Music History - The Romantic Period (1825-1900)

"Romanticism" was brought about by the social and political stresses following the French Revolution, and the resulting nationalistic trends. It was a period of dramatic thought and action, also involving contradictions between capitalism and socialism, freedom and oppression, logic and emotion, science and faith. This resulted in a change in the thinking of people, especially creative artists. There was a general impatience with the rules and restraints of Classicism, and music "revolted" against the practices of Mozart and Haydn. The goal was to be different and individualistic. The ideal for the Romantic composer was to reflect his own feelings and emotions in his compositions in order to instill in the listener certain preconceived moods. The expression of emotion and the "sparking" of the imagination were a primary goal.

The center of musical activity shifted from Vienna to Paris, and musicians were no longer attached to patrons. However, while composers during this time did not write for the lower classes, their music was addressed to the masses to a far greater degree than before in the history of music. Music became more and more disassociated from real life, while expressing the splendor and pride of the human spirit. In the effort to capture audiences, a dynamic and colorful personality became an important asset. Such examples can be found in such individuals as Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner. The concert manager, or "impresario" as he was often called, was also an important figure in the business of music. Another important person behind the scenes of music was the music critic.

Function of Music: Romanticism still served a sophisticated and aristocratic society, as had been the case with Classical music. Aristocratic patronage was smaller, but the intimacy of the exclusive salon was still the ideal setting for performances. Performance, however, was no longer by mere amateurs, for Romantic music was usually too technically demanding for unskilled performers. Standing outside the circle of the exclusive salon was a large, but unorganized and unsophisticated, concert-going public, which loved music. Romantic composers were constantly striving to gain recognition of this large audience and, in an effort to win acceptance, they were very sensitive to the likes and dislikes of these music-lovers. Performers, as well as composers, had the urge to be acceptable and to dazzle audiences. Composers were often fine performers as well, such as Liszt and Chopin, who wrote a large number of virtuoso pieces to thrill the public with technical display. The Romantic composer expressed his own feelings and convictions, writing music to express himself in personal "documents of art". The church was no longer considered a patron of music, with very little music written for liturgical purposes. The teaching of music, however, became an established profession. Many fine conservatories and schools of music were founded for the education of the performing and creative musician. Research in music history and theory was introduced into programs of many universities by the end of the 1800's. Many prominent composers and performers such as Liszt, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann achieved wide recognition as teachers. Thus, to meet pressing needs for pedagogical (instructional) material, such composers wrote etudes (studies) and other short pieces for teaching.

Historical Events: Louisiana Purchase, Monroe Doctrine, McCormick invents the reaper, Morse telegraph, Daguerre takes first photographs, California gold rush, Darwin writes Origin of Species, Civil War in the United States, Germany united under Bismarck, Edison invents electric light and phonograph, Roentgen discovers the x-ray, Spanish-American war.

Visual Arts: Goya, Gericault, Corot, Turner, Delacroix, Millet, Daumier.

Literature: Buron, Austen, Shelley, Keats, Pushkin, Heine, Cooper, Balzac, Hugo, Stendhal, Sand Lytton, Dickens, Poe, Dumas, Thackeray, Longfellow, Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, Whitman, Tennyson, Eliot, Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Browning, Twain, Ibsen, Stevenson, Wilde, H. James, Maeterlinck, Zola, Kipling.

Philosophy: Hegel, Mill, Comte, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Marx, Engels, Thoreau, Spencer, Huxley, Emerson, Haeckel, Hietzsche, Berson.

Prominent Composers: Beethoven (late period), Paganini, von Weber, Rossini, Schubert, Donizetti, Bellini, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Verdi, Wagner, Gounod, Franck, Smetana, Bruckner, Borodin, Brahms, Bizet, Mussorgsky, Tchaikowsky, Dvorak, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov, Faure, Puccini, Wolf, Mahler, Strauss, Sibelius, Czerny, Field, Elgar, Offenbach, Saint-Saens, Massenet, Rubinstein, Rachmaninov, Scrabin (early), Albeniz, Gottschalk, MacDowell.

Practice and Performance: Dynamics were more explicit than those of Classicism. Smaller changes of color and gradations of loudness were indicated by more definite terms. Tempi were more accurately designated by the use of metronome markings. Even the conductor became a performer whose instrument was gigantic and capable of every Romantic expression. This was an era of massive festival performances. The middle-class love for music making led to the establishment of the choral society. Improvisation was generally discarded in the practice of Romantic music, due largely to the complexity of its composition and the complete directions for performance. A few individuals like Chopin and Liszt, continued to make brilliant use of it however.

Prominent Musical Characteristics: There were Romantic idealists and Romantic realists. The idealists insisted music must exist for its own sake without extramusical devices. The realists were the champions of program music, believing that music could (and should) tell a story, imitate sounds of nature or express a visual scene. Some Romantic composers excelled in spectacular virtuosity, which was expressed by brilliant technical performances. Other composers emphasized the intimacy of miniature forms and delicate textures to express their personal feelings. There were composers whose aim was to extol national characteristics and evoke patriotic feelings using folklore, folk songs and dances. There were also Romanticists who avoided nationalistic devices in the search for a universal musical language. But there was one concept that all Romanticists had in common, giving their music a sense of unity: their music was aimed at the evocation of emotion as its primary function. All Romantic music concerns itself with the problem of creating musical tension to achieve a corresponding intensification of emotional response.

Forms are not as precise and clear as in Classicism, but are often overlapping, vague and often without strong cadences. Sections of larger works often "melt" into one another. It was also a common practice to use some of the same thematic material in each movement as a means of maintaining a constant expressive character (this is sometimes called "cyclic" form). Folk melodies were also used a great deal in Romantic music. Melodies are characterized by an intensity of personal feelings, sometimes extremely long with dramatic and dynamic climaxes. Rhythmically, music became more interesting. There are often changes in the number of beats in a measure, cross-rhythms, syncopations, etc. Tempo in Romantic music is not always constant, but may fluctuate in order to achieve emotional effect (rubato). The rich harmony makes great use of chromaticism, nonharmonic tones, altered chords and larger chords (such as ninths and thirteenths). Timbre, or texture, was heavy and thick. Basically, there are six chief musical characteristics in Romanticism:
· Subjectivity: Music was not objective (outside of human emotions) as in the Classical period, but had to be joined with extramusical ideas. In this respect, some of Beethoven's later music was held to be the model to be emulated. Because music could not convey pictures or ideas, some composers resorted to "objective" devices which imitated natural sounds. Much of the music during the nineteenth century has a sentimental quality.
· Emotionalism: All music has some degree of emotionalism. However, the Romantic composer sought to intensify this aspect of his music. By the use of chromaticism (progression by half steps) in melodies and chords, and modulations (changing keys) and by exploiting tension in the music (by not resolving dissonances immediately), the composer was to keep the listener in a state of suspense for long periods of time.
· Nationalism: Composers were greatly influenced by the intense nationalistic feelings that developed after the Napoleonic wars. Some composers were political outcasts (Chopin and Wagner), while others promoted a love for their country (Russian Five). The main areas of nationalistic music during the nineteenth century were Germany, Italy, France, Central Europe and Russia.
· Programmatic Compositions: The development and use of descriptive music became an important part of the Romantic movement. The trend from the subjectivity of the composer to the emotionalism in the listener was natural. As mentioned previously, composers resorted to "objective" devices in their music. The devices included descriptive titles, melodic formulas, harmonic cliches and instrumental effects.
· Thick Timbre: The availability of improved musical instruments allowed composers to experiment with novel orchestral effects. The timbre and texture of the orchestral color became more evocative as the nineteenth century progressed. The use of chromaticism and dissonance led to a very complex orchestral timbre by the end of the century:
1. At the beginning of the century, the woodwind parts often doubled those of the strings. Brass instruments were mainly used to "fill in" louder passages.
2. About the middle of the century, the woodwinds were combined with the strings in all registers. The brass instruments were generally used to double other parts and to play for louder passages.
3. In the second half of the century, complete instrumentation was employed in each section of the orchestra. Each section tended to be treated on a more equal footing.
· Chromaticism: The harmonic system established by Rameau in 1722 began breaking down during the Classical period. The Romantic composers exploited the use of altered chords and modulation to such a degree that the feeling for a central tonality often became obscure. This is especially true of music written after about 1850. The increased use of dissonance and half step movements in all the voices, and the avoidance of a "too-well-defined" tonality, paved the way for the Impressionistic and Expressionistic movements of the twentieth century.
Instrumentation: During the Romantic period, the piano (pianoforte) became the most popular single instrument. It became a musical symbol of Romanticism, and was enlarged to give it a wider range and more tonal power. The piano reached such heights of popularity that it became the favorite household instrument with every family that could afford it. The orchestra grew to be the favorite large instrument of the century. Added were the English horn, the clarinet, more brass and percussion. Opera was also a major medium of expression.

Vocal Compositions: Lied, choral music (sacred and secular), Te Deums, Requiems, Beatitudes, Opera (Italian, French, German Nationalistic), Oratorios.

New Large Forms: Symphonic Poem, Sonata, Symphony, Concerto, Ballet, Ballade, Impromptu.

New Small Forms: Waltz, Nocturne, Etude

Music History - Medieval Music(1600-1750)

The Middle Ages in music is an immense period stretching from the first years of the Christian era to the early years of the 15th century. The most highly developed theoretical discussions from ancient times were those of the Greeks. Scholars such as Boethius passed these on to the Middle Ages in the 6th century. In the practical sphere, however, only a few pieces of Greek music have survived, and none by the Romans. The earliest plainsong in notated form dates only from the 9th to 10th centuries. Ancient Jewish music undoubtedly formed the basis of the recitation tones used for the psalms, and hymnody dates back to the time of St. Ambrose in the 4th century. But many of the antiphons and responds, as well as the ornate melodies of the Mass ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus), were products of the later Middle Ages, from the 11th century on.

