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Our individual musical study grows our piano teaching

For the past year I’ve devoted many daily hours to the study J.S. Bach’s six French Suites while simultaneously keeping pace with my students’ passage through diverse repertoire. The decision to take on this additional musical challenge apart from meeting my basic teacher obligations of being present at lessons; knowing the material assigned, and dispensing meaningful suggestions, is to advance my own personal musical development. By growing my technique and musicianship; organizing music with a theoretical lens; getting deeply embedded in form, harmony, phrasing, and noting the very steps taken in my early learning process, I grow my teaching to the benefit of my students. This message I gladly send along to colleagues who enjoy comparable journeys of self-discovery.

A few weeks ago, I received a pertinent message via You Tube from an adult learner in Israel who was challenged by the Allemande of the B minor French Suite No. 3, BWV 814 and wondered if I’d a posted a tutorial about ways to approach the opening dance movement. Although I had studied the Sarabande, Anglaise, and Minuet/Trio of this work, I hadn’t yet commenced an examination of the Allemande. Her request, therefore, was perfectly timed to nudge my practicing of this movement with an enlisted analytical approach–breaking down the “subject” or main germ cell, and discovering any and all fragments of the smallest idea that unraveled in two-voice counterpoint (and inversion) through the binary form. (Fingering naturally factored into foundational practicing along with the preservation of a “singing” tone.)

The video that I uploaded just three days into my exploration, contained the basic elements of structure/counterpoint that fed the musical/expressive side of interpretation and spawned an early play through that reaped the benefits of my self-driven pedagogical analysis.

Tutorial:

Play Through

I continue to make challenges like these for myself, not just through deep explorations of Johann Sebastian’s Bach’s music in its many forms (Fugues, Gigues, Allemandes, Courantes, etc.) but by stretching the mind in expansive directions: studying repertoire from various historical periods; exploring harmonic flow, rhythm, and theoretical framings that are in the service of how to phrase and imbue emotion governed by what is expected and unexpected in the course of a composition.

Finally, this investment in individual study is not only a promotion of self-growth, but it becomes a gift to our pupils to whom we are teaching the very rudiments of learning so they will become truly independent in their own study as it matures, and ripens over time.

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Why is practicing slowly so unpopular?

There appears to be a stigma attached to parceling out a brand new piece in deliberately slow tempo, where a player threads through separate lines with a commitment to expression framed by an ultra-relaxed singing pulse. In the best realization of such immersion, the music becomes magnified to a new level of awareness, albeit in the incipient learning stage. (Fingering decisions are made; phrases undergo slow motion contouring, and a deep key/weight transferred relationship to the notes is explored, avoiding a top of the keys haphazard glide.)

Such slow but engaged practicing as described, sets a foundation for added layers of learning on progressively deeper levels.

In light of this truth, a substantial proportion of nay-sayers still view “slow learners,” as cognitively impaired, further stigmatizing the pupil who labors against premature piece-turnovers, and stays deeply affixed in moto lento. That is, until the time is right and ripe for a graduated tempo advancement.

More often, students who are asked to pull back from a tempo that is racing out of their control will resist the push back to a near heart-stopping pace. Or at minimum, they will re-try a separate hand reading at the tempo set by the teacher only to deviate from the agreed upon “beat,” as if the mentor would hardly notice.

Face the music, practicing at a snail’s pace, but preserving the player’s “high” inside a MAGNIFIED musical bubble, still attaches a Western cultural taboo allied to our fast-paced existence with its built-in upward MOBILITY frenzy. (“Getting there fast is half the fun,” blasted at fever pitch in carry-over-to-life auto advertising, is pervasive!)

Add in cell phones grunting out instant message alerts amidst unwanted calls interrupting piano lessons, and it’s no wonder that peace of mind needed to inhabit a retrograde inversion of time is a foreign and ill-timed request.

Still I refuse to surrender my commitment to time-honored teaching that is in defiance of a Beat the Clock, 1950’s era mantra. As antidote to the culture of cramming, crowding, and herding notes in a cadential stampede, I underscore my own SLOWED down approach to all my music from Bach to Blues.

“If I can practice my pieces slowly, so can you.”

I’ll admit that there’s a bit of guilt sandwiched into my haughty, authoritarian push back, but it works, at least for 15-minute chunks, before an iPhone breaks the mood of a higher Power tempo-suspended intervention.

By example, I will rehash one of my classic learning journeys and how it advanced from a heightened back tempo approach to a smooth and satisfying outpouring. That usually gets my adult brood going, at least for the time being.

***

(Below is a J.S. Bach Prelude that I allowed months to grow from carefully spaced-out seeding to its eventual maturation.)

***

An Adult Student exemplifies slow practicing in Turk’s “Happiness”

The steady progress made over time:

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Piano Practicing: Breathing into phrases and blocking out passages (Mozart Sonata, example)

I’ve picked the first two pages of Mozart’s Sonata in Bb Major, K. 281, last movement, Rondeau, Allegro to explore breathing and blocking techniques in the learning process. (These principles can be applied to practicing music from a variety of eras)

Starting a composition is often taken for granted. Sometimes students will land on a first note, for example, with the force a belly plop into a pool. Others will forget there are opening notes, (as the 4-16ths upbeat of Mozart Sonata K. 333 in Bb) They’ll breathe a sigh of relief, once they’ve managed to elude them, moving with alacrity to longer, spaced-out notes.)

Yet, this very “sigh of relief,” can be utilized as a relaxed stream of expressed air to usher in a pleasing opening note or notes.

Naturally, breathing into phrases with ease should be ongoing as a composition flows, so biofeedback becomes a vital practicing ingredient. (I recommend that students keep a journal of awakenings)

Blocking

Blocking out passages to obtain fluidity is a simultaneous part of the learning spectrum. Thinking in “groups” of notes, especially with fast passages, encourages “fast melody,” instead of chaotic crowds of notes without shape, meaning or contour. Knowing the geography of notes, therefore, is an organizer that helps smooth out phrases (Relaxed arms and supple wrists accompany)

The first video below spotlights the aforementioned practicing areas, adding an awareness of dynamic contrasts/ weight transfer, and the use of solfeggiated syllables (do, re, mi, etc) to follow and absorb voices. (Separate hand practice and voice parceling within a slow, behind tempo frame are recommended)


Play through
(still behind tempo)

Mozart k281 rondeau p 1

Mozart k 281 rondeau p 2

LINK

Chopin, Warm-ups and the Art of Breathing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

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Revisiting an old piano piece learned years earlier

I find my current musical journey down memory lane to be joyful and challenging–especially as I cut and paste the Mozart Rondo: Allegro, K. 311 pages to fit comfortably on the piano rack. (Deja Vu, Haydn C Major Hoboken XVI35–Haydn pinned and unpinned)

I wrote to a musician friend during the height of my frustration. “This undertaking is far more complex than the former because my Mozart Sonata Urtext edition, Breitkopf and Hartel, has enormously big pages. Therefore, I must figure out a way, to fraction them, ply them, add parts of measures on my printer/copier, then attach, and re-attach.”

My shabby efforts produced the following:

Mozart Rondo K. 311 2

As comic relief I summarized the process:

“This is the most flagrant cut and paste job to date—the Urtext oversize led to one hour of fidgeting, fumbling, frantic fastening, failing, flailing, faltering, framing—piecing, plying, pairing, pressing, taping, tying and crying. What a waste of time!

“Now I have to memorize the first 2 pages–because even with the taping, tying, plying and sighing, there’s just no room to read across.”

Despite this tangential escapade, I’m drawn back down to earth, believing, if you lay a solid foundation in your earliest learning effort, then a revisit will tap into familiar landmarks, making your review more smooth sailing than you might expect.

Case in point.. Mozart K. 311, the very first sonata my teacher, Lillian Freundlich gave me to study–and one I’d waxed poetic about in my “Sentimental Journey” posting.

What I had learned about learning in my first sonata encounter, aided my re-connection.

1) Phrasing–first movement–Allegro con moto
Freundlich parceled out one or two measures–drawing 16ths back to quarters.. deep in the keys approach
Then moved to 8ths in doublets or pairs, finally extending out to 16ths..it was rhythmic groupings in synch a singing tone moved the piece into an artistic rendering, rather than a typewritten framing.

Incidentally, the singing tone, not surface, key skimming was my teacher’s conception of the Mozartean voice.

AND SLOW MOTION PRACTICE was at the core of developing and shaping all passage work.

2) FINGERING–good decisions were made way back–NO guessing in the dark, or dice throws– No fly by night accidents of fate..
The fingering was set down, like good housekeeping– A table prepared to specification.

3) Harmonic Analysis–The KEY signature was well imprinted. Flow of harmony, the same..
How did certain chords or modulations affect interpretation? (Part of phrasing/harmonic rhythm exploration)

4)Form and Structure–First Theme, second theme, Development, Recapitulation
What key for second theme?.. What happened in the Development section–what keys explored, (modulations), rhythmic devices?

Sequences? Melodic symmetries and asymmetries. We circled what remained the same, and what changed.

All of the above fast forwarded on a consciously unconscious level into the present easily tapped out of a sub layer of knowing.

Last week I’d recorded K. 311, Allegro con brio– And after a few days of revisiting, I had mildly adjusted fingerings to conform with the brisk tempo.

Then moving on to movement 2, I remembered the importance of Mozart’s vocal line, the need for a lush, deep in the keys singing tone so well imbued by Lillian Freundlich. (NO to a frilly, top-layered, superficial approach)

Awareness of harmonic flow/rhythm, marked out in my score from years before, helped me retrieve the long lost movement and bring it back to life in short order.


The Journey continues

Rondo: Allegro, K. 311

Currently, I’m face-to-face with this rapid movement which seems easier to navigate the second time around, but for what I consider a particularly tricky section:

A set of trills in the Left Hand set against a rapid flow of 16ths begs for a crossed hands adjustment but it’s just not feasible.

Mozart rondo k 311

Seymour Bernstein, pianist, teacher and composer, points out that pianists have been known to heist sections of music.. reconfiguring passages, that cannot be easily executed as written.

