How much time, in weeks, months, or years, do you take or recommend taking for learning a chunk of repertoire, say a concerto, or one of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas? When does lack of success begin to mean that one lacked preparation?
I once had a tennis teacher who told me that I should give myself three years' time before reaching the conclusion that I would never learn ;) .This question is asked in the same spirit.
My own starting point would be to use as long as it takes, but there must be a moment when it is more beneficial to switch to something else and to revisit that difficult piece later. On the other hand, by switching too soon I would settle for a piece superficially learned.
I think there are two main componets of this question.
The firts is simply to ask what is your goal for the work in question. If it is for a performance on a secfic date then the piece has to be finished . Looking for a deifntion of `finished` in this instance the best I cna suggest is the simple application of common sense. Most of us `know` what we expect in a concert , an issue which itslef relates to venue and relationship to performers.
The second aspect is another of those difficult things to which the answer is simple (maybe). If you are not getting better you are utilizing the wrong approach and it may be time to decide which aspect of your current situaiton is not working, be it time constriants, teahcer or whatever.
In the genuine artistic sense a piece can never be finished and musicna sare doomed to a life of struglging to get one mor eounce of perfeciton closer to a finsihed prject. I think ASM once used the analogy of straing at a candle in the distance. Unfortunately it is moving so the closert you get the more it remains the same distance. Perhaps the end of the rainbow, too...
Mastering the Bach Sonatas and Partitas???
N E V E R
Bart said "learning", not "mastering".
>Don't you think there are points of diminishing returns as one climbs the learning curve with any new piece of music ?
Iagree that the degre eof improvement does inevitably become smaller, but while the improvemnt is still taking place one should still be motivated to practice. Part of the trick of this I think is to constantly strive to make what one is trying to do more difficult. For example, suppose one were to be quite comfortable playign an akward passage in 16ths - 9instea dof putting it aside one could stretcvh oneself to make it more and more difficult while kepeing inmind the factors of good sound, intonation and ease of performance.
Thingscan also get worse or more difficult. Sometims this happens because of a process of deconstruction and reconstruction as a new skill is added to the current knowledge edifice. One has to accept this and be patient,
> I know that sometimes I will toss a piece of music aside only to pick it up a week later and find is has become easier ?
Yes, that shoudl happen. One way or another one can be constnatly improving. I am very disappointed if I don`t feel things getting better on a weekly basis. But its a bit like weighin yourself on a daily basis if you are dieting- its not a good idea to read too much into short time intervals (a day a soppposed to a week) because there are so many other facotrs thta could be screwing the pooch in the short term. I have days when I feel stiff, tired and minus the muse. All I can do is discipline myself to do the necessary technical work as thoughtfully as posisble and then rea da good book....
>Also, how should all of this be treated to formulate an approach to learning ?
Depends on the individual of course. An obviously importnat thing to do is systematically review repertoire. A good way is to set aside 30 minutes at the same time and day of the weke and play through a whole work, only polsihng rough patches for a minute or two. As you accumultae more repertoire learn to roate so that it all gets covere dover the space of a few months. Dont be random about this. I ask all my studnets to do this on all the repertoire they have played over a few years and then I oftne turn up and spring an @old` work on them and find they haven`t taken this advice ;)
The other thing yu might do is approahc things from the other direction as it were. IE suppose you wnat to play a cocnerto in a few mnonths down the raod. If you play it through two or three times once a week for a few months before starting it you will find that a gretA deal of the work has already taken place and the hard core work proceeds much more smoothly.
Another aspect of this readnes sbusiness is to ask what one prioritizes. Violnist tend to focus on intonation to the detriment of othere things. Pianist focus a lot on phrasing and are not veyr onscious of intonation issues and so forth. I think the advice of Burtn Kapln in his `Artistic Development is very good. He suggests that focusing on the musical line and dynamics fi5rst and foremost sustians interets in a piec efor much longer. Little by little one begins to work in greater deal on technical passages but if one begins by trying to get difficult passages onehundred percent correct at the expsne of eevrythign else than interest tends to be much harder ot sustain in the long run.
