Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to Study a New Piece

(or, what to do to learn a piece without the flute in your hands!)

I once rode the bus two hours a day. Those were some of my best practice hours, despite not having a flute with me at the time! Here are some things you should do for every piece you study.

  1. Know the words. Within one week of getting a new piece of music, you should know all of the words on the page. They are just as important as the notes and rhythms. Look up the terms in a pocket music dictionary, the Harvard Dictionary of Music, or the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, available in the DSU Library on the 1st floor (ask the Reference Desk librarian to help you find it). You may also need to use a foreign language dictionary or an online translator such as Write the translations/definitions in your music.
  2. Learn about the composer and the piece itself. Again, the Grove Dictionary is a great source. Be ready to answer my question: “So, tell me about the composer. When did he/she live? Why did he/she write this piece?” (For example, Mozart was commissioned to write his flute concerti. But which one did he “steal” from another instrument?) Write the composer’s birth/death dates in your music. If you can find the year in which your piece was written, write that down, too.
  3. Notice the obvious. Make sure you know what the title means, especially if it’s a dance.
  4. Listen to several recordings while studying the score, metronome and pencil in hand. Mark tempos and other musical gestures from each performance. Read the piano part and try to listen to the piano, not just to the flute. Ideally, you should own a recording of every piece you study. Suggested resources include iTunes, (great collection of CDs),, and (CDs and mp3s available for purchase).
  5. Find the road map. It’s important to be able to recognize main themes, recurring sections, contrasting sections and key areas, key and meter changes, repeats/1st & 2nd endings/codas.
  6. Study the piano score. Write cues from the piano score into the flute part. Play your part from the score now and then. When you give your music to a collaborative artist (pianist), keep a copy for yourself.

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