Relying on fingering as the solution to most problems
Unless you are lucky enough to be currently “in the groove”, if you focus your
attention while playing on any one particular thing at any one particular moment, the chances are that the flip side of that is that you are neglecting focus on a whole bunch of other stuff that is taking place at the same time; things that should be taken into consideration, too.
For example, in the Mompou G Major Canciones y Danzas. If you
connecting notes fluidly in one particular voice,one you consider a principal voice, that doesn’t mean that you do not want to connect the notes in a more
subsidiary, contemporary, voice strand with any less fluidity and attention.
You know how you want the counterpoint to sound but, but you use only
one primary consideration to achieve that goal: your choice of fingering. You believe in the principle that there is always an ‘ideal’ fingering for every passage, so that if you find it, technical issues, in this case contrapuntal issues, will disappear, in the light of the clarity offered by the fingering.
We have only five fingers per hand. And while that sounds like it may
lead to many possibilities of sequencing the fingers through time,
there is rarely “a” fingering that is ideally suited to the passage
versus is relatively better than other fingerings. The word
“relatively” is important. For it leaves us short of the type of
effortlessness we are seeking as the end result of choosing a
fingering. We are just used to the limitation of five fingers.
There are ways of discovering solutions to technical and musical
problems in general, but it is not through fingering. For one thing,
the fingers radiate from the palm but the piano keys are strictly
parallel one with another. As far as playing a musical instrument
with mastery we are all challenged creatures, somewhat maimed with
regard to the mechanical principles of the instrument. The simplicity
of how the instrument is laid out in space is often belied by the lack
of simplicity is our anatomical appendages.
There is only one thing that can faithfully lead us to the sound we want
for a passage. The ear. It is through a certain hypnosis whereby the
clarity of our hearing, and of our aural imagination, which faces no
physical limitations in what it can envision.
Held up to this model, this ideal, without knowing which muscles we
are using, or to what extent we are using them, the instrument seems
to strive to model its sound around the eidolon that hovers around
If anything, awareness of the body’s physical mechanism activity
interferes with our ability to hear the sounds we are producing. At
best we set up a hoped-for correspondence between our physical actions
and the sounds we want as a result of them, but are tricked into
evaluating the effect solely by the cause.
* Walt Whitman: “Put in thy chants said he, No more the puzzling hour
nor day, nor segments, parts, put in, Put first before the rest as
light for all and entrance-song of all, That of eidolons.”
A.B.’s lesson on 11/26/20: Bach, Brahms and Mompou
1. Bach: Well-Tempered Klavier: Book One: C-Sharp Major Prelude.
Rushing. The physical and musical get out of sync.
There is a natural rushing in your fingers: the next note comes out a
few hundredths of a second earlier than is consistent with your
intended tempo. You might compensate for this with a more lazy
settling down of the finger on each key. The arpeggiation between the
hands near the very end of the piece starting on gs2 is a good place to
2. Brahms: from Op 76: The one in B-Flat Major
Brahms pulls every harmonic trick out of his hat to disguise the tonic
of this piece. For example, unresolved dominants that stall out in
mid course before reaching a tonic. Or, hiding the principal voice in
the middle of the right hand notes at the main climax of the piece.
Four note groups:
At the beginning, and throughout the piece when there are four
descending pitches in a row each note coming in a sixteenth note later
than the one before it.
Make sure the first note, the highest note in pitch, has the timbre of
a soprano voice or soprano instrument, and that the second note, which
is the second highest in pitch among the four, has a different timbre
than the first and clearly belongs to the range of an alto voice or
instrument. Then a tenor voice and then a bass voice for the third
and fourth notes. Four different singers, SATB, or four different
instruments, perhaps of a string quartet.*
The interesting thing about this procedure is that if we were listening to
a chorus or an orchestra create this effect, it would not be as
effective as when doing it on the piano. It is the difference between
the “over obvious” in the former case and in the latter case that we
are working to transcend a natural restraint from the acoustics of a
Closing passages of main sections:
Here I prefer to blend more the sounds of the two hands together. For
instance look for the balance among triads formed with the two notes
in the right hand and higher of the two notes in the left hand.
* Sometimes some of the notes in the four-note groups lie close to
each other in pitch, but that shouldn’t exempt them from the timbre
contrast. It only means that one has to be even more vigilant to have
the two different notes inherit all the sonic properties associated
with the range of pitch it inhabits on the keyboard.
3. Mompou: Canciones y Danzas (Songs and Dances): G Major
There is a marvelous tangle of voice, some persisting, some ephemeral.
