At least, I take some time to write an article about it.
It has been months I decided to make a personal challenge: learn by heart the 15 Bach's 2-part inventions for keyboard. You may ask: "Why are you torturing yourself so bad?". Yes, it's some kind of torture, because these inventions are generally pieces you give to students for practising some Bach. And often, they are not pieces you want to play by yourself, you tend to endure it instead of taking pleasure in playing them.
The reasons of this challenge
First: I talked about the ebook "Fundamentals of Piano Practise" in this article. There was an example on how to practise some pieces correctly: learn the 2 hands separately at 150% rate, then join the 2 hands. Work in little sections, and learn each section by heart before practising it. The example was on 3 Bach's inventions: #8, #13 and #1. I began the challenge like it. Then, it became: "And if I learnt all the inventions in the same manner?"
Second: I always hated playing Bach. It always was a labor when I had to play a piece of Bach. It wasn't really because it was ugly to hear, because if you play it well, it's nice to hear. No, it was because it was hard to practise! I didn't have the right method to practise, I didn't know the Chang's method. Then, I realized after working on these 3 pieces that in fact it wasn't so bad to practise Bach with a rigorous method. I came to understand that Bach is hard because the 2 hands are playing independant melodies. My skills in deciphering sheet music are not good enough to play by sight a piece of Bach. That's why I didn't like playing Bach: I'm so lazy that I don't like practising, I prefer play by sight-reading. This challenge forces me to practise in the right way.
Third: practising my memory. The brain is capable of marvelous things, but you have to train it. Nowadays, it's so easy to delegate memory to an electronic third party. I don't remember phone numbers because my cell phone knows it. I don't remember email addresses because Google knows it. Idem for real addresses. In fact, my memory is bad because I'm lazy and I don't want to make the effort of memorizing. As it is said in the book "Fundamentals of Piano Practise", playing music requires your brain to find lots of algorithms to remember what note to play at what time. Music is algorithm. If you're good in playing music, it's because you have found efficient algorithms in your head to play it. So, when you practise with the right method, you learn a piece by heart first before practising it. It's quite challenging with Bach's pieces... Moreover, if you know a piece by heart, you don't have to find the sheet music: you already know it and can play it right away!
I'm not as righteous as I should be. I took some shortcuts in the method, always because of the same reason: I'm lazy. Here is the method I used to practise:
- First, analyze the piece:
- what's the tone of the piece and the accidentals?
- Analyze the modulations, the different tones used.
- Then, divide in sections: find some meaningful phrases, it's not good to cut in the middle of a melodic line. The sections must overlap (for one note, or a part of a measure)
- For each section, learn the right hand by heart. Then the left hand by heart. No need to practise to master the playing first, just learn by heart.
- Then practise the section, always with separate hands, and by heart. Play the right hand at 150% rate of the final tempo. Idem for the left hand.
- When a section is mastered with separate hands, move to the next section. And repeat the steps. Do this until the end of the piece. Yes, it takes a lot of time. So much time compared to when reading by sight...
- Don't forget to join the sections when you learn: when you know 2 sections, join them for each hand. You must master the 2 hands separate. at 150% of the final tempo. By heart.
- ONLY THEN, you join the 2 hands, idem, section by section, at 100% rate if you can. If it's too hard, I slow down, then I must practise until 100% rate. At first it's hard to play 2 hands together by heart... If you take the time to try by heart the 2 hands together, do it. Sometimes I yield, and I read the score, play the section, then learn it by heart.
- If I struggle on some notes, I just repeat the little section where it's hard: no need to replay the whole section when only 2 or 3 notes are posing a problem.
What are the shortcuts I took? For example, I didn't take the time to play very slowly the piece before quitting the piano session. It's already time-consuming to practise with this method... But you have to do it in order to have "Post Practise Improvement". Well, I recognize I should have done it, because there are so many imperfections in my interpretations. But anyway this is not my goal to become a performer.
I was also lazy on the parallel sets. Didn't take time to practise if some notes were difficult to pass.
Same thing for the mental play before playing for real. It's better to do a mental play of the piece before playing it, because it trains your mind. But it takes so much energy to do that...
Concerning the order of the pieces: I didn't learn them in the canonical order. Here is the order in which I learnt the inventions (in fact I don't remember it well, this might by wrong):
#8, #13, #1, #2, #3, #4, #15, #6, #14, #10, #5, #9, #7, #11, #12
Setting up the recording
Learning is good, but what's the real goal of practising a piece? Playing it to be heard! Inventions are study pieces, so in my opinion, they are not so nice to hear. Anyway, this is the goal, so I told to myself: "Your challenge won't be finished until you have recorded your interpretations of the 15 inventions".
Haha, I hadn't recorded a video for months, years. So even if I had learnt the 15 inventions, I still had to find how I would record myself...
Today, I forced myself to get something done. First the angle: I had to find a better point of view than my older videos. Totally up the keyboard was too tricky to set, don't have something very high to put the webcam on. Then I found a ladder on which I put the webcam. The angle was OK.
Then, the software to record. I haven't spent so much time to search what's the best recording software... So I came back to Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder I used for the past videos. It still works fine, and is easy to manipulate.
Finally the settings: for the video, 640x480 is the max I can use (webcam). For the sound: the electric piano is linked to my mini mixing table, which is linked to the line input of my sound card. Then I record with a good quality: check if it's Stereo, 44100 hz.
Then I recorded the inventions. What a mess! I haven't practised all the inventions since I learnt all of them, it was like 2 months I haven't played them! For each invention recorded, it's the same thing: I play it one time to know if it's OK, if I remember it well. Then I push the record button, and then mistakes flow everywhere! Sometimes I have to record 20 times the same invention! It's weird, because the mistakes appear anywhere, for no reason. I realized that was for several reasons:
- When I'm recorded, I have another pressure point. My mind is not free, it's not only focused on playing, it's also thinking of the fact that I'm recorded, so I must not make mistakes. But if I'm focused on not making mistakes... I will make mistakes.
- If I was not lazy, I would have practised the mental play better. Because the key in playing without mistakes is practising mental play. In order to train your concentration. While playing, my mind is not always focused on the playing, it often switch to "automatic mode". And when I come back to "control mode/manual mode", that's where mistakes happen (or before), because the transition is not so easy. Ideally, I should stay in "control mode" for the whole piece, but it's very hard. Maybe I should practise meditation. Or/and sleep more.
When the recordings are done, I have to sort the videos, there are so many trash videos where I stopped because of huge mistakes. Then upload the good videos. And write a description.
That's the final point, the feedbacks. These will celebrate (or not) the end of the challenge. It's like a quest in RPG: it's always good to feel that you have finished the main quest!
Click here to see the article with all the video links.