Alternatives to repetition of passages in works : LUSENET : To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us : One Thread

Hello, To me, one controversial issue in the book seems to be your recommendation to not isolate technically difficult sections of pieces for repetitive work--almost everyone seems to recommend this practice. I see the merits of your approach but I wonder if it is more suited to piano practice than other instruments (I play classical guitar)? What alternatives do you recommend? For instance, say I have a difficultly with incorporating trills into a particular section. Would you say all trill work should be in the context of technical exercises and not this particular passage? Have I misunderstood your approach?

-- Bev Ross (, April 27, 1998


Thanks so much for writing. It's wonderful to hear from people using the book, and do please continue to let me know how the book is working for you. (By the way, I'll be touring with master classes over the next year or two. Let me know if your institution would like to be on the tour.)

To answer your question, I don't think I do recommend never isolating technical difficulties. On page 39, under the heading "You Can't Practice It", I say, "But don't some difficulties require separate work? Yes, of course...."

It's true that I don't tell just what to do about each such difficulty; this will depend on what instrument is being played and is beyond the scope of this or perhaps any book. However, the profound point I intend to make about this point is that an *astonishing* amount of what we think are technical difficulties vanish when we make sure to master the musical aspects of the situation; for instance, by singing the passage (as described in Part I of the book), by outlining it (Part III) or by any of the other techniques I do describe in detail.

With your trills, all kinds of outlines are possible. Apart from separate practice if needed, you can incorporate the trill into the outline in many ways; playing just the lower notes, for instance, to get used to the continuity of the trill with the parts of the phrase that surround it; or playing just the lower notes but with the upper notes for the first one or two trill alternations. Or doing lower and upper for just the last one or two; or both. The crucial thing---I'm speaking generally; obviously I don't know the particular phrase you have in mind---is to include everything in the flow, and that's where outlining is so useful. It actually trains your body for the overall movements you need to make.

Try some of the book's recommendations whole-heartedly and see whether they help. If not, can you record one of the places that concern you and send it to me attached to email?

Happy practicing!

-- James Boyk (, April 28, 1998.

I'm not a guitarist but I do play harpsichord which is one step closer than a piano and the repertoire is chockful of ornaments. I think the difficulty with a trill is that we lose track of the fact that it also needs to function within a rhythmic framework. Because the notes are so fast, especially in a "free trill", we get disoriented, rhythmically speaking. That's where outlining helps. You start and stop on time because you're not squeezing in all the notes. It's really just outling in diminution, as Mr. Boyk has already suggested. Also, trills are expressive elements in the music, so what is the effect you are trying to create? Is it used to create a rhythmic emphasis (accent) on a melodically important note? Does it create an interesting dissonance with the underlying harmony that you can exploit as an expressive device? Also, in practicing isolated passages, always put them back into context immediately so there is physical and psychological continuity in and out of them; no seams!

-- Nikki Tsuchiya (, July 04, 1998.

NT's points are really good, don't you think? We really need music notation here, though, don't we? That would make it easy to give examples of incorporating a trill by outlining. I'll ask the people who run the computer whether it's possible to do that. JB

-- James Boyk (, July 11, 1998.

I am working on the second movement of the (Beethoven) Waldstein (Sonate) now and the extended trills are troubling me. Do most musicians play them as 16th or 32nd notes? As it turns out, outlining this by dropping the trill and only playing the lower note (a G in most cases) is a terrific way to practice this when you aren't even sure *how* you are going to work out the trill.

I wonder how other people warm up for practice ( and performance) and how they use technical excercises, and what your advice and practive might be. 10 years ago I would maybe thoughtlessly play through a dozen Hanon or Phillipe drills and call it good. Now I find it takes me 20 to 30 minutes just to warm up to where it feels worthwhile to practice, and that by judiciously choosing excercises, playing hands alone, changing keys, using variations listed or inventing my own *appropos* to the music I am working on I 1) make faster progress on everything and 2) that 30 minutes spent warming up goes very fast and is even fun.

Incidentally, I once had a teacher who swore that you did not ever need to do any excercises because "there aren't any muscles in your fingers anyway."

-- Nathan Dalleska (, January 28, 1999.

Regarding the Waldstein last movement trills, check out what Abby Whiteside says about "alternating action" in her discussion of Chopin Opus 10, #7 itude in "Mastering the Chopin Etudes, and Other Essays."

About warming up, certainly "thoughtless" work is always useless. "We learn what we do," as the book says. If we work "thoughtlessly", we learn to work thoughtlessly. Your description of Conscious choosing of appropriate exercises sounds good to me. Personally, I do not use so-called "technical exercises." I do however work very thoroughly -- or try to! -- on difficulties as they come up in pieces I perform.

Your story about the "teacher who swore that you did not ever need to do any excercises because 'there aren't any muscles in your fingers anyway'" is priceless. Thanks for sharing it! (There's so much idiocy about this field. More than any other? Something about playing the piano seems to make people abdicate their minds.)

-- James Boyk (, January 31, 1999.

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