Tools of Learning a Piano Piece: Intrepretation and Memorization



Throughout the learning process, one needs to consider the phrasing and spirit of the piece.  Ultimately, memorization is the goal.  The secure mastery of the piece will allow the player to perform confidently.


The spirit of a piece is conveyed by tempo, title and the mood of the piece.  It is important to capture the spirit, whether it is slow and melancholy or lively and playful.  Phrasing is a key component to interpretation. Some phrases are short and others are longer. To better understand phrasing, a pianist may sing each line, noticing when the voice naturally gets louder and tapers off. The same effect can be achieved in the variation of dynamics, controlled by the motion of the hand, wrist and arm as mentioned in the previous post. 

The term “rubato” refers to expressive and rhythmic freedom by a slight speeding up and then slowing down of the tempo of a piece.  Rubato should be used carefully and not excessively, more extensively in Romantic period music than pieces from the Baroque and Classical periods. Rubato is not an excuse for hesitations in the music!  Those should be eliminated before employing rubato. 


Memorization is the last goal of learning, but can be achieved in different stages of the process.  Often with repetition of various sections, memorization will naturally evolve.  Memorization will allow the performer to internalize the piece and make it his/her own. Practicing slowly will embed the patterns into muscle memory.  My great mentor, Julian White, often said, “practicing quickly and allowing mistakes is like taking money out of the bank, practicing slowly and carefully puts money into the bank.” To insure true security in preparing for performance, one should aim to play the piece five times in a row without any mistakes.  

Moving through the stages of mastery of a particular piano piece is an exciting process. Once it is learned, the pianist should keep playing the piece from time to time to keep it fresh and maintain it in his/her repertoire.