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If you are a newbie classical guitar player, is it better to practice on easier or harder pieces?

Here is an example of a hard piece and of an easier one. Assume that either piece is practiced slowly.

If you want to answer "it depends" can you then tell me what it depends on?

Edit: I forgot to be clear about that I'm thinking about an "everything else being identical" scenario. Imagine frustration for not being able to play difficult pieces and gratification for being able to play easier pieces not being a factor.

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You should do both.

The reason is that there are several things one has to learn at the same time when working to improve on an instrument. It's important to learn musicianship and new techniques, and it's at least as important to learn ergonomics, proper posture and form, etc.

You should get some fairly simple, short pieces loaded into your muscle memory that you can play without thinking about them and use them for warm-up. When you start a practice session, play through some of those for 5 or 10 minutes while focusing on relaxation, posture, form, tone, and any weaknesses you might have. These are also good pieces for playing with a metronome to work on timing.

Other great uses for simple pieces that you can play easily are learning difficult key signatures by transposing them into those keys and relearning them, as well as changing the feel and relearning them. For instance, I have a Bach minuet that I've been playing for more than 30 years that is quite simple for me, so I play it straight sometimes just to relax, other times I change the key or play it with swing (NB pianists: if you haven't "jazzed up" a Bach or Mozart minuet before, you don't know what you're missing) or play it entirely staccato or with exaggerated legato, etc.

Of course, you're not going to keep learning if you only play simple pieces that you know by heart over and over again, so you certainly have to challenge yourself. Piece selection is one area where teachers provide a lot of value. Until you start working on a piece, it's hard to know whether it is an appropriate challenge or way beyond your abilities. I've been overly ambitious with learning pieces way beyond my abilities and gotten away with it, but it is dangerous in a few areas.

Working on excessively hard pieces can encourage you to try to learn techniques that can cause injury if repeated incorrectly and frequently. Also, working on overly difficult music can sap your morale and take away from the joy of music.

If you insist on doing piece selection on your own, I would look for an anthology or series of books where the pieces get more and more difficult. I'm thinking like the Suzuki method books (I'm not sure if they make them for guitar). With a resource like that, you can find approximately where you are in the difficulty spectrum and start working on pieces that are just past that.

Short of that, you should look for as much literature as you can find (http://imslp.org is a resource) and play the first several measures and see if you can judge how much it interests you and how much it challenges you. You want to find pieces where you can see how to play almost the whole piece, with one or two challenging areas for you. Using classical literature, you might look for pieces called etudes, since they are specifically written to be educational.

I think most people can teach themselves music, but it takes much longer and exposes one to many pitfalls compared to having a teacher. Only you can decide what route is best for you and your wallet, but if you haven't already learned one instrument in a structured way, trying to learn an instrument while also trying to learn how to learn an instrument is an overwhelming challenge.

  • Yep. I'd just add- and this applies to all instruments- that working on excessively hard pieces can lead to learning sloppy technique, which sounds bad and must be unlearned with much grinding of teeth (I speak from sad experience). – Scott Wallace Apr 18 '17 at 10:08
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It also depends on one's definition of practice.

If it means sight-reading, which in the initial stages covers any attempt to play a piece, then once it's sight read, it's done, hard or easy.

If it means learning to play a piece properly, it opens cans of worms. Practising an easy piece for one's own enjoyment and to have a finished performance piece eventually will obviously take less time, but if it's for exam purposes, it takes on a new complexion. If it's to re-interpret it, it still needs 'practice', but from a different perspective.

'Practising' a more difficult piece will take longer, and more effort, and more frustration, possibly leading to scrapping it 'until I'm a better player'. And, again, what's the end product for?

Given choice, as a teacher and performer, I'd say choose easier pieces, as in the same time frame one could get through an awful lot more, and diversify with style, genre, et al. Again, it's very dependent on what the final goal actually is. Rather subjective...

As an aside,the site title includes the words theory and practice. There was I feel some confusion a short time ago, as to what actually constitutes theory, and now, I'm starting to try to qualify the term practice. Help!!

  • My definition of practice is acquiring skills in the instrument I'm playing. My definition of optimal practice is acquiring as much skill/unit of time invested as possible. – Björn Lindqvist Dec 17 '16 at 15:39
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It depends on your level of perception and your threshold of frustration and your sense of accomplishment. And on the respective levels of your teacher.

And of course it depends on whether you want to entertain anybody but yourself in any predictable amount of time.

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For sure both! Nothing like being thrown in a swimming pool and forced to learn how to swim. :) That's how I did it and it was very painstaking at first because I had to literally look up every note on a reference page like this oneenter image description here

as I was learning a piece. And the piece was Antonio Laur's Venezuelan Waltz # 2. :\ However, don't take those easy pieces for granted, they can help a great deal, especially while learning to sight reading. :)

Picture comes from Frederick Noad's "Solo Guitar Playing Book 1".

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