Disadvantages of learning a piece?

July 14, 2019, 5:49 PM · One could think that the more you learn, the better. Nonetheless, I've experienced this is not always true. I'm sure I'm not alone. There are some pieces you love and respect a lot, admire, because, besides being beautiful and so meaningful, they are really difficult, they might seem impossible, so you see them as something not possible for a mere human, something godlike. One day though, you are so good you can learn and play them, but in the process, you break that kind of mystic wrap that hold the piece from your repertoire. It's then when you realize it wasn't such a holy piece, it's possible to do, its value decreases for you because now you can play it, it's not anymore something unreachable. Have you ever felt this way?
Have you thought about these things?
Are there other disadvantages you have discovered?

Replies (14)

July 14, 2019, 6:14 PM · The only time I've really experienced anything like this is when I try to learn something that's just plain too hard for me, even as a stretch goal. But in the past years I've been more disciplined about avoiding that.
July 14, 2019, 7:18 PM · I feel that after learning and performing a piece. When I pick up a new project, it's usually a piece of music that I love and that really moves me. But after so many hours of work and intense focus on one piece, I could probably go the rest of my life without hearing it again. When I'm done with it, I'm done with it.
Happens with pretty much every bit of music I learn or compose.
July 14, 2019, 7:46 PM · No. I almost always like something more after I've played it, and know all of its details.
July 15, 2019, 8:56 AM · I think the magic only begins once you get it under your fingers and you can finally give the piece the respect it deserves. When I get to that point I can just listen and enjoy the music - imo there's nothing better.
July 16, 2019, 1:21 AM · I do recognise your experience. But I now see the same proces over and over again in my own practicing: 1. I love a piece. 2. I start to practice this piece myself and it's a wonderfull discovery tour. 3. I play the piece for a while, I can play it but not good enough and start to really hate it. It is in my head, I dream about it, I just never ever want to hear it again. There is no magic left in it whatsoever 4. I start to master it a bit more, and can really work on interpretation. Think about how I really want to make a story about it etc. And I start to love it again in another way.
Steps 3 and 4 are coming back a couple of times with the same piece ;)

What annoys me most is that at the last point where I start to master the piece and really feel Ican spend time on interpretation, my teachers go on to the next piece. Where this is the moment where I want to spend so much more time to enjoy what I have received.
It is not that we didn;t work on interpretation of course, we did a lot already. But this is the moment I have to do the work myself: listen to a lot of others and really try out a lot in the details. This is where I can spend hours and hours enjoying myself (without the input of a teacher) As an amateur player I don't have these hours. So we go on to the next piece.

Edited: July 16, 2019, 7:45 AM · Suzuki said somewhere that the real work starts when we know the piece.
He also suggested three parts to practicing: listening to good recordings, reviewing known pieces, and last of all, challenges and progress.
This way, the first 2/3 of the practice is of good quality! And the "progress" will be that much faster.

But can we really expect the same emotions each time? There are moments when we can just concentrate on beauty of intonation and tone.

Success is deserved; joy is a state of grace.

July 16, 2019, 11:29 AM · M Snellen, this is where as an amateur you should assert yourself. You're paying for lessons; tell your teacher that that you want to spend more time on the piece rather than going on to the next thing.
July 16, 2019, 3:42 PM · I think it is good to humanize the music, take from mythic god-like realms and place it here on earth, where it was created.

Now, does that mean that a ton of music is not accessible (technically) to me at this time? Absolutely. Does it mean that I may never achieve enough technical mastery to play those pieces? Quite possibly. But does it mean that the music contains mythic unreachable special properties? No. More practice, more time, and maybe I'll be able to play some of the rep that I long to play...

I say this having played one of my goal pieces at my recital in January, and being in awe that I could perform it to the best of my nerve-addled ability. I'm still excited about the piece, and it is so awesome to be comfortable with it now! If anything, the piece has gotten more fantastic because of that.

July 17, 2019, 3:44 PM · Paul, I decided I agree with you. It'll totally wreck all the warhorse romantic concertos for me if I learn them. Especially the really effing hard ones. LOL
July 18, 2019, 12:02 PM · Lydia: "M Snellen, this is where as an amateur you should assert yourself. You're paying for lessons; tell your teacher that that you want to spend more time on the piece rather than going on to the next thing."

But what if the capacity of the teacher regarding the piece is exhausted? I suggest going to chamber music coaches for such purposes. They are used to focus on the musical/interpretation side of making music. They have experience in teaching those aspects. It is sometimes also interesting to work with coaches who are not violinists.

July 18, 2019, 12:18 PM · The only disadvantage to working on a piece is when a young student, still in the improvement stages of technical development, works on a major piece that they are not quite ready to play well. They will use primitive bowings and fingerings, and establish playing habits that are hard to break later, when more mature. But, if you are an amateur, with no intention of doing pro-level auditions, solos, competitions, then go ahead and work on that Beethoven concerto, you will enjoy it. Something like taking a painting class and trying to copy the masters.
July 18, 2019, 12:36 PM · Albrecht, if a teacher cannot help a student polish a work, I don't think that they are a very good teacher. Part of teaching interpretation is also the teaching of how to use technique in a fashion that is expressive.
July 18, 2019, 1:18 PM · I can see Albrecht's point in a sense that I think any instrumentalist can get caught up in certain ways of seeing a work through their instrument, and sometimes another musician without that baggage can see other possibilities. Sometimes I hear certain pianists approaches to pieces or composers, and I go, "I'd like to get that kind of sound or expression or phrasing". It can be freeing in a way.
Edited: July 18, 2019, 4:57 PM · Lydia, what I wrote came out of my experience: Out of my four teachers only one made this part of "learning"* a piece a major focus. The others dropped hints in that direction once in a while. I have learned more in this regard from conductors (from the remarks that they drop in rehearsals) and especially from chamber music coaches. Coaches are almost always experienced chamber musicians. Their trade is to work on interpretation; they have experience in doing it and in teaching it. Few violin teachers (many of whom play neither in an orchestra nor in a chamber group) have that sort of experience. Though if you have such a one, good for you!

* I have been wondering what it means to "learn" a piece. I can learn French vocabulary and when I have learned it I know it. But working on a piece of music is different. It is a never ending sort of work; there is never a time when one "knows" the piece; one keeps correcting oneself and re-thinking one's approach to the music. This BTW is also my answer to the OP.

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