BECOMING BETTER

Jean Croker Petke


Roast Pig & Layer Cake

Roast Pig & Layer Cake

From January to April I am totally immersed in music, as I prepare for my spring recital. I wake up in the morning, knowing the first thing I will do is practice, lesson music then recital music. There’s some overlap, but my recital includes some additional music. Before I fall asleep at night, I review my music in my mind, checking my memory and my interpretations.

At a recent lesson Dr. B said, “Have I told you about roast pig and layer cake?”

“No, you haven’t,” I replied. I couldn’t imagine what he was about to tell me.

“If you’re going to roast a pig,” he began, “you put all the seasonings on it and get it totally ready before you begin roasting. When it’s finished cooking, it’s ready to eat. You don’t have to do anything else to it.”

I had the image. I’ve seen a pig roasted in a ground pit, on a rotisserie, and on a grill. I know how it’s done.

“With a cake,” he continued, “you bake the layers first. After they cool, you prepare the icing, and perhaps a filling. Then you assemble and decorate the top.”

Got it. I’ve done it many times.

“Learning music is like that,” he said. He went on to say that in the layered cake approach, you learn the notes first. Then later, you learn the dynamics, the nuances, the tempo, the articulations, and all the others things that are part of the music. The notes are like the cake, then you add all the other things later.

“Or you can do it like roasting a pig,” he said. “Learn everything at once.” While you’re learning the notes, you also learn the dynamics and articulations. You establish the habit of playing everything correctly from the beginning. You don’t have to relearn anything or add new learnings on top of previous ones.

The results are the same either way.

I used to be a layered cake learner until I started taking lessons from Dr. B. He’s a roast pig teacher — he wants everything at the same time. So, I’ve been working to change my process. Roast pig seems more efficient — and I’m all about efficiency. Since I’ve also learned from him that most of my practice should be slow, it’s possible for me to practice all aspects of the music at once. I just have to be patient and not be in a rush to play fast.

Charlie, my writing partner, is a roast pig writer. She wants every word exactly right from the beginning, no matter how long it takes. Getting it right from the get-go lessens the amount of rewriting later.

As a writer, I’m a layered caker. I focus on getting my ideas on paper before they evaporate. Then I tweak, revise, rearrange, and delete after the ideas are captured.

We’re both good writers, but our approaches are totally different.

How about you? Layered cake or roast pig? How do you learn best?

Until next Tuesday . . .