piano, Scenes of Childhood

Piano repertoire: Review and Refresh

Striking a balance between learning new pieces and keeping a connection to older ones, requires a commitment to well-parceled, organized practice time. It presents a challenge that invites a particular focus on preserving familiarity with repertoire that can easily slip into obscurity during months or years of neglect. As time passes, tactile estrangement grows.

A review and refresh approach can therefore morph into Repeal and Replace if older compositions had been incompletely learned or prematurely abandoned. In their resuscitation, they will need additional fingering adjustments, introspective harmonic analysis, phrasing revisions, and altered practice routines. Oldies, on the other hand, that had enjoyed embryonic growth to full development in layered stages, will experience a smoother transitional review with the added crossover effect of simultaneous, infused NEW repertoire exposure.

In short, a harmony of new and older pieces in a reciprocal developmental relationship, will enrich a musical journey.

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One of my adult students, who appreciates the review process and its enduring musical value, requested a reconnection with Schumann’s “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples,” Kinderszenen 1, Op. 15. When I suggested a first step parceling of voices, with a plan to permute them in various combinations as we had done before, the task became daunting. Yet such a roadblock simply meant that although the pupil’s initial learning experience had been thorough and layered, a revisit might take a bit longer, requiring a dose of patience and self-compassion.

Second and third reviews of a piece over time, help solidify learning gains and insights, making retrievals less cumbersome and quite natural. In addition, a REVIEW having been built on a solid foundation, even if shaky in the early phase of re-exposure, will attach a deeper understanding of structural, harmonic and affective dimensions in the RETURN.

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In a video summary of ingredients attached to a Kinderszenen 1 Review, I drew upon the tenets of the original approach that added a few epiphanies.

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In a separate, “new” learning journey undertaken by a student, (Beethoven, Adagio Cantabile, Sonata Pathetique in C minor, Op. 13), a voice-parceling approach, comparable to that which applied to Kinderszenen 1, is valuable in the PRESENT, while it’s equally beneficial for a future revisit.

Edinburgh Scotland, piano, Sydney Australia

A Motivated adult piano student with an International profile

Right now, as I’m posting these words in Berkeley, CA, my student, Claire, (an international lawyer) who avidly practices the piano in two different time zones, is perched high up in her apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor. It’s 19 hours past Pacific Standard Time over there, or the next day in Australia. As a consequence, we have to factor in the time disparity when she leaves Edinburgh, her home base, to avoid its bitter winter. At the Scottish location, we’re distanced by 8 hours.

In Sydney, I greet Claire with a paradoxical ‘top of the mornin'” though I’m in fuzzy culture shock even at 3 p.m. my time, and 9 a.m. hers, the following day. In Edinburgh, it’s a hearty “good afternoon,” as the time zone is reversed, but without an extra day hanging out.

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Claire’s Sydney apartment overlooks the Harbor with a breathtaking view:

Sydney Harbor

In Edinburgh, her neighborhood is speckled with historical architectural edifices that she showcased in a post-lesson webcam-guided tour.

Claire’s colorful Scottish brogue, so conspicuously revealed in the narrative, reminded me of percussionist icon, Evelyn Glennie as she delivered a TED TALK. Yet it took several senior moments, bundled in associative strategies, to make the “connection.”

During our Australian cycle, I might be exposed to a distinctly different ambiance:

One week, Claire had taken an interval to visit a friend in a more rural part of the country, so I was treated to a LIVE kookaburra concert as a bunch of colorful “native” parakeets settled onto the porch.

This particular location had introduced a “third” piano into the prior mix of two.

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Claire hosts a wonderful Yamaha grand in her Edinburgh apartment while a Clavinova graces her place in Sydney; finally, a loaner piano turns up wherever her extra travels take her.

About two years ago, I received a lesson inquiry from Claire that was very detailed. Her MOTIVATION to learn resonated, and she had a nice prologue of experience at the piano and in a choir, the latter that I sampled on You Tube. It turned out to be a group with an able choral conductor who selected diverse repertoire of many eras. The level of musical expression was at its peak.

Claire had also offered a Wish of List of pieces she wanted to learn in her introductory letter that included the works of Beethoven, Burgmuller, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Mendelssohn among others.

