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Adult piano students say and do the darndest things.

I remember Art Linkletter’s show, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” which made me think of a few adult piano students and their hauntingly memorable words.

Yesterday, for example, I was forewarned by a 70-year old pupil, that I should expect a call from her during the night about the key of “F# minor.” What impending crisis was she talking about? Did it have to do with the Melodic form of the scale and its raised notes going up, but not coming down? Was it the temporary shift in fingering or the modal turnaround? I’d concede that the “melodic” was a cliff-hanger on the ascent with its “raised” 6th and 7th notes, but definitely a descending blow-out in its restored “natural” form. Would this duality catapult a student into full-blown despair?

F# G# A B C# D# E# F#
E D C# B A G# F#

The Circle of Fifths for Major and Minor Scales

Wait a minute, my 70-year old, wasn’t assigned the more complicated Melodic minor this week. She was supposed to practice the NATURAL FORM with mirror fingers, 4, 3, and 3,4 on F# and G# in every progressive octave, with 3’s meeting on C# in both hands. We’d spent a few lessons on these reciprocal relationships and symmetries, though she’d planted her 4th finger on two different notes in the same octave, hoping I wouldn’t see the guilty left hand from my vantage point at the second piano. But my peripheral vision had been fine-tuned from hunting down crossed-hand notes with rolling eyeballs.

All humor aside, it’s always difficult to navigate scales that are not strict patterns of two and three-black key groups with thumbs meeting like those of B, F# and C# Major and their “enharmonics” spelled in flats: Cb, Gb and Db. But just about every scale has an internal symmetry that can be explored to best advantage regardless of its location on the Circle of Fifths.

The scales of C, G, D, A and E fall under one heading where the bridge between the octaves has a reciprocal fingering or mirror.

In the case of C Major, the 7th note B crossing over C to D, uses finger numbers 4, 1, 2 in the Right Hand while the left plays 2,1, 4. The anchor finger over which 4 passes in either direction, holds things together.

In previous writings and videos, I also pinpointed where finger number 3 met in both hands, providing another internal organizer.

For the student who was rattled by F# minor, a scale that had a novel identity, we found a different location for mirror fingers, but still a helpful aid.

Another pupil, a US Attorney who’d been chasing robber barons in South Carolina, was worried that he didn’t get to the piano this past week, so he let me know in no uncertain terms by telephone and text message, fax, email, registered mail, certified mail, and just plain 3rd class snail mail, that his upcoming lesson would “just be a practice.” I wondered to myself, had he otherwise feared a public flogging in front of Starbucks?

He had done very well over the years, reconciling the relationship of scale study with his desire to improve his understanding of the Beethoven sonatas and other repertoire.

I’d previously mentioned Ralph Cato, the US Olympic boxing trainer who was my sparring partner for ten minutes following his lessons. Every week he’d use my staircase for athletic training and balance routines. Was I dreaming? Because his coaching was pert and perfect, I’d wished his precise directions were recorded for posterity, though they remain a lingering memory.

Up in the Bay area, a retired lawyer, used her iPhone to capture angles of her hand and fingers that were used as learning reminders between lessons.

I had started to believe these technology based aids were helping her and I had to get with it without resisting change.

She’d admitted that her first piano teacher, a nun in a rural Texas parochial school, had used a ruler to beat her hand into a rigid, arched position.

Oops, maybe I’d mixed her up with my paternal grandpa who ran away from the Cheder in Latvia after his knuckles were skinned with a cat o’ nine tails by the head Rabbi. He’d ditched his Torah lessons.

Oh well, some teachers over generations used this same dastardly approach.

In a few years, none of us would be collecting colorful stories about our piano students. We’d be replaced by micro robots who’d comb the keyboard, electronically marking fingerings for every major and minor scale.

An exaggeration, perhaps.

