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Piano Lesson: Playing into “putty” to acquire a singing tone legato–An 8-year old gets deep in the keys (Video)

I decided to explore a variation of Irina Gorin’s “jello” image to teach an 8-year old how to produce a deep, resonant singing tone. She’d been studying piano with me for two years and relished the opportunity to plunge her tiny fingers into a wad of putty that I had acquired at the Dollar store. It took several plastic eggs worth to provide an adequate sample, but we could definitely have used more. Play dough would have been a better alternative.

The videotape below illustrates how the student and I collectively realized a creative goal by kneading the “clay” and practicing “Walking and Running” from Book I, Dozen a Day, by Edna-Mae Burnam.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/piano-technique-producing-a-beautiful-singing-tone-with-jello-as-an-image/

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Rolling arm movements and videotaped slow motion replay of Chopin’s Waltz in C# minor, piu mosso section

I demonstrate a swing or roll of the arms to realize the circular flow of the piu mosso section of Chopin’s Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64, no 2. At the end, I add slow motion frames. Needless to say a state of relaxation is desirable to achieve Oneness with the piano. Mindful practicing and being in the moment are always helpful. Muscle memory and “feeling” the translation of movement into sound are important ingredients of joyous music-making.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/at-the-piano-exploring-the-chopin-waltz-in-c-minor-op-64-no-2-video/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/comparing-performances-of-chopins-waltz-in-c-minor-op-64-no-2-videos/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/relaxation-in-piano-playing-and-setting-a-good-example-for-students-videos/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/piano-instruction-schumann-arabesque-op-18-using-a-supple-wrist-follow-through-motion-and-parceling-out-voices-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/piano-study-and-the-value-of-singing-against-a-cultural-backdrop-of-vocal-inhibition/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/piano-technique-and-weight-control-bringing-out-and-balancing-voices-video-teacher-shirley-kirsten/

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More Lesson-in-Progress excerpts, Chopin Waltz in A minor, No. 19, Op. Posthumous (Video)

Preserving teaching moments on video allows students an opportunity to review what transpired at their lesson as a springboard to improve practicing during the week. In this particular situation, I was able to e-mail the You Tube link to Claudia, 10, and Claire 8, both of whom are studying the Chopin A Minor Waltz No. 19.

Claudia was seated at the Steinway grand yesterday as she played the composition behind tempo. (We always begin our lessons with a slower paced approach to repertoire and then inch up)

The sticking points in this Waltz related to lightening the second and third beats in the bass and playing phrases with a singing tone legato, going across with fluidity. Some tempo rubato was integrated into the practice tempo, though not exaggerated. (The tendency, in my opinion, is for students to take too many liberties in this interpretive realm making Chopin’s music sound overly melancholy and contrived.)

Resolution of phrases with tapered endings needed a wrist forward motion in the treble to soften the impact at cadence points so pertinent measures were practiced.

The video had a few mappings: progressing toward the Peak or Climax of the piece when it transitioned to the parallel Major (A) by way of “secondary dominants,” continuing with a graceful return to a portion of the opening theme, followed by a heart-warming Codetta.

Wrist forward practice was revisited along with refinement of pedaling.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/piano-technique-spot-practicing-a-nagging-e-major-arpeggio-in-chopins-waltz-no-19-in-a-minor-measures-21-24-video/

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Piano Instruction: A Beautiful Mozart Minuet in F Major, K. 5 that enlists the dipping wrist (Videos)

I stumbled upon this musical gem when I purchased Mozart, 14 of his Easiest Pieces (Alfred, publisher) Not at all deceived by the description “easiest,” I read through the collection knowing the challenge of interpreting the master’s music with expression and refinement. It should be noted that this Minuet was composed by Mozart at the age of 5 or 6, under the guidance of his father, Leopold.

The works of Mozart whether dating from his early or later years require a singing tone, adherence to various articulations relative to the Classical style of the time.

The F Major Minuet showcased in the video has a particular vitality when it journeys from the opening triplet figure to a string of after beat 16th notes (grouped in 3s) The execution of these repeated figures requires a forward moving, supple wrist as I demonstrated in the tutorial.

