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Domenico Scarlatti Sonata (Toccata) in D minor, K. 141 with reams of repeated notes (VIDEO)

Domenico Scarlatti never fails to come up with a flashy pyrotechnical escapade that can make or break a player in progress. I know, because I’ve walked the plank with this piece until I was able to reverse my fortune and run with it happily into the horizon. Any number of times those repeated notes, cross hands, whatever, ruled me like a slave, and I had to earn my freedom with a commitment to slow and steady practice. Still, I would never be satisfied with the end result. That’s the way it is with an art form. You really never arrive, but just approach a goal with more success than expected.

How to stack the odds in your favor:

FIRST PRACTICE SEPARATE hands, very slowly. (use RH fingers 3,2,1, 3, 2, 1) except in measure 10: 1,3,2,1,2,1 Know the Harmonic progressions in the BASS.. Label all the secondary dominants, and notice their sequential pattern.

When played in tempo, the repeated notes should be executed in groups of ONE and not THREE. It goes so fast at Presto speed, that anyone daring to take it on better think in circles and not squares. And I mean that literally. Don’t forget to breathe and think slowly through fast paced 16th notes. Opposites attract.

Think flamenco guitar, vibrant Spanish rhythms and you’re off to a flying start. Most of all, ENJOY the passion of this masterpiece and let it SOAR!!

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/trills/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/domenico-scarlatti-sonata-in-a-k-113-i-found-another-pair-of-hands-video/

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The Big Baroque Festival!

I cleared most of my Saturday morning lessons so I could be on time for a special rehearsal at Fresno State. I took no chances given the steady rain these past few days that caused dangerously deep puddles along Shaw Avenue. The inevitable flow of traffic to crowd-jamming Bulldog games would also be a time delayer. (What season were we in?) My ignorance reminded me of the time I inadvertently scheduled a student recital on Superbowl Sunday. I had booked Northwest Chapel well in advance for a particular weekend afternoon, and naturally a specific Sunday in February was the only one available. Not a mystery with all the sports hoopla engulfing the city of Fresno. Since a pile of tailgate parties had to be canceled on account of my recital, the inconvenience cost me 4 students. And by coincidence, these kids all lived on the BLUFFS, a pseudo wealthy northwest enclave where homes overlooked a custom contrived pasture. (I noticed similar landscapes along my weekly train route to the Bay) It appeared that almost every city had set aside acres for panoramic views of a deep, expansive ditch decorated with trees, a few roaming horses, and some wild dogs chasing a few rodents that needed easy disposal) Here in Fresno there had been a fever pitch rush to buy such properties on the newly fabricated hills back in the late 80’s. (But I often wondered if the people hawking these houses, realized that a chugging, whistle blowing train would whiz by at frequent intervals, turning their dream homes into railroad flats)

***

Despite the fact that these Bluffs parents were put off by my recital scheduling on the day of a mega sports event, they still managed to show up for their kiddies’ concert with a variety of television hook-ups. Since iPhones had not yet arrived, I wished I had brought my camcorder to videotape some of the instant replay videotaping going on. No joke. The unpleasant distractions virtually ruined all of my students’ performances.

***

Flash forward: Thank God, today’s musical event at the university didn’t compete with football mania. (I happily reminded myself that the Superbowl came and went)

A high brow Baroque Festival sponsored by the Music Teachers Association of California had been planned in the afternoon, and one of my ten-year old students eagerly participated. The event had a competitive edge because only 1/3 of the entrants would be selected to go on to the Regional recital. In simple terms, those who were picked in this round by two esteemed out of town judges, would play in March at an Honors performance. It came with a Certificate of recognition and a handsome medallion. Not exactly an Olympic event, but for some keyed up students, it was a good comparison.

For starters, at 11:30 a.m. my student and I met at the concert hall to test out the stage piano.

Just last week, I had nearly died, thinking I missed my student’s run through, because a mistake was made in the announcement put out by the local music teachers association. Or maybe it was last year’s flier that got sandwiched into my branch’s Yearbook with an erroneous date of 2011 instead of 2010. Naturally, with the old dating, the February Festival would have been past history along with me.

What a relief to have come back from hell this week with another shot at being this kid’s teacher. Close call.

Today this very talented youngster performed two Bach Inventions weeks after she had appeared faceless on You Tube demonstrating her technical prowess. With only her HANDS on camera, she was put through grueling technical paces, playing every scale and arpeggio known to mankind. A bit of an exaggeration, but used to give her credit for hanging in there with a camcorder gaping over her shoulder.