From there, a progressive journey ensued that has accrued shared epiphanies about:

Tchaikovsky’s “Sweet Dreams”
Schumann “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples,” “Traumerei,” “A Curious Story”
Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 119 No. 1
J.S. Bach Little Prelude in F
J.S. Bach Invention 8 in F Major
Burgmuller “Tarentelle,” “Tender Flower”
Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song in F-sharp minor
Chopin Waltz in B minor, Op. 64

Here’s Claire watching the proceedings during one of our International Skype beamed piano recitals. She’s was settled into her Australian hub readying to play the Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119:

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Not to forget that this very devoted student is immersed in Scales and Arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths and has developed an enviable supple wrist, relaxed arm technique.

You can easily discern her fluid approach in this most recent lesson sample beamed from Australia.

Technique snatches: (from Edinburgh)–Yamaha acoustic grand piano

From Sydney Australia Yamaha Clavinova


Back to Edinburgh
on the grand piano.

Claire is a JOY to work with, along with my lovely group of ardent piano lovers!

piano instruction

When the flu hits or the weather tanks, ONLINE piano lessons preserve progress

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Here in California we’ve been blitzed by pounding rain, gusty winds and the inevitable round of flu. In the midst of bad weather conditions and the flight of viral illnesses, piano lessons are often suspended, as students are immobilized and lose ground. But to the happy rescue is the Internet that affords ONLINE instruction by Face Time, Skype, or any other nifty provider that ploughs through piles of natural obstacles.

This past week I was able to teach via webcam from my safe, insulated bubble at home as my 9-year old student was protected from my contagions. It can obviously work in reverse when a pupil is afflicted with the latest bug, and is in the recuperating stage, but still contagious.

For teachers who travel, ONLINE transmission is a particular lesson-saver as rip-roaring hurricanes, snowstorms, etc., tie up roads and public transportation.

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As it played out here in Berkeley:

A FACE TIME activated lesson focused on composing, practicing chord inversions, and exploring repertoire. The hour sailed through smoothly without a hitch, while the use of FACE TIME RECORDER afforded a valuable split screen playback. (I chose the Overhead Keyboard view)

Liz, 9 years old responded well, and continues to make progress. Having completed about 11 months of piano lessons, she grabs every opportunity to compose and experiment. Naturally, her composing exercises are devised to weave in theoretical and musical goals that advance artistry.

piano, piano instruction, piano technique

Fluid Arpeggios: No hand twisting, with floating arms and an economy of motion

Piano Technique: Arpeggios
LOCATION:
From: Berkeley, California

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Berkeley near Spring

To: Sydney, Australia

Sydney Harbor
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I continue to learn from my students as I view close-ups of their arms, wrists, hands/fingers in motion across the keyboard. Most of my epiphanies occur over Skype or Face Time where I pinpoint technical problems that are MAGNIFIED by the webcam. I might use a LOCAL Full Screen view over CALL RECORD to model an economy of motion through arpeggios, and then switch to a Split Screen to assess the pupil’s improvement in keyboard transit. I’ll use prompts that are specifically physical, and others that are in the mental image realm, not overlooking “phrase-shaping” through broken chords in slow and brisk tempo: legato and staccato. (A melodic thread is always preserved.)

In the attached video centering on the D Major Arpeggio, a student had a conspicuous hand “twist” that was impeding what she imagined internally as a smooth musical flow of notes, and it was no surprise that she had to brave certain technical challenges to get to the “heart” of her playing. As an example, when I was 13, I came my teacher, Lillian Freundlich, knowing what I wanted to hear, but yet, I hadn’t the “tools” to put into motion what I had imagined and internalized. Some students are not sure what they want to hear, so this presents still another dimension of the learning process.

The adult pupil practicing the arpeggio, however, is “musical” and intuitive, so our focus in the technical segment of lessons, has been how to navigate through scales and arpeggios with ease and FLUIDITY.

In our partnered journey, we’ve discovered along the D Major route, that the sensation of a “floating arm” is pivotal to creating a horizontal LINE. But that’s not enough. The thumb should not pull the hand down, or force a twist in the hand just because it cruises under finger “tunnels.” In a previous blog, I referenced the thumb’s tendency to usurp more rule or power than it was entitled to. It must be especially ARTFUL in not making a ponderous presence. From another perspective, it’s a “ruler” in the sense of being a “measuring” rod not an oligarch. Wherever it goes, the family of fingers drape around it creating balance and alignment. Framing this aforementioned assertion is the need for an overall “economy of motion” that affords speed, agility, and fluid playing.

