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The C Major Scale universe: metric and muscle memory; shaping and tapering

Most piano students celebrate the C Major scale as an “easy” journey over 8 notes and back.

But as the attached video instruction proves, the ingredients of playing this scale with a fluid, well-shaped legato (smooth and connected) in transition to a crisp and vibrant staccato touch (forte and piano) is a “challenge.”

One of my out-of-state Skype students amply described the terrain as she patiently practiced her 8ths to 16ths, (legato/staccato)

“It’s hard!”

I’d second that for these reasons:

Keeping a steady, singing pulse, ascending and descending requires presence of mind, and a sense of “breathing” through the notes.

Anticipation is out the door as 8ths double to 16ths. What about 32nds?

All the more reason to RELAX and psychologically BROADEN your perspective. Don’t crowd the notes!

Metric memory, especially, is a great asset when memorializing the scale over and again. One doesn’t want a shaky landscape to embed a curvaceous spin from C to C.. or from Sea to Shining Sea.

On a patriotic note, I love oceanic analogies when I play the piano, though more often, I draw upon images of smaller bodies of water, like babbling brooks. (Think of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, or rippling piano accompaniments to his Lieder)

Why digress with mental imagery? Because using one’s imagination to play the C Scale will help it rise to the occasion, not crash and burn!

To play a C Major scale beautifully, sing it, shape it, and taper at its conclusion. (A supple forward wrist motion is recommended)

For certain, a lesson-in-progress is worth more than a thousand words:

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The business of copying the piano teacher: Who has the final say or PLAY?

The latest provocative teacher exchange is taking place on Facebook at the “Art of Piano Pedagogy” which has now become a private forum.

When it comes to teaching philosophies, many are intensely opinionated.

From my perspective, I passionately believe in sharing my ground-up musical insights with students to justify my presence at the lesson in the first place whether
“live” or by SKYPE.

That means I see my role as being a mentor and font of inspiration, while the student, on an equal footing with me, feeds back in kind what I have to carefully process and refine in my own studies so that we both come to common conclusions about phrasing and interpretation.

How often a student has “taught” me something that I would never otherwise have learned in my solo practicing cubicle.

Does that mean that I in some way, stored HIS idea and patented it as my own–copying him, in the negative sense?

In truth living life is copying others that came before us and likewise in the musical arena, gads of students will have studied the same pieces over decades, coming to varying interpretive conclusions with and without teachers.

Yet if I’m invited into a pupil’s learning environment, to be a guide or teacher, it’s my obligation to bring something original and unique, not carbon-copied, that ignites a student’s self-realization process.

So what is my teaching philosophy, and does it require a pupil to “copy” me?

1) I see myself as an eternal learner with a deep commitment to peeling away layers of a piece in a patient setting.

The student is simultaneously engaged, but may not have the experience to approach his music in a way that produces the most gratification for him.

He plays, I listen. I give something back about how to improve (from my perspective) a phrase or musical line. He may not have known there were three voices to isolate and study. I owe it to him to suggest that he delve into these separate lines.

He may not have realized that the fingering he has chosen has tripped him up. I feel obligated to offer a smoother fingering, while trying his out again. I watch him experiment with what I have in mind.

If it works for him, the music soars, not the teacher’s ego.

Which leads next to:

2) The music matters most, not who is leading or following.

I can be a follower if a student has a percolating idea that has enriched or changed my ideas about a phrase. At the same time, I can be a leader, helping a student map out the form, structure and harmonic rhythm of a piece.

3) The singing tone and how to produce it is my mantra.

I remember how I internalized the sound ideal I wanted from the piano as a young student but had no idea about the physical means to the end. My mentor led the way, working note-by-note, teaching me about relaxation, dead weight gravity, and relaxation. All sprung from the music itself and its organic substance.

In this creatively woven environment, I was not “copying” my teacher as a trade for self-initiated learning. I needed and hungered for direction and received it.

4) What about lessons and video follow-up?

I affirm that these amount to self-clarifications of my musical ideas synthesized with what “played” out during the lesson. In so many words, I can’t produce a custom-made video without having as its basis what the student “gave” me to work with.

