Scales and Arpeggios with videotaped replay

I often think of piano technique as in the same league as sports. Why not? I practically grew up in the bleachers at Ebbets Field watching the Brooklyn Bums battle their adversaries. And not to forget that I was a tomboy who copied everything my big brother did. I even tried to break the Little League sex barrier but valiantly failed. The American Legion registrar said, “No” to any girl turning up for tryouts regardless of ability.

Baseball was for me a choreography, especially on the field as players fluidly danced through nearly impossible plays, sending base runners unwillingly back to the dugout. A line drive was gloved by a super coordinated shortstop who hurled a ball nearly off balance to the first baseman. He gracefully arched his whole body to retrieve an out of range bullet.

Tennis was no less impressive. Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver, Aussie masters of classic strokes, brought ballet into full bloom on the court. At an exhibition match in Madison Square Garden, they breezed effortlessly through baseline clinchers, overhead smashes, and impossible backhands. Reaching impossible heights, the two champions darted after balls sailing over their heads with the lithe motions of jaguars.

My sports fixation, which played out on baseball fields and tennis courts, never left me, even as I grew up and shifted my interest to music. In fact, my students realized very quickly that not a lesson would go by without my introducing a sports analogy.

Mark, an adult student, who towered above me at six feet five inches, was on the pro tennis circuit before he had settled down to a law career at the US Attorney’s Office. Normally, we’d spend the first twenty minutes of our session working on scales and arpeggios, covering the span of the entire keyboard, likening it to tennis turf—grass, of course.

We focused on deep breathing, relaxation techniques including mental imagery, surrendering to the moment, letting muscles loose, dropping shoulders, and letting the hands shape themselves into naturally contoured curves. Our goal was to be in the zone, sealed off from the stress and strain of busy, bustling work environments. We were immersed in the here and now accepting ourselves without the burden of judgment.

Inevitably, some of my tennis and baseball metaphors would crop up when least expected.

Wolfgang, a 12 year old student, who was an ace pitcher for his middle school baseball team, fully understood the follow through motion a pitcher needed. It was also part and parcel of the technique that applied directly to the piano. When I demonstrated a wind up to the pitch, he raised his eyebrows. What was the piano teacher attempting to do? Invade the baseball diamond?

Wolfgang knew that without a flexible wrist, the pitcher would be dead on the mound. For a pianist, a stiff wrist spelled a harsh key attack, and a good chance of injury.

The best application of these sports inspired physical principles, was in the arena of scales and arpeggios. Rather than consider them pedantic exercises, I viewed these preliminaries as a way to get “connected” to the instrument. The concept brought a constellation of ideas like dead weight gravity, feeling centered, having hanging arms like a marionette.

“Puppet strings” had always been the best auto suggestion for my students. It caused them to relax, sending tension and worries to the recycle bin.

In the video attached to this writing, I’d demonstrated my personal approach to practicing scales and arpeggios, hoping that the image of a piano teacher’s fingers dancing across the keys would inspire some form of modeling .

If nothing else, the videotaped replay of the arpeggios in slow motion without audio would offer music teachers an additional instructional tool. They might also consider revisiting the piece, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” as the springboard for a trip to the park. Since we had the SF Giants Triple A farm team here in Fresno, (The “Grizzlies”) it was a no brainer to reserve a seat and grab a hot dog once the new season began.

Piano Technique related videos: My Tutorials
http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

About Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
This entry was posted in arpeggios, baseball, dream piano, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, Facebook, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Fresno, Fresno California, Fresno Famous, games, gymnastics, humor, keyboard technique, Lillian Freundlich, memoir, Mr. York, MTAC, music, music appreciation classes, music teachers association, musicology, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, old upright, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano finding, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano pedagogy, piano room, piano student, piano teacher, piano technique, piano warm-ups, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, ping pong, ping pong balls, satire, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, sports, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, tennis, The Piano Book, Theory, uk-piano-forums, Uncategorized, used piano, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Scales and Arpeggios with videotaped replay

  1. hatsumi says:

    As I watched your fingers fly over the keyboard, I wondered what you do to prevent “sports” injuries to fingers and wrists. Well, my guess is you know how to prevent such happenings because of your interest in baseball and tennis. I was happy to see the Giants win, and was hoping they would sweep the Rangers! Rupert Murdock owns Fox t.v. which broadcast the World Series and a sweep would reduce his revenue from advertising; he also owns the WSJ. The paper is no where near what it used to be.

    THX for changing your blogs so it is an easy click away!!!!!

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment. The best way to avoid piano related injuries is to learn relaxation techniques. Certainly, a very fundamental recommendation is to keep the wrist supple. Follow through motions are also important, not choking, especially at the last octave of a rapid scale. I will be writing more about this in my next blog.
      Shirley K

      Like

  2. Pingback: Piano Technique related videos | Arioso7's Blog

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