Learning New Pieces

Here are some strategies that I have used in learning new repertoire. I have had the most success in combining numbers 1, 5, and 6. All I have continued to use at some point, and I encourage you to also try combining at least two different methods in conjunction with number 1.  

  1. Use the Met- This goes without saying, but always use the metronome. If it has subdivisions, turn them on. You want to make sure that the rhythms you are playing are correct and exact, not being lazy with them or the tempo that they are in.
  2. Bar by Bar #1- Practice each bar separately until you are comfortable with them. Once each is familiar, put them together by slowly adding a new bar. 
  3. Bar by Bar #2- Go through the entire piece by repeating each bar a number of times (I recommend 20 times). This can be with or without a space of some sort to account for difficult or impossible situations caused by the repetition.  
  4. Technical Practice- Find every technique presented in the piece and practice them separately. 
  5. Problem Spots- Locate the most difficult passages and analyze the technical, physical or situational reasons for the difficulty. You may find that the passage, if separated into smaller pieces, is easy to play. As you begin to put them back together, getting comfortable with the transitions between the separated parts of the passage is key to its complete execution (similar to #1). 
  6. Recite the Piece- Sing aloud the entire piece. If this must be done at a slower tempo to utter the rhythms, do so. Be sure to include all dynamics, grace notes, accents, everything, and make it as audible as possible. 
  7. Read the Piece- Similar to #6, read through the piece, like a book, but as if you were actually performing it. Make sure you are reading in tempo and with precise rhythmic integrity. This separates the physical engagement and puts the focus all on the mental aspect and knowledge of how the piece goes. 
  8. Plan the Stickings- Go through the piece and write out stickings that you feel will work in your favor musically. I say musically because, phrasing choices made in #5's method will influence the way you choose to play the passages. You are completely free and allowed to simply write out a sticking that works purely on a physical level, but don't forget to take into account how those stickings will make the piece sound musically, not just on an execution level. 
  9. Add Reminders or Instructions- As you go through the piece, you may find that certain passages turn out better when you are in a certain mindset or physical awareness. When and where these instances occur, write a note to yourself about what you must do or think about to execute the passage properly. This can be written either before or right on the passage.
  10. Play and Sing- Go through the entire piece by playing and singing at the same time. This forces more engagement and conviction with the phrasing and audible contrasts of the piece. 

Les Twins: Score-less

It is no secret that I absolutely love Les Twins. The intensity of their performances, and their evolution as dancers and as performers is extremely inspiring to many artists in the world, including myself. Something that continues to amaze me is their ability to listen, hear, analyze and react to the music they dance to. Even in the earlier years of their development, between them and another competitor, they are more aware of sequences and particular aspects in the music that they can accentuate and exploit in dance battles. That, combined with their complete control of their body movements, allows them to literally react to what they hear and also "plan" for what will happen in the music. It's this kind of control that I strive for in my technique, and it is also this ability to listen and comprehend what is happening around me that I am continually working on. 

Given that there may not be a score form of the music that Les Twins listen to, it's obvious that they are continually listening to the same songs until they have completed memorized at least the basic structure and most obvious accents of them. You may notice in videos from different years, where they dance to the same music, the interpretations and accents chosen differ. I think that is a good example of how, upon further listening, they are able to notice even more, and experience the music in a different way. Had they had a score, would this have been the same occurrence? Maybe, maybe not, but both scenarios are ways to gain a deeper knowledge of the pieces.

I experience music similarly to Les Twins in the sense that I can hear multiple lines going on at once, and/or choose to listen to only one voice at a time. Because of this, it was very hard for me to take score study seriously in undergrad. Why did I have to see what was going on when I already knew? It wasn't until I had to perform Beethoven Symphony 3 that I gained more appreciation for score study. Listening to the piece I caught all of the main points. What part of the chord I was in every section, who I was playing with, where the themes were and how they developed, who had duets or trios, interesting counterpoints, etc. The thing is, some recordings don't necessarily catch everything that people play. So, while I was prepared to perform, in rehearsal I heard many lines that I was unable to hear in recordings.

I completely support the use of a score in rehearsals and in studying the music now, and I really have come to appreciate it more as I continue my career. I would suggest to anyone to try to listen to a piece of music that they have no knowledge of, over and over again, and see how much you can catch. Then go to the score and see what you couldn't quite hear. For me, this is a good way to internalize the music and to also develop the skill of deep listening and focus. For Les Twins, it's the only way they have to learn the music they dance to, and because of that circumstance, they are adept at this skill of deep listening. While this may not be a practice that we can always do, I think it's certainly something worth trying out and learning from.

And if you haven't seen Les Twins..........

When Should I Take an Audition?

I took my first professional audition when I was 16. I was not even close to being ready to "win," but to my instructor, my preparation up until that time seemed to be satisfying enough to take the audition. Though I did feel very prepared going into it, when I got on stage my nerves took over, and I performed horrendously. From then on, I knew that nerves were the biggest challenge to overcome before I was ready to win an audition. It took about six years for me to figure out what I had to do to overcome those challenges, and I decided to take auditions throughout that period. 

Before I felt comfortable taking an audition, I made this checklist for myself. I will stress that your technical facility should be at a certain level in order to achieve these standards. Each time you take an audition, strive to increase this level further than the last audition taken. Be patient through this process and don't feel as if you have to hurry to be at a certain level. Take your time, and work diligently towards these goals. 

  1. Excerpts should be note perfect- If you can play the excerpt note perfect at least ten times in a row, it is ready for the audition. This increases your chances of you correctly executing it at the audition.
  2. Everything must be in time- While performing the excerpt, no unintentional pushing or pulling of the tempo should occur, at all.
  3. Everything must be in tune and have consistent timbre- Intonation should be as flawless as humanly possible, and you should develop your ear to hear even the slightest change in intonation during performance, as well as your reaction time to correcting that change. This also includes the color or timbre of the notes. The color and quality of the notes should not change unintentionally, but remain consistent throughout each piece. 
  4. Every sound must be appealing and appropriate- The sound must match the character and style of the excerpt, and be consistent throughout the excerpt. 
  5. Do at least 1 mock audition- You don't want to go into the audition completely blind, so do at least one test run before you take it. This allows you to observe how nerves affect your playing, and assess how you can adjust when they arise. 

Only after this list is completed should you take an audition, especially if your intent is to advance or even win. For some people, completing this list alone will be enough to create a strategy for a successful audition. For others like myself, it will not be enough, and I learned that only by taking the audition. I would not have learned how nerves affect my playing unless I took the audition. I tried doing more mock auditions, but they didn't feel anything like actual audition. So, I spent the bulk of my preparation finding ways to emulate that feeling. I did find some methods that worked, but I could only test them out at the audition. Unless I did the real thing, I would not have known how to prepare for it properly. I took my time and stayed as patient as I could have while searching for my personal strategy, and I encourage you to do the same as you prepare to take auditions in the future.