When are you done with a piece?
In another thread
, there was a discussion of what's necessary progression to prepare for more advanced repertoire, and I tried providing a taxonomy for how well one might learn a given piece of music.
This has made me curious to what level various people choose to prepare their repertoire, and how this changes throughout their playing life.
Here's the (slightly modified) taxonomy, dividing "learning" from "performing":
- Immaculate (level P3): The work is learned to a high technical and musical standard, and is consistently played well, even if there's room for additional technical or artistic refinement. The expectations at this level differ between students/amateurs and professionals. This is competition/audition-quality for a student (relative to the level of the piece, i.e. a beginner piece will be played without vibrato etc.), or paid-performance-worthy for a professional, with no meaningful technical flaws. Errors occur only under the stress of performance, and are generally noticed only by an informed and critical audience. Major lapses are anomalous events.
- Performable (level P2): The work is solidly learned technically and is musically sound. Flaws are not apparent to the casual listener, though small (generally unnoticeable) errors may occur under the stress of performance. This can be played for the general public in a way that the casual listener can enjoy.
- Fluent (level P1): The work can be played up to tempo, with technical and musical fluency, even if not every passage comes off perfectly 100% of the time under performance conditions. Some attempt to "polish" has been made. This can be played for a student recital with an end result that is probably satisfying to performer, teacher, and audience.
- Inconsistent (level L3): The work is mostly learned technically, even if slightly under tempo or there are a few spots that are still dangerous. There is appropriate musical expression even if not personally artistic. This can be played for a student recital without inducing terror in performer, teacher, or audience. In performance, this isn't dependable, though what works under stress and what doesn't isn't consistent. Though performance will definitely not be flawless, mistakes won't throw the performer or accompanist.
- Teachable (level L2): The foundation of the work is correctly learned, possibly under tempo. Notes, rhythms, intonation, articulation, dynamics, etc. are all there, though might come apart under the mild pressure of a lesson. Some difficult passages might still be well under tempo or otherwise problematic. This is "lesson-ready", but not performance-ready.
- Stumbling (level L1): The work is too difficult or hasn't had enough practice time to be technically solidified. At performance tempo, some bits only rarely get pulled off even in the practice room. Intonation, articulation, etc. are sometimes audibly flawed. Rhythm might be incorrect or tempo unsteady within a section. Dynamics/phrasing are wrong, crude, or absent. This is clearly not performance-ready, and a teacher might not regard it as lesson-ready (and wonder if it will ever get to the performance-ready state).
- Problematic (level 0): The work is instantly audible as too difficult. The player cannot get through it at performance tempo, and even when under tempo, the flaws are constant and quite noticeable.
I think the tendency is for children to be taught repertoire to the Performable level if they're serious violin students (the really serious get to Immaculate), but the teachers of adults often move them on at Fluent, and adult autodidacts may be happy to get to Stumbling.
So: When are you done with a piece? How does your personal sense of when you're ready to be done with something differ from your teacher's sense of that? :-)
I am an adult returner who started taking lessons in February after a long hiatus. I think my teacher tries to get me to at least Fluent, although I don't perform every piece that I work on. I'm about to play in my first of his student recitals, so we shall see if I am Fluent or Inconsistent!
I almost never learn a piece all at once. I tend to bring pieces to L3 on first learning (and have a large number of pieces at that level), then return to some of them and polish them to P2 standard (P3 if intending to perform or use in an audition) later when I have more free time. Usually the return to a piece is between 6 months and 2 years later.
Level 2 to L3 might be accurate for me, although the question might be better formulated for me as when is a piece done with me ;-)
In my childhood, repertoire needed to be learned to that P3 level, much to my frustration. P2's always felt good enough for me; the added work in polishing super fine details and getting something bulletproof (P3) has rarely felt worthwhile. (For works to be performed with orchestra, P3 has to be the goal, though.)
Realistically P1 is pretty much what I'm shooting for. I don't think it's fair to count stuff we've abandoned because they turned out to be too hard.
