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Piano Technique: Burgmuller’s Tarentelle, Op. 100-Fueling and shaping fast passages with a dipping, supple wrist (Videos)

Most piano students will have been assigned a Burgmuller selection or two during their formative years of study. And most likely, these would have been snatched from the composer’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces, Op. 100 that advance by steps in difficulty, though it can be argued that all contain unique technical challenges.

Composed in the Romantic style, this music is strikingly beautiful while it advances specific technique-related goals.

One of my favorites, “La Tarentelle” in a fast and furious tempo, has its origins steeped in fear.

From Wikipedia

“In the region of Taranto in Italy, the bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula” after the region[3], was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. The stated belief in the 16th and 17th centuries was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism using a very rhythmic and fast music. The particular type of dance and the music played became known as Tarantella.”

It’s no surprise that over time, many composers tried their hand at writing their own Tarantellas. (Italian form)

Rapid, frenzied passage work characterizes Burgmuller’s “Tarantelle,” which requires whole arm activity and supple wrists.

And while it may seem that the fingers are propelling the composer’s music along, they can easily tire if not fueled by a bigger physical energy.

Breathing long, relaxed breaths, being in the moment and thinking slowly through fast stretches of notes, keep the music flowing.

Rolling through three note group figures that are characteristic of 6/8 time, also helps to style and phrase streams of eighth notes. This is where a supple wrist allows an infusion of energy when most needed. For shaping lines, it’s indispensable.

(Notice a SLOW MOTION video-only replay that’s sandwiched into the Lesson video)

A defined section of punctuated quarter note chords found on page 2, shifts the mood and character of the composition giving it a robust, march-like character. At this point, it’s best to style, cajole, and phrase the notes in such a way, that draws listener interest.

Piano Lesson:

Playing Tarentelle in tempo:

RELATED:

La Chasse (The Chase) by Burgmuller


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/piano-technique-re-arranging-hands-for-speed-and-agility-in-burgmullers-la-chasse-the-chase-videos/

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Piano Technique: Two nifty warm-up routines, one loopy, the other for zig-zaggers

Claudia, 11, and I do a 20-minute warm-up before she tackles repertoire at her weekly lesson. Today I snatched two routines that might help others with the time-honored, upper arm roll, supple wrist, and elbow swing. Just my bias showing about technique and what I favor in its development.

I’ve presented this one before, but it’s worth a refresher:

Claudia and I “looped” through a 4-note, E Major, broken chord in inversions. But first we blocked out the chords as demonstrated in the first video. (blocking establishes a sense of “spacing” and “feel.”)

NOTE that R.H. fingering is above L.H. for each inversion:

E G# B E
1 2 3 5
5 3 2 1

G# B E G#
1 2 4 5
5 4 2 1

B E G# B
1 2 4 5
5 3 2 1

E G# B E
1 2 3 5
5 3 2 1

***

In this second video we played a set of E Major parallel thirds within a five-finger Major and minor position. (In parallel, then contrary motion.)

We started with quarters, then doubled to 8ths, and finally tripled to 16ths in a parallel zig zag motion of the arms–Contrary motion followed, with opposing arm zig zags.

I borrowed the fundamental “HOPPING” exercise from Dozen A Day Book I by Edna-Mae Burnam. (It’s important to TRANSPOSE the samples to get maximum technical benefit)

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Piano Technique: More wrist-forward rolling motion in Sonatina by Clementi Op. 36 no. 1 Vivace (Videos)

In two videos, I flesh out the need for a rolling forward wrist motion in playing the last movement of Clementi’s well-known Sonatina in C, vivace.

In addition, a 3/8 meter designation in rapid tempo requires the “feeling” of ONE impulse per measure not three. And this sense of ONENESS suggests CIRCLES of motion which are physically demonstrated in the instruction.

The supple or undulating wrist is pivotal to playing this Rondo movement with shape and contour, avoiding the pencil point, or Rosie the Riveter approach to notes. https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/piano-technique-avoiding-pencil-point-playing/

In this regard, I offer preliminaries to loosen up the wrist, and suggest rhythms that I enlist to develop streams of 16th notes.

There’s a slow motion frame inserted to graphically illustrate the rolling wrist motion that is so necessary to express this Classical era music with beauty and grace.

Note that behind tempo practicing, along with separate hands is always recommended.

Rondo movement in tempo:

RELATED LINK:

Avoiding Pencil Point Playing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/piano-technique-avoiding-pencil-point-playing/

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The piano teacher as conductor–sometimes shaping gestures help a student phrase better (Video)

I couldn’t resist an opportunity to conduct my student playing the Bach Invention 13 in A minor today. She’s preparing two selections for a competitive Baroque event coming up in two weeks, and the second offering is the Prelude in C minor BWV 847.

Claudia, 11, rehearsed the Invention a few times with a few sideline prompts from me, but at some point she needed her teacher to coach her close up to extract desired arpeggio shaping.

****

Flashback to my student days

My New York City piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, didn’t conduct the music I played, but she compulsively SANG over my feeble attempts to please her, making her point loud and clear that I needed more contoured melodic lines. (Wake up little girl and play from your heart)

I guess her approach became so embedded, that to this day I can’t resist singing when I practice, and obviously it spills over into my teaching.

But the conducting comes from another place within me—perhaps from a well of frustration that I don’t have an orchestra to direct.