>Is it reasonable to say that sight reading becomes VERY important for the pros ? Does that influence jobs for large orchestras ?
I think perhaps it is slightly les semphasized these days. When I were a lad British orchestras were nororiously good at sight reading and American orchestras weren`tr. One of the cause was econmic. Orchestras in the US had all these brilliant player sand more money for rehearsal toime- the end prodcut was as good or often better than all but the top Brit orchestras which could hold their own anywhere. Todays pros have -awesome- techniques and if they show the abilty to prepare orchestral excerpts with precision , style and so forth that pretty much says all that needs to be said. There is an unspoken demand for sight reading of course in the sense thta if the work is standard rep (tchaik 6 or whatever9 the amount of rehearsal may be cut to almost nothing. If by some freak you haven`t yet played that work you had better get your `sight reading` skills together pretty fast.....
Buri (not SB ;))
What I wouldn't givefor better sight-readig skills. I wouldn't have to practice so much then...
For me, getting something up to a performance level can take anywhere from sight-read to two years. Depends on how well we get along.
When I was at college in UK students would spend a whole academic year learning say a Mozart and a romantic concerto and a solo Bach work, as well as all the technical work. Or even just the first mvt of the concertos.
However the subject came up on the vcom forum and Kurt Sassmanshaus wrote down a list of all the concertos and the correct order to learn them in, and recommended about 3 months on each till performance, though they could be put aside for a few months if needed in order to gain the edge on them. I cited the above and suggested it would be above the abilities of the 'average' (ie non-Delay) student and he was quite adamant that it worked and he had seen it in practice many times.
Never give up though - I was trying to play a particularly nasty viola piece on and off for 20 years and could never quite get it, but over the last few years it has come right and I can now play the piece through. The power of positive thinking coupled with realistic timescales can achieve an awful lot IME.
"When am I finished?" I asked that in a blog a while ago. I think this is a big question for adult amateurs. I've found it easier to grapple with now that I have a teacher--"when my teacher says it's ready."
But seriously, I think it's important to break it down and define "lack of success" and "common sense." I'm in the process of discovering a few things that were in my way that I hadn't realized before. For example, I never memorized pieces when I was younger. Now I consider that a step in learning a piece. I don't know exactly how long it takes me to memorize pieces, but it seems to be about a page a month at my current (relatively low) levels of practicing. (If I need it to take less time, I can, within limits.) So, if a movement of a concerto is 4-5 pages, it's probably going to take me 4-5 months. That would make the whole concerto take at least a year, which fits with my past experience.
Another relatively new benchmark for me is intonation as measured by the tuner. I'll use the tuner to identify spots where the intonation needs work, then I work on those spots with intonation in mind. I'm "finished" doing that when I can play it at tempo, in context, without specifically thinking about intonation, and keep the tuner in the green. For some spots this takes one practice session. For others it seems to take weeks.
I can imagine there could be some where the time will seem to approach infinity. That is, I'll be working on it for a couple of lessons and it's still got the same problem it had when I started. At that point, it's probably time to talk to my teacher about the passage and see if we can identify why I'm not achieving the intonation I want. Is it a shifting issue? Do I need another fingering? Am I not hearing it properly in context? Is it a problem with rhythm or subdivision? Can we identify a scale exercise or etude that will help me work on that specific thing? If a piece has too many such spots, one after another, or if the scale exercise or etude that I've identified is also just too hard for me and needs its own analysis and breakdown, then it's probably time for me to put the piece away for a while.
bart, i am not sure at this point if you still have a violin mentor, but i think to move onto higher levels, that should be a reliable source of wisdom.
for instance, when we look at very high level masterclasses, we still see issues with both tech and musical understanding, as in, learning to apply the right tech for the right moment and knowing why. one poster uses the phrase "diminishing returns", but i think it is the tiny details within the diminishing returns, collectively, that make the difference in the final presentation. 89% vs 99%. the diminishing returns are often overlooked because lack of sources of inspiration or fuller understanding. if we don't see or hear it, or think of it, it is not there:)
on one hand, as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss,,,we have to draw the line somewhere for practical reasons. on the other, the need and room for improvement is limitless.
fortunately, until we are dead, 2 things are going for us: time and interest to improve.