At first there were many differing but related repertories of plainsong: the most important were the Old Roman, the Ambrosian in Milan, the Gallican in France, and the Mozarabic in Spain. Their unification and crystallization in Gregorian chant took place through the efforts of the Frankish kings and the Papal court in Rome, apparently starting in the 8th century. Few traces of the Gallican chant exist today, whereas the Ambrosian repertory is still used in Milan. Mozarabic chant was superceded in the 11th century.

The impact of the church on all other music of the Middle Ages cannot be overestimated. Manuscripts were usually written by clerics, and therefore little secular music was preserved apart from a few songs in Latin. The first important secular music in the vernacular was the troubadour song in the Provencial language. From its beginnings in the 11th century, troubadour song influenced many other countries for some 200 years, especially northern France, where trouveres contributed a large repertory of music. Only about 300 pieces are preserved with music by the troubadours, but about 1,700 by the trouveres. The height of troubadour skill was reached about 1200 with Bernart de Ventadorn, Guirat de Bornelh, and Folquet de Marseille. Bernart is famous for his texts dealing with unrequited love. Some of the verse forms anticipate the 14th century ballade with its 3 stanzas of 7 or 8 lines. Others have texts dealing with the Crusades, or with a dispute about some amorous trifle. The pastourelle, found in both troubadour and trouvere literature, tells a conventional story in several stanzas about a knight and shepherdess. Dance songs like the rondeau and virelai are also found in these repertories. All this monophonic music may have been accompanied at times by a fiddle or a wind instrument. It was not until the 14th century that secular song became regularly polyphonic.

Sacred music is found written in two to four parts from the 9th century; at first it consisted mainly of doubling a melody (usually plainsong) at the fourth, fifth or octave. The first important collection of this so-called "organum" was the Winchester Troper of the early 11th century, containing nearly 200 two-part settings of solo chants. In the St. Martial repertoire of the 12th century can be seen the origins of the classic Notre Dame style. Two-part writing is still the rule, but in the more expansive Notre Dame style, three (and even four) parts are not uncommon. The leading composer were Leonin and Perotin, who wrote the big four-part organa, as well as some in three parts. In the composition of motets, St. Martial composers led the way, followed by those of Notre Dame. Motets in both Latin and French became the most important polyphonic form of the 13th century.

In other countries, French models were imitated, In Spain, manuscripts from Burgos and Toledo testify to the importance of the Notre Dame repertory. The monophonic cantigas reveal a more individual trend in 13th-century songcraft - although, like the Italian laude, they are addressed to the Virgin Mary. English composers followed the lead of the French in important centers like the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds and the cathedral of St. Paul in London. The technique of canon was used in the famous four-part canon, "Sumer is icumen" in over two harmonically organized bass parts.

In the 14th century, often called the period of Ars Nova (in contrast to the 13th-century Ars Antigua), polyphony flourished in vernacular song. The leading composer was the Frenchman Guillaume e Machaut, who produced a large body of mainly three-part ballades and rondeaux, occasionally venturing into two and four parts. This virelais and lais are mainly monophonic. A major achievement of the Ars Nova was a move from primarily triple time to the modern variety of measures, mainly 3/4, 6/8 , 2/4 and 9/8. In Italy, the 14th century began with the cultivation of the two-part madrigal. Instruments such as the fiddle, portative organ, shawm and small harp were widely used. French influence became stronger as the century progressed, and virelai-like ballata was predominant in the work of Francesco Landini, the most prolific Italian composer of the Ars Nova. In both France and Italy, the music at the end of the century was marked by increased rhythmic complexity, helped by the development of notation and the use of syncopation.

In England, polyphony continued to be mainly sacred, borrowing from France the technique of the isorhythmic motet and the chanson. During the first half of the 15th century, however, French domination was challenged for the first time by the novel harmonies and smooth melodic lines of John Dunstable and his contemporaries. Their influence on the continent and the great works of Guillaume Dufay led to a new art culminating in the classic choral polyophony of Josquin des Prez.

Music History - The Impressionistic Period (1870-1920)

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the fine arts entered a new era: called "Impressionism", it lasted only a few decades into the twentieth century. French artists such as Monet, Manet, Renoir and Degas first applied the term, "Impressionism", to paintings. Around 1870, a group of young artists abandoned the accepted school of realism in favor of a new movement in painting, which was dedicated to ideals considered revolutionary by their contemporaries. These artists maintained that for their purposes, realism played now part in achieving an artistic result. They concentrated on the "manner" in which a picture was painted, and were completely unconcerned with subject matter. Their chief aim was to reproduce the general "impression" of the moment made by the subject on the artist. They tended to look at nature with an "innocent eye", seeing the world in a continual state of change with its outlines melting into haze. They would contrast bits of pure color on the canvas, leaving it to the eye of the beholder to do the mixing. Impressionist painters were repelled by the heroic themes of the Romantic painters. The hero of the Impressionist was not man, but light. They chose as subjects dancing girls (ballerinas), picnics, boating, cafe scenes and nature. Their art is the reflection and impression of a magical city: Paris.

In literature (especially poetry), Impressionism was translated into a movement called "Symbolism". The Symbolists wished to free-verse techniques to achieve fluidity. Poetry's new function was to suggest or evoke, but not to describe. Rejecting realism, these poets chose to express their immediate reactions to a subject by means of symbolic words, which were arranged for their emotional values.

The basic theories of the Impressionists were most wonderfully expressed in the sonorous art of music. Since music is essentially an abstract art, it was ideal in projecting Impressionism's vague images. The Impressionist composers had two favorite mediums: the orchestra (because of its variety of color) and the piano (because its damper pedal permitted vibrating harmonies to "suspend in mid-air"). The Impressionist painters, as we have seen, tried to capture the movement of color and light. Music is predominantly the art of abstract movement. For this reason, the favorite images of the Impressionist painting -- the play of light on water, clouds, gardens in he rain, sunlight through the leaves -- lent themselves readily to musical expression. Such descriptive titles as "Reflections on the Water", "The Snow is Dancing", "Sounds and perfumes Swirl in the Evening Air", reveal composers as poets and painters in addition to being musicians.

Visual Arts: Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissaro, Monet, Rodin, Seurat, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Homer.

Literature: Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine, Rimbaud.

Prominent Composers: Debussy, Ravel, Delius, Griffes, Respighi, Szymanowski, Satie, Faure.

Prominent Musical Characteristics:
· Modal Influences: The medieval modes were attractive to composers who sought to escape the "tyranny" of the major/minor sound. Emphasized were primary intervals -- octaves, fourths, and fifths -- in parallel motion. This resembled a medieval procedure known as "organum", where a melody was harmonized by another which ran parallel to it at a distance of a fourth or fifth.
· Whole-Tone Scale: Claude Debussy heard the musicians of the Far East (Java, Bali, and Indo-China). He was fascinated by the music of the native orchestra, the gamelan, with percussive rhythms and bewitching instrumental colors. The music of the Far East makes use of certain scales, which divide the octave into equal major/minor system and leads to obscured fluidity.
· Pentatonic Scale: The pentatonic (five-note) scale is sounded when the black yes of the piano are struck (or also C, D, F, G and A). This scale is popularly associated with Chinese music, but is even more familiar to us through Scottish, Irish and English folk tunes ("Auld Lang Syne" and "Comin' Through the Rye").
· Impressionist Harmony: Impressionist composers regarded the chord as an entity by itself, a "thrill" that hit the ear with a style all its own. Impressionism released the chord from its function as harmony to movement within the melody.
· Parallel Motion: In Classicism, tension was produced by moving voices in a contrary fashion. Impressionism, on the other hand, vied chords as melodic entities. This, it was "proper to move voices in a parallel fashion (this was "forbidden" in the Classical era).
· Escaped Chords: These were harmonies which gave the impression of having "escaped" to another tonality. Such chords are neither prepared for, nor are they resolved in any traditional sense. They simply "evaporate".
Other Musical Characteristics: There was little room in Impressionism for the "heaven-storming" climaxes of Romanticism. Instead, there is a veiling of sonority and delicate texture. Impressionism is "opalescent" and "transparent", shimmering from time to time with showers of sound. Within the orchestra, flutes and clarinets are used in their dark lower registers. Violins reach for upper sonorities while trumpets and horns are muted. There is much use of the harp, celeste, triangle, glockenspiel and cymbal (usually brushed with a drumstick). Phrases tend to be fragmentary and speckled with color. Rhythm tends to be vague and free, with cadences being not so clearly defined. Also, phrases tend to overlap and are fluid in character.

Music History - The Classical Period (1750-1825)

The term, "Classical", refers to the reason and restraint found in the life of the ancient Athenians. It has been used by historians to describe all the arts that are concerned mainly with problems of form, logic, balance and restrained expression--and that were also based on models of Greek and Roman art. The term, as applied to music, refers to the works of those eighteenth-century composers whose music gives the impression of clarity, balance, lyricism and restraint of emotional expression.

A primary idea was that the process of reason could realize truth; thus, the utmost emphasis must be placed upon learning and intellectual pursuits. The universe was thought to be a "machine", governed by inflexible laws that man could not override. Another view was that "whatever is true is true throughout the world--it is universal". Emotional restraint was the result of the notion that man's emotions as a guide to truth are false. His rational intellect should control his behavior.

Austria and Germany became the center of very vital musical activity. These countries had a large number of courts, each able to maintain its independence. Each court had by this time given up much of their political and economic independence but maintained their artistic and social status. There was even great rivalry among them in artistic and social matters. There was a long tradition of instrumental music, an abundance of talent, a natural love of music, great artistic ambition and much wealth.

Composers depended upon the patronage of a court or aristocratic society that was very discriminating in its tastes. This society was not only sophisticated and elegant, but also disclaimed emotional displays. It was an "Age of Reason", looking upon feelings with suspicion.

The concert hall and opera house became established institutions, making it possible for all classes to enjoy creative activity--aristocratic or not. Publishing houses also were well established, making performances of musical works widespread. They even favored certain composers (often at the expense of others), which exerted a strong influence on composers and the public. The church, however, became less influential as far as musical patronage was concerned. There was no suitable climate in the church for the continuous growth of religious music, especially because the aristocracy did little to maintain the religious music at the level of the Baroque.

