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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.

Recap:

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.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/the-very-first-chopin-waltz-that-i-teach-17-op-posth-in-a-minor-video-instruction/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/playing-scales-from-legato-to-staccato-think-ping-pong-balls/

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

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The very first Chopin Waltz that I teach: #19, Op. Posth. in A minor (Video instruction)

After decades of teaching the Chopin Waltzes, I’ve come to the conclusion that the A minor, No. 19, Op. Posthumous is the best student introduction to the form as the composer cultivated it. While many other Waltzes in Chopin’s collection are far more substantial and technically challenging, No. 19, is in my opinion, easiest to assimilate, study, and play. In part, it’s because the harmonic structure is very straightforward, leaning toward tonic, sub-dominant, and dominant chord relationships. In addition, a frequent interchange occurs between the tonic A Minor in which the piece is written and its relative C Major. (Good material for introductory theory) Finally, there’s an abundance of thematic repetition.

The big climax of the piece, on the third page, (measures, 33-40) is a modulation to the Parallel A MAJOR, which makes a conspicuously audible impression. This section also has the most notes phrased at a Forte dynamic level.

Following the composition’s peak, the composer returns to the opening theme, which is in the home key of A minor.

Palmer Edition, Chopin Waltzes:

About the Composer, Frederic Chopin
(1810-1849)

Chopin lived during the height of the Romantic Period, and composed very expressive music that included free flowing phrases, ornamented notes, a colorful harmonic palette, and a tempo rubato (flexible, borrowed time that if taken too far, is a bit of a parody of itself) The pedaling for this music is rich, but tasteful. (The player should not over use the sustain)

The Way to Practice:

1) First, trace the path of melody through the opening section, (measures 1-16) in SLOW motion, following the phrasing very carefully. Chopin was very much a molto cantabile composer, who stressed the singing tone capability of the piano. In this first section, the composer offers the preponderance of material for the complete Waltz. Note that ornaments are played on the beat and with good directions in the editor’s annotations.

2) Continue by separately practicing the fundamental bass of the first section. (only the first beat of each measure, known as a “downbeat”) Draw each one out with a deep, resonant stroke.

3) Then play “after beat” chords only–the two sonorities following the downbeat. Isolate them from measure to measure and notice the voice leading. Knowing they are neighbor chords will make the jump from the downbeat bass notes seem less awesome. Lighten the third beat or chord in each measure. Approach with a flexible or spongy wrist. (The wrist is the great shock absorber)

4) Next play the downbeats followed by the after beat chords in each measure. Draw out the downbeats without poking at them. You want a rich bass, not an accented one.
The after beat chords should be lighter, as previously mentioned.

5) Finally, put hands together for the first section. The melody should be very singable and prominent. The fundamental bass gives the ground energy; the after beat chords fill in with colorful harmony. The balance between the melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords is very important.

Part II (Measures 16-24)
The same advice for part one applies here. Keep to the order of practicing separate hands, with an awareness of balance between right hand and left hand.
Notice that this part of the composition is more extemporaneous, and feels improvised. It begins in the Melodic form of A minor and lets go with a DOMINANT key arpeggio (E Major) If you’ve been conscientious about practicing arpeggios, this passage should not be too difficult to execute, but consider it a freely rendered figure and not meant to sound forced, regimented, or robotically played. Remember that the Romantic style is characterized by a sense of freedom and improvisation.

The next section is a return of the opening phrase in A Minor. (measures 25-32)
Follow the method of practicing separate hands, as introduced in the beginning of the work.

The Climax: Measures 33-40 The longest phrasing in the piece and in A MAJOR (The Parallel MAJOR) with a Forte dynamic.

Practice with the same parceled out approach as the beginning.

Finally the opening section returns in Measures 41 to 52 with a Codetta (small, modified ending) as the last line.

***

The Waltz played in tempo:

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/butterfly-by-edvard-grieg/

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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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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.

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Teaching Piano to Teenagers: Classical, Pop, Taylor Swift, Liz on Top of the World and more (Videos)

There’s always room for flexibility in choice of repertoire, especially when teaching teenagers. Alex, 18, had taken lessons during primary school, took a long break and returned to the piano as a senior in high school. His first request was to study “Liz on Top of the World,” by Dario Marianelli from the movie, “Pride and Prejudice.” I felt it was a bit above his head, but I realized it could be a terrific practicing motivator. Alex and I struck a deal. He promised to work on a Classical sonatina (Latour, in C Major), the “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach” and a regimen of scales and arpeggios going around the Circle of Fifths as the mainstay of his piano study. “Liz” would be his dessert piece. The plan worked.

