This whole project started with Measure 66.
It was Christmas. I was working on a premiere with Spectrum Trio, Litanies, by Marilyn Shrude, and found myself struggling with one particular melismatic passage in a hand-written score. Measure 66. I tried writing in the notes, different fingerings, uneven rhythm practice, all to no avail.
My brother, Arlen Fast, was also in the middle of working on premiere works, almost one a week, with the New York Philharmonic. Via email and phone calls I had been hearing about his various practice technics, usually involving his laptop, to learn new music – quickly.
In the midst of a long vacation, both practicing in separate rooms, I shared a proverbial musicians frustration – I just don’t seem to be getting any better with this passage! In reality, it was one measure. How hard can it be!
“Let me see if I can help you,” was Arlen’s response, and he pulled out his laptop.
And proceeded step-by-step to input the notation of measure 66, into his computer, first adding 8va’s to any extreme ledger lines.
Voilà! Magical. I instantly could almost sight read the measure.
The next step was to add in bar lines. What meter might work? All of a sudden the seemingly random notes felt even easier to play. Next was to standardize the flats and sharps, and to my surprise, that made a huge difference.
The final step was to experiment with the spacing, pulling the staves a bit further apart, making the measure look like a Henle edition. Now it was a luxury to read.
Essentially Arlen solved a practice issue by creating what we have called in this book, a Practice Part (see Chapter 4).
Hearing about his other practice technics, using Practice Parts created on his laptop to playback the music so the computer taught him the music, were eye opening.
My conversations with Arlen changed my practice and led to new practice strategies with my students.
At the same time, I was continually referencing colleague and music educator Jennifer Mishra’s research on memory and sight reading in my teaching and workshop presentations. Her topics of memorizing and sight reading are inevitably hot topics for pianists. And I know of no one else who explains research so easily to students, and who can make research easily relatable to the general public.
I broached Jennifer with the idea of conducting a research project with the New York Philharmonic, using the research question: how do you practice premieres when there are no aural models. See our published article in the journal Music Performance Research. That eventual project resulted in even more practice ideas to keep trying out with students. We presented this research at a conference and Norman Hirschy, editor with Oxford University Press, who approached Jennifer and I about the possibility of writing a book after hearing one of our presentations.
And as the proverb goes, one thing leads to another, and eventually this book was born. It was fun to share ideas with Jennifer, a string player and music educator, intermixed with my personal perspective of a piano pedagogue with a double major in flute.
We hope that the practice ideas in this book, utilizing easily available technology, help solve that one measure, or many, that inevitably present themselves in all of our musical journeys.
–Barbara Fast, November 28, 2017