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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)

Brigitte Engerer, music, piano pedagogy, Piano Street, Rada Bukhman, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube

Favorite Tchaikovsky piano pieces and their pedagogical value

Tchaikovsky painting

I made a promise to myself well before the New Year, that I would learn one new Tchaikovsky composition each day from the composer’s Op. 39 Children’s Album. (24 tableaux) Not that I’m recommending to piano students that they assimilate new music at lightning speed, but for me the challenge was to make a spurt of growth without sacrificing quality in my quickened journey. In fact, often an early reading is like experiencing the first sunrise with a childlike gaze.

The Back Story

Rada Bukhman’s gift to the music world, The Magic Link, had arrived for Chanukah with its colorful bouquet of program-driven piano miniatures that were sensitively juxtaposed offerings of Peter Ilyich and Robert Schumann.

Rada Bukhman The Magic Link

In a heartbeat, I bonded to Tchaikovsky’s pieces, perhaps because my *DNA (Russian background) increased my affection for the composer’s emotion-packed music, yet, simultaneously, I appreciated the teaching value of each and every tender musical morsel.

The following selections from the Op. 39 collection received my latest embrace, winning me over with their grace and beauty.

Waltz

Kamarinskaya

Polka

Mazurka

The Organ Grinder Sings


Italian Song


Morning Prayer
(hymn-like)


From a teaching perspective:

Each musical tapestry requires a vivid imagination coupled with a singing tone repository. Bigger than finger energies, a supple wrist and relaxed arms allow for a legato (connected touch) when needed, and a diversified staccato (crisp notes in contrasting dynamics) as well as tenuto execution (detached, press lift approaches with a leaning emphasis).

Finally, a tasteful rubato (flexibility of time) and sensitive use of the sustain pedal apply to both dance and song forms, fleshing out their character and emotion.

***
Addendum: A performance of Op. 39 that made the most overall indelible impression on me, came from the late Brigitte Engerer who sang like a nightingale with imagination and artistry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigitte_Engerer


MORE LINKS

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/if-it-sounds-like-a-lark-it-must-be-one-tchaikovskys-song-of-the-lark/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/a-fusion-of-art-and-music-in-the-magic-link-piano-albums-by-schumann-and-tchaikovsky/

*My Family’s history and genealogy
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/little-apple-big-apple-mayhem-murder-and-music-my-familys-history-and-genealogy/

Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Kinderszenen, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube, youtube.com

Comparing tempos and interpretation, Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15, no. 1

“Of Foreign Lands and People,” is the lyrical opener to Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (“Scenes from Childhood,”) but the composer’s metronome marking, 108 to the quarter, makes it a challenge to spin poetic lines, though Seymour Bernstein rises to the occasion in his memorable reading.

Seymour’s comments:

“Concerning Metronome indications, I personally never observe them simply because they have been proven to be inaccurate. They do however give us a general feeling of slow to fast. Beyond that, we choose our own tempo.

“… And various playings prove beyond measure that there is no such a thing as a definitive tempo for anything. It only depends on how the performer projects the essence of music according to his or her tempo choices.”

Horszowski follows with very brisk phrases, keeping pace with Schumann’s MM.

Martha Argerich, seems to pull back a bit and plies her phrases. (significantly more rubato than Bernstein and Horszowski)

Horowitz puts his personal Romantic autograph on it–nice, broad dynamic range, tasteful rubato–while still moving the piece along..

Lang Lang plays more directly, with a fairly slow, steady tempo, though he observes the composer’s ritardando(s) in the second section

Here’s my own reading in a moderate tempo

The question remains, are musicians wedded to the composer’s metronome marking and dynamics? The above posted performances reveal a variety of tempos and interpretations. Depending on one’s musical tastes, one or another reading may be pleasing to the ears.

LINK: Pianist, MURRAY PERAHIA speaks about Kinderszenen, and offers playing samples on NPR

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127444692

Here’s what he says about tempo choices:

“Tempos are a sticky topic when it comes to Kinderszenen. Perahia readily admitted that he likes to play some of the pieces a little faster than usual. Schumann left specific metronome markings that few pianists, he says, seem to follow. For Perahia, slow tempos give too much adult sensibility to a work that he feels should always be approached from the viewpoint of a child.”

About KINDERSZENEN (Wikipedia)
“Kinderszenen (German pronunciation: [ˈkɪndɐˌst͡seːnən]; original spelling Kinderscenen, “Scenes from Childhood”), Opus 15, by Robert Schumann, is a set of thirteen pieces of music for piano written in 1838. In this work, Schumann provides us with his adult reminiscences of childhood. Schumann had originally written 30 movements for this work, but chose 13 for the final version.[1] Robert Polansky has discussed the unused movements.”

