PS : TOG & SEP are my short-forms for playing hands together and hands separately.
Sight reading a new piece it’s always TOG,
Bit by bit else you’ll have to slog.
Go through the motions on days that it’s tough,
Because small bits of practise will make smooth out of rough.
Continue reading How to learn a new piano piece
The light-bulb moment
April 2019 was a month of breakthroughs in piano class. Some of my students had been struggling with things that should have been easy for them, and it took them months to reach that light-bulb moment when everything just fell into place.
A solution so simple and easy to understand, and yet, something that these particular students could only understand after a lot of struggle.
The practise of LEARNING.
Continue reading Piano practise : The idea of ‘practising’ learning
Reading about The 30 Piece Challenge and The 40 Piece Challenge got me thinking. I tested this out by starting my own sight-reading challenge and realised it was worth it.
I felt that 30 or 40 pieces a year would to just too much for the average Indian piano student, given the school plus coaching class schedule that young children here have. So, I gave my students another challenge.
The 10 Easy Piece Challenge
- Learn 10 new easy pieces every 3 months.
- Bring them to class done, and spend just 5 minutes of class time identifying weak spots and how to work on them.
- Get them done to the playing standards set by your teacher – more on this below
- Submit recordings or they will be recorded in piano class.
Selecting pieces for the challenge
Most Mumbai students beyond late elementary level learn between 5 to 10 pieces a year and this reduces to 4 or 5 pieces a year as they move on to intermediate and advanced levels. They learn a new piece for an exam, concert or competition and that’s about it.
The average student stops learning new music when piano class stops, because he/she simply doesn’t know how. Learning so little music means that students only learn pieces which are at the top of their ability and very rarely get work done on their own without their teacher – even easy pieces. So, the pieces selected should be :
- Well within the student’s ability to learn, with a few small challenges
- Varied enough to address different kinds of articulation, speeds & mood
The reason for variable playing standards for each student
The goal is to help each student get a little better than they were before, and to set standards that take the student forward in steps small enough, that it’s easy. So that learning new pieces is relaxing and enjoyable.
For example :
- Playing gently is the goal for students who bang and play with bad hand shape – working on dynamics is minimal and will be focused on later.
- Students who are poor readers get very easy repertoire, until their reading skills get stronger
My students now learn much more repertoire than before & it’s been going well.
April 2015 was the start of My Personal Sight-reading Challenge.
- It got me practising regularly.
- There were days I would play for just 5 minutes and then, there were days that I would get involved and stay there for much much longer.
- I also started to do a little bit of section practise in rotation – and I would work on a different section every few days.
I got over-enthusiastic after reading a post by Wendy Stevens, on “The 30 Piece Challenge” and got started on more than one piece at a time. My goals were still fairly small – just to learn the pieces, and record them as soon as I could play them from beginning to end. Click here if you’d like to hear my pieces at 6 months.
Was it worth taking up this challenge?
I had started to hope that I could keep all my pieces going through that year and get them done well enough to meet “The 30 piece Challenge.” I didn’t achieve my goal, but I did brush up my pieces quite a bit more than the initial recording.
I learned more repertoire in that year than before.
It’s now 2 years since and I now play some of these pieces from memory – something I could never do as a student, because memory was my weak area.
So yes, it was worth it for me even though I did not achieve my initial goal.
Related articles :
The impact of 100 minutes of practise
A follow up on My Personal Sight-reading Challenge and Month 6 of My Personal Sight-reading Challenge
My Personal Sight-reading Challenge : 5 minutes a day, 20 days a month
I took up this challenge in 2016 to make learning new pieces a part of my daily schedule. My practise commitment of 5 minutes a day, 20 days a month was easy to keep up. On days that I had time, 5 minutes often stretched to 45 minutes.
Something really IS is better than nothing
Learning new material became a regular part of my daily routine, and I practised older material in rotation, to keep in touch with it.
An erratic practise schedule like this was not enough for me to reach the playing levels that I would have liked to, but there was progress. Slow, steady, comfortable and enjoyable. It was enough to get me playing full pieces, rather than just demos of sections that I would practise to teach my students.
What’s more important, is that I started to feel the joy of playing once again, and to go to the piano to relax… Something that I had forgotten to do through the many years of busy – with family and work commitments, when I did not make the time to play the piano just for me.
Modifying my goals to meet my abilities
I had a few practise setbacks, because problems with my hands due to some health issues affected piano playing, among other things. So I had to modify my goals, take on easier pieces and take practise breaks for long stretches.
‘The 30 piece challenge” was out of my reach, because even though I had learned enough material, many pieces were still too rough and needed more work. However my levels of motivations were steady and no longer needed to upload my ‘first reading’ of each piece to make sure I continued, so I stopped doing this.
Having goals that were flexible and small helped me feel a sense of achievement. And this motivated me to stick with it.
Making the time in my daily schedule and committing to learn new pieces had always been a struggle. So, in April 2015, I decided to make a change. I started small, with just 5 minutes a day, 20 days a month spent on sight reading a new piece.
My first piece was a Bach 2 part invention – just a few bars on day 1, and I kept adding 1 or 2 more bars each day. I started out recording the results each day, so I could see progress, however small, and feel a little motivated to continue.
I also decided that I would record that first rough run-through of each piece, the first time I could play it completely, upload it, and post a link online.
My goals were small – to learn one piece a month and keep in touch with the pieces I had learned earlier.
Related articles :
Month 6 of “My Personal Sightreading Challenge”
The impact of 100 minutes of practise