Starting a Piece: Listening and Analysis (Fur Elise)

Look over the new piece and start sight-reading with it, so that you become familiar with how it sounds. The best way to become familiar with a new piece is to listen to a performance (recording). The criticism that listening first is some sort of "cheating" has no defensible basis. The purported disadvantage is that students might end up imitating instead of using their creativity. It is impossible to imitate someone else's playing because playing styles are so individualistic. A mathematical "proof" of this impossibility is presented in section IV.3. This fact can be reassuring and relieves some students from blaming themselves for the inability to imitate some famous pianist. If possible, listen to several different recordings. They can open up all sorts of new vistas and possibilities. Not listening is like saying that you shouldn't go to school because that will destroy your creativity. Some students think that listening is a waste of time because they will never play that well. In that case, think again. If the methods described here will not make people play "that well", I wouldn't be writing this book! What happens most frequently when students listen to many recordings is that they discover that the performances are not uniformly good; that they actually prefer their own playing to some of those in the recordings.

The next step is to analyze the structure of the composition. This structure will be used to determine the practice program. Let's use Beethoven's Fur Elise as an example. The first 4 bars are repeated 15 times, so by just learning 4 bars you can play 50% of the piece (it has 125 bars). Another 6 bars are repeated 4 times, so learning only 10 bars enables you to play 70% of it. Using the methods of this book, therefore, 70% of this piece can be memorized in less than 30 minutes, because these bars are quite easy. Application of this method automatically commits those sections you practice to memory. Among these repeated bars, there are two interruptions that are not easy. When you can play these interruptions satisfactorily, using the methods described below, join them with the repetitions, and Voila! -- you can play, and have memorized, the whole piece. Of course, mastering the two difficult interruptions is the key to learning this piece, and we shall address that issue in the following sections. A student with 2 years of lessons should be able to learn the required 50 different bars of this piece in 2 to 5 days and be able to play the whole piece at speed and from memory. At this point, the teacher is ready to work with the student on the musical content of the composition; how long that will take depends on the musical level of the student. Musically speaking, you never really finish any piece.

This is the end of the preliminaries. We are ready to begin the real exciting lessons. The secret for acquiring technique quickly lies in knowing certain tricks for reducing impossibly difficult passages to not only playable but also to trivially simple ones. We shall now embark upon that magical journey into the brains of geniuses who figured out incredibly efficient ways to practice the piano!