Increasing Your Repertoire with Fast Research

In this week’s post, Ryan Morison discusses how quick studies can be used as an effective tool to broaden your repertoire and develop good habits and skills when learning new pieces.
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I recently wrote a blog post about one of my main piano goals for 2021 which is to broaden my active repertoire. A tool that I have found to be invaluable for the purposes of achieving this goal is quick studies.
Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels
Quick Studies – What & why?
Quick studies are an often overlooked, but incredibly beneficial way to grow your repertoire. They also help you develop and hone the skills required to new learn pieces faster.
The concept is very simple: you reduce the amount of time you have to learn a piece e.g. often one or two weeks rather than months. The objective is to do this without compromising significantly on the quality of the musical result.
Tips for quick study projects
The following are some tips and suggestions that I have found which may be useful if you’re considering embarking upon similar projects:

Not too difficult – Don’t be overly ambitious in choosing pieces. Select works that are realistic given your abilities and the shortened timeframe. It’s far better to choose something easier than too difficult. One way to measure difficulty is to use examination syllabi as a guideline e.g. select pieces one or two grades below your current level (this worked very well for me!).
Not too long – Shorter is better, especially if you’re not quite sure if a piece is at the right level.  Personally, I found that pieces approximately three pages long with some repetition worked well. I also checked my selections by doing a run through and keeping a tally of difficult spots. These were places that I couldn’t sight-read and therefore would need to practise. A few tricky spots is fine, but if literally every bar has something challenging then the piece probably isn’t suitable.
Lay good foundations – The things that caused me the most problems down the line were errors with fingering and other sloppiness in the earlier note learning stages. Just because you have less time doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow a systematic approach, in fact it’s the opposite! This free email course gives a great process to follow for the early stages of learning a piece and can be applied to quick studies.
Be consistent – Consistent practice, even for short time periods, is far more important than the total time spent practising. I used regular “micro-practice” sessions targeted at specific problem areas which helped me make great progress despite having very limited time. This blog post gives some useful tips for short practice sessions.
Be disciplined and focussed – Simply playing through your piece daily and hoping that things will improve or correct themselves is a sure recipe for failure. A much more disciplined, strategic approach is required. This might include highlighting problem areas upfront and adopting a plan to tackle them systematically (Graham Fitch refers to this process as Quarantining).
Set goals and milestones – Working towards defined milestones e.g. recording for yourself, a lesson, playing for others is an excellent way to give your practising structure and focus. There are so many opportunities to do this, even in current circumstances. For example, over the last year I participated in various online meet-ups and even an online masterclass (click here if you’d like to see a video of my performance and feedback session!).

Many of these principles apply not just to quick studies, but to learning new pieces in general. Because of the time pressure of a quick study, they become even more pertinent. This makes quick studies incredibly effective for building and reinforcing good habits that apply well beyond the project at hand.
I recently concluded my first quick study project and found it to be such a positive undertaking that I’ve since started several further pieces in this manner (If you’d like to find out more, I’ve documented my experience in the form of a “video journal” on my website). I highly recommend the quick study approach and if you’re looking to improve your ability to learn new pieces, encourage you to give it a try!

Further links & resources

How to Start Learning a New Piece – Click here to sign-up for a free email course designed to guide you through the early stages of the process and show you principles and practice tools for efficient and effective learning.
Quarantining – Click here for a blog post on quarantining with links to further information and resources.
Examination Resources – Click here to view our Guide to the ABRSM 2021 & 2022 syllabus or click here to view an index of all of our resources and guides for piano examinations

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