Learn the hardest part first
By Robert Estrin
In this article for Pianist's newsletter, the subject is about learning the hardest part of a piece first. I’ve talked before about learning a new piece from the beginning and working in sequence. You should read through a piece a couple of times to familiarize yourself with it, then get to work bit by bit learning each phrase hands separately, then put the hands together and connect the phrases.
So what’s this business about learning the hardest part first?
It helps you to understand the whole evolution of thought and the mathematical materials and motifs of a piece of music. Sometimes, though, there’s a piece that has such a monstrously difficult section later on that if you don’t tackle it early, it will hold you up later. Something like a coda to a Chopin Ballade is going to take you a long time to really get polished and solid. If you just start with the coda first, by the time you get there, you’ll have the whole piece together! Because that coda is going to take you so much longer to be able to get up to the level of the rest of the piece.
Does that mean that you shouldn’t start at the beginning? No. Quite the contrary. You take two approaches at once. You start the piece from the beginning in the manner I described earlier, while dividing part of your practice for working on the hardest section. Just working on the hardest part the whole time when you’re starting a new piece can be very discouraging. After all, you have a piece that you love the sound of, for example the Chopin . The coda is hard. It will require special attention. But you might want to play that beautiful first theme. That’s something that you can get on a high level much sooner than the coda. So it keeps you engaged, working from two fronts. By the time you get to the coda, you’ve already learned it! You don’t have to learn the whole coda before you even start the piece. But you can work concurrently on the beginning, as well as the coda, and perhaps a couple of other key sections. So when you get to them, they’re not in their infancy. They’re already starting to gel. It is a tremendous benefit in your practice to zero in on some of the hardest sections while going through sequentially from the beginning. That way when you get to these hard sections, they’re already mature. They’ve started to coalesce for you.
Now watch my lesson: