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Discussion Starter #1
I was wondering how some of you prepare for the performance of a difficult/technical piece over a long period of time? To be more specific: Would you rather... prepare a piece by learning all the notes from cover to cover first then gradually increasing the tempo, while working on musical expression. Or, prepare the piece by going from section to section and getting it exactly how you want to perform it before moving on.

Please let me know how you prepare. It doesn't have to be an either or question. Those are just suggestions.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Re: Preparation of Repitoire

This depends on whether there is one section that stands out as particularly difficult for fingering. (BTW I don't see the word "technical" to mean "difficult", as I believe everything has a technical aspect. Tone is as much a part of technique as is fingering)

If there is one or two difficult to play sections, might work on that more than the rest. But ideally you need a holistical approach, it's a piece of music and you always get more out of the practice by treating it as one piece of music and understanding the emotional aspect of what the composer is saying.

Once I have got over any fingering difficulties, I prefer to practise the whole thing, not until I get it right, but until I no longer get any part wrong. And understand the emotion.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Re: Preparation of Repitoire

Thanks for the input Mr. Thomas.

I am currently working on Prelude, Cadence, et Finale by Desenclos, if that helps anyone. It's really not the kind of piece you can learn over a short period of time... thus my post. lol
 

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With most pieces that a very technically difficult, require many extended techniques, or are musically difficult for me to grasp, I tend to give myself extra time to prepare the pieces. This ensures that the process is never rushed.

I tend to learn pieces in sections at a slow tempo, then piece them together at a slow tempo, then continue to practice them at a slow tempo. I probably only play them up to tempo 10-15% of the time. Musical expression is not something that should be turned on or off...you would want to explore your expression in a piece while learning it, so you can decide as you prepare it what ideas worked and what didn't.

Try to perform more difficult pieces in impromptu settings for your friends, etc. ahead of time to get some of the first performance jitters out as well.

Hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Musical expression is not something that should be turned on or off...you would want to explore your expression in a piece while learning it, so you can decide as you prepare it what ideas worked and what didn't.
I was not happy with my wording of the original post. One of my strengths as a performer is musical expression(not that I am a master at it or anything!). However, the flip side of that coin is that I am a bit behind in my technique(it takes me longer than most to master "notey" passages). Thus, the original post. I did not intend to say that I approach pieces by just focusing on the notes, and then add everything else in later.

Great advice! I will be taking it! Thank you so much.
 

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Another good idea is to take a particularly tricky passage and try to incorporate it in your warmups. For example, if you were playing a piece with a lot of flutter tonguing in it, you might want to try fluttering your scales for a week or two. With something like the Desenclos, maybe find a clumsy section, find the pattern being exploited (augmented arpeggios, diminished, etc.) and turn it into a pattern in your warmups for all 12 keys.
 

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The first step is to organize. Give yourself a timeframe for learning the piece - it can be whatever you like. Personally I typically go with 10-12 weeks to have a piece ready for performance, which usually gives me a lot of leeway and has me prepared well in advance.

Inside of that timeframe, break the piece down into its constituent sections/movements, and prepare each one separately. Give yourself a timeframe for each section/movement. For example, 3 weeks to learn the Cadence in Desenclos. For the first week, set the goal of learning the entire Cadence at eighth = 60. For the second week, eighth = 90, and the third week eighth = 120. Now the first week's goal, being as it's pretty slow, you'll probably be able to accomplish in a couple of days. You can then begin working towards the next week's goal in advance, and again you can probably get that done early as well. Continue this process through each movement, working to be as detailed and controlled as possible.

When it comes to how to practice each individual phrase, there are myriad options. I follow the rule of "small steps". That is to say, I rarely ever move the metronome more than 2 bpm. I play a line exactly the way I want it 2 times consecutively, then bump the metronome, and repeat. There are going to be some who say, "2 times? That's not enough repetition." To this I say, "Ahhh, but many people will play a phrase 3 times and then move the metronome 4 bpm. In total, the way I practice I play each phrase correctly 4 times for each 4 bpm in tempo change, whereas they play it 3." I also find that lowering the number of imposed repetitions results in less chance of getting "stuck" - for example, if you decide that you have to play something 5 times in a row, you might get to 3 or 4 repetitions over and over again, but never make it to the 5th and thus never advance. After adopting my current method I find myself much more efficient in my practice and getting through material much more quickly and with better control.

Final points - remember, it is never speed that impresses an audience, but detail and clarity. The ultimate goal of technical work is not to play faster than everyone else, but to be in absolute control of whatever you are playing so that you can perform it at a tempo of your choosing. You also must adopt a long-term view of this type of work, and realize that no drastic changes are going to occur in a week, or in a month, or in a year. This is a years-long process that is dependent on making very small, incremental advances that build upon each other over time.
 
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