Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Keep Your Review Pieces on Performance Level

Helpful tips for all musicians

In this video, Robert gives you tips on how to effectively keep your review pieces sharp.

Released on March 24, 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

I'm Robert Estrin and you're watching Today is a really important question that I get from so many people, which is how to keep your review pieces on performance level. I talk to so many people and many of my students, they wonder, I'm learning a new piece and now I forgot my old pieces. So, people can end up studying the piano for years and still only have one piece they can play, the piece they're working on that week. So, how do you keep them in shape, and isn't going to take all your time? How can you possibly have time to learn new pieces when you're reviewing all your old pieces?

Well, this is a really good question, and of course the answer is you can't keep every piece you've ever played in your hands and in your head all the time, it becomes impossible. Once you amass a repertoire of, let's say you got five, six hours of music, you can't possibly keep it all in shape, it's just impossible. However, it is vitally important that you keep at least the last few pieces you've studied in your hands and in your head, because there's a pleasure and an ease you gain with music you're familiar with and music you've played for a long time. So, how do you do that without taking all your time?

Well, number one, the number one easiest, best, most fun way of keeping your review pieces in shape is play them. Play them all the time, play them every day. Why not? Unless you've got so much music that your pieces ... obviously, if you have pieces like the Hammerklavier Sonata of Beethoven and the Bach Goldberg variations, they're going to take a while to play through. So, there's certain limitations to all the pieces depending upon the level you're at, but certainly you should keep your pieces that you've studied the past few weeks.

So let's say you're working on a brand new piece, and you got let's say the piece you did at your last lesson. Well, maybe you have the last few pieces, at least three, five, half a dozen pieces. Otherwise, as I said, you could be playing the piano for years and never have anything really secure, because there's nothing like a piece that you've known for a long time. The ease, the security you gain from living with music is tremendous. If you never review those pieces, everything is fresh and kind of tentative, you never had that pleasure.

So simply playing through them, is that all you have to do? Well, that's not all you have to do, but most of the time that's enough. On a daily basis or at least every other day, play through your review pieces and play through a bunch of them. It's fun for one thing, because it's pieces you already know. I mean, what's the purpose of all this practicing if you're not going to have anything you can play? Sit down and play.

You must enjoy playing the piano, hopefully, not just practicing. All that tedious work of learning music and working out all the technical details. The pleasure, the reward at the end of the line is being able to play, so of course play them, and play them for people. You'll get better at performing simply by playing them for other people.

Now, if you keep playing them over and over and over and over again for weeks on end and that's all you do, they will deteriorate all on their own, because what happens is there are slight little changes that happen. Maybe you don't quite remember, so you think I think it's this and you might guess wrong, which is why you must go back to the score on a periodic basis with your music if it's something you've memorized. Put the score up, take your foot off the pedal so you can hear the underlying performance without the benefit of the pedal which kind of obscures everything.

Sometimes putting that metronome on to make sure you're still playing at one tempo, this is a great way to reinforce your playing. Playing slowly with a metronome with no pedal with the score, it reinforces everything that you've learned before. It's a refresher, it's great. I recommend it really highly for all the review pieces, particularly pieces that you've recently learned and you're trying to get them on that ultimate level, that is a terrific way of doing that.

You could actually work at different speeds. Start very slowly with the score, because it's hard to read something you've memorized. Particularly if it's a piece that's kind of above your reading level, you kind of read through it when you first got it just to see what it's like, and then you got to work and you learned it. Then going back trying to read it is a tough task, but it's also vitally important if you want to keep your performing on a high level.

Otherwise, it's kind of like the game telephone where you whisper a message into the ear of somebody next to you and they whisper it to somebody next to them, and they go around the room and the message gets so garbled it ends up being a whole new message. Well, if you play your piece over enough times and never refer to the score, you can end up with a whole other piece. So, that is an incredibly important thing.

I think these two things in of themselves are really the bottom line, the most important thing. Choose which pieces you keep in your repertoire wisely, definitely keep the last two or three pieces at least in your repertoire so you can really solidify them and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You might also select some choice pieces that you've learned that you'd never want to forget, and play them often enough that they don't get too far gone. If you find that they've deteriorated to a great extent, go back to that score and you might have even have to practice some sections, but don't let them get so far gone that you have to start over all over practically to learn them.

But even if you do, by the way, you'll find, if you've really learned a piece of music and committed it to memory, relearning it is much faster than learning it. So, that's the good news for any of you out there who haven't done this and you go, "Oh man, now what am I going to do?" Go ahead and relearn some of those pieces. At first it'll seem arduous, like, "I'm never going to do this, it's like I never even saw it before," but then much more quickly you'll assimilate the score the next time around.

There are pieces I've learned and relearned multiple times and they become cemented as almost a part of my permanent repertoire. There's a number of pieces that I just have all the time, and even if I haven't played them in years, they're still there, but it takes a long time to get to that point. In the meantime, play through your pieces on a regular basis, have fun with your music. That's the message for today.

Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. Thanks to all you subscribers, and for those of you ringing the bell and thumbs up. Whatever you can do, I appreciate all of it. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Greg Allison on March 31, 2021 @5:59 pm PST
Marvelous. I would only add that fingering is important in bringing back old pieces.
Robert - host, on April 1, 2021 @8:28 am PST
In studying the score, not only fingering is important, but also naturally the notes, rhythm, phrasing and expression- everything!
Gerald Nicholas * VSM MEMBER * on March 24, 2021 @8:20 am PST
Would you like to do a review of your HYBRID piano.
Larry on March 24, 2021 @7:38 am PST
FANTASTIC advice and so personally relevant. I'm circulating this to my fellow musicians. We've amassed tons of music but tend to stick to a limited repertoire. I think it's a great idea to even dip into the long forgotten ones and resuscitate them.
Audrey Guild * VSM MEMBER * on March 24, 2021 @7:11 am PST
I am glad you talked to us about today's subject. I have taken lessons most of my life and accomplished no go-to repertoire. So frustrating. You made my day.
Robert Estrin on March 24, 2021 @1:06 pm PST
Now go play some music - it's a great way to start keeping your repertoire in shape!
Audrey * VSM MEMBER * on March 24, 2021 @2:53 pm PST
Keep encouraging and teaching us!
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