Alex took the camera spotlight as he practiced “Liz on Top of the World” in a methodical way, chunking or grouping notes together in the first section using separate hands. He continued by playing the next part, a soaringly beautiful melodic section with his right hand only as I provided the bass.

The melody played out in such a way that chunking two notes at a time was helpful. (The student learned interval relationships through this approach: clumping harmonic 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths) The bass line in this second section is an ostinato, or repeated, pattern that is easily assimilated. It’s a sequence of redundant broken chords that creates a rolling effect.

Related:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/alex-breaks-the-choke-hold-on-his-scales-on-you-tube/

Allyse, 16, who is Alex’s sister, also returned to the piano after a long hiatus. A junior in high school, she had requested to play “100 Years” by John Ondrasik, and Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always.” To balance out her repertoire, she had agreed to work on Menuet en Rondeau by Rameau and simultaneously practice scales/arpeggios in all Major and minor keys.

Here’s a snatch from a lesson with Allyse. This was the dessert following the main menu of classics.

Related:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/teens-popular-music-then-and-now-taylor-swift-throw-in-five-for-fighting-100-years/

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The Joy of Teaching Piano to Young Children (Videos)

Starting a very young child on a musical journey is joyful, exciting and challenging. The first baby steps taken at the piano will be memorable for both teacher and student, so careful thought and preparation are needed.

At the very outset, I believe in nurturing an awareness of the singing tone and how it is created. In the most fortunate circumstance a child has a real acoustic piano to practice on at home in order to experiment with various tonal shades, timbres, “colors” that we explore at our lesson. This consciousness of what the instrument can elicit as we tap into the imagination and inhabit a universe of sound exploration, requires attentive and sensitive listening. This is where the teacher can be the magical guide. At this crucial point of engagement, lessons can take off in positive directions and bond the student to the whole creative musical process.

Singing is an activity universal to childhood and a teacher who taps into this celebration of musical expression, will go a long way toward imbuing what the singing tone is about as it applies to the piano. The goal will be to teach a child to “sing” through his fingers and shape a phrase as he or she would vocalize it.

Learning hand position formation is important at the beginning of study, and it is not rigid but gently round, with curved, not curled fingers. The teacher can gently nudge the student in a relaxed physical direction by suggesting the light embrace of a ripe plum in his palm. The consequences of squeezing it too tightly will be amusing to the child, but well taken.

While materials such as Faber Piano Adventures provide great launching pads for formal piano study, it is the teacher who has to translate all the notes and symbols in these primer method books into a language comprehensible to a child and his universe of play. The playground as music teacher is certainly a concept that applies to the piano lesson and its content for very young children.

Staccato notes suggest lighthearted images: students often imagine that they are bouncing on a trampoline, or listening to popcorn pop. They will spontaneously share an activity that is suggestive of crisp, detached, staccato notes. Run with it and enjoy!

When teaching the legato, (smooth and connected) singing tone, images of gliding on ice, floating clouds, rolling waves, inspire children to play expressively and not hammer out notes in a mechanical way. The flexible, “spongy” wrist is the great shock absorber, and it should be demonstrated as well as modeled.

To imbue a sense of a steady beat, the teacher can guide the student along with a very buoyant motion of her hands and arms, and NOT refer to a clock, or metronome. After all, the beat is a frame for the music which can bend with the breeze as phrases taper to their conclusion. It is never static and stultifying. Animated clapping exercises shared back and forth between teacher and student are always helpful.

There is a joy to teaching very young children, because imaginations can happily run wild and create a very exciting, inspiring space that both teacher and student can inhabit.

Kirsten Productions: Aviva Kirsten, video editor

http://www.teachstreet.com/teacher/shirley-kirsten

Cat related:
Aiden makes another appearance in this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5MLPxKFl2c

Other Related:

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

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/piano-instruction-favorite-childrens-pieces-video/

For Toddlers and pre-schoolers before piano study is undertaken:

http://www.musictogether.com

American Orff-Schulwerk Association - Music and Movement Education
Music and movement teachers find in the Orff Schulwerk a total approach to fostering creativity and conveying musical knowledge and skills.

http://www.aosa.org/

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A Piano Teacher’s Worst Nightmare!

In a routine Yahoo e mail search for a Kawai USA technician I had spoken with a year ago, I stumbled upon a document that I had drafted out of sheer desperation.

It related to the decline of my sustain pedal which had been mercilessly pounded by a student who had serious impulse control problems. It wasn’t just the pedal that was affected. Lessons had become a free-wheeling carnival, with anything goes, serendipitous events. I never knew what to expect.

