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Piano Practicing: Breathing into phrases and blocking out passages (Mozart Sonata, example)

I’ve picked the first two pages of Mozart’s Sonata in Bb Major, K. 281, last movement, Rondeau, Allegro to explore breathing and blocking techniques in the learning process. (These principles can be applied to practicing music from a variety of eras)

Starting a composition is often taken for granted. Sometimes students will land on a first note, for example, with the force a belly plop into a pool. Others will forget there are opening notes, (as the 4-16ths upbeat of Mozart Sonata K. 333 in Bb) They’ll breathe a sigh of relief, once they’ve managed to elude them, moving with alacrity to longer, spaced-out notes.)

Yet, this very “sigh of relief,” can be utilized as a relaxed stream of expressed air to usher in a pleasing opening note or notes.

Naturally, breathing into phrases with ease should be ongoing as a composition flows, so biofeedback becomes a vital practicing ingredient. (I recommend that students keep a journal of awakenings)

Blocking

Blocking out passages to obtain fluidity is a simultaneous part of the learning spectrum. Thinking in “groups” of notes, especially with fast passages, encourages “fast melody,” instead of chaotic crowds of notes without shape, meaning or contour. Knowing the geography of notes, therefore, is an organizer that helps smooth out phrases (Relaxed arms and supple wrists accompany)

The first video below spotlights the aforementioned practicing areas, adding an awareness of dynamic contrasts/ weight transfer, and the use of solfeggiated syllables (do, re, mi, etc) to follow and absorb voices. (Separate hand practice and voice parceling within a slow, behind tempo frame are recommended)


Play through
(still behind tempo)

Mozart k281 rondeau p 1

Mozart k 281 rondeau p 2

LINK

Chopin, Warm-ups and the Art of Breathing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

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Practicing tips for Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31 No. 2, Part ONE: (Video)

Because I found myself rambling on and on about the first page, I decided to compartmentalize the instruction to make it easier to absorb.

And since I played the “Tempest” years ago, the surest route to my restoring the piece to a respectable performance level, was to practice it from the ground up in slow tempo.

As I re-approached this Sonata, I relied heavily on CLUMPING or CLUSTERING groups of notes.

The opening two measures that resonate with a peaceful broken chord in the Dominant, are followed by a rapid stream of melodic seconds in a tempestuous descent. (The duality of the motif is clear)

In the video, I demonstrate a wrist forward motion as I clump the seconds which embody non-harmonic upper neighbor tones that are passing dissonances.

Clumping these 2nds (appoggiaturas) and throwing the wrist forward for each group of two allows a bigger and more effective energy to mobilize the passage.

It also helps with developing a “feel” for the composer’s keyboard landscape before advancing tempo.

The Video Instruction further amplifies: Part 1

LINK

PART TWO, Instruction, Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/piano-instuction-part-two-beethovens-tempest-sonata-hand-cross-over-with-tremolo-in-the-middle-voice/

Another Beethoven Sonata landscape:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/practicing-a-difficult-section-in-beethovens-sonata-pathetique-op-13-movement-1-video/

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Irina Morozova’s inspiring words flow through a lesson with an adult student (Beethoven’s Fur Elise-in-progress) Video

“From watching great pianists it is obvious that they incorporate quite different movements to achieve the same goals, because people do not play piano with fingers but rather with the mind and the ear. Again, it is the clear image of what kind of sound one wants to achieve, combined with the knowledge of how to get it….”

To frame a lesson with these ideas, helps to infuse it with the spiritual, analytical, and nonverbal elements of exchange.

Within this paradigm, one of my adult students continued her study of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” (C section, treble chord voicing with bass tremolo)

LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/pianist-irina-morozova-blends-a-satisfying-career-of-teaching-and-performing-videos/

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More and more “piano” students are going Digital. Is it a good idea?

It’s sad but true that a glut of former piano buyers who would have considered piano lessons for their children at age 7 or so, have made the choice to invest in a DIGITAL. (known as a DP)

Of further testimony to the culture’s relatively new fixation on electronic piano technology, are the 35,000 plus You Tube hits my DP overview has amassed, compared to a mainstream “acoustic” offering that snagged the spotlight because of my bench potato CAT.

The CAT and Chopin

Considering the above, which musical purveyance is more pleasing?

I’d say hands down that Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” (below) would be better rendered on an acoustic than a Roland, etc. based on tone dimension and timbre alone. The “feel” of a real piano, also cannot be compared to any so-called mimicked “hammer-weighted” electronic keyboard, though many buyers have tried to trick their hands, not to mention EARS into believing so.

“Fur Elise” rendered on a Steinway (Compare to Roland/Yamaha samples)

So having voiced my bias against digitals, why would I have invested hours of time scoping them out at Guitar Center and Best Buy? No less, bringing a video camera along for the ride? (thanks to Guitar Center’s CEO, Jeremy Cole for the written permission, and to Matthew Wheeler at BB)

Well, reality is, that the purchasing trend is in this direction, and if I tabulated all the inquiries fielded for an opinion on which one to buy, it would stagger the reader’s imagination.

It’s a fact that shoppers are flocking to acquire DPs at every opportunity and they haven’t stopped for a moment to think of what they are sacrificing in this fever-driven pursuit.

