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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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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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Part Six Piano Instruction, Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2 and all FIVE teaching segments preceding

In order from Part One to Six:

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

VI.

LINKS:

Part ONE: Beethoven Tempest Sonata in D minor

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/practicing-tips-for-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-part-one-video/

Part TWO Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/piano-instuction-part-two-beethovens-tempest-sonata-hand-cross-over-with-tremolo-in-the-middle-voice/

Part THREE Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/piano-instruction-part-three-beethoven-tempest-sonata-in-d-minor-op-31-no-2/

Part FOUR Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/piano-instruction-part-four-beethovens-tempest-sonata-in-d-minor-op-31-no-2-measures-55-93/

Part FIVE Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/piano-instruction-part-five-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-measures-93-to-158-development-recitative-submerged-pedal/

PART SIX, referenced in You Tube format

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwQzBpWJWqs

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Piano Instruction, Part THREE Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2

This instruction continues from measure 41 through 57, where agitated pairs of 8th notes return, picking up the opening motif. As expected, I use blocking or clustering to keep the redundant figures resilient and bundled with energy. (a forward moving wrist motion is attenuated in rapid tempo, but more exaggerated in the slow practice phase) The refueling of energy through the wrist and relaxed arms avoids fatigue.

I separately focus on the Left Hand figure that alternates between the Tonic and Dominant of A minor and breathes longer breaths against the frenetic 8th-note pairs in the Right hand.

Solfege is also a good learning adjunct. Using a movable DO, you can keep track of modulations away from D minor. In the case of measures encompassing this Part THREE instruction, A MINOR is clearly underscored.

It’s fascinating to observe that Beethoven fleshes out quite a bit of A minor in this opening D minor movement, reflecting his affinity for this key.


LINK:

Part ONE Beethoven Tempest Sonata in D minor

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/practicing-tips-for-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-part-one-video/

Part TWO Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/piano-instuction-part-two-beethovens-tempest-sonata-hand-cross-over-with-tremolo-in-the-middle-voice/

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Piano Technique: Reeling off parallel thirds in staccato (with a trampoline effect)

The playground as music teacher applies:

My brood of students and I enjoy the romp through a set of parallel thirds within a five-finger position.

In our escapade, we usually dance through the Major and parallel minor tonalities.

Interplay, back and forth always helps. It allows the teacher to model physical ingredients of a buoyant staccato.

Arms and wrists should be relaxed, and suggested points of energy renewal are identified. Ilyana, 8, punctuated these with claps before she gave it a whirl.

The video reveals more:

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Piano Lesson: Analyzing/playing Bach Invention in D minor, No. 4, BWV 775 in slow tempo (Videos)

In J.S. Bach’s Two-part Inventions both voices overlap and imitate each other creating counterpoint.

The SUBJECT of no. 4 contains a d-minor Harmonic form scale whose 6th note, B flat does NOT continue in an upward motion to the leading tone, C# or 7th note, but instead, the C# is displaced down to the lower one. (B flat goes down to C#) This is unexpected in the course of scale progressions, so it has an emotional impact bound up in the intrinsic nature of the interval and its fall. (watch phrasing, and roll wrist forward for the ascending scale)

In truth, the descent sounds generically like a Major 6th, but its spelling conforms to a 7-letter spread, making it a 7th.

The second part of the opening subject, is the broken-chord, detached 8th-notes. They should not be too short. (I think press/lift)

Once the content of the Subject is understood, then any elaborations should be noted as occurs starting in measure 5 and on, as well as sequential measures, where a melodic or bass segment may be repeated a step below or above–or for that matter any uniform distance as long as there’s a symmetrical relationship between measures or phrases. (melodic and/or harmonic component–rhythmic as well)

The trills spelled out in the Palmer edition, are not played rapidly. They’re designated as treble 32nds against 16ths in the bass. When the trill is reversed, the Left Hand plays 32nds against 16ths in the Right Hand. (These would be called “measured” trills)

A very poignant juncture is at m. 48, with its DECEPTIVE cadence. An awareness of this surprising emotional shift is needed, so be prepared for an unexpected delay by way of a Bb VI chord.

Above all, carefully shape phrases and be aware of the counterpoint at all times.

Play Through:

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Irina Gorin, creator of Tales of a Musical Journey, shares her thoughts about braving a new piano teaching universe

From Irina Gorin:

“An expert is a person who makes all mistakes possible in a very specific field and learns from those mistakes. So I could probably consider myself getting close to being an expert in teaching children. But I hope there are many more mistakes and learning experiences ahead.”

