adult piano instruction, piano, Shirley Smith Kirsten,

Adult piano instruction: the singing model in playing/practicing Chopin

There’s no doubt in my mind that Chopin’s music is allied to the opera and the New York Times featured an article on this very subject that resonates in my teaching and playing the composer’s works. From Tommasini, Arts editor:

“It’s a wonder that Chopin, born in 1810, never tried to write an opera, because he was completely smitten with bel canto works, especially Bellini’s. Chopin’s melodies, like the opening theme for the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 1, composed in 1830, sing with the long-lined, profoundly melancholic elegance of a bel canto melody. Chopin and Bellini sometimes seem like distant composer cousins drawing from the same creative well.” (excerpt, “Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It?” November 28, 2008)

In my approach to teaching Chopin’s memorable Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64, no.2, I drew on this very singing tone model during an adult pupil’s lesson. Appoggiaturas, especially, were singled out for their lean to resolution character, with more following in sequence. These required attentiveness to melodic shaping and harmonic resolution, especially where a meandering alto voice beneath the soprano could easily drown out a melodic note that was decaying through a tie. (Student was prompted to FOLLOW THE SINGABLE MELODIC strand)

DEF: Appoggiatura:
ap·pog·gia·tu·ra (-pj-tr)
n. Music
An embellishing note, usually one step above or below the note it precedes.. (it falls on the beat and RESOLVES to a main melodic note)
[Italian, from appoggiato, past participle of appoggiare, to lean on, .]


In practicing Chopin’s aforementioned composition, an awareness of a melodic thread is supported by an understanding of harmonic rhythm–Or how the flow of harmony affects melodic shaping (discussed in many of my blogs) Add in exposure to a physical/musical synthesis and beautiful, fluid phrasing is advanced.

Tempo rubato (flexible time) is another area of exploration, and I found myself quite naturally drawing on a singer’s breath and flow in my instruction.

Therefore, these lesson-in-progress videos ostensibly had my not-so-perfect singing voice permeating– surely a consequence of my adolescent studies with NYC mentor, Lillian Freundlich who often drowned out my efforts as well as her own during our weekly hour together.


A note about these lesson samples: The adult student had already played through the Waltz, uninterrupted, so excerpts included below are revisits of measures/phrases that needed practice and refinement.

Parts 1 and 2

Opening falling parallel 6ths, and rhythmic cohesion of dotted 8th/16th-
Appoggiaturas (their nature and resolution)
Physical aspects of playing musically, allied to attentive listening
The SINGING tone is emphasized. (supple wrist, relaxation, arms)
(Many ingredients amount to beautiful playing, not just one)

Rubato dimension of Chopin’s music (playing and breathing as a singer)
Second section practice, (piu mosso)feeling” curve of measures, scoping out HARMONIC RHYTHM as it affects melodic sculpting (deceptive cadence, for example).. Breathing LONG lines where needed.

LINK: “Chopin, the Day After the Opera” (NYT)

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