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Piano Lesson: An Adult student practices the Presto agitato mvt. Beethoven “Moonlight” Sonata (Video)

The Chromatic scale to the end of movement:

R.K. wished to remain anonymous because of the nature of his work, but, nevertheless, he’s a devoted student of the piano.

I met him at the American Cancer Discovery Shop, on Bullard and West in Fresno about 5 years ago when I was a regular music volunteer, showcasing pianos donated for sale. He introduced himself as a piano lover who had given up his lessons as a teen, and wanted to resume study.

R. brought “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” to his very first lesson, an arrangement that was almost impossible to play, and before long he was immersed in the Classics, studying Beethoven’s “Pathetique” (all movements), Fur Elise, Mozart Sonata, K.545, and the “Moonlight” Sonata, among other challenging compositions.

R.K. is a hard worker and practices diligently except when he’s on the road.

This past evening we decided to wing it and videotape segments of his lesson with the camera pointing in my direction.

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Piano Instruction: Phrasing and singing–A 10 year old beginner plays “Russian Sailor Dance,” Faber Bk. 1 (Video)

Singing is the best model for phrasing. In the learning environment, the student and teacher are on an interactive vocal wavelength experiencing the contour and shape of a musical line. Using syllables of various kinds that reflect the inner density and motion of the music is intrinsic to the activity.

The video attached gives an example of how we translate what’s on the printed page, from crispy staccato to curvy legato to restful cadences (melted resolutions)

Slow motion playing precedes a quicker tempo that is always within the student’s control. Spinning a contoured musical line is the goal in all readings.

RELATED:
The Joy of Teaching Piano to Young Children

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/the-joy-of-teaching-piano-to-young-children-videos/

The Art of Phrasing: Starting the process with beginners:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/the-art-of-phrasing-at-the-piano-start-the-process-with-beginners-two-videos/

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More trills, but bucolic and serene: Scarlatti’s d minor “pastorale” K. 9 (VIDEO)

Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata K. 9 in d minor (the “pastorale”)

The trills in K. 9 are far different than those permeating Scarlatti’s sonata K. 159 in C Major. The latter has a robust horn call opening with a lavish assortment of ornaments. The bright sounding Major tonality creates a dazzling brilliance:

By contrast the d minor Pastorale is wistfully beautiful with its very lovely theme weaving through the sonata, drawing the listener into a bucolic scene. The trills are tapestries not displays of technical prowess.

In the second half of the work, Scarlatti develops material in the opening section, preserving the mood, but darkening the theme before the piece gracefully winds to a close with its final resonating trill.

The d minor sonata, K. 9 is written in 6/8 time, but is felt in lilting two’s, providing an undulating rhythm that matches the mood created.

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

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Why Play Scales?

Scale practicing examples:

***
The Backdrop:

As a young piano student living in New York City, I remember my reluctance to prepare a mandatory scale each week for my lesson. In fact my first teacher had so many students, she always seemed to forget the scale she had assigned to me, so I remained happily in the key of C for most of the year. (Played on all white keys) Little did I know that C Major was a lot more challenging to practice than the keys of B, F# and C# Major that had nice, regular patterns of double and triple black notes that fit the longer fingers perfectly, with the thumbs meeting in between.

Frederic Chopin was known to teach these three black-key scales before all others. Think about how much easier it would have been for a sightless person to play these step-wise passages with braille-like elevated black notes in regular patterns, as opposed to a sea of white notes without reference points.

Now that I’ve grown up to be a piano teacher and you tube poster, I realize the importance of scale study in the growth and development of musicianship.

Scales are about the “feel” and geography of the keyboard. They are about shaping, phrasing, sculpting. Sometimes they’re practiced with catchy rhythms, crisp and detached (staccato) or as smooth and connected, freely spun out, rolling triplets. You can even reverse the direction of the fingers when practicing scales, having them lightheartedly dance together and apart, in shades of loud, soft, and in between. And you might bring out one voice over another, by drawing more intensity from the left hand, then reversing the process, giving the right hand its place in the sun.

Most importantly, scales help us understand where we are in a piece of music because they define the TONAL CENTER of a composition or a section of it.

I wish I had known about the famous Circle of Fifths when I was beginning my piano studies. The Circle maps out the progression of scales (Major and minor) in an orderly fashion with sharps acquired going clockwise, and flats in reverse. As a student moves from the Key of C, to G, to D, to A, etc. he/she learns not only the new sharp that is picked up in the clockwise journey but comes face to face with fingering adjustments that make the smooth playing of various scales more attainable.

Scales, in summary, are part and parcel of piano study and they feed in and out of the piano repertoire. What could be a better entree to the pieces we most cherish than to find the key they’re in, and dance through a few preliminaries.

Example of a Classical era Sonata by Mozart (first movement) permeated by a series of scales.

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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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The iPhone Invades Piano Lessons

Monday, Jan. 24th, was a first! Esmeralda, a retired attorney, who’d been taking lessons from me for a year, entered my El Cerrito piano studio with a bright red iPhone as a sign of the times. A dangling rectangular prism packed with limitless software had replaced her simple gold cross. This latest “look” included a top-heavy accoutrement of questionable value in the piano learning environment.

