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Piano Instruction: A Beautiful Mozart Minuet in F Major, K. 5 that enlists the dipping wrist (Videos)

I stumbled upon this musical gem when I purchased Mozart, 14 of his Easiest Pieces (Alfred, publisher) Not at all deceived by the description “easiest,” I read through the collection knowing the challenge of interpreting the master’s music with expression and refinement. It should be noted that this Minuet was composed by Mozart at the age of 5 or 6, under the guidance of his father, Leopold.

The works of Mozart whether dating from his early or later years require a singing tone, adherence to various articulations relative to the Classical style of the time.

The F Major Minuet showcased in the video has a particular vitality when it journeys from the opening triplet figure to a string of after beat 16th notes (grouped in 3s) The execution of these repeated figures requires a forward moving, supple wrist as I demonstrated in the tutorial.

What stands out in this composition and makes it more unique than minuets of the time (including Mozart’s own output) is the glaring dualism of triplets and 16ths. One can say that dividing the quarters into triplets and then quickly having underlying eighths or 16ths to the quarters provide engaging musical moments. It gives the piece a sparkling vitality.

This particular rhythmic dichotomy was so appealing that it wooed me to learn the composition in short order.

Here’s the updated instruction:

NOTE: In the B section, where there is a Development, I still use the same fingering in the triplet scale sequence as the beginning of section A–i.e. thumbs for every three notes. (NOT a 2 on the third triplet as indicated in the score in Part B, first measure)

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The Piano Universe of Discussion Boards, Digital Feedback, and Self-analysis (Video)

I love to scan the Boards at Piano World, UK Forums, Piano Street, Piano Addict, and other stop-off points such as My Music Life Blogspot and Color in my Piano to get a feel for the concerns of piano students at all levels of study. This form of feedback that flows in and out of cyberspace is invaluable given a growing population of individuals who are immersed in their piano practicing in solitary confinement. Many don’t have teachers and depend on the Boards for guidance as well as kinship.

Blogging about hot topics

On the day I had dismissed the metronome as a viable practicing tool, I received a well articulated opposing opinion from the lively hostess of My Music Life Blogspot. A cellist, she posted about her piano studies with refreshing candor.

From her Cybersphere to mine, came the following:

“I have to confess, I love practicing with the metronome — but not using it as a whip to get faster. I like to set it at very slow tempos so that I really understand and feel the beat physically — main pulse, subdivisions, and so on. And of course, within that try to play musically and with expression. Without doing at least some of this, it is so easy to deceive yourself that you are maintaining the tempo you want. The other benefit of using it is that you don’t have to even think about where the beat is and can concentrate on other things.

“Amateur musicians I know seem to hate it, though. It’s sad, because it’s really one of the best tools for self-teaching. That, and a good digital recorder.”

My Music Life Blogspot’s last few words jumped out at me.

I could endorse her use of the digital recorder in the piano learning environment, with a specific recommendation to aim the camcorder at the hands, with an intent to capture raw, uncensored musical footage.

The process amounted to mirroring back what transpired in auditory space, not necessarily matching up with what the player thought he had he heard while playing. The revelation, to be helpful, might require a bit of self-protective depersonalization.

Self-analysis would spring from this face-to-face confrontation with musical reality. It would require the piano student to step back, listen, evaluate, and notice what needed improvement.

Perhaps a series of conspicuously accented notes might have disturbed the flow of legato phrases meant to be played smooth and connected. Or a poky, percussive sound might have registered loud and clear on a videotaped replay. These alerts reminded a player to re-do, refine, and revisit a passage or two before the next take.

Action, Roll it!!

I admit that last night, I sat in the eye of my Sony Camcorder for hours, trying to successfully up the tempo of my current obsession, Chopin’s Black Key Etude.

While letting the tape roll for its 60 minute run, I played through the lightning fast composition time and again, only to tumble like Jill, down a hill of careening octaves at the end. Did I really want to re-live my own personal calamity on re-play? Well, I capitulated, because out of 25 attempts, two squeaked through as possibly satisfying playings. If I had to grit my teeth through the other mishaps, I would still learn from them.
Self-analysis turns out to be the best friend of the piano student between lesson times. And for those of us engaged in an addictive learning process fed by our love for the piano above all other instruments, we can spoon feed ourselves some words of wisdom with the help of digital technology:


1) Notice what jumps out at you as not pleasing to your ears. What doesn’t sit well as an auditory experience, will usually spill into the visual realm. You will inevitably SEE something about your playing that affected the sound.

