Category: Phrasing

The memory projection of the previous note into the next note

When a chord repeats twice in a row exactly, can the past itself repeat  without a new present.

Sometimes the past is so forcefully projected on the present that all newness has been drained out of the new iteration. Time has been made to stop flowing. It is not a ‘new’ iteration of the previous chord, it is, in a  fundamental way, the ‘same’ chord, so thrall to the memory of the previous iteration that it doesn’t feel like a new chord at all (regardless sometimes whether its notes are the same or even different than the previous chord).

While music can embody the most radical changes in time, sometimes in  our playing we fail to balance things out by superimposing the past on the  present. It may be a second chord but make it feel, seem, and sound like the chord before it. It is still under the control of the previous chord.



Op 2 / 2 : I : m114 (first ending)

Have the memory of the first e major chord be so present in my imagination, that all I’m doing on the next two chords is repeating, re-averring what I hear. It’s still an attempt to ‘play the memory’ of the first one. I didn’t say that very well. Try this: but when I do have a repeat of the same chord, what the memory is doing to ‘sustain’ the chord between the iterations is important.


Op 2 / 2 : I : m133…

I hear c6 and af5, in fact three times in a row if I manage to ignore the change in octave range. Each C then A-flat, is a memory repeat. with the  same intent, with the same feeling that they are the first iteration, not heard before, and not a second or third iteration.


op 22 : I : m71…

This is the beginning of a pattern notes sound three octaves at once and going up a scale and back down it (f2-f3–f4 g2-g3–g4 etc.).

I take the first iteration of the three-note octave (f2-f3–f4) and repeat it identically, in ictus and in sound, in the rhythm of the passage (never  changing pitch). Soon afterwards I try to recreate this effect even though physically I change the pitches according to the score. I want there to be a  memory image’ that projects from the first note of the scale to the last note.

When I only played repeating F naturals. I am fulfilling the wish of any memory projection, which if it had its druthers, would overwrite any attempt to change to a differernt pitch. I let memory become so alive, so “stuck”, that it puts the ear into an endless loop, manifesting the reach in time of the F.

For some reason, when I try to do this, the effect to my outward ear is that of extreme evenness and cohesiveness among the notes, which I don’t think I could have achieved just by physically trying to repeat the same physical feeling on every three-note octave.


Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Bach: The Goldberg Variations: Variation no. 11

#1  Arpeggios: Variation 11 : measure 5

In the right hand play the b2 with 2, then d3 with 3, and then, for
practice in loosening up the joints, rotate the forearm one hundred
eighty degrees, which faces the palm upwards, and turns the thumb,
which is still on the g3, upside down, then the third finger plays b3
but like the thumb, the third finger is upside down, but re-rights
itself by one hundred eighty degrees while still on the b3. at which
point the arpeggio completes itself ordinarily through the g4.

#2  Physical Glue: Variation 11 : measure 13

There are two instances of physical glue in this measure. By
physical glue I mean a physical connection between two notes in
different hands, that is not readily noticed in the score, and whose
challenge is often not experienced until it is already happening.

There is a d5 starting at the beginning of the measure in the right hand,
which is usurped by the left hand playing the same note at the sixth sixteenth of the measure, which hands the same note back to the right hand just one sixteenth later.

in the third group of sixteenths in the measure, the left hand plays
fs4, but no sooner plays it but it is usurped by the right hand playing

This suggests the creation of a separate rhythm that concerns only
repeat notes (where the hand is changed at the repeat).

rh:  .e = e__       e        s
lh:                    \s/{s} s/

By concentrating on this artificially formed rhythm composed solely of the iterations of the note d5 as it goes from right hand to left hand to right hand, and the iterations of the note fs4 as it goes from the left hand to the right hand, we have exposed the skeleton, which remains hidden under the surface of the written notes, which physocally holds the passage together.

