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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/

"Sleeping Child" by Robert Schumann, classissima, classissima.com, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Kinderszenen by Robert Schumann, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teacher, piano teachers, Schumann, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Instruction, Don’t wake the “Sleeping Child,” Schumann Kinderszenen, Op. 15 No. 12

Often contemplative, lyrical pieces like lullabies, are bigger challenges to play than lightning bolt fast and furious etudes, final sonata movements etc.

“Sleeping Child” is its own poster child for fostering relaxed breaths, flowing musical poetry, and bigger energies beyond the fingers. It’s essentially a task not to wake the baby, with obtrusive, unwanted accents. (The flexible wrist is a shock absorber when needed)

In the videos below I divide Schumann’s masterwork into three parts, and consider fingerings, keys, harmonic surprises, inner voices and much more.

There’s infinite beauty contained in the composer’s short one page plus of music, but to experience heights of pleasure learning it, requires a patient, step-wise, non-judgmental approach. Toss in inspiration, enthusiasm commitment, and the journey is worth time invested.

Play through:

Sleeping Child Schumann Kinderszene reduced

Sleeping Child p. 2 Kinderszenen reduced

arpeggios, arpeggios in inversions, classissima, classissima.com, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano arpeggios in inversions, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano technique, shirley kirsten piano teacher B, Shriley Kirsten piano teacher El Cerrito California, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano Technique: Scoop it up, loop around 4-note Arpeggios (in inversions)

These particular arpeggios in 4-note sequences are some of my favorite warm-up routines.

Although most students find them tricky to navigate, certain “cues” planted in the psyche assist a smoother ride.

The video demonstration below lays out preliminary blocking techniques to reinforce fingering and centering for each 4-note broken chord starting with the first in root position. (CEGC)

Next, I encourage a loop around from the 5th finger (top note) to the “scooped up” note in the next broken chord inversion which uses finger 1 or thumb. Too many pupils play with hiccups BETWEEN inversions– Or the thumb comes crashing down disrupting the flow from one 4-note arpeggio to another.

So key words, “Scoop it Up,” and “Loop Around,” seem to imbue the supple wrist motion at the beginning of each arpeggio, and then a rounded, “seamless” turnaround from finger 5 to the thumb. (Right hand)

(The left hand simultaneously scoops up and loops in harmony with the right–only difference is that finger 5 is scooping up, and 1 is looping around to 5 in subsequent inversions)

In addition, I explore counter-clockwise and clock-wise motions of the arms as these graceful arpeggios unfold.

FINGERING

For C Major, 4-note arpeggios:

RH CEGC (1235) EGCE (1245) GCEG (1245) CEGC (1235)
LH
(5421) (5421) (5321) (5421)

D Major
RH DF#AD(1235) F#ADF#(1245) ADF#A(1245) DF#AD(1235)
LH
(5321) (5421) (5321) (5321)

GOING from C Major to C# Major (Through Sharp Keys)

RELATED LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/piano-technique-looping-arpeggios-in-contrary-motion-and-how-to-master-them/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/piano-technique-no-back-and-forth-head-bobbing-for-contrary-motions-scales/

Chopin Waltz in B minor Op. 69 No. 2, Frederic Chopin, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano blog, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lesson by Skype, Shirley Kirsten, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Piano lesson: Chopin B minor Waltz, Op. 69, no 2. (bouncing phrases back and forth)

Teaching affords the greatest opportunity to listen objectively to students serving up their menu of pieces. It allows ideas to spring forward and bounce back.

Today, my Greek student resurrected his Chopin B Minor Waltz in preparation for a forthcoming concert, and he sorted through some of my epiphanies that were born of his playing.

In truth, my verbal prompts helped both of us crystallize phrasing and nuance.

“sighing,”” streams of notes,” “rubato,” “expand,” “resolve,” “sequence down” gave a frame of reference.

And conducting gestures, even over cyber communicated through an abyss of failed words.

The opening Waltz section ignited a two-way growth process that will surely ripen with time.

***

An older SKYPED lesson video:


SKYPE SUPPLEMENT:
B MINOR WALTZ

Chopin, Chopin Waltz in c# minor Op. 64 no.2, classissima.com, classsisima, duet playing in the piano lesson, swtiching piano parts in a collaboration, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Hand-switching and Chopin (making a piano duet out of a solo)

I did a double take watching footage of yesterday’s lesson in the El Cerrito Hills. Seeing two arms, one half-sleeved, and the other firmly wrapped in olive green, made me wonder if an alien from Mars had landed squarely at the piano.

