Play the piano like it’s a violin (Thoughts on practicing Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op. 28 no. 4)

At a recent Skype lesson to Greece I found myself drawing on violin bow analogies to make a point that as pianists we have to DRAW out certain notes, by DELAYING our entry into them. For a string player, the process would be easily understood. He places the bow at the frog, (as opposed to the TIP) and makes a slight hesitancy before applying pressure into the string, sinking into it with a lush sound. The bow can produce a full length stroke in one timbre, or just as easily, it can “lighten” up depending on physical pressure exerted by the player’s arm and wrist.

I studied fiddle for at least 6 years, and crossed over to the piano, retaining many of the color change techniques associated with string playing.

When I practiced Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op. 28 No. 4, I envisioned a violin soloist playing the treble line, and an accompanist (pianist) providing the harmonic (chordal) underpinning. In this composition the HARMONIC Rhythm (rate at which chords change) directly affects melodic shaping and phrasing.

Others might imagine a soprano in the starring role, with the accompanist doing double duty.

At today’s lesson, I explored the slow entry into notes, particularly those dotted halves, (3 beat duration) that follow an upbeat quarter note. If the player just pokes these longer notes, and holds them for 3 counts, without a second thought, the listener will not appreciate the “color” change that embodies these swelling-with-feeling progressions.

For me, the most glaring underlying motif is the descending melodic second, CB, CB, CB etc continuing in sequence, in a “sighing” gesture that’s transformed by the harmonic changes under each.. And later in the piece there’s a transposition to a MAJOR 2nd F# E. Totally amazing strand.. I love relationships like these.. and discovering them.. passing them on to my students. (Don’t forget a glaring deceptive cadence V to Vi at measures 20-21) The heartfelt harmonic pull of this Prelude is compelling, along with its moving along in TWO… not in FOUR.. again I emphasize the “lift” of the second impulse, though harmonic considerations take precedence at any point in the composition over a discernible metrical pattern.

The Prelude, therefore, is about divine harmonic shifts and their impact on a simple foreboding and doleful melodic progression.

Having said this, it was natural to recommend that the student come “UNDER” the longer notes with a dipping wrist (in slow motion) and follow through with a forward movement. It was my string persona reaching into the keyboard universe, realizing emotional shifts through a physical translation of movement. For a violinist the bow arm is the conspicuous choreographer.

Pianists should learn from string players–from violinists and cellists in particular. They like other members of the string family, are organically connected to their instruments because of a direct, physical relationship to the sound source.

Pianists, on the other hand, are separated from string contact, and activate hammers to strike strings mounted on the “harp.” In truth, they’re more than an arm’s length from where the action is. (pun intended)

It’s no surprise therefore, that many armchair musicians will classify the piano as a percussion instrument.

Yet those in the know, who are POETS at the piano, will affirm that pianists can get around mechanical challenges through their imagination and will. (The physical and emotional bond together in the act of creation)

At this juncture, I will refer readers to my blog about what pianists can learn from string players followed by two video postings. The interview with a renowned cellist is compelling:

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/what-pianists-can-learn-from-string-players/

The first is my most recent performance of Chopin Prelude in e minor, based on an awareness of the piano’s capability to SING, if not, CRY like a violin.

The second is a SKYPE supplement to my “LIVE” lesson today, where I explored ways to practice the Chopin’s E minor Prelude, Op. 28 no. 4, making a direct reference to the violin and use of the bow.

Skype lesson-in-progress (Excerpt)

About arioso7: 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
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