What is the best way for keeping pieces in shape once they've been worked thru and learned?

December 26, 2009 at 09:33 PM ·

What is the best way for keeping pieces in shape once they've been worked thru and learned?

Once I've learned and worked through a piece I'm having difficulties finding the time to keep them "under my fingers".  Many of the pieces are long concertos and sonatas and there just isn't time to pull them out and play them completely or even in part and still have sufficient time to practice my current music as well. 

Am I viewing this all wrong - should I just trust that my fingers will remember what I worked on six months ago and pull the piece out again only if I'm going to perform it?  My list of completed works is growing (which is a good thing) but I can't figure out how to keep them all maintained and still learn new music as well.

Replies (7)

December 26, 2009 at 10:17 PM ·

This seems to be the problem for me as well. I find if I completely relax It tends to just happen, it doesn't hurt to play the more difficult parts as a warm up before practicing newer pieces, there are a few things in certain pieces that I just can't manage to keep under my fingers without playing them everyday. I think it's absolutely crucial that you have some practice sessions where you play through as many pieces as you can. I have a little thing I do where I'll play to rehearsal no.1, and then after that's just they way you've learned it try connecting it to no.2 and so on. Same as a memorization excercise. I really don't think there is a special trick behind it, just got to find the time and do it.

December 27, 2009 at 12:01 AM ·


you have raised a very important point an d fortunatley there is a very simple answer.

All you need to do is set a regular day and time once a week to play through your repertoire.  This should be a short session. Half an hour is enough.   It is not a detailed practice session per se-  get through the piece from beginning to end.  Make a note of a few rough patches and do a litlte work,  but not very much.

Once you repertoire becomes longer and more complex one simply has to be more systematic. Keep a journal and cycle things so thta over a month or whatever all your repertoire is covered.  This allows you to run through a single movement one week of a sonata or whatever and the next movement next time if such a split is necessary.

I am an absolute bugbear on this system with my students. It is one of the first things I teach them and I often demand old repertoire off the cuff in a lesson to make sure they are staying with it.

It might sound a bit tough but frankly there is nothing more -stupid- than learning a piece of music and then putting it away for a year or forgetting about t completely.  What a waste!

The plus side is that if you are asked to do a concert on a few days notice or just `play a nice tune for your grandma` it is no sweat.

I call this appraoch to repertoire @being a professional amateur rather than a amateur professional.`



December 27, 2009 at 10:29 AM ·


That's a great New Year resolution: to put such a system in place.



December 27, 2009 at 12:23 PM ·


I'm lucky, I have no such problem whatsoever..... because I never learned a piece through and complete =) 

December 28, 2009 at 04:53 PM ·

When I was a student I often used to envy the way pianists so often seemed to spend so much time actually playing music – in contrast to being a violinist, where it seemed that you had to spend most of your practice learning how to play whatever single piece you were studying at the time; and little time actually just playing.

You would practise individual notes and rhythms, shifts, bow strokes and so on, up to a performance, with most of the actual playing-through and rehearsing usually close to the performance date; and after the performance date that would be the end of it, unless some other chance to play the piece arose.
Pianists, on the other hand, always seemed to be playing, with much less time spent doing the equivalent of practising shifts, intonation, bow strokes, and so on. Of course they do concentrated, over-and-over-again work too, and may spend hours mastering individual phrases or passages; and two pianists playing the same notes on the same piano may easily sound completely different from one another; but the difference between the violin and the piano remains – i.e. on the piano the notes are almost already there for you, but on a string instrument the notes have to be created ‘out of nothing’.
It took me some years before I realised that continually relearning old repertoire, so that it is never really 'old', is another important part of practice, and that by doing it we end up enjoying the same advantages as a pianist:
  • Suppose you have learnt 10 concertos, 10 sonatas and 10 short pieces. This would be a small repertoire for a professional soloist, but a much larger one than most players command.
  • Suppose the concertos and sonatas averaged 30 minutes each, and the short pieces 10 minutes each.
  • The total running time of all the pieces together, rounded up, is 12 hours.
  • So if you spent only one hour each week on old repertoire it would take only 12 weeks to play all of it, and you could do this four times a year.
  • So with a much smaller total repertoire than that, and shorter pieces, it is even easier to rotate all of it in quite a short time.
The feeling of being at home with a whole repertoire, instead of just one piece at a time, improves your confidence; and regular practice of already-familiar music greatly improves your overall command as a musician and player. 


December 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM ·

I don't know, sometimes I get things right unknowingly how I do it, not necessarily in violin, other more or less physical activities as well, but since I cannot reliably reproduce, I would not dare to say I learned, and I know them.. 

December 31, 2009 at 06:25 AM ·

This might sound a bit OCD, but I developed a system for cycling through Bach S&Ps and Paganini caprices.  I pick a movement every day, every week, and every month.  Or in Pag's case, longer than a month.  (Smile)  So in any given day, I'll hit three movements of S&Ps and three Pag caprices.  This system allows for "keep in the fingers" review, and in-depth work.  I need both.  (Smile again)

I cycle through the books, and although that might not be the most artistic and soul-satisfying way to review, it gets the job done.  Again, a bit OCD, but I work well with structure.  (Smile yet again)

In addition to the above, I also cycle through sonata, concerto, short piece repertoire, and etudes.  Sometimes I buzz through things under tempo, sometimes meticulous work on a small chunk, and sometimes I nail the flag to the mast and just play. 

As for managing time and lengthy pieces, you don't have to do the whole sonata/concerto/short piece at one time.  Even running through a page is better than nothing.  Good luck!

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