Monday, October 08, 2007

First Steps--Getting New Repertoire on its Feet

Some of the most difficult practicing happens when you're learning a brand new work and trying to work it into your fingers. Some of the dangers include overexertion, boredom, frustration at lack of progress, giving up, as well as the ever-present possibility of learning things wrong that will need to be undone later.

For me, one of the most effective ways of getting to the heart of a new work is not through dividing it up into digestible chunks, but by reading through the work in its entirety right off the bat, problems and all. That way, I engage with the work's challenges right away, and after collapsing from exhaustion at the end of the reading session I can very quickly arrive at an order of battle when properly learning the work.

This approach parallels what happens in many readings of new works that I participate in through various companies and ensembles. The first rehearsal always starts with a full stumble-through, mistakes and all, so everyone has a clear idea of what to expect. Then the work of finely crafting and polishing the performance begins.

This approach presupposes a certain level of advancement of both playing and reading ability. Younger students might find this approach difficult. Yet, even at early levels, students can with a little goading and encouragement, read all the way through a new work. My older students do the initial read-through at home, and it definitely shows in a reduction of time needed to learn a work without spoonfeeding. Most of them are actually impressed at their own ability to bite the bullet and avoid note-learning procrastination.

Other thoughts on initial learning:
  • Listen to recordings of the work before playing it. Not just one, but several performances are best to hear in order to not imitate styles and mannerisms of certain performers.
  • Watch performances on YouTube. The performance levels of different performers will differ wildly on YouTube, but there are some wonderful gems that have only come to light since video sharing took off a few years ago.
  • Singers should spend time on translating the text before they sing a new song or aria. See my previous posting on Some Ways on How to Learn a Song or Aria for more information.
  • String players might want to have bowings and fingerings already copied into their part before learning the music. Many teachers have a fixed set of preferred bowings and fingerings in their own part that they lend to students. Some of these fingerings have been handed down from famous teachers such as Heifetz or Galamian.
Happy Thanksgiving to readers in Canada and Happy Columbus Day to those of you in the United States!

Next: Slow Practicing

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