Upon closer inspection, the camera had played tricks on me, creating an optical illusion.

In real time, I invited my adult student to divide the bass and treble between us, in Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor, Op. 64, No. 2.

And here’s the flipso chango version:

Since the pupil had some footing in the piece, no pun intended, it was nice to do reverse role playing. Or was it ROLL playing?

The adjective inspired the lesson opener with its introductory C# minor scale.

My pupil breezed through C# minor (natural) in floating form.

(Notice her flexible wrist)

The icing on the cake, Chopin’s C# minor Waltz was perfectly sequenced to draw in and apply c# minor topography– but it was only the tip of iceberg, if one considers modulations and the inherent “surprises” by chromatic movement that permeate this composition (with the exception of its piu mosso, B section)

Nonetheless, an awareness of ensemble in a duet partnership, made us listen more attentively to each other while we considered balance, voicing, dynamics, and a cohesive singing pulse as important musical ingredients of our collaboration.

Of most importance, was the student’s baby step advance in her learning process. (She had already parceled out the fundamental bass, after beat chords, soprano line and inner voices) in the first section before we became duo partners.

Baldwin Acrosonic piano, Chopin, Chopin pedaling, Chopin Waltz in A minor no. 19, classissima, classissima.com, El Cerrito California, pedaling at the piano, phrasing at the piano, piano addict, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano instrruction, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons in Berkeley California, piano lessons in El Cerrito California, piano studio, piano studio in El Cerrito, piano teachers, piano technique, piano technique and breathing, Piano World, piano world-wide, pianoaddict.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, playing piano, shirley kirsten pianist, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Shirley Smth Kirsten, slow mindful practicing, slow piano practicing, studying piano, The art of phrasing at the piano, the art of piano pedaling, The El Cerrito Hills, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Into the Hills with the Sound of Music –a Baldwin Acrosonic “acoustic” sings

The video attached to this writing validates the beauty of music-making on a well-maintained, though 1940s vintage era acoustic piano.

Baldwin Acrosonics were the Cadillacs of the spinet and console variety pianos. They had a noticeable innovation compared to their sister-size instruments. (A deeper sound chamber, especially noted in the consoles that measured 40″ or taller) Baldwin Acro’s standard 36″ spinet was still a resonating musical treasure, if properly cared for. The pianos were manufactured starting in 1936.

“Coined from the Greek word, “Akros,” meaning supreme, and the Latin, “sonus,” meaning tone, the trademark Acrosonics were famous for their tonal clarity, power, and *Full- Direct Blow action.” (Bluebook of Pianos.com)

*This action sits on top of the keys instead of being a drop action where the action connects to the key by a rod or some other “indirect” method.

***

An Acrosonic with fluted legs, sequestered in a gorgeous El Cerrito Hills home lived up to its singing nightingale reputation, in the good company of “Haddy” Haddorff, one of my pianos, now in the good care of a well-regarded Central Valley piano teacher. (Both instruments have an immaculate set of ivory keys)

images haddorff

The Hills Acrosonic, purchased at DC Pianos in Berkeley, is accompanied by a sturdy adjustable concert bench.

And while many of my students own digitals, if they can possibly locate an acoustic of this variety in excellent condition, I would say, Go for it!

Acrosonics are easily found on Craig’s List, though a piano teacher and technician should be taken along for an assessment.

Just listen to this one and make up your own mind.e bay hills acro

The occasion was a make-up lesson on site at my students’ home. (We were working on Chopin’s A minor Waltz, No. 19, Op. Posthumous)

More often I’m found in a separate El Cerrito Hills location that houses my Baldwin Hamilton 1929 grand, another vintage charmer.

