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 Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-02-26 08:18

COVID has had me repeating a lot of my etude books, and I have many, to the point where, while I could still stand to greatly improve accuracy and speed, it's also true that I've practically memorized etudes (not from memory but in the sense that I am reading music I've seen many times before).

Make no mistake, I'd hardly say that I've mastered Bearmann III, (and any of my material, from Kroepsch 1-4, to Lazarus, to Opperman, to any of them,) and will continue with it for the rest of my life. But it's not the challenge it was when first new---simply because it was new (adjusting for improvement in my technique over time.)

So today I started looking at the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto. And while utterly challenging, I can play some of it at extremely slow tempo.

Now--right or wrong, I have my own ideas about how one goes about learning such things. I loosely call my approach "divide and conquer." "Divide" relating to both metronome speed and sections of the overall piece.

While I can do some of the harder stuff at very slow speeds, until it becomes set in the fingers, at which point metronome speed is slowly increased, how would you teach such a beast? What is your methodology, your approach?

What tips might you offer that present the shortest distance between first seeing this piece and getting it down; much as I appreciate that this shortest path is itself extremely long. Would you assign sections, and if so, at particular speeds?

BTW, I am floored that someone not only masters this, but commits it to memory.

https://youtu.be/6y-3HelXglY

Thank you in advance for your advice. I'm curious how my approach to improving might itself stand to improve from other teacher's perspectives here on the art and science of pedagogy.  :)



Post Edited (2021-02-26 08:19)

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: Tom H 
Date:   2021-02-26 08:46

Yeah, I've seen that video. Check out "Clarinet Candy" (L. Anderson) with his group (the Marine Band) and watch what he does at the end. It's a fun piece we play in our Summer Series.
Anyway, the Nielsen is the big beast. I played it 31 years ago and hope to get my version on youtube shortly. I had a great pianist (who was a nurse), who when sight reading it-- well, you could actually hear a lot of right notes....
I did play it (sort of) from memory back in college for a competition, but not bragging-- way too many missed notes and probably beyond my ability.
So yes, I practiced it in pieces -- a page a day. Didn't use a metronome, but learned all those interesting patterns slowly, increased speed and practiced the Hell out of them. Still missed a couple of notes back in 1990. Maybe using the "beat to beat" method on difficult runs would be of help.
I did use alternate fingerings here & there-- at one point open altissimo D & C#. The guy I sit next to in the Westchester Band has played it with the Brazov Phil. in Romania. We have a pretty good clarinet section.....

As far as study books, I had a pile of stuff from years before-- the usuals- Klose, Rose, Bareman, JeanJean, even all the Jettels. When I retired from teaching Band (1996), I went on a buying spree for about 10 years, picking up lots of contemporary style books. Had a lot more time (and desire) to practice. Click on my book's website for a short Blog on that.
Get as many of these types of books as possible and don't perfect any one etude -- go to the next one. Great practice sight reading this stuff. Even the 2nd or 3rd time around. Took me about 6 years to really be able to play the stuff in my own book practicing that way.

I have a copy of the first page of the Corigliano and have heard the Drucker recording. Nah, I'm not gunna do that, especially at my age.... That piece may be harder than the Nielsen.

The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--Austin Macauley Publishers
tomheimer.ampbk.com/ Amazon, Sheet Music Plus
austinmacauley.com/author/heimer-tom
Boreal Ballad for unaccompanied clarinet--Sheet Music Plus
(902)-225-3276

Post Edited (2021-02-27 02:10)

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: Alexis 
Date:   2021-02-26 13:14

I think dividing into sections is a good idea in general.

Where possible, always think of the musical gesture. So even in the technical passages, think about the destination, momentum and character from the very beginning, even in slow practise. In more lyrical passages, pay attention to the feeling of playing the phrase expressively, again thinking of the destination and shape of the phrase.

I think it’s dangerous to separate ‘technique’ from ‘music’ ie learning the notes and rhythms almost as an exercise- what you end up doing is learning a very bland version and then trying to ‘add’ music, but this doesn’t work well because how you blow, adjust and ‘express’ is intimately tied up with the rest of your body, fingers included.

Not ignoring the above.
On mastering the fingering, I was at a James Campbell masterclass (accidentally...in Dusseldorf..!) where he advocated really exact finger movements - good coordination not speed - which has stuck with me.
I would add to this idea: our brains like patterns and where possible will revert to a learned pattern of notes. The Nielsen cadenzas are difficult in one respect because they are mostly unlike other patterns we know eg a major/minor scale.
The order of moving fingers is unfamiliar or challenging, so we are not able to execute the movement cleanly. Plus it takes mental resistance to not revert to a familiar pattern (a good example of this would be a scale that is basically chromatic but with one or two exceptions)

In my experience, when I have learnt a piece well, it is basically memorised. It’s more about getting the sections in the right order!!!

