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J.S. Bach Invention No. 13 in A minor: Early learning phase Deep Key Connection

Many piano students tiptoe through a parceled voice reading of a new composition instead of choosing a relaxed, behind tempo approach that allows a deep, dead weight COMMITTED connection into the keys.

Thinking that the notes are strange and unfamiliar they distance themselves from phrase shaping, and tend to breeze quickly through a score in a hit or miss, skimming-the-keys fashion.

In my own first stage learning process that I share with a crop of enthusiastic adult pupils, I establish a gravity-centered relationship to notes, and think of them in groups rather than as pinpointed focal arrivals. (One must look for key relationships, symmetries, sequences among what might first look like a dizzying display of double beamed notes, for example.)

In Bach’s two-part Invention in A minor, the very character of its broken chord Subject, introduces the concept of unraveled harmony with a rolling contour. So why not absorb the musical nature of the figure from the outset instead of delaying its absorption in a subsequent learning stage. (The concept of SUBJECT and overlap or imitation in two voices, is an important foundational dimension of early assimilation that should be imparted in a form framed introduction)

Scan

If tempo is attuned to the readiness of a student, and not pushed beyond his ability to assimilate what’s on the page, (fingering included) then musicality and centering can co-exist side-by-side without delay.

What we first hear in our own practicing makes an impact on each day’s perception of the music and its subsequent growth. To dryly learn the notes, without including phrase contouring and projection at the outset, sets back the clock, exposing the ear to what we do not intend to communicate in the final analysis.

Play through in tempo:

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Learning J.S. Bach’s B minor Invention No. 15 (BWV 786) in baby steps

Both embedded videos track my step-by-step approach to learning this beautiful composition.

In the part one Instruction, I play slowly through the right hand to explore the subject, its articulation, fingering, execution of ornaments, and follow-up strand of 16th notes. Pieces of the subject, or motifs, therein, are identified along with any treatments by inversion. Modulations of the subject or its fragments are clearly mapped.

The same holds for a separate scrutiny of the left hand (Part 2 Instruction) with its tie-in to the subject stated initially in the right hand. All the strands, relationships, ideas borrowed, in part or in full from the subject and what follows, must be made conscious. An awakened ear and alert mind fuse together in this process of assimilating the piece. This is before the two voices will become interactive: independent and co-dependent at the same time. (Counterpoint)

Part One:

Part Two:

In Tempo:

Bach Invention in B minor p 1

p 2 Bach Invention in B minor

p. 3 revise Bach invention in B minro

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Performing a piece–Getting it right (all the notes) OR really getting it right (the phrasing and nuance) VIDEOS

For many pianos students, playing 100% perfect notes, with no clunkers is goal in itself.

They breathe a sigh of relief looking back on a video of a recital, where they managed to “get it right,” counting correct notes from beginning to end. One even managed to play note perfect while intermittently eyeing her family seated in the third row.

But playing rises above myriads of notes permeating a composition.

Videotaping at Piano Lessons

In the piano studio, which is some ways a learning lab, we try to be as objective as possible in our review of playing from week to week, keeping in mind that music is a form of communication from a heartfelt place–It’s a language of phrasing and nuance.

In this frame of reference, note perfect playing without beautiful phrasing, nuance, dynamics, etc. can leave a listener, if not the player, out in the cold, disconnected from music’s warm embrace.

In the creative process, most performing musicians strive to integrate the notes into a beautiful mosaic of well spun phrases, creating a space where inspiration reaches beyond the artist into the audience of listeners.

Embracing a mantra of art for it’s own sake, with a sense of its feeding the soul and spirit with the nourishment it needs, I set out to videotape one of my students reading the Bach Invention 13 in A minor.

Over a period of two weeks time we reviewed a few of her playings and together commented on them.

At the last piano lesson, Claudia recorded the Invention three times, with a gap in between to discuss what we both decided needed improvement

In this way teaching was not dispensed from one individual to another, but became a shared learning experience.

