A particular composition that’s explored during a piano lesson can afford a multifaceted examination of phrasing. In this beauty-seeking musical cosmos, no singular focus will necessarily supersede others. Instead, a panoply of framing cues or prompts can nourish well-shaped phrases and lines.
As I uploaded a lesson video today, I found myself summarizing a journey through Chopin’s Waltz in B minor, Op. 69, No. 2,that invited specific “terms” in its “Description.” These provided a retrospective outline of what the student and teacher had aesthetically striven for in Romantic era framing.
The following headings were thematic and redundantly drawn upon.
“Phrasing,” spacing, think “groups” of notes, harmonic rhythm, choreography, destination, arm, hand and wrist flexibility, singing tone, singing pulse, mental imagery, mood framing–Three different sections, with individually defined “mood-sets.”
Often pupils think in terms of vertically driven “right notes,” which make horizontal, sculpted lines an impossibility. This is why the recommendation to play “groups” of notes is often the best antidote to “NOTEY,” undirected phrasing.
Tightly curved, or over-arched fingers that are cut off from a warm supply of relaxed energy coming down the arms through supple wrists, present additional barriers to limpid musical expression. These rigid, preconceived hand positions, constrict phrases, and inhibit the ins-and-outs of well-shaped lines.
To play the Chopin Waltz in B minor, for instance, with anything short of hand/arm/wrist/finger flexibility will preclude the release of an unabashed “singing tone.”
“Harmonic Rhythm” awareness, influences phrasing. Cadences suggest tapering while modulations both expected, and unexpected, infuse music with “emotional” shifts that are intrinsic to sensitive phrasing. In this regard, the B minor Waltz has a particularly poignant transition from the key of B minor to B Major, when the Trio Section begins in measure 50.
Likewise, pokey THUMBS, that are not folded into a well-breathed line of “spaced” eighth notes might literally eviscerate any semblance of smooth musical flow.
“Mood-setting” is another important ingredient of expressive playing, that fleshes out AFFECT and EMOTION. It prompts an understanding of what the music is “saying.” (“Mental imagery” partners nicely with mood framing.)
If the composer is “sighing” down, as in the opening section of the Chopin Waltz, through redundant descents of eighth notes, against a Tonic and Dominant underpinning, then Harmonic Rhythm and the direction of notes combine to create a mood picture with infused “emotion.”
Adding in note “destinations,” groupings, and a singing pulse to an archive of musical awareness, creates a “layered approach” to practicing and growing a composition in the short and long-term.
“Choreography” or the motion of the arms/wrists/hands is dependent upon the phrase and its particular contour. The middle section, for instance, of Chopin’s Waltz has a dance-like character that requires a loopy, or “rotational” set of motions.
Today’s lesson certainly captured much of what was laid out in specific terms under the Video DESCRIPTION, and it was mutually beneficial to mentor and student.