#3 Crossing and uncrossing the hands: In the Goldberg Variations

Variation 11 : measure 1 :

Move the right hand up one octave and move the left hand down one
octave. The hands can now play their respective parts without crossing or
bunking into each other. This helps define a ‘potential’ for what the
piece should sound like were it not for sonic confusing from the
crossing voices as well as the physical confusion of the hands

When we again play it, this time as written, see if we can keep the
same amount of empty “air” between the two voices in the two hands. This air separates things physically as well as sonically. No less so than when the hands didn’t cross at all. Each hand now speaks its own pitch-shape without the other hand diverting us, or pulling our attention away from one hand to the other.

#4  “Sculpting” small groups of notes

There are only so many pitch-shapes you can get four notes, and a smaller
number when dealing with only three notes

Pitch shapes for three notes:

1  up        2   up       3
1  up        2 down   3
1  down  2   up       3
1  down  2 down   3

Pitch shapes for four notes:

up up up
up up down
up down up
up down down

down down down
down down up
down up down
down up up

Become a master of shaping each of them in its own unique way. Polish
each till it sparkles like a gem and cannot be mistaken for any of the
other shapes.

As one plays through the Goldberg Variations, in particular the more
contrapuntal sections, notice, before each group of notes, which type it
is of the types shown above, and then ‘sculpt’ its shape, like an actual
sculptor working with a mass of pliable material, till it’s clearly one of the shapes and not any of the others.  This does not happen automatically just by playing the pitches but requires an expressivity that helps display to the listener’s ear the upward and downward motion of the pitches.

Further subdivisions of the basic types can be based on whether the
motion from one note to another in a group is a step or a skip.  For
instance in Variation 9, measure 6, the last four notes in the bottom
voice (c4 d4 e4 d4) is from the point of view of pitch sculpting “up
up down”, and from the point of view of sub-type “all steps”, while
the first four notes in the next measure (cs4 a3 d4 cs4) is an example
of the basic type “down up down”, but is of the sub-type “skip skip

Although this may seem like a trivial and obvious subject, each shape and each subtype has its own aesthetic quality which can be brought out to the
listener. And there is an aesthetic quality too of saying to the listener “I’ve just finished sculpting one shape and I’m about to start sculpting another shape”.  A piece made up of an endless series of permutations of pitches, as in the Goldberg, can become a smaller, more manageable set of statements of pitch-shape types and if one wishes, subtypes.  This simplifying gives order to the overall design of the piece, and on the most intimate level.

#5  Variation 11: measure 1 : first half of the measure, et. al.

alternative to sculpting a sextuplet

Treat the first six notes as two groups of identically shaped three-note groups (the type of shape identified as three notes in descending steps). From the sculpting point of view, there is something to be gained by suppressing attention to the  entity of a ‘scale’ formed by 6 or 7* descending notes, and revealing  the two elegantly sculpted smaller and primal groups of three descending notes.**

#6 Conclusion

We may be stretching things to speak of sculpting a group of notes as
if we were sculpting a material object. However, if we consider what
the body of the sculptor does while sculpting and what the body of the
pianist does while playing piano, and what their intents may be, there are similarities. And it is not beyond reason to say that a motion that we would do as a sculptor, can be transformed and transported into the actions we take as pianists.  It is then up to the pianist to use their aesthetic imagination to reveal the shape thus created.

As pianists, we can imagine notes as viscous objects capable of
responding to our hands as clay to the sculptor.  In making these analogies there is always allowances for great jumps in the imagination between what we are externally doing with our body and what we feel like inwardly as to what we are doing with our body.   In this manner relevance can be gotten out of taking a group of notes and “bending”  it into the shape of a phrase.

Or working on a small group of notes until it takes a shape we are trying to gradually bring out in its sounds.  We can put it on a potter’s wheel until the shape we want develops and is eminently clear to the onlooker.  It is like taking out the notes on a lathe until we have created the proper curves of the pitch shapes.

