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3 Steps to Learning New Repertoire: Week 1

Now that school is over and all my concerts and competitions have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, I figure now is as good a time as any to learn some new repertoire! I want to learn my pieces properly and do all the things I know I should do when learning new music now that I have the time. So I decided to hold myself accountable by starting this blog to keep track of my progress and get a clear picture of what exactly I’m accomplishing every week. Get organized, analyze and divide up your pieces and work through the notes. Here are my first three steps to learning new pieces whilst in quarantine:


Step 1: Getting Organized


I’m a bit of a planning maniac, so if I don’t break down long-term goals into shorter term goals, I find myself completely useless in my practice. I can’t seem to settle down because I always wonder if what I’m doing right now will be enough to hit the deadline further down the road. So my first step is to sit down and set out a rough timeline for learning repertoire. This past week, I began by making a list of all the pieces I wanted to learn in the next month or so.



Seeing that I have about six weeks until the end of June, I figured I could aim for learning all the notes in that time frame, if not even less. So then I divided up the pieces and their movements by week. I left plenty of space in case I learned things quicker or slower than expected, so I could switch things up as needed. The “new” column includes the brand new pieces and movements I want to learn that week and the “old” column everything else!




Step 2: Analysis!


I break down the pieces and sections I need to work on that week by doing a formal, structural analysis. For something like rondo form or sonata form where there are recurring themes or sections, I like to learn similar thematic materials together so I can keep track of the places where they differ. I would then divide up the daily chunks, usually into six to seven sections so that I can rest easy, knowing that I would be able to finish by the end of the week. I also make note of the especially challenging sections, making sure to tackle them earlier in the week and perhaps even including them in my daily practice.

Here's an example of my rough analysis of the first movement of the Schubert's A Major Sonata, D. 959:



Step 3: Initial Perusal


I spent the week playing through the allotted sections.


This past week, with Schubert specifically, I find myself analyzing the harmonic progression because he tends to go to so many unexpected places! I began with the "second bridge" in both the exposition and recapitulation, if you can call it that. Then worked backward each day through the second thematic group, the first thematic group and the bridge, the codettas and coda, then finally, the development section.


With Schubert, there are not too many parts that are technically challenging to play, but this would be the step where I would mark off difficult sections to be added into my daily morning practice.


Next Week: Research + More Detailed Practice!

Honestly, the research step should arguably come before the analysis and initial note-learning phase. But I got too excited about playing the piece. On my Goodnotes, I keep a notebook for each piece I work on. And I gather all sorts of information about the historical context, composer's personal and professional life as well as interesting things about the piece itself. I shamefully have only just started this process. I'll delve deeper into it next week!

This is what I’ve been up to this week - how do you spend your first week with a set of new repertoire when you’re not under a time crunch?


*Please note this is just my personal way of learning this set of repertoire this time around. Every time, I reflect and try different systems to find the best way for me. And every piece brings its own unique challenges so there's no one-size-fits-all, and that's part of the fun for sure! I would love to hear what methods you find work for you in your process of learning new repertoire!


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