Making Progress While Making Changes

Sometimes, learning notes is a two-steps-forward, three-steps-back process. I’ve gone over the same few measures in the Bach toccata I’m learning for several days, and they don’t seem to be sticking.

One problem is that Bach often starts a section in a similar way as he started something earlier in the piece, only to take you in a totally different direction. It’s hard keeping these detours straight when you’re first learning the pieces.

Also, my piano is pretty badly out of tune right now, what with the heat being on and the drier air in the house, so practicing isn’t the most enjoyable task. I’ll get rid of that excuse this Friday when the tuner comes to whip both of my instruments back into shape.

Then, my only excuse will be my own laziness or temptation. It’s so relaxing to curl up with a book instead of slogging through a four-part fugue! But that four-part fugue is what’s going to represent me whenever I do recitals. It’s the piece I will open the program with, and first impressions are always lasting ones.

I’m passionate about Bach, and really love this particular toccata. But until I get into that final, joyful section where Bach is plunging headlong toward the completion of the whole grand palace of counterpoint he’s created, I’ve got to keep one hand on my Braille music, one hand on the keyboard, and my mind firmly focused on my goal.

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4 Comments on “Making Progress While Making Changes”

  1. minpinmom Says:

    Good luck on gettignthat piece down pat! it can take time!

  2. ombudsben Says:

    You’re so right about the first impressions thing. It’s a bit dismaying, in a way. You wish people could give all the meetings or impressions equal weight, but I think there’s something deep in our brains that gives that 1st impression such lasting effect.

    I love what you say about Bach. This is what the best writers do. They give you a pattern. Think you know it? How about like this. Got that one? Then let’s do this … and each time complicating and building the whole.

    I’ve read that Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22 actually does 3 big cycles, chronologically, although I’ve never examined it to see how all the hysterically anarchic scenes fit into that overarching pattern.

    Sory to hear of the tuning. Life seems to be giving me lessons in patience lately, too; I have to play some things out in my noggin a few times and not be impatient to get them right.

    Many lifetimes ago, when I was a teenager of 15 and 16, I had an art teacher who taught me how to batik. I did all right with wax, fabric, and dye, and made several batiks of turtle shells, crackly green and gold, that people admired. Older students called me turtleman for it (1st impressions, perhaps?) and it’s funny to think of myself as associated with such a patient species now.

    Further, as a kid I had read a book about the spice islands, and it wasn’t until later I realized Indonesia, where batik comes from, was the same place! In 1991 I spent 3 weeks there, and it’s pleasant to have the pieces come together.

    Can you practice a toccata in your mind?

    Sometimes I wake at two or three or four in the morning and compose a story, rehearsing it in my minds eye, until I get out of bed to write it down before it is gone.

    I’d like to visit Poland and hear you play. When you were done, instead of applauding, I would be tempted to go baah, baah, bahh like an appreciative goat. (smile)

    good luck!

  3. halfnotes Says:


    Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes, it’s crazy what we willingly subject our minds to. But I’m sure we’ll all be richer for it in the end.

  4. halfnotes Says:


    Oh, yes, I practice in my mind! I discovered this trip while preparing for a recital a few years ago. My husband and I were on a long car trip, and to pass the time, I started at the beginning of my program and just mentally played through as much as I could. It was amazing the difference it made!

    Thanks for the bleating in enthusiasm! I’ve often thought it would be really cool to go all over the country and digitally record different goats bleating at different pitches and then shape them into a piece of music. There’s probably grant money for a project like that somewhere! Talk about combining passions!

    I may be out in your part of CA in early March for a conference (not playing, just attending and, perhaps, promoting my first published music book). I’d love to return to the state because I’ve got such wonderful friends out there.

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