beautiful phrasing, piano blog, piano lessons, piano teaching

The Ingredients of beautiful phrasing

In the course of three piano lessons, spacing, shaping, voicing/balance, grouping, harmonic rhythm analysis, relaxed breathing, singing tone and pulse, etc. were resonating interdependently through beautiful phrases. And with the introduction of two minor scales as a springboard to the repertoire segment, the SPACING of notes, without anticipation or anxiety with a lightness of being dimension, (think “clouds under the arms”) encouraged a limpid expression of horizontally floating notes in legato. (smooth and connected)

Because a step-wise progression in D-Sharp minor (contrary motion) required a preparatory BLOCKING phase that encouraged Note GROUPING, as opposed to up/down, single note-note vertical playing, the student could transfer this particular awareness to her Chopin Waltz in B minor, Op. 69, No. 2. The Relaxed breathing aspect of playing scales without a temptation to grab, squeeze, lunge at or ANTICIPATE NOTES, complemented expressively rendered, poetic lines that permeate Romantic era compositions. (The SINGING TONE as the underpinning)

A video evolved as a synthesis of ideas that arose from an initial exploration of SPACING that enlarged upon itself as various elements of phrasing flowed together in harmony.

PS An added extract from the technique portion of a piano lesson that addressed SPACING.

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Harmonic Rhythm, melodic twists, and emotional shifts in Chopin’s B Minor Waltz, Op. 69, No. 2 (Video)

The harmonic flow of a piece is one ingredient of phrase shaping, along with melodic contouring that springs from the human voice and its natural breath. All have emotional consequence as music pours out of the heart and soul of a performer.

So getting below the surface of a piece of music, means delving into its harmonic and melodic outline, to say the least.

A pianist only begins to arrive at decisions about interpretation in this exploration, besides examining a composition’s historical context and attendant performance practice.

In the Chopin vernacular, tempo rubato (or flexible time) is central to the music as it plays out. A sense of improvisation must be captured though hundreds to thousands of notes in a score are carefully notated with specific directions about dynamics and articulation.

Evelyn Glennie, world-famous percussionist, no less, makes the point that all the dizzying notes in a manuscript tell very little about how a piece will spring to life in the act of playing it.

I can’t agree more.

In fact what’s noted on paper is a small clue to a world of musical magic and illusion.

Ironically, today’s video that I prepared as a second supplement for a Skype student was in response to footage he sent me of his latest playing. (Chopin Waltz in B minor)

From that point of departure, we kicked ideas back and forth through e-mails.

On my third mailing, and third video supplement, I decided that I needed to more clearly emphasize the interaction of harmonic rhythm and emotional poignancy–not to mention how a twist or turn in a melody can invite a change in nuance and color.

All part of the learning process…

As I’ve said before video supplements in a two-way exchange are valuable adjuncts to web cam transmitted lessons. They allow both teacher and student necessary breathing room to absorb the score, and then evolve with varying thoughts about it.

For sure, there are no absolutes in music-making, just ideas that acquire support in harmonic threads, and melodic twists and turns.

By this time in our musical growth process, we shared opinions about Kissin, Lisista, and Rubinstein’s interpretations of the B minor Waltz. I discovered my affinity with Rubinstein and Kissin’s readings which both reflect the somberness of the b minor key without getting too morose.

In any case, the video I offer, explores harmonic changes and emotion, along with unexpected shifts in melodic contour.

I have to agree with Leonard B. Meyer, musicologist, that what’s unexpected triggers an emotional response, though there’s a great deal more to say about the nature of the unexpected event.

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Playing through Chopin’s B minor Waltz with its sighing motif (Video commentary)

Last night I sat myself down at my imperfectly regulated Steinway M grand and managed to sigh several times through torrents of phrases crafted by design and inspiration to tug at the heartstrings.

And in the video below, I journeyed in baby steps through this intensely emotional landscape pinpointing how I could flesh out the SIGHs that spill from recurrent tied notes in Chopin’s somber Waltz in B Minor, Op. 69, No.2. (The singing tone–molto cantabile-is intrinsic to this music)

It seemed natural to draw a comparison to the violin in the execution of such repetitive figures. If I had a bow in my hand I would delay entry into the string and follow through with a deliberate broadening of the tone. (I spent six years of my life studying violin noting its carryover to the keyboard)

No doubt it’s easier to draw a slow bow than to translate this effect to the piano, but a pianist can accomplish the same by entering a note from below using a dipping wrist.

The permeating tied notes that seek relief in a curve down, dissipating motion flow into a contrasting middle section in D Major, marked con anime, with animation. Here the notes are lifted and configured in groups of three leading to a longer note.

To realize the vibrancy and unique character of the dotted-quarters springing from the shorter eighths, still another delayed entry into these longer ones is suggested. But just as conspicuous is the circular motion of the phrases that move the composition along. To best flesh out these shapes, I enlist the right elbow to swing in and out in counter-clockwise movement.

In measures where there is a sudden note-wise build-up in passion and intensity (forte outpourings, along with a staccato, or PORTATO) I find that broadening these streams of notes thwarts a tendency to crowd them. And allied to this more relaxed, freedom of expression is a tasteful application of rubato.

A second interlude in the B minor Nocturne utilizes the Parallel B Major key, giving the composition a lift. But no sooner than our emotions are plied, we are pulled back to the somber opening theme with its elaboration that closes the composition in sighing despair.

I consider this Waltz a favorite of mine and dote upon Artur Rubenstein’s reading on You Tube. His performance has a disarming simplicity, framed in a relaxed tempo. In all, the master takes about 4 minutes to weave his poetry with the grace and beauty he’s known for.


What Pianists can Learn from String Players