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When sight-reading is not enough: Learning a new piano piece from the ground up so we can teach it to our students (Videos)

I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Sviatoslav Richter when asked how he approached a challenging new composition of virtuoso proportion:

His reply– “I read a new piece and then start practicing the place that irritates me the most. After learning that one I move to the next irritation, etc.”

Well, most of us would die to have such comparable talent, but our perfunctory read of a new composition only skims the surface, requiring our deeper commitment to musical and technical discovery.

I will admit that earlier today I dove into a virgin piece, submerging myself for greater than two full hours as I refined fingering, mapped out harmonic rhythm, probed voice layering, and the rest. It was in readiness for my video tutorial of Mendelssohn’s Children’s Piece, Op. 72 No. 1.

This composition, with a hymn-like, singing tone quality, happened to be the second one brought to me by my “new” Bay area adult student. As it turned out, she was very committed to hard work and personal musical development which was one of the rare blessings to come my way over a long teaching career. For me, this was an opportunity to grow along with her and expand my pianistic horizons.

In the embedded video offered, I literally approached the Mendelssohn work as if I were a maiden voyager on a musical journey, wanting to make my student’s foray a bit easier.

Along the way, I encountered a perfectly heart-warming character piece that looked deceptively simple, but wasn’t. And as I dealt with a choir of voices, with a few inner ones needing to be fleshed out, I re-fingered measures that had poor editorial choices, and examined harmonic rhythm and phrasing to ensure a depth of learning that would be long-lasting.

Previously, I’d studied many of the composer’s “Songs without Words” which provided a good Romantic era underpinning for this undertaking, but still, I required quality time to examine a brand new composition that was not in my repertoire. (Separate hand practice could not be avoided)

The video instruction contained baby-step advances that would bode well for a progressive learning and ripening process, and in this effort, I would partner with an enthusiastic adult student who was on the same page with me.


The very first lesson with a new Intermediate or advanced piano student: thinking creatively on your feet

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