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Amount Of Time In Learning A New Piece


octave_dolce
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Not sure if this is a silly question:

 

How much time does an average organist need in order to learn an advanced piece from scratch and get it ready for a recital?

 

It is a lifetime's work, really, but I want to know if it is reasonable to spend 6-12 months to learn, say, Bach's Trio Sonata No. 2, Mendelssohn's Sonata No. 1, or Durufle's Prelude and Fugue on the Name Alain.

 

I am fairly new to the organ and have been told that it takes a year to learn a Bach trio sonata. I feel like, for other instruments, the general consensus is that a piece is probably inappropriate for the student's technical demand if it takes that long to learn.

 

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Here is a related question:

 

For most organ students, practice time on a large instrument is probably very limited. How can one learn to register effectively, refine the articulation, and master the piston changes for a piece in an hour or two?

 

And what do people do when they have to perform a recital program on an unfamiliar instrument?

 

I feel that I can register a piece pretty quickly on a mid-size instrument (40-50 stops), but on a large instrument (70+ stops), I can spend hours and hours trying to come up with convincing registration.

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Hi Octave Dolce and welcome to the forum!

 

When it comes to learning a new piece, the easiest bit is getting the notes right. The standard manuals only separately and then together, then right hand and pedal then left hand and pedal and then putting it all together always works for me - up the the point of being confident with knowing what the dots are.

 

Then the work begins!

 

Phrasing, interpretation, bringing out the subject in a five part fugeu when it is effectively hidden beneath four layers of counterpoint - hmm, that sounds tough enough going for me! I think also it is important to make the piece your own, to let your musical personality shine through. After all I wouldn't want to go to a recital and hear a version of a piece played exactly the same as on my CD at home.... in fact I rcently heard a version of a piece I play played in a different way which got me worrying for a minute - was I doing the right thing? Yes, because the notes on the page I was taking as the composer trying to communivate with me so that I can communicate my/his thoughts to others.

 

Just a few thoughts

 

 

Peter

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Registration: plan as much as possible beforehand - away from the instrument, obviously this gets easier with experience, but the aim is to have to make the minimum number of changes when at the organ. Having a feeling for the work of the instrument's builder, and the acoustic of the building helps, of course.

 

Organ management: if playing aids are settable, and you will have access to some memories, then devise your own scheme for this, and work it in tandem with the point above. Otherwise study the console arrangement, and decide if you will need the assistance of a registrant - not an admission of defeat by any means, there is plenty of historical precedent for this, and caution is better than bravery! (If you use a registrant, then practicing with them on any organ - to give you both mutual confidence - is a good idea, as is sharing details of the topology of the recital instrument's console. NPOR can give you valuable insights, if you haven't yet seen the recital instrument.)

 

When at the recital instrument, try out the acoustic first, briefly. Then set your planned combinations on the available memories, then aim only to practice the elements of the programme which require the changing of registration. (I.e. try not to waste time playing through stuff for pleasure!) When a change of combination in a memory seems desirable, do it at once - waiting to bunch all your changes together almost always, in my experience, leads to missing something.)

 

The other advantage of a registrant is that he or she can be asked to go and give you some opinion about how your registration sounds in differing parts of the building, away from the console.

 

That's my process, anyway, but everyone will have their own way of doing it - and you need to devise a process which will be comfortable for yourself, and not lead to wasted time at the recital instrument.

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How much time does an average organist need in order to learn an advanced piece from scratch and get it ready for a recital?

 

It is a lifetime's work, really, but I want to know if it is reasonable to spend 6-12 months to learn, say, Bach's Trio Sonata No. 2, Mendelssohn's Sonata No. 1, or Durufle's Prelude and Fugue on the Name Alain.

I am fairly new to the organ and have been told that it takes a year to learn a Bach trio sonata. I feel like, for other instruments, the general consensus is that a piece is probably inappropriate for the student's technical demand if it takes that long to learn.