P1 to P2.
To my belief; a student by definition does not have the necessary mastery and experience therefore cannot achieve a P3 level. In other words, can only achieve said level for the pieces under his/her level of capability.
For lessons, we usually move on at L2. For student recitals, I'd like to reach at least P1, but in practice we always pick something that's too hard and I perform at L3, worrying that I will mess up so badly that I'll have to stop mid-piece. That hasn't happened so far, but missed and badly out-of-tune notes in both quick and slow parts do happen. At recital time, I'll have been working on that piece for four months.
#Ali K, you raise a very interesting (to me) philosophical question with your first paragraph, quoted here: "To my belief; a student by definition does not have the necessary mastery and experience therefore cannot achieve a P3 level. In other words, can only achieve said level for the pieces under his/her level of capability."
P2 or P3. It depends on the purpose of the piece. P3 applies if it is an exam piece for myself on viola or my violin students. P2 if it’s a piece just for repertoire.
This is very interesting--thanks for posting, Lydia. I've never performed a piece that was beyond the P1 level. Usually I've performed at the L3 level. My teachers throughout grade school and high school never prepared students beyond these levels (students frequently didn't get to the L3), and I would have no idea how to get from the P1/L3 level to P2. I did take some lessons through college, and it is my responsibility for not practicing sufficiently due to a very heavy academic load--that is to say I do not know if I could have gotten further with those teachers.
P1. For an amateur player, this level, as you defined it, is a realistic expectation and can be achieved with reasonable daily, but not all day, practice. It is satisfying for me to get a piece at this level, and I enjoy listening to pieces performed at this level.
As an adult amateur, I aim for P1 for pieces I want to play for my own pleasure, but acknowledge that the goal may in some cases take place gradually over years. Some pieces that I am working on mainly to stretch my technical ability (e.g. I know it is hard and I am playing it in part to make other things easier) I sometimes only work on until L1-L2 level.
I'm glad you broached this topic, as lately I've been wondering when it is acceptable to shelve a piece for a little while. I'm an amateur-returner, perform rarely, and don't have a lot of interest in performing.
I'm slightly confused about the definition of P3. If you truly mean immaculate in every sense of the word (as I believe Carmen is interpreting it), the only people who ever get repertoire up to this standard are world class soloists (i.e. the people who win/place at Queen Elisabeth and similar competitions). I am a professional musician, but when I hear people of this quality, it's hard for me to label anything I put forward as immaculate, regardless of how technically and artistically good it may be. I suspect Lydia's definition simply implies that, if they performed in front of seasoned musicians, the performer would be viewed as technically sound and artistic. I feel most of the works I prepare meet this level. This is quite a difference, after all.
As an adult late starter, I don't have any illusions about P3. I'm satisfied with P1 and occasional allow myself the idle hope that it might be near P2, especially for easier things slightly "below" my current level that I study for solo performance, mostly baroque (thinking of Telemann viola concerto or Bach double concerto this summer).
My answer to the title question is: I depends. If I stop liking a piece I stop working on it without any regret--assuming I have no commitment to anybody involving the piece in question.
I would disagree with Ali. I think that students can indeed reach a P3 level when the work is fully within their technical capabilities. Sure, they're not going to sound like Heifetz or Hahn, but a "high standard" doesn't mean a "very best in the world standard". There's still room for refinement.
Looking at this from a slightly different perspective there are a few orchestral pieces (symphonies, tone poems, overtures) that I'm glad to see the back of when the concert performance is over! No names no pack drill, but technical difficulties are generally not the reason.
Ali, I interpret P3 as being competition/audition ready, rather than attaining mastery over the art of violin.
But this is so hard.to say. I really cannot believe that almost any young child can polish several pieces in a year to P3. Or they would have to spend hours a day in very good practise. If I think of my girl I dont really think she has ever reached P3 yet. But for me P3 is like the performances of professional violinists and so it would actually be nearly impossible for a child to reach that stage.