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: brycon 
Date:   2021-02-26 20:00

Quote:

While I can do some of the harder stuff at very slow speeds, until it becomes set in the fingers, at which point metronome speed is slowly increased, how would you teach such a beast? What is your methodology, your approach?


Every student struggles with unique difficulties and learns best through unique strategies.

For myself, for example, aside from a couple of spots, I don't find the technical aspects of Nielsen all that difficult. After you've played the music of Carter, Babbitt, Donatoni, Mantovani, Boulez, etc., Nielsen isn't so tough. When I was younger, though, all I heard was how hard it is; older players talked about Nielsen like mountaineers talk about Everest.

One of the main issues I had when I first learned Nielsen, then, was getting away from thinking "This piece is so hard!" and focusing more on the music. Nielsen is a piece with countless beautiful details and moments. Many clarinet players, however, focus so much on their technique that the piece becomes an angular, jagged, and grotesque half-hour etude that no one--aside from other clarinet players--would want to listen to.

The students whom I've taught Nielsen to have, for the most part, been in the same boat.

But I'll offer a few general practice things I think about. Maybe they help, maybe not.

1.) When preparing a solo piece (concerto, sonata, etc.), I don't ever listen to recordings of it and encourage my students to do the same. Aside from judging your own playing against the impossibly high standard of a world-class recording artist with a world-class recording engineer, you begin to gravitate toward the recording's interpretation: using its tempo, expression, etc. If you want to listen to something to get into the mindset of a piece, listen instead to something similar: Mozart A major piano concerto instead of the clarinet concerto, Schumann Dichterliebe instead of the Fantasy Pieces, Nielsen symphonies instead of the concerto, and so on.

2.) Begin thinking about expression early in the process. If you try and tackle technique first and add expression second, you'll probably never get around to expression, which leads to a horribly boring performance. If you do get around to adding expression in, however, your technique will suddenly feel different. Synchronizing finger motion to a change in your blowing as you do a crescendo, for instance, will take additional practicing, which leads to a waste in time. Moreover, in many important ways technique and expression are two sides of the same coin.

3.) Think of practice techniques as variables you can alter to focus on specific aspects of your playing. You can vary the tempo (play faster or slower), the dynamics (louder or softer), articulations (remove them to check finger coordination), rhythms (use different rhythms to clean up finger motion), the amount of music you play, and so on.

Many people, it seems, gravitate toward starting slower and getting faster as their only practice technique, often creating some sort of schedule (week 1: first page at half tempo). This method is just about the most mindless and wasteful way of practicing ever devised. It aims for no specific goals other than sheer repetition; if improperly done, doesn't relate to the physical sensations of playing quickly; contains innumerable redundancies; and puts off the most difficult practicing until the later stages of preparation, which can lead to performance anxiety.

There's a saying among elite runners: "In order to run fast, you have to run fast." And I think the same is true of clarinet playing. Practicing that first duet with the snare drum in Nielsen at one-quarter the actual tempo isn't going to help you get up to tempo. Practicing it at a quicker speed, isolating the exact moments of difficulty (e.g. the high C# to high G connections), devising some sort of practice exercise to solve the problem (and here, it could be starting slowly and building speed), and then slowly incorporating it back into the line will help you get up to the tempo.

If you're not already familiar with it, the website Bulletproof Musician, has lots of better practice advice than what you received from me. Check it out.



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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: johng 2017
Date:   2021-02-26 20:45

The Last Easy Note

Take a difficult passage (not too long a passage) and play it close to full tempo but pause on the last easy note. While holding that note, consider what your fingers, tongue, and air must do to complete the passage before playing the remaining notes.

Keep repeating the passage, pausing on different notes as needed.

So if there are no easy notes to pause on, you need to use a different passage study idea. The Nielsen has plenty of those sections!

I learned this useful method from a scale book by an early 20th century oboe teacher, Fernand Gillet.

John Gibson, Founder of JB Linear Music, www.music4woodwinds.com

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-02-26 22:12

Thank you all for your thoughts.

Tom: funny enough, my discussion prior of how many an etude book looses a small degree of effectiveness over time for me due to partial memorization dovetails extremely well, IMHO, to the efficacy of your etude book, The Most Advanced Clarinet Book--which I own.

For those not familiar with Tom's book--and I say this with complement--it presents the player with constant "curve balls of play" where pretty much any technique for sight reading, including knowledge of scales and repetition of themes is made impossible by the randomness of notes and rhythms, such that the player is left only with good ole fashion "concentration" as the sole tool in their arsenal from which to address challenges. The book is the mental equivalent IMHO of the basketball player who works with ankle weights during practice.

A page a day hugh? I think I'll seek to master a line a day! lol

Alexis: I really like what you said about not forsaking musicality while engrossed in mastering technique.

Another thing that really resonates with me about what you said is using a metronome speed at which I can consistently handle a passage to perfect its fingering. That slow speed offers time to correct less than perfect finger placement that performance speed does not. Thanks.