* It is 7 notes if one includes the first note of the second half of the measure.

** If one can’t quite get the sculptural shape of the three descending notes, try singing Figaro’s aria wherein he calls attention to himself by repeating the syllables Fi-Ga-Ro, over and over on the same three descending notes.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shifting Perspective to Play Easier

Albeniz: Orientale (At A.B.’s lesson of 6/20/19)


A.B. begins his process of learning a new piece by getting ‘hooked’ on
a detail: what did Albeniz mean here, near the beginning, by joining
two sets of notes with a slur mark but, under the first of the two puts a staccato – it is illogical. He’s seen the staccato on the second of two notes under a slur but never the first.

I get instantly trapped into his way of framing the issue. So I come up with a spread of possible explanations ranging from general comments about the inexactitude of that part of music notation that doesn’t deal with pitches and rhythms, to a mistake by the printer.   The latter A.B. corrects: but, he says, it is a Henle edition and the edition is based directly on Albeniz’s manuscript. Being thus cut off at the pass, I attempt to turn his entire process upside down. Why don’t you, I said to him, start with the effect of the piece as a whole. Once that effect is clear to you, extrapolate from this
overall effect to any specific detail you happen to pick up. Make a judgement about that detail that keeps it in line with the overall mood and effect of the piece.


He becomes fixated on the different possible ways of playing the repeating D minor chord at the opening. It is too big for his hand. Should he roll the chord? Play the top note with the right hand? Meanwhile, over inside my head, the only thing I am noticing, as he tries one technique after the other, is that at no time does he effect a balance and unity between the notes of the chord and the notes of the upper melody. Eventually I say this: listen instead to the effect of the d4 (at the beginning of the melody) with the d2, a2 and f3, in the chord that sounds with it. Do all four notes unite into a
balanced, D minor chord? And the same question about the second melody note, the e4, and the chord that is still sustaining. Would anything be gained by keeping your ear on the formation of these overbraced chords between all the notes in both hands, both when the melody in the right hand has a chord tone in its melody and when it has a tone of embellishment. Hear the latter, as being the latter: a purposeful dissonance adding to the richness of the complexion of the chord.

A way of snaking up on this effect is to separately practice the connection between just the d2 and the e4 in the melody.  Additionally, if you care to, practice the connection between the a2 (extracted from the chord) to the e4 in the melody (or the same for the f3 and the e4). When A.B. tried this, suddenly all the other problems which he had both went defined and then worried about, went away.

As in number 1, above, often the solution to a perceived problem lies in a shift of perspective, an approach coming from an entirely different point of view than first used. We get stuck with our way of perceiving a problem in our playing the piece, and magnify rather than eliminate the problem by focusing in greater and greater detail on problem as seen from this perspective.  Yet often has to wave an arm and dispel the view one has of the passage. To form a new perspective on so that it appears in a totally new light.


There are in this piece frequent passages in which a note is held in the bass while the remaining fingers of the left hand in conjunction with different combinations of fingers in the right hand play a series of parallel triads (often in inversion).

As is his wont, A.B. searching for the fluidity of connection between these triads in the fingering that he is using. I suggested a shift of point of view. Think, I said, of the enunciation of each triad as being broken down into two distinct parts. One is the physical action causing the onset of the sounds of the triad, and the other, a separate, equally specific physical action causing, at a specific moment after the first, the release of those sounds. It is as important that the three sounds of the triad terminate at exactly the
same moment in time as each other, as it is for them to start at exactly the same moment. Without the terminating motion, the different fingers playing the triad all have their own habitual way of letting go of their sound.

Suddenly fingering was no longer an important issue. We had side stepped it. Releasing the notes of the triads at a specific moment unconsciously caused him to control what fingering he was using on each next triad.* The way the pianist ends a triad unconsciously controls the physical way they start the next triad.**

* In the case of number #3. we also experimented with making a single motion (a “heel-toe” motion ***) to play two consecutive triads. This
falls under the heading of the principle of the using the fewest possible motions to execute the largest series of notes.

