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Into the Hills with the Sound of Music –a Baldwin Acrosonic “acoustic” sings

The video attached to this writing validates the beauty of music-making on a well-maintained, though 1940s vintage era acoustic piano.

Baldwin Acrosonics were the Cadillacs of the spinet and console variety pianos. They had a noticeable innovation compared to their sister-size instruments. (A deeper sound chamber, especially noted in the consoles that measured 40″ or taller) Baldwin Acro’s standard 36″ spinet was still a resonating musical treasure, if properly cared for. The pianos were manufactured starting in 1936.

“Coined from the Greek word, “Akros,” meaning supreme, and the Latin, “sonus,” meaning tone, the trademark Acrosonics were famous for their tonal clarity, power, and *Full- Direct Blow action.” (Bluebook of Pianos.com)

*This action sits on top of the keys instead of being a drop action where the action connects to the key by a rod or some other “indirect” method.

***

An Acrosonic with fluted legs, sequestered in a gorgeous El Cerrito Hills home lived up to its singing nightingale reputation, in the good company of “Haddy” Haddorff, one of my pianos, now in the good care of a well-regarded Central Valley piano teacher. (Both instruments have an immaculate set of ivory keys)

images haddorff

The Hills Acrosonic, purchased at DC Pianos in Berkeley, is accompanied by a sturdy adjustable concert bench.

And while many of my students own digitals, if they can possibly locate an acoustic of this variety in excellent condition, I would say, Go for it!

Acrosonics are easily found on Craig’s List, though a piano teacher and technician should be taken along for an assessment.

Just listen to this one and make up your own mind.e bay hills acro

The occasion was a make-up lesson on site at my students’ home. (We were working on Chopin’s A minor Waltz, No. 19, Op. Posthumous)

More often I’m found in a separate El Cerrito Hills location that houses my Baldwin Hamilton 1929 grand, another vintage charmer.

piano room where I teach El Cerrito

Finally, look at these lovely representations of Baldwin Acrosonics, striking for their beauty, inside and out:

images Baldwin Acro

piano_22  Acro 2

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The piano learning process at all levels of study

In spite of my having studied piano for decades, each learning experience is filled with challenges that I must approach with a glut of patience. A new composition has its own form, architecture, harmonic rhythm, fingering that requires a big reserve of self-acceptance in a deadline-free frame.

To the contrary, many of my students, who are 95% adults, have a built-in timetable plaguing them from day one. “How long will it take me to learn this piece?” They demand certainty about reaching a tangible goal on a fixed schedule. The End result is what most matters.

Since we live in an information age, strategies of mastery are in vogue along with a mandatory guarantee of knowledge acquisition in so many weeks. “Quick,” “easy-fix” consumption are the Millennium’s catchwords. CD sets are compiled and promoted to learn piano “in a flash.”

***

I have a pupil, who epitomizes the insecure student, searching for a micro-wave cooking equivalent for learning piano.

She’s an accomplished writer and retired lawyer. On more than one occasion she’s confessed to doing “everything well” except for piano. “I just don’t understand why my wrist can’t roll forward, why I stumble, stutter at the piano.”

If she stepped back and thought about how many years she’s been writing and practicing law as compared to playing the piano, she’d acquire instant insight about her personal quandary.

Irina Gorin, inspired piano teacher and author of Tales of A Musical Journey has often said, “We’re not born playing the piano…. we have to learn to physically relate to the instrument.”

That’s why she starts her kids young, using silly putty to dip tiny hands into. They experience “touch” as deep, densely probing, and sinewy, to produce the singing tone, not a poked out, pencil point sequence of notes. Dipping into jello is Gorin’s metaphor, nicely channeled into the keys:

The time old analogy of crawling before walking applies, yet so many adult students, will obsess about how long they have been working on a piece without the advances they expected of themselves.

Yet, if I think about the students who have made the most gains this year, it’s been those who accepted the baby-step paradigm without precondition. They learned to love the journey with its precious awakenings along the way.

Examples:

A pupil is shown working on a section of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” absorbing a sound image before translating it into physical expression at the piano. She practiced separate hands, behind tempo. Call it mindful practicing; attentive listening. They belong together.

***

An adult student embarked upon the Chopin Waltz no. 19 in A minor.

Sight-reading was not a parcel of our work.

It was delving into the fundamental bass, measure by measure in slow tempo.

What was the relationship of one note to the next as each was played? Lean on some, relax others.

“Feel,” “hear” and know at the same time.

Then practice the melody at snail’s pace, but with a singing tone–no delay in contouring. The shapes must seep in from conscious to unconscious.

The student explored wrist motions to curve and shape lines. These poured out of her scale work.

Where an arpeggiated figure appeared, all her caring and conscientious practicing of buoyant broken chords, bristled with relevance.

In graduated steps, the after beat sonorities were separated, and played with a “spongy” feel. We thought of a “lighter” third beat. Not a parade of downbeats.

In time the layering process followed as melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords came together.

As I look back on this step-wise progression and its implications for the musical development of the Waltz, I can say with confidence that the student eventually played it with a wonderful sense of personal mastery and joy bundled together.