piano room where I teach El Cerrito

Finally, look at these lovely representations of Baldwin Acrosonics, striking for their beauty, inside and out:

images Baldwin Acro

piano_22  Acro 2

"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, Chopin Waltz in A minor no. 19, classissima, classissima.com, Irina Gorin, phrasing at the piano, pianist, piano, piano blogs, piano instrruction, piano lessons, piano lessons for adults, Piano Street, piano studio, piano studio in El Cerrito, piano study, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano technique and breathing, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, practicing piano, practicing piano in slow motion, practicing piano in slow tempo, practicing piano with relaxation, relaxed arms in piano playing, scales, scales and arpeggios, separate hand piano practicing, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Shirley Smth Kirsten, slow mindful practicing, slow piano practicing, teaching Beethoven Fur Elise, teaching Fur Elise, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to adult students, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to young children, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

The piano learning process at all levels of study

In spite of my having studied piano for decades, each learning experience is filled with challenges that I must approach with a glut of patience. A new composition has its own form, architecture, harmonic rhythm, fingering that requires a big reserve of self-acceptance in a deadline-free frame.

To the contrary, many of my students, who are 95% adults, have a built-in timetable plaguing them from day one. “How long will it take me to learn this piece?” They demand certainty about reaching a tangible goal on a fixed schedule. The End result is what most matters.

Since we live in an information age, strategies of mastery are in vogue along with a mandatory guarantee of knowledge acquisition in so many weeks. “Quick,” “easy-fix” consumption are the Millennium’s catchwords. CD sets are compiled and promoted to learn piano “in a flash.”

***

I have a pupil, who epitomizes the insecure student, searching for a micro-wave cooking equivalent for learning piano.

She’s an accomplished writer and retired lawyer. On more than one occasion she’s confessed to doing “everything well” except for piano. “I just don’t understand why my wrist can’t roll forward, why I stumble, stutter at the piano.”

If she stepped back and thought about how many years she’s been writing and practicing law as compared to playing the piano, she’d acquire instant insight about her personal quandary.

Irina Gorin, inspired piano teacher and author of Tales of A Musical Journey has often said, “We’re not born playing the piano…. we have to learn to physically relate to the instrument.”

That’s why she starts her kids young, using silly putty to dip tiny hands into. They experience “touch” as deep, densely probing, and sinewy, to produce the singing tone, not a poked out, pencil point sequence of notes. Dipping into jello is Gorin’s metaphor, nicely channeled into the keys:

The time old analogy of crawling before walking applies, yet so many adult students, will obsess about how long they have been working on a piece without the advances they expected of themselves.

Yet, if I think about the students who have made the most gains this year, it’s been those who accepted the baby-step paradigm without precondition. They learned to love the journey with its precious awakenings along the way.

Examples:

A pupil is shown working on a section of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” absorbing a sound image before translating it into physical expression at the piano. She practiced separate hands, behind tempo. Call it mindful practicing; attentive listening. They belong together.

***

An adult student embarked upon the Chopin Waltz no. 19 in A minor.

Sight-reading was not a parcel of our work.

It was delving into the fundamental bass, measure by measure in slow tempo.

What was the relationship of one note to the next as each was played? Lean on some, relax others.

“Feel,” “hear” and know at the same time.

Then practice the melody at snail’s pace, but with a singing tone–no delay in contouring. The shapes must seep in from conscious to unconscious.

The student explored wrist motions to curve and shape lines. These poured out of her scale work.

Where an arpeggiated figure appeared, all her caring and conscientious practicing of buoyant broken chords, bristled with relevance.

In graduated steps, the after beat sonorities were separated, and played with a “spongy” feel. We thought of a “lighter” third beat. Not a parade of downbeats.

In time the layering process followed as melody, fundamental bass, and after beat chords came together.

As I look back on this step-wise progression and its implications for the musical development of the Waltz, I can say with confidence that the student eventually played it with a wonderful sense of personal mastery and joy bundled together.

Patience and self-acceptance at every stage of the learning process was our paradigm.

If considered a mantra, it becomes a reminder of what teachers and students need to embrace.

LINKS:

How Long Should a Student Stay with a Piece?

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/how-long-should-a-piano-student-stay-with-a-piece/

Quality Spot Practicing by an adult student, “Fur Elise.”

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/quality-spot-practicing-by-an-adult-student-beethovens-fur-elise-video/

The Value of Slow Practicing

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/piano-learning-and-technique-the-value-of-practicing-in-slow-motion-or-behind-tempo/

Out of a Rut with Quality Spot Practicing
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/piano-instruction-out-of-a-rut-with-spot-practicing/

RECOMMENDED READING


Just Being at the Piano
by Mildred Portney Chase