What it basically came down to, was “letting go” of the notes that she had learned well, and instead, thinking big shapes, with relaxed, swinging arm motions.

We talked about the dualism of the Subject with its arpeggiated opener in legato 16ths followed by staccato notes in 8ths. To thread this MOTIF throughout the Invention, wherever it occurred, in one voice (Right Hand) or the other (Left Hand) was a priority. This is the hallmark counterpoint or dialog of voices that Bach cultivates.

I prompted her to shape the arpeggios with a round, rolling motion of her arms, using supple wrists, and to play the staccato notes, press lift, but with definition.

Our collective goal was to “let the piece out of an encapsulated space.”

This last of her playings is on the way and will continue to grow with each passing week. (She is rehearsing behind tempo)

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Like my students, I’m engaged in the same process, videotaping myself myriads of times, stepping back and assessing what I have to do to rise above the notes to reach a spiritual place in my music-making.

And by example I recorded the same Bach two-part Invention in A minor many times, but left these two to compare. (played on my Haddorff) In one sample, I inadvertently left the mic down on the rug a few yards from the piano which created a timbre that is quite Baroque. The other had the mic up higher, front and center.

I still need to refine my own performances, and watching these on camera gives me a clearer direction to take in the future.

Hopefully, this process of examination by videotaping in the piano studio, will be of help to other teachers and students as they grow and learn together. It’s worth the effort.

Link of interest:

“The book’s substance is rewarding and refreshing. He speaks of a topic we cannot hear enough of: learning. I think everyone will benefit from the call of William Westney’s book: activate your minds, breathe life into music, dare to make and learn from mistakes, and ‘get back in touch with your magical three-year-old self.'”
– David Schwartz,
American Record Guide

Televised Interview with William Westney:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jrlsLGwi0w

Shared ideas about learning Bach Invention 13 in A Minor

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/tutorial-shared-ideas-about-practicing-j-s-bach-invention-13-in-a-minor-bwv-784-videos/

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Tutorial: Shared ideas about practicing J.S. Bach Invention 13 in A minor (BWV 784) Videos

As I observed an 11-year old student work on this Invention at lessons, I came up with some ideas to improve the performance landscape. These included an awareness of the dualism of rolling arpeggiated 16ths and detached 8th notes in the opening. More often than not, the arpeggios can sound too flat if the whole arm and flexible wrist aren’t enlisted. And it’s easy to short shrift the 8ths and not be attentive to their definition and resilience that permeate the Invention. The subject extends from the opening arpeggio through the 8ths and is in a counterpoint relationship of two voices.

I have an older play-through of this composition rendered on my Steinway piano that I’ve added as a second video. I should really catch up, and play on my Haddy Haddorff so it matches up with the piano used in this lesson.

Approach: Separate hands, shape phrases, experience each voice independently before interacting with the other. (Realize the dynamism of each voice as it relates, overlaps, and is engaged in dialog/counterpoint)

Slow, behind tempo practicing is recommended. Be aware of sequences, modulations, resolutions, and the drive to the peak of the piece where the voices/hands converge starting in measure 19.

Play through on the Steinway grand:

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Piano practicing, performance, and gym routines: Always Reach Beyond! (Video, Bach Invention 8 in F)

I take my inspiration from the two Irina/Irena-s, each pronouncing their names slightly differently. Irina Gorin is the ingenious piano teacher from Carmel, Indiana via the Ukraine, and Irena Orlov is from Washington D.C.’s Levine School of Music via Leningrad. They both inspire students to explore and draw out their deepest creative expression.

That’s what we should all be doing in our personal practice sanctuaries. I certainly try to evaluate and re-evaluate my own performances, whether they’re recorded for myself to review, or for You Tube. Regardless of having an audience of one, or many, the process of learning from experience, examining phrasing, physical comportment, and anything that might have intruded upon a free flow of physical and emotional expression (there’s that word again) is worth noticing.

