adult piano lessons, adult piano students, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, Romantic era piano repertoire, Romantic era repertoire, Romantic music, Schumann, setting a good piano fingering

A deep immersion in Schumann’s Wiegenliedchen, Cradle Song No. 6, Op. 124

Who would have thought that a Romantic era character piece of short length could have so much to savor on multi-tiered levels? Relentless triplets with double stemmed quarters, seemed at first glance to direct the player toward a horizontal rendering of a conspicuous melodic thread that’s reinforced by the highest notes in the Right Hand. It’s clearly a vocal line that requires a singing tone wedded to a seamless legato.

But the more one delves into the score, an awareness of note groupings, within phrases, requires the player to breathe as a vocalist would, with an attendant understanding of how fingering, harmonic analysis, rotational motions, and exploration of the bass line all factor into a deeper rendering of the composition.

While the piece only landed in Berkeley just two short days ago, having been emailed in attachment form from a Scottish Isle, it was “cradled” with great care upon its arrival in the Berkeley flats–having passed through an embryonic stage of discovery to a more heightened level of understanding.

Since a tutorial is like a diary of epiphanies, the one I’ve included below, is a springboard to further learning discoveries that grow from repeated exposures and more intense scrutiny of what the composer, Robert Schumann, intended.

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Curbing Thumb Power!

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It hit home over SKYPE while I was giving a piano lesson to Australia today that THUMBS have usurped too much power!

In their octave by octave advance through scales and arpeggios, they’ve become conspicuously Napoleonic and territorial, setting up roadblocks that deter longer fingers of each hand from individually passing over and around them without a physical confrontation. And despite their short stature, THUMBS will continue to RULE The Hand, unless they’re cut down to size.

As a start, every piano teacher, in good conscience, should assertively curb thumb rule while applying a humane approach–(A complete keyboard sweep is not recommended.)

Instead, students should be urged to position their longer fingers to form a decisive center of gravity in the keyboard universe; sustaining a specific equilibrium while staving off ACCENT-uated, ill-timed aggressive maneuvers by Thumbs to tilt the balance of power.

The good news is that Online pupils in London and Edinburgh have successfully de-throned Thumbs by the power of their imagination that works an effect on the longer fingers to suppress interruptions of smooth scale transits. With a confidence-boosting arsenal of mental strategies, they’ve managed to thwart thumbs from laying flat out in arpeggio-wide wrecking maneuvers.

So at long last, a DEFENSIVE video has emerged from Sydney, Australia that deserves A THUMBS UP! for its steadfast effort to undo a DOWN-ward spiral that once robbed a D Major broken chord sequence of its free-spirited expression.

(KEY WORDS: “Invisible thumb; “featherlight,” “floating,” think UP, “lifting”)

adult piano instruction, adult piano lessons, legato, online piano instruction, piano, piano blog, piano pedagogy, piano teaching, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, staccato

A “cool” dip into Quicktime for wrist, finger, and forearm staccato practice

Amazing how 90-degree temperatures in the East Bay can wreak havoc over Face Time transmissions. It nearly made Online mentoring come to a grinding halt yesterday! except that a Quick Time saving grace Lesson Preserver came to the rescue!

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In my Scotland travels, I’m accustomed to subbing in the iPhone for the iMac because of two-way computer Online Face Time/Skype irregularities, so from week to week, I’d been giving my back-up camcorder a 60-minute workout, snatching the whole lesson for a same day uploaded re-cap. But once I realized Quick Time on the Big Mac could be enlisted to simultaneously record selected lesson segments while glaring at the cell image of a Yamaha grand, I had the best of both worlds: Live iPhone transmission and a selective mouse clicked re-run in progress.

Here’s the set up: Call it an EMT piano teaching equivalent.

Naturally, the mechanics of Quicktime allow focus on well-measured lesson goals. For example, yesterday, I demonstrated a variety of Staccato approaches in scale and arpeggio framings using the overhead keyboard web cam view. (wrist, forearm, finger driven detached notes on display)

And once the day played out with cooler evening temps draping the East Bay, I had sufficiently “warmed up” my ‘finger’ staccato to demonstrate a fast 32nd-note romp.

In summary, being flexible and resourceful in this Online universe is a must to keep lessons up and running despite occasional annoying transmission problems.

adult piano lessons, Bach, Bach Invention, Beethoven, Beethoven Bagatelles, Classical music blog, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano learning, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, Piano Street, piano teaching, Piano World, recorded piano lesson videos, Shirley Kirsten, summary piano videos

Piano Lesson summary videos cut to the chase

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I used to customarily record segments of lessons in progress that required sensitive editing before I uploaded them to you tube. It was not only a big job, but much of the video time was taken up with students lumbering through difficult passages, needing more settled post-lesson time to sift through teacher corrections, comments. Therefore with careful reflection, I decided to send my pupils a wrap-up of their lesson, (just me demonstrating) to flesh out pivotal practice routines that are meant to improve phrasing/shaping and over all fluidity. (Naturally, structural and theoretical explorations are central framings of the tutorial.)

For J.S. Bach Invention 1 in C, I found myself producing a few step-wise videos that covered sections of interest to the student as these played out over weeks. In a sample video, magnified views of the Subject and its inversion, augmentation, clarified my own approach to the learning process from the ground up, while it brought new personal awakenings. That’s when I realized that a post lesson tutorial was for my benefit as well as the student’s. (A mutual learning journey in progress!)