Here’s a snatch of her anonymously rendered keyboard agility:

(Note that one of the pianos on video was waiting for a tuning, while the other had just received one. Hence, the warbling between them.)

In any event, the formerly invisible student, finally emerged with a face attached to her name, along with an assigned number that followed her to the Walberg concert hall stage that was equipped with a 9 foot size Yamaha.

Incidentally, last year I had learned a mighty lesson about Festival pianos and warming up. Mistakenly, I permitted a student to practice on a small upright piano in one of the university’s cubicles after she had tried out the concert hall’s concert grand. The diminutive practice size instrument had a very light action by comparison to the house piano’s resistant touch, so when my pupil played the first few notes of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on stage, they totally disappeared. Naturally, she was caught by surprise and remembered the most recent piano she had tried. Live and learn.

The atmosphere at today’s Festival, or COMPETITION, was superficially low keyed. Everyone was supposed to be celebrating the age of the Baroque without a second thought, and I guess I should have joined in the fireworks, or the candle lighting ceremony but neither took place.

In preparation for the ordeal, or golden opportunity, however one wanted to spin it, I gave my student a copy of Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase and told her to meditate over several selected, underlined passages.

I made sure to recommend my favorite mantra:
“To be a pianist, in one sense of the word, is to think that a daddy long legs on the window sill is dancing to your playing; it is to think that the breeze came through the window just to talk to your music; it is to feel that one phrase loves another; it is to think that the tree is a teacher of the tranquility you need in your playing. It is to know a loneliness crowded with the beautiful as you play.”

These words had worked like magic with another student who had made it to the Regional recital two years ago. In honor of her sterling playing, I had framed a picture of her holding a Certificate and wearing the medallion. But by far the truest memento of her 2009 Baroque Festival appearance, was a DVD that captured a portion of her “live” performance.

Here’s the c minor fugue from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book I coming from Fresno State University’s concert hall. (excuse the raw footage with some sound irregularities)

PS An in depth documentary is in progress about what transpired at the MTAC sponsored Baroque Festival. In the meantime, winners will be alerted by email on Sunday Feb. 20, 2011 so the suspense is killing most of the participants.

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The iPhone Invades Piano Lessons

Monday, Jan. 24th, was a first! Esmeralda, a retired attorney, who’d been taking lessons from me for a year, entered my El Cerrito piano studio with a bright red iPhone as a sign of the times. A dangling rectangular prism packed with limitless software had replaced her simple gold cross. This latest “look” included a top-heavy accoutrement of questionable value in the piano learning environment.

No sooner than Esmeralda began to play her five-finger warm-ups in parallel and contrary motion, she had requested that I borrow her iPhone to “record” the tricky staccato phase of the exercise (crisp and short articulation) She wanted to take the digital sample home and use it as a crutch. By re-playing it a zillion times, she believed that she would master scales at break-neck speed!

If unsuccessful, she could simply tap the iPhone metronome and watch an animated pendulum, turning herself into a piano-playing robot. If nothing else, she could induce a hypnotic state and toss aside the beat counter.

Esmeralda requested a second sample from me a week later, but not the blood type. She had already done her good deed earlier in the day and was racked with upper back pain from the lengthy drawing at the local Red Cross. I was sure the baggy, top-heavy iPhone draped around her neck had probably made things worse. Nonetheless she took a brief lesson break and did some body gyrations on my J.C. Penney, wine colored, tufted bench. This was another first!

After she reluctantly trudged back to the piano bench, I agreed to dish out a performance of Alexander Tansman’s “Arabia” only if she promised to internalize my phrasing, and not upload the recording for profit. While this was the farthest thing from her mind, she realized as an attorney that my TOS had to be met.

All this technology was dizzying.

I was born of another generation. Growing up listening to great opera singers, violinists and pianists on 33 LPs and occasionally on 78s, I knew nothing of analogs, MIDIS, DATs and the rest, and as a student at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, I was sent off one morning to the WNYC F.M. studios to record one selection for broadcast. A reel to reel tape recorder grabbed the lion share of space behind the glass as engineers tweaked it.