In retrospect, I should have appreciated middle-of-the-night calls from my 70-year old student. At least I could log them for a growing anthology of pianorama.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/piano-instruction-learning-the-f-minor-scale-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/the-iphone-invades-piano-lessons/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/cato-his-killer-keyboard-and-a-round-of-piano-lessons/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/a-piano-teachers-worst-nightmare/

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Domenico Scarlatti Sonata (Toccata) in D minor, K. 141 with reams of repeated notes (VIDEO)

Domenico Scarlatti never fails to come up with a flashy pyrotechnical escapade that can make or break a player in progress. I know, because I’ve walked the plank with this piece until I was able to reverse my fortune and run with it happily into the horizon. Any number of times those repeated notes, cross hands, whatever, ruled me like a slave, and I had to earn my freedom with a commitment to slow and steady practice. Still, I would never be satisfied with the end result. That’s the way it is with an art form. You really never arrive, but just approach a goal with more success than expected.

How to stack the odds in your favor:

FIRST PRACTICE SEPARATE hands, very slowly. (use RH fingers 3,2,1, 3, 2, 1) except in measure 10: 1,3,2,1,2,1 Know the Harmonic progressions in the BASS.. Label all the secondary dominants, and notice their sequential pattern.

When played in tempo, the repeated notes should be executed in groups of ONE and not THREE. It goes so fast at Presto speed, that anyone daring to take it on better think in circles and not squares. And I mean that literally. Don’t forget to breathe and think slowly through fast paced 16th notes. Opposites attract.

Think flamenco guitar, vibrant Spanish rhythms and you’re off to a flying start. Most of all, ENJOY the passion of this masterpiece and let it SOAR!!

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/trills/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/domenico-scarlatti-sonata-in-a-k-113-i-found-another-pair-of-hands-video/

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Piano Lesson: Step by step Diminished 7th arpeggio warm-up with a 10 yr. old student

I previously discussed diminished 7th chords and how they are constructed as an introduction to an actual warm-up routine. The missing ingredient was the student:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/piano-instruction-playing-diminished-7th-chords-and-arpeggios-video/

In this video, a ten year old pupil fills the bill, romping over the keyboard, joining in a scintillating choreography with her teacher:

Diminished 7th arpeggio sampled: G# B D F

1)Played in open position with resolutions to MAJOR and parallel minor chords
LH–5,3,2,1 RH 1, 2, 3, 5
Parallel and contrary motion routines.

2)Practiced across the keyboard in parallel motion with rhythmic build-up:
G#,B,D,F etc

RH 2 1 2 3 4 etc Arpeggio ends in RH with finger 4
LH 4 3 2 1 4 Arpeggio ends in LH with finger 3 (or optional, 2)

quarters, 3 octaves legato=smooth and connected
8th notes, 3 octaves legato
16th notes 4 octaves legato
staccato 16ths, loud and soft

Advanced students might add 32nds, legato/staccato

Next played in 10ths
Left Hand remains in root position starting on G#
4, 3, 2, 1, 4 etc.
Right Hand starts on B–finger no. 1

B D F G# B etc.
1 2 3 4 1 At the end of arpeggio RH has open position fingers: 1,2,3,4,5
B D F G# B

Same rhythmic build-up applies as in root position, parallel motion

Advanced students can add 32nds, legato/staccato

Dynamics can vary according to instructor’s direction.
Advise lighter approach on faster note values.

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/piano-instruction-five-finger-warm-ups-in-major-and-minor-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/piano-gym-routines-with-my-10-year-old-student/

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A Day in El Cerrito and my return to Fresno

An awesome view from my piano studio in the East Bay

At 6:50 a.m. Monday morning, I climbed aboard Amtrak 711, destination Richmond, on the way to my El Cerrito piano studio in the East Bay.

The weekly trip north was a welcome breather from the tedium of Fresno’s blazing hot sun, 90  degree plus temps into the fall season, and an insalubrious haze over the city.

