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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:

Muzio Clementi, piano lessons, piano lessons by Skype, piano teaching, POWHOW, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Skyped piano lesson to Greece, skyped piano lessons, Sonatina in C Op. 36 no. 3 by Clementi

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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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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Piano Technique: The dipping wrist, and how it defies convention (Videos)

One of my adult students echoed a belief that has resonated for generations in piano studios across the country, if not the world. The OLD school of thought was that you played piano with a rigid, arched hand, and if you slipped into a longer, relaxed curve, or dared to DIP your wrist below the level of the key slip that boxed in the keys, you might as well find yourself another teacher. (In fact, a rejecting mentor would have gathered up all the pennies that fell off your” imbalanced wrist,” and stashed them away as proof of your transgression)

I remember clearly that my second New York City piano instructor, Ethel Elfenbein, (in the early 60s) was ironically a dipping-wrist player from start to finish, and her tone reflected the beauty of this approach, though for some reason, she couldn’t communicate to me exactly what worked so beautifully for her. (I spent too much time in the kitchen copying fingerings for pieces that were way above my head!) Try the Chopin Scherzo in Bb minor, when I could barely read a Bach Little Prelude.

Just about that time, I suffered the pangs of a piano-related depression and needed some guidance about the fundamentals of tone production.

Lillian Freundlich was the first singing tone-focused mentor, but she didn’t particularly work on wrist flexibility–or isolate the role of wrist motions in piano playing. (She spent inordinate time on relaxation and building up phrases in groupings)

On to Oberlin, her alma mater, and a regression to Schmitt exercises with a stiff hand position. I couldn’t stand it! A typing course would have reaped more benefit.

Fast forward the clock to California and Ena Bronstein, a fluid player, with an immense reservoir of motions through relaxed arms into supple wrists–and to her credit, she showed me some circular elbow motions that I readily ingested. Here’s a snatch of her Liszt Transcendental Etudes that reflects poetry in motion:

Not to forget, Seymour Bernstein’s video tutorials, one of which zoned in on the dipping wrist, Part 4. The undulation slowed up entry into a note, or chord, etc. and created a honey-dipped resolution, or magnificent phrase-tapering. You couldn’t miss the beauty coming from “his” own two hands.

Part Four, “You and the Piano”

***

A few years ago, I spotted an incredible You Tube video in Hungarian, that magnified Livia Rev’s approach to the piano. To notice a DIPPING wrist would be an understatement. I copied the thumbnail as a graphic example:

And here’s Irina Morozova in motion at the piano with her fluid wrist.

Do I dare follow these great artists with a sample of my dipping wrist in this short, but charming Mozart Minuet.

I can “sculpt” phrases with my “spongy” wrist, and create nuances that are otherwise unavailable if I adhere to the Old convention of keeping an up and perfect hand position:

That’s why I advocate its flexibility in my teaching–even with a child as young as Rina who started lessons with me 8 months ago at the age of 4.

Here’s a flashback to a very early lesson where she’s tapping one note to a CD selection from Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey instruction. She had been imbued with the “spongy wrist” image as she played her detached notes, one finger at a time. (This was her third month of study)

As it happens, I’m now working with a new Skype student from the Alaskan frontier, who’s learning about the dipping wrist to warm up her playing.

Here are some pics:

***

LINK:

RELATED: https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/piano-instruction-a-beautiful-mozart-minuet-in-f-major-k-5-not-often-played-video/

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