Patience and self-acceptance at every stage of the learning process was our paradigm.

If considered a mantra, it becomes a reminder of what teachers and students need to embrace.

LINKS:

How Long Should a Student Stay with a Piece?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Quality Spot Practicing by an adult student, “Fur Elise.”

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

The Value of Slow Practicing

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

Out of a Rut with Quality Spot Practicing
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/piano-instruction-out-of-a-rut-with-spot-practicing/

RECOMMENDED READING


Just Being at the Piano
by Mildred Portney Chase

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The C Major Scale universe: metric and muscle memory; shaping and tapering

Most piano students celebrate the C Major scale as an “easy” journey over 8 notes and back.

But as the attached video instruction proves, the ingredients of playing this scale with a fluid, well-shaped legato (smooth and connected) in transition to a crisp and vibrant staccato touch (forte and piano) is a “challenge.”

One of my out-of-state Skype students amply described the terrain as she patiently practiced her 8ths to 16ths, (legato/staccato)

“It’s hard!”

I’d second that for these reasons:

Keeping a steady, singing pulse, ascending and descending requires presence of mind, and a sense of “breathing” through the notes.

Anticipation is out the door as 8ths double to 16ths. What about 32nds?

All the more reason to RELAX and psychologically BROADEN your perspective. Don’t crowd the notes!

Metric memory, especially, is a great asset when memorializing the scale over and again. One doesn’t want a shaky landscape to embed a curvaceous spin from C to C.. or from Sea to Shining Sea.

On a patriotic note, I love oceanic analogies when I play the piano, though more often, I draw upon images of smaller bodies of water, like babbling brooks. (Think of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, or rippling piano accompaniments to his Lieder)

Why digress with mental imagery? Because using one’s imagination to play the C Scale will help it rise to the occasion, not crash and burn!

To play a C Major scale beautifully, sing it, shape it, and taper at its conclusion. (A supple forward wrist motion is recommended)

For certain, a lesson-in-progress is worth more than a thousand words:

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Using piano repertoire as a springboard for a theory lesson: Major, minor and Diminished Chords (Videos)

One of my adult students is working on the gorgeous J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor which has a second page full of “Major,” “Minor” and “Diminished” chords. The sonorities progress in sequences, but they also have a secondary dominant relationship to resolving chords. The “harmonic rhythm” moves quickly.

While this particular pupil may not be ready to understand “functional” harmony or the “modulation” dimension of the broken chords as they occur in the B section, she could learn how to form “Major,” “minor” and “diminished” chords, and then appreciate their differences through ear-training exposure.

In this video, sent between lessons, I reviewed Major, minor and Diminished chords and their derivation from five-finger positions which she has been studying in the Major and Parallel minor. The fact that the chords (broken) moved in a sequence, or a pattern also helped her navigate this section.

The Secondary Dominant aspect had been briefly noted, but will be more deeply explored as the student’s scale work around the Circle of Fifths gives an opportunity to build chords on every degree of the scale, noting harmonic relationships, cadences, and modulations.

Teaching Video:

In part B, the music blossoms into a series of secondary Dominants against sobbing, sighing pairs of descending seconds, before it returns to a familiar revisit with part of the opening A section.

Sustaining a melodic line through recurring broken pattern chords is paramount to playing the Prelude poetically and musically. Varying dynamics and tapering phrases are woven into the artistic process.

Playing through entire prelude, first in chords, then as written in broken chord sequence.

RELATED:

Music Theory doesn’t have to be drudgery

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/music-theory-and-piano-study-video-it-doesnt-have-to-be-drudgery/

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Piano Technique: Focusing on Rotation in arpeggios, and building up a scale (Videos)

These are two supplementary videos that I created for adult students between lessons. As previously mentioned, they clarify and reinforce the content of our class, and map out ways to practice.

I. ROTATION at the turnaround of a B minor Arpeggio

Exploring the curve at the very top of the figure with an energy boost to transition smoothly in the descent (legato and staccato playing in two dynamic ranges)

II. The roll-in, wrist forward motion when starting the arpeggio, or coming around in a sequence of playings

C Major Scale

I. Blocking (separate hands)–block out “tunnels” through which the thumb passes (D,E and then GAB with thumbs played softly in between)

II. Find common fingers and notes between the hands (such as 3’s on E and A) Same for common thumb points.

III. Scope out the “bridge” over the octave, B, C, D and note how the fingers of each hand are in “mirror” or reciprocal relationship with each other. (practice finding these “neighborhoods.”)

IV. Format the scale once internal relationships are explored (Practice legato to staccato)

Practice the scale with a singing-tone Mezzo Forte (and don’t forget curve around “rotation” at the top before the descent)

Two octaves, quarter notes
Two octaves, 8th notes, with wrist dips in pairs of notes
Three octaves, rolling triplets
Four octaves, 16ths (legato)
Four octaves 16ths staccato (Forte)–Staccato is “a snip away from legato.”
Four octaves 16ths staccato (piano)

LINK:

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

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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