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  • Novice practice technique

    Hello all

    I'm an adult organ student just starting my 4th year of private study (career is far from music-related, so this is purely a hobby that I wish I had more time for). Most times when I approach a new work, I give it a cursory play-through, one hand at a time, then begin tackling it one phrase at a time at a VERY slow tempo. Once I'm more secure with one section, I move on to the next. I wonder if this is the most efficient way to learn - or would tackling the whole piece at a glacial tempo be of greater benefit? And when I say piece of music, it's nothing longer than one of the little P&Fs. Eager to hear your thoughts...

    Many thanks,
    Andy

  • #2
    I've always been instructed to learn each part separately, then combine the hands and finally add in the pedals. What does your teacher recommend?

    A technique I just heard about from a YT video of an organ department faculty member giving a seminar was to learn the piece starting at the end, moving backwards one measure at a time once you have mastered a new measure individually. So you master the last measure, then add in the one previous to that once you have learned it, etc., always playing through all of the measures you have learned so far. Sounds like an interesting psychological approach. I plan to try it after the holidays.
    Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

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    • #3
      Students of the great French organist-composer Marcel Dupre were taught to break down the music into phrases, play each hand and foot part separately until they could be played perfectly five times consecutively, then practice every combination and permutation of hands and feet together, again playing each combination perfectly five times consecutively, before moving on to the next phrase. The idea is that if you do all that, you've not only mastered the notes, but you've memorized them as well.

      I've never had the self discipline to that. I'll take a phrase at a time, practicing hands and feet separately as needed.

      An observational study of practice techniques used by competition level pianists revealed the two most important factors in practicing. The first is play slow enough to avoid making any mistakes. It didn't seem to make any difference whether the participants slowed down when they hit the difficult parts, or whether they maintained a slower tempo overall. It's the avoidance of the mistake that is key. The second is that if you make a mistake, correct it as soon as possible, don't continue on. When correcting a mistake, go back at least one measure to do so, because the mistake is due to something that occurred before you made it. The participants in the study who practiced in that manner did consistently better in competition than their peers that didn't.

      When I was a beginning student many decades ago, I was taught not to stop at a mistake, but to continue on and come back to it later. The idea, I assume, was to insure that you didn't get into the habit of interrupting the flow of the performance. As it turns out, that's not the correct advise when practicing.

      I've sometimes learned a piece backwards, but honestly, I didn't notice much difference. I think the advantage of that is simply that if you learn a piece forward to back, the earliest part of the piece gets the most practice.

      It's more beneficial to devote your practicing time to the trouble spots in isolation, rather than practicing consecutively in any order.
      -Admin

      Allen 965
      Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
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      • #4
        Andy,

        You've been given excellent advice by everyone so far. The P&F I always have people start with is F Major. Basic phrasing and technique can be learned without too complex harmonies.

        Search the Forum for "practice techniques" and see what you come up with. This topic has been presented several times before, and you'll also find some forgotten gems of techniques from former members.

        Best with your practice schedule.

        Michael
        Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
        • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
        • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
        • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

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        • #5
          My practice technique has changed a bit since I started lessons again. For a new piece, I will give it a run through at a slow (and flexible) tempo. This helps me gauge how difficult the piece is and figure out what sections may require extra work.

          I used to do the different permutations of hands and feet but I kept finding that it took extra time because I was learning the song seven different ways instead of just one. Now I only do hands and feet separate when I'm working out fingering because I can sightread one part at full speed. If I find tricky spots, I can try a few different fingerings quickly. Whichever fingering gets me through the tricky spot the fastest, cleanest, and easiest I will write into the music.

          After working out how I want to play the piece, I will begin learning the piece with all parts together (so that I get used to the interplay between parts) slow enough that I can follow the fingering I worked out and not make mistakes. I usually only work on one or two pages in a practice session.

          Finally, if getting familiar with the piece isn't enough for me to play it up to full speed, then I will pull out the metronome and begin speed training. I usually only work on one page per practice session. I start with the metronome set at a tempo I know I can cleanly play the page (or passage). Then I play the page. If I make a mistake, I must play the page again. If I make a mistake a second time I have to stop the metronome, work out the issue, and then try the page again with the metronome. If I play through the page cleanly, I get to bump the metronome up 5bpm and play the page again. I will always end the speed training session by playing the page (or passage) at about the highest tempo I reached during the session without the metronome as a treat. It always feels good when it's a clean run too.
          Sam
          Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
          Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

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          • #6
            Lots of good ideas here. Some thoughts based on what's been said so far:

            PRACTICING 'SOME' SECTIONS VS. 'ALL' SECTIONS - Focusing on 'SOME' allows you to pay attention to details and fix local mistakes. Focusing on 'ALL' allows you to see how the whole piece evolves and moves through its various sections. You can take note of how the sections differ from each other and then you can decide how much you want to highlight that difference. NOTE: When learning a piece in sections, make sure to practice the transition from one to the next, especially if it involved significant (to you) changes of tempo, key, style, mood, texture, manuals, etc.

