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Keeping up with a fast turnover of repertoire and reclaiming an old piece from the Classical era (Videos)

I always make it a point to advise students of all levels, to stay with a piece long enough to feel at one with it–to experience a fluidity of motion that comes from baby-step, layered learning.

Despite my admonitions, some pupils choose to remain in the fast lane, whizzing through one selection after another without a second thought.

Last night, I looked back on a Clementi Sonatina that I had a faint recollection of lightly “reading” in my formative years of study, though to reclaim it on a deeper level was a must if I planned to teach it.

As it happened, an adult student wanted to learn the opening Presto, which sent me scampering back to the score at an indelicate hour to carve out a layered-learning sequence in SLOW TEMPO that I could reasonably pass down to the pupil at his lesson.

Such a self-teaching opportunity, was just what I needed to advance my own understanding of Sonatina, Op. 36 No. 5.

(If a teacher can put herself in the shoes of a pupil, like a fledgling on a maiden musical journey, then both grow in creative directions)

As a start knowing the form and structure of a Classical era sonatina would frame the learning process. (Exposition: first and second themes, Development and Recapitulation)

And of course, FINGERING a piece from the outset was a high priority pursuit–making sure decisions made would artfully realize the composer’s phrasing and articulation.

My Discoveries:

1)The first movement was permeated with undulating groups of triplets, which suggested a “chordal” approach in practicing them. The way the piece flowed as a sequence of blocked chords, would amplify the melodic contour. Dominant chords to their tonic resolutions suggested a lean to relax sequence. Unexpected harmonic shifts needed to be “felt” and communicated.

2) The keys through which the composition passed had to be noted, especially in the Development section where modulations were the composer’s principle device.

3) Looking for counter-melodies, as they might appear in the bass, would direct the player to these lines that might be obscured in the fabric of redundant sets of triplets.

4) Voices needed to be balanced, with an ear toward fleshing out the melody, counter-melody, against the rolling triplet sequence. Dynamics and their contrasts were pivotal to phrase-shaping. Knowing where the climax appeared would give the Presto movement direction.

5) Playing the melody alone, even as it passed for some measures to the bass, was another baby step– feeling the underpinning of harmony to guide it. (BEHIND TEMPO)

6) Blocking chords derived from triplets, played along with the melody was another intermediary learning layer. (Once again, in slow tempo)

As to metrical framing, the movement was in alla breve, cut time, so ultimately, in tempo it would be experienced as two impulses per measure though divided by underlying triplets. (In the practicing phase, one might stretch to 4, but it might be better to sense a SLOW division of two beats per measure, to capture the flow and nuance the composer intended)

In the final analysis, the instruction was best communicated as I revisited the Presto movement last night on video, with my play-through following:

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Excerpts from a SKYPED Piano Lesson to Greece

In these video segments, the student is practicing Sonatina in C, OP. 36, No. 3, first and last movements:

These replays can be very helpful for the student, who is sent copies of his lesson-in-progress.


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Piano Lesson: The challenge of playing a slow movement

I chose Muzio Clementi’s popular Sonatina in C, Op. 36, No. 1 to flesh out the contrasting middle movement designated ANDANTE by the composer. It’s definitely a challenge to play just 6 lines of music with beauty and finesse.

As a start, the player is exposed to realizing rolling triplet 8th-notes in the left hand against a flowing treble melodic line with interspersed trills. These “decorations” or embellishments move rapidly through principal notes lending a shimmer to them. One can choose less repercussions (in 16ths) for the trill or try the alternate group of more notes in 32nds. (Indicated in the score)

I personally believe that more repercussions give the movement a gem-like character in the Classical style. Mozart’s music, for example, sparkles with trills. Why not give Clement the same deference.

The video below offers a step-wise approach to learning the Andante movement. As expected, the rolling forward motion of the wrist helps to phrase the bass and treble. In addition, striking a nice balance between voices is a significant dimension of a satisfying performance.

This movement may have a tendency to drag, but in truth, Andante, if taken literally, comes from the Italian ANDARE, “to walk.” Andante being the gerund, WALKING does not mean lumbering along.

The triplets should therefore, pleasingly move with grace giving support to a fluidly played melody. And between the hand-crossovers of triplets, the ongoing legato must be preserved.

Where parallel 6ths are introduced, one should think of a single melodic tone through each group of three, best illustrated in the instructional footage.

Molto Cantabile (cultivation of the singing tone) is one’s best frame in playing this movement with beauty and refinement.

Playing through in tempo: