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Sound imagination and tactile, tonal expression at the piano for diverse compositional eras

Often a posted comment about a You Tube video inspires a blog topic that is of interest to pianists and teachers. One such public addition to my Channel quickly streamed into a comparison between two well-known compositions in the piano repertoire.

The commenter was asking about the grade “level” of Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair as compared to Schumann’s Traumerei from Kinderszenen. She asserted that it was “easier” to read through the Romantic era character piece based on her supportive reasons.

“Would you recommend this piece for an Intermediate student (grade 4-5)? I had a very hard time even reading through it! (The Debussy) I learned Schumann’s Traumerei pretty quickly to a decent level, so I thought La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin was going to be feasible too, since the difficulties are more musical than technical. But just figuring out the fingering is proving more challenging than I thought.”

Initially, I’d planned to underscore my reluctance to comparatively “level” the pieces, having to spell out too many variables bundled into an assessment of each composition from distinctly different eras. (Romantic and Impressionist) In addition, by enlisting a narrow focus, I would pin myself into a rigid pedagogical corner.

Instead, I set out to explore the separate challenges of each work, fleshing out the expressive vocabulary that best realized each individual period of composition in partnership with its composer. My demonstration would incorporate a desired tonal palette that called for an imbued physical approach at the inception of study. It would encompass sound imaging springing from the imagination, reinforced by physical suppleness and weight transfer. Qualitative differences unique to the cosmos of each piece would be a pivotal dimension of my recorded reply.

While teachers can take a circuitous route in their mentoring, drawing on mental prompts to engage an internal representation of sound or tone, they must naturally be equipped to demonstrate what works choreographically, if you will– not proposing fixed motions in musical space, but engaging the student in what physically advances various forms of musical expression. (Naturally, fingering decisions are part and parcel of the journey.)

Mood sets, internal harmonic shifts, and structural considerations unique to each composition, must be at the fore in the developmental learning process regardless of suggested leveling. (And it’s a given that a mentor should not recommend pieces that he/she deems significantly out of reach for a particular pupil.)

Finally, in the attached video below, I synthesized in physical and musical terms, what words alone could not amply express.

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When a Virtual Piano Student becomes a Reality!

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Touchdown! Berkeley, California! An Online student landed in the East Bay just as the Carolina Panthers were bracing for a Super-Bowl match-up with the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara.

Sports-crazed fans were headed for a Big, crowded weekend with tailgate parties, packed hotels and traffic jams!

But my traveling, jet-lagged pupil from North Carolina had no interest in following the football event. Weeks in advance, she’d scheduled her LIVE lesson in Berkeley, with an additional request to sit in on one of my local student’s classes.

It was a slam dunk without a hitch as our scheduled doubleheader turned into spontaneous three-way sharing: an off-the-cuff exchange about LIVE lessons as compared to those transmitted Online. (by Skype and Face Time).

Naturally, April had experienced both sides of the lesson-receiving spectrum while Laura possessed a home-based perspective, and I had both.

So the inevitable outcome of our collective conversation was a recorded interchange without a shred of resemblance to the hair-raising mega-produced commercials that run full blast during Super-Bowl breaks.

This is the real deal, uncensored and refreshingly honest.

 

 

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Piano Technique: A Bouncy Scale workout with forward arm rolls and supple wrist motions–Enjoy the romp! (Videos)

Scales can be a great workout routine if you let your arms loose, dip your pliant wrists and go with the flow. And it’s a great cardio. (No treadmill or weights required) Just apply principles of balance and buoyancy.

Here are snatches from an adult student’s lesson (Legato and staccato playing with slow motion replays)

C# NATURAL minor in parallel and contrary motion

First Aiden cat joins in:

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

Join me for a Piano Cardio class.. See my class schedule at POWHOW

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Teaching piano to Rina, 5, with a supplementary video for mom that outlines our lesson plan and goals

Rina’s mother attends her daughter’s lessons, takes notes, and receives a follow-up assignment.