Emanuel Ax, concert pianist, fleshes out this very issue in a Beethoven documentary. He demonstrates how the composer made it nearly impossible to play a section of his second sonata, first movement, with the right hand only fingering indicated in the score.

Ax posited that perhaps Beethoven considered his personal fingering to be a “cosmic joke” contrived “to annoy everybody!”

Nonetheless Ax, demonstrated how most pianists will divide the passage between hands.

Did I veer off topic?

Not exactly as this side excursion related to my tackling difficult passages with an innovative approach, if applicable.

In the Rondo section attached, the trill in the left hand will be a potential finger-jammer, so post video, I made the choice to play GAGF#, followed by F#GF#E, EF#ED etc.

(In the instruction below I navigate the section through a set of steps and practicing routines:)

Decisions like these made in the course of primary learning experiences, tend to surface again in composition revisits. They certainly further musical development.

Finally, the old, reliable, baby-step, ground up work, done during an original exposure to a composition, is the best gift a student can bestow upon himself as he reconnects with a former love.

LINK


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/piano-technique-and-repertoire-does-making-fingeringhand-adjustments-constitute-a-swindle/

The Value of Practicing behind tempo, in slow motion
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/piano-learning-and-technique-the-value-of-practicing-in-slow-motion-or-behind-tempo/

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Rina, 5, moves right along in her piano studies (Videos)

Rina takes to piano like a duck in water.

Yesterday, she began her lesson with a five-finger romp through D Major and minor, adding chords to her repertoire.

Did I say “chords?”

It’s every child’s dream to play more than one voice at a time, to fully appreciate the piano as an orchestral instrument.

I know, because at six-years old I longed to hear my two-note melodies bathed in rich sonority.

Mrs. Vinagradov, my weekly duet partner, raised the level of our music-making by several notches, but I had no patience to delay gratification between lessons.

In those days, young piano students were imprisoned in tiny instructional boxes, gasping for any signs of cosmic harmony. They were so fixated on Middle C that to drift elsewhere was anxiety-provoking.

Personally, I was over-burdened with monophonic Diller-Quaille and Diller-Page songs, illustrated with pics of children in high-button shoes beside bicycles built for two. Those archaic pics were re-published for decades beside colorless melodies. They begged for polyphonic enrichment!

Why students were placed in a restricted, No Harmony Zone, was beyond comprehension.

But to the good, it ignited a revolution among teachers who had been closeted rebels.

***

In our more pedagogically enlightened day and age, a fledgling can reach for the stars, playing more than one note at a time without a meltdown.

As an example, Rina plays a two-voice Minuet and March that produce ear-pleasing harmony. They fuel her enthusiasm from week to week.

Here, she practices her five-finger D Major/d minor warmup which leads to building chords in six voices. What a revelation, like the first sunrise.

Can you believe how far she’s come in less than a year’s time?

Part 2, Rina’s first piano lesson:

Flash forward 11 months:

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Growing piano technique in baby steps: Rina, 5, advances to hands together five-finger positions (adding in 10ths)

Rina may not know the words “pentascales” and “tenths,” but she has the intelligence to notice when her fingers move up and down together, playing the same notes an “octave” apart. With a sound knowledge of the music alphabet in both directions, she has good cognitive reinforcement. (She also knows “running notes” or 8ths, “long sounds”–half notes, “short sounds”– quarters, and “half-note dot” is a dotted-half note.)

But note-name recognition and having a concept of rhythmic values are just part of the learning process. She needs to cultivate the singing tone wedded to limpid phrasing–a dimension of playing we’ve explored from day one embracing Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Music Journey philosophy.

In this regard, Rina is working on softening the impact of her thumbs, so she can nicely roll into her LEGATO five-finger positions and smoothly taper them. (LEGATO means smooth and connected, finger-to-finger)

She has progressed from having played each hand alone through five notes ascending and descending, in a “conversational” way, to synchronizing both hands at the same time in parallel motion.

She also creates an “echo” effect on a repeat and we make sure to include the parallel minor in her playings. (Black notes also belong to the keyboard family)

Next, I thought to introduce a bit of “magic.”

How about starting the Right Hand on E while the Left Hand remained on bass C. (still five notes up and down but spaced in 10ths)

Rina took to it like a duck in water especially with an enticing harmonic landscape.

Here are two snatches from her lesson, starting with the first (both hands playing same notes in legato)

In the second video, she plays in 10ths:

Our next piece is “Little March” by Daniel Gottlob Turk. This follows Minuet by Reinagle of which Rina is separately studying the bass part. In addition she’s rendering it in the “minor,” enlisting a “B flat.” (She performed the melody on our recent Spring Recital) The Reinagle piece came with its own new landmark: Rina played detached and legato notes in one selection.

I’ve prepared a video to assist mom with ear-training experiences for “Little March” during the week. Rina will be saturated with listening; doing hand signals for melodic shape; singing notes and then rhythms. (phrase one) This is the first stage of her learning process.

***

LINK:

Rina plays at the Spring Recital


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/rina-5-performs-at-our-spring-recital-after-8-months-of-piano-lessons-video/

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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