On Saturday evening, I received a frantic text message that a performer scheduled for the following morning had backed out at the last minute. I was asked to cover the performance. With little advance notice and nothing in my arsenal at the moment, I was forced to pull something together very quickly. Fortunately the repertoire wasn't too difficult this time, but we have all faced those stressful situations where we have less than 24 hours to get a piece as polished as possible. Rarely is this skill taught to our advanced students. So I began to think.....how WOULD I teach this skill?
The first step is analyzing the harmonic structure. You can survive a difficult passage that you might fumble through IF you know where you are heading. This is especially important if there is an unexpected modulation that jumps out at you when you least expect it. The other culprit (especially in church choral music) is the unexpected shift to a minor mode.
Seek out patterns! Repetition is one of the foundational aspects of music and helps us learn music more quickly. Don't just look for exact repeats; sequences and partial repeats can save us a lot of time working out tough passages. Learn it the first time and see if you can continue to use the same fingering with minor adjustments.
Speaking of fingerings.....WRITE IN YOUR MUSIC! Mark your score up. Neatly inserted fingerings, chord symbols, and lines showing the rhythmic structure can be your best friends when you are basically sight-reading on stage. Depending upon the circumstance, I have used a different color for each type of mark.
What about you? What do you do right away when you're trying to learn a new piece in a short time frame? I am always looking for new hints that I can add to my bag of tricks. Please share your insight in the comments section below.