Tidbits from recent lessons: Shostakovich, Chopin, Mozart, Bach
R.M: Shostakovich: Prelude # 10
Its syntax is filled with sonic miscues, altered expectations. Like a peptide chains that have been snipped apart into separate amino acids in order to form unexpectedly new peptide chains.
Each time something unexpected happens can you find your new harmonic footing before the minimum possible number of notes has passed.
A.J. Chopin Waltz in C# Minor
Joe: Sometimes you are not sounding all the written notes . How do you know if every note sounds, for instance, in an interval or chord?
Ideally your ear knows or can quickly take stock of every note. Otherwise you can try this: Play the chord and release all but one note. Is that note sounding? Is it sounding in a way that you think will balance well with the rest of the sounds in the chord.
Repeat process for each other note in the same chord.
More mechanical based approaches:
-tap each note separately once or twice before sounding the chord.
-have the illusion that you are not playing the chord notes simultaneously but that you are articulating them one at a time.
J.M. Mozart: C Minor Fantasie
No matter what you do in the opening two measures, when you get to the B-flats at the beginning of measure 3, forget any connection with the immediate past, the only note that it should connect from is the C-naturals at the beginning of measure 1. Similarly with the next forthcoming groups of measures until you reach A-flat.
When the right hand settles down into repeating ds4-fs4 as sixteenths, don’t let any of those thirds escape your attention regardless of what the left hand is doing or is in the midst of doing.
The ending of one phrase and beginning the next. How you start the next phrase, musically and physically, can be strongly influenced and controlled by the way you release the last note in the first phrase. How you end something is a big detriment of how you begin what’s next.
The B-flat major section.
How to create a coherent and flowing melodic line in spite of the variations in the rhythm.
Before playing the melody as a dotted eighth followed by two sixteenths and a quarter note, play those four notes as a triplet followed by a quarter note. In that form, the descending steps of the B-flat major scale (d5 c5 bf4 a4), assert their simple melodic flow and harmonic coherence. Then, right away, “capture” what you just heard – but add in the extra parameter of the rhythm. If done with a calm mind, the melodic flow of the triplets will not be lost in the written rhythm. It happens ‘automagically’.
A.B. First prelude from book One of the Well Tempered.
Liberating the expressivity in the bundled chords.
Choose one note from the measure you are about to play. Sing and hold that note from the beginning of the measure to the end of the measure while playing at the keyboard the measure as written. In the next, and next…, measures do the same, either 1) choosing as the note to hold the note that is in a similar place in the measure as the one you held in the previous measure, or 2) purposefully switching at random to some other note in the next measure (singing and holding that note from the beginning to the end of the measure).
My best advice is, given your propensity for on the spot evaluation and analysis of what you just heard yourself play a moment ago, don’t react to anything; don’t think, don’t be upset, with anything that has happened, just notice it in passing. When you do analyze it provokes an attempt on your part to physically alter what you will try to do to sound the next note. You quickly trap yourself into an endless series of corrections, in anticipation of what may go wrong with each next note, because it went wrong with the current note. The result is that no note is played in a fresh and unencumbered way.
Stay in the present. If you don’t, one of the things that will worry you is how you will be able to sustain any evenness you have already achieved for so many more measures to come.
The piece plays itself – without much help from you.
A.B. First fugue from book one of the Well Tempered
There are some crazy sections in this fugue, harmonically. Let things wax expressive when Bach has demanded this by the way out notes and modulations he has written. If it helps, think that Bach and not you is demanding this heightened expressivity. It’s his fault (sic).
You say that when you listen to a recording of the fugue things often go by too fast for your ear to pick out each and every theme entrance regardless of in what voice or voices it occurs. Especially in the stretto sections.
I suggested this procedure:
Listen to your favorite recording. Mark in the score the first four notes (only)* of each and every theme entrance. Play along with the recording but only at the moments in the score that you marked; just four notes. For the rest of time just listen to the sound of the music flow by.
* Playing more than four notes can lead to technical difficulties if the tempo of the recording is faster than you are playing the work. It will also confuse things in the strettos.