(Note correction of my playing parallel 6ths in a harmonic examination of Bach Invention 1–end of measure 10 to 11, but saying “10ths”–without doubt, one of my senior moments)

An Online student in North Carolina validated the importance of the wrap-up video.

“I love our lessons, but this added bonus of having you send summary videos is such a wonderful teaching tool. I for one, often sit at my piano with my computer backing sections up over and over.”

Likewise, many of my long distance piano students sit with their laptops perched by the piano, reviewing the main practicing goals derived from their lessons, and because of these video helpers, they make significant progress over the short and long term. The same applies to LIVE students who often forget some of the main points made during their lessons and need concrete reminders to improve quality practicing.

Here’s another recently Recorded Lesson summary that examines the Coda of the Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119 No. 1:

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In conclusion, recorded lesson overviews are of great value to piano students while they create an important challenge to the teacher who must crystallize and fine tune approaches to music learning.

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Pedaling Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthumous

Frederic Chopin

When considering ways to pedal Chopin’s ethereal A minor Waltz, I think back to Stephen Hough and his teacher’s comments about the learning process: “I don’t care how you’re playing the piece now, what I care about is how you’ll play it in 10 years.” (Gordon Green)

Well as a segue way to this posting, I will admit to having a time-nurtured set of revelations about interpretation as well as pedaling the Romantic composer’s masterpiece. Certainly, my current pedaling choices, different from those offered in 2011, are not set in stone and are subject to experimentation and variation. That’s what musical growth is about for students of all levels. And we must constantly remind ourselves of our eternal student status with its attendant learning horizon expansion. (The creative process has no bounds and always preserves an opening for new thoughts and ideas to filter in)

Having opened with no apology for my flux of ideas pertaining the Chopin’s A minor Waltz, I still offer my latest pedaling practices, with a webcam directed at my right foot. Hopefully, this will be a springboard for those embarking on a common, Chopin inspired musical journey.


Play through in Tempo for pedaling:
(Rubato is added in this playing)

A good reference for pedaling techniques of all varieties is Melanie Spanswick’s excellent blog on the subject:

http://melaniespanswick.com/2015/05/19/perfect-pedalling/

My teaching supplement for an Online adult piano student:

adult piano instruction, adult piano lessons, arpeggios, blogmetrics, blogmetrics.org, imagination and piano technique, pianist, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teaching, piano technique, playing scales, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, smoothing out piano technique

Piano Technique: Playing scales without bumps or accents

Laura screem shot B minor scale

It’s common for piano students to divide their scales into well-boxed rhythmic compartments, emphasizing the fundamental beat that interrupts a smooth flowing legato (connecting from note to note). Sometimes players are unaware of their reinforced “beat” counting impulses and need occasional reminders of what’s communicated to the listener. (who happens to be the innocent bystander piano teacher) The most important “listener,” of course, is the player.

Unwanted accents or bumps usually occur when the thumbs, in particular fall down hard on the keyboard during shifts. In most cases, the thumb is not advanced early enough in its passage, or it’s not imagined as a “light” traveler through many octaves. I tend to think “feather” thumb when I play it, or prompt myself to feel the “up” instead of “down” when it arrives.

But the thumb isn’t the only nemesis in scale playing, especially where unwanted emphases disturb an octave by octave flow. Once the cycle of bumps is instigated by the first thumb poke in the opener, (1, 2, 3, 1) the ensuing octaves become infected by a military drum beat on every 5th note in the parade.

No doubt, in the old days, beat-whipping pedagogues insisted that students KEEP in STEP through myriads of octaves, but thankfully these churned out pedantic exercises with predictable accents, have flowed into an awareness of scales as curves and waves within a legato framing.

(This is not to discount the value of recurring accent practice when a completely different landscape is desired–for instance, where measures of a composition demand notational punctuations.)

But in this particular lesson sample, the student embodied the singing pulse after she had consciously eliminated unwanted scale-wide accents.

The other dimension of our exploration was making a smooth TURNAROUND in B minor right where finger 5 in the right hand at the peak, often makes an angular POKE instead of a “loopy” or rounded corner of the scale. Attentive listening, imagination, hearing it before playing it, fused with a physical awareness of the supple wrist to cushion the finger at the top, helped in smoothing out the scale from “roll in” beginning, to loop around and return to home note. The same applied to staccato playing where shape and contouring were equally desired. (Emphasizing a horizontal, breathed through rendering)

All these areas were explored in this short segment. (“Smoothing out B minor scales”)

LINK:

A related mentoring by Face Time transmission

adult piano lessons, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teacher, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten

A Phrase loving exchange between Teacher and Student (Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545)

Tonight’s lesson with Judy had inspiring moments within a phrase sharing interplay. We started out singing the opening measures of the composer’s charming masterpiece, emphasizing a singing line supported by harmonies cresting and dipping into resolutions. The vocal lead-in, threaded through the whole lesson, often rippling into supple wrists, relaxed arms –but it deepened in perspective by an understanding of harmonic rhythm and its influence on phrasing and emotional expression.

Here’s how the lesson unfolded:

Sample of slow practice approach to opening phrases