That’s why I believe that videotaping yourself is an amazing teaching tool– one that can spur musical growth if you, the player, can distance yourself enough from the recorded sample to make some valuable observations. In other words, don’t be hard on yourself. Look at the mirror of your playing like it was someone else’s image– Think of a friend, whom you would not harshly criticize. Underline “O” for objectivity.

This type of mirrored self-analysis is the next best thing to having a teacher present looking over your shoulder. Or maybe you don’t want anyone encroaching on your space. Give yourself a breather and do a little self-assessment.

If you can spot places in your recording where something went awry, and not necessarily a glut of conspicuously wrong notes, you can try to pinpoint a physical problem, where perhaps a tense arm or wrist got in the way. You might remember at this moment, that you lost your breath and became anxious. Every aspect of one’s mental state and respiration factor into a total performance. Musical inspiration or intuition are not enough to get a pianist from the first measure to the final cadence. There must be a pacing, just like athletes know. Pianists are part athlete, part Terpsichore or any nyphm in the forest you choose to be–and part split personality when they’re playing. Vladimir Horowitz talked about fire and ice states when tackling the warhorses.

Being attuned to a relaxed physical state, in any case, works in a player’s favor

Which reminds me that today, a few hours before I attempted to record the whip-lashing, nerve-splitting, Bach Invention 8 on my iMac, I dashed off to Bally’s Gym, with my boots on, no less, and did a self-instigated photo shoot. Actually I aimed the silly Sony Cybershot at the mirror, not realizing that the flash (an automatic setting) would obliterate me, like I was blown up in one of those superhero video games. But at last, I survived once I knocked out the flash.

My goal was to get a pic of myself working out on the Gravitron where I build upper body strength and feel a good workout for my arms. It’s really helps leverage weight into the keys, so I strongly recommend it.

Here’s a fleeting look: I set the weight at 70, which means I’m pulling about 45 pounds. I follow up with 30-minutes of leg press, deep breathing all the way through.

Not to forget, that behind every performance, especially one being recorded, there’s a cat lurking in the wings ready to pounce at the wrong moment, sending any and all music to the trash! So make sure when you sit down to videotape yourself, that your feline is not permitted on the piano, in the piano, or near the piano. In this instance, Aiden was about to leap to the window sill to make his favorite racket, pawing the blinds.

RELATED:
Tutorial on this Invention 8, BWV 779–using a spring forward wrist motion:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/piano-instruction-j-s-bach-invention-no-8-in-f-bwv-779-using-a-spring-forward-wrist-and-hand-rotation-two-videos/

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Piano Lesson Excerpts: Practicing the Bach Invention 13 in A minor (Videos)

This morning, Claudia, 11, practiced the J.S. Bach A minor Invention behind tempo, (in slow motion) to improve her musical/technical understanding of the composition.
She worked on “weaving”/shaping the main idea or subject, which is a broken chord figure. The interaction between hands or voices (there are two them) was a particular focus, as it represents a dialog or two-part counterpoint. Nuances, dynamics, and progression to the climax were explored in detail, with improvement being made by the lesson’s conclusion.

The student will do her follow-up practicing at home keeping in mind what we worked on today.

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Piano Instruction: J.S. Bach Invention no. 8 in F, BWV 779, using a spring forward wrist and hand rotation, Two Videos

I introduced my tutorial by playing a snatch from Edna-Mae Burnam’s Dozen a Day, Book 1, no. 3 “Hopping.” It was the springboard for the wrist motion I use when playing Invention 8 in F Major.

I also enlist a hand rotation for a stream of 16ths in descending sequence, measures 4-6, and wherever else this configuration occurs in the course of the composition.

The Subject or main idea of Invention 8 is explored in a separate hands, slow practice approach, and I include the devices Bach employs in the Development section on p. 2. The counterpoint or dialog and overlap of voices are fleshed out in my final playing in tempo.

I had previously rendered the Invention at a slower speed, but preferred a brisker tempo.

Tutorial:

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RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/revisiting-j-s-bachs-invention-1-in-c-bwv-772-video/