meter, phrasing, piano instuction, piano lessons

Thinking in One through a brisk 3/8 movement (Clementi)

My students continue to teach me as we move along at a pace that does justice to the unfolding of a work over time without a rush to destination. For each pupil the journey is different and varied, without definitive markers of absolute progress.

Having said that, a movement that is brisk (as metaphor to paragraph 1) and needing control at any practicing tempo, presents a challenge in how we think of meter, harmonic movement, era of composition, structure, etc.

What the composer indicates as a time demarcation such as 3/8 in Vivace, for example, becomes a point of departure in considering the meter’s influence upon phrasing. Most players will take the THREE beats per measure designation quite literally, counting in a pedantic, vertically-charged numeric procession. If left to embrace such a boxed-in framing, with accents on first beats, music will not flow with a shape and contour that “lifts” and “lilts” it from cadence to cadence. (It will lack aesthetic freedom that feeds expressive beauty.)

I chose the final movement of Clementi’s Sonatina in C, Op. 36, No. 1 as my model for a feeling of ONE from measure to measure. Yet, within the ebullient and circular moving ONENESS in 3/8, I found sub phrases that elongated the ONE beat by compositional slurs and sub-groupings. So flexibility of thought was needed in considering phrase to phrase contouring–meaning there were other influences beside Meter assignment that affected musical expression. These included Harmonic rhythm, dynamics, and phrase marks. Bundled with a sense of Hearing it before playing it, if not SINGING it, such introspection and evaluation fed early stage learning through incremental development.

In my tutorial, that was inspired by an eleven-year old student who is studying this very Vivace movement, I quickly observed how small revisions in metrical thinking could springboard into more convincing phrase contouring. (The pupil’s third beats had been ponderous and not light before mentored intervention) And the technical infusion, of HOW to physically PRODUCE what was imagined through a sense ONENESS contributed to a new consciousness about the piece. (Featherlight endings of staccato measures readily improved expression.)

And here’s where rotations, wrist rolled groups of notes, and lightening the very third beat of two-16th to eighth germ cells, created the illusion of ONENESS. (Not ever meaning to enforce or promote any continuous accent on first beats of each measure, as a rigid, short-sighted formula) My tutorial addressed these nuances of thought, while it aimed to explore a satisfying balance between bass and treble. (Not to overlook applied weight transfer into the keys–down the arms through supple wrists– to flesh out swells and relaxation of lines)

Finally, illusions are part of a pianist’s magic repository and these permeate our study and self-development. Taken together with a generous serving of imagination and analytical insight, we rise above the printed page, “reading between the lines,” growing our individual journeys of creativity.

The video below provides a more detailed exploration of the Vivace movement, including valuable intervals of experimentation.

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