Log your observations on paper or store in your memory bank.

Experiment with a set of adjustments that might yield a better playing outcome. Explore what works, and what doesn’t.

2) If a passage was tangled or disabled, decide if it was a fingering issue. If so, revisit and revise.

3) Cue into any tension in your arms, wrists, or fingers that might have glitched a bunch of notes. With a reminder to step back as an audience member would, be sure not to vilify yourself. Negative reinforcement has no place on the learning stage.

If excess tension locked a passage, go back and try to enlist an image to relax yourself. Let go of your arms and wrists, feeling like a marionette dangling from puppet strings.

Sing through passages and shape with your arms.

The vocal model, even embraced by a student with an imperfect voice, can help contour a line, in the company of relaxed, deep breathing.

Go back to the camcorder with a raised consciousness and re-record, re-evaluate, and re-integrate.

4) Check the tempo of your video sample. Was the playing too fast? Did it “choke” passages you could more easily navigate with a slower approach? Was the pace erratic, not consistent throughout the piece? Such rhythmic related irregularities will come into sharp focus as the camcorder rolls through replay. Taking the information offered and processing it in baby steps is part of the analytical process.

5) What about dynamics? Did you get a digital composite of flat liners, or was your range of louds (fortes) and softs (pianos) fleshed out? Follow through on what needs amending, and make those revisions. Record again with an awakened consciousness, and re-assess.

Finally, as living proof of an eternal student (me) who relies on my digital recorder to flesh out what needs improvement, I’m coming out of the closet with my latest reading of Chopin’s Black Key Etude, Op. 10, No. 5.

In the aftermath of God knows how many crash and burns captured in living color, I decided that this piece had reached a technical and musical plateau but would grow incrementally in the future. (It’s about 20 seconds behind tempo)

If I could toss my Ego aside, I would share out-takes that would be amusing and ring chords of recognition among piano players. But for the moment, I’ll reserve those for another time.

In the last analysis, I allowed myself more than a birds-eye view of what was going on through each playing, assimilating what I saw and heard as my reference for improvement. It amounted to having a spying, in-house teacher, 24/7

If you’re a piano student taking instruction, or one who doesn’t receive weekly lessons, the time you spend alone in your individual practice environment is probably best utilized in a mirrored process of self-evaluation. So grab the video camera and keep it as your steady musical companion.

Recommended Link:

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Piano Instruction: Flexible wrist, rolling forward motion for shaping groups of notes in Burgmuller’s “Inquietude” (VIDEO)

I’ve chosen Burgmuller’s E minor “Inquietude” (Restlessness) from the composer’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces, to demonstrate a spring forward movement of the wrist used with groupings of three slurred 16th notes that permeate the selection.

I also enlist syllables, “da-lee-dle” to assist with shaping the 3-note figures.

The Schirmer edition is below. I use Palmer/Alfred which doesn’t have accented notes in the bass, just staccato entries.

(Note that the Left Hand plays through the treble rests on the first and second beats) “da-lee-dle” refers to the three note right hand, slurred figures that occur between beats.

TREBLE LINE: rest da-lee-dle, rest da-lee-dle rest da-lee-dle rest daleedle, etc

There’s a slight leaning on the second syllable (lee)

Practicing should begin in slow motion.

(When all is said and done the piece will fly by rapidly, but just the same, in the fast tempo, there must be phrase shaping, an understanding of harmonic rhythm, and a supple wrist motion propelling the music along)

The Left hand triads are springboards into the three note 16th figures so the interdependency is evident. Chordal resolutions from Sub-dominant to Tonic, or from Dominant to Tonic suggest a shaping down. Think LEAN/resolve in these measures.

In the video I demonstrate the need for a supple wrist that should move forward through the three note 16th groupings. It should start its motion from a lower position in order to move forward. (but not too low) If the wrist is too high, there’s no room to go forward. That’s why self analysis is an important component of practicing.

