Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu rises above Facebook etiquette

This morning I was greeted by a Timeline addition to my Facebook page that was worrisome. The header was, “Is this your student?” It framed a precociously youthful performance of the Fantasie-Impromptu that was at best hammered out and musically insensitive. Yet one could peel away layers of fast and furious, disorganized playing and find a talented youngster who was sadly denied a good mentor to take raw material and refine/develop it to satisfying artistic levels. (And this would require significant time and patience– it would not be an overnight mega-learning phenomenon. Years would transpire as fundamentals of the singing tone and how to produce it would be the most elementary exposure needed.)

Yet, I meant to tread lightly in my criticism of the child, also refusing to delete the posting for fear of offending a Facebook friend who meant well showcasing the impetuous player pounding the piano without knowing better. Instead, I hunted down a beautiful in-progress performance of the same work under the mentorship of pianist, Cyprien Katsaris.

No words need justify what we perceive as a beautiful fusion of touch and tone. The child makes further advances during the lesson due to her preceding, solid technical/musical foundation. Katsaris builds upon it and infuses inspiration, imagery, blocking techniques and other prompts to grow her playing. And it all comes together in pleasing increments. By the end of the instruction, the youngster is producing more beautiful lines, in a remarkable ONENESS with the piano.

Finally, if we go back to the bare essentials of early piano learning, we can see what it takes to plant the seeds that grow to full musical maturity, where no shortcuts exist.

Right from the start the essence of beauty blossoms from bud to bloom with tender, meticulous, and patient, loving care.

Posted in Chopin, Cyprien Katsaris, Fantasie-Impromptu, Frederic Chopin, piano instruction, piano teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious” (Kinderszenen No. 10) requires get serious, step-wise practicing

When I first looked at a “seriously” complex page of dizzying tied-over (syncopated) notes in Schumann’s “Almost Too Serious,” (Fast Zu Ernst) I had a knee-jerk avoidance response–that is until I tapped into a permeating melodic thread that I isolated and wooed from its conspicuous alliance to myriads of off beats.

Fast zu ernst p. 1

Fast zu ernst p. 2

In other words, I simplified my journey in a baby-step voice parceling manner, de-intensifying a threat to learning a gorgeous harmonic mosaic that’s spun from broken chords and affectionately supportive syncopations. (I’m sure the composer’s passionate unraveling harmonies were a reflection of his love for a uniquely beautiful, self-created outpouring in the somber chosen key of G# minor)

First things first in approaching the tableau:

A behind tempo practicing approach to what looks rhythmically challenging is the only sensible antidote to anxiety that many adult students have when they perceive a score riddled with unusually foreign-looking notational strands.

And to allay their fears as well as my own, I set out to piece out “Almost too Serious” in a purposeful step-wise manner with a learning guide intention, blazing a trail that my students and others could follow without trepidation.


Various practicing constellations are explored in my video

1) Identify a treble line melodic thread–and practice in slow tempo with relaxed arms, supple wrists and a permeating singing tone.

2) Isolate (play) the alto line notes

3) Play the fundamental bass notes throughout the composition

4) Block three-note 16th groupings in the bass, that appear after the downbeat in each measure. (These will eventually unfold in broken-chord fashion, using ROTATION to avoid tension, and to play musically.)

5) All through the step-wise learning process identify keys and harmonic transitions (or modulations).

6) Listen for and tab suspensions/passing dissonances and how they resolve.

7) In the course of layered-up practicing, examine the BALANCE of voices as they are sewn together.

8) Explore the ritardandos at various cadences and practice relaxed breathing at bridges across measures with fermati (extra holds), to avoid “gasps” between phrases.

9) Pedaling as the final polish should be sensitive to dissonances, not causing conspicuous blurring of harmonic resolutions.

The aforementioned are suggestions that can be “seriously” supplemented along the way, but always with a defining awareness that the Romantic era singing approach to this music is at the core of practicing it.

My Instruction:

Play Through:

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Exploring Mozart Sonata No. 5 in G, K. 283 (First movement, Allegro)

The learning exchange between student and teacher is heightened when a new piece is introduced. In the case of Mozart’s charming, early period Sonata no. 5 in G, it became a revisit for me that brought new revelations that I shared during the course of weekly lessons.


Mozart presents a challenge in capturing a singing tone that is emblematic of the opera. (From Wiki: “The work was written down during the visit Mozart paid to Munich for the production of his La finta giardiniera from late 1774 to the beginning of the following March.”)

At least when playing the opening allegro of K.283, even the Forte-pianos (f-ps), that might suggest more abrupt and decisive accents in Beethoven’s mid-period sonatas, are far more elegantly played in Mozart’s early sonata vocabulary so one should be able to sing them.

Bass notes in a parallel octave progression moving in an intensifying fashion seem to be yielding to those doubled in the treble, lest they sound too ponderous for the period. Therefore, one must respect a fine line of sensitivity in their execution.

Pianist, Murray Perahia speaks of the singing pulse in Mozart works, and I must agree. He states that a rubato lives within the composer’s music but not necessarily taken with such liberty as would apply to Chopin and the Romantics.

Finally, in my tutorial, I try to apply educated instincts and intuition to my exploration of the opening Allegro, K.283, with a focus on the singing tone, phrasing, harmonic rhythm and form.

