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“Piano Student of the Week,” Claudia S. practices Bach and improves her playing (Video)

Claudia is one of the old-timers around here at age 11. She came to study piano with me when she was just 6 and in those days, I gave her Noona’s “The Red Drum,” in addition to selections from Book One, Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto: Hook “Minuet,” Schein “Allemande,” Telemann “Dance” in G minor, J.S. Bach “Bouree,” Tansman “Arabia,” Poole “Mist”; “A March” by Paciorkiewicz, Lubarksy “The Busy Hen,”Rybicki “Cradle Song,” and Fritz Le Couppey “The Shepherd’s Pipe.”

I never used method books in her studies because Claudia was well into note reading at the time, and was ready for some ear perking repertoire. In addition, we started five finger positions in all parallel major and minor keys, which led to full scale and arpeggio study. She has now come a long way, doing the equivalent of a gymnastics display at the piano each week. We spend the first 20 minutes turning scales and arpeggios into whirlwind spins in every manner you can imagine, parallel/contrary motion, in 10ths, 6ths, 3rds, and more.

I can recall Claudia’s first recital in my home like it was yesterday. She played the most of any other student, because she had enough learned pieces in her fingers to give a full scale recital of her own, and that was the memorable day that one of my adult students, a 6’5″ strapping fellow, clunked his head on my chandelier, barely making it to the Steinway in a half dazed state. But the show went on….

Claudia’s serious-minded attitude about piano study

With her strong work ethic, Claudia sets a good example for other students. She practices steadily and has the patience to learn pieces applying a stepwise approach. Claudia also dutifully completes her Theory assignments in the Snell-Ashleigh workbooks, transposes pieces, learns Solfege, names intervals and improves her ear-training skills.

The fruits of her labor are rich and bountiful.

Currently she’s studying the Bach Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV847, Invention 13 in A minor, and the Chopin Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64 no.2. Quite a nice music menu for an 11-year old.

Here’s a sample of her riveting focus on improving the Bach Invention 13. We were using rhythms to refine the climactic measures on the last page:

Who would have imagined this very poised youngster gracing a 9 foot piano at Fresno State’s recital hall? (MTAC Baroque Festival)

I still remember her as a sweet, sensitive and wide-eyed 6-year old. How time flies. And during these many years, she’s racked up international travels to Korea, Germany, and Austria (Salzburg) Her horizons are ever-expanding as is her language acquisition of Korean and French. German, anyone?

Flash forward to the present for a glimpse of Claudia’s repertoire:

Bach Invention 1 in C; Invention 4 in D minor; Invention 8 in F and 13 in A minor; Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV847; Beethoven Fur Elise, Chopin Waltz in A minor no. 19, Op. Posthumous, Mozart Sonata complete K. 545

In the past:
Beethoven Sonatina in F Major; Clementi Sonatina Op. 36 no. 3; Mozart Dance in F; a collection of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals character pieces arranged for piano; J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor; Andante in A minor, Rameau Menuet en Rondeau, Kabalevsky “Clowns,” “Joke,” and “Funny Event.”

Noona “The Red Drum,” a set of pieces from Faber’s classical duets including “Snake Dance,” Pachelbel Canon arrangement, Piano selections from the Celebration Series, Toronto Conservatory, as previously mentioned.

Claudia in video and photos: Looking back over the years


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Piano Instruction: Solfeggio and Transposing (Videos)

Using Solfeggio or Solfege to advance ear training and to transpose pieces into various tonal regions is very helpful for piano students of all levels.

If we set a goal of memorizing the first 8 notes of a scale using the syllables, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti (or Si) Do, we’re on our way to understanding musical lines in any key that will have a common point of reference. This presupposes that “Do” (or the first note of any scale) is MOVABLE.

In C Major, “Do” would be C. In G Major, it would be “G,” and so forth.

With MINOR tonalities, the first note of a scale in any form whether it be Natural, Harmonic, or Melodic would also be “Do,” but certain internal alterations of the minor scale according to its structure and content would have the following solfeggiated syllables:

For C minor Natural form: C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

Do Re Me (pronounced may) Fa Sol Le (pronounced lay) Te (pronounced tay) Do

If we are in any tonality and an accidental (sharp or flat) is inserted within a measure, then solfeggio accommodates the change.