I often recommend starting with the Bass (left hand), being aware of the flow and resolution of chords. The tonic “e” minor chord followed by the sub-dominant “a” minor (in second inversion) suggest a LEAN on the sub-dominant and a relaxation to the tonic (e minor)

In the G Major middle section, a G Major chord is followed by a G diminished chord, which suggests a slight leaning on the diminished and a relaxation to the G Major triad.

After concerted slow practicing, a faster tempo should be approached GRADUALLY.

Even up to tempo, wrist pliancy is always needed and the forward motion remains, though attenuated.

Intertwined with the technical demands of this piece, is the requirement to play expressively in the Romantic genre.

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Making Pianistic Compromises: Schubert Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90

I was struck by a post at Piano about making compromises when playing difficult passages.

The writer referred to a technically challenging Chopin work:

“But I simply cannot manage to get every note in on the two long runs, the first of which comes on measure 15. When trying to play to speed, I just keep missing a note no matter how long or hard I practice it, and no matter what fingering I try. So I’ve just decided to play it the way I can. It sounds good enough, but not as good naturally as it would if I could manage it as written.”

I chimed in with my own response among a thread of others:

“The way I look at it, you do the best you can in the present, and hopefully in the future, as you grow in technical directions, things might change. A passage that reaches a plateau, doesn’t have to stay there forever. I like to think philosophically for the long term. Lord knows there are nearly impossible feats in lots of music.. Liszt, especially.. and Chopin as well. As for Scarlatti, one can go through the hoops, and crash, but still take another shot at it.”

My perspective remains level-headed when it comes to impossibly challenging passage work, ornaments, crossed-hand death defying leaps, and the rest.

For example, last night I double dared myself to YOU TUBE Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90, a composition with a relentless stream of ultra fast notes that make dizzying twists and turns at every TURN before they spill into a contrasting middle section that requires an instant mood swing. Before you know it, you gotta shift gears and be back IN the driver’s seat for the final spin around the track. There’s even an acceleration (accelerando) at the very end, that rivals the last lap of the Indy 500.

Oops, I didn’t mean to imply that this Schubert piece is anything like a NASCAR event, but for some who try to tackle it, a RACE to the finish line is a good comparison.

But here’s where we separate the men from the boys.

Schubert is about MELODY so no matter what break neck speed is chosen by a player, the melodic line must be shaped and preserved at all costs, not rendered as a moto perpetuo, Czerny type exercise.

With the Impromptu I think of the words, “Romantic music” as the framer of phrases.

So before I tweaked my tripod angling the camera toward the piano, I embedded my mantra, “fast melody–slow down, fast melody–slow down into my consciousness, hoping it would work a paradoxical effect.

Like I tell my students all the time, “Think fast when playing slow, and in reverse when playing fast.”

Did my mantra work?

In some places it did, but not in others, and that’s where the “pianistic compromise” issue comes full circle back to where we started in this conversation.

To sum up:

Accept where you are, and know it’s temporary because there’s never an end in sight, only a new beginning.

RELATED: A Slow Practice Approach to the Schubert Impromptu
in Eb, Op. 90

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The MTAC Celebration Festival, Anna Magdalena Bach, and Meeting Keith Snell (VIDEO)

Last weekend I journeyed to the Fresno State University Music Building to monitor Room 1 for the Celebration Festival sponsored by the Fresno branch of the Music Teachers Association of California.

Every February students from our city and surrounding areas are invited to play one or two pieces in a selected cubicle, (basically a music department practice room) that serves as a mini stage beside an audience of one. A branch teacher sits nearby with a simple evaluation form, jots down notes about each performance, and renders an overall rating of “Fair” to “Superior.” Each category has assigned points.

“Excellent” and “Superior” ratings bestow a handsome engraved Medallion, while only those earning “Superiors” play on one of many ongoing Honors recitals that are scheduled over the course of two weekend days. No one goes home empty handed. Lovely grand piano pins are more than a booby prize.

This year I had ten participating students, and most received the coveted Medallion that was tightly embraced like an Oscar, minus the heart-wrenching acceptance speech.

Nayelli, age 10, managed to eek out a “Superior” for her dazzling Performance of “The Juggler” by Faber, Lesson Book One. And with her honor came the hot news that rippled through my studio like lightning. First thing I heard from Sakura and Mai, two sisters who’d performed selections by J.S. and J.C. Bach at the Festival, was that “Nayelli” had scored a victory at the mini musical Olympiad. While all three students proudly wore their colorful ribbons with attached medals, the HONORS recital appearance seemed to carry the most prestige.

While I enjoyed swishing down the hallway from time to time with envelopes delivered to the front registration desk from an adjudicating teacher, I was most excited by a serendipitous event that occurred in the break room where mounds of croissants and bowls of fruit awaited Festival helpers.

Who should turn up but Keith Snell, composer, performer, and editor of the very prestigious Fundamentals of Theory course, not to mention a host of other publications including Selections from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook.

Snell’s Anna Magdalena edition was definitely a significant improvement over Schirmer’s, the mainstay of most piano teachers back in the 50’s and 60’s.

By a quirk of fate, I’d been practicing a few Minuets and Marches from the collection, and appreciated Snell’s thoughtful editing. Teaching these pieces to fledgling students was made easier by having enlightened phrase marks, intelligent fingerings, and a dynamic landscape that conformed with the style of the Baroque era.

But I wondered what this renowned individual was doing in Fresno? I would have tied his visit to judging a local solo competition.

I quickly learned that Keith had moved to the Valley and was actively involved in our Branch’s diverse musical activities. On the side, he flew out of the area to his sanctuary in England with stop-offs in other European venues–the life of a jet setting musician.

Following our convivial conversation, I paused to hear Nayelli play “The Juggler” in the big university recital hall before returning to my monitor post in Room 1.

The Festival ended at 4:30 p.m. while students trickled home with their awards.

By Thursday following Celebration 2011, I had already received a thick manila envelop with Certificates, and detailed performance reviews to share with my students. All but one had received an Excellent or Superior rating, which showed a curve of improvement since last February’s MTAC Celebration.

In any case, my pupils plan to be back next year, each one hoping to earn a coveted gold cup worth a minimum of 15 points. It may not be an Oscar to most, but for these kids, it comes pretty close.

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Teaching Chopin’s Gb Etude, Op. 25 no. 9: Think pogo sticks, “rollaleedles,” and elbow revolutions

Sometimes a piano teacher has no choice but to talk in silly made up syllables while drawing on playground analogies to get a particular piece off the ground.

The Chopin Etude Op. 25 no. 9 in Gb was no exception.

An adult student who revisited this warhorse responded positively to “rollaleedles,” elbow taps, and revolutions of her arm that put a whole new spin on the piece.

“Pogo stick” images also went a long way to ignite the opening motif of 4 notes grouped by twos, ending short and crisp. They bounced across the musical landscape then twirled around in a flourished ending that boosted the student’s confidence.


A piano teacher who runs out of ideas to advance a composition along, can enliven the lesson environment with images of pogo sticks, ping pong balls, trampolines, plus a supply of self concocted swinging syllables that include “roll-a-lee-dle,” “swirl-a-lee-dle and “swoosh-a-lee-dle.”

If you can think of any more, let me know.


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What can you do with a Performance-Piano Degree?

Face the music! Most new Conservatory grads with fancy Bachelor of Music, Performance-Piano Degrees bound in leather must improvise when catapulted into the competitive job market. With only a tiny space on the world stage reserved for budding soloists, many aspiring concert pianists will teach privately, wait tables, babysit, or become high school choir accompanists.

In my case, upon Oberlin graduation, I spent nearly ten years working at the New York State Department of Labor, starting out as an Employment Interviewer in the Household Division. In my spare time, I schlepped around the city giving piano lessons.

My first students, Annie, 7 and Naomi, 5, who lived in an upscale apartment complex off Washington Square in the West Village, benefited from my idealism and determination to be uniquely creative.

Instead of relying on John Thompson’s pixie popular primer series with its middle C fixation, I decided to have my fledglings create their own compositions from scratch. They would write short poems with simple rhyme schemes and we would scan them as iambics or trochees, and from there pick out five-finger positions and create melodies. Before long, I had composed a book of enriched accompaniments that kept our creative juices flowing.