What stands out in this composition and makes it more unique than minuets of the time (including Mozart’s own output) is the glaring dualism of triplets and 16ths. One can say that dividing the quarters into triplets and then quickly having underlying eighths or 16ths to the quarters provide engaging musical moments. It gives the piece a sparkling vitality.

This particular rhythmic dichotomy was so appealing that it wooed me to learn the composition in short order.

Here’s the updated instruction:

NOTE: In the B section, where there is a Development, I still use the same fingering in the triplet scale sequence as the beginning of section A–i.e. thumbs for every three notes. (NOT a 2 on the third triplet as indicated in the score in Part B, first measure)

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Piano Instruction: Chopin Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28, Teacher, Shirley Kirsten

Chopin composed 24 Preludes in Op. 28 exploring 24 different keys (Major and minor) with each Prelude having its own mood and character.

In my step-by-step practicing of the E minor Prelude, I start with the Left Hand with its chordal mosaic, and listen attentively for descending chromatic movement between chords. In the foundational learning process, I want to be aware of common tones and those voice or voices within the sonorities that move. (Note that there are some progressions that are not chromatic)

I also need to use a supple wrist so I don’t enter the chords too fast, or with unnecessary impact. Listening across the chords helps to avoid a vertical rendering.

Next, I shape the right hand, which is especially challenging with its long notes in Largo tempo. The Alla breve indication of cut time, or a feeling in two helps move the melody along.

Finally, I play hands together trying to keep a nice balance between chords and melody, listening for how the passing, chromatic and other harmonies nourish the expressive line above.

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Skyped Piano Lessons: Using video supplements as reinforcement (Video sent to an 8-year old student)

Today I Skyped a third piano lesson between California and Oregon, and learned that the student I was mentoring was not 10-years old as I had thought all along, but only 8!

Dad told me she had 10 months of lessons altogether, wherein I became involved only weeks ago at the father’s invitation. But the first phase of my musical relationship to the child involved a video exchange through a common private You Tube channel.

That process remained in place after I purchased and set up my iMac 21 for SKYPE.

In the past few weeks, many videos have been uploaded and sent back and forth, which in my opinion have significantly advanced the student’s progress. The participation of the father has also been pivotal to gains the child has made. He is very involved in the real-time lessons, and in the video exchange.

When his daughter practices between lessons, I am sent a video(s) of her session, and will comment on various phrases, measures. I then shoot back a responsive video underscoring my points.

So far I have found Skyped lessons to be valuable in fostering progress in conjunction with video supplementation.

Today I sent the video below to dad as reinforcement of the five-finger technical work we commenced today. It is no.1 of Dozen a Day, Bk. 1 “Walking and Running.” (Edna Mae Burnham) I expanded the exercise to include 32nds legato followed by Staccato Forte/Staccato piano.

In general I use these Pentascales to advance the singing tone and a supple wrist, and I take the student through all keys, “Parallel” Majors and minors. (Not the “relative” minors for this routine) At today’s lesson we embarked upon C Major and minor in parallel and contrary motion.

The balance of the Skyped lesson focused on the Chopin Waltz in A minor, No. 17 and the Clementi Sonatina, Op. 36 no. 3, first movement, Spiritoso.

Down the line I plan to introduce TWO octave scales through the FJH Classic Scale Book (McArthur and McLean) alongside the pentascale warm-ups. These pursuits will be videotaped and shared.

This 8-year old is not typical of students I have in this age category. She is very focused, physically adept, and musically inclined. The lesson plan is therefore adapted to her specific strengths and weaknesses and not standardized.

Teaching that is standardized does not make adjustments for individual needs.

RELATED:
Correction needed below: student is 8 years old!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/an-8-year-olds-playing-before-and-after-skype-lessons-plus-video-supplementation-chopin-waltz-in-a-minor-no-19-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/between-california-and-oregon-skyping-chopin-with-a-ten-year-old-student-video-of-lesson-in-progress/

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Should piano students listen to recorded performances of pieces they are first beginning to learn?

I was thinking of Palmer’s edition of Chopin, an Introduction to His Music, and when I first purchased it years ago there was no inserted CD of recorded selections contained in the album.