In the key of C Major, if a composer inserts an F# in the score, then FA (F) become Fi. For an Eb accidental, Mi (E) becomes Me (“may”) If A is lowered to Ab, La (A) becomes Le (Lay)

Many piano teachers start students on solfeggio before they learn note names because it imbues a consciousness of RELATIONSHIPS/interval spacing between notes. Unfortunately the STANDARD method books on the market fixate on Middle C and “C position” making students think that C is the interminable, FIXED, “Do” in the “happy” Major. That’s why I grab any opportunity to insert an Eb (May) in the score, creating the parallel C minor as a tonal variation.

A pupil should begin to explore transposition of primer melodies into many different keys by using a movable DO. Otherwise, he will spend several months to a year in a time-warped C-centered universe until the next method book is introduced. At that point G-centered, “G position” plows along in the same predictable course.

To support tonal exploration, a teacher can start a pupil on a regimen of pentascales, or five-finger positions that travel through different keys. The student should sing these back in the Major and parallel minor using solfeggiated syllables. Note names are not abandoned just because SOLFEGGIO is added. Both learning modalities should exist side by side. After alll, the more psycho-neuro-musical-linguistic connections made, the better for overall musical development–Solfeggio being a syllabic lingo that frames music.

Five finger position examples:

C D E F G Do Re Mi Fa Sol

followed by,

C D Eb F G Do Re Me (May) Fa Sol

I make sure to journey around the CIRCLE of Fifths with a student well before beginning full scale study.

In truth, many teachers are shy about placing small hands on five-finger positions in multiple sharp and flat keys, but I’ve found that pupils relish the opportunity to explore something new and different. They will happily shuffle their pentascales, playing them in Major, minor, parallel and contrary motion in diverse geographies.

A few 8 and 9-year olds are now leaping like frogs with spring forward wrists through Dozen a Day, Book one, no. 3 “Hopping.” Parallel minors follow “Major” playings and I use Solfeggio to intone the top voice of the parallel thirds. Once solidly grounded in the first two keys of C and G, students play hopping in the keys of D, A, E, etc. (Major and minor)

A teacher can spring from Faber’s C-D-E-F-G March in Primer Lesson Book One to a self-created “sad” march using Eb–and as the student develops more dexterity, NEW keys can supplement the original. That’s where SOLFEGGIO can be introduced as a SECOND language of musical understanding. (A simultaneous translation, perhaps)

For SKIP and STEP discrimination, solfeggio is the perfect vehicle. If a teacher is motivated to nudge a student into more adventurous tonal realms, the transpositions will pay dividends by improving sight-READING and memorization.

SINGING, of course, is central to SOLFEGGIO as both are EAR-TRAINING activities.

Looking at an original melody in one key, and superimposing another’s key’s letter names during transposition would be very confusing. A rudimentary melody offered in G, will be more easily played in D, A, E, B etc. by using solfeggio.

One of my students, at the advanced Intermediate level, who had learned to read notes in the conventional way with her first teacher, recently embarked upon solfeggio using Keith Snell and Martha Ashleigh’s Fundamentals of Music Theory, Unit 12. She was asked to sight-sing the first melody on the page after I gave her the Do of the key which was C. After sight-singing the example a few times using solfeggio, she played the melody with her eyes fixed on the music drawing on the same solfeggiated syllables. Other tonal transpositions followed, and each line of music in the treble and bass clef was parceled out using solfeggio.

The videos below illustrate the activity:


Here are the Chromatic solfeggiated syllables: (Si or Ti can be used for the 7th note of a scale. Lowered by half-step, they would be say or tay)

Do Di Re Ri Me Fa Fi Sol Si (or Ti) La Li Si (or Ti) Do
Do Si (or Ti) Say (or Tay) La Lay Sol Say Fa Mi May Re Rah Do

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Piano Instruction: singing a melody to help shape it and then translate into physical motion (VIDEO)

In this videotaped example I explore the opening phrases of “Mazurka” by Maria Syzmanowska.