Function of Music: Music during this period served a highly sophisticated and aristocratic society. Its most common function was to provide entertainment for guests in exclusive saloons. Discriminating audiences patronized public concerts of orchestral music, and the elegant spectacle of the opera. In the home, it was possible for the amateur musicians to learn to play compositions. In fact, many serious composers were called upon to write chamber music, as well as vocal solos and ensembles, for amateur performances. Music for dancing was in popular demand for a society that enjoyed lively entertainment. In the church, composers were called upon to write sacred music for its services--but it tended to give way to a "secular" spirit.

Historical Events: The factory system begins, American Revolution, French Revolution, Napoleon becomes dictator of France.

Visual Arts: David, Ingres.

Literature: Burns, Goethe, Schiller, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Scott.

Philosophy: Rosseau, Kant.

Prominent Composers: Sammartini, Gluck, C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach, Stamitz, Haydn, Dittersodorf, Boccherini, Mozart, Clementi, Cheubini, Beethoven, Kuhlau, Diabelli.

Practice and Performance: During the Classical Period, dynamics became commonplace. This was indeed another was of achieving contrast, employing crescendo and diminuendo, as well as sudden changes from "ff" to "pp". Composers give explicit directions in dynamics, tempi, phrasing form and other interpretive matters--leaving little the performer's imagination. While ornaments were not always written out, there was a precise formula for the execution of each figure. Music was performed with a sense of balance, polish, order, neatness, planning and good taste. There was still some improvisation buy generally applied to the cadenza of a concerto (even so, most cadenzas were written out!).

Prominent Musical Characteristics: Again, the sense of "polish" and "neatness" was the norm. During this time, the pianoforte gradually replaced the harpsichord. Music forms are now precise and clear, with sections being clearly marked off by cadences. Classical music is characterized by symmetry of form, with balanced musical periods (usually in units of four-measure phrases). Folk music even became gradually introduced into serious music. Melodies were lyrical with smooth contours. Ornaments were often written out, but became a lyric part of the melody itself (no longer being merely decorative). Also, melodies were often built out of short melodic "fragments", contrasted homophonically with a second melody. (In effect this led to the ABA formula). Chordal structures also became melodic when broken; and in faster tempos, ascending upwards, they were referred to as "rocket figures". Rhythm was essentially simple and constant, clearly punctuated by rhythmic cadences. An important device of rhythm was the "Alberti bass", which is the breaking-up of a triad into broken-chord figures with a repeated rhythmic pattern. Even silence became part of the element of rhythm. Strong cadences are sometimes followed by a measure of silence in order to heighten the effect of the cadence itself. The tempo of a movement, or section, is always constant from beginning to end. Harmony is tonal, simple, and rarely uses anything beyond primary chords. There is a formal key relationship between themes and movements of forms. This key relationship provides contrast and interest without introducing new material (Sonata-allegro form is a good example of this). Key relations between movements are not so varied. In general, all movements are in the same key (except sometimes for the second movement).

Instrumentation: The most popular means of musical expression during the Classical Period was instrumental--the orchestra, chamber music and solo instruments. The Classical orchestra usually consisted of two of each of the following instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and tympani--and a host of strings numbering around twenty-five. This orchestra was divided into four major groups: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Each group became a type of "choir" in itself. The harpsichord gradually gave way to the pianoforte. Instrumental chamber music became very popular, as did the opera. There were a large number of operas composed during the Classical Period--but vocal music apart from the opera was of minor importance.

Vocal Compositions: Recitative, aria, chorus, ensembles, lied, oratorio, mass.

New Large Forms: Symphony, sonata, solo concerto, chamber music (duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets), serenade, divertimenti, cassations, notturni.

New Small Forms: Sonata-allegro, rondo, theme and variations minuet and trio, scherzo, tenary (ABA), bagatelle, overture

Music History - The Baroque Period

The term, "Baroque" was probably derived from the Portuguese meaning "an irregularly shaped pearl". Baroque art is considered excessively decorative, dramatic, flamboyant and emotional. Architecture, painting, sculpture and music all display these traits as well.

The rise of monarchies played an important part in the creation of national styles, since the monarchs and princes were among the most patrons of a lavish musical life.

There was a great deal of scholarly inquiry at this time: physiology, astronomy, mathemantics and physics all influenced musicians to apply methods of science to problems of music, leading to a systematic development of the techniques of musicl art.

Function of Music: An increasing amount of religious music was also used for nor-liturgical purposes; preludes, postludes, etc. Much music written toward the end of the Baroque period was written for amateur performers in the households of the aristocracy and wealthy class. Most of this music was instrumental, but vocal music was often included. In the households of the aristocracy, small bands of musicians provided compositions and performances of dinner music, dances and ensemble concerts. Instruction in performance and composition was restricted to the aspiring musician and to the household of the aristocracy and wealthy householders. There was no institutional organization for teaching musical arts, so students (mostly male) were taught by their own musical fathers or relatives who were attached to the household of a composer/performer.

Historical Events: King James version of the Bible, Pilgrims land in America, Newton writes about physical laws, Encyclopaedia published, Watts invents the steam engine.

Visual Arts: Bernini, Rubens, El Greco, Rembrandt, Velasquez Van Dyck, Poussin, Watteau, Hogarth, Fragonard, Gainsborough, da Vinci, Michaelangelo.

Literature: Cervantes, Pepys, Milton, Pope, Swift, Defoe, Gray, Goldsmith, Fielding.

Philosophy: F. Bacon, Deascartes, Grotius, Hobbs, Spinoza, Locke, Voltaire, Hume.

Prominent Composers: Caccini, Peri, Sweelinck, Monterverdi, Praetorius, Frescobaldi, Schutz, Schein, Scheidt, Cavalli, Chambonnieres, Carissimi, Froberger, Cesti, Angelbert, Lully, Charpentier, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Corelli, Purcell, Kuhnau, A. Scarlatti, Couperin, Vivaldi, Telemann, Rameau, J.S. Bach, D. Scarlatti, Handel, Pergolesi.

Practice and Performance: The Baroque period was one in which the art of improvisation was a necessity of every performer. Both vocal and instrumental composers often only "outlined" the melodic line with the full expectation of having the performer add not only ornamentation, but passing tones, scalar passages, and even melodic fragments to the notated melody. In the later Baroque, brilliant and rapid ornamentation of a virtuoso type was known as "coloratura". In both vocal and instrumental compositions, performers were expected to extend cadences, especially climactic cadences near the end of a movement or work, with elaborate improvisation. Such improvisation came to be known as "cadenzas", where performers would exhibit their skills of improvisation and technique. Tempered systems of tuning were universally used. Meantone temperament was the most consistently used, but by the end of the period the tendency toward a system of equal temperament was favored because of an increasing modulatory practice of composers.

Prominent Musical Characteristics: "Tremolo" and "pizzicato" for string instruments; terraced dynamics although dynamics such as "p", "f", "cresc." and "dim." were introduced and used sparingly; rhythm was generally simple, but metrically strict; tempo markings such as "allegro", "andante" and "grave" were introduced' emphasis on solo singing' homophony introduced and existing along with polyphony; designation of ornamentation by the use of abbreviations and signs was used a great deal -- composers used these signs to indicate their own personal wishes in ornamentation, but performers were at liberty to improvise their own ornamentation as well; virtuoso and "bel canto" (beautiful singing) with florid technique; change to major/minor system of tonality; systemized harmony; chromaticism and dissonances used for exressiveness; improvisational style, with rapid scalar passages, decorations, free fantasy -- like displays of technique; variation principle; clear-cut phrases; consistent mood throughout sections of music.

Instrumentation: Most modern instruments of today were in use in the Baroque period; the violin family was perfected; idiomatic writing for specific instruments; a popular chamber music grouping was the "Trio-Sonata" (four instruments -- two treble, one bass, and a keyboard for harmony); another chamber groups was the "Solo-Sonata" (three instruments -- one melodic, one bass, and a keyboard for harmony); the Baroque orchestra, which consisted mainly of strings with a number of woodwinds; the Baroque organ; the "clavier", which referred to all types of keyboard instruments -- particularly the harpsichord and the clavichord; voices -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Vocal Compositions: Recitative, aria, arioso, chorus, motet, spiritual concerto, anthem, solo song.

Instrumental Compositions: Prelude, fugue, toccata, ricercar, fantasia, overture, suite, keyboard sonata, chamber sonata, passacaglia, theme and variations, chorale variation, chorale prelude, chaconne, church sonata, concerto.

New Large Forms: Opera, oratorio, passion music, cantata, sonata, concerto grosso, mass.


I see it all the time in students in general. I will work with them on a piece/passage using a very structured approach. This means that we follow a number of steps in a specific order, so one leads to the next, and you acquire skills in a gradual manner. In short the practice is not random. However, when left to their own devices, or many times with me watching, students will not follow the master plan, but rather practise in a quasi-random fashion. I truly cannot understand this, since these methods should appeal to the lazy: they take less time, less effort and you do not even need to think (that is, my students do not need to think because they get it all in writing – all they have to do is to follow the steps). Yet they persist in doing it their way.

Chang actually mentions this phenomenon in his book, he calls it the “appeal of the intuitive method” or something like that. And right he is!

A good example is the repeated note-groups routine. I will do it with them, and they will completely master the passage in 20 minutes. However, they seem unable to – on their own volition – to transfer the method to another piece they may be learning by themselves (I try to get them independent as soon as possible). Sometimes I will let them struggle with a simple passage for a couple of months, and then in a single ten minute session with them achieve the results they could not achieve in two months. I point it out to them that for lazy people they like to work a lot, but to no avail.

Basically everyone wants to play the piece form beginning to end on automatic pilot and from memory. Common patterns:

1. Instead of reading the music when getting a passage wrong, the student prefers to “guess” what the note is by pressing randomly several notes until s/he gets the one that “sounds right” (but is still usually wrong). Everyone tries to avoid reading/sight-reading.

