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Piano Technique: Soft staccato scales with projection, springboard energy, resilience, and shape

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One of the biggest weaknesses that present in soft dynamic range staccato scales, is a lack of projection. Students often snuff out notes, play them in a whisper without a tenacious spring UP character, or a necessary rebound effect from note to note. Instead, they become inhibited and constrained. Yet even at the Forte level, their staccato rendered scales may lack definition, animation, adequate SPACING, and overall shape/direction.

In an attempt to remediate lackluster scales that transition from smooth and connected legato to staccato, particularly in the soft cosmos, I suggest mental images to frame the sound, while also demonstrating the springing UP character of these detached notes to create an ear-catching environment.

Two Sample Lesson Excerpts:

B minor

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C-sharp minor (Melodic form)

In the second example, the student also worked on intensification of the Melodic minor ascent (staccato), in contrast to a relaxed descent. (i.e. Naturalization of the C-sharp minor scale) Finally, she rendered the C-sharp minor Arpeggio, refining a Forte/Piano staccato transition in triplets.

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Additional:
A wrist generated approach to staccato, to relieve tension, and improve projection.

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Piano Technique: Finding a secure nesting ground on Black Notes

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In our Circle of Fifths journey through the ARPEGGIO universe, the one KEY that stands out as the most dreaded among adult students, is F# Major. A slippery slope of skinny raised BLACK notes, it often feeds separation anxiety from the more spacious WHITE notes.

In the face of such traumatic avoidance of ratted black keys that can poison the piano learning environment, a mentor has the challenge of neutralizing fears by using mental prompts to nurture a SAFE HAVEN for flighty fingers.

But part and parcel of this remedial undertaking, is an examination of a student’s FROZEN encounter with the blacks that prevents a necessary FREEDOM of the arms, wrists and hands. This is where my personal FLOP, FLOP approach has the wrist hanging off the arms, SHAKING OUT the staccato notes. While I encourage a BIG, if not EXAGGERATED Full Arm/Supple Wrist follow-through GESTURE, it will be sized down by increments to encourage centering on the blacks without feeling SKITTISH or INHIBITED.

Ideally a LEGATO contouring should precede the Staccato playing because the former is likely to allow a student to SETTLE IN, before he detaches notes. However, in both LEGATO and STACCATO, a CONNECTION to the BLACKS, both PSYCHOLOGICAL and PHYSICAL, must remain.

In my LIVE and virtual studio, I always start with the premise that BLACK KEYS are welcoming to hands and fingers. They provide a secure nesting ground, NOT a high-wire challenge over a steep decline. With this mental SAFETY NET, the BLACK-KEY ARPEGGIO should be DE-Charged in ALL articulations.

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P.S. A student’s response to this posting that’s shared far and wide.

“And I thought I was the only one that was having trouble with that arpeggio in F# major! I’m glad you did not tell me ahead of time that it was the most dreaded.

“It’s better now, but remains the most awkward feeling of them so far as I find myself halfway around the circle! Hard to believe it’s only halfway….seems like I have been to the moon and back and I’m only half way??? Oh well,the journey continues to delight, and occasionally frustrate, but not for long with you rescuing us from the slippery slopes!”

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A Fear-less, Horizontal Approach to Staccato playing

Most piano students become DIS-connected when asked to play staccato. Their full blown trepidation wedded to DETACHMENT is so conspicuously on display during scale and arpeggio playing that a teacher must first devise mental cues to bring the student down to earth, in a comfortably secure traction with the keys.

It’s no surprise then, that LEGATO playing (smooth, note-to-note connection) may be the paradoxical entryway to staccato journeys across the 88s. In an octave-by-octave transit that essentially draws on a pianist’s ability to hug the keys, if not drag notes using touch-sensitive weight transfer, a resultant grooved, grounded, and gravitational centering will become the psychological and physical model for subsequent crisp releases. (It’s a natural transition that feeds relaxed and well-shaped staccato playing.)

In the following videos, two adult students respond positively to “horizontal” framings of their arpeggios and scales. They also make nice playing transfers from legato to well-contoured staccato.

Diminished 7th Arpeggio
(In slow and incrementally quicker tempos–Note that a slow-paced staccato rendering retains a horizontal dimension with teacher prompts.)

