Dec 20, 2008

Should you study from the end or not?

This week I started experimenting with the method Chuan Chang describes in his "Fundamentals..." for memorizing. The first project that I'm using his method on is Bach's Sinfonia 15 in b-minor. Chang recommends dividing a new piece in segments of a few bars, and learning each segment by first playing it in your head from the music, and then playing it on the keyboard from memory. All in 3-4 bar segments, and all with separate hands.

I started work with a small variation: I began studying at the end, working my way back to the beginning, in 3-4 bar segments. My reason to do that is that I know from experience that I have a tendency to study the beginning of a piece much better than the middle part or the end, so why not break that tendency right from the start? When I arrived at the top of the second page, I realised I had only practised the right hand part, so for variety I worked on the left hand part starting at the point where I had arrived and working my way to the end.

Working towards the end again made me realise that starting at the end has a very real risk of inefficiency in it. Each time I backed up a few bars to memorize the next (or actually previous) segment, I included a few notes of the part I just learned, just as Chang recommends. However, when that previously learned part comes after the part I'm now working on, it turned out to be very tempting to continue playing that second part, because I already knew how to play that. The result was that already in my first session with Chang's method, I learned the end of the piece much better than the middle part, and I wasted time on playing parts of the Sinfonia that didn't need as much work as the rest. So next time I'll better start from the top!

If you're disciplined enough to avoid the temptation of playing just learned parts that are going fine, good for you! Otherwise, you'd better use Chang's method the way he intended to, and that is to start working from the top. Following his method makes for some very concentrated practice time, with solid results to show for it!

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