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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)

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Video supplements for piano students assist practicing

Whether giving piano lessons LIVE or by SKYPE, sending students video excerpts of their lessons-in-progress, or creating a short film that zeroes in on a particular technical challenge, is always helpful.

In the old days when I studied with Lillian Freundlich in NYC, a reel-to-reel tape recorder was the standard for memorializing lessons. No tripod or camcorder was in sight, so it was an interminable wait to the next lesson for clarification about trills, mordants, fingerings, etc.

In the Millennium it’s a different world, with Macs, Ipads, Smart Phones etc. as standard fare. Students will even mount their technology on the piano rack while practicing. (A ticking metronome is activated by iPhone)

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This past week, I tabled my camcorder beside the El Cerrito Baldwin grand, and collected footage of J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor played by an adult student.

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Since the piece is composed of woven broken chords throughout, it was useful to have the pupil block out sonorities before unraveling them.

(The challenge most face in this undertaking, is keeping a supple wrist to avoid a hard crash on the keyboard, so various mental images along with physical demonstrations often soften the impact)

The first image enlisted was playing into a bowl of “jello,” followed by “molasses,” but in the last analysis, “quicksand” worked best.

For another pupil, I created a video segment as prep for his playing a C Major scale up and down in one octave. After having added in a snatch of triplets to 16ths as applied to the Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5, I sent it out as a portable assist for a diligent student who practices over his lunch break at work.

In summary, videos prepared by teachers plus resources found on You Tube enrich the practicing environment and help pupils progress from week to week.