So as the next best option, I find myself choreographing and singing at the same time which is great prep for a Broadway musical audition. At minimum I’m up for a place on the Chorus Line, hoping against hope to be picked.

Worse case scenario, as the saying goes, Those who can’t perform, teach. (which is ridiculous) It should be revised as, those who teach CAN perform– dancing and singing all over the place in their private studios.

So having cleared the air, owning up to my teacher-driven eccentricities, I offer an impromptu choreography and a few grunts that sprang out of Bach’s exuberant Invention 13.

The point was well taken. Claudia decided to imagine that she’s the conductor of her own duo, a two voice instrumental, as she ascends the stage to play her pieces.

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Playing through Chopin’s B minor Waltz with its sighing motif (Video commentary)

Last night I sat myself down at my imperfectly regulated Steinway M grand and managed to sigh several times through torrents of phrases crafted by design and inspiration to tug at the heartstrings.

And in the video below, I journeyed in baby steps through this intensely emotional landscape pinpointing how I could flesh out the SIGHs that spill from recurrent tied notes in Chopin’s somber Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69, No.2. (The singing tone–molto cantabile-is intrinsic to this music)

It seemed natural to draw a comparison to the violin in the execution of such repetitive figures. If I had a bow in my hand I would delay entry into the string and follow through with a deliberate broadening of the tone. (I spent six years of my life studying violin noting its carryover to the keyboard)

No doubt it’s easier to draw a slow bow than to translate this effect to the piano, but a pianist can accomplish the same by entering a note from below using a dipping wrist.

The permeating tied notes that seek relief in a curve down, dissipating motion flow into a contrasting middle section in D Major, marked con anime, with animation. Here the notes are lifted and configured in groups of three leading to a longer note.

To realize the vibrancy and unique character of the dotted-quarters springing from the shorter eighths, still another delayed entry into these longer ones is suggested. But just as conspicuous is the circular motion of the phrases that move the composition along. To best flesh out these shapes, I enlist the right elbow to swing in and out in counter-clockwise movement.

In measures where there is a sudden note-wise build-up in passion and intensity (forte outpourings, along with a staccato, or PORTATO) I find that broadening these streams of notes thwarts a tendency to crowd them. And allied to this more relaxed, freedom of expression is a tasteful application of rubato.

A second interlude in the B minor Nocturne utilizes the Parallel B Major key, giving the composition a lift. But no sooner than our emotions are plied, we are pulled back to the somber opening theme with its elaboration that closes the composition in sighing despair.

I consider this Waltz a favorite of mine and dote upon Artur Rubenstein’s reading on You Tube. His performance has a disarming simplicity, framed in a relaxed tempo. In all, the master takes about 4 minutes to weave his poetry with the grace and beauty he’s known for.

LINK:

What Pianists can Learn from String Players

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/what-pianists-can-learn-from-string-players/

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The Chopin Bb minor Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1, and arm/hand rotation/phrasing (Video)

Chopin’s Bb minor Nocturne (Night Piece) requires a player to use a full arm rotation to fluidly play the arpeggios in the left hand that span over an octave. These broken chords which fill a large space by their expansion, create a Romantic underpinning for the molto cantabile heart-rending melody in the treble.

If the wrist, hand, and arm don’t work in unity to execute the bass figure which permeates the whole composition, then the player will quickly tire and the tone will become inhibited.

When I rotate my arms in the course of playing this work, I feel like I’m swinging them toward and away from my body. My elbows with their curvaceous movements, in particular, have wide a wide range of motion. Intertwined with the arm and hand movement is the undulating or flexible wrist. It’s suppleness advances phrase-sculpting and shaping, and its follow through motion allows a player to “breathe” through a composition. (both treble and bass lines)

A pervasive feeling of TWO impulses per measure further lifts the music, so it’s not bogged down in six. (6/4) This rhythmic adjustment helps the player float more naturally in half measures until the final cadence. It’s with a unity of hands, wrists and arms nursing phrases along.

Seymour Bernstein talks about an “upper arm roll” that allows a pianist to have more control over phrasing, dynamics and nuance. He encourages the use of large levers–not just fingers down playing.

Mildred Portney Chase, in her book Just Being at the Piano explains how she focuses on a “release” motion when practicing.

“I may play a short phrase and in the release, allow my hands and arms to move away from the instrument and then back again as a dancer would, with a feeling of grace and fully in contact with the last sound played. Or, I may simply move, using the gesture in choreographed movement to a musical phrase. This may undo any tension that might bind the fingers in playing out the phrase.”

***

I like to think of the arms as playing the fingers, perhaps like by-passing the keyboard, drawing music from the strings inside the piano.

The only way perhaps to begin to illustrate what often seems a bit beyond words to describe is to embed an example.

In this reading, I make it a point to study phrases that had particular flow and nuance, and store these in my muscle memory bank.

The touch/feel part of music-making is often under-played (pun intended) Notes only have meaning as musical ideas drawn from inspiration allied to fluid movement.

Learning individual notes in the early learning process, should be wedded to the singing tone– to beautiful phrasing and nuance. From the very first exposure to a new piece, ( as Mildred Portney and Seymour Bernstein wisely say) the savoring of each musical moment is a treasured one.

This tableau posted by Seymour Bernstein nicely frames the process of reaching deep down into oneself for musical inspiration:

The backdrop: Aria from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Link:

You and the Piano, A Lesson With Seymour Bernstein, Part 4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNYH8GQrdrc