2. No one likes repeated note-groups even though it is the most powerful method in the bag.

3. Everyone wants to go hands together straight away.

4. No one likes to overlap sections – in fact no one likes to do small sections.

5. Everyone hates repeating sections and are usually dismayed when I suggest that they must repeat something seven times. To them seven times is the most absurd request they ever faced. The usual pattern is to repeat a section the minimum number of times to get a passable rendition of it, and then resent any suggestion that now is the moment to start repeating. “But I got it right!” (after 10000 wrong ones).

6. Once they get something learned, revolution is in the horizon the moment I suggest that we should go through all the steps we did the day before.

Yes, this is an excellent idea. I call it a practice journal. You should detail in it the way you are learning the piece in great detail. I make several copies of the score and cut the sections I am working on and the way I join them and the tricks I am using. I also write my feelings about it: how hard/impossible it is, or how easy it is, or where I think the difficulty lies. Our memory is notoriously unreliable. If you spend a month learning a piece it is quite enlightening to go back and read your comments. You may be very surprised that you actually felt that way.

Another thing I do is I always put the time I start and the time a finish a session, and I write what I should do the next day. Again, the next day we tend to forget what we noticed needed more working on. So a “what to do next” section is very important. At the same time you should be economical with words or you may end up using all your practice time doing the journal. As with everything, the more experience you get the better you get at it.

Yes, it is perfectly acceptable. However you must always have accomplished something at the end of a practice session. If you cannot accomplish anything (for instance by trying to tackle a piece you don’t know form beginning to end) then that practice time was completely wasted. Even if all you can master is a single bar HS, this is all right, because you are getting there step by step. But it is perfectly possible to practice 5 or 6 hours and not get anything done.

So it is important that you are not overambitious. With experience you will soon be able to figure out what is feasible and what is not. But always strive to have mastered something at the end of a session.

HT is a big problem. The three most powerful ways to deal with it are small section work, repeated note-groups and dropping notes. Another way to do it (particularly useful in counterpoint) is to have your teacher playing the RH while you play the LH (and vice versa) because this gets your ear used to it without you having to worry about HT If you have a digital piano with a recording facility, you can record one hand and play it back while you play the other hand.

Yes, it all depends. As I said work towards achieving something. If you achieve something, fine. If you do not than you need to make it easier by either tackling a smaller section, doing HS, outlining, etc.

The size of the passage HT again depends on what you can get away with. For myself, I usually make a difference between baroque music (counterpoint) and everything else.

With everything else, I join hands straight away. Let us say I am working on a Chopin waltz and I have just done half a bar HS. I will immediately join hands. I will not acquire a sizeable section hands separate. Rather I will join hands straightaway after mastering HT on the small section, and join section HT straightaway. That is, I will not do bars 1- 2 HS then HT, bars 2 – 3 HS then HT, then bars 1 – 3HS then HT. I will do bars 1-3 HT without further ado. Of course if it all falls apart, then I may have do go back to HS. But this is rarely the case. In fact usually if there is this sort of problem working some more on Bars 1 – 2 and Bars 2 – 3 HS and HT has better results than working Bars 1 – 3 HS. I believe this is because – for me personally – the LH does not make much sense by itself, it is just a chord progression.

Counterpoint on the other hand is a completely different matter. With counterpoint I will learn and memorise each voice separately, and I will be constantly paling the voices separately even after the piece has been mastered to keep each voice fresh in my mind.

Then there are also pieces that may not be advisable to play HS. For instance, Grieg’s Arietta, Schumann’s Strange lands and people and Mendelssohn’s Song without words op. 19 no. 1 all have a similar structure and form: they have a melody on the top voice, a bass voice and an arpeggiated middle voice that is shared between the hands. I will practise the top voice and the bass voice by themselves, but the arpeggiated middle voice has to be played HT straightaway, since HS will be not only very difficult as it will destroy the flow of the music. In such a case you may simplify it by doing separate voices, but HS may not be feasible. Another piece that comes to mind is the first part of Rach prelude op. 23 no. 5. The best approach there is to outline (that is to get rid of all unnecessary notes) but still keep HT. The second part on the other hand should be done HS. So it depends. The general rule is always: If what you are doing is not working, do something else.

Yes, that is correct. If you cannot do it the next day – perhaps not straight away but after 4 – 5 repeats – then you must repeat the procedure that lead you to mastery the days before. The procedure got you there once, it will get you there again. So don’t waste time trying to save time by skipping steps. It does not work. The fastest way is simply to repeat the procedure (whatever it was – as I said it will depend on the piece and on the person). Especially because you will get there in a fraction of the time it took you first time round. Again do not believe me. Try it out with two pieces of similar difficulty. This is truly the only way to decide if some great idea will work or if it is just some great idea.

As I said above, it will depend. With counterpoint, I take whatever time is necessary to truly master the whole piece before I even think of joining hands, so yes, HT will be a session in itself and should really come only after the whole piece is mastered hands/voices separate.

But with most repertory, I aim to have the section HT at the end of a session. If that is not possible, then yes, just do another session in the day for HT (provided HS has been mastered – you should never move to HT if you are still struggling with HS).

Also there are pieces that you will be able to do HT straightaway. I tend to do Mozart sonatas HT straightaway for most of the sonata – and only do HS if truly necessary. Also beginner pieces I usually do HT straightaway. And there are pieces I am able to just memorise after sight reading through them. Some styles/patterns come very easily to me, others are a real nightmare. Haydn sonatas somehow never presented a problem. But Bach and Scarlatti require a lot of work – mostly figuring out fingering. Then there are many modern pieces that are very easy to play – but deciphering the score takes a huge amount of time.

Again it is all very personal, and you must apply the general principles to your particular case.

Yes, this is correct. Patience always pays off. A lot of people move too fast to larger sections, while the smaller sections are still full of problems. You cannot fix the small section if it is inserted in the large section. All you will be doing is practising mistakes. This is really like fixing an engine. You must switch off the engine remove the part that is giving you problems, and fix it, and then put it back into the engine and spend some time adjusting it. Trying to fix a piece with the engine running is a very bad idea.

The bare minimum is three sessions per week. Any less than that and there will be no progress, so you may as well not waste your time.

The more sessions you can manage, the faster you will learn and the more repertory you will accumulate. Now the problem I see with the schedule you described, is that you may end up neglecting pieces. If so the time you invested on the pieces you neglected will have been wasted.

Consider this: On Saturday you have time for 10 sessions. So in each you tackle a different piece. However on Monday you can only manage 6. So 4 pieces will be neglected and the time you wasted on them could have been better used mastering other sections of the other 6 pieces. Does that make sense? So plan your work by referring to the minimum of practice sessions you can do. Let us say it is four. So aim to work on four pieces. On the particular day you can only do four sessions you dedicate one session per piece. You will progress slowly because the section you will be able to tackle will be relatively small. But the day you can do 12 sessions, devote three sessions per piece. On these days you will be able to advance rapidly and cover far more ground. You can also use the 4 session day to play larger sections already mastered and work on musicality, and the other days for the nitty gritty time consuming work.


The worst way is to ripple through them over and over again (hands together) while you think about your holidays in the Caribbean.

The best way is to have a very clear aim when practising scales and use a variety of approachs to achieve that aim.

Also use the water-boiling approach. If you are going to boil water, you must keep it on the fire until it boils. If you turn the fire off before it boils it doesn’t. Ever. So if you have a lot of water to boil is far more efficient to distribute it in small pans on several fires. So plan your practice (of everything, not only scales) so that you achieve your goals within a practice session of, say, 10 minutes. You will not learn all 24 scales (or a piece) in such a short session, but you will master an aspect of the scale, (or a bar of the piece). Then you make sure to have a master plan so that the small goals add up to the big goal. This requires very good planning, lots of discipline and day-to-day consistency. One month of this disciplined approach will bring awesome results.

So for scales, I do not believe in scales as technical exercises, but you must know them. So here are some variations, in the order I do them and teach them (they add up to greater things in due time):

Start with the 12 major scales:

1. One finger only, one octave, hands separate. Play the scale and say the notes you are playing aloud. Then do it again this time say the interval between notes aloud (e.g. major scales: Tone – Tone – semitone - Tone – Tone – Tone – semitone or major 2nd – major2nd – minor 2nd – major 2nd – major 2nd – major 2nd – minor 2nd). Goal: to know the notes of the scales. To name black keys and white keys as sharps/flats (e.g, in Gb major, the white key we usually think of as B is in fact a Cb), to get familiarised with counting semitones (an important skill that will come in handy when you are studying the different intervals in theory) and to spot straightaway the difference between major and minor seconds.

In the beginning, do one single scale per day (or even per week). Do not move to the next scale until you have completely saturated yourself with the one you are working on. It should take only a couple of minutes. Soon you will become master of one scale (consistent repetition is a sure fire way - but no one wants to do it. Everyone expects to learn by magic). Then move on to the next scale. You should know all the 12 major scales (as far as notes are concerned) in 2 – 3 weeks (at the most – some people can do it all in one day). Once you know all the 12 major scales, you should be able to go through them in 2 – 3 minutes.

If you are in a hurry, do all the 12 major scales in one day in 12 different sessions of 2 – 3 minutes. Once you finish your 2 – 3 minutes on one scale, forget about it completely until the next day. Do not try to make relationships between the several scales (yet). It will slow down the learning process. Concentrate on one and only one scale per practise session. Trust that it will add up and in the end you will be able to establish all relationships you always dreamed of.

Once you are confident you really know all 12 major scales over one octave (as far as notes and intervals are concerned), move on to play the scales with all fingers over two octaves, hands separate. Again, stay at this level for as long as needed to completely master it. Now you do not need to do the previous practice since this one will incorporate it.

2. All fingers, two octaves, hands separate: again just one scale per practice session (which should not last more than 2 – 3 minutes). Goal: to learn and ingrain the fingering, to keep reinforcing the notes (but by now you should know them back to front). To master a specific movement, namely, the movement that allows you to play scales slow/medium speed legato. Pass the thumb under. The best scale to start is B major, since in this scale the finger position is the most natural. At this stage play the scales in this sequence: B major, Db major, Gb major (fingering and scales are the same, you only need to change the white notes), then follow the circle of fifths in both directions (G – F / D – Bb / A – Eb / E – Ab). As before, do one scale per practice session, but soon you will be proficient enough to go through all of them in one single practice session of 2 – 3 minutes.

