Routine for Learning a New Piece (Invention #4)

In this book, “Learning a new piece” is synonymous with memorizing it. Therefore, without any warm-ups, etc., immediately start memorizing Bach’s Invention #4, RH first, starting with segments of one to three bars that make up a distinct phrase, then the LH. Continue this process until you have memorized the entire piece, HS only. See section III.6 for more details on memorizing. Those already good at using the methods of this book should be able to memorize the entire Invention (not perfectly), HS, on the first day, after one or two hours of practice (for an average person with an IQ of about 100). Concentrate only on memorizing, and don’t worry about anything that you “cannot play satisfactorily” (such as the 1,3 trill in the LH), and play at any speed that is comfortable for you. If you want to memorize this piece as quickly as possible, it is best to concentrate only on this piece and not play other pieces. Instead of one long session of 2 hrs, you might practice 1 hr, twice during the day.

Memorizing is easier at faster speed. Therefore, as you memorize in segments, accelerate it as much as you can, even if this makes the playing a little sloppy. However, play it slowly once before switching hands, making sure that you play each note accurately. Play each segment just a few times, then switch hands. From the first day, try to play HS in your mind, away from the piano; if you get stuck and have a complete blackout, don’t worry, this is normal. You will re-memorize this part during the next practice session. Practice until you can play the entire composition, each hand separately.

Play Thumb Over everywhere except for the 21 in 212345 of bar 1, and other similar places, where Thumb Under is much easier. It is amazing how Bach found a way to make you practice Thumb Under in a fast passage; in practically all fast passages, you need to play Thumb Over. The choice of Thumb Under or Over will become very important later on, when we increase the velocity.

On the second day, start HT slowly, still in segments of a few bars, and then connecting them. Again, don’t practice anything else; even playing finger exercises to warm up will cause you to forget some of what you just memorized. Note that from the first day, you had started technique acquisition, which is inseparable from memory. Technique acquisition/memory is almost a purely brain process (although many people call it “hand memory”), and is composed of short term memory that is stored in a specific part of the brain, and several forms of permanent memory that are permanent changes in the brain. Short term memory is almost instantaneous, but the first form of permanent memory takes about 5 minutes to complete (even for those who can “instantly” memorize many things), and after that, the memory is in your brain essentially forever. However, there is no guarantee that you can recall it later on. This process of writing from “volatile memory” to “non-volatile memory” is automatic, and you have no control over it. The difference between good memorizers and bad memorizers is that the bad memorizers cannot recall what is already in their brain. Therefore, when you practice memorizing, you must practice recalling information rather than inputting information into the brain. The second form of permanent memory is associated with post practice improvement and actually changes your ability to play that segment, in addition to storing it in memory -- this is the technique acquisition part. Most of the permanent improvement in technique occurs during sleep, and this is one of the reasons why we need to sleep -- so that the brain can make the necessary repairs and improvements to adapt to our changing environment. Our brain is more complicated than an automobile; therefore, it is not surprising that you cannot make repairs or modifications until you bring it into a garage and shut the engine off (sleep). A good night’s sleep, including REM sleep, is necessary for making maximum progress for learning piano. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is an important stage of sleep in which the eyes move rapidly, although you are asleep. This is why sleep is so important for babies -- because there is so much construction going on in their brains.