level work.

I assure you this does work. For one thing you're devoting all of your energy and focus to a single problem, and the brain will then take that as a cue to devote an enormous amount of resources to the problem. Think of it this way: the music you are practicing just became an exercise. What I mean is: if you are working on a piece with fast arpeggios, if you're just working a couple of bars worth of arpeggios with a metronome that bit of music just becae an arpeggio exercise. Once you've got it up to performance tempo, your command of arpeggios has improved and the next time you encounter them it will be easier.

I discovered this over 20 years ago when i wanted to learn a difficult hard rock guitar solo. A friend who was a much better player than I told me that I wouldn't be able to touch it for at least a year. I asked myself the following: if I practiced the first four notes for two hours a day for two weeks, could I have them up to speed? The answer turned out to be yes, and the next four notes came more quickly. It took me just a couple of months to master that solo. A few guidelines:

a) If you are making mistakes you are practicing too fast. Period. Never practice without a metronome.

b) There is all the difference in the world between playing and practicing.

c) You are done with the part you are working on not when you get it right, but when it is EASY. Not before.

Steve Langham
Posts: 193
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2015 11:55 am
Location: Melbourne

Re: How many new pieces at once

Post by Steve Langham » Thu Jul 16, 2015 7:43 am

2handband wrote:
chesl73 wrote: Interesting, I can see how this would work but I would say it takes a fair bit of discipline because you are holding off the gratification of being able to (roughly) play the entire section/piece by just going very slowly mastering one phrase at a time. I'm not sure I could do this but I might give it a go.
So I suppose what you are saying is it will take you longer to play through the entire piece but when you do it's pretty much completed?

And when you've done a phrase and you move onto the next, do you temporarily ignore the previous mastered phrase or do you incorporate that?

And how and when do you tie these individually learnt phrases together?

When you say a 'phrase', what exactly do you mean? Might this be a single bar or a few bars, I assume it would be a reasonable self-contained snippet of the piece that musically makes sense?
(sorry for all the questions!)

Thanks
I'll take your questions one at a time but not necessarily in order:

1) A phrase is a musical idea. It can be varying lengths. For longer ones or particularly difficult ones I may break a phrase up into chunks. I'll even narrow it down to a couple of notes; if a three-note passage is slowing down the rest of the phrase I will probably reduce it to just those three notes, break out the metronome, and go to work on it. Don't waste practice time on stuff you can do... focus on the stuff you can't do.

2) Once I've learned the second phrase i'll try to play the first two phrases together. If the transition between phrases proves problematic i will work the transition until it's flawless. Basically I tie everything together as i go. I'll start a session by playing up to where I left off; that way I make sure I can still do what i did yesterday. If I can't i don't move on until it's fixed.

3) Correct: once you've gotten to the end you have a flawless, performance level work.

I assure you this does work. For one thing you're devoting all of your energy and focus to a single problem, and the brain will then take that as a cue to devote an enormous amount of resources to the problem. Think of it this way: the music you are practicing just became an exercise. What I mean is: if you are working on a piece with fast arpeggios, if you're just working a couple of bars worth of arpeggios with a metronome that bit of music just becae an arpeggio exercise. Once you've got it up to performance tempo, your command of arpeggios has improved and the next time you encounter them it will be easier.

I discovered this over 20 years ago when i wanted to learn a difficult hard rock guitar solo. A friend who was a much better player than I told me that I wouldn't be able to touch it for at least a year. I asked myself the following: if I practiced the first four notes for two hours a day for two weeks, could I have them up to speed? The answer turned out to be yes, and the next four notes came more quickly. It took me just a couple of months to master that solo. A few guidelines:

a) If you are making mistakes you are practicing too fast. Period. Never practice without a metronome.

b) There is all the difference in the world between playing and practicing.

c) You are done with the part you are working on not when you get it right, but when it is EASY. Not before.
Thanks for the details, I more or less do a 'lite' version of this, I don't wait to get each phrase up to performance standard and I 'glue' it together sooner I can practice longer sections not for the mechanics of it but for the general musicality and phrasing of the piece.

How do you get the musical element into the piece if you are essentially breaking a piece down into a set of mechanical 'bits'?