3. Next you are going to master a way/movement to play scales at fast speed. Now you must pass the thumb over (or displace the hand laterally). We are still working on separate hands (far more important than hands together for several reasons). This time play the notes of the scales in clusters (or chords), playing together (as a chord) fingers 123 and then displacing laterally the hand to play (as a chord) fingers 1234. Do this over one octave, then over two octaves, then over three and finally over four octaves. This will really improve your visual appraisal of the scale pattern of black/white keys over the entire keyboard. It will also explain the difficulty of playing scales fast: fingers 123 and 1234 can play fast no problem (what could be fast than together?) It is going from 3 to 1 and from 4 to 1 that will slow you down. So isolate this displacement movement and work on it separately. The main problem is to be fast and accurate, but you will never be as fast here as in fingers 123 or 1234. So this is the only limit to the speed you will play any scale. Later on you will need to slow down 123 and 1234 to the fastest you can play 3-1 and 4-1 in order to make the scale sound even. But for the moment, your goals at this stage are visual patterning of the keyboard for each scale, investigation of the displacement movement and getting used to the arm moving and accurately positioning the hand/fingers. This is very different form the previous stage, where the passing under of the thumb leads one naturally to use the fingers rather than the arms for placement and position.

You must keep working at both steps 2 and steps 3.

4. Now you are going to do no. 3 again, but this time you will “separate” the thumb. That is you play: 1 (alone) 23 (as a chord) 1 (alone) 234 (as a chord). You can do this in two ways (and you must do both): displacing the hand laterally (passing the thumb over) and passing the thumb under. Observer carefully the movement patterns you must do in order to accomplish each of these movements. You will see/hear/feel quite clearly why it is impossible to play fast scales with the thumb under. You will also se/feel/hear why playing with the thumb under is necessary for slow legato playing of scales.

5. Now that you have informed yourself of notes, fingerings, movements and pattern recognition for all the 12 major scales, you go back to play them normally (still hands separate) over four octaves. Play them slowly and legato with the appropriate movements and fast, again with the appropriate movements. From time to time remind yourself of the movements by going over again items 3 and 4. Playing all the 12 major scales in less than 2 – 3 minutes should be easy. If not, have that as your goal. Do not rush, it is more important to fully master one single scale than to rush through and be sloppy in all of them. Also remember that you can split your task throughout the day in 2 – 3 minutes sessions. It is not a good idea to spend a continuous hour on scales, It is far better to have twenty 3 minutes sessions throughout the day (e.g. every time there is an advert on TV go to the piano and do a session).

6. Now you should start doing variations. Over four octaves (hands separate) play the scales with rhythm variations (fast-slow and slow-fast), accent variations (accent every other note, accent every three notes, starting with note 1, then note 2 then note 3, then accent every fourth note) articulation variations (staccato, legato, detached), dynamic variations, and perhaps the most interesting, cantabile variations: create a melodic line within the scale by accenting certain notes. You should be able to clearly bring out the melody with the rest of the scale notes in the background.

7. Still with hands separate, play each major scale starting on a different note (but keeping the same fingering – e.g., play C major, but start on D with finger 2. Then start on E with finger 3 and so on). This is really playing the seven modes.

8. Finally, (still with separate hands), play through all the 12 major scales in the order of the cycle of fifths, and also in a chromatic order. You should also be able to play any of the 12 major scales chosen in a random order. You are now ready to join hands.

9. Joining hands will be a nightmare because of the co-ordination. The fastest way to overcome this is by playing the scale hands together in groups of notes, overlapping the groups. This is a long practice session (it will take anything from 20 minutes to one hour), so brace yourself. The good news is that you only need to do this once (or maybe twice) for each scale. Then you will know your scale hands together forever (even if you do not practise it ever again). This is how you do it (I will show over one octave, but you have to do it over two octaves).C Major:

a) Play, hands together, correct fingers the notes CD hundreds of times (since it is only two notes, you can do several hundred times in 1 – 2 minutes). Until it becomes easy and automatic. Move on to DE. Then EF (difficult for the RH hand, easy for the LH – so you will probably need to spend more time on these two notes). Then FG. Then GA (difficult for LH, easy for RH), AB and finally BC.
b) Now do three notes, spending more time on the difficult sequences: CDE – DEF – EFG – GAB – ABC
c) Four notes: CDEF – DEFG – EFGA – FGAB – GABC
d) Five notes: CDEFG – DEFGA – EFGAB – FGABC
e) Six notes: CDEFGA – DEFGAB – EFGABC
f) And last but not least seven notes: CDEFGAB – DEFGABC
g) You should now be able to play the scale perfectly hands together over one octave. Extend the system for two octaves. You don’t need to do it for more than two octaves, since the other octaves will take care of themselves.

10. Now, just like you did with separate hands you must do all sorts of variations. Do all the ones you did for separate hands, and add these ones:

a) Play the scale in contrary movement.

b) Play the scale in counterpoint: One hand plays two octaves, the other hand one octave at half the speed. Alternate hands

c) Play one scale (e.g. G major) with the right hand and a different scale (e.g. B major) with the left hand. This will really show you how ironclad your fingering is.

d) Play the scale with the hands a third apart, a sixth apart, a tenth apart (and since you are at it, why not do all the other intervals as well?)

e) Play the scale with crossed hands (RH plays the bass, LH plays the treble). Experiment with one hand on the top of the other and then reverse.

f) Other.

11. Now you must start making a connection between the scales and the pieces you are playing. Identify the key of your piece and any modulation. Practise together with your piece the scales of the keys you identified in your piece.

12. If your piece has a characteristic rhythm, practice your scales in that rhythm pattern.

13. If your piece has a defined accompaniment in the left hand (e.g a waltz), play the appropriate scales on the RH instead of the original melody of the piece. This will allow you not only to practise both the scale and the LH of your piece as it will be an eyes (ear?) opener on how Western tonal music is all organised around scales. It will also show you straight away if got the harmonic progressions correct (if you have not the scale will not fit.)

14. Improvise by having a standard chord progression on the LH (e.g. C – A – F – G – C) and doing scales in different rhythm patterns on the RH. You are allowed to repeat notes, but you must follow the scale order (no skips and no missing notes). Start by having a set rhythm pattern. As your facility progress you will be able to freely improvise the rhythm.

15. Now you must do the same for the 12 minor scales.

16. In parallel with this work at the piano, spend some time (again no more than a few minutes) writing down the scales and key signatures on music paper. (This will also improve your sight reading).

17. Always start to learn a new piece away from the piano by identifying the scales and keys in it.

Are you tired yet? Remember you are not supposed to do all that in one evening but in the course of two – three years. To complete this plan is your long term goal. Now organise in small chunks on your daily practise and make sure it will all add up in a couple of years time. Consistency is the key.

Finally: Treat arpeggios the same way.

Then try other scales (pentatonic, whole tone, chromatic, blues, etc.)

Sight-Reading Ten Amazing Free Tips.

1 Develop Your “Relative” Sense of Touch.

Acquire the skill of playing so that you don’t need to look down at your hands. Without looking at the keyboard, glide your hands so you feel the two and three black keys (like Braille.) When you need a C, D, or E, feel for the “2s.” When you need an F, G, A, or B, feel for the “3s.” Most good sight-readers don’t need to look at their hands while they play and this drill teaches you how to find any note without looking at your hands. Then you will be able to keep your eyes on the music and look ahead and this will greatly speed up your sight-reading.

2 Develop Your “Absolute” Sense of Touch.
Always sit in the same place. Middle “D” is recommended because it creates a symmetrical pattern in both directions. Sometimes you may need to make a page turn or your hand will jump from a high position to a low position on the keyboard. It is handy to not have to look down to find the correct position in these cases. By always sitting the same place at the piano, you will develop a physiological memory of all 88 keys on the piano!

3 Practice Finger Technique Without Looking at Your Hands.
A creative way to do this is to play your scales and arpeggios in the dark. This will add confidence to your sense of touch. This exercise is to further enhance tactile awareness that is developed in steps 1 and 2.

4 Learn the Four Groups of the Lines and Spaces:
Lines in the Treble “E G B D F”
Lines in the Bass “G B D F A”
Spaces in the Treble “F A C E”
Spaces in the Bass “A C E G”
Try to just learn these without the typical slogans: “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or similar phrases. Each time you attempt to read a note using these slogans, you have to go through a 2-step process which seriously slows-down your speed. Just memorize the groups as fast a possible by saying them out loud frequently.

5 Practice Only the Rhythmic Information.
In a composition you are working on, ignore the correct pitches. Just play the rhythmic infomation of the piece on any notes. Your brain will enjoy the ability to work on just one thing.

6 Practice Only the Pitch and Fingering Information.
In a composition you are working on, ignore the correct rhythm. Just play the correct pitches along with the correct fingering. Don’t try to play in time here. This way, you can focus on just the right notes with the right fingers. your brain will enjoy the ability narrow its focus. Eventually, you will be able to play the right notes with the right fingering and with the right rhythm all at the same time!

7 Play Easy Pieces up to Tempo.
Force yourself to keep going no matter what. Don’t worry about mistakes. This helps you to look ahead.

8 Play Difficult Pieces Super Slowly.
Don’t dare make even one mistake. This helps to develop accuracy.

9 Look For Patterns in Music.
Don’t be afraid to look way ahead for a second just so you can anticipate what will be easy or difficult. Patterns make it easy. If you detect a pattern then you can devote your concentration to other things.

10 Study Music Theory.
Professional sight-readers never read every note! They get a sense of the overall chord and “fill-in” the blanks. With a solid knowledge of music theory, this becomes natural and immediate.



In piano playing you must repeat something many times. But you must have a night’s sleep between repeats so that the unconscious brain can work it out. When you start dreaming with your piece you know you are starting to learn it. Dreaming is the proof that the unconscious brain is working.

