When we learn to play the piano the pieces we work on tend to get more and more challenging. We start off with very simple tunes, gradually add more notes and play faster, more complex music.
Method books for the first stages are numbered according to their level, and exam boards have increasingly difficult requirements to establish the new level.
There are even lists of piano literature according to so called levels of difficulty.
All in all, it looks as though learning piano is a linear process where you move forward until you are a successful pianist.
However, one of the best ways to move forward is to go backwards. Instead of only struggling with new big challenges it is very helpful to go back to a piece you played a while ago and redo it.
The danger in doing this is the chance of regressing to the playing stage you were at when you first played the piece, falling back into bad habits etc. It’s a bit like going to visit a childhood friend as an adult and finding yourself clicking back into the dynamic you had as kids.
But when you overcome the first instinct to be who you were in the past, you discover that you can have a new relationship with your friend. You can meet them differently, discover new sides to their personality, and see how your friendship can benefit by meeting them with all the maturity and ripeness you gained over the years.
Going back to an old piece is similar. Like an old friend, you know it well, but you can bring the experience you gained since playing it last and make it sound different.
Sometimes it takes a while to “get back into the piece”. When you learn a new piece it is like digging a hole for the first time in hard soil. When you come back to a piece after a long time of not having played it, it may seem at first as though the hard soil has never been touched, but after a short while you'll find the earth is actually loose and easy to shovel out and the re-learning goes a lot faster than when learning a completely new piece.
So why is it good to relearn old pieces?
1. It’s fun to re- learn pieces quickly
2. When a piece is less challenging technically you can focus more on the musical expression
3. If the piece isn’t too difficult you can play it at a higher speed
4. If you have a few pieces you can play well you are building up a repertoire you can easily pull out whenever necessary
We can go forwards and backwards simultaneously. We can learn new, harder, more challenging pieces while revisiting older pieces and perfecting them in a way we couldn’t do in the past. This will make us move in an ever widening circle rather than a thin arrow and will give us a lot more satisfaction!
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