How long to master a piece?

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aranya

How long to master a piece?

Post by aranya » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:05 pm

I've been working on several pieces for almost a year now, and I find that some of them I am only beginning to be able to play the way they should sound. Before that I haven't played for ages so I don't really have a lot of repertoire that I've mastered well enough to play in front of an audience, or record and post in the mp3 section, for example. I find that quite frustrating.

Some pieces go relatively smoothly, such as the 'Berceuse' by Leo Brouwer, which took me a few months to play relatively well, if I put some effort into it I might be able to make an acceptable recording of it. Others are incredibly hard and make me feel glad I don't have to listen to myself playing, like 'A felicidade' by Roland Dyens. Although I'm sure I'll get there eventually, I've accepted that it is going to be a long and frustrating journey if I ever want to play that piece properly.

Which makes me wonder, how long does it take a professional to master a piece like that? Does it take them as much time, or can they play it easily because they are at a totally different level of skill?

I'm also very interested to hear your personal experiences, what pieces can you play without errors and how long did it take you to get there? (and are you an amateur or a pro?)

Just curious.

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David Norton
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Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by David Norton » Tue Aug 25, 2009 9:24 pm

A guideline I was taught years ago was that you should be able to master/memorize 1 minute of music per week if the piece is at your correct skill-level. Easier pieces can take less time to memorize, while tougher ones will take longer. And of course "repeats don't count"; a Scarlatti sonata that lasts 4 minutes is really "only" 2 minutes long, but with each section being repeated.
David Norton
Salt Lake City, UT
First person to complete the Delcamp "Let's Learn Sor's Opus 60" project

flameproof

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by flameproof » Tue Aug 25, 2009 9:57 pm

I don't know what the formula is -- one minute per week may very well be reasonable -- but "to master" is a difficult verb.

There are pieces I have been able to play "competently" for decades, but are they "mastered"? And if so, how come my 2009 rendition of Canco del Lladre is an awful lot better than my 2004 rendition? Which in turn was better than my 1999 rendition, etc.

That's not much of an answer, I know. You want specifics -- we all want specifics. Here is me being specific:

After half-an-hour of playing, if you cannot guess a "ball-park" figure for how much work a piece is going to need to "master" (to your own satisfaction), then the piece is probably too hard for you, and your time would be more fruitfully spent working on something more within your compass.

I am a self-taught guitarist, and like many self-taught guitarists I have fallen into the trap of devoting too much time to pieces that were too diificult for me. My experience has led me to believe that one gets many more bangs per buck by playing simpler music relatively well than by playing difficult music not so well (or downright badly). I am so persuaded by this idea that I have practically sworn an oath to myself to desist from working on anything above a moderately difficult level (moderately difficult for me, that is).

Bonita

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by Bonita » Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:32 pm

Hello Aranya.

I'm definitely an amateur, have played a long time but on and off with years long breaks.

I picked up the CG again last May and have been playing steadily ever since.

I can say with some confidence that I have re-learned two pieces classified by Noad as "easy" to the point that they are memorized and I can play them fairly well. I don't know about mastered, every day is different for me!

I can also play some memorized simple arpeggio pieces that I use for warmup.

I am working on one piece classified by Noad as Intermediate and after 4 months I think it will take at least 4 more. Part of the issue is building strength in my left hand, I find Tennant's exercises very helpful for this.

I find if I really love the way the music sounds I learn faster and more competently--luckily, CG is a passion but I do not have to build up a repetoire to earn my living from.

I think part of developing competency is playing the right guitar, whatever that means for each individual person. I am short of stature with pretty small hands and am playing a standard size CG. I have tried short scale models that just feel easier to play and may purchase one.

I could go on here but I have to go re-string my Yamaha! Good luck Aranya.