In order to learn anything in the most quickest and easiest way, work on a section with full concentration for 15 – 20 minutes and then forget about it until the next day.

The next day repeat the same procedure for the same amount of time and again forget it until the next day. Repeat this as many days as necessary to be able to play the section in such a way that you cannot get it wrong even if you try. I am 100% sure you that you will get to this point in a maximum of seven days or less. This will require incredible discipline and consistency. But it works like magic.

Now consider this example. You decide to practice 5 hours every day. These five hours can be divided in 12 practice sessions of 20 minutes each.

The worst thing you can do is this: “Today I am going to practice bars 12- 24 of piece x”. Then you do that in each of the 12 practice sessions for 5 hours. It does not work. It is a waste of time.

The brilliant thing you can do is to use each of these 12 practice sessions to practice something completely different in each.

It does not matter if you work on a section for 20 minutes or for five hours. Whatever you accomplished in 20 minutes is all you are going to accomplish that day. You need a night’s sleep in between. It is far better to work twelve days for 20 minutes everyday in a passage than to work on that passage for 12 sessions all in one single day. Instead use the other eleven daily sessions to learn eleven new things. At the end of a week you will be amazed at the fantastic amount that you have learned. Try it out if you don’t believe me!

To practice like this you must have a plan. You must make sure that everything that you are practicing in these sessions adds up to something at the end of a week. This is the simple secret of all those pianists who were able to learn massive repertories in no time at all.

The good news is that you do not need to practice 10 –12 hours a day. 20 minutes is plenty. But the amount you will be able to learn in 20 minutes will be one twelfth of what you could learn in 5 hours. Do not think in terms of hours of practice per day, but in terms of number of 20-minute sessions per day and stick to whatever you are doing for seven days (or until you master it - usually less than seven days).

Now let me say a few more words about 15 - 20 minutes, so that it is perfectly clear what I mean.

The important thing to understand is that you should have a section perfect at the end of 15 – 20 minutes.

If it is taking more than that, then the passage you chose to work on is too big.

Cut it in half.

Most people select sections that are bigger than they can chew. This leads to practicing for hours on end with no noticeable improvements. Eventually you become tired, fingers get sore, and you become discouraged and end up hating practice.

Here is another way to practice and you can be combining it with the 15-20 minutes practice.

It takes 7 repetitions for the human brain to learn anything. So, choose a section and repeat it seven times. If after seven times you have not learnt it, it is because the section or chunk is too large of information.

So instead of doing what most people do, namely keep repeating endlessly the passage hundreds of times, do the clever thing and make the section smaller.

Try again seven times. If you still have not got it, make it smaller again. Certain passages will require that you cut it down to only two notes. I assure you that anyone can learn two notes after repeating them seven times. Then you go to the next bit (make sure you overlap to avoid stuttering).

So you must organize your 15 –20 minutes so that the section is small enough that it will fit in the 15 – 20 minute session.

In the beginning this will all be a bit too much for you, but as you keep at it, very soon you will be able to look at a piece of music and quickly work out how long it will take you to learn it. You will know exactly the size of passage you can manage and how to break it down.

There are three basic stages in learning and practicing a new piece.

1. The first stage is exploratory.
· Sight-read through the piece to identify the difficult sections
· Analyze the piece.
· Listen to CDs of the piece
· Break it all down in manageable sections to practice.
· Figure out for each section the best fingering.
· Plan how you are going to tackle the piece; how many passages, how long the passages are going to be, how you are going to join the passages.

Most of this stage is done away from the piano. The end result of this stage is to have a thorough knowledge of the piece (theoretically) and to have a plan typed up to master the piece in as little time as possible.

2. The second stage is mostly technical.

· Go to the piano to teach your fingers to play the several passages in which you organized the learning/practicing of your piece. The main aim here is to ingrain the correct movements and fingerings in your subconscious, and to smooth the movements so that they become automatic.
This is the stage where you work with separate hands in small bits, then join hands, and use all sorts of practice tricks. The end result of this stage is to have the piece learned as far as playing the correct notes at the correct time is concerned. You want to get to that magical moment where your fingers just know where to go, without you having to think about it.

3. Finally on the third stage, you will be dealing mostly with interpretation and performance issues.

· The piece is learned and memorized at this stage, but you still need to work things like phrasing and dynamics

These three stages are not separate.
One stage informs the other. It may well happen that in the second stage, when you actually start practicing the piece on the piano, you find out that the fingerings and movements you decided on the first stage actually do not work. So you may have to go back and change them. Also, although the second stage is mostly technical, you should not leave interpretation completely out of it until you get to the third stage.

Two important principles on the 15 – 20 minute method:

1. The human brain learns by “chunks”, and then by joining these chunks into larger chunks. Anything that can be learned by repetition will be learned after seven repetitions. If after seven repetitions you have not learned the “chunk”, it means that the chunk was too large for the brain to handle. You must break it down into smaller chunks.

Let us say that you want to learn a poem with 200 verses. If you read the full 200 verses seven times, chances are that after seven times you will not have learned it. Most people who are not aware of what I am about to say, will just keep repeating the whole poem in the hope that by increasing the number of repeats they will eventually master it. Let us say that it takes 30 minutes to repeat aloud 200 verses. Repeating the poem seven times will take 3.5 hours, and at the end of it you will not have learned it. So you repeat another seven times. You still will not have learned it. So you do another seven times with the same dismal and pathetic result. Now you have been reading this poem for 10.5 hours. Do that for a whole month. I bet that at the end of the month, practicing 10.5 hours a day (21 repetitions) you still will not have learnt the poem. This is partly because you cannot fit enough repetitions in a day (the poem is simply too large), but also because if you have not learned after seven repetitions increasing the number of repetitions will not make any difference.

So what should you do? You must decrease the size of the chunk of information that you are trying to learn. How much should you decrease it? Well, start by cutting the poem in half: 100 verses. Now this takes only 15 minutes to read through. After seven repeats, did you learn it? If you did, this is the chunk size you can cope with. If not, the chunk size is still too large. So cut it in half again: 50 verses, which you can now read in 7.5 minutes. Now let us say that by cutting it in half and trying to learn the chunk in seven repetitions you finally got to 1 verse. That can be read in 9 seconds. This is the exploratory stage of your practice: when you find out what is the larges chunk you can learn by repeating it seven times. With experience you will get this size fairly immediately. But in the beginning expect to spend sometime learning about yourself and your learning capacity.

So you figured out that one verse is (for you) learnable after seven repeats. After seven repetitions you just know it. So it is going to take you (9x7) = 63 seconds to master one line of the poem. To master the 200 verses will take you exactly 3. 5 hours, the same amount of time it took you to read through the whole poem 7 times without making any progress whatsoever. The conclusion is obvious: Breaking your learning tasks into chunks that can be learned after seven repeats will save an amazing amount of time, as compared to the alternative of reading the whole thing seven times.

2. The second principle is: You learn nothing until it is processed by the unconscious. Dreaming is one of the symptoms of this, so you need at least one night sleep in between learning sessions before you actually learn what you have been practicing. Usually you need several nights sleep depending on the complexity of your task. This is the 20-minute principle.

Going back to the 200-line poem. It took you 63 seconds to repeat and learn the first line. That’s it! You do not need to do any more work on this line today. You can do, if you want, but it will not make any difference whatsoever.

If you do your seven repeats (63 seconds), stop and go to bed, next day when you wake up you will find that you pretty much forgot the line. So you must start again, and repeat the line seven times (63 seconds again). But you will discover that although you felt as ignorant as in the first day, this time it took you only 5 repeats to get to the stage you were in yesterday after 7 repeats. So you re-learnt the line in 45 seconds, instead of the 63 seconds. Never mind that, do your seven repeats again (even though you have mastered it by the fifth). On the third day, you wake up and to your dismay you realize you cannot remember a thing. However, this time by the second repeat it is all back in your mind. This time it took you only 18 seconds to get to the stage that in the first day took you 63 seconds and in the second day 45 seconds. Again, even though you mastered the line by the second repeat, you do the full seven repetitions. On the fourth day, chances are that you will not need to do any repeat. You simply know the line. I have never met anyone who needed more than seven days to get to this stage. Usually by the third/fourth day they have learned their chunk of information (provided that the size of the chunk could be learned after seven repeats).

The important information here is this. If you repeat your verse 700 times (instead of 7), It will make no difference whatsoever to the speed with which you will learn it. It will still take four days. You do not need to believe me. Just try it. Get two passages of a piece. Size them so that they can be learnt after seven repeats. Do only seven repeats on the first one, and 700 repeats on the second. See which one is thoroughly learnt first. My prediction is that they will both take exactly the same amount of time to be learnt

In the case of a passage of music, you will probably do more things then just repeat it. After repeating seven times, I would work on hands separate and hands together. Depending on the passage I might use rhythmic variations, or play it in chords, or other practice variations. So it may take 15 – 20 minutes to go through all these routines, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. Then that is it for the day! Only go through that passage again next day. If you want to devote 5 hours a day to piano practice, use the remaining time to practice other passages, or even passages from other pieces.

So use the 7-repeat principle to define the section you are going to practice. Then practice it only for the time necessary to master it (usually less then 15 – 20 minutes, but rarely a bit more). Then leave it until the next day. Repeat the same process again until you finally know it (should take 3 – 4 days).

The 20-minute sessions are an average figure. Learn it in less time if you can. The idea here is to set a limit that should show you when effort is being wasted. For instance: if you practice a passage for 20 minutes and you have not mastered it, you have chosen a too large chunk; practicing it for a further 5 hours is not going to do any good. So, don't. Instead break it down into smaller chunks that you can master in 20 minutes. This will be quicker and more efficient in the long run. By the same token, if you have mastered a section in 20minutes, there is no reason to keep at it for 5 hours (although most pianist can display this sort of compulsive behavior).

