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Thread: Tips on learning a new piece

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    Default Tips on learning a new piece

    Hi guys,

    Although I have read music all my life, my piano playing extends across many genres. However, I recently returned to serious piano music reading and decided that I need to maintain my practice daily or more frequently. What are some tips for learning a new piece? Furthermore, learning a new piece as ASAP? When should I improvise on portions of the piece? While I'm aware that there are certain classical pieces by the great composers which require note for note performance, there are some modern music which has been transcribed by technology and doesn't seem pianistic when performance is attempted (in some bars). What attitude should I take towards bars that seem nonpianistic? Should I improvise on these areas, (in other words, not play those bars exactly as written)?

    Thanks in advance.

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    for learning new music, these are some things I do...

    I like to listen to the work for a while before I even pick up my instrument and start to look over the score

    the first time you read through it, go slow and take your time. Don't just sight read it. this first reading is important, so take your time.

    break the piece down in to small parts, maybe even down to single phrases if it is really technical, and work out all the fingering and technical problems.

    It is good to start at the end of the work and work toward the beginning. That way in performance, the deeper you get into the piece, the more familiar you are. this makes a big difference performing because ending strong can absolve you of a lot of sins early on.

    then after I have worked out all the technical issues and can play the piece at tempo, I start memorizing from the end to the beginning, a phrase at a time.

    regarding whether you play all the notes or not....I say that is up to the player. It is your interpretation. The risk you take is that people out there listening know the piece and that they don't like what you did with it. That is the chance you take. As an artist, if your idea is musically sound, then have at it. You know the risks, so take your money and place your bets.

    and for myself, whenever I am playing a transcription, I go back to the original work. If the notes that are trouble are not in the original, then I may make my own transcription of that section. If they are in the original, then you have to consider what you are going to do then, don't you?

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nate Miller View Post
    I like to listen to the work for a while before I even pick up my instrument and start to look over the score
    In general I think you have some very good suggestions, this one some would disagree on. I remember I participated in a master class with guitarist Jerome Ducharme who said he never likes to listen to recordings of pieces he is working on as it would likely influence his own interpretive choices too much.
    However I think for a lot of beginners it can be helpful, (I certainly used to do it) but I try to avoid it now at least until after I've worked on the piece myself a good long while.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    In general I think you have some very good suggestions, this one some would disagree on. I remember I participated in a master class with guitarist Jerome Ducharme who said he never likes to listen to recordings of pieces he is working on as it would likely influence his own interpretive choices too much.
    However I think for a lot of beginners it can be helpful, (I certainly used to do it) but I try to avoid it now at least until after I've worked on the piece myself a good long while.
    I've heard that argument before at a master class myself, so its good you brought that out.

    there were times in my life that I didn't want to listen to anything either, and for that very reason, but I'm in a different place now.

    but it is something for people to think about...do you or don't you listen to the pieces you are playing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nate Miller View Post
    for learning new music, these are some things I do...

    I like to listen to the work for a while before I even pick up my instrument and start to look over the score

    the first time you read through it, go slow and take your time. Don't just sight read it. this first reading is important, so take your time.

    break the piece down in to small parts, maybe even down to single phrases if it is really technical, and work out all the fingering and technical problems.
    Good advice. Slow practice, one chunk at a time, is very helpful.

    I sometimes find it useful to practice each section hands separately when beginning a new piece, at least for the most challenging sections.

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    I agree with Nate Miller, in listening to a recording of the piece, so you can "internalize" it. It works with playing jazz standards, too.

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    Junior Member Amadeus Tentacles's Avatar
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    I agree with alot of what other members are saying. I play piano and usually I try not to listen to many other interpretations because you will most likely reflect and play subconsciously similar to what the performer is doing. I think the best way is to take it one piece at a time. One hand at a time if needed and also study the piece before you play it. Look at what parts you think you will have a harder time with and while learning the piece take those parts that are harder and spend extra time on them. A friend of mine I know plays a hard section about 100 times to get it right and make sure it clicks. (Might be a little over doing it) but hey it works. So just take your time and dont become to discouraged if you are having a hard time with it.

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    Okay learning a new piece depending on the level can take some time and practice. What I do is play through slowly separately. First with my right hand, then left. After I do this without mistakes I do both hands together slowly. Now, if the piece is especially difficult you might just have to take by measure. If you don't have a metronome, that is a requirement...YOU NEED IT!!! It helps so you don't rush or slow down. Good luck!!

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    I typically will refrain from listening to recordings of music, and instead interpret the writing as I would a book. At the end of the day, my interpretation will be unique to the other recordings. Not in any way do I mean to discourage anyone else on doing the same -- There are many pros to listening to recordings. It depends on the learning style of the performer. Best of luck on your piece!

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