Greg Johnson

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by Greg Johnson » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:29 am

I attended a master class with Pablo Sainz Villegas a couple of years ago. The guy is one of the best players in the world. He said it takes him about a year to get a really difficult and long piece ready for performance. I'm sure he could sight read twice a good intermediate piece and have it sounding gorgeous the third time.

aranya

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by aranya » Wed Aug 26, 2009 5:58 am

Thanks, it's very interesting to hear how other people study.

Personally, when I first started taking guitar lessons and was a true beginner, I would play pieces that I could master in a few weeks time, no problem. But the more advanced I get, the more time pieces start to take, simply because they are more difficult. So I'm wondering when I've reached the point that pieces are really too difficult. The 'one-minute-per-week' rule seems a bit simplistic to me, because what you learn in the first few years really doesn't compare to what you do when you get more advanced. It would mean that you should be able to master 'a felicidade' in five weeks time (or maybe ten, if you slow down a bit :wink:). I find it hard to believe that anyone could do that unless they're an absolute genius. So-called 'intermediate' pieces I could probably learn in a few weeks, but somehow that gives me the feeling I should take on a bit more of a challenge to really continue learning. On the other hand, obviously, if you try to learn pieces that are too difficult it won't be productive either. So how do I know when I'm being too ambitious?

Anyway, it's comforting to hear that apparently a professional needs a year for a really difficult piece. Especially since a year for him is different from a year for me, because for me it's a hobby and I cannot dedicate hours a day to playing guitar.

Anyone else who has an opinion on this?

choctawchas

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by choctawchas » Wed Aug 26, 2009 11:39 am

:wink:
Last edited by choctawchas on Wed Oct 14, 2009 6:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.

rschuch

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by rschuch » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:12 pm

I think one of the reasons the easier, short pieces take less time to memorize and perfect is that many of them are just studies. If you accomplish what the etude is trying to teach, be it arpeggios, scales, alternating bass, etc., and you can play it cleanly, then you can be said to have mastered it. Some pieces can take 10 minutes to master if you're familiar and confident with the techniques used.

But larger pieces generally have other agendas, and you have many techniques to employ, as well as dynamics, pacing, phrasing and nuances/emotion to consider. When I first learned Bach's 1st cello suite prelude, it took about a week to memorize so I didn't have to look at the score. I played it almost constantly for a month and thought I had it down pretty good. Then I went to play it for a friend who's also a guitar teacher.... and it was like starting over. I had no dynamics, weak phrasing, etc., so I had to alter the way I played it. After another month or two, I started listening intently to other versions and began to re-re-think the way I played it and made more modifications. That was 15 years ago. With all the other pieces I play now that demand my time and my short to non-existent practice schedule, every time I play through that prelude, I'm tweaking it.

I've seen lots of master classes with students who thought they had a piece down, but were lacking dynamics or some other component that really weakened the piece. We are often not the best judges for our own playing. When YOU think you've mastered a piece, play it for someone who knows guitar music or a teacher.

So, in short, it depends on the piece. If you have all the techniques necessary down and can "walk" through it slowly without being uncomfortable, then I say it takes however long it takes. It doesn't matter. And you should always be open to room for improvement. If Glenn Gould can re-record the Goldberg Variations, I think we should hold ourselves up to the same self-critical lens.

av8t0r

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by av8t0r » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:39 pm

One week to get to 90%, one month to get to 93%, and the rest of my life on the last 7%.

Alan Green
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Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by Alan Green » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:40 pm

rschuch wrote: So, in short, it depends on the piece. If you have all the techniques necessary down and can "walk" through it slowly without being uncomfortable, then I say it takes however long it takes. It doesn't matter.
Two nuggets of extreme wisdom here. "It takes however long it takes" and "It doesn't matter"

We're all guilty of rushing to "perfect" a piece, any piece, every piece, whatever "perfect" may mean, and in so doing we forget the biggest and most important single thing - it needs to have some enjoyment for us.

I played Carulli's Overture Op 6 Nr 1 at my Grade 8 exam, and had it reasonably under my fingers (I got a distinction). But I didn't like the piece, so I've never played it since; not at solo concerts, not in practise sessions, not once. Never. And I'll probably never look at it again.

