Mastering the notes and rhythms of a piece is only one small part of learning music. Much more artistry lies in the ability to convey the style and message the composer intended. Do you know who composed your piece? Do you know when in history that composer lived and penned the music you are playing? Do you know the ins and outs of that particular period of music history?
When I was a young high-school and college music student, I rarely spent time thinking about these things. It was my goal to "get-by" with just learning most of the notes and rhythms and trying to pass my juries and perform my recitals without making too many mistakes. I felt like a trained monkey with little to offer in terms of emotion or style. I just wanted to survive without the dreaded violent shaking and blackouts that often plagued my performances..
Well, I'm here to tell you that this is a very sad existence. Music is so much more than playing everything "perfectly" and I guarantee you will glean much more excitement and satisfaction from your musical pursuits if you can enter into the lives and purposes of those who composed the pieces you are learning. Becoming familiar with the social norms and events that were occurring in these time periods adds a whole new layer of understanding and connection your audience (or jury panel) is sure to appreciate.
To explore the historical context of the piece you are learning, here's a handy guide:
1. Research the composer and the musical period in which the piece was written. These times are approximate--there is much debate over the actual dates of each period.
2. Find out the purpose of the music.
3. How does the historical context relate to the performance practice of the piece?
4. If possible, look for recordings from the time period the piece was written, or a modern recording that uses period instruments and styles. As you are listening, make notes about the performer's interpretation.
As you explore the historical context of your piece, here are some handy online resources:
Oxford Music Encyclopedia
Famous Composers by Musical Period
Learn Listening Online
If you are really interested in learning more, go to your local university's music library and start exploring! Most music librarians are very eager to point you in the direction of your research--make good use of their expertise!
I hope this guide is helpful for you in your study--leave me a note in the comments to let me know how your music preparation is going!
Learning New Music: The "Chunking" Method
I can't think of many things more daunting than staring at a new piece of music. Can you relate? Often times, when I'm in such a situation I want to start at the beginning and play through the entire thing without stopping. This leads to extreme frustration when I can't play all of the passages correctly or anywhere near the indicated tempo.
I give up. Defeated, I file the piece of music away in the drawer from which it came and try to never think about it again. Then, every time I hear someone else performing that really cool piece that I really wanted to learn I feel sorry for myself.
Who has time for this kind of apathy? I know one thing for sure: If I don't have a plan before I sit down to tackle a new and challenging piece of music, I will never learn to play the things I really love.
The following is just one of the many ways to break down the goal of learning a new piece into bite-sized manageable chunks. If you find yourself in a similar situation as mine, just follow this easy guide and you'll be on your way to beautiful flute music in no time.
What are you waiting for? Try it now and then leave me a comment to tell me how you did. I'd love to hear your success story!
The "Chunking" Method
1. Gather a pencil, a practice journal/calendar, and your music.
2. Quickly study the form of the piece:
3. Make an simple outline of the large scheme by marking it in the music or drawing it in your practice journal.
4. Set a goal date to have the entire piece learned:
5. Set goal dates for each larger section:
6. Divide each larger section into logical smaller sections
7. Assign goal dates for each smaller section
8. Start learning your first smaller goal section:
9. Once the first section goal is met--move on to the next one and the next until the piece is learned.
Things to Remember
If this list seems overwhelming to you, you are probably over-thinking it. Don't be too detailed in your diagrams and notes in your journal--make it as quick and easy as you can so you can spend your time playing the music.
As you get started on your chunking adventure, keep me updated on your progress! I'd love to know what pieces you are working on and how you are feeling as you meet your goals.
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