One memorable Monday, as I was approaching my El Cerrito studio about a half-hour before my first scheduled lesson, I was greeted by the antsy student sitting on top of his mom’s SUV about to make a death-defying leap to the concrete sidewalk.

Holding my breath, I watched him land safely, but without his music. (A common problem teachers encounter and learn to take in stride.) If we had one dollar for every time a pupil came to lessons without materials, we could all retire to a villa in Spain and luxuriate in the sun.

The troubling lesson environment worsened with a non-stop ringing cell phone brought by the highly charged student’s tag along friend. He danced in and out of my small studio with minute by minute messages relayed from divorced dad to mom to wired student. I couldn’t figure out the roundabout communication network. A text message would have been the least intrusive.

Since dad had the kids on alternate weeks, he drifted in with older sister one afternoon and sat right behind his fidgety son. Not five minutes into our session, he repeatedly arm wrestled his screaming daughter to the ground making the brother’s lesson an impossible feat to accomplish.

The tour de force should have been the icing on the cake, but instead, it was an algae snack finale. It made perfect sense. California kids munched on organic strips of seaweed instead of Reese’s pieces. Times had changed. Picture the oil spots on my vulnerable furniture fabric, not to mention a slippery slope of piano keys.

I forgot to mention out of control tops spinning in and out of the studio when brother switched lesson times with sister.

The closest rival to this scenario, was the student who compulsively punched my Steinway grand piano rack whenever he happened to hit a wrong note. On automatic pilot, he landed a blow so hard, it sent his music flying in all directions!

Finally, in defense of my sanity and property, I issued a Declaration of Independence from all this chaos. It was a well thought out “Code of Behavior for Piano Students” that required the signature of student and parent, co-signed by the teacher. This version of the document was tailor made for the edgy pupil who took the risk taking leap from the SUV. (By the way, since his parents were both attorneys they welcomed my pseudo legal contract without amendments)

*Footnote: In protection of my sanctified pedal that was repeatedly abused by the testy pupil previously mentioned, I enlisted a Fresno adult piano student, a ceramic artist, to build a custom designed, pedal guard made out of thick cardboard and styro foam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers could consider this a confidence building, smack proof, gadget—-a prophylaxis against encroaching threats to their precious pedals.

Back to the Code of Conduct:

Piano Lesson Behavior Code
1. I understand that taking piano lessons requires that I abide by the rules of proper behavior in the piano studio.
2. First and foremost, I must respect the instrument that I am playing each week.
a. This means that I play the grand piano only when asked by the teacher, and not before.
b  That I follow directions carefully delivered by the teacher….
I will not pound on the keys or get up from the bench either before or after I am instructed to begin my piece.
c) As part of my commitment to taking lessons, I will listen to instructions from the teacher about whether I can use any of the three piano pedals.
d) If the teacher tells me not to the use any of the pedals, I will abide by her request.
e) If I am told to use the pedal, I will not pound on it with my foot, snap it, or
stand up and slam down on the pedal.
The three pedals on the grand piano are regulated when the piano comes out of the factory where it is made, so if these pedals are not treated with kindness and respect, they will not work properly. To fix them will be expensive, and other students will in the meantime not have functioning pedals.
3)  When I come to lessons, I will bring all my music with me. This includes my Primer Lesson, Performance, and Theory Book. I will also bring sheet music my teacher gives me including Calliope or any other additional pieces. These should be placed in a presentation book that has small plastic rings and plastic inserts for the music’s safekeeping. (can be purchased at Office Max, Staples, Office Depot)
4) If I am waiting for my lesson, I must sit quietly in the studio and not distract another student who is trying to concentrate on his or her assignment.
If I choose to sit outside the studio before my lesson begins, I cannot go back in the studio or out during another student’s lesson. I must wait until a lesson with a student is over.
If I am waiting outside, I must not raise my voice, spin tops, or run in the area in front of the studio. Doing so interrupts or disturbs the concentration of another student taking a lesson.
5) Food is not allowed in the studio. I understand that snacks must be eaten at the table outside. If my hands are sticky from snacks or finger foods, I must wash my hands in the bathroom and dry them with a paper towel before I begin my lesson.
6) Finally I will look at my assignment that is emailed to my parents each week and I will make sure I am practicing all my pieces as instructed.
I will try to find 30 minutes each day to practice what I have been assigned for the following week. If I have any questions, I will write them down and have my mother or father contact the teacher for the answers, or I will make sure to ask the teacher those questions at my next lesson.
I have read the Piano Lesson Behavior Code and I agree
to abide its stated rules.
Signature Student_______________________Date_____________________
Signature Teacher______________________  Date____________________
Signature Parent(s)______________________Date_____________________
PS The student who signed this document no longer takes piano lessons.

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