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16/05/2018

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Depth vs Breath

You've probably heard the phrase, "Jack of all trades, but master of none", and this can apply to the way we learn our pieces. However, it can also be the case that opposite describes more often many students.


You've probably heard the phrase, "Jack of all trades, but master of none", and this can apply to the way we learn our pieces. However, it can also be the case that opposite describes more often many students.

A typical student will practice three exam pieces for a very long period of time and know them in great depth, be able to perform them from memory, know every dynamic, articulation and nuance, even in their sleep. This in depth knowledge is very important and the ability to play a piece as the composer intended it is not only rewarding to the performer, but also to his audience. However, considering that the average period of time between exam grades can be just under a year, there is not a great breadth of musical experience happening if this is all that a student practices.

I want you to think about what aspects of taking an exam are your weak areas. Many of you will probably answer, "sight reading and aural." I have mentioned before about not letting music lessons just become an exam factory and playing a wide breadth of music albeit in not so much depth will do wonders for these two areas. You might be thinking, "OK sight reading I get it, playing lots of different music will definitely improve my reading skills, but Aural? How does that work?"

I will let you into a secret. Have a guess which video on my YouTube channel gets the most watch time of all my videos every month? It is the one entitled "E Aural Trainer - Recognizing the Style and Period of a Piece of Music". That tells me that this is an area that many are looking for extra help with. Now, I'm sure you'll agree with me, if you played fifty pieces of music a year instead of maybe just three with a little analysis of where they came from, I'm sure this aspect of Aural Training would be less of a problem.

So where do you find such material to broaden your musical experience. Well for example, if you are an ABRSM student you will have a book of nine pieces (or more for grade 8) of which you have only prepared three. It seems a bit of a waste to never even look at the other six. And if you are above grade 1, you will also have old books from lower grades. I would suggest you just play through some of these pieces from lower grades, maybe spending no more than a week on any particular piece. Then again you can try and play in ensembles or if you are a pianist, maybe accompany other instrumentalists

I would be interested to hear from you, how many pieces a year do you reckon you get through, even if it is  just three and how this topic of depth versus breadth has affected your  musical experience.


2 comments:

  1. How many pieces a year? Interesting question. I'm currently working on four pieces for my Grade V (as I'm still undecided about the list C piece) but also looking at another two, one reasonably seriously, another less so. So that's six(ish).

    I'm also keeping up two Grade IV (ex-exam) pieces to performance standard and learning one I never did get to grips with. So it's a total of seven I suppose, plus playing old material and lots of sight reading especially dipping through a hymn book. Maybe I have too much breadth and not enough depth!

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    Replies
    1. I think you're doing very well - at the end of the day, it's a balance that is needed, both are important.

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