No sooner than Esmeralda began to play her five-finger warm-ups in parallel and contrary motion, she had requested that I borrow her iPhone to “record” the tricky staccato phase of the exercise (crisp and short articulation) She wanted to take the digital sample home and use it as a crutch. By re-playing it a zillion times, she believed that she would master scales at break-neck speed!

If unsuccessful, she could simply tap the iPhone metronome and watch an animated pendulum, turning herself into a piano-playing robot. If nothing else, she could induce a hypnotic state and toss aside the beat counter.

Esmeralda requested a second sample from me a week later, but not the blood type. She had already done her good deed earlier in the day and was racked with upper back pain from the lengthy drawing at the local Red Cross. I was sure the baggy, top-heavy iPhone draped around her neck had probably made things worse. Nonetheless she took a brief lesson break and did some body gyrations on my J.C. Penney, wine colored, tufted bench. This was another first!

After she reluctantly trudged back to the piano bench, I agreed to dish out a performance of Alexander Tansman’s “Arabia” only if she promised to internalize my phrasing, and not upload the recording for profit. While this was the farthest thing from her mind, she realized as an attorney that my TOS had to be met.

All this technology was dizzying.

I was born of another generation. Growing up listening to great opera singers, violinists and pianists on 33 LPs and occasionally on 78s, I knew nothing of analogs, MIDIS, DATs and the rest, and as a student at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, I was sent off one morning to the WNYC F.M. studios to record one selection for broadcast. A reel to reel tape recorder grabbed the lion share of space behind the glass as engineers tweaked it.

All I can remember was having played like an ice-cube. Stricken with performance anxiety, my Chopin Nocturne died on the vine without even a whimper. Perhaps a modern-day note splicer would have eradicated the occasional clunkers, but what about the emotionless reading. Was there a 21st Century remedy? I would e-mail “support@…” for an answer, or text message on the ride home from El Cerrito.

Decades earlier, before I had entered the Oberlin Conservatory as a Freshman, my piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, had helped me put together my audition tape using her reel to reel that captured the Schubert Sonata in A minor with gorgeous definition. Who could ask for more?

In 1992, KVPR, our local PBS radio station brought the double cylinder monsters to Northwest Church where they recorded soloists who had performed on the esteemed Keyboard Concerts Series. From my standpoint the results were crystal clear, though the sworn techie groupies would argue that digital, mp3, MIDI, and DAT were the winds of the present and future.

I recalled an ancient New Yorker Magazine cartoon depicting a classroom with 25 tape recorders of the old variety and one lonely teacher gazing upon these from behind her desk. George Orwell couldn’t have illustrated it better in 1984. Now well into the Millennium, technology had taken over, and learning by iPhone, import, plug-in, or download had displaced the well schooled, hard-working instructor at the head of the class.

Sometimes I felt like a teacher put out to pasture. My students could log onto You Tube and watch an amateur type out Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on a 61-key bell and whistle type keyboard, with a blown up graph showing how many times “E” was played in the course of a musical page. Or better yet, they could download an animated piano that hummed along at programmed frequencies. You could tap your way to pianistic perfection with a “PLAYING The PIANO in a FLASH” DVD.

I decided to go with the flow, and allow my students their iPadian idiosyncrasies. If they wanted me to record a few snatches on the iPhone, or transmit whole pieces of music to them as zip files I would get with the times.

Otherwise, I would stick to my principles and lead a monastic life of pianistic purity. I’d never even allow myself to steal an iPhone, or sneak it into the concert hall to record a full length recital of my favorite pianist, no matter how great the temptation!

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

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Music Comes from the Heart

Musical expression arises from the deepest part of ourselves so as we relax into the here and now, focused on the flow and shape of phrases, our arms, wrists and fingers work together as an ensemble to produce an artful outpouring. Mildred Portney Chase, author of Just Being at the Piano describes such an approach to music making that is central to my own philosophy. She explores the singing tone and its connection to the heart. She awakens pianists to deep breathing and experiencing the ebb and flow of music as it happens. Technique, phrasing, fingering, shaping, sculpting the musical line in slow motion, gradually nursed to tempo, make musicians out of pianists.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of listening through every stage of the learning process. Evelyn Glennie, a celebrated percussionist, puts great emphasis on “whole body listening” in her many presentations and forums, the most notable taking place in Monterey, California. Even a deaf, world-renowned performer such as Glennie gives testimony to listening from the tips of her fingers to her toes, not to mention every inch of her flesh and bones. You can experience her side-by-side expressions of phrases that arise from two different attitudes: one revealing an emotional and physical turn off to volumes, density, and musical shape– the other, open to the unfolding of a musical mosaic as it’s spun out.

Rather than drilling students to methodically find the right notes when they approach their pieces and technical studies, it’s best to lay emphasis on singing the musical line as a phrase would unfold. It can be done an octave or so lower in the range of the pupil’s voice. Another approach is to use the vitality of the dotted-eighth/16th rhythm to energize the flow of a scale as an example, allowing the student a built in timed delay to anticipate the next finger. The delay should not be a halt, but rather a spring forward motion of flexible wrists. There is always follow-through in all playing.

The most important ingredients of studying piano, are to be open and responsive to the heart, body, mind connection in music-making and to enjoy the experience as its own reward.