Eventually, I experimented with Robert Pace’s materials that continued to invite sound explorations as it encouraged transpositions, but my job at the State, reigned in my teaching, and I was pressured to become a weekend private teacher in my tight quarters on West 74th and Amsterdam.

The daily stint at the Household Office, though energy draining, afforded a colorful work backdrop. Each day I sent mostly African American and Latina maids into hostile work environments on the East and West Side of Manhattan and then fielded follow-up calls from angry employers about missing booze in liquor cabinets, scratched furniture tops, over-polished, gummy piano racks, shattered kitchen tiles and mysterious bathroom puddles.

These complaints forced my involvement in a fact-finding investigation, not my favorite undertaking.

With Form ES.2 in hand, I called the accused applicant to my desk from the peanut gallery that was stacked with myriads of maids, some literally smelling like Ajax (We had several complaints about one particular worker whom I ardently defended) Who cared whether she over-used scouring powder? Other people layered themselves with perfume or the latest deodorant on the market.

In fact, “Jane” still had a contingent of fans who always requested her.

Inevitably, she got off, was put on an ES3.22, watch hold, a form of probation, and continued to saturate homes with her occupational odors.

In the meantime, I was trying to complete my Master’s Degree in Music Therapy and to this end, invented a cardboard “scanner” decorated with an assortment of Employment Service forms. I cut a horizontal opening measured to a book line of print that allowed me to roll it up and down over my course work text so I could surreptitiously read large chunks of material.

With an understanding supervisor/budding Romance novelist who had me proof read her unedited chapters on the sly, I was able to arrange time off the job to complete a Music Therapy related Internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital on W. 14th Street.

For three afternoons a week I would design musical activities for short-term alcoholic and psychiatric patients enlisting the musical philosophy of Karl Orff, and at the end of my service I had published a paper in Hospital and Community Psychiatry, a Journal of the American Psychiatric Association that summarized the techniques used to improve social interaction skills. These included the use body percussion (clapping, snapping fingers, tapping knees), singing activities and individualized, private piano lessons, etc.

Psychiatric Services — Table of Contents (26 [7])
Shirley M. Smith. USING MUSIC THERAPY WITH SHORT-TERM ALCOHOLIC AND PSYCHIATRIC PATIENTS. Hosp Community Psychiatry 1975 26: 420-421 [PDF] …

Naturally, with a publication to my credit and a new Degree in hand that was shipped to my office in a hollow tube resembling a toilet paper holder, I thought I was destined to acquire a music-related full-time job.

But like most others holding the same piece of parchment with Gothic lettering, there was no work out there for me. Music Therapy was not regarded with as much respect in those days as it is today. Art Therapy had far more clinical standing.

My relocation to California definitely advanced my private teaching career, though it was not enough to put food on the table. For supplementary income, I subbed for the Fresno Unified School District in every subject known to mankind, and as a side bar, I helped organize substitutes into a union because of dirt-low wages spanning ten years. This effort succeeded and carved out a new legacy for those of us who toiled in the trenches, and spurred much needed change in the work environment. Teacher Magazine and Education Week put Fresno subs on the map in articles about their victory against all odds. (“Substitutes Unite!” October, 1999 by David Hill) Among these fighting back subs, were a few piano teachers, most likely with performance degrees.

So what does a music major do in the long term with such a prize-less piece of paper?

On this final note, I can’t overlook my high school choir accompanying experience that stole precious practice time otherwise devoted to the works of Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and the other masters.

I won’t forget the day a pile of Christmas music with five endings, “da capo al fine,” and an added repeat inserted by the conductor was handed to me by the District’s Music Administrator. It was an overnight assignment with a medley of super-fast paced Christmas carols to be performed at the Big Winter Concert! While it went well, I swore I would never again be enslaved to such a pressure deadline to the tune of $12 per hour!

After that whole episode, I quit accompanying choirs and decided that teaching privately was my niche.

Coming back home was nice as it’s always been. Throw in some blogging and You tubing, and I was content.

Finally, with a sweet El Cerrito Hills piano sanctuary, I was, without a doubt, in seventh heaven!