The well-known harpsichordist called David Roblou used to play the organ in his youth; maybe he still does. In his late teens I heard him remark, "I reckon if it takes me more than three weeks to learn a piece, it's difficult". I think that's a fair comment if you are someone with plenty of time to practice. But then, the question you are asking is: how much longer than three weeks should a difficult piece take?

 

This is unanswerable really as it all depends on how good you are to begin with. I would very much agree that if it is going to take you a year to learn a piece you are probably not ready for it yet, especially since you are new to the organ. Think of how much other stuff you could usefully pack under your belt in that time.

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But then, the question you are asking is: how much longer than three weeks should a difficult piece take?

 

This is unanswerable really as it all depends on how good you are to begin with. I would very much agree that if it is going to take you a year to learn a piece you are probably not ready for it yet, especially since you are new to the organ.

 

 

For most of the pieces that I worked on this past year (such as those mentioned in my original post), I could learn most of the notes in less than a month, but after that, it took months and months to polish the pieces to a point where I feel comfortable playing for others.

 

I have always had the impression that organists, unlike other instrumentalists, are expected to learn and master new pieces to recital standard with minimal practice (as practice time is often limited and difficult to arrange). Moreover, I know a few people who have acquired a huge repertoire after only a couple of years of lessons. I often wonder how they do that without practising more than two to three hours a day. :)

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I am not sure how true it is for the younger generation today - I guess it depends on just how rich and supportive one's parents are - but these days a lot of people have toasters at home, so getting four or five hours practice in a day is perfectly feasible. It was more difficult in days of yore, but, even then, you could do a lot towards learning the manual parts on a piano. Most of us didn't have much option, really.

 

I still wonder occasionally how many organists are really up there with the top pianists. I used to consider myself pretty good in the days when I could play (I've gone downhill over the years, for various reasons including sheer laziness), but I would never in my wildest dreams have considered myself anywhere remotely near Leeds Piano Competition standard. I can think of a few that are technically that good.

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Not sure if this is a silly question:

 

How much time does an average organist need in order to learn an advanced piece from scratch and get it ready for a recital?

 

It is a lifetime's work, really, but I want to know if it is reasonable to spend 6-12 months to learn, say, Bach's Trio Sonata No. 2, Mendelssohn's Sonata No. 1, or Durufle's Prelude and Fugue on the Name Alain.

 

I am fairly new to the organ and have been told that it takes a year to learn a Bach trio sonata. I feel like, for other instruments, the general consensus is that a piece is probably inappropriate for the student's technical demand if it takes that long to learn.

 

--------

 

Here is a related question:

 

For most organ students, practice time on a large instrument is probably very limited. How can one learn to register effectively, refine the articulation, and master the piston changes for a piece in an hour or two?

 

And what do people do when they have to perform a recital program on an unfamiliar instrument?

 

I feel that I can register a piece pretty quickly on a mid-size instrument (40-50 stops), but on a large instrument (70+ stops), I can spend hours and hours trying to come up with convincing registration.

 

Hello, and welcome.

The questions you raise are very interesting ones, but extremely difficult to answer! Few people would dispute that if a piece is not ready by a certain deadline then you shouldn't play it, nor should you have offered to in the first place. In the absence of an obvious deadline, though, provided you keep making progress, retain enthusiasm for the piece, have some idea of how you want it to sound, and don't play it in public (ie at a service, recital) before you are truly happy with it, then the fact that it might have taken what you consider to be "long time" is neither here nor there - it takes as long as it takes. If this sounds a rather "Boycottian" approach (as in Geoffrey, the cricketer), then your advantage over him is that a Lord's capacity crowd has not had to sit through the process of your learning a piece in its entirety, from scratch! However, this absence of any deadline can sometimes be problematic. Picture the scene: you have just beeen inspired by your favourite recitalist playing something wonderful, but you think I'm sure I could do that, given time, so you track down the score, take it to your instrument and wallow in the easiest/your favourite bits, but in time you come to difficult sections, enthusiasm wanes, and the piece joins a collection of half-learnt carcasses purchased with the best of intentions. This doesn't mean, though, that you should use a deadline to goad yourself on in attempting something unrealistic.