            INDIVIDUAL PARTS OR LINES vs. PARTS OR LINES IN LIMITED COMBINATIONS vs. ALL PARTS TOGETHER - Again this allows you to see either how each individual part works on its own, how selected parts go together with each other, and how it sounds when everything is happening together.

            START SLOWLY WITH THE METRONOME, INCREASING SPEED AS YOU ELIMINATE MISTAKES vs. STARTING AT SPEED (OR CLOSE TO IT) AND ELIMINATING MISTAKES WITH EACH RUN-THROUGH. Like 'Some' vs. 'All', it presents the differences between detail and overview.

            START AT THE END OR THE BEGINNING - The thought behind starting at the end is that once you have it learned, you are always working toward the part of the piece that is potentially easiest or at least the most familiar. Many pieces are chosen for their beginning; nothing worse than working toward the end and having feelings of insecurity because it is the hardest or least familiar part of the song.

            NOTES:
            - Some of these techniques are chosen based on how difficult the piece is for you. If it's easy according to your own ability, you might not need to do the detailed practicing.
            - If you're working toward a particular performance (concert or exam) and you really need to have everything just right, you will want to choose the rehearsal techniques that will give those results. If you're playing background music for a chatty bunch of people, you might not need to spend so much time on certain details.
            - Personal learning strengths and weaknesses need to be taken into account. MEMORY and MUSCLE FACILITY are two large issues. MEMORY: I had one teacher who sat with the score away from the keyboard to memorize it; only when she had it completely memorized did she go to the keyboard to 'begin practicing.' MUSCLE FACILITY: If you're learning a piece that includes fingering or hand position changes that aren't familiar to you, you may have to spend more time making those feel comfortable in your own body. When I first started to learn pieces by Messiaen, I had to get my head and fingers around his chords.
            - Some of the 'opposite' techniques are worth working on at the same time, eg fast vs. slow, or some vs. all. That way, you learn both detail and overview; your fingers have the chance to improve through focused practice and test their new-found skills in the run-through at speed.
            - Remember that your practicing will change by degrees as you play more music. Things that you learn in one piece will probably come up in another; the second piece will benefit from any work you did for the first.
            - Study the 'side topics' like harmony, counterpoint, form and ornamentation. The greatest literature of the world is composed using the rules of these subjects. When you can understand them better, you will be able to anticipate what comes next, you will see how the separate lines work with each other, you will see how each composer uses the musical language to create a personal approach to the basic rules.

            ABOVE ALL - Spend time at the keyboard, playing.

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            • #7
              I'm grateful to everyone for your input. These are all wonderful suggestions that I'll take to heart.

              One in particular was the starting at the end and work backwards. I've done this before (and continue to do it) with the thought that in an airplane few remember a funky takeoff, but everyone comments about a bad landing (ask any pilot)! So why not have the ending nailed?

              Back to the console! Merry Christmas to all.

              -Andy

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              • #8
                Andy,

                I'm sure you know this already, but music tends to be repetitive. Look for patterns and repetitions. By dividing the piece accordingly, you'll have to do less work. Also, set goals. When learning a new piece, I'll set a goal of a certain number of measures (even only 1, if complicated) to learn. The next day, I review it, and the following day it is mastered. The goal could be phrases, or anything else which provides a good means of separation.

                Have a great Christmas.

                Michael
                Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

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                • #9
                  Something that has always helped me ...

                  Always begin and end the practice session with something you know and play well. I won't finish a practice session on a 'bad note'. <groan> :cool:

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                  • #10
                    I was given the advice to start at the end and work to the beginning. But I'll add directly that I cannot do it. The advantage of working end-to-begin is that as you progress you go into familiar parts.

                    But the same teacher insists of starting directly as close to tempo as you can. And there I try to follow. Playing in tempo from the start helps to get the feel and phrasing. Also you need to use the right fingering from start and won't get bad habits you have to relearn later.

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                    • #11
                      Many has been said already. And I agree.

                      But I have to ad a few extra remarks. Partly adapted from http://kantsmusictuition.blogspot.co...-practice.html and also informed from my professional knowledge of motor learning principles. This practise tips work perfectly for me, although I'm not dogmatic: the 15-20 min also can become somewhat longer or shorter.

                      1. Practice with full concentration. Playing around with less concentration is not effective.
                      Be aware of every (every !) motion of your fingers, feet and body. Plan the motions as carefull as possible, if needed with written-in fingerings. This is essential to develop the right 'playing reflexes'. Meanwile, keep relaxed your shoulders etc.
                      If you get tired, take a break. If one has 2 practise hours, say 4x30 min. or maybe 2x60 min. is better than 1x120 min.

