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I have been discouraged (read: told "don't do that!") from using a "simplified versions" book of famous pieces, and I've read also here many questions (for example this one, or this one). They ask, however, in terms of right and wrong, without detailing why is it wrong, didactically.

For instance, I was learning this version of Für Elise (second part):

simplified

and for comparison, this is the full version from IMSLP of the same bars:

full

So my question is:

What are the didactic problems in learning a simplified version of a piece?

Apart from for instance having to learn the piece again in its full glory. I've added those sheets so that, I hope, answers can go into details with practical examples, since all the answers I get from my teacher (and other skilled musicians I know) are the same: I don't like simplified versions, just wait.

I'd like something more than the "it's wrong" I am hearing.

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    What are the didactic benefits of learning the simplified version? If there are none, then learning the simplified version is a waste of time, at best. – Todd Wilcox Mar 5 at 18:18
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    I don‘t see a difference between playing a simplified version or playing a difficult passage slower or practicing an easier piece. You can improve always your technic, your understanding and your musical knowledge. – Albrecht Hügli Mar 5 at 20:05
  • In passing: what a senseless arrangement of Für Elise this example is. The reduction in difficulty of the LH part is infinitesimal. – user48353 Mar 5 at 22:42
  • @replete - The latter part of the screenshot of the simplified version has significantly fewer chords. – Dekkadeci Mar 6 at 0:51
  • @Dekkadeci Indeed. What I'm questioning is why they bothered. I don't see a significant reduction in difficulty, considering the chords already present earlier. At any rate, I'm going off topic. – user48353 Mar 6 at 0:53
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The benefits of learning any piece of music are:

  • You improve any of a number of general musical skills from learning the piece
  • You enjoy playing the piece
  • You add the piece to your repertoire, such that you are able to play and refer to it later

In choosing any piece for your student to study, you need to weigh up those factors.

In general, there is no reason to think that a simplified piece would be a better or worse vehicle for learning general skills than a (different) unsimplified piece of equivalent overall complexity.

The enjoyment factor could go either way. It could be fun for a student to be able to play a piece they like that would otherwise be above their level. On the other hand, if the simplifications reduce the impact of the piece, it may be less enjoyable.

The repertoire aspect is potentially where simplified pieces are most likely to have pitfalls; The student is not adding the recognised version of the piece to their repertoire, and potentially they're even getting the wrong impression of it and picking up bad habits that may persist when learning the full arrangement. If the student already knows the full piece by ear, it may even be confusing to learn a simplified version.

  • As Rusi points out, I now see that you're not asking from the perspective of a teacher - but I think this is all still valid if 'your student' is you! – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 6 at 11:41
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I don't think there is a problem per se with a simplified version.

But, some judgement surely is needed to determine if the simplified version is both musically good and appropriate for the learner.

Brahms made a simplified version of his won Op. 39 waltzes.

Clearly it isn't forbidden, and importantly with this Brahms example, it's possible to simplify without the result necessarily becoming a bastardized version of the original.

I would think the goal of a simplification would be exposure to the essential structure and musical content but with technical performance issue mitigated.


What are the didactic problems in learning a simplified version of a piece?

I suppose the obvious one is not challenging yourself to develop.

In your Beethoven example the simplification seems mostly to reduce the music to only two voices: treble and bass. In the original the thicker texture in places like the #2 volta (six voices total) add an extra dimension to the music. To realize the musical idea completely you want those texture changes. A student to strive to perform them. The simplification would be a developmental stepping stone to the full piece.

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I realize you are a student asking and what I am about to say may be better suited to teachers. Still here goes!

All teaching involves lies to children. At the very least the lie consists in not giving the whole picture. Usually it's even more – the truth is presented simplified, simplifications that in another context could be significant or even dangerous.

Nevertheless that's how teaching goes.

What are all the different aspects about Für Elise? Sure harmony is one but – my opinion – one can get something even without it. It's ultimately upto the teacher – what he would communicate and in what sequence.

Here is a Für Elise without harmony that someone recently showed me. Ironically to that person I said something essential is lost. Here I suggest the opposite: many aspects are lost — pianism, harmony – but something essential – lyrical, wistful – is conveyed.

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