Thank you all for your responses. Keep them coming!
I have found that I get discouraged much easier than my teacher does. I blame my left arm for alot of problems, (shattered the elbow). It's challenging yes, but my teacher has taken me to places I never thought I could achieve. If left up to my own devices I wouldn't have given up, but I would have taken the easier road to bad habits and marginal ability.
I'm still marginal, but I'm having a heck of alot more fun, and I'm getting much better than I thought I could by now!
This is so personal to each one. I know that I want the things the most perfect possible (It's my personality but of course I am not able to always succed the way I want because of that!) and end up to spend often one year or more on something that many would spend much less time on! I often find myself crazy to work so hard for such simple things when I analyse the situation. But it is not a good thing to compare the time I spend on something vs the time other do on the same thing because I am always the one who have to spend the most time and it is pointless to get all upset and lose precious time. It is really hard to tell!
ps: someone talked about motivation when you play the same thing for a while to master it a little more. I personnally love to find a good recording of it and it is so exciting to hear it well played. And for those who are afraid to copy, it's impossible even if you would like too. Everyone is made different and will sound different!
For me the objection to copying has less to do with the sound and more a very serious cocnern on two grounds:
1) Ss (and pros;)) begin using the mannerisms of an indiividual artist and sound contrived and fake.
2) It becomes a cructh that deadens the creative instinct. Instead of striving to find your own way to play a phrase , no matter how crude itbmight be, one becomes artistically lazy.
Of curse the issue is not quite this simple. Time spent analzying in depth every note of a performance by Heifetz of Milstein or whatever can really wake up aa player and get them to see how deep an artist has to did for so long in order to appear so natural and effortless and this study is usually refelcted in one`s own work.
Perhaps its more a question of `when` one listens to a recording of a work one is studying?
Its a rela bugbera for me because her ein Japan it seems it is not possible to get a student to begin a work until they have lsitened to their favorite recording many times. It isone of the greta stiflers of originality in this country`s musicla culture.
Buri, since copying from the master is the Japanese way, it would seem futile to ask your Japanese students to try not to imitate some master. In my experience most Japanese simply get confused by that (outside of music though since I am not a music teacher). They often feel like all guidance has been removed and they're left with nothing.
In my experience, the trick is to given them several different "master" ways to copy and ask them to notice the differences between those different ways and pick out things they like. In my experience this is the best way to help Japanese folks to develop their own ideas. I would be surprised if this approach didn't equally work in music education.
Thus, perhaps you want to insist that they never try to copy from one single recording, but that they must always choose at least three different recordings. Perhaps you can pick those recordings for them, obviously in a way that they get exposure to interpretations that are as far away from each other as possible. That should give them something to chew on ;-)
At some point they will likely say "but I like this one best", which will give you the opportunity to ask them to explain in detail why that is. Again, something to chew on.
your description of the cultural situation is absolutley right. Your suggestiosn are indeed food for thought, but I do not think I would necessarily embrace them in totality because i think the point where the studnet says `I am lost. I have no model` is precisely where the role of the teahcer is to step in and say `Yes, you do.` In the same way I would teahc any other studnet form any other country (which I do have) I would simply ask them to sing It is through singin that all people of all races can find their insturmental voice becuas eit is the true reflection of their `spiritual voice.`
And of course, its much harder to get a Japnese student to sing in front of a teacher;)
Very interesting post you started here! Like Anne-Marie pointed out, it is a very personal thing. It depends on many factors: if you take lessons or not, study/practice habits, playing skill vs. difficult of the piece, etc...