All I can remember was having played like an ice-cube. Stricken with performance anxiety, my Chopin Nocturne died on the vine without even a whimper. Perhaps a modern-day note splicer would have eradicated the occasional clunkers, but what about the emotionless reading. Was there a 21st Century remedy? I would e-mail “support@…” for an answer, or text message on the ride home from El Cerrito.

Decades earlier, before I had entered the Oberlin Conservatory as a Freshman, my piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, had helped me put together my audition tape using her reel to reel that captured the Schubert Sonata in A minor with gorgeous definition. Who could ask for more?

In 1992, KVPR, our local PBS radio station brought the double cylinder monsters to Northwest Church where they recorded soloists who had performed on the esteemed Keyboard Concerts Series. From my standpoint the results were crystal clear, though the sworn techie groupies would argue that digital, mp3, MIDI, and DAT were the winds of the present and future.

I recalled an ancient New Yorker Magazine cartoon depicting a classroom with 25 tape recorders of the old variety and one lonely teacher gazing upon these from behind her desk. George Orwell couldn’t have illustrated it better in 1984. Now well into the Millennium, technology had taken over, and learning by iPhone, import, plug-in, or download had displaced the well schooled, hard-working instructor at the head of the class.

Sometimes I felt like a teacher put out to pasture. My students could log onto You Tube and watch an amateur type out Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on a 61-key bell and whistle type keyboard, with a blown up graph showing how many times “E” was played in the course of a musical page. Or better yet, they could download an animated piano that hummed along at programmed frequencies. You could tap your way to pianistic perfection with a “PLAYING The PIANO in a FLASH” DVD.

I decided to go with the flow, and allow my students their iPadian idiosyncrasies. If they wanted me to record a few snatches on the iPhone, or transmit whole pieces of music to them as zip files I would get with the times.

Otherwise, I would stick to my principles and lead a monastic life of pianistic purity. I’d never even allow myself to steal an iPhone, or sneak it into the concert hall to record a full length recital of my favorite pianist, no matter how great the temptation!

Related:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/a-piano-teachers-worst-nightmare/

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More piano teaching favorites: Burgmuller’s 25 Progressive Pieces, op. 100

Burgmuller, a German composer living in France during the Romantic era composed these delightful programmatic pieces in order of “progressive” difficulty; I’ve chosen 3 favorites to showcase: “Arabesque,” “La Chasse” (The Chase) and “L’Harmonie des Anges” (Harmony of the Angels)

Arabesque (“beautiful decoration”) is a sprightly, fast paced miniature in “A” minor, that basically utilizes an open hand position. There is just one shift of the thumb under other fingers, in the “A” section. The challenge is to observe punctuated accents and learn to shift the 16th notes from right hand to left hand with as much facility as possible. The piece whizzes by so fast that it’s easy to forget the precise phrasing, articulation of notes, etc. The best approach is always exaggerated slow practicing with attention to detail until the student is able to pace himself at a faster tempo and not lose sight of Burgmuller’s phrase marks, dynamics, accents, etc.

The Chase: This is a hunting song in C Major, with a punctuated chordal Introduction followed by three distinct sections. The “A” section is tricky to master, because the composer has triplet staccato figures over legato, dotted quarter length chord progressions that emulate the hunting horn motif. (harmonic sixth, fifth, third) Hands should be separated in slow motion before playing “up to tempo” is undertaken.

The “B” section is in G Major (the Dominant key) and is less technically challenging as compared to part “A” Once again, slow and steady practicing always helps in the overall learning process.

The “A” section then returns before a distinctly contrasting “C” section begins.
This is a beautifully spun out part of the compositions, with broken chords in the left hand over a gorgeous lyrical minor (sad) melody in the right hand. This is a good opportunity to block the left hand chords alone as a preliminary, and then play the melody over these chords, before the chords are broken as written.

Finally the “A” section returns again with an added Coda concluding the piece.

“Harmony of the Angels” strikes a real contrast to the preceding two pieces from Burgmuller’s collection. It is totally spun out broken chords crossing from hand to hand, and should be seamlessly played if at all possible. A supple wrist, and rotating hands will assist in the communication of a limpidly flowing melodic line.

What a simply heavenly composition this is, and a nice one to conclude with.

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Piano Instruction: Playing Diminished 7th chords and arpeggios (Video)

In order to understand how a diminished chord is formed a student needs to know the difference between a Major and minor third.