In the same exam, I played Capricho Arabe. I still play it a lot and I'm still looking for ways to make my enjoyment of that piece, and that audience's, even better. I've also played it at 17 solo concerts this year and at audition to become a peripatetic guitar teacher in the UK, a role I start next week.

So, IMO there are several levels of mastery. First there is the level where you're happy playing it to yourself. Second there is the level where you're happy playing it to others. Third is the level where David Russell/ John Williams/ Ana Vidovic etc play that same piece because that's where you want to get to. And fourth, finally, is the level at which you would personally trust that piece to project you as a competent guitarist to a paying audience. I reckon, if you put number four between numbers two and three, you'd see a lot more classical guitar concerts being given.


Alan

Emil Krasich
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Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by Emil Krasich » Wed Aug 26, 2009 5:15 pm

av8t0r wrote:One week to get to 90%, one month to get to 93%, and the rest of my life on the last 7%.
Good way to look at it, but I don't think the last bit is ever fully achieved. Is it just me or does it seem like there is constantly more to improve on in a piece after even decades of playing it? I can't say I've ever played a long term piece and walked away saying, "okay it's done. There's nothing that I would have done differently". Damn hypocrisy of disciplines I'm afraid. The old saying, "the more you learn, the less you know" couldn't be more true when it comes to classical guitar.

RolandPalm

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by RolandPalm » Wed Aug 26, 2009 5:30 pm

As Douglas said: "Mastery of a piece means when you can play it perfectly from beginning to end. Effortlessly and musically."

If you practice a difficult piece EVERY DAY (including Sundays) you'll notice that it will sound better after a few months of practice. However, this is a NON-STOP approach. Sometimes we loose our ability to play a particular piece when we stop playing it for a few days. So the secret is to practice every single day!

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Jouni Stenroos
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Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by Jouni Stenroos » Wed Aug 26, 2009 7:06 pm

RolandPalm wrote:As Douglas said: "Mastery of a piece means when you can play it perfectly from beginning to end. Effortlessly and musically."
Hands up who think they've played something perfectly! :-)

-Jouni
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aranya

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by aranya » Wed Aug 26, 2009 7:46 pm

I guess by 'mastering' a piece I meant being able to play it without errors, in a way you would be comfortable to play it for an informal audience without being totally embarrassed. It doesn't have to be paying-audience ready, just ready enough, if you know what I mean.
If we start talking about how you might spend a lifetime improving on interpretation etc. I think no one will ever be able to say they've mastered a piece, and this discussion will become very philsophical :?
Also, if that's the definition I dare claim the majority of professional guitarists never master a piece because nine times out of ten I don't agree even remotely with other people's interpretations :lol: (Or maybe I'm being overly critical?)

I like what Douglas said:
douglas wrote: If you confine yourself to pieces which are well above your current ability your progression towards mastery
will be difficult.If you confine yourself to pieces well below your current ability then you will never progress towards
accomplishing more advanced pieces.So I look towards pieces which fall into the group of slightly below,at or above
my current skill level.These are the pieces that I may or may not decide to master.Pieces which are well above my ability I may use to develop technical crux moves-but not to fully commit myself to or undertake for full mastery.
Sounds like a very sensible and realistic way to approach it. I'll definitely keep that in mind.

aranya

Re: How long to master a piece?

Post by aranya » Wed Aug 26, 2009 8:00 pm

RolandPalm wrote: If you practice a difficult piece EVERY DAY (including Sundays) you'll notice that it will sound better after a few months of practice. However, this is a NON-STOP approach. Sometimes we loose our ability to play a particular piece when we stop playing it for a few days. So the secret is to practice every single day!
Wait, can you really do that? I get really bored with a piece if I play it every day for weeks. I need breaks to keep liking a piece. Playing it every day would be THE guarantee for never finishing it because I would be totally fed up with it.

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