During my time at Texas Christian University, I mentioned to students that the order of learning the piece should be outside-in. Now, finally, I found time to make a slide representing this idea.
The premise is simple but easily forgettable when you practice. Best description would be to say:
"Every accent will be different depending on the context in which it appears".
Here you can see what hierarchy should be followed at least as a starting point. These circles can be changed at will but generally speaking, you should consider your musical choices always in the context of the bigger oval. Therefore, terms like "good sound" or "good articulation" become too arbitrary for a serious performance. Accent in a Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 first theme of the first movement will be quite different than accent in the second movement of this concerto. Same goes for any expressive tool or sound quality. It changes drastically when outside oval implies a different treatment.
As mature musicians, we need to develop an array of expressive tools that become relevant to every oval of the chart that we consider. Simply trying to learn to play "well" or "with good sound" will result in insipid performances, stripped of definitive character and deep expression. In order to portray the music, one must find out as much as possible about the context (composer, genre, meter associations etc.) and through that make informed decisions (informed intuition blog entry) about the details of the musical text. In the academic world, I hear too much about learning a bare technique that's supposed to create a magnificent player. Music IS technique. Every piece has to be considered on its own terms, with specific technique that allows the listener to transcend into your world.
Please leave your comments here, I would love to have a discussion about the validity of my observations.