This riveting quote set in motion a series of thoughtful answers to questions I posed to Irina Gorin, creator of Tales of a Musical Journey.

A master teacher with decades of experience, she’s been riding a crest of success with two self-published volumes that have earned acclaim from piano instructors around the world. Satisfied parents, too, are chiming in with their testimonials, forming a choir of praise. All are inspired by two volumes that introduce beginners as young as 4-years old to the “Magical Kingdom of Sounds.” Immersed in a fairy-tale universe, they encounter characters such as King Meter, Fairy Musicalina, Princess Melody, and Prince Rhythm who lead the way with enchantment and imagination.

A child’s progress will be nursed along in carefully conceived baby steps with a fundamental goal of teaching the singing tone and how to physically produce it. Learning in this environment with absorption of musical concepts comes quite naturally. I know, first-hand, because of my experience using Gorin’s Book I with Rina, who began piano lessons at age 4.

(P.S. My review of this material will be published in the Fall 2012 Convention issue of the California Music Teacher Magazine)

***

To widen our understanding of Irina’s motivation to pave a new pedagogical path for beginning piano students, she agreed to answer the following questions.

1) Tell us about your own training in Russia and how it influenced your approach to teaching?

I graduated from a music school, college and conservatory in the Ukraine. (It took more than 20 years of intensive training in total). Teaching was a favorite interest of mine from a very young age. And while performing never was my goal, I did well with those opportunities during my student years. In particular, I enjoyed accompanying and chamber music; playing duets and performing in ensembles. To this day I relish duet-playing with my students, and accompanying them when they study concertos.

I took intensive teaching courses (a total of 8 semesters) in college and conservatory and started working as a teacher at the age of 17. My first teaching experience was at college, where I observed my instructor mentoring the same student every week. The second lesson of the week I would teach this student on my own while my instructor would evaluate progress and move on to the next step in the learning process. In this way, I worked with the same pupil in coordination with my instructor for a total of 2 years, following the child’s progress from a late beginner level to early advanced.

In summary, living in the Ukraine afforded a vast opportunity to observe many master teachers in the lesson environment while it also exposed me to a variety of master classes, concerts, lectures, workshops, not to mention hundreds of books on piano pedagogy.

Eventually, I worked for years in a children’s music school beside 60 piano teachers who were of different ages, backgrounds and experiences. In this stimulating environment, there were joint recitals, discussions, and classes that continued to feed my growing interest in teaching.

2) What prompted you to create your own creative learning materials, given the vast array of popular method books out on the market?

As piano teachers, we always strive to help students make the most progress possible.

We want them to read notes fluently, develop good technical skills, perform confidently and expressively, and above all, we want them to enjoy playing piano and classical music.

These goals are realistic ones if we have the right tools to approach our students in the very early stages of piano study. One tool is a good method book that can size down the presentation of complicated musical ideas, and make them digestible, interesting, logically connected, as well as visually and musically attractive. At the same time, teacher satisfaction with the materials is a high priority.

For more than 30 years of teaching, I had been in search of such an ideal set of method books.

I should backtrack a bit by saying that in the Ukraine where I studied and taught, there were no method books at all. All the materials the teachers had were selected books with no pictures or words to the songs.

The typical first lesson would start like this:

This is the keyboard with white and black keys. Here are the notes ABCDEFG–so let’s play them. Then the teacher would take a student’s hand in her hand and play and name the notes in the middle octave. Following this introduction, the teacher and student played an easy tune on one note with finger # 3, then two notes, and moved on to songs with more fingers and more notes. (A creative teacher could vary this approach)

When I moved to USA in 1993, I was thrilled to discover method books such as as Alfred, Thompson, Bastien, Faber and Faber.

They had pictures; they had words to the songs, and moreover, CD’s with accompaniments. I was amazed by how easy it was to teach students starting with 5-finger positions. It seemed logical and convenient.

So I started teaching all my students with Faber and Faber’s Piano Adventures which soon became my favorite. For certain, these books made my work as a teacher less burdensome. (especially with my lack of an adequate English vocabulary)

But in a short time, I started seeing some big obstacles associated with these materials.

1. Students could not read or play music that was not in a 5-finger position.

With such patterns the five fingers are strictly fixed to certain notes in each position. Very quickly the students realize that they only need to pay attention to the fingerings so there’s no point in “reading” the notes because the same fingers are always “glued” to the same keys.