Sometime subdividing beats, sometimes combining beats
When we are playing slowly and the notes seem to separate from each other and there is no flowing line, it is useful to subdivide the note into 2, 3 or 4 equal parts. This subdivision can occur just in the head, or better yet, in the body. The body can go through all the same motions that it would to play the note again, except that instead of a new sound resulting, the old sound simply continuous.
When we are playing rapidly and the notes don’t seem to flow evenly, it is useful to combine notes into groups of notes. In doing this only the first note of the group is played with any intentionality. The other notes happen as if unintentionally, as if filling in a parenthesis, with physical motions that are more subtle or subconscious.
Music is the art of time alone
Music is the art of time, and in it space has little role to play. This results from the basic difference between hearing and seeing.
While the physical cause for all our sensations, including sight and sound, lies in some mechanical phenomenon in space, the ‘effect’ of that cause, as experienced in our consciousness, is of a radically different nature. We cannot answer the question “what does sound like.” There is nothing about a sound wave that implies hearing.
The transmission of electro-chemical impulses in the auditory nerve is no different than what occurs in the optic nerve. Examining these transmissions gives us no clue as to what sense is being transmitted.
What would happen if, in the distant future, a surgeon took the auditory nerve’s connections into the brain and spliced them instead into the visual part of the brain. Would we see sound?
Consider a person who had been born blind, and who grew up without companions on the proverbial dessert island. If that person was suddenly granted the ability to see, and heard what we know is the sound of a bird, would she have any ability of linking the quality of that sound in her consciousness to a cause somewhere in space, in particular the thing over there in that tree with wings and a beak.
Sound, and therefore music, is quality experienced through duration in time.
I always choose the part “on the left”
When I play four hands with another pianist, given the choice, I will choose to sit on the left, and play the “secondo” or lower pitched part. Why?
The person with the lower pitches can always insure an overall balance of sound with the person on the right (the “primo” part) no matter how loud or soft that person plays, in spite of any unanticipated crescendos or decrescendos that he or she might make.
The secondo defines the harmony and thus creates the underpinning that gives definition and shape to the melodies in the primo.
When the person doing the primo is a student, or an amateur pianist, the secondo provides a nurturing, surrounding embrace of sound, that elicits the best playing from the person playing the primo. The latter hears how much better things are sounding than they thought they would versus when they played their part alone. In general, the secondo can act as the ideal accompanist, following every twist and turn in the primo: masking inconsistencies, smoothing over unintentional jumps or errors, giving to the primo a freedom that may surprise the player. I can also do more to influence the musical interpretation of the piece from the left side than the right side.
Lastly, there is the subtle effect of overtones and sympathetic vibration. The tones I generate in the bass can partially transform the quality (timbre) of sound in the treble.
Beginners: natural confusion between the horizontal plane of the keyboard and the vertical plane of the musical staff.
There are things which we take for granted which may be confusing to the student and lead to conflations.
We are aware that in the horizontal plane of the keyboard the following are true:
left = ‘low’ in pitch,
leftwards = ‘lower’ in pitch,
‘downwards’ on the keyboard,
going ‘backwards’ in the musical alphabet.
right = ‘high’ in pitch
rightwards = ‘higher’ in pitch
‘upwards’ on the keyboard
going ‘forwards’ in the music alphabet
If we switch to the vertical plane of the staff we know that:
down = low in pitch
downwards on a staff = lower in pitch
going backwards in the musical alphabet
up = high in pitch
upwards on a staff = ‘higher’ in pitch
going forwards in the musical alphabet
That on the keyboard, leftwards and rightwards have to do with change in pitch, but that on the staff leftwards and rightwards have to do with order in time.
It is often confusing for the student to keep track of the changing meaning ‘up’ and ‘down’ depending on whether the context is the keyboard or the music staff.
He is liable to make the wrong ‘pairing’ between the two planes, horizontal and vertical For example:
1) notes that move upwards on the staff but to which the student responds by going leftwards and not rightwards on the keyboard.
2) the student playing C and then D on the keyboard, but then says that the notes he played are C and B.
In both cases the ‘rotation’ of the plane by ninety degrees, between horizontal and vertical is the source of the confusion. It is a spatial difficulty that can be more pronounced in one individual than another, regardless of talent.