Today, I sent her a video that summarized what we had accomplished yesterday along with a goal-setting outline.

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The child has been working on her legato which is a new and enticing musical universe. For the better part of 6 months she’s had considerable saturation with single, detached notes, using one finger at a time.

Last week, I felt it was the perfect moment to join notes in a connected fashion because I’d seen her do this on her own, and felt she possessed the musical and physical ability to move forward.

Here’s a snatch of Rina’s legato from her last lesson:

And her preliminary work on Minuet by Reinagle:

SEE LESSON PLANNING FOR A FIVE-YEAR OLD STUDENT:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/lesson-planning-for-a-5-year-old-piano-student-video/

She’s now playing her “Frere Jacques” in Major and minor (with Eb) using connected fingers (Legato)

In this regard, Rina currently “reads” a pre-notational form of music, where the notes in various rhythmic values float in space, going up and down in STEPS and SKIPS. Bar lines have been inserted along with letter names and finger numbers. (These pre-staff landmarks have been gradually learned)

EXAMPLE of the format with “Frere Jacques”

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This latest video prepared for mom pertains to practicing an expanded five-finger warm-up in legato and the Reinagle Minuet in G Major.

NEW:

MY PREP VIDEO for the Reinagle piece, created earlier, encouraged ear-training, clapping and singing activity, etc. in readiness for playing.

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For the intricate intervals in measures 13-16, I’d planned to enlist staircase activity which is demonstrated on video. (Note that a FLAT can be added for the Parallel minor, which I illustrated at the conclusion of footage)

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Finally, here’s an overview of Rina’s progress before she embarked upon legato phrasing:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/rina-5-shows-outstanding-progress-over-6-months-of-piano-lessons-videos/

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Piano Instruction: How to practice Variation 2, Mozart Sonata No. 11 in A, K. 331 (Videos)

The biggest challenge in this particular variation is the fast-paced tempo and ornament execution–not to mention the fleeting 4 against 3 relationship of treble 32nds above 16ths in the bass. But the latter, should not be a big concern considering how quickly everything spins by.

In the video instruction I suggest a step-wise practicing routine where the left hand is blocked in groups of three, tracking common tones and those that move.

Fingering is very critical in playing Variation 2 smoothly, so I have attached my recommendations, subject to modification depending on what is easiest for the player. I don’t think finger choices are set in stone.

As to character, this variant has the droll dimension due to the dissonant 1/2-steps rolling through it in the bass, (the D#, E redundancy, for example) and the prominent 8th note half-step bass line grace notes which are fleshed out in Forte measures.

Variation 2 definitely reflects Mozart’s lighthearted personality.

REMINDER: Slow practicing is the gateway to a happy long-range result. (Re: the ornaments, practice them slowly, and start on the upper neighbor of principal note)
For some players, depending on level and ability, a turn will be adequate. For others, try for more repercussions.

Close-up view– no repeats–for supple wrist motion and relaxed elbow swing out…

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The Most Heavenly Piano Music?

Mozart’s Theme from his A Major Sonata, K. 331, and Beethoven’s Adagio from the Sonata “Pathetique,” Op. 13, for me, have two of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies in the piano literature.

In particular, Mozart’s opening theme that threads through the composer’s innovative first movement in Variation form, is a lilting lullaby, played in TWO, though written in 6/8 meter.

In the video below, I try as best as I can, with my compromised piano, to flesh out a pervasive binary flow of notes that pulls the listener into a region of beauty that is sustained through six variations. (I will separately feature and explore)

But first the memorable opening:

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What is your favorite theme from the vast array of piano masterworks?

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Burgmuller’s “The Return”–like a light opera, with interspersed drama (videos)

“The Return” from the composer’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces, Op. 100, is ear-catching. Like an Offenbach opera replete with an Overture, it delights in a set of lighthearted staccato chords that spill into a passionate MINOR sequenced interlude, setting the heart afire. Extinguished by the revisit of Eb Major punctuations, the music drifts off by authentic cadence, draped in Romantic era style.

More about this charmer and how to approach: