piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano scales

Two-timing scale practice

I appreciate two-timing piano students who practice their scales with acutely sensitive ears. They are made keenly aware of what it takes to repeat a faulty step-wise sequence that’s been thrown out of rhythmic alignment along a 4-octave route. (Auditory memory is a vital ingredient through repetitions that require retrieval of a consistent underlying pulse.)

In a journey from 8ths to 16ths to 32nds, many pupils will underestimate the end game tempo, losing technical control in the final spill. To avoid a pile-up in the speed zone, they will put on the breaks, losing their initial framing beat. Ironically, a good proportion of two-timers who find themselves in such a jam will “think” they’ve doubled-up in the 32nds range, only to discover by a teacher’s real-time demonstration, that 16ths to 32nds were out of synch. (A metronome can be just as helpful in clarifying rhythmic disparities.)
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Ways to deal with rhythmic disorientation

I prompt students to back up by “half” from what they can realistically manage in 32nds. After a few retrograde repetitions in this practicing mode, they can revisit 8ths and then move forward in doubled sequence to peak destination. In most cases, a pupil comes to grips with what he can safely control at the 32nds level, knowing that the underlying pulse will increase through incremental learning stages.

A recent lesson sample illustrated rhythmic disproportion and remedy. (It’s excerpted at the juncture where a student zoned in on 16ths to 32nds in a D-sharp minor Harmonic form scale) A brief second segment focused on a “rolling into” effort in a more fast-paced staccato-rendered scale in Melodic form. It was a confidence-building effort that represented a “rite of passage” for this pupil who realized that she could, in fact, play brisker 32nd notes without faltering. Breathing, pacing, mindfulness, and lack of PANIC all kick into controlled, peak tempo playings.

practicing scales, strategies for practicing scales

Piano Technique: Applying Various strategies to unravel a scale in 10ths (VIDEO)

Most of my adult students get unnerved when starting a scale three notes into it. And to make matters worse, they become panic-stricken when one hand is not a carbon copy of the other. (i.e. both hands are not playing the same notes at the same time)

In the case of E minor, using the PURE or NATURAL FORM, (in legato), I doled out step-by-step anxiety relief for one of my adult students who needed assistance ORGANIZING the sequence of TENTHS.

That is, he required both a COGNITIVE and KINESTHETIC (TOUCHY-FEELY) understanding of his 4-octave keyboard romp.

As a start, I introduced him to a built-in SYMMETRY between the hands as the scale progressed: When the Right hands plays E, F# and G, using fingers 1, 2, 3, the Left plays C,D,E, using 3, 2, 1. (These are termed RECIPROCAL or MIRROR fingers)

But it was not enough to isolate all the keyboard neighborhoods that had PLEASING MIRRORS in each octave.

KNOWING and FEELING the arrival of finger number FOUR in each hand, as it occurred over a four-octave spread, was MOST PIVOTAL to the PRACTICING regimen.

(Naturally, SLOW, DELIBERATE repetition framed the early practicing phase, along with imbuing the LONG-Short-Long, dotted 8th/16th rhythm)

Since the student began with a smooth and connected (LEGATO) rendering, I urged him as well to FEEL a certain TRACTION or connectivity to the keys, along with a sense of HORIZONTAL weight transfer –He would imagine a PUSH-UP effect ACROSS FOUR OCTAVES.

When he transitioned to CRISP STACCATO PLAYING, I suggested he use “CUPPED” hands, and a slightly lower wrist.

OTHER support strategies included FLESHING OUT THE LEFT hand over the right, followed by the reverse, before BALANCING voices. (In STACCATO)

LIGHTER ARMS produced a let-up of intensity, while heavier arms channeled more dead weight into the keys for a FORTE (BIG sound).

Finally, my student had a chance to practice a less anxiety-provoking CONTRARY MOTION E Minor Scale. To his delight, the same fingers of each hand play at the same time, though routines like blocking out TUNNELS (through which the thumb passes), and what I term a THUMB swing to swing motion between the hands were enlisted to smooth out his journey.

As a RECAP, parallel 10ths and Contrary Motion practicing strategies are showcased in the attached video.

(The Scale page below does not include 10ths, though once the fingering is given for Parallel motion, the player starts the Right HAND on the third note, G, and proceeds by steps according to the traditional fingering) The Left hand remains in ROOT position.

e minor staccato

piano teaching

Piano Gym and remedial practice

I put myself out there in the piano gym arena not as a paragon of perfection but as a work in progress. The growth process counts most to me, along with the joy of fine tuning it.

That’s how I approached a set of warm-up arpeggios that needed remediation as snags arose.

A few big constellations that assist practicing:

Do Slow, build-up practice in gradated rhythms.

Use physical motions that are musically EXPRESSIVE

Starting quarters, for example, should feel like you’re drawing handfuls from a deep vat of CLAY…

Then transition to dip-rolls for two-note slurred groups of 8ths (shown in video) These follow the quarters.

Play with SHAPE, expression
AND DON’T forget to BREATHE deep, but natural breaths.

Think LONGER lines over the 16ths and 32nds (faster note values)

Have a nice, round, relaxed turnaround on the highest note and back down in the arpeggios (same is applied to scale practice)


Use Rhythm practice where needed to tidy slip-ups (dotted-8th/16th or LONG/short/Long)

Or play deeper into one hand and lighter in the other, if the LH feels weak, for example.

Keep a journal of what WORKS, including mental images that improved performance, fluidity.

Use BIOFEEDBACK: Note how you FELT/BREATHED when the passage Worked!

Bottom line: Playing beautifully through warm-ups or pieces, is more than fingers, wrists, and arms. It’s your whole being that’s invested when you play even one note.

Here’s a more basic tutorial re: the arpeggios previously explored:

AND BLOCKING with Special EFFECTS

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How to practice a G Major scale as a follow-up to C with an adult student example

The last instructional video covered the C Major scale in depth, and  identified symmetries between the hands, when practicing beyond the one octave level.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/how-to-practice-a-parallel-motion-c-major-scale-and-by-example-g-d-a-e/

I pointed to the bridge of the C Major scale as the crossover into the next octave. The fingerings at this junction were mirrors for B, C, an D: In the Left hand  2, 1, 4 and in the Right hand, 4, 1, 2. The anchor thumbs in between also helped to navigate the passage across the octave. (The reverse fingering occurred going down the scale)

The other symmetries were the thumbs playing on C’s in the course of the scale, except for the beginning and end.

Finally, 3’s of each hand met on E and A in the course of many octaves. These should be marked out going up and down.

The overall analytical approach used in the C Major scale, applies to Major scales G, D, A, and E except that for each new scale, the student is instructed to find the bridge between the octaves, and identify the new key signature. The sharp content of subsequent scales therefore is different. When going up in cycles of five notes at a time from C Major, a new sharp scale is obtained on a note that is five scale degrees above the beginning note of the preceding scale.

In this tutorial, I analyze the scale of G Major, going through the same steps of identifying the bridge fingers that are mirrors; the thumb placements that should fall on the G’s within the scale, and finally the finger number 3 placements. (B and E that should be marked out going up and down in this key)  Since G Major has one sharp, the student should remember that at the bridge there is an F# leading to a G and then an A. (the mirrored fingering, RH  4, 1,2 and in the Left, 2, 1,4 going up the scale)

Going down the mirror fingerings are reversed.

The same analytic process applies to D, A, and E Major, with a reminder that each of these scales has a different key signature. (the number of sharps and their names, should be noted before playing any scale)

Video Segment two: An Adult Student Example

To viewers/listeners. The Steinway M grand that my pupil plays was tuned a few days ago, while the Steinway 1098 studio upright where I sit, is scheduled to be tuned in two weeks, so there is some beating, or warbling when the pianos are played at the same time. My apologies for this circumstance.

The adult student plays the G Major scale in a sequence of rhythms leading to 32nds notes. He uses a basic medium loud (MF) dynamic until the last playing of staccato notes in 32nds.

Here’s the routine:

Two octaves of quarter notes (Legato, smooth and connected)

Two octaves of 8th notes (Legato)

Three octaves of triplet 8ths (Legato)  with a rolling feel.

Four octaves of 16th notes (Legato)

Four octaves of 32nd notes (legato)

Four octaves of 32nds notes (staccato, MF–medium loud)

Four octaves of 32nds (staccato, mp)–medium soft)

Other videos include Legato to Staccato scale practice:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/playing-scales-from-legato-to-staccato-think-ping-pong-balls/

Blocking four-note chords before unblocking them as arpeggios in a sequence of inversions as prep to play the Moonlight Sonata, last movement, Presto agitato.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/from-chords-to-gym-and-back-you-tube-video/

Playing a C Major scale in contrary motion:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/playing-scales-in-contrary-motion-video/

Chunking a B Major scale:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/sports-and-piano-technique-how-about-chunking-on-you-tube/