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Piano Instruction: Debussy Arabesque No. 1 (Video)–and playing through the whole composition

I first came to know this piece when a fifth grader at P.S. 122 in the Bronx was selected to play it at our student assembly. The ebb and flowing beauty of this work was so poignant, that I stored it away in my memory until I was able to personally experience this composition years later as a student.

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The Debussy Arabesque no. 1 is a composition from the Impressionist era of musical composition. (late 19th Century following the Romantic period) Debussy and Ravel were the hallmark French composers of the time.

Apparently, the two Arabesques were the first works Debussy had ever composed for the piano, so they had immense historical significance.

The vocabulary of Debussy’s music is rich in harmonic dimension. The composer uses 7ths, 9ths, 11th and more, while he intersperses whole tone progressions that are so characteristic of his writing.

One can use more pedal when playing Debussy and not worry about perfectly pure sounding lines, though in this particular composition, special care must be taken to shape and contour phrases so they aren’t blurred and over-pedaled.

If density or volume ever applied to musical performance, this piece meets all requirements for a slow entry into notes, and a swimming motion through them.

The video below suggests ways to approach the composition, following the harmonic rhythm, bass line notes, and rolling broken-chord patterns. The player must have relaxed arms, a supple wrist, and be immersed in wave-like musical forms.

I have first played it through from beginning to end before discussing part 1:

First section:

Playing the triplets against 8ths:

Video Part Two:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/piano-instruction-part-two-debussy-arabesque-no-1-teacher-shirley-kirsten-video-2/


RELATED for use of supple wrists and floating arms along with rotation:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/piano-instruction-schumann-arabesque-op-18-using-a-supple-wrist-follow-through-motion-and-parceling-out-voices-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/piano-instruction-avoiding-injuries-using-butterfly-by-edvard-grieg-as-a-slow-practicing-example-video/

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More ideas about Piano Technique and Mental Imagery (Playing into a Bowl of Molasses)

Continuing my practice of videotaping my Thursday evening lesson, I reviewed the footage and discovered some catch words that helped me clarify ideas about technique and fluency.

While it may sound a bit outlandish to think of the piano as a “bowl of molasses,” the image alone helped my adult student approach the keys with more of a delayed entry, avoiding a skimming the surface type of playing that never quite gets the player “grooved” or “connected into” the notes. I like the volume or density of molasses.

Listening to the end of a note, before playing the next through an E minor Arpeggio in tenths, imbues a consciousness about playing deep into the keys, sculpting, feeling the “jello” that Irina Gorin references. It’s fundamental to producing a beautiful singing tone.

Other images or catchwords that I used to aid fluidity of technique: “roll” into the scale; Don’t Anticipate–Be in the here and now; think Slowly through fast passages; feel the rolling turnaround at either end of the scale, “BREATHE.”

So molasses slows things down, and allows for some key depth exploration without a premature release to other notes. This applies to passages in slow, fast or moderate tempo.

Fast Melody

For the rippling strings of 32nds in Allegro that can be practiced in a scale framework, the principle of attentive listening from note to note should be framed as “fast melody.” Melodic contouring blends well with a bowl of molasses even though the latter would seem to drastically slow things down.

But for most piano students who tend to race over the keys losing their breath and composure, some key catchwords might neutralize the frenzy.

In this teaching segment, the student and I are playing the Dominant 7th Arpeggio B, D#, F#, A in contrary motion, Thumbs at B (an octave above middle B)

The next video extracted from the same lesson, draws on more catchwords to aid fluidity of technique: “roll” into the scale; Don’t Anticipate–Be in the here and now; think Slowly through fast passages; feel the rolling turnaround at either end of the scale, “BREATHE.”

Molasses also applies here, because it suggests density, and precludes the tracing paper, skimming on top of the keys touch and tone.