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Adult student Rhythmic REHAB

rhythm chart

I have four piano students in rehab who are grappling with metrical issues. They might start with a healthy quarter note in a five-finger position warm-up; manage proportioned 8th notes, but totally relapse playing 16ths.

That’s when their confidence sinks to new lows.

It’s just in time for the metronome, not used as a crutch, but to raise consciousness about a steady pulse. Then I shut it off.

With a robotic injection of quarters set at MM= 45 embedded in the memory, those rhythmically afflicted will re-start their 4-measure warm-up in an upbeat spirit, until the devilish double-beamed notes plague them once again.

But there’s hope.

Bring on the “double-leedle” second responder syllabic squad, (DSRSS) and add tapping hands to keep the life blood of semi-quavers flowing.

The left hand can flesh out quarters atop the piano, while the right fills in with 4 even impulses.

Then transfer to the keyboard. (Prescribed, as needed)

***

“RAVI” (no relation to Shankar) is a good example of braving a rigorous treatment course given the scope of his disorder.

Sam blue eighth note stickers

He not only tenaciously fights the demons of rhythmic unrest, but he sets up challenges that most students would shrink from.

The Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5, a land mine of triplets and 16ths is HIS chosen milieu and he’s determined to deal with its unsettling terrain, one quaver at a time.

Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5

And in keeping with protocols meant to move rhythmically compromised students along the path to cure, I heeded Ravi’s request for humanitarian aid by video capsule.

At snail’s pace, I counted out every measure of the first page:

This injection of rhythmic life was meant to sustain Ravi through long days and nights at the piano. He’ll ingest it in iPad form, taking his medicine DAILY as directed.

By all accounts the prognosis is GOOD! Ravi will be out of REHAB in a heartbeat, humming along from measure-to-measure with new-found confidence and control.

LINK:

Piano Instruction, Mozart Minuet in F, K. 5
http://youtu.be/t8vLvv57lQg

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Perfect pitch? What’s the big deal?

As I foraged through old e-mail files, I stumbled upon my note to Oberlin alum, Robert Krulwich, WNYC RADIO LAB program moderator.

http://www.radiolab.org/search/?q=robert+krulwich#q=robert krulwich

He and his co-host had featured psychologist, Dr. Diane Deutsch’s podcast on Perfect Pitch. One of her published papers, among others, provided a springboard for discussion:


Tone Language Speakers Possess Absolute Pitch

http://philomel.com/asa138th/deutsch.htm

My correspondence follows:

To: Robert Krulwich,

Greetings from an Oberlin classmate who caught the “Perfect Pitch” podcast.

Was it you or your co-host moderator who bubbled over “perfect pitch” during the presentation? Why an over enthusiasm about “perfect pitch” per se, along with the disseminated misinformation attached to the legendary composers who were supposedly born with it?

In so many words, I believe perfect pitch is notably irrelevant to musical genius or accomplishment, and may give those endowed, a false claim to having an advantage over those who don’t.

My REVISED and updated letter to Dr. Deutsch elaborates:

Subject: WNYC Podcast on language/music ties, etc.
To: ddeutsch@ucsd.edu WEBSITE:
http://deutsch.ucsd.edu/psychology/pages.php?i=101
A partial list of Dr. Deutch’s papers

Diane Deutsch

Absolute Pitch Is Associated with a Large Auditory Digit Span: A Clue to Its Genesis


Perfect Pitch: Language Wins Out Over Genetics

Perfect Pitch in Tone Language Speakers Carries Over to Music
Tone Language Speakers Possess Absolute Pitch

Mothers and Their Children Hear Musical Illusion in Strikingly Similar Ways

Dear Dr. Deutsch,

A piano student of mine referred me to your WNYC podcast (2006) and I found your ideas fascinating though I have some reservations about your initial emphasis on perfect pitch springing from the “tone” languages, such as Mandarin. (Does it follow, given your research, that Asians of Chinese origin have a natural yen for it?) And what’s the appetizing ingredient of having it?

***

From my perspective as a piano teacher, having mentored a large sample of students of every level, I would de-emphasize the importance of perfect pitch as it impinges on musical progress, or the path to a high standard of performance. (And I realize that your discussion did not circumscribe perfect pitch as it bears upon instrumental accomplishment)

Mr. Robert Krulwich, however, and his co-host, were overwhelmed by the micro-incidence of perfect pitch in the world population, and made a puzzling leap to the ingenious European composers of the Classical era. It followed that Mozart should be regaled for internalizing his scores and putting notes instantly down on paper with his perfect pitch endowment, while Beethoven who struggled endlessly with scribbled sketchbooks of an edited variety was overlooked. Did he have perfect pitch?

