As I child I used to hate when my teacher asked me to relearn pieces I had played before. One teacher tried to persuade me, “Relearning a piece is like visiting an old friend,” an analogy that meant little to 13-year-old me.
Nowadays I’m so inundated with new music that I’m usually relieved when I don’t need to learn a piece from scratch. Although in a few cases I’ve thought relearning a piece was more like visiting an old enemy than an old friend, I have a few tips to ease the process for friends and enemies alike.
Relearn it while you sleep. I swear by this trick, but it still amazes me every time. The first day, I’ll play the entire piece once through without stopping, mistakes and all. After a night’s sleep, my brain seems to retrieve the music from long-term storage. The next day my memory of the piece is magically improved, and I continue practicing from there.
You can read more about the phenomenon of learning while sleeping over at Bulletproof Musician.
Fingerings: take them or leave them. Sometimes I kick myself for not writing down the fingering I used previously. Sometimes I try my old fingering and think, “Who came up with this shitty fingering?” In the past I’ve wasted time trying to master a previous fingering, thinking that if it worked for me before, it must work again. Now I just give fingerings a try or two and come up with a new one if they don’t work.
Don’t begin at the beginning. Instead of relearning the piece from beginning to end, I start with the most difficult passages. If nothing stands out as being particularly troublesome, I work from the end to the beginning, since most likely I learned it the other way around the first time.
How do you feel about relearning old pieces? Do you have any tips or tricks?