With subsequent published editions, a CD popped into an envelope, beckoning a player to sample another pianist’s interpretation of music he had just barely sight-read through.

I am here emphasizing the fledgling who is embarking upon a virgin learning process, finding correct notes, counting out beats, piecing out fingering, etc. with a guiding teacher at the helm.

In this regard, I remember telling Claudia, one of my ten-year old students who was feasting on a new journey into the Romantic period, about to study the Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthumous, NOT to listen to X pianist’s CD sample of the work, not because it might not have been a sterling interpretation, but because it could, in my opinion, stultify her individual, creative, developmental musical process.

An additional reason for my admonition was that I felt listening so quickly to a piece played at performance tempo by a competent pianist, might make the child feel intimidated by a composition she was just beginning to learn. Polished to a high level of performance, it would separate the student from the baby-step approach I would encourage and implement over weeks and months.

One might say, that jumping too quickly into trying to COPY another pianist’s performance, or benefit from exposure to various nuanced interpretations could prevent the pupil from trusting his/her own musical intuition, with the assistance of the piano teacher.

Now I’m sure that I will be barraged by opposing opinions which will have valid arguments at their foundation.

I, for one, can say, that I like to listen/watch performances on You Tube of compositions I have lived with over time, studied in-depth, struggled with on many levels, and put my autograph on as best I can, because after all, we’re all exposed to performances of our pieces through studies with our piano teachers, and on the Internet when we least expect to encounter them.

But I always hesitate to consult another artist’s performance until I’ve fully absorbed a piece on many intricate levels. At that point I feel open to other pianists’ interpretations and ideas. Let’s say that I feel that I can most benefit from these outside musical influences on You Tube, CD, whatever, after I’ve allowed myself an unassisted deep-sea dive into the composition.

Here are a few counter-arguments to my premise that are valid where it even applies to my particular music-learning journey.

1) I’m having difficulty with a passage because of meter complexity or rhythm, and I’m not near a teacher, or have one at the moment.

Why not find a You Tube of Perahia, Richter, et al, playing the piece, and use as the clarifying reference.

2) If I’m a beginning student, or one of intermediate or advanced level, I can resolve the problem with my teacher at lessons. But If I’m advanced enough to have the issue addressed by way of a sample recording in between lessons, why not use an outside resource.

Most of the time with beginners, however, they need the teacher to help them along with the basics of rhythm, articulation, fingering, etc. so You Tubes performances, CDs, DVDs, whatever will usually not do the job.

Therefore, my premise of not being CONDITIONED to another interpretation at the very BEGINNING of a learning experience still holds, though I open myself to this resonating opposition to my thesis:

Well, then, isn’t the piano TEACHER the biggest outside influence upon the student in the artistic shaping of a composition?

Okay, YES, I would have to admit that, but I would NOT sit down and keep playing the whole composition at a polished level, at every lesson while the student was struggling along. That would be the perfect antidote to the pupil’s engagement with the composition. She would feel discouraged before she began to piece out measures at a time.

If I was an empathetic teacher who wanted to advance a student along the path to fluency, I would put myself in the shoes of the pupil, and take the baby steps, one at a time, with her. Over weeks and months, where individual measures led to mastery of phrases, sections, and finally to an absorption of an entire piece, the teacher and student would have been on the same wave-length.

In addition, where interpretation was concerned, I would expect the teacher to have an understanding of performance practice, so that certain choices made by the student could be considered in the context of a musical historical period and the style of the time. (This opens the door to a long-winded polemic about tempos taken, and various turns of the phrase which will be deferred. Two hot topics in one blog are a NO NO!)

So, yes, the teacher’s spin on the piece would have to factor in and be considered in this discussion.

In this connection, one of my basic reservations with the Suzuki method of teaching piano is that at its core, the approach is based upon COPYING THE TEACHER along with ingesting the contents of a CD loaded into the program. A student must be on playback after the teacher delivers a “live” musical sample, supplemented by a recording that is supposed to saturate the student for days and weeks. That is, if the Suzuki method is applied in its purest form.

One could say that a standardized performance is the rule, with deviations at beginner level being discouraged.

On that score alone I am decisively opinionated but open to feedback from students, teachers, and all music lovers.