** Two additional and semi-related points came up while working on
this passage of parallel thirds.

#1 There is a basic difference in effect between a legato achieved
through the use of the pedal and one achieved without the use of the
pedal. It is always best to practice a legato first without pedal: as
best as you can effect it, even when the composer has indicated in the
socre the use of the pedal to sustain one sound into the next. We
want to hear the legato is its purest state before dealing with all
the extra ramifications sound-wise of adding the pedal. Then, feel
free to add the pedal – as much as you want. Just be aware that the
heart of the legato resides in the use of the muscles throughout the
body as well as in the fingers in particular.

#2 on Henle page 1, line 4, measure 2, When one of the fingers playing
the current triad has to, en route to the next triad, ‘dislodge’ from
its current position one of the other fingers playing the current
triad. Feel as if the former finger is able to exert a pressure
through a vacuum to cause the other finger to move out of the way.

*** I refer you here to my forthcoming blog “two or more notes from
one continuous gesture through time”. Among the gestures described is
the one that I refer to here under the nickname of “heel-toe” (a
borrowing from organ foot technique).

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Deciding What is Controllable. Also: Transforming the Polyphony of a Gugue

Well Tempered Klavier, Book I, C Major, Prelude


After finishing the piece I simply asked A.B. what he liked and disliked about his rendition.  He mentioned several negative things and then struck on the one thing that I had primarily noticed: that he stopped the harmonic flow of the piece every time he went from the end of one measure to the beginning of the next.   I missed sensing that inexorable connection that energetically pushed me from the chord in one measure to the chord in the next measure.

He said that he had previously tried condensing the piece into a chorale of whole-note chords (each chord took the place of one measure).  However, he had trouble because he couldn’t do it with any speed.   I said that the speed was of the essence of the procedure.  Ideally, each eighth note’s worth of the piece, in terms of its duration, became the duration of one of the chords of the chorale.

Since it was difficult to shift chords that quickly, I recommended to him that he play just the chord a single measure followed by the chord of the next measure, and then stop.   I asked him to play the first chord as if it were a grace note going to the second chord – the latter being held longer.

This he could do.  We repeated the process for each measure going into its next measure.

Now that we had merged two amino acids into a somewhat longer chain of molecules, I asked him to play as written, while I, in the higher treble, waited until he was near the end , but not at the very end, of one measure only then played the chord of that measure as a grace note followed the next measure’s chord.  Only I would get to the second chord before he finished playing the current measure.  That anticipation of my chord connection gave him the necessary push and energy to keep the piece’s harmonic flow going across the bar line.  Then I would remain silent at the second piano until he reached nearly to the end of the new measure at which point I would break in with the chord of the new ‘current’ measure played as a grace note to the chord that governed the measure that was about to start.  And so on.


A.B. remained worried in particular that the pinkie sixteenth note in the right hand at the end of each measure does not connect smoothly to the next sixteenth note in the left hand at the beginning of the next measure.

His default solution was to figure out  exactly how he wants his pinkie to play that note.  I solved his issue by stepping entirely around his approach.  As he played the piece I sang “la la la…”, but starting with 6th 7th and 8th sixteenth notes of one measure and ended with the fifth sixteenth note of the next measure. on notes to the first note.  I then waited too the 6th note of the new measure and began the process of again singing along for 3 + 5 or 8 notes.

In the form I was singing it, with the way I was grouping the notes that I sung versus those I did not sing, I purposely glossing over the connection between the two notes on either side of the bar lines..  It happens automatically.  By spreading a solder, or flux over the end of one measure and the beginning of the next, I effectively made less important the connection of the bar line.

I noticed in my singing that I helped things along by making misplaced crescendo starting on my first note and ending towards the eighth note.  This helped smooth over A.B.’s faulty connection over the bar line.