As a kid it was P1 or P2, always getting me in the top 3 in local music festivals.
Lydia, thank you so much for this schema. It's a really nice way to think about things and to help guide practice. I really think when you are done with a piece varies widely based on your age, level, and aspirations.
What is competition-quality for a student is of course dependent upon their level. A kid playing a competition-quality Gossec Gavotte (end of Suzuki book 1) is still going to sound kind of beginner-ish -- no vibrato, none of the fancy bowing technique that you'll see done by someone like Elman in this work -- but it will have nice sound, it will be clean, every note will be in tune, the marked dynamics will be respected (and there will be proper phrasing), and it will be in rhythm and in tempo.
Lydia - was your 1-2 pieces per year period also at the time of intermediate-level purgatory?
Really helpful thread. And I wanted to mention how much I enjoy Susan’s posts. I feel like I could take a masterclass in violin parenting from you.
Pamela M: Yes! But even my Suzuki teachers insisted on near-perfection (at least to the extent that any beginner can achieve it); I felt like I was moving through the books much slower than many other kids, but the slower pace meant I was mastering the technical content of each piece which ultimately gave me the foundation to move faster later. I suspect the intermediate-years frustration, however, indicated that the P3 was not really warranted; I might have been better served cycling through more repertoire learned to P1/P2 level (at the very least it would have gotten me to practice more).
Matthew, one of the distinctions that I'm trying to draw is the role that luck plays in how well something comes off under stress -- basically, a measure of consistency.
6 weeks out, my student's audition piece is at L3 (played recently in a casual, low stakes performance as an alert to what still needs to be done - "did not induce terror" is exactly right!). If last year is any indication, this particular audition context is not super competitive and P1 is likely to garner an acceptable result although not a top result. After that we will "abandon" and go back to taking Suzuki pieces to P2-P3. I think working deeply on pieces should be part of students' learning experience, but not every piece needs to be studied deeply, so we have a "core" of Suzuki plus a bunch of side stuff. I also often tell students, this is a book 1 way of doing things, this is a book 2 way, a book 5 way, etc. P3 would be different for a book 1 student playing a book 1 piece, book 5 student playing a book 3 piece, etc.
She’s put together the P&A in about 6 weeks. So it may be a case where we set it aside for holidays and come back. Just a couple things and, yes mostly covered by vibrato. She does not get enough performance where we live,
Matthew Metz, thank you so much for your kind words on my violin parenting. My kids would probably disagree! I made my 10yo cry yesterday making her redo a syncopation she kept getting wrong, and my son and I had a 10 minute long argument about how American players do too many smooth bow changes and German players change more aggressively and which is better.
You have to take diminishing returns into account.
Susan, at P3, on advanced repertoire, everyone hears things they wish they'd done better, because they don't sound like Heifetz. And Heifetz always heard things he'd wished he'd done better, too. ;-)
Lydia - ah, I will stop feeling so bad about my seemingly miserably slow progress then if you did 1-2 pieces per year!
Susan wrote, "But at the same time, if you compare their list of learned repertoire, they are WAY behind in where I would expect a kid going for conservatory would be."
I don't think it's a national phenomenon so much as it is a function of the Russian (Auer) vs the American (Galamian) vs the Franco-Belgian (Ysaye) "schools" of bowing. The Galamian "figure 8" tends to produce a crescendo-decrescendo effect with each stroke. (For a classic example, listen to anything Joshua Bell has recorded.)
When are you done with a piece?
Thanks for this Lydia - a really good characterization. I scanned (but confess did not read thoroughly) the responses above and get the feeling that one person's L3 is another persons P3 ;)
Wow, I never "tagged" or "classified" performance levels that way. It's interesting!
My teacher moves me on between L2/3, at least he has up until now. He does teach everything through assigned pieces rather than etudes/other excercises for the most part.
Paul N, I think the difference between your concept and mine is by and large, I do not separate technique from interpretation. Truly *original* interpretation is not a function of polish so much as it is of personality. (Original also often means quirky, i.e. someone like Ivry Gitlis.)