Given that many legendary composers did NOT come into the world in a pitch perfect bundle of love, the program feature led listeners astray. (Why not flesh out the basic truth that perfect pitch is NOT a requirement for meaningful musical pursuits) In fact, it’s RELATIVE pitch that’s more relevant to sight-reading, practicing and progressing.

DEFINITION RELATIVE PITCH: (From Free Dictionary-Farlex)

1. The pitch of a tone as determined by its position in a scale.

2. The ability to recognize or produce a tone by mentally establishing a relationship between its pitch and that of a recently heard tone.

RE: Your Pitch on Tone languages

What resonated with me was your demonstrated inflections in Mandarin and other related languages, and how each had different meanings attached to the same syllable or word. Obviously, this would have a bearing on parent/infant communications.

It made me realize that our English language is permeated by inflections of speech that register various emotions. (You pointed that out)

With Mandarin, the evolution of the micro-interval scales as realized by the ancient instruments seems relevant to the discussion. For instance, in China, the ERHU, introduced by Lang Lang in his debut concert in Carnegie Hall, clearly reflected the sound of the Chinese language with its sliding, micro-interval scale. Have musicologists, therefore, made its connection to the Chinese language? Obviously, there’s a logical flow from native speech to instrumental expression, yet I’m not certain that our very fixed intervals of Western Major and minor scales can easily be tracked from Greek, Italian, German, etc.

Music history books are filled with information about the modes, and moods, etc. and most of us riveted to historical anthologies, realize, that in Gregorian Chants, for example, the prayer texts in Latin are interwoven.

Clearly in Handel’s Messiah, “He was Despised and Rejected”, the falling interval realizations of Despised and Rejected have enormous emotional meaning. But would a native Mandarin of a few hundred years ago respond emotionally to the Western descending scale in this way??? (I believe musicological research is underway)

**

For me, Perfect or ABSOLUTE pitch, as you isolated it in your studies, has little if any immediate or long range musical significance, even if it can be proven that infants exposed to tone languages are more PITCH sensitive.

And does it follow that the success of a few Chinese instrumentalists is largely due to their environmentally nursed tone language exposure? I’m thinking of Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and Yundi Li.

In conclusion, in my own teaching practice spanning decades, I don’t believe that perfect pitch is relevant to building solid musicianship skills. In addition, it’s not necessarily genetic and can be acquired (as you more than suggest by your study.) String players, in particular are constantly tuning to concert A, 440, and eventually “memorize” the frequency. It transpired when I took up violin study at age 11. (P.S. I wonder if those who have perfect pitch can become confused when playing an out-of-tune instrument, like a piano for instance)

In any case, I enjoyed the podcast, and will look forward to exploring your research in greater detail.

***

Burgmuller, Burgmuller Op. 100, classissima, classissima.com, Friedrich Burgmuller, piano, Shirley Kirsten, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube, youtube.com

Piano Technique: A fire and ice approach to learning pieces at breakspeed tempo

One of my Oberlin Conservatory piano teachers regarded Vladimir Horowitz as a fire and ice player. He referred to the maestro as having the uncanny ability to turn out a hot performance with a cool demeanor. (The physical control, of course, was AMAZING!)

Example:

Same applies to Yuja Wang, pianist, who delivers a sizzling performance of Bumbleebee.

Evgeny Kissin is equally well known for having steel nerves under fire plus jaw–dropping technique: (“La Campanella”)

And why not add a pulsating harpsichord performance rendered by Elaine Comparone: Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in D minor, K. 517

(Comparone’s learning style: “Lots of practice—–with metronome—-until it’s a cinch without it”)

***

While most of us will never rise to such levels of virtuosity, we can still try to incorporate a few hands-on techniques to assist in navigating notably challenging pieces. (Breathing through phrases is an important dimension our practicing right from the start–along with slow rendering with a singing pulse)

But using the fire/ice paradigm, as a point of departure, I explored five of Burgmuller’s colorful character pieces (Op. 100) that are played at brisk tempo and have swift, often abrupt mood changes: These include: “Ballade,” “The Chase,” “Inquietude,” and “Tarentelle.” (I also added “The Clear Stream” for its unwavering flow of triplets at peak speed)

The video below fleshes out an assortment of learning approaches

Play-throughs:

“Inquietude”

“Ballade”

“La Chasse” (The Chase)

“Tarentelle”

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Piano Technique: Power forearm staccato/e minor scales AND arpeggios

A good workout at the gym is a great prelim to a power trip at the piano. Take the forearm staccato. A UK piano student in cyber space landed a crisp, definitive set of notes at forte level after a few trial runs. No doubt her fortitude and focus produced a big staccato, and its antithesis, a piano (soft) one.

E minor Arpeggios
A separate adult piano student in Kentucky