Finally, in the Arpeggio cosmos it’s very satisfying to produce a floating, flowing, rippling set of broken chords that are well-spaced, and without thumb-heavy intrusions.

adult piano instruction, piano blog, piano lesson, piano lessons

A balanced piano lesson of Technique and Repertoire

If a student is well-prepared, having devoted quality time during the week to practicing scales, arpeggios, and pieces assigned, a lesson can contain a nice balance of ingredients.

Barring holidays, long distance travel and time zone changes, most pupils will devote 15 to 20 minutes of their lesson to technique, and the remaining 40 minutes to repertoire.

Today, one of my Online students based in Scotland for the moment, (destined for Australia) had a well-rounded lesson that began with a focus on the E minor Melodic minor scale. She attentively worked on making a crescendo to the peak in Staccato while the companion Arpeggio drew upon a related practicing strategy at the final octave. Increased dead weight, rotation, and relaxation were required to achieve a convincing climax in both, while blocking techniques firmed up hand centering and related finger geography.

In the repertoire realm, J.S. Bach’s Little Prelude in F Major, BWV 927, and Schumann’s “Of Foreign Lands and People,” Kinderszenen No. 1, Op. 15 capped the lesson, with a common exploration of phrasing and its relationship to harmonic rhythm and counterpoint. In both compositions, line parceling in slow tempo was of particular importance.

TECHNIQUE PORTION OF LESSON

REPERTOIRE

adult piano instruction, adult piano lessons, legato, online piano instruction, piano, piano blog, piano pedagogy, piano teaching, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, staccato

A “cool” dip into Quicktime for wrist, finger, and forearm staccato practice

Amazing how 90-degree temperatures in the East Bay can wreak havoc over Face Time transmissions. It nearly made Online mentoring come to a grinding halt yesterday! except that a Quick Time saving grace Lesson Preserver came to the rescue!

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In my Scotland travels, I’m accustomed to subbing in the iPhone for the iMac because of two-way computer Online Face Time/Skype irregularities, so from week to week, I’d been giving my back-up camcorder a 60-minute workout, snatching the whole lesson for a same day uploaded re-cap. But once I realized Quick Time on the Big Mac could be enlisted to simultaneously record selected lesson segments while glaring at the cell image of a Yamaha grand, I had the best of both worlds: Live iPhone transmission and a selective mouse clicked re-run in progress.

Here’s the set up: Call it an EMT piano teaching equivalent.

Naturally, the mechanics of Quicktime allow focus on well-measured lesson goals. For example, yesterday, I demonstrated a variety of Staccato approaches in scale and arpeggio framings using the overhead keyboard web cam view. (wrist, forearm, finger driven detached notes on display)

And once the day played out with cooler evening temps draping the East Bay, I had sufficiently “warmed up” my ‘finger’ staccato to demonstrate a fast 32nd-note romp.

In summary, being flexible and resourceful in this Online universe is a must to keep lessons up and running despite occasional annoying transmission problems.

F Sharp Major scale, online piano instruction, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano learning, piano playing, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten

A London piano student fine tunes her F# Major scales and arpeggios (staccato and legato)

Yu Du 1

Yu has been my Skype student for a few years now and she’s made big gains in producing a singing tone with supple wrists, relaxed arms, and hand/finger weight transfer. Today she assiduously practiced her F# Major Scale and Arpeggio, energizing forearm and wrist staccato. Using “cupped hands” for her power driven forearm staccato on the black keys, she played precise, crisp and accurate notes after absorbing a few of my suggestions. In the universe of wrist staccato, she created a nuanced piano (soft) dynamic. (Yu has noticeably fluid wrist motions that she’s acquired from deliberate, goal focused practice)

At the Skype recital (March 15) beamed to LIVE and ONLINE students from Berkeley, California all over the US and world, Yu played a very lovely Andante movement from Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 545. (Here’s just a snatch)

I recently interviewed Yu about her piano, hobbies, activities and recent career shift to life coaching.

LINK

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/an-adult-piano-student-who-builds-pianos-and-restores-planes/