 

It's much more useful to ask yourself specific questions about your repertoire and learning, such as;

 

Services:

What services do I have coming up?

What do they require?

Do I know the stuff to accompany the choir well enough?

What about my own repertoire? (in that order, by the way) What is relevant liturgically? Can I learn/revise it in time?

 

Recitals:

When are they?

Is the instument familiar?

Who will the audience be?

Can I offer a rewarding, musically balanced programme without learning a piece from scratch?

If I HAVE to learn a piece, am I within sight of being happy with it in time, without having to do unrealistic amounts of extra practise?

 

Sorry if this is really obvious, it probably isn't what you wanted. However, If I were offered a recital in a year's time, I WOULDN'T offer to play my first JSB trio sonata if I didn't know it yet, just on the strength of possibly being able to learn it in time!

PS Apologies if I have offended any Yorkshire cricket fans.

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Sorry if this is really obvious, it probably isn't what you wanted. However, If I were offered a recital in a year's time, I WOULDN'T offer to play my first JSB trio sonata if I didn't know it yet, just on the strength of possibly being able to learn it in time!

 

Roger Fisher once told me that it normally took him two or three weeks to get a piece that was already in his repertoire worked up to what he regarded as recital standard. There were, however, two major exceptions to this general rule - the Bach trio sonatas and anything by Dupre - he said that he was not comfortable programming anything in those categories for a recital without 6 months notice. (and this, of course, from someone who could actually play any of those pieces at the drop of a hat)

 

There are actually very few recitalists who dare to play the trio sonatas in public and even fewer who will play them on anything but an instrument with which they are very familiar. It isn't so much that they are fiendishly technically difficult - they aren't - but that you simply have to get absolutely every note right every time no matter what - you can make quite spectacular mistakes in a Bach fugue and recover from it and most of the audience won't even notice - not so with one of the trio sonatas - it's a bit like doing a tightrope act without a safety net.

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It really is impossible to say how long particular organ music should take to add to one's performance repertoire. I had a colleague who sight read Reger Choral Fantasias and once witnessed someone read the manual part of the Vierne B-flat Minor Toccata at sight - without mistake and to speed. The story is told of a fellow student of mine in Vienna being asked to stand in for an organist who had taken sick, and performing, from memory, the Heiller organ concerto with only a few days' notice.

 

On the other hand, I've heard many performances of wonderfully played organ music by organists without that particular ability. My harpsichord teacher used to say that performance repertoire should be performed to ones friends a year before its first public outing. I try to add repertoire by performing it for my church, then letting it rest for several months before working it ready for a recital performance. No matter how carefully I prepare that initial performance, the second one is always an improvement.

 

For me, there is no great technical difficulty in Mendelssohn Sonata 1 (apart from a couple of stretches in the last movement), but I took more time than I would have expected in the initial fingering and learning of movement one particularly to ensure that each note was played for its correct length. I've known some organists not to pay as much attention to each note in this movement than is needed. Having spend the time in this initial stage, the passage to being ready for performance was relatively fast for me. [i've found the final movement of Sonata 1 particularly useful in that it can make less than adequate instruments sound okay.]

 

I'm lucky with the trio sonatas as I've played them all in transcriptions for a small early music ensemble and I now know the individual parts of each trio sonata well. It has also been instructive to listen to other instruments turning these lines into music. I believe it is very important to know what you would like to do with each phrase, and every note, before sitting down to work out fingering. These pieces thrive on independence between all three parts, and to my mind that is more difficult to achieve than conquering any of the technical demands that these pieces provide.

 

I can't comment on the Dupre: I've never played any of his music that is particularly demanding.

 

So much wonderful music to learn, so little time to learn it. And here I am browsing the Board again!

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