A Major third has two consecutive whole steps from a starting note so for example, C to E creates a Major third. If a student sings C to D to E, he will have started the song “Do a Deer” from the “Sound of Music.” If the E is lowered to Eb, and the student now sings C to D to Eb, he will sing what sounds like Do a sad deer. C to D to Eb creates a minor third between C and Eb. Minor is more somber than Major.

To be more analytical about the difference between a Major and minor third:
A Major third has two consecutive whole steps, measured from the starting note.
A minor third has a Whole step followed by a half step, measured from the starting note.

A Diminished chord has two consecutive minor thirds
If you are in the Key of C Major and you play a chord on each scale degree, when you arrive on the seventh note “B” of the scale, and build two skips on top of B, you will have a naturally occurring diminished chord: B D F. From B to D is a minor third, and from D to F is another minor third.

More often than not, diminished chords appear with still another minor third added on, which makes a diminished 7th chord:

B D F Ab (Ab is the 7th)

In the embedded video I demonstrate this particular diminished 7th chord played in open position (no thumb shifts) as a warm-up before playing an extended diminished 7th arpeggio (broken chord) across the keyboard.

For Open position practice:

B D F Ab
1 2 3 5 (Right Hand)
5 3 2 1 (Left Hand)

Practice in Parallel motion:
Quarter notes to 8th notes, to two sets of triplet 8ths, to four times triplet 16ths–one set legato, followed by a set staccato, and still another set played soft staccato.

The same is practiced in contrary motion.

For resolutions of the diminished chord.. Resolve B D F Ab to C E G (Major triad)
Then resolve B D F Ab to C Eb G (parallel minor triad)

Continue by playing across the keyboard in parallel motion. Always begin by practicing separate hands.

Fingering

B D F Ab B D F Ab B etc.

RH 1, 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 etc

LH 5 4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 etc

Except for the very beginning and end of the diminished 7th arpeggio, the thumbs meet on B.

Rhythms:
quarters, three octaves
8ths, three octaves
16ths four octaves
32nds four octaves
32nds four octaves (staccato)

You can vary dynamic levels. Play mezzo forte for quarters and 8ths, Mezzo piano for 16ths and 32nds. etc.

More Technique related videos:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

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Piano Instruction: Five finger warm-ups in Major and minor (Video)

Most piano students can begin playing five finger major and minor positions between the 6th and 9th month of lessons, if not sooner. Young children learning the basic symbols of notation and rhythm may need a longer period before embarking upon these exercises, although in Faber’s “Piano’s Adventures,” Primer level, a five finger warm-up appears with floating notes, (not on the staff) in step-wise sequence. (p. 24, Lesson Book, “C-D-E-F-G March”) Naturally, I take this opportunity to insert a flat on the third above the root to imbue a consciousness of the PARALLEL MINOR mode. (E pulled down to Eb) I do not however, at this early point in study, choose to have the student begin a transposition process, taking him/her into different keys. I wait until the pupil is reading notes on Treble and Bass staffs.

NOTE that the parallel minor is NOT the relative minor. In the parallel minor the root is the same as in the MAJOR. So C Major’s Parallel minor is C minor. They both come to rest on C.

For these five finger positions or Pentachords, I use A Dozen a Day, “Walking and Running.”

While the first exercise is written in the key of C Major from Quarters to 8ths to 16ths, I don’t hesitate to teach the PARALLEL minor, C minor by inserting a flat next to E. And I do stereotype bright or happy for Major, with sad or somber for minor. These associations are pretty much programmed into our consciousness since early childhood by exposure to jingles, movie tracks, nursery rhyme tunes, etc.

I make the point that MAJOR tonality can be sad, melancholy as communicated in some of the great masterworks of Chopin, Brahms, Liszt etc. For example the Chopin Etude in E Major, no. 3 is melancholy,
as is the gorgeously haunting theme of “Liebestraume.” I feel the same about the Brahms Intermezzo in C Major, Op. 119.

Back to pentachords or five finger positions.

Using C Major as a model. (C, D, E, F, G)
The half and whole step content is taught by diagramming the five notes. But a demonstration of what a half step and whole step are precedes the visualization on paper.

C D E F G
w w 1/2 w

In practicing the warm-up, initially in the MAJOR, I ask the student to subdivide the quarter note and count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and etc.
and to play the first time through at a MF, medium loud dynamic. I set the tempo with a measure of 4/4 (Moderately slow) I sub-divide that introductory measure.