Sooner or later, however, the students and teachers will have to abandon these playing patterns, at a point when the pupil will suddenly realize that he has not acquired enough skills to read the notes. (The old trick of identifying the notes by fingering will not work when the student proceeds to learn the classical repertoire)

2. Another method-book related weakness was in the realm of technique, despite the existence of an entire album devoted it. Students who were exposed only to this material, had not developed a good hand position.

With fingers being constantly fixed in 5-finger positions for months and sometimes years at a time, young hands became immobile which led to a permanently strained, stiff and clumsy physical approach to playing–along with collapsing fingers and sterile tone.

3. While mentoring young children who had been submerged in these method books for too long, I had the challenge of teaching them to play expressively.

Students exposed to the five-finger positions, could care less about artistry, expression, and tone production.

In addition, the existing piano books did not explore feelings, or different approaches to tone production.

I must admit that part of the problem was tied to the prevalence of digital pianos, where touch could not affect tone.

Nevertheless, method books, likewise didn’t flesh out aspects of tone production. They emphasized loud and soft sounds (p and f) which hadn’t much to do with playing expressively.

So I was concerned with what had happened to feelings of sadness or happiness–being cheerful or gloomy. These were emotions children felt and understood by the age of 4.

4. Another difficulty with the standard method materials, was my having to use 4 or 5 different books in one short 30-minute lesson. These included SEPARATE Theory, Technique, Performance, Rhythm, Popular collections, etc.

Unfortunately, with the arsenal of method books required, many parents refused to buy the Theory, Technique or Performance book. They complained that it was too expensive, or that one or two books were enough. (By the way, I still can’t comprehend how technique and artistry can be separated out from the Lesson or Performance volumes)

As a result, as soon as students transitioned to the classical repertoire, they quit piano lessons, because the learning challenge became overwhelming!

It was devastating! I couldn’t return to the Russian teaching approach with its dry, visually unattractive materials. And besides the Russian selected books moved along too briskly. But I also couldn’t continue using American method books, having experienced unsuccessful results.

So that’s when I started thinking about creating my own method book using a combination of both Russian and American pedagogical approaches, bringing out the best in both.

My goal was to combine learning good technical habits with entertaining and fun musical material, using pictures, stories, and lyrics to the songs that would help students absorb complicated musical concepts. But I knew what a huge undertaking lay before me, and to that point I never had the time for it.

Two years ago, four siblings of my existing students asked to begin piano lessons and all of them were 4-years old. Because I had never taught such young children before (usually starting students at 6 or 7 years old) I couldn’t even imagine teaching them with the existing methods on the market.

So it seemed to be my calling, to make my dream come true.

I started writing several chapters for every lesson, and by the end of the school year I had written two books that make up Tales of a Musical Journey. I also created a supplemental kit for Book 1 and videotaped all my lessons with beginners. With the help of a media professional, I created a DVD with 3.5 hours of lesson excerpts that corresponded to each chapter of Book 1.

3) How are your materials uniquely different?

As pianists and teachers, we know that the main principle of acquiring technical skills is having freedom and flexibility in all the parts of our upper body: arms, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Not a a single note can be played well on the piano if joints are stiff and muscles are tense.

Following the Russian pedagogic approach, I start teaching kids to play only one key at a time using finger #3, because this finger is in the middle of the hand, (the longest and the strongest), and when kids master the balancing of their hand by playing with this finger, it becomes much easier to use other fingers without tensing up unnecessary muscles.

Playing with only one finger also makes it easier to control and relax the shoulders, wrists, etc. which are extremely important in playing the piano.

In this endeavor, I focus on nurturing musical expression and creating a singing tone from the very beginning.

At the same time, a gradual process of learning notes ensures development of good sight-reading skills.

Intrinsic to my teaching, is using ONE book for technique, theory, etc. which saves lesson time and coordinates the materials so they are logically connected and well balanced.

4) I notice that you start children as young as 4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching very young children before they can read or write?

I approach teaching 4-year old students in the same way as I do with the 6-7 or older beginners. Some kids develop earlier and are ready to start piano lessons at a young age (the same applies to reading or math readiness). And while some need to wait until they’re more mature, say by 6 or 8, for others, it might be never, for that matter.

If young students are ready and progress well, and if families are seriously involved in lessons with follow-up home practice, then those kids will have the advantage of reaching certain milestones sooner then other kids their age.

I personally love working with this young age group, but it can sometimes be very emotionally draining. In the end, however, the joys of teaching children outweigh any negatives, so that’s why I continue to seed beginners and develop them to their full potential. It’s a unique privilege I cannot refuse.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/when-great-piano-teaching-must-be-recognized/

Gorin’s You Tube Channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/pianoteaching?ob=0&feature=results_main