***

Elaine Comparone, a well-known New York City-based concert performer injected a bit of social commentary about the wave of DP buying. It was after I had bemoaned the number of parents contacting me for piano lessons who had electronic keyboards. Some of their prize musical possessions amounted to 61, bell and whistle sounds, with a few “belches” thrown in for special effect.

Elaine’s thoughts were riveting:

“I think a lot of this is economic along with the pervasive effect of pop culture. Which of these kids, or parents for that matter, have ever seen or heard a real instrument on TV or live? Real music study has become a pastime for the wealthy elites where years ago it was a sine qua non of immigrant working class culture. But it behooves us to hang in there and pass along genuine musical values, which can exist in myriad musical forms. Blah blah…..”

I added to the mix that “real” pianos sold at dealerships were beyond the financial means of the average instrument buyer, though, ironically, struggling consumers might in a flash, slap down a credit card for a $4100 Roland equipped with EVERYTHING, like a snazzy new car with all imaginable options.

Try this DP out for size:

One Facebook correspondent owned a 9-foot Steinway grand, but had the luxury to invest in a pricey Digital console that would yield hours of pleasure with its fancy accouterments.

Initially plagued by making a choice between a LX10 Roland at $4,100 and a $2900 Yamaha CLP 440, she was biased toward the Roland based on its “accelerated action and weighted keys from bass to treble unlike the Yamaha.”

It could also simulate the so-called Steinway grand piano sound with a simple finger tap.

Other consumers, of more modest means, might have gone the less expensive route buying a portable or more modestly priced console like the Yamaha Arius going for about $1100 plus tax.

Still, when it came right down to it, teaching piano to a child or adult equipped with a “hammer-weighted” digital wouldn’t be same as working with an acoustic.

I Skyped a few piano lessons to rural Pennsylvania, where a DP flashed up on the screen. In time, after the first virtually transmitted instruction, it was tossed in favor of a twangy Haddorff 1941 console. To call the latter a saloon piano would have been an understatement, though its “feel” and “resonance” appealed to the owner.

I could relate.

The decay rate of any note on this “real” piano was astounding. It reverbed to the heavens despite its shortcomings attached to a poor maintenance history.

By coincidence, I had purchased my treasured Haddorff 1951, advertised on Craig’s List for $700, and it played circles around any digital in the tone and timbre department. (Though I will admit that its tuning needs were frequent, compared to tune-free electronic instruments)

Nonetheless, the above example alone, proves to me, that there are many worthy used pianos waiting to be purchased, and like mine, they may be located around the corner.

I’ve helped any number of students acquire pianos before the digital rage took hold and these purchases included Baldwin Acrosonics and Wurlitzers from the 50s, 60s and 70s era.

Just a decade ago most parents who contacted me for lessons had one of these acoustic pianos in their home. Today, the majority own a Casio, Yamaha, or a lesser known DP, and they have no idea that embarking upon instruction might require the real deal as far as some piano instructors are concerned. (myself included, though I’ve made adjustments for students who have little or no space for even a console or spinet piano)

***

But for piano study to be meaningful, it entails properly teaching the singing tone, touch, phrasing, nuance, “feel” which means a student needs to practice on a functional acoustic piano– one without sticking notes, missing notes or blanks, etc. In addition, the instrument needs to have tuning viability. (an able technician can examine the tuning pins, hammers, strings, etc. before a particular piano is acquired)

Many DP owners boast the critical lack of need and cost associated with tuning or regulation. (not to mention having climate-free concerns ) While these may be definite advantages, the trade-off in other areas of assessment is, in my opinion, not worth it. And I’m not talking about the hours of recreation and pleasure afforded by DPs. That’s FUN and great. My concern surrounds TEACHING and passing on a traditional legacy that has been time-honored for generations. (and that goes for mentoring “beginners.” There’s no reason for the training-wheels equivalent of a digital as predecessor to a real piano) One piano teacher’s website, for example, shows a row of 3-year olds wearing over-sized ear phones, hooked up to computer screens and attached digitals. She claims they are Mozarts in-the-making.

I’ve heard that song sung so often, that it’s become a dissonant reminder of the status quo.

But to inject some humor into this posting,

Evgeni Bozhanov, a distinguished Bulgarian pianist who competed in the last Cliburn International Piano Competition, was quoted as being unhappy with the complimentary Steinway grand donated to his host family in Fort Worth Texas as he prepared for his first-round musical appearance.

Pictured at a Yamaha Clavinova practicing a warhorse Rachmaninoff piano concerto, he was the poster boy for musical sobriety, shrugging off the arrogance of effete snob pianists who might discredit him. (Would that happen to be me?)

So on this disturbingly confusing note, I’ll conclude by sharing my voiced fears about the survival of the acoustic piano culture as channeled in a previous blog.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/is-the-piano-a-dying-breed/

RELATED:

My “new” old 1929 Baldwin grand–a tribute to a seasoned used piano. For me, no digital can come close to it.

***
Footnote to item about Evgeni Bozhanov, from Wilson Pruitt who blogged about the last Van Cliburn Piano Competition

http://varropieces.blogspot.com/2009/06/bozhanov.html

“Things we know about Bozhanov: … He doesn’t like Steinways, especially American-made Steinways, and definitely not the brand-new New York grand that was delivered to his host family’s house so he could practice. Instead, his host family bought a Yamaha Clavinova electronic piano for him to use for practice (while in Texas) … He travels with his own piano bench.” (which looks like one of those DP jobs)