                      2. Choose sections wich you can master in 15-20 min. If you can master it in 5 min, the section is too tiny, if you cannot master it in this time the section must be broken in smaller parts. Even if it will become as smal as two (!) consecutive chords/notes

                      3. Don't practise a section longer than 15-20 min. If you have more time, chose another section.

                      4. Repeat the practised sections every day. They will become firmly anchored in your 'musical brain'. According to mr Kant (link above) it will take 7 days as a max. to master the passage - I cannot confirm that from my own experience, but surely 10-12 days will do. And sometimes only 3-4 days.

                      5. Pay attention to link the sections. At first perhaps using the metronome. The point here is, your sections must become frases en the frases must become a whole piece, in an even tempo (if desirered - depending on the style of the piece in progress).

                      6. Form a repertoire. Once learned, set the piece aside for some months, than pick it up again. Repeat the above procedures, relearning the pieces will be shorter than the first time.
                      Repeat this a few times (set aside for months, then picking it up again) until you can play the piece flawless, despite not having played it for some months.

                      All this requires a good amount of discipline. For me this is the greatest problem. But the pieces I have learned with this approach are firmly anchored in my repertoire. I can fully recommend this procedure, in addition to the already given practice tips in this thread.

                      Hope it helps a little. D.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Admin View Post
                        Students of the great French organist-composer Marcel Dupre were taught to break down the music into phrases, play each hand and foot part separately until they could be played perfectly five times consecutively, then practice every combination and permutation of hands and feet together, again playing each combination perfectly five times consecutively, before moving on to the next phrase. The idea is that if you do all that, you've not only mastered the notes, but you've memorized them as well.

                        I've never had the self discipline to that. I'll take a phrase at a time, practicing hands and feet separately as needed.

                        An observational study of practice techniques used by competition level pianists revealed the two most important factors in practicing. The first is play slow enough to avoid making any mistakes. It didn't seem to make any difference whether the participants slowed down when they hit the difficult parts, or whether they maintained a slower tempo overall. It's the avoidance of the mistake that is key. The second is that if you make a mistake, correct it as soon as possible, don't continue on. When correcting a mistake, go back at least one measure to do so, because the mistake is due to something that occurred before you made it. The participants in the study who practiced in that manner did consistently better in competition than their peers that didn't.

                        When I was a beginning student many decades ago, I was taught not to stop at a mistake, but to continue on and come back to it later. The idea, I assume, was to insure that you didn't get into the habit of interrupting the flow of the performance. As it turns out, that's not the correct advise when practicing.

                        I've sometimes learned a piece backwards, but honestly, I didn't notice much difference. I think the advantage of that is simply that if you learn a piece forward to back, the earliest part of the piece gets the most practice.

                        It's more beneficial to devote your practicing time to the trouble spots in isolation, rather than practicing consecutively in any order.
                        Many responses include very good advice, but I would suggest this one by admin is the best. The fundamental approach expressed here is how I teach and advise my students, and as a performer how I practise. A way to summarise it could be to say you should practise in sections/segments (segments no longer than your brain can take in, so sometimes they must be very short), overlap these segments, and when you make a mistake go back to make sure you’ve addressed the cause.
                        Viscount C400 3-manual
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                        • #13
                          Although I don't (by choice) teach classical organ, practice technique is the same, virtually irrespective of the instrument involved. Certainly so for my organ, piano and keyboard students.

                          There's a lot of very sensible stuff already mentioned and I've been nodding my head as I've skimmed through the thread.

                          Breakdown, isolation, sorting out all the tricky bits before you start really working on the rest, 'practise until 5-in-a-row go perfectly' (I'm gentle with most of my hobby players and 3 in a row is usually OK, but for exam students, that could be 5 or 7 and I have one friend who insists on 21 for his advanced students!). It's all part of standard practice for my lot.

                          If it's not already been mentioned, there's the requirement to study the piece first, before playing a single note, then learn each part - notes, fingering, dynamics etc and then start to practise, using the methods already talked about. This was the core of my written thesis that formed part of my final teaching diploma - I called it SLAP, for Study, Learn And Practice. I was going to call it SLP but it sounded like a political party!

                          And the need, when working through those tricky bits, to integrate them into the surrounding 'easier' bits. The tricky bit might be something like a fast run of notes requiring very precise fingering, an awkward cadence or a large hand or foot move. Once that's been perfected, I get my students to run past it for maybe a bar. Then to start a note or two before and run past, and then to gradually work back until they are starting maybe a bar or two before, running at full practice speed and going a bar or two past. And they do that for every tricky bit.

                          Only then, start to bring the piece up to performance speed.
                          It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

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