There have been times I've studied a piece for up to 3 months straight, and others I gave up as a "lost cause" after a month or so, to be tried again later after gaining more proficiency with certain techniques. Then again, there have been difficult pieces I've studied for nearly a year or more and gain some level of proficiency playing it just because I wanted to learn it.
fair enough, like I said, I am not a music teacher, I was simply trying to apply my experience with Japanese folks in my own industry, which is technology. In technology, the Japanese have long managed to be creative and come up with their own ideas. So, I thought there might be a lesson to be learned by looking at how they got there in this field. Originally, in technology, too, the Japanese were just copycats but their copying became a little more challenging when they started to copy bits and pieces from different sources. Not only did that require them to make informed choices, for which they needed to understand the original design quite well, but they were then faced with the task to make different pieces copied from different sources fit together and thereby actually creating something new. It was through this process that they learned to design their own stuff and come up with their own ideas. Initially this was quite possibly happening more by accident than by intention.
I am using this to my advantage whenever I have to get young Japanese engineers to come up with an original solution to an engineering problem. I encourage them to copy individual bits and pieces which seem most suitable from elsewhere and reassemble them anew. Once they have done this a few times over for different problems, they start to think like designers, coming up with their own ideas. I would think that in principle it should be possible to use this "method" in one form or another to develop creativity in other fields as well, quite possibly in music education, too. But like I said, I am not a music teacher, so I am not really in a position to give you any advice. Food for thought was more what I intended to give you ;-)
"... its much harder to get a Japnese student to sing in front of a teacher;)"
Haha, that's funny.
My (Japanese) violin teacher sings (or more precisely hums) when she is reading a piece of music from the score that she doesn't know, but she never asked me to sing or hum. Not that I would have a problem with that.
"When does lack of success begin to mean that one lacked preparation?"
I don't think this is a black and white thing, that there is any specific point where you can say, in this case there is a lack of success due to lack of preparation and in another case there isn't.
You mentioned Bach's sonatas and partitas as an example. It is interesting to note that after Bach's death and until about 100 years ago, those were considered to be good for exercising only, not suitable for performance. Thus, for about 150 years or so, the sonatas and partitas where practised for the purpose of improving technique and nothing more. In that context, success would have meant that practising them improved one's technique, and not that one was able to perform them.
This can still be valid today. You can practise the sonatas and partitas and gain from doing so even if you do not yet play them well enough to perform them, even if you never manage to perform them. In fact, I personally feel that I learned more from practising the sonatas and partitas than I did from practising actual exercise material (e.g. various etudes). I also feel that it is far more fun to practise them even at a rudimentary level not yet suitable for performance. Thus, I would define success in this context: If I have fun practising it and my skills improve by practising it, then I will call this success and there is no reason to give up practising it.
But even if you want to define success in the context of "ready or at least almost ready for performance" you will need to make different allowances for different pieces. Something like say Dvorak's Humoresque you will probably be able to learn and polish ready for performance within a week or two, while a movement from the Bach sonatas and partitas may take you a month or two to learn and polish to a similar level. Or maybe it will take you even longer, but if so, what's the problem? If you are having fun practising, there is no reason to stop.
The best way to answer your question is to try it and see what happens.
Violin playing is like many activities and pursuits, ask a question and there is no answer except to find out by your own experience. Would knowing the answer change your course of action? The answer to that question will be more revealing.
I stumbled upon this lesson in a very useful way: A year ago I learned for the first time that myopia is preventable and reversable (by chance about the same time that my optometrist told me my eyes were so myopic I was at a risk of blindness from retinal detachment). I kept asking on forums: will it work for me? What if my eyes get worse? No answer. Well, that was a year ago (wearing -8 glasses) and now I can see well enough for most situations not to need any glasses at all.
i have some japanese friends but certainly do not have the level of understanding of japanese culture like ben and buri but i find their dialogues very interesting, particularly about the proper/prim ways, being rather restrictive/conservative if you will, or about being copycats...
i wonder if buri have taught kids/people in europe, or usa, or other parts of asia,,,are people outside japan really that different? ben, what are young engineers like outside japan?
when i read v.com, my overwhelming sense is that serious students of violin continuously search for their own idendities, listening to this clip, watching that, studying how this piece is played by this and that, discussing their concerns, probably more directly and honestly than with their teachers.
how is the v.com approach, if there is one as i have described, different from a stereotypical japanese student ?
are people fundamentally the same with only exterior dressing, or is it really such a deep gap?
in response to ...