No one can tell you the size of section that you will be able to master in 20 minutes: it depends on the section and ultimately on your own ability. You have to discover that by yourself. Here is the method: repeat the section 7 times. Have you learned it? (Learned is different from mastered). Yes? Then move on. No? Cut it in half. Try again. Learned it? No? Cut it in half again and so on and so forth. Eventually you will be able to get a chunk that you can learn in 7 times (sometimes, this can be as little as two notes). Now you can practice this chunk until you master it (but for no more than 20 minutes - if you are dealing with just two notes, this will probably require only a couple of minutes; if you are dealing with a one minute section of a sonata, this will take you 20 minutes). If you are practicing a whole sonata that lasts for 18 minutes for your performance, then of course the directions above do not apply. The directions above are for learning a piece from scratch, not for polishing a piece you already mastered.

Come the next day, you may be shocked to realize that you have completely forgotten the section you worked on for 20 minutes and thought you had mastered the day before. So you see, there is the difference between mastered and learned. You learned the passage - and possibly to a high degree of facility - but you have not really mastered it - as shown by the fact that the next day you don't know even how to begin. If this is the case, you must treat the passage as a completely new passage and follow all the steps you did the previous day. Don't cut corners and don't skip steps. To your surprise, you will learn it again much faster. If it took you 20 minutes the first time around, now it may take you only 5 minutes. Next day, try again. Either you cannot remember it, and in which case you should repeat it all again - and it will take now perhaps 1 minute to remember it all, or you simply know the passage. If you got to the point where you can simply go to the piano and play the passage perfectly straight away, you have mastered it. You don't need to practice it anymore. So these are two very different stages: Learned and mastered. You must keep "practicing" (which is a very specific process) a section even if you feel you have already learned it. And you must keep "practicing" until you master it. After you master it, all you have to do is keep "playing it".

There is a third stage. After you master a passage, neglect it completely for one month. Then go to the piano and try it again. Most likely you will have forgotten it. If so, relearn it from scratch as if it was a new section. Don't skip any steps, and don't cut any corners. Even so you will relearn it again in a fraction of the time you did the first time round. If you do this neglect-relearn process three or four times, you will get to a new stage all together, that is beyond mastery: you will never forget your piece, even if you don't play it for 30 years. You will always be able to play it. This is the piano equivalent of riding a bicycle: Once you learn it you never forget it. The problem is, since piano playing is more complex than riding a bicycle - which by the way has the same stages of learning/mastering/never forgetting - most people neglect their pieces far too soon, either at the learning or at the mastering stage, so they never experience the "never forget" stage.




1. One finger only, one octave, hands separate. Play the scale and say the notes you are playing aloud. (3 minutes)

2. Do the same but this time say aloud the interval you see between the notes. (3 minutes)


3. All fingers, two octaves, hands separate. (3 minutes)


4. Play the notes of the scale in clusters (or chords), playing together as a chord fingers 123 and moving the hand laterally to play as a chord finger 1234. Do this over one, two, three and four octaves.

5. Now do step four again but this time you will “separate” the thumb. That is you play: 1 (alone) 23 (as a chord) 1 (alone) 234 (as a chord). This must be done two ways:

· pass thumb over by moving hand laterally for fast playing
· pass thumb under for slow legato playing


6. Now play the scale normal hands separately over four octaves. Play slowly with thumb under method.

7. Now play the scale normal hands separately over four octaves. Play faster with the thumb over method. Carefully observe the movement patterns and you will eventually see/hear/feel why it is possible to play fast scales by passing thumb over.

8. Now you should start doing variations. Over four octaves hands separate only.
· play scale in dotted rhythms
· play scale fast-slow or slow-fast
· accent on every 2nd, 3rd or 4th note
· play scale legato, staccato and mezzo staccato
· play scale loud, soft, crescendo-diminuendo
· create a melodic line within the scale by accenting certain notes. You should be able to bring out the melody with the rest of the scale notes played in the background. (This is fun!)

9. Now play the scale hands separately, but play the scale starting on different notes but keep the same fingering.

10. Now play the chromatic scale of the chosen key four octaves up and down.

11. Now finally you can play the scale hands together but co-ordination can be a nightmare. I am now going to show you a way to overcome this by playing the scale hands together in groups of notes, overlapping the groups. This is a long practice session (20 minutes-1 hour) The good news is you will only have to do this once or twice for each scale and never practice this step again.


· play HT, correct fingers the notes C D hundreds of times (1-2 minutes you can fit in several hundred repetitions)
· move to D E HT (1-2 minutes)
· move to E F HT (1-2 minutes)
· move to F G HT (1-2 minutes)
· move to G A HT (1-2 minutes)
· move to A B HT (1-2 minutes)
· and finally move to B C HT (1-2 minutes)

· now do THREE notes, spending more time on difficult sequences: CDE – DEF – EFG – GAB – ABC

· now do FOUR notes: CDEF – DEFG – EFGA – FGAB – GABC

· Now do FIVE notes: CDEFG – DEFGA – EFGAB – FGABC

· Now do SIX notes: CDEFGA – DEFGAB – EFGABC


You should now be able to play the scale perfectly hands together over one octave. Extend the system over two octaves. You do not have to do it for more than two octaves, since the other octaves will take care of themselves.

12. Now you should start doing variations. Over four octaves hands together.
· play scale in dotted rhythms
· play scale fast-slow or slow-fast
· accent on every 2nd, 3rd or 4th note
· play scale legato, staccato and mezzo staccato
· play scale loud, soft, crescendo-diminuendo
· create a melodic line within the scale by accenting certain notes. You should be able to bring out the melody with the rest of the scale notes played in the background. (This is fun!)

13. Play the scale in contrary motion

14. Play the scale in counterpoint: play one hand two octaves, the other hand one octave at half the speed. Alternate hands.

15. Play different scale in each hand

16. Play the scale with hands a 3rd and 6th apart

1. Speed of hands together will always be slower than speed with hands separate. If you want to increase speed of hands together, work on speed of hands separate first, and hands together will increase speed automatically. Work on the 70% rule: hands together speed is always 70% of hands separate. So set a speed for hands together, say 154. You will only be able to achieve that speed when you can play hands separate 220. Once you can do HS 220, you will find – perhaps to your amazement that HT are automatically playing at 154.

2. You must use a movement/set of movements that will allow you to play fast. You cannot play scales fast passing the thumb under. You must pass the thumb over. This issue has been already discussed at length in several threads of this forum. Try this one:

In fact all this talk of thumb over thumb under is misleading. Your arm should move your hand and fingers in place. If you are reaching for the keys with your fingers, they will be doing a monumental effort in pulling the arms. It must be the other way around. The fingers are responsible only for the vertical movement, the horizontal movement is done by the arm (think glissando).

3. Also remember that although you want the scale to sound even, for this to happen the movements must be uneven: you must slow down the 123 1234 fingers and speed up the 31 and 41 fingers. Ultimately the speed of your scales will be limited by how fast you can do 31 and 41. Doing 123 and 1234 fast is never a problem.

4. You must use a fingering that will allow you to play fast. The 3rd and 4th fingers of both hands should always play a black key (except of course in C major). Orthodox fingering follows this principle in the right hand, but rarely on the left hand where the 4th finger usually plays a white note. So you must change the fingering of the left hand. If you are using orthodox fingering, this is probably one of the main reasons why you cannot speed up your scales: the left hand is holding back the right hand.

5. Here is an example: G major over two octaves

Orthodox fingering:
RH 123 1234 123 12345 (4th finger goes on the black key)
LH – 54321 321 4321 321 (2nd finger goes on the black key, 4th finger on a white key)

More efficient fingering:

RH: 123 1234 123 12345 (as before)
LH: 321 321 4321 321 43 (now the 4th finger goes on the black key)

Practise this fingering well with separate hands until it is thoroughly ingrained. Then join hands and you will be amazed at how much comfortable it is.

You will easily figure out the fingering for all scales if you always follow this principle (there is only one possible fingering if you prioritize the 4th finger on a black key and then the 3rd.)

6. You must use practice strategies that aim at speed: playing the scale in chord clusters, playing the scale with rhythm variations (e.g. slow-fast and then fast slow), etc.
7. Perhaps most important of all, you should be able to do the scale fast mentally. If you hear it in your mind correctly, the fingers will comply.

More efficient fingerings: MAJOR SCALES
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 321 321 4321 321 43

Rh: 1234 123 1234 1234
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 21 4321 321 4321 32

Rh: 4 123 1234 123 1234
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

Rh: 3 1234 123 1234 123
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 123 1234 123 1234 1
Lh: 1 321 4321 321 4321

Rh: 23 1234 123 1234 12
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 234 123 1234 123 12
Lh: 4321 321 4321 321 42

Minor scales (harmonic):

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 321 321 4321 321 43

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 1 321 4321 321 4321

Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 4321 321 4321 321 4

Rh: 234 123 1234 123 12
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 1234 123 1234 123 1
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Rh: 4 123 1234 123 1234
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

Rh: 3 1234 123 1234 123
Lh: 21 4321 321 4321 32






1. When working in small sections the most important consideration that overrides everything else is overlapping (this is another thing that for some weird reason people seem not to want to do). So rather than bars 1- 4 bars 5 – 8 and bars 9-12, one should do bars 1 – 4, bars 4 –8 and bars 8 – 12 (say).

2. Unless this was counterpoint, I would try to complete bars 1-4 HS and HT in the same session. 2nd session bars 4 – 8 HS and HT, 3rd session bars 1 – 8 HT (no HS – it should not be necessary) 4th session bars 8 – 12 HS and 5th session bars 1 – 12 HT. My aim is actually to play the piece as written as soon as possible and do all the minutiae only on the very basic, shortest sections. As soon as I get to larger sections (like the 3rd and 5th session above) the “technical” aspects (things like fingering, speed, movement) should have been mastered and I will then concentrate on the more musical aspects (which really consist of only dynamics and agogics – in the piano there is nothing else you can do).

