March 18, 2011

Making changes

After giving a house concert in Seattle a few weeks ago (big thanks to Rich for hosting!), once of the audience members said to me, "that Bach suite must have taken forever to learn."

I've written about my experience learning this suite (BWV 1009) in the past and I'd sum it up by saying that I've tried every memory and visualization trick in the book on it and I've never had so much trouble with memorization with a piece. It didn't go badly in performance, but I needed the music in front of me to feel confident that I could stay on track.

So I responded, "I feel like I'll still be learning it when I'm an old man. If I could start over again with it and do one thing differently, I would study it a lot more before trying to play it."

Sometimes it's tempting to get into practice mode before music is properly studied and learned. In this case, the piece superficially appears 'easy'; it's mostly one note at a time, fairly easy to read, somewhat (deceptively) formulaic, and because of my listening history, it's very familiar.

But I was tricked by that sense of familiarity into believing I had studied it enough. I clearly skipped head, because as time went on, I kept finding areas where I wanted to change my fingerings to get things across better.

That's sort of where the problems started showing up. Better fingerings are, well, better, but what happens when you change fingerings? If you've been practicing the old way for a while, you've now practiced two ways of doing it. How do you make sure you're going to do it the right way when it comes time to perform?

Thorough study at the beginning of the learning process, finding the best solutions and committing to them early on, seems like the best way to head this problem off at the pass.

There will be cases where you need to change a fingering, but you need an effective brainwashing strategy (please share!) or it may be better to make note of your new way but then leave it alone until you've had a chance to put the piece down for a while and look at afresh.

PS: Speaking of making changes, my wife Angeline and I are moving to Tulsa over the next month or so. She leaves in mid-April, after which my life will get quite boring. So I'm planning to make a series of videos between then and the end of April or so, in which I work on a short piece for a day and then film&post it. My main focus will be on musicality, but I have a few other goals:

1) Learn to pull together pieces and interpretations more quickly
2) Produce a demo CD to send to senior centers and other gig venues
3) Watch my movements, facial expressions, etc, and learn what I can from them
4) Get more comfortable with recording.

I've posted the first video already, mainly as a technology test. I hope to achieve better quality video in the future, but that may not happen until I can afford a real video camera. I'm pleased with the quality of the audio, though. The description on the youtube page describes my setup.

My hope is that I'll enjoy this project, learn a lot from it, and want to keep it up in the long run.


  1. Hi,

    Great sound on that Sor video. Especially enjoyed the last, Op. 31 #4. I love that melancholic feel.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Chris NewVillage @ Delcamp

  2. Thanks! I've got a decent camcorder now and am working out my video-making technique for my video project. I'm really excited about it!