"ben, what are young engineers like outside japan?"
young engineers in Europe (and also the US) are typically reluctant to copy 1:1, even while they are still not proficient enough to design their own stuff and are still supposed to learn from existing design patterns by replicating them, they always try to invent a better mousetrap, and most of the time they come up with something lousy as a result. Their enthusiasm for inventing seems to generate some kind of urge to proof that they are already better than all the experienced folks who have done this for ages before them. Mind you, this has its pitfalls, too.
Please note that when I say the Japanese are copycats, I don't mean that as disrespectful as it sounds. The Japanese way is to learn from the master, do what the master says, never question the master, imitate the master, try to become just like the master. But make no mistake, the development does not stop there. A Japanese master in whatever art or craft will follow his own ideas and develop his own way. The difference is mostly the timing here. In the Western system, having one's own ideas and experimenting with them is considered part of the learning process early on, while in the Japanese system it is considered a privilege that is acquired only after many years of following the master.
In other words, the Japanese are discouraged to have their own ideas until they have reached a level of proficiency that would seem to qualify them to have meaningful ideas that are worthwhile following, while in the West we are encouraged to have ideas and experiment with them even if they are silly as we haven't learned enough yet to come up with good ideas, the idea being that we learn from our blunders. However, in both systems, masters in whatever discipline are expected to have original and meaningful ideas and be able to follow and develop them into something tangible and worthwhile.
thanks ben, interesting. since you are not into violin professionally, and neither am i, let me ask you this: you don't find classical violin learning, anywhere in the world for that matter, essentially a process of "copycatting" the teacher from day one? that buri's funny anecdotes being descriptions of his students' deviation from his desired copycatting process, accentuated by a cultural gap? :)
since when are students allowed or encouraged to play outside the teacher's paradigm? :)
student: i am kinda feeling like holding the bow like a fiddler from now on, sensei,,,
teacher: go right ahead my creative child. reinvent the wheel, be yourself and explore. come back with a rotator cuff problem and we explore that!
Al, I think that what Buri described was more a case of copying some master on a CD rather than copying the teacher. Perhaps, he would prefer if his students were to imitate him instead of some CD recording but I sensed that he didn't provide them with a recording of himself but instead he uses other means of providing direction which apparently his students didn't find as convenient to follow as a recording.
I did not mean to suggest that this kind of thing would only happen with Japanese students, I simply said that Japanese are particularly prone to want to follow a recording because their education system is built upon imitation and memorisation and thus imitating and memorising is what they are most comfortable with.
don, if by following tradition you amass the proper tech, there is perhaps a better chance for us to see the better of you musically:)
ben, i am not picking on anything, just find the topic interesting and rather provocative. whether buri's students follow him/other masters is not an issue to me. as a student, we all have ideals and aspirations. my opinion is that, in the beginning, until someone has learned enough, developed strong enough wings to fly independently, to follow the tradition, worded as copycatting, or listening to each and every word what a good teacher suggests, is a good thing. at least as far as classical violin is concerned. of course, if buri's students are conservatory level and still demonstrate childlike wonders, or giggles when not ticklish, that will be a different issue. or talent:)
copycatting has many levels. we all do it in our daily lives at some level, since childbirth:) it is an efficient way to learn from others' experiences, and if we care to, copycatting involves much thought processing.
Yes, indeed copying or imitating is a very good learning tool, and it is used as such everywhere, not just in Japan. My point was that the kind of imitation generally taught in Japan is the variety that minimises the amount of thinking the student has to do, consequently Japanese kids get used to the convenience of memorising ready made recipes without the inconvenience of thinking. I can see where this leads to situations where a teacher who wants his or her students to do a little more thinking while copying or imitating will face a bit of a challenge.
in a way, that may be also related or rooted in the typical asian education systems, namely, japan, s korea, hk, etc where there is no room/time for individuality and everything is for sticking to the curriculum and passing exams after exams, from kg to college. even on this board once in a while we see opinions that asian violinists have good tech but poor expression. granted, that is a generalization, but even i see some truth to that. one cannot reform a habit or, a way of being, overnight.
On a slightly more on-topic note ....
