Tuesday, November 20, 2007

 

Learning a new piece


Last night our conductor announced two more gigs for our string orchestra next month. We were originally setup as a "youth" orchestra, loosely affiliated with similar groups in Anchorage and Homer, with the idea that they'd eventually present a few joint concerts. Last year we became a "youth and community" orchestra, opening the door to a handful of interested adults (currently five of us).

But, since these other groups are chartered for kids only, the five adults in our group wouldn't have been able to play in the joint concerts. With an eye towards a possible joint christmas concert, the youth part of our orchestra has been working on a piece called Celtic Christmas since early September.

Last night the conductor asked the adult members if we'd be interested in joining the rest of the group on this piece. She then handed us a copy of the score and they began to play it through - at tempo (which gets pretty fast by the end). This piece isn't that difficult, but it is completely new, with several tempo and key changes, and some unfamiliar rhythms. As "we" played through it I tried to follow - pizz, but gave up after a handful of measures and just had to listen.

This morning, I picked out the tricky passages (some second position shifts, several groupings of dotted eighth-sixteenth slurs) and applied my learning method - slow pizz, lots of repeats on the shifts and rhythmic segments, etc. I was pretty surprised when I realized that I might actually be able to do it. I don't know if I'll get it up to tempo in time for the gig, but maybe...

For quite some time, I've seen many other cellobloggers write about having to learn new pieces seemingly overnight. At the time, I couldn't relate to it, since I have had to struggle with new pieces for several months before feeling remotely comfortable with them. I guess I hadn't really considered that the process of learning a new piece was something I was also learning how to do, and that in-time I'd start finding that easier as well.

I only started working on Beethoven's Minuet in G four weeks ago, and already I've memorized it enough to play it without looking at the score, my fingers "know" where to go on the fingerboard (although they don't always get to the exact spot, yet), I've got the bowing patterns sorted out, and I've worked through most of the tricky bowings (although the slurs across shifts are still quite a challenge). I've even begun planning bow placements in order to have enough room to carry out the four-note hooked upbows, for example. This piece has also led me to start working on full-octave scales on each string to practice the fifth position shifts.

It's one thing to work through the study pieces - I spend up to an hour a day on it, but it's another thing to get that new orchestra part ready in time, since this coming Monday they'll be rehearsing it at full tempo. We're sort of on our own to catch up.

Comments:
learning processes do get faster over time! we spend a lot of time in college just talking about how to practice and what we need to do to learn certain things...I usually have so much music that I need to know at one time that there just isn't time to practice all of it...I have to take a lot of it for granted (the easy parts that I just know will be there no matter what) and only practice the tricky sections...for instance: I have no school this week so I need to learn a Carter Duet plus two new piece composed for me to play at my lesson on Tuesday when I get back to school...but I also have to perform the entire Carter Sonata on Monday night...yikes! There just isn't time to practice all of it slowly...
 
And the moral of the first comment is... don't let yourself get sucked into situations where there isn't time to start slowly, yet! Congratulations on your progress. It's fun to look back and see what kinds of things you can start less slowly, or move up to speed more quickly. Soon you'll have things that you won't need to start slowly at all... but I gotta warn you that the sight-readable stuff plateaus are the longest ones of all.
 
you've made a lot of progress and next year when you look back at some of the pieces you are playing now you will find them so much easier to play. I think I spend most of my practice time learning how to make most of the skills 'automatic' - that is getting so that you don't have to think about things like shifting or putting your fingers down in various positions so that you can start thinking about other things. My brain can't handle thinking about too many things at once so practicing is about burning things into your brain so you don't have to think about them...
 
Hi Guanaco, I tag your for 5 (or 7) Random Things about yourself. See my blog for more information.

Have fun, and good luck with the new pieces!
 
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