Here again, I’m not on a podium of reserved perfection, but indebted to the pupil for stimulating thought about how to interpret, shape, or otherwise approach a piece so that it best realizes the composer’s intent.

To the contrary, here’s an example of a literal copying approach, that keeps the student in a boxed-in relationship with her teacher.

(The mentor is a fine pianist, and this example is not meant to discredit her playing samples)

On the positive side, the student and teacher are getting quite a bit of exercise in the spoon-fed, this-is-how-you-do-it, learning process.

To close here’s a sample of my conducting a student– an opportunity to teach and keep in shape.

Fundamentally, this interchange clarified the voicing of Bach’s A minor 2-part Invention, No. 13 on an animated level. In addition, the student had many videotaped lessons where she and I together explored counterpoint, and Bach’s various composing techniques that included inversion, modulation, etc. This was part of a layered-learning approach that increased the student’s playing enjoyment.

Lillian Freundlich, my most influential teacher was actively involved singing, conducting as I played and showed me piece-by-piece how to learn by increments. However, her biggest gift to me and all her students was how she imbued the singing tone through months of hands-on exposure. For her divine MODELING I am eternally grateful.

These videos represent the legacy she passed on to me.

The Art of Breathing and piano playing


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

Close-up playing models for J.S. Bach (over Skype)

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To breathe is to “copy” every human being that ever came before us.

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A Purr-fect sedative for a Cat

After a long day of teaching and house hunting, I settled down at my Steinway grand piano to play Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels.”

An enchanting character piece in the Romantic genre, it’s the perfect sedative for humans, cats, dogs, even birds who skim the branches of my fertile fig tree for a treat each August.

Late last night Aiden soaked up the lush harp-like figures of this musical gem from his cushioned seat beside my upright piano. The cover is soft enough to lure him from his favored nesting place at the Haddorff console. Only when the piano room is insulated with heat, my furry feline will return to Haddy, the “singing nightingale” where he’ll cool his belly on its polished wood surface.

The morning after, the wandering minstrel finds a new home on the Steinway piano bench:

Music that calms

“Harmony of the Angels,” when played as a prelude to Rina’s early piano lessons, was the perfect accompaniment to her floating movements across the room. With her fluid arms and wrists moving gracefully in soft curves, she enjoyed an entree to the main course– a feast of melodies at the primer level, rendered with a beautiful singing tone.

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For my adult students, this divine musical creation is a favorite that has drawn videos of lessons-in-progress.

From California to London, England, its undulating figures bathe players in rich sonority, if their wrists are “spongy” while arms melt phrases in wave-like motions.

In this videotaped instruction, an adult pupil and I explore an early layer of learning that focused on legato flowing hands, supple wrists, and relaxed arms. (Chord blocking was enlisted to acquire a “feel” for the keyboard landscape as the piece unfolded)

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Piano Warm-ups, Chopin, and the Art of Breathing (Videos)

An adult student and I worked on relaxation techniques that applied to her warm-ups. We practiced preparation for starting notes of broken chords and scales.

I recommended a slow and deep ingestion of air before the release of a stream, that has a perfect moment to create an opening sound or tone. Music and the synchronized breath are at ONE.

Most students will fall hard on an opening note, sending it down stream, without the necessary spring forward energy to perpetuate the flow of a phrase. A poke, jab, or premature gesture, can cause entrapment of a note that has only given birth to itself without relation to others.

Pianists must be singers, with a generous flow of circulating breath to feed phrases. We are otherwise, separated from strings inside the piano, unable to directly pluck them or draw a bow over their surface. Our challenge is to bridge a mechanical distance (hammers activated by our fingers) and create beauty from a place deep within ourselves.

The breath is the well-spring of our music. Imagination feeds the soul.

To clarify the nuances of breathing, tone production, and phrasing, I filmed the opening segment of my pupil’s lesson.

The student practiced a Cb minor broken chord with dynamic contrasts, and separately, the B minor scale, three forms, in contrary motion.

A sample of breathing techniques were applied to the Chopin Waltz in A minor, No. 19, Op. Posthumous: