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Most musical schools start with a bottom-up teaching eg. Czerny etudes for the dexterity and the velocity of fingers. However, teachers usually go through all the etudes before moving on towards real works.

While I agree with the necessity of such basic practice and education, I wonder whether there exists an approach that is rather top-down based and goes like "OK, here's this piece; now if you want to be able to play this part, you need to practice the following exercises: ".

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4 Answers 4

Interesting - there is a 'top down' for guitar music. I'm thinking of popular guitar tunes, rather than classical guitar.

People who self-teach generally start off learning chord shapes which will enable you to strum your way through a song. A lot of guitar tutorials work this way.

You can also learn "basic" chords which will work, and add more intricacy as you get more confident.

If you then want to move on to the more difficult/intricate parts, eg a solo or some intricate picking, you can tackle that as a separate exercise.

Learning scales (eg good ol' pentatonic as a starting point) and riffs will help with the dexterity for more intricate parts.

Others will answer with more detail for piano/other instruments, but I think what I say here is true for guitar.

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So you suggest to try to play a particular piece, and eg. in the case of a piano, let the fingering come as comfortable as possible and not let the worldwide taught fingering standards confuse the pupil? –  András Hummer Apr 14 at 11:52
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Not really - I'm talking about guitar (for which that would work). OP hasn't stated a particular instrument, although the etudes is a piano piece. I couldn't really comment on how to go about piano, and there might be (probably are) reasons why going for the standard ways of doing things are best, although I'm a big advocate of innovation. I'm guessing that getting comfortable with your own chord fingering on a piano could amount to getting into unhelpful habits. I guess my point is that it might be different for different instruments, hopefully I'm leaving room for that. –  user2808054 Apr 14 at 12:05
    
Yes, it's clear, thank you. Yes, basically I'm approching the subject from the perspective of the piano, I didn't think the efficiency and the unhelpfulness of certain habits might be instrument variant. –  András Hummer Apr 14 at 12:42

There is no need to train on exercises only. My piano teacher gives real songs and exercises in somewhat 50 : 50 % proportion.

Many really nice piano pieces like "Love me Tender" or "Jingle Bells" or "Let it Be" melody line are actually not so difficult to play. There is no lack in "easy piano" books with adapted, simplified versions of really great, real songs. After you master the simplified song (one hand only, for instance), get and try the more complete version.

Of course, such song will never sound like performed by the professional band. The band uses more instruments, additional chords and melody insertions and the like. But hopefully this is not your purpose.

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I like this approach. One question: in case of self-teaching, how does one "extract" and isolate the necessary technique required for a certain piece? –  András Hummer Apr 15 at 8:06
    
+1, there's nothing wrong with making a piece of music your own and playing it your way - unless you're being examined (I'm self taught, I don't play to pass tests). Some songs my left hand plays the song's bassline, some songs my left hand plays the chords, some songs it's a mixture. –  Lee Kowalkowski Apr 15 at 9:57
    
@András Hummer adapting a complex piece to make it simpler seems advanced, you need to buy such notations, or maybe find on the web. –  Audrius Meškauskas Apr 15 at 13:52

I once asked a famous violinist this same question, and this is what he said to me:

If you only learn the technique for a certain piece, you need to begin anew with every piece that you learn. If you achieve technical mastery before the music, learning the piece becomes a matter of applying your technique.

All that said, it's not fun drilling etudes for hours with no music. So I agree with others' answers in saying that there should be a mix (ideally music that reinforces the learned techniques, or perhaps concert etudes).

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I would add that with every new piece the amount of new technique required to learn will eventually start decreasing. –  András Hummer Apr 15 at 8:05

Something to consider, when using a "top-down" approach:

When studying pedagogics, we learned about two different approaches:

  1. Learning theory first, then doing experiments to apply it.
  2. Doing experiments first, then learning the theory behind it.

If I understand correctly, the "top-down" approach you describe would be similar to approach 2. First attempting to do a practical task, then learning the theory behind it to be able to understand and complete the practical task. Experiments and tests done with a whole lot students show that approach 2 gives higher motivation, and higher learning rewards. If I remember correctly, also the long-term learning, and learning portability increases. Meaning that the material was remembered for a longer time, and was more likely to be utilized in new situations.

Traditional learning usually prefers approach 1, but this can possibly cause low motivation, and only short-time learning.

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