At this point we moved on to the fugue: transforming the polyphony of a

fugue in C Major, Book One, Well Tempered:

A.B.: why do I find it so difficult to not hold a voice note longer than it is supposed to last, when the note is already meant to continue sounding through a certain number of the next notes in some of the other voices.  For example if the target voice is a quarter note, or longer, and the other voices are enunciating sixteenth notes.

I gave a brief answer: remembering when to lift a sustained note in one voice is the requires the opposite of everything you do right when knowing when to start a note.  It’s the “dark side” of piano technique: it requires doing everything the wrong way; or is it now the right way?

A.B.: why did you do that?  Why was it working?

Joe: I think it is important to have a distinct pre-vision, pre-conception, of what the beginning of the next measure is going to sound like before you get to it.  It is a strange balance of knowing what’s coming and still being surprised by it.


Can we transform the sound the sound of the fugue in the student’s ear?

We experimented using two pianos with re-registering one of the voice of the fugue.  He would choose one voice to play, and transpose either an octave higher or lower than  it was written, while I played the remaining three voices (without the fourth) at the other piano.

Results:  A.B. said:

My voice sounded different than before.  I head it saying and meaning other other things than I had before, but then realizing that it was the same voice with the same names to its notes, just transposed, and that there was at the same time an abiding identity between both versions of the voice, an identity which was preserved, was eternal and fixed  and was impervious to change of octave.   The new stuff that suddenly I heard, in how that voice combined with the other voices, must have been there latent to the note’s names themselves alone, or to say it in another way were just as present as aesthetic and sonic effects when I played that voice in its original octave.

In the future we will have A.B. play just one voice, but in the octave higher than written and the octave lower than written without playing it in the octave is written.  Later again we can transpose one voice by more than one octave.  If it is the soprano voice we can have it sound in the tenor voice’s range or even below the bass voice.  In the case of the bass voice, we can have it sound in the alto voice’s range or so that it is the highest sounding of all the voices.  At any time I can choose to play all four voices and not just three, leaving one voice to him.  Or, he can choose at random to play just the voices, while I play the other two.  Or, three voices.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Creating Harmonic Clarity

Bach:  C Major Prelude, Book I, Well Tempered Klavier

Part of A.B.’s quest is to play the notes of this prelude “evenly”.  Achieving this has to do with the chord outlined by the notes of each measure, and the balance of the notes in the chords in creating a clear impression of that chord as a whole.   To make this chord more obvious to the ear, the player, when practicing, can “densify” each chord:  if there are openings between adjacent written notes in the chord to squeeze in additional notes from the same chord, add those notes in.   For instance in measure 2, there is room for an f4 between the d4 and a4.  If we add in that f4, we create the denser five-note chord: c4 d4 f4 a4 d5.  We can take that chord a step forward and add a c5 between the a4 and the d4, forming a six-note chord.  The chord has been a D Minor-7 chord the entire time, but the additional chord tones just make it stand out more clearly to the ear what chord it is.  Do this for every chord in the Prelude when Bach’s written notes allow for such additions.

An equally valid technique to add density to the character of a chord is add in chord tones in lower and/or higher octaves not used in the printed chord.  In this form a chord could contain 8 – 10 notes, or by adding the pedal, larger numbers of notes, spanning the low bass to high treble.  In this form, the “quality” of the chord reveals itself at its most obvious.  This technique, helps “set” the sonority of the written chord inside a larger entity to which it in turns belongs.

Whatever are the sound characteristics and the mood characteristics of the individual chord, they become in this manner magnified to the ear.  From this form of the chord we can then re-compress the chord (through the aesthetic equivalent of a ‘trash compactor’) without losing any of the sound ‘material’ present in the larger version of the chord: the larger instance of the chord being condensed into a smaller chord without losing any of the fullness or meaning of the uncompressed version of the chord.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *