5 Shorter Blogs on General Technique and Jazz
October 3, 2018
How to start a run (#1). Scales can help us execute arpeggios and vice versa (#2). Symmetric motions in the hands (#4) Jazz improvisation (#4). A deeper meaning to a group of notes (#5)
#1 How to start a run
It’s the second note that precisely defines the tempo of the run.
How quickly does a listener determine the tempo of a piece. Not by the first note, but they can judge the tempo by hearing the first two notes. It is the precise duration from the beginning of the first note to the beginning of the second note that is the clue. This proves to be important for the pianist when starting a run, a scale, etc., any series of notes that are all share the same rhythmic value. If we are careful to play the second note at exactly the right moment after the first note, then we know what precise duration to give to each of the notes follow.
#2 Using arpeggios to help play scales, and vice versa.
When I am playing a scale, and it isn’t coming out the way I want, I play instead an arpeggio starting on the tonic note of the scale.
For instance, instead of: C D E F G A B c
I play C E G c
If at that point, without any time taken off in between, I play the scale again, the scale sounds more evenly and controlled.
The arpeggio in effect seems like a scale that has been sped up. I just have to fill parenthetically the notes the arpeggio left out.
The reverse situation applies as well. When I am playing an arpeggio, if it isn’t coming out the way I want, I play stead a scale whose tonic is implied tonic in the arpeggio.
For instance, instead of: C E G c
I play C D E F G A B c
This slows down the arpeggio because I am filling in the notes between the notes of the arpeggio. It now takes longer to get from one note of the arpeggio to the next. I just have be aware of the notes that I’m leaving. Especially the interval is more than a third, as well as when I bring over thumb, or come under the thumb.
#3 Mirror motions. The “target hand” and the “helping hand”
The body is freest and happiest when the two bilateral side of the body (the arms in particular) are moving in opposite directions. The physical sensation in the arm when moving away from the a central position (I.E. rightwards with the right hand, leftwards with the left hand) is different than the physical sensation in the arm when moving towards a central position (I.E. leftwards with the right hand, rightwards with the left hand). The body is happier when the two sensations are more alike. This is one of the reason that scales played in opposite motion in two hands seems easier than the usual practice of both hands moving rightwards, or both hands moving leftwards.
One hand helps the other: the helping hand and the “target” hand
In my playing, if I feeling awkward playing a passage or group of notes in the right hand, In what follows the right hand is the “target” hand and the left hand is the “helping” hand. The situation can be reversed if one is having difficulty with a passage in the left hand.
I will take the helping hand and move it in the empty space above the keyboard in a course that is a mirror image of the the directions that the right hand is going. It goes leftwards when the target hand goes rightwards, It goes rightwards when the target hand goes leftwards. As i said, the helping hand traces in empty space, just above the keyboard, the mirror motion of the target hand.
After doing this for a brief time, I go back to having the helping hand play the notes indicated for it in the score. The helping hand can retain the sensations of trying to mirror the target hand even though it is restrained from doing it fully by the notes it has to play that are in the score. But that doesn’t stop it from “trying” to start making such motions to mirror the other. Muscles can contract as if attempting a motion in one direction even if the hand at the same time busy playing notes that go in a different direction.
#4. Jazz improvisation
Not stopping the flow of notes every once in a while simply because you are not sure where to go to next.
During one year I had a jazz pianist come for lessons. He thought he would gain some additional perspectives on jazz by working with a classically trained teacher.
At first I showed stuff about classical music. It went OK. However, then I decided that it would be more interesting to work with him while he was improvising. My absence of technical knowledge in jazz would not prevent me from evaluating his improvisation on more general musical grounds such as sound, musicality, and motion.
I asked him to improvise for me on a standard tune. What I noticed was that when he would begin to play a series of rapid notes, after a certain number of notes went by he paused, but then went on. The pause to me always sounded artificial: not done for a musical reasons. I was curious to determine whether the pause was for stylistic reasons or occurred because his fingers were momentarily ‘stumped’ as to what to do next. It turned out to be the latter. Ideally he would have preferred continuing the series of notes in the improvisation.
I invented a curious exercise, one that is good for classical as well as jazz pianists. I had him wiggle his fingers rapidly in the air and simply do so without stopping. That set up the notion that the note-stream does not ever need to stop. The next step was to bring that finger motion to the keyboard and to play random notes. The notes need not have any musical significance. It was purely for him to get used to the idea that it was technically possible to generate an indefinite series of notes. In the last stage he applied that technique to improvising on a standard melody and, every time he was on the verge of stopping because he hadn’t yet figured out the following notes, he was to use stage two and to continue playing notes they were random notes. This opened up for him the possibility of creating a stream of fast notes at any speed, one that would last as long as he chose.
#5. A deeper meaning to a group of notes.
Sometimes it is not enough for me to play through a group of notes, just once, a part of a theme or a motive. It is as if I am taking a cursory swipe at what I think is contained in those notes: looking especially for something that is consistent with all the notes around it. But with repeated swipes I begin to unmask what is really going on in that group of notes. And that something is often easily glossed-over by me to make it seem like it is just another neutral, undifferentiated part of the whole nexus of notes of which it is a part.
By the second or third time I repeat the target group of notes (usually anywhere from 2 – 8 notes), I begin to see that it has a life of its own, one that is easily submerged in the general flow of the measure. Would I be encouraging anarchy on the part of those notes to give special care to bring out its authentic properties independently of what the rest of the surrounding passage is trying to state musically.
The answer I find is usually that bringing out the individuality of a group of notes, based on its shape, rhythm and harmonic implications, only adds, and does not detract, from the general flow of the piece; that it enriches meaning in the passage and not goes off on a tangent.