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Approaching a brand new piece with spirit and emotion

When piano students first encounter a fresh page of music, they will often wade through the notes as best as they can, fumbling here and there without an adjusted framing pulse or investment of animated interest in what the notes are saying beyond their humble, accurate identity.

In this early stage “reading,” tempo is usually far too brisk (and erratic) for the new learner to experience any emotional response to a cascade of dizzying dots and beams. They are consumed with finding the right pitches and nailing them down.

For this reason, I insist that my pupils separate hands, and slow down the pulse to frame a “deep” in the keys, mood-matching connection to a new score because every playing registers a profound imprint in their consciousness. So throw away trials that breeze over the character of a given composition only divert the learner from the essence of the new composition.

By example, I’m working with a student who’s enraptured by the intensely rhythmic and bi-tonal energy of Kabalevsky’s “Clowns,” yet there’s the same propensity to overlook the character/mood of this piece in the initial hit or miss the notes, baby-step learning process.

A changed perspective:

In this video sample, the student takes the right approach, working assiduously on the first section, paying attention to spring forward staccato releases, and notated accents that he manages in a slow tempo framing. It allows him to capture the “feeling” and emotion imbued in this miniature. Naturally, his being “connected” to the circus atmosphere of “Clowns” from the very start makes his learning engagement deeper and more satisfying.

Since Kabalevsky’s two-page composition has notable harmonic patterns, symmetries, agogic accents, inverted motifs, ostinato bass, etc. these present an opportunity to examine theoretical context as an aid to interpretation, noting that no dimension of learning is a pedantic side bar.

Every examination of a piece becomes part of an integrated whole, of which the very first note ignites a rich emotional, cognitive and kinesthetic experience.

Clowns play through:

Early “Clowns” lesson with my student in London, England (first section)

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 1

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 2

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Piano Technique: Playing with bigger energies beyond the fingers

Practicing a programmatic miniature from Kabalevsy’s Op. 39 Children’s Pieces can draw on energies well beyond the fingers.

“Funny Event” is a good example with its series of sound bursts on the first beat of each measure. If a student takes the pecking approach, typing away at the keyboard, one note at a time, his self-limited pursuit will be at the expense of capturing the “feel” of a robust staccato dialog between the hands.

In the video below, I demonstrate how my own practicing routines helped me clarify ways to realize the shape of a redundant, highly charged motif that is both playful and bundled with joy.

Kabalevsky Funny Event

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Piano Lesson: Teaching “GAME” by Kabalevsky, Op. 39 Children’s Pieces (Videos)

Vibrant musical miniatures are learning enticements for piano students.

In this spirit, Dimitry Kabalevsky, a Twentieth Century Russian composer, shines in his collection of Children’s Pieces (Op.39) that run the gamut of emotions, from sad expressions of human nature, “Waltz” (in d minor) to ebullient centerpieces, such as “Clowns,” and “Galop.” (spelled with one L)

“Game” aka “Playing” is one of the more lighthearted ones in Op. 39 It embodies the art of playing staccato in an economy of measures.(Kabalevsky, Director of his own music school in Russia, imbued technique and musicianship skills by vehicle of his own compositions)

In “Game,” crisp articulations should be “shaped” to avoid tedium and one dimensional vertical playing. (Exploring Harmonic Rhythm gives insights on phrasing and helps clarify points of tension and resolution) I have students play through chords on every scale degree of Bb Major to familiarize them with tonality.

Blocking out broken chord outlines is another good learning springboard. The player becomes aware of Dominant/tonic relationships. (Lean to taper effect) And a Vi chord realized horizontally suggests a twinge of emotion, because it’s unexpected.

I also recommend playing through the piece in LEGATO initially to clarify phrasing. (It’s otherwise easy for staccato notes to sound like rosy the riveter working on a B52 bomber)

In the video below, I discuss the analogy of story-telling since “Game” has a programmatic title. (i.e. the composer’s extra musical component is intrinsic to interpretation) To this end, the student is asked to build the melodic line to “climax,” and then gradually taper it. In addition, she interweaves the story structure of a BEGINNING, MIDDLE, and END.

My own recording of “GAME,” uploaded more than a year ago, was taken at brisk tempo, though I advised my student to observe a more conservative “Allegretto.”

Nonetheless, my quicker reading conforms with the composer’s annotation that he wanted his piece played in ONE.. (i.e. one impulse per measure) The type of staccato I enlisted, incidentally, was NOT the Vertical Woodpecker variety. It was more of a wrist-shaped, articulation that I believe best served the music.

El Cerrito piano studio

Teaching “Clowns” by Kabalevsky from the Op. 39 Children’s Pieces (Video)

Kabalevsky’s miniature is teaming with energy. It moves along at a brisk pace, in Major/minor duality teaching a rolling motion to staccato, while the left hand bounces along with a recurring pattern called an ostinato.

13-year old Albertina, provides a nice rebound of ideas, as I assist her absorption of phrase-bonded technique. (The circus atmosphere frames our musical exchange)

Our lesson-in-progress: