Thursday, October 24, 2013

When the Music Stinks

Have you ever been given a piece of music that you despised? Maybe a better word to describe your feelings toward the music is "detest", "loathe", or "hate." If you've studied music for very long, I am pretty confident that you have encountered just such a piece. Studying the work promised technical development and insight into a composer's style. Still you found yourself making every effort to avoid practicing the piece.

While all musicians find themselves in this situation from time to time, collaborative pianists can find themselves here quite often. Perhaps you have had a bad experience with Baroque music that has left a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe you struggle with Hindemith's harmonic language. Even though you don't enjoy the music, the pay check requires that you learn it. What do you do when you encounter music that "stinks" for you personally?

  • Listen. Sometimes I make a snap judgment about a piece without really knowing the work. By investing the time to listen to some good recordings, I've actually come to enjoy working on some of the music that I initially anticipated hating.
  • Keep your eyes wide open. As you are learning the piece, look at it carefully. Is there an interesting interplay between voices that makes the piece more exciting? Are there elements that remind you of another era or composer? Finding these influences sometimes open up new worlds in the music; these revelations can make your practice time much more enjoyable and benefits your final performance.
  • Allot your time. When I find myself avoiding something in my practice time, I set a timer and commit to working on it with diligent focus for ten minutes. I tend to discover that a lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time; since I'm making progress, I'm enjoying the practice session. When I enjoy the practice, I work on the piece longer than expected. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Whatever you are avoiding at the moment, make the commitment and get to work on it. I'm willing to bet that you'll find things hidden in the music that you will actually enjoy. 

How do you approach a piece that you've been avoiding?  Share your ideas with the rest of us in the comments below.