The good news was that once comfortably seated on the train, I completely forgot the Central Valley and looked forward to a ride with my two traveling buddies, Jim and Jose.

Jim, nearing 60, had a cherubic face and an impish smile. A repository of information, he was a web consultant for a well known, top of the line retailer. Often, during the course of our trip, he excused himself for a couple of minutes to complete a status report, or to reply to his boss via instant message. A hearty fellow with an engineering background and flair for technology, he came equipped with an iPhone and a state of the art Toshiba lap top.

If you asked Jim any technical or scientific question, he was an amazing compendium of information, like a traveling Wikipedia.

One time, Jose asked Jim about microwave cooking and if the rays negatively affected a food’s nutritional value, to which Jim gave him a symposium on ionizing radiation and various levels from safe to unsafe, etc. It was equal to a Physics lecture given at an ivy league college.

Jim also liked to banter about the economy. He dispensed his meticulously detailed descriptions of the financial market, speckled with raw data that would add brain convolutions to novices like myself. If Jim got going on California’s economy, he’d advise residents to bail out and run like the dickens to another state.

Jose was a good listener. An economist in his 40s, originally from Venezuela, he worked for a spice company in Northern California. His stay on Amtrak was briefer than Jim’s since he departed at Stockton and took an awaiting bus to Sacramento.

I enjoyed Jose’s international political perspective and his analysis of countries that had stable as well as failing economies. He could be as convincing as Jim in his own area of expertise.

I sat comfortably beside my two traveling companions offering a totally different perspective on life and the cosmos. I imparted the artistic side of life: a universe of practicing, teaching, and recording.

Jose had informed us that he was going to Paris on business the following Monday and wouldn’t be back on Board Amtrak 711 for two weeks. I felt of a twinge of disappointment because our table would be whittled down to two.

I departed the train at the Richmond station where I hopped over to Bart, going one stop to El Cerrito Del Norte. My studio, within walking distance, was about half way up into the El Cerrito Hills. Homes at the very top overlooked the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. From my more modest studio, well below the peak, I still appreciated a breathtaking landscape as beautiful as a painting with hills and terraced homes.

Before I had officially started lessons in the early afternoon I always took a scenic, steep walk into these very same hills, and then wound my way down to the Ohlone walk way under Bart on my way to the El Cerrito Library. An hour later, after a stop at Subway for a veggie burger I would meander back to the studio for a lesson plan review.

My Bay area students were mostly kids at beginning and intermediate levels. The last lesson, ending at 9 p.m. was with a retired business professional who has an affinity for world wide travel. An eager learner she practiced intensely when she could, though her time at the piano was sparing.

The pieces I’d been teaching up north were Minuets and Sonatinas from the Classical era; a Baroque Rondeau, and some ragtime music by Scott Joplin. The beginners were journeying happily through their Primer Faber Piano Adventures learning the basic symbols and notation of music while the older students enjoyed the works of Bach, Rameau, Mozart, and Latour, a classical era composer.

When lessons were over well past 9 p.m. I had set my alarm clock for a Tuesday departure, regretting the trip back to Fresno where I would be greeted by stifling heat. The ride home would also feel longer without Jim and Jose, as companions. But there was always the chance I would run into someone to strike up a conversation with.

And it happened. As I sat in the dining car munching on a fruit and nut bar, I overheard a woman chatting about her self made “guitar” earrings. I soon learned that she had hand crafted her adornments from guitar picks, painted them and added some fancy attachments.

Before long, I began telling her about myself and the piano and she, in turn, shared her life story. The journey home was definitely quicker than expected.

Before I knew it, I was back in Fresno, with four students on the roster for the late afternoon. Since a few were preparing for an October 30th recital, I thought about you tubing performances as practice motivators. Kabalevky’s “Clowns,” would be a great shoot. A very colorful, short programmatic piece with a circus like backdrop, it had droll harmonies and appealing dissonances.

The next few weeks would be packed with rehearsals, which made life a nice, creative adventure.