Whole concerto versus just single movements

December 27, 2018, 11:19 AM · I'm just curious -- when you are learning or teaching, do you do just one movement of a concerto or the entire concerto? Both my son's current teacher and his former teacher have always had him do full concertos (once past the Suzuki stage) but a lot of others seem to only do one movement, usually the first. For example, my son wasn't given Lalo until he had the ability to play all 5 movements at a high level, which he did. But we know kids with other teachers who just do the first mvmt, or play just the 3rd mvmt of Mendelssohn, or the 1st mvmt of Bruch or Dvorak and never the 3rd.

I see the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches and was just curious what people do and why.

Replies (9)

December 27, 2018, 11:25 AM · It is always nice to learn a whole concerto. However, learning single movements is just fine. My teacher generally does single movements to leave more room for exploring other repertoire.
December 27, 2018, 3:58 PM · When I was a kid, single movements were super common, especially the teaching of last movements in isolation.

My current teacher (and my teacher before that, in adulthood) usually teaches the whole work, starting with the first movement and moving straight through. I think this is a better approach, personally. But it also depends on how quickly you are moving through repertoire.

When I was practicing steadily, I could learn a typical concerto to studio-recital performance level, in its entirety, in about three to four months. So that's three or four concertos a year, usually combined with short works and solo Bach and whatnot. Plenty of repertoire.

But you're taking a year to learn a concerto, which sometimes happened when I was a kid not really practicing, that's too long spent on a single composer and style of work, especially if it's the only repertoire. At that point it probably makes more sense to teach single movements.

Some of this is to deal with difficulty levels. For instance, I'm learning the Dvorak now, and the 3rd movement is vastly more difficult than the 1st and 2nd movements, so it's not insensible to teach just the 1st movement to a kid who's not ready to play the whole thing. Similarly, the 3rd movement of the Mendelssohn might be within the technical grasp of a kid not ready artistically to tackle the 1st movement. It's common to teach just the outer movements (1 and 5) of the Lalo, because both are competition fodder. Etc.

December 27, 2018, 7:38 PM · My son, a junior in high school, has always learned the complete concerto with his teacher. Now that he is doing competitions and getting asked to play solos with orchestras, he is so thankful that he learned the entire piece.

As a side note, he learned pieces at a pretty good clip when he was younger. He moved through the repertoire once he could play from memory, no stops and with piano. Now that he is revisiting pieces with more of an eye towards making music, the notes and rhythms have been imbedded into his memory. He is “relearning” Brahms Concerto right now and he has it in good shape after a few weeks. The hope is that the reviving time will take less and less time.

Hope this information is helpful.

December 27, 2018, 9:15 PM · What Steve writes makes sense to me. We always hear kids being held back from working on this or that because theyre not "musically" ready. But rep can be revisited later.
December 27, 2018, 9:25 PM · I love Vivaldi’s concertos and I aim to learn all three movements. His slow movements are challenging and often sublime.
Edited: December 27, 2018, 9:40 PM · Whole concerto, because why not? With no teacher, I have 100% control over my repertoire. My approach has been very similar to Steve's son; I learned a lot of pieces at a good clip in the past, only bringing them to where I can revisit and polish them relatively quickly.

This year has been unusual; I'm moving much more slowly through my current concerto (11 months on the Walton viola concerto so far) mostly because I've lost 100+ practice days to moving or injury in that time, and loaded myself with too many orchestra commitments when not injured.

Edited: December 28, 2018, 1:06 AM · When I did grade 8 oboe the prescriptions included only the first movement of the Mozart concerto. We did the 2nd for fun, but we didn't touch the 3rd.
When I did grade 8 piano I'm pretty sure I didn't do any concerto work of any kind.
December 28, 2018, 9:55 AM · My son moves through repertoire pretty quickly, usually learning a new movement each month or so in most cases, so I guess the complete concerto method is working well for him. When he is on an easier movement, his teacher supplements with more Bach or Paganini or harder etudes. I have to say, I have met a few kids who have hardly ever played a slow movement in their lives and they just cannot play as expressively. I think learning those slow movements is extremely important!
December 28, 2018, 11:17 AM · I guess it depends on the individual. I think some kids are totally capable of learning the whole concerto, but due to time constraints and wanting to explore a greater variety of repertoire, they choose to learn single movements instead.

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