When I first looked at a “seriously” complex page of dizzying tied-over (syncopated) notes in Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious,” (Fast Zu Ernst) I had a knee-jerk avoidance response–that is until I tapped into a permeating melodic thread that I isolated and wooed from its conspicuous alliance to myriads of off beats.
In other words, I simplified my journey in a baby-step voice parceling manner, de-intensifying a threat to learning a gorgeous harmonic mosaic that’s spun from broken chords and affectionately supportive syncopations. (I’m sure the composer’s passionate unraveling harmonies were a reflection of his love for a uniquely beautiful, self-created outpouring in the somber chosen key of G# minor)
First things first in approaching the tableau:
A behind tempo practicing approach to what looks rhythmically challenging is the only sensible antidote to anxiety that many adult students have when they perceive a score riddled with unusually foreign-looking notational strands.
And to allay their fears as well as my own, I set out to piece out “Almost too Serious” in a purposeful step-wise manner with a learning guide intention, blazing a trail that my students and others could follow without trepidation.
Various practicing constellations are explored in my video
1) Identify a treble line melodic thread–and practice in slow tempo with relaxed arms, supple wrists and a permeating singing tone.
2) Isolate (play) the alto line notes
3) Play the fundamental bass notes throughout the composition
4) Block three-note 16th groupings in the bass, that appear after the downbeat in each measure. (These will eventually unfold in broken-chord fashion, using ROTATION to avoid tension, and to play musically.)
5) All through the step-wise learning process identify keys and harmonic transitions (or modulations).
6) Listen for and tab suspensions/passing dissonances and how they resolve.
7) In the course of layered-up practicing, examine the BALANCE of voices as they are sewn together.
8) Explore the ritardandos at various cadences and practice relaxed breathing at bridges across measures with fermati (extra holds), to avoid “gasps” between phrases.
9) Pedaling as the final polish should be sensitive to dissonances, not causing conspicuous blurring of harmonic resolutions.
The aforementioned are suggestions that can be “seriously” supplemented along the way, but always with a defining awareness that the Romantic era singing approach to this music is at the core of practicing it.