Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should You Learn the Hardest Part of a Piece First?

A tip often overlooked in music practice

In this video, Robert clarifies the well-known concept of "practicing the hardest part first."

Released on October 27, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to Living Robert Estrin here. Today the subject is about learning the hardest part of a piece first. Now, you know I always talk about starting at the beginning, reading through a piece a couple of times to familiarize yourself with it and getting on to work bit by bit, hands separately, learning them and putting them together, learning each phrase, going back and connecting them.

So what's this business about learning the hardest part first? I talked about starting from the end of a piece also as one pianist once suggested to me. And I find that going sequentially makes much more sense to understand the whole evolution of thought and the mathematic materials and motifs of a piece of music to digest the intention of the work and its construction and it's the whole logic. Sometimes, though, there's a piece that has such a monstrously difficult section later on that if you don't tackle it early on that by the time you get ... Particularly if it's like a coda to a Chopin Ballade, that's really hard and you wait till you get there to start learning it, that coda is going to take you a long time to really get it polished and solid. And boy, if you had just started first, by the time you got there, you'd 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 it.

So in certain instances, you want to zero in on the hardest part of a piece first. Now, does that mean that you don't start at the beginning? No. Quite the contrary, you kind of do two approaches at once. You start the piece from the beginning in the manner I just described earlier, while dividing part of your practice in the hardest section, because there's nothing worse than just working on the hardest thing the whole time. And when you're starting a new piece, that could be very discouraging. After all, you have a piece that you love the sound of, like the Chopin G minor Ballade. The coda, of course, [music] and it goes on and on and on, and it's hard, but you might want to play that beautiful first theme.


That's something that you can get on a high level much sooner than that coda. So it keeps you engaged, working from two fronts. And 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 the coda and maybe a couple of other thorny sections in there, you can start and work concurrently on the beginning, as well as the coda and a couple of other key sections. So when you get to them, they're not in their infancy. They're already starting to gel. So that is a tremendous benefit in your practice to zero in on some of the hardest sections, while going through sequentially from the beginning, so when you get to these hard sections, they're already mature. They've started to coalesce for you.

This is the tip for today. Hope you like it. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. Keep the questions coming in and thanks for subscribing and ringing the bell. See you next time.
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