F#-minor Scale (Melodic form)

adult piano instruction, adult piano lessons, legato, online piano instruction, piano, piano blog, piano pedagogy, piano teaching, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, staccato

A “cool” dip into Quicktime for wrist, finger, and forearm staccato practice

Amazing how 90-degree temperatures in the East Bay can wreak havoc over Face Time transmissions. It nearly made Online mentoring come to a grinding halt yesterday! except that a Quick Time saving grace Lesson Preserver came to the rescue!

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In my Scotland travels, I’m accustomed to subbing in the iPhone for the iMac because of two-way computer Online Face Time/Skype irregularities, so from week to week, I’d been giving my back-up camcorder a 60-minute workout, snatching the whole lesson for a same day uploaded re-cap. But once I realized Quick Time on the Big Mac could be enlisted to simultaneously record selected lesson segments while glaring at the cell image of a Yamaha grand, I had the best of both worlds: Live iPhone transmission and a selective mouse clicked re-run in progress.

Here’s the set up: Call it an EMT piano teaching equivalent.

Naturally, the mechanics of Quicktime allow focus on well-measured lesson goals. For example, yesterday, I demonstrated a variety of Staccato approaches in scale and arpeggio framings using the overhead keyboard web cam view. (wrist, forearm, finger driven detached notes on display)

And once the day played out with cooler evening temps draping the East Bay, I had sufficiently “warmed up” my ‘finger’ staccato to demonstrate a fast 32nd-note romp.

In summary, being flexible and resourceful in this Online universe is a must to keep lessons up and running despite occasional annoying transmission problems.

piano, piano blog, piano playing, piano teaching, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, staccato, word press, you tube

A Teacher/Student fueled discovery about Staccato playing

I never cease to be amazed by a mutual discovery process that’s ongoing between me and my adult students. Without our learning partnership, we would not have periodic awakenings that feed our reciprocal musical development.

Case in point, is the attainment of Staccato refinement in its most crisp and animated form.

In the past month, after watching my pupils often stumble through their scales and arpeggios when they transitioned from playing legato to rendering short, crisp detached notes, I started to think about ways to remedy the problem.

Through finite observation, and experimentation in my personal learning lab, aka, my practice module, I came to the conclusion that having students snap each finger along the scale or arpeggio spectrum in slow tempo, would fine-tune their ears to what constituted a crisp note release. Naturally, the sensitive ear training phase was bound to a physical awareness of how these notes marched along in an appealingly animated manner.

From my perspective, it wasn’t purely a FINGER-driven staccato that fed a briskly played scale or arpeggio with a desired horizontal dimension, but the fingers at the end of a relaxed arm and supple wrist spectrum provided a necessary unity for fluid playing.

Naturally, a parceled layered learning approach that included a blocking phase, produced positive results.

In this particular video sample I used an Eb Major arpeggio framed in triplets to advance a well-contoured staccato. A lesson-in-progress with an adult student followed my tutorial.

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A Piano Gym Workout in Staccato before J.S. BACH

The Piano Fitness Club was in full swing as a well-prepared adult student and I romped through C# minor scales (3 forms) and B Major Arpeggios. Shaping detached notes in piano to forte dynamic ranges was the focus of a quick-paced hour.

The B-Major arpeggio, rendered in sprightly 10ths, was remediated in articulated paired sub-groups within a Eurhythmics framing.

Abounding energy permeating broken chords spilled into Bach’s ebullient Courante from his French Suite No. 5, BWV 816, rounding out the lesson.

adult piano instruction, arpeggios, legato, piano instruction, piano pedagogy, piano technique, scales, staccato

Piano Technique in the PLAY-ground: Thumb to thumb swings and more

The playground can be the best music teacher. Thumb swinging, for example, to smooth out shifts through scales, is practiced by an adult student. (She had initially lost her “feel” for spacing between long and short tunnels, through which her thumb passed). A blocking approach preceded the swing routine that carefully marked out groups of notes and their geography. But the momentum of the thumbs’ journey had to have a “springing up” up dimension, or at least a mental image attached to “lift” up the shifts, supported by buoyant arms and wrists. In the video below, the student works on achieving a relaxed physical abandon in the key of G Major that’s akin to a playground romp.

In the second video, my pupil practices a refinement of her Staccato through a G Major arpeggio. Blocking coupled with a build-up of notes through incremental groupings were the springboard for alternating a rolling legato with “snipped” (crisp, detached) notes.