The Exposition is naturally a springboard for my analysis of the whole movement that weaves in motivic and harmonic tie-ins.

Mozart Sonata K283 p. 1 Allegro 1

Mozart Sonata K283 p. 2 Allegro

Play Through:


From Wiki

“Piano Sonata No. 5 (Mozart)

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, K 283 (189h) (1774) is a piano sonata in three movements:


“This sonata is part of the earliest group of sonatas that Mozart published in the mid-1770s. The first movement is a sonata-allegro movement that is concise, with an economy of materials. The development section is a mere 18 measures long. The shorter length and moderate technical demands make it an ideal piece for early-advanced study and performance.

“A typical performance takes twelve to eighteen (Richter) minutes.”

Posted in adult piano instruction, Classical era sonatas, classical music, Classical music blog, K. 283, Mozart, Mozart Sonata No. 5 K. 283, Mozart Sonatas, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons, Shirley Kirsten, W.A. Mozart | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Choosing a traveling (Portable) digital piano for myself

digital piano panorama

Apologetically, I must admit that as an acoustic piano purist, I often need an electronic when I’m doing a dinner party gig and there’s no viable alternative. The house piano might be virtually impossible to play or there’s no real piano on the premises.

And while I love my Yamaha Arius YDP-141 for its touch/tonal dimension, its console size impedes easy transport to venues outside the home.

So that’s why I found myself at Guitar Center in neighboring Emeryville scoping out various hammer-weighted digitals. (By the way, I’m planning a jaunt to the Pre-school across the fence from my pea-pod size apartment, so the portable will be perfect for the occasion. I will give the little ones a small dose of Kabalevsky Children’s pieces, while adding in a few Schumann Album for the Young miniatures)

To cut a long story short, I wanted to share my Guitar Center excursion and why I picked and purchased the digital that I did:

Fur Elise

Finally, Yamaha P-115 is definitely the best bang for the buck!

Posted in digital pianos, electronic keyboards, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, pianos, Shirley Kirsten, Yamaha digital pianost, Yamaha P-115 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What’s Frightening about Schumann’s “Frightening? ” (Kinderszenen, Op. 15, no. 11)

What convinces most pianists that Schumann’s “Furchtenmachen” (Frightening) is an expression of fear or perhaps more specifically anxiety, are the markedly impulsive sections that contrast with lyrical, reflective ones.

Frightening schneller

And not to be overlooked, are the interjections of syncopated SF’s (accentuated outbursts) that are quite STARTLING and must be well communicated in measures 21-24, as well as in the Schneller (“FASTER”) sequences.

Frightening full page 1

Frightening full page 2

The challenge for the player, therefore, is to keep calm, centered, and focused during the agitated measures and not LOSE CONTROL!

Vladimir Horowitz referred to the fire/ice analogy when approaching testy passages. (particularly those in rapid tempo) so I would readily concur with the Maestro that presence of mind under pressure is central to portraying a potpourri of closely spaced, vacillating emotions.

In my instruction, I suggest an approach to the Schneller section that might relax the treble after beats so they don’t sound forced or too vertical, undermining the horizontal thread of notes in the bass. It’s easy for these to intrude if tension permeates the arms, and if harmonic rhythm is ignored.

Finally while “Frightening” may look frighteningly simple at first glance, it’s far from it, given its abrupt mood shifts.


Play Through:

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Untangling hands and subduing AFTER beats in Robert Schumann’s music

When a pianist tackles a piece like “Am Kamin,” (“At the Fireplace”) from Schumann’s signature childhood reminiscence, Kinderszenen, he/she must artfully navigate the musical terrain, avoiding hand pile-ups and after-beat pounding.

A gorgeous Romantic era, lyrical melody that threads though this tableau can be at risk– easily interrupted or jarred by offbeats that contain parcels of harmonic enrichment. They are not meant to offset horizontal movement of phrases.

On a technical level, overlapping hands and fingers sharing common notes between the hands, pose a second significant challenge to the piano learner.

He must decide after considerable separate hand practice what fingers of either hand can ease the burden of a joint undertaking by taking singular responsibility. (Where it applies)

Am Kamin

And that’s how my video tutorial evolved– from a personal, painstaking journey to AVOID pain and obtain the most pleasurable learning and playing experience possible.

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Schumann’s ‘Rocking Horse’ comes with a spring forward wrist

Rocking Horse

Schumann’s Kinderszenen album, (Scenes of Childhood) includes a child-inspired Rocking Horse piece that enlists spring forward wrist motions to help frame its character. If the pianist tightens up and tries to realize third beat accents with a tight jolt of a stiff hand, then it’s all over for the player who will tire quickly while undoing the rocking nature of the music.

So what better opportunity exists for a piano teacher than to AWAKEN a student to a redundant motion that enlivens a composition and keeps it percolating with well-delivered energies.

But the mentor should also enlighten the pupil about the multi-dimensional nature of the Rocking Horse that’s not necessarily pumping back and forth in needless repetition. There’s syncopated rhythm; melody and counter-melody, as well as perfect fifths that are inverted to perfect fourths that carry a snatch of the opening thread. It’s the probing musician, therefore, who will discover that the wrist spring forward motions are part of a larger exploration, not merely a demonstration of moto perpetuo.


Play Through

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