Brycon: I admit some confusion in your wish that people learn the musicality of this piece and yet shy aware from listening to others perform it. While I can completely appreciate not listening to just one interpretation for fear of making it your own, my musicality is formed from a composite of how those who came before me played it.

That said, I appreciate, like Alexis, how you believe musicality is not some--pardon my metaphor--condiment to be added to the metaphorical hot dog that is technique, once that hot dog is prepared. Musicality is more like the onions, and garlic, and other things that got stirred into the meat prior to and while it was being cooked.

I've read the book you site and am terrible at playing fast initially: feeling that it only reinforces mistakes. But changing up tempo is something I do feel important as it's easier for my brain to get hardwired to one speed, where slower or faster presents difficulty.

John: I'm in a virtual COVID clarinet quartet playing Aaron Copland's 5 Old American Songs this upcoming week, arrange by a gentlemen with your name.

Cooincidence?

"The Last Easy Note."

I guess I'm going to have to retrain myself to think about the next note, not passage, the latter my go to.

Unfortunately this technique may cause me to pause in measure 3 of the work as I perfect pinky swaps of middle "C". lol!

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: brycon 
Date:   2021-02-26 22:55

Quote:

I admit some confusion in your wish that people learn the musicality of this piece and yet shy aware from listening to others perform it. While I can completely appreciate not listening to just one interpretation for fear of making it your own, my musicality is formed from a composite of how those who came before me played it.


Then how do you play a piece no one's played before?

I think most competent musicians can sit down with a score and hear the music in their mind's ear (and if they can't, they should be practicing ear training more than concertos). I myself spend a lot of time with the score thinking things through, slowly playing passages at the piano, singing through lines to consider different approaches, and so on.

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: SecondTry 
Date:   2021-02-26 23:35

Brycon, your paradox of premiering a new work is well received at my end!

Aside from communication with the new music's composer about intent, I'm not sure I have the skills to be any premier's official representative! lol

Still more, any attempt I might take interpreting a well known piece, not hearing it played by others prior, I'm afraid might fall so far out of generally recognized bounds, even allowing for a window of historic variation among artists.

Your thoughts about listening to the music resonate (no pun intended) well with my own pedagogy. Armed with getting many a high school player ready for auditions to festivals I will stop them mid piece and talk about what story I imagine in my mind is going on in the music, as if it was an opera, asking them for their opinions as well. As they play they may here me say, "tell me a story!" should I feel them getting to close to playing some MUSAK elevator music rendition that simply hits the right notes.

I like how Wenzel Fuchs talks about story telling musicality here:

https://youtu.be/FUYuuvZ0A68?t=41

Good talk Brycon.  :)



Post Edited (2021-02-26 23:36)

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: johng 2017
Date:   2021-02-27 01:15

Quote - John: I'm in a virtual COVID clarinet quartet playing Aaron Copland's 5 Old American Songs this upcoming week, arrange by a gentlemen with your name.

Cooincidence?

Nope, not a coincidence. that is me! I hope you enjoy it....fun music to play!

John Gibson

John Gibson, Founder of JB Linear Music, www.music4woodwinds.com

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: Alexis 
Date:   2021-02-27 01:18

Thanks I’m glad you found some of what I said useful!

I do also agree with some of Brycon’s suggestions - especially finding ways to practise some sections faster. I have never had much success with a very incremental approach to gaining speed. And what I (and probably james campbell) said can be applied when playing faster. But possibility only short bursts

I tend to find different ways round the notes. For groups of fours
Dotted rhythms (slow fast slow fast)
Reverse dotted (fast slow fast slow)
As a triplet and a quaver (fast fast fast slow)
As a quaver and a triplet (slow fast fast fast)
As a triplet with two semiquavers (slow slow fast fast)

The list is a bit endless...and you can combine. I’ll sometimes practise a passage starting on a weak note (eg in nielsen first cadenza i’ll start on the bflat: Bb B C C#. So next strong beat on the G). I think its ok to repeat things a bit redundantly - i think this is necessary to learn. But doing this can also help pinpoint more specific things to work on.

I’m sure you’ll have many other ideas from other people. I’m always a bit suspicious of anything particularly dogmatic. But I think the music idea is a pretty good one.

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 Re: Method for Learning Daunting Music
Author: clarinetwife 
Date:   2021-03-03 04:01

With technical sections I tend to think of the momentum of a pebble rolling down a hill. If you start the pebble towards the bottom of the hill it goes at a modest speed, and it picks up speed as you climb the hill and release the pebble. I start at a spot close to the end of the passage and practice that. Then I back up a measure or two or whatever makes sense with the music and practice that to the end. By the time you get back to the beginning of the passage, it ends up being a romp at the end without getting bogged down. It works well with the right sort of passage.



Post Edited (2021-03-03 04:02)

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