3. However you seem to have grasped the general ideas, and now you are worried about the minutiae of the process. These I cannot specify much more. Even If I knew the piece, you may be able to learn it in a slightly different way from me. I might be able to get away with certain shortcuts you may not and vice versa. So the best way – as I said many times – to settle the matter once and for all is to work on two pieces of similar difficulty using both alternative ways of practising. Keep a journal (pretty much like a scientist would) and compare results after a couple of weeks. The results may show that it makes a huge difference or that it does not make that much difference. It may also be that at the level you are comparing now that one person may have excellent results while another has poor results with the same approach. But who really cares how the approach works for other people? It is you who has to play the piano, so only your results matter.

4. 12 bars may be a small section – it depends on the piece. For instance even a complete beginner should be able to learn the first 12 bars of Satie’s gymnopedie in one session (15 – 20 minutes). Then again, 4 bars may be impossibly large – for instance the prelude of Bach’s partita no. 1 I would start with half a bar per session. Then it also depends on the level of the person. Someone who has mastered the basic advanced repertory (Chopin Etudes, Beethoven sonatas, Bach WTC) should be able to learn the whole of Satie’s Gymnopedie in 10 minutes probably without any practice tricks whatsoever, just by reading the piece from beginning to end. In fact I would expect such a person to sit down away from the piano, read the score, and memorise the whole piece from the score, and then go to the piano and play the whole thing from memory, and the whole process should not take more then 15 – 20 minutes. S/he may or may not be able to pull the same trick with a Bach fugue though…

If I number the notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

You can do these groups:

1 2
2 3
3 4
4 5
5 6
6 7
7 8
8 9
9 10
10 11
11 12
13 14
14 15

1 2 3
2 3 4
4 5 6
6 7 8
7 8 9
8 9 10
9 10 11
10 11 12
11 12 13
12 13 14
13 14 15

1 2 3 4
2 3 4 5
3 4 5 6
4 5 6 7
5 6 7 8
6 7 8 9
7 8 9 10
8 9 10 11
9 10 11 12
10 11 12 13
11 12 13 14
12 13 14 15

1 2 3 4 5
2 3 4 5 6
3 4 5 6 7
4 5 6 7 8
5 6 7 8 9
6 7 8 9 10
7 8 9 10 11
8 9 10 11 12
9 10 11 12 13
10 11 12 13 14
11 12 13 14 15

1 2 3 4 5 6
2 3 4 5 6 7
3 4 5 6 7 8
4 5 6 7 8 9
5 6 7 8 9 10
6 7 8 9 10 11
7 8 9 10 11 12
8 9 10 11 12 13
9 10 11 12 13 14
10 11 12 13 14 15

see how that breaks down? Then, for each group (that is, each line above) you use the various techniques to play through them, repeating the number of times necessary to master it.

So you can see how it could take so long to get through the entire "set" of groups, so make sure you have time before you start, because you have to make it through the entire set in one sitting. (Be sure to alternate hands and use any possible time savers for your particular passage)


What I aim to learn on a day to day basis are these passages – organised in time from the most difficult to the easiest, and always adding up so that at the end of a month (say) I will have either the whole piece mastered or a substantial chunk of it.

Here is an example using three pieces:

1. C.P.E. Bach Fantasia in D minor (Wq 117/12)

Here is my suggested plan to learn this piece in 8 practice sessions:

Session 1: Bars 5 – 6 (these are the most difficult bars)
Session 2: Bars 1 – 2
Session 3: Bars 2 – 5
Session 4: Bars 1 - 6
Session 5: Bars 6 – 9
Session 6: Bars 1- 9
Session 7: Bars 10 – 14
Session 8: Bars 1 - 14

Each of these sessions should take 20 minutes at the most to learn (if not you will need to break them further). But assume it does.

So on day 1, you start practice session 1: bars 5 – 6. At the end of the session you should be playing these two bars like a pro. (How do you do that? It is not simply repeating the 2 bars for 20 minutes, you know. There are all sorts of approaches and tricks – but it just will take to long to go through all that). Anyway, during these 20 minutes you will do a number of things that will result in you totally learning these two bars.

On day 2, you are going to tackle session 2: bars 1 – 2. But before you even think about doing that, you should start by going over bars 5 – 6 again. Three things may happen:

a. you can play it perfectly straight away. If so, play it 3 or 4 times and move on to bars 1 – 2.

b. You cannot play it perfectly at all. Wrong fingerings get on the way, you sort of know it, but not at all at the level you achieved yesterday. If so, forget about bars 1 – 2 and again dedicate this practice session to bars 5 – 6. Relearn them without skipping any steps and without cutting any corners by going through the same activities you went through the previous day and that led you to mastery (this is the bit that no one wants to do). To your surprise, what took yesterday 20 minutes, may take only 4 – 5 minutes today to accomplish. If so, you still have 15 minutes left over: use them to learn and master bars 1 – 2.

c. You completely and totally forgot it. In this case, just repeat practice session 1. I assure you that the next day you will be on [b] above, and by the third day you may well be on [a].

Assuming case [a] above, when the 3rd day arrives, you start by going through bars 5 – 6 and bars 1 – 2. This should take no more than a couple of minutes (unless you are on [b] or [c]) but I will assume [a] to keep this short. So use the rest of the practice session to tackle bars 2 – 5.

When the fourth day arrives, use the practice session to join everything together: Bars 1 – 6. Now you will not need to repeat the previous practice sessions everyday, just repeat this session since it encompasses every single session so far.

Keep going like that until you reach day 8. By then the piece should be perfect.

So if everything goes right, in 8 days you should have mastered this piece. Don’t stop practising it! keep reserving a 20 minutes session until the end of the month to polish and do any further work that needs to be done on it. At the end of the month this piece will be a part of your repertory. If you did everything right (no one can do that), then you should never forget this piece, even if you stop playing it for 10 years. If you do forget it from neglect, just repeat the process.

2. John Blow : Sarabande in C.

Session 1: bars 1 – 4
Session 2: bars 5 – 8
Session 3: bars 1 – 8
Session 4: bars 9- 12
Session 5: bars 13 – 16
Session 6: bars 1 – 16

Everything I said above applies here. The difficulty of each section is more or less the same, so you may as well learn the piece from beginning to end (all bars are equally difficult or equally easy).

3. Chopin: Cantabile.

Session 1: bars 3 – 4 (add first beat of bar 5 – bar 3 is the most difficult bar)
Session 2: bars 1 – 2 (add first beat of bar 3)
Session 3: bars 1 – 5
Session 4: bars 5 – 8 (add first beat of bar 9)
Session 5: bars 1 – 8 (add first beat of bar 9)
Session 6: bars 9 – 14
Session 7: bars 1 – 14 (the whole piece)

I have chosen three short easy pieces. And I am assuming a total beginner with no technique. The point is simple: any piece of any difficulty can be learned this way. But some advanced pieces when broken down to allow a beginner to learn them may turn up to have 200 or more practice sessions, and many of these sessions will have to be repeated for 5 – 6 days before one can move on to the next practice session. So it is not really a matter of difficulty, but of time. So it is far better to work on pieces that allow quick progress, so that when one does get to advanced pieces, the sections tackled in the practice sessions can be much larger, and you can master a pieces after a number of days/weeks, rather than months/years. Just make sure that whatever piece you are learning is a worthwhile addition to your repertory (the 3 pieces above are).

This example is completely hypothetical. Different people at different levels may need to break down the sections even further. Other people may be able to tackle even bigger chunks. This is just to explain the procedure.

You must always finish a section on your 20 minute session. If you cannot, the section you chose to practise was too large. Cut it in half. If you still cannot finish it, cut it in half again. Eventually you will get the right size. If you apply these principles consistently over a few months on a number of different pieces, soon you will develop enough experience to know straightaway how much work, and how much time it will take you to learn any piece.
Now let us organise the 3 pieces above in a table over ten days (the numbers refer to the specific practice sessions):

This table summarises around one hour of practice (give or take 10 minutes), split in three practice sessions of around 20 minutes.

The bulk of the practice session (15 – 18 minutes) is always devoted to a new practice session. At the start of the session, 2 or 3 minutes are devoted to review the previous day’s work. Because the sessions are so small, you do not need more than that amount of practice. But consistency is the key. Do it everyday and at the end of the week you have three new pieces in your repertory. Of course none of these piece is very difficult (Sarabande: grade 3; Cantabile: grade 4; Fantasia: grade 3). But they are all superior pieces of music.

Now the table above, shows us the plan. But we know that things rarely go according to plan. So a table that shows the actual progress of the student might look like this:

(a) It took the whole of the section to remaster the difficult session 1.

(b) Session 1 still not good, and session 3 also nothing to talk home about, so instead of moving on, the student repeated the same work of the previous day.

(c) Although session 4 in general was holding together well (session 4 includes all of the previous passages), there were lots of problems on the difficult passage of session 1, so this was again repeated this day.

(d) Again, the passage in session 1 was still sort of falling apart, so the student continue to work on it. (So as you can see, the most difficult passage gets practised the most naturally due to it being tackled first of all).

(e) Even though session 3 includes session1, the student is insecure enough about the passage to spend some of the practise session working on it by itself.

(f) Session 1 is a real pregnant dog, so the student keeps at it, while using the bulk of the session to tackle a new passage. S/he may even break down session 1 further to concentrate only on the problem area – which sometimes may be as little as 2 notes.

(g) The light at the end of the tunnel: Session 1 is truly mastered and seamlessly incorporated into session 5.

(h) This piece went according to plan. At this point one may replace it with a new piece altogether. So that the table at any month shows a variety of pieces at different stages of completion: some have just started, some have been going on for a couple of months, and some are about to be completed.

Remember that for reasons of brevity I have made the table with only 10 days, and three pieces; it should really cover a whole month. And it is always a good idea to keep working on the piece everyday – even if you have mastered it – until the month ends. After that, all you need to do is to play the piece as often as you like. So the best way to practice pieces you have mastered is to perform them. Keep a list of pieces to perform with you and rotate them, so that you are not always performing the same pieces, and so that you rotate your repertory pieces in a way that all get performed equally.

Believe me, if you follow this approach, in no time at all you will find yourself with 10 – 15 hours of repertory.

One last thing: Nothing of this is written in stone. You will have to adapt and experiment with it until you find what works best to you.