I think that Lydia's rating scale is, as it appears to me, meant to sit within the context of one's abilities. An intermediate player's P3 is not a professional's P3. Paul N, I think your conception of the different ratings is more in line with a player's general level of mastery of the instrument. P3 isn't really the "maestro" level; it is the level one achieves on a work if they devote enormous time and energy to polishing it. For some very fine violinists out there, that may be the "maestro" level, but for many others, it will just be their personal best, and there is nothing wrong with that.
"The gap between P2 and P3 is indeed a humongous amount of work"
why would it not make sense to grade how well someone plays something relative to their current technical abilities? it would grade how hard&smart she has worked on the piece which, I think, is the purpose of lydia's proposed scale.
I've come very late to this thread and I must say I find it a rather curious idea. Maybe I'm P2 for some pieces, certainly L1 for others, but to whom is this of interest or importance? As a measure of overall competence the UK system of grades 1 to 8 seems perfectly adequate.
Because, Jean, whatever your personal maximum current abilities and skills are, no one cares as it doesn't matter and says absolutely nothing about the piece or your performance. Indeed I already said the rating is already comparing and pretends to be universal. According to what you are saying, all beginners start at P3 level, because they are playing as good as they can, with a lot of work. While, in reality, they are at the lowest point.
I think some posters are confounding a third-person perspective on performance quality with the first-person learners' perspective. The latter is what this scale intends to represent. This scale is a heuristic useful to the learner (and his or her teacher), not the reviewer. The reviewer really has no interest in where in the learning process the performer is, and assesses a performance based on the performance only. You need a different set of criteria to assess performances. That said, most professional performers are probably at the P3 level. (But who would care if we found out that some soloist plays beautifully and sells out the hall at P2?)
Jean and Jocelyn capture it exactly. There are some objective elements here, but primarily this is to gauge depth of learning on a given work. I am personally of the opinion that if a player, even a beginner, is not able to get, at tempo, the right notes, the right intonation. the right bowstroke, and the printed dynamics, the work is too hard.
Maybe it's another transatlantic cultural difference, two nations divided by a common language and a radically different work ethic. I'm still at a loss to understand how self-classification on a vague, arbitrary scale can help a learner progress. In some sports you can measure your performance against objective criteria, but music isn't a sport and to declare your own performance L3, P6 etc is in no sense objective. Even if it were, I don't think any performer ever sits back with a sigh and thinks "Now I've mastered that one I can move on to something else"
then again it may be another brexit thing, since i think I do understand it :-) it is a tool in planning your violin studies basically. which pieces am I going to work on TO WHICH DEPTH, so that I make most efficient progress overall?
As a beginner, and that is a big caveat, I like how Jean describes it as a tool in addressing violin studies. Less an objective ranking system than prioritizing different pieces/studies. This provides a bit more constructive way to think about it. For myself it sounds helpful, but I am no professional.
I also feel it is a way to decide the depth of progess that can/will be/is made with given piece. To try to keep things in perspective, and allow decisions to be made about time spent (especially for an amateur like me).
Yes, what Pamela said. Also, it's a way of providing something of a measuring stick when someone says, "Yeah, I've learned X piece" -- when someone says they're playing Tchaikovsky, it matters a lot (in many discussions) whether they are playing it at, say, a P1 or P2 level, versus an L1 level. This is to some degree semi-independent of violinistic capability (obviously a player who is more than technically adept enough for the challenges of a work will learn a simple piece to a P-level in short order).
I'd say "memorized" usually means it's at P2 or P3. But for me, memorized means that a student has learned to play the notes and also the other markings: correct bowings, articulations, dynamics, etc. And for a student, there has to be the reasonable judgment of something being performance-ready at their level, or we'd be doing "Minuet 3" for several years. The expectation for a "finished product" rises as their ability does. And is the "musical magic" there? Maybe that is "P4"!
Just a quick note to say that I love these levels...may use with my students to get them to self-assess. :)
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