The 8ths then fill in the ANDS very evenly (with teacher prompting)

The 16ths are double the tempo of the 8ths so I say
double eedle twodeleedle threedeleedle fourdeleedle.. that precisely fits the 16ths to a tee..

This syllabic intoning seems to help students of all levels.

The next step is asking the student to play the whole exercise again at an mp (medium soft) dynamic level. Sub-divided counting is still recommended. The opportunity to practice at a contrasting dynamic level can’t be over-emphasized. It gives the student a chance to explore tonal possibilities and a palette of colors.

Continue to Contrary Motion

With CONTRARY motion the student starts with finger 5 in each hand. This means the exercise will end on 5’s simultaneously in each hand.

The methodical steps used in parallel motion and contrary motion, is repeated for the minor but first the student sees the diagram of Whole and half step content.

C D Eb F G
w 1/2 w w

And he/she learns to appreciate the tonal and emotional differences between MAJOR and minor.

In the video I offer an approach for more advanced students, where 32nd notes are added in legato and staccato pairs to extend the exercise.

Of Importance:

Once students embark upon the study of five finger positions in Major and PARALLEL minor, they will learn to TRANSPOSE these going around the Circle of Fifths.

To acquire sharps, we proceed clockwise, GOING up in fifths

Here is an example of the cycle on the sharp side:

C Major/minor to G Major/minor to D Major/minor to A Major/minor

to E Major/minor to B Major/minor to F# Major/minor to

C# Major/minor

Some teachers might ask if a beginning student of 8 or 9 has a capacity to learn all these transpositions in the course of study. I would say for the most part yes, with one reservation, that not all do well with contrary motion. So I make individual decisions about that particular avenue of practice.

For the flat side of the Circle, the student has to be able to count backwards in the musical alphabet to acquire the new starting point for a flat content pentachord.

This pre-supposes what the 1/2 and whole step content of a complete Major scale is:

Using C Major as an example: Half steps occur between scale degrees
3,4 and 7,8

C D E F G A B C

To find the starting note of the first flat content 5 finger position the student goes DOWN five notes from C following the trail of half steps and whole steps. The teacher should help the student along.

C to F Major/minor to Bb Major/minor to Eb Major/minor to
Ab Major/minor to Db Major/minor Gb Major/minor Cb Major/minor

As far as the technique of playing these positions around the Circle, singing tone legato is encouraged, but in the course of studying these exercises, I add a pair of staccato FORTE (Big tone) 16ths, followed by a pair of PIANO (soft) 16ths.

As previously mentioned the more advanced student will add 32nds legato and staccato.

There is also the rotational aspect of playing these that is best demonstrated in the video. Note my reference to “mashed potatoes” a form of clumping and rotation of the hands across the five finger positions.

Basically, I want the student to have a grasp of these positions as a pattern or grouping not as verticalized note progressions. A horizontal rendering of these warm-ups is preferred, at legato and staccato levels.

More Piano Technique blogs with embedded videos:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

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Piano Technique related videos

Videos on Piano Technique:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/why-play-scales/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/piano-instruction-five-finger-warm-ups-in-major-and-minor-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/scales-and-arpeggios-with-videotaped-replay/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/piano-instruction-learning-the-f-minor-scale-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/the-most-reviled-scale-for-piano-players/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/playing-scales-from-legato-to-staccato-think-ping-pong-balls/

Blocking four-note chords before unblocking them as arpeggios in a sequence of inversions as prep to play the Moonlight Sonata, last movement, Presto agitato.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/from-chords-to-gym-and-back-you-tube-video/

Playing a C Major scale in contrary motion:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/playing-scales-in-contrary-motion-video/

Chunking a B Major scale:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/sports-and-piano-technique-how-about-chunking-on-you-tube/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/piano-gym-routines-with-my-10-year-old-student/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/piano-instruction-playing-diminished-7th-chords-and-arpeggios-video/

Mozart Sonata, K. 545 in C Major: Harmonic and technical considerations:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u00VjBtn-t0   (Part 1)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8cBg_qKSeU  (Part 2)

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/piano-instruction-part-3-harmonic-rhythm-and-phrasing-mozart-sonata-in-c-k-545-shirley-kirsten-piano/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/piano-instruction-second-movement-mozart-sonata-in-c-major-k-545-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/piano-instruction-mozart-rondo-allegretto-3rd-mvt-sonata-in-c-k-545/