Q: How long does it take a violinist to change a lightbulb ?
A: About 15 minutes; he or she has to play the Bach Chaconne first to proof him/herself that he/she can play it from memory in the dark
does `60 what`s` equal the usual number of intonation lapses?
Interesting, it's a little off topic but I have also wondered for a long time about what was the effect on those who tried compulsivly to copy great masters. It is great to listen to them if it is inspiring and can "wake" you up but I never tried to analyse to the point of noticing and studying where they did accents, bowings etc. For all the dynamics and things, I listen to my teacher or suggest something in rare occasions but no more. I think, as I said, that even for someone who would like too, it would be impossible. One is not the master and the master is not one! I often listen pieces from my idols (chocolate cake for them but hard stuff for me!) and do not necesarely have the same ideas at the same places. Maybe in the Japanese culture, it is outrageous to disagree with something done by a great master but this is weird to me.... If I disagree with something one of my idols do, it doesn't mean that he or she is no good, it doesn't mean that I think my way is better ( it would be so pretentious!), it doesn't mean at all I put myself at the same level. It is strickly a matter of taste, not a critic to a master's playing that is 100% more interesting! Maybe the Japanese are afraid to disagree with thing x a great master do... but I don't know and don't live in Japan!
Thank you all very much. So many useful tips, and a cross-cultural analysis as an added bonus! A few things in response:
What is my goal for the pieces I play? To enjoy them; to improve my playing; to fend off the ridiculous that is always so near an amateur musician. The latter would argue against difficult pieces ;) .
Of course, one's work on a piece is never truly finished. The question was, when I should do better to put up with the deficiencies that remained than plod on.
For now, having one long-term project and various pieces that I can deal with in shorter periods seems the best thing to do, while I'm searching for a good teacher. "Long" would mean a year or so, and "short" a few weeks.
Studying the Bach S&P probably is like painting the Eiffel Tower: once you have covered them, it is time to start over from the beginning. I fully intend to.
Bart, I think the answer lies in maintaining a good balance. You probably want to continue practising one (or more) difficult piece(s) even if it may seem at times that it is still a little over your head, but at the same time you should also practise (and polish) pieces that are easier and match your level.
In respect of the sonatas and partitas (or Bach in general) I found that they are still fun and still sound good at low tempo. By that I mean a tempo lower than what would be considered correct and you wouldn't get away with at an audition or performance. When I hit a wall I simply play at such a tempo where I can play clean without it posing much of a challenge if any. The nice thing about Bach is that the pieces remain enjoyable. This is often not the case with works from other composers, especially non-baroque. Anyway, this gets me over a slump until I am ready again to get some more of the challenging passages right at or closer to correct tempo. I believe to have noticed that the falling back to such low tempo practise has a positive effect overall.
Also, I feel that regular practise of a select piece above my level provides a useful contrast to practising pieces that are still difficult but nevertheless match my level. All of a sudden they aren't that scary anymore and feel much more approachable. This is quite probably only a mental thing, a sort of placebo effect if you want, but hey, it helps anyway.
>feel that regular practise of a select piece above my level provides a useful contrast to practising pieces that are still difficult but nevertheless match my level. All
Very true. I also think you might take this idea from a slightly differnet perspective. In his book Auer reocmmende thta one uses individual passage sof difficulty from works one is not actually studying. Although this is frowned upon by a lot of teahcers i know I think it is a greta idea. I don`t think it is detrimental to the overall work later on.
As a case in point I hav a very lazy studnet who really couldn`t be botehre dot work adequatley on double stop scales. I knew she had adream to play the Mendelsohn so I made her learn the thirds in the first movement relentlesly with so many diffenrt fingerings and rythm patterns she could play it in her sleep. After that she became interested in doind her nuts and bolts homework.
Good point Buri.
I too noticed that practising pieces that I am probably not ready for yet makes me aware of insufficient prerequisites and it makes me even more motivated to work on those prerequisites.
Of course one can take this too far. That's why it is important to find the right balance.
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January 19, 2009 at 02:51 AM ·
I think for most people, the more appropriate question is how much time does one have.