2handband
Posts: 948
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:31 pm

Re: How many new pieces at once

Post by 2handband » Thu Jul 16, 2015 11:49 am

Once you've got the mechanics down you can be as musical and expressive as you want, because you're not thinking about technique anymore. The point here is to get to a place where you're not worrying about screwing up and can just play.

2handband
Posts: 948
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:31 pm

Re: How many new pieces at once

Post by 2handband » Thu Jul 16, 2015 12:23 pm

Let me add an addendum to the above:

It may seem to take more discipline at first, but you'll find that you actually learn FASTER if you do it this way. You focus all of your energy on one small piece and you master it, and that small piece is done! You never have to worry about it again. More than that, the next time you encounter something that uses similar technique it will be easier.

I'll use as an analogy my basic rock guitar program most students go through. They learn the open chord E. They keep taking their hand away from the fretboard and putting it back until they have the shape and can quickly get into it. Then they learn A. Same deal. Then they practice transitioning between the two. Here's the important thing: they don't strum in between. Play E: one strum. switch to A: one strum. No rhythmic stuff in between, because that's a waste of time right now. How many people have you seen who have been playing for six months and still have to pause for chord changes? The students who listen to me don't have this problem. Once they can make this transition quickly and smoothly (it doesn't take long when done this way) I teach them Paperback Writer by the Beatles. To get the original key we add a capo at the third fret (give me a break; there aren't many two-chord songs out there and the G chord is much harder). They're only doing quarter note downstrums at this point; all the focus is going to the left hand.

We then add D, using the same exact methodology. They get to play All Apologies by Nirvana, with capo on 4 to play with the recording. Then G and Copperhead Road. And so on; they learn your 5 major and 3 minor open chords and a total of eight well-known songs before we add anything challenging in the right hand. Then we do strum patterns with eighth notes, and once again I have a careful, progressive system devised. Once that's done I add The Dreaded F Chord, and they get to learn another song.

Now what if we did it a different way? Suppose they just kinda halfway got the E to A change down, and we throw in the D chord? Now they have two extra transitions to add to their practice routine: E to D and A to D. Then we add more and more chords. Suddenly we have 8 chords, they struggle with almost all of them, and they have to devote attention to right hand rhythm as well. Now we have a dozen or so things they're dividing their practicing into, and nothing is getting any real attention or focus. I needn't tell you how little practicing the average student does, so that time needs to be absolutely maximized.

I usually struggle to get students to follow my practice instructions, and am forced to move forward faster than I would like to keep them interested. However, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the people who listen to me will learn 10x faster than those who don't. This is not an exaggeration; if anything it is a conservative estimate.

DanManGuitar
Posts: 87
Joined: Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:09 pm

Re: How many new pieces at once

Post by DanManGuitar » Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:09 pm

Evocacion wrote:
Sat Nov 01, 2014 12:21 pm
As a fellow autodidact, I do much the same.

I have 4 stages; Learning, Memorising, Practising, and Repertoire.

Learning is as you describe, figuring out the best fingering, and playing very slowly (I use a metronome at the first three stages) until I can play the piece from the music.

Memorising is then learning the piece so that I can play it through, still slowly, without the music.

Practising is slowly increasing the speed until I can play it at the proper speed.

Repertoire is the collection of pieces that I can (in theory!) play, with or without the metronome.

I currently have two pieces I'm learning, two memorising, and four practising.

I've no idea what happens if you have a mentor, but I'm sure someone will enlighten us soon...
My stages of learning a piece goes as follows:

Learning

Slowly going through the piece until I can play it through, aka with little to no technical or notational errors.

Practicing

Working through the piece measure by measure and deciding on phrasing, dynamics, points of interest, and all in all how to make the piece flow as music. It's important to play with music not only at this stage, but when learning as well. This is just "polishing" the musical aspects of the piece

Memorizing

Memorizing the piece to the point where I can play it without the instrument, and sing the piece in my head. Having a mental "hard copy" like this instead of muscle memory is vital for a fluid performance in case of concentration breaks, where your muscle memory fails you. This stage is so and so. I could have memorized while practicing, but usually I take the time to memorize the piece after I've practiced it. After memorization, I've usually sacrificed some habits of musicality in the piece so I want to work through it again.

Performance Polishing

This is polishing everything, and playing through it over and over again to prepare the piece for a performance. I often include practice performances and definitely recordings. The recordings allow you to hear it from an external perspective and allows you to make some more artistic decisions.

What do you think?

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