Always decide which voice is the one you want the listener to be most
aware of at a given moment in the piece. Then play the other voices
in a way that, rather than backing away from the main melody, are so
played as to enhance and challenge at each moment the status of the
In general, the more we can divert A.B. away from any awareness of
what he is doing physically, the more the musicality of a passage
comes out naturally. An example of this was the elaborate ruse that
his fingers were reaching not for the actual keyboard, but for a
second keyboard, an imaginary one, located a half inch above the real
keyboard. His fingertips should feel as if he is making tactile
contact with the keys at this imaginary altitude, though we know his
fingers must have, in reality, reached the real keyboard in order to
sound the notes.
The Bigger Chord and the Smaller Chord: Schumann: Davidsbundler..: #7: opening
If I play what’s written on the page at the very beginning of this
movment, in other words if I play d4 and fs4 together, I know that
this is probably meant to stand for a D Major chord. But what I
really want to know is what does a D Major chord sound like when the
full resonance of the piano is called into play. It would be
something like playing a chord of at least these seven notes such as:
d2-a2-d3–fs3-a3-d4-fs4 (the – between notes mean that they start at
the same time, and the — shows where the notes for the left hand end
and the notes for the right hand begin).
So I OD’ed, for a while, playing this enlarged, more or most resonant
form of the D Major chord. It is the “gestalt*” D Major Chord implied
by the audible d4-fs4. As for the word gestalt, here is what I found
at the top of the first page of a Google search for it: “an organized
whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.” I also
found this a further down the same page: “the brain creates a
perception that is more than simply the sum of available sensory
inputs.” So, putting these together, and stoking the flames up on my
musical imagination, as I play just d4-fs4, I somehow hear it as part
of, and surrounded by, all the tones: d2-a2-d3–fs3-a3-d4-fs4. They
are all there ringing regardless of how many pitches enter my tonal
perception only through the outer ears. If I were Plato, the notes I
play from the score are but shadows of the complete “Idea” of the
If on a given day my musical imagination refused to be stirred to life
by the full chord, when my mind isn’t strong enough to hear the
“bigger” chord when hearing just the “little” chord, I can literally
play the bigger chord first allow its radiance to fade into the
smaller chord (which I play immediately after the bigger chord) and I
may notice, mysteriously, that the smaller chord when alone has
somehow absorbed much of the radiance of the larger chord. The
resonance of the bigger chord has somehow filtered into the smaller
chord. Did I truly hear the difference? I don’t know; I don’t want
to examine it too carefully.
I try never to play a chord unless I hear just before it the entire
archetypical, gestalted chord.
For instance, take the second chord in this opening passage of the
Davidsbundler number 7. To make it clear to my mind that this triad
is representattive of a fuller chord, I create a diminished chord
rising from a cs2 in the bass and, as before, at its top continq the
written notes. So that the written notes are, at the last, embraced
by, suffused in the sound of the fuller chord, their life source.
I repeat this process for each chord, and repeat the procedure until,
though I am playing but the instrument of a piano, and fairly softly
at that, I feel that I am in a great cathedral playing on a resonant
organ, with all the stops and the couplers engaged.
Always I am asking: what is the most resonant and deep chord possible
that the written notes in a chord evoke.
To further stimulate my imagination, I can actually pantomimie, one by
one, upwards from the bass, the physical act of playing all the lower
notes of the bigger chord. The physical touch of the fingers on those
keys may be enough to stimulate at least a phantom of the sound of
that note. Keep the pedal down as I do this as if I expect the
imaginary tones rising out of the bass to continue sounding one
through the next, until when I have reached the top of the chord where
the written notes reside (the point where I change from pantomiming to
actually sounding the notes). In this way the notes I’ve I had
physically sounded, do so only after having received the impetus of
the lower notes in the imagination.
I can use this procedure in behalf of every chord of the first phrase;
or for any chord anywhere, even if what is notated in the score is but
one note of a chord, as long as I harmonic acumen knows what the chord
is supposed to be.
As I perform the passage in real time, pantomiming the ascending lower
notes of each chord, the latter can occupy a duration of time that is
almost as if I had prepended (sic) beat before before each chord
sounds to the audience.
Schumann: Davidsbundler: #1: opening
Circular motions have always been an important part of my playing
technique. Motion in a straight line is but the flamboyance of a
cir4cle compressed against one plane.
The broadest circles are executed by the arms as a whole, with the
Sometimes when describing these circles I make reference to the hours
on a clock. The circle either procedes in a clockwise or a
counterclockwise fashion. When circles are made by both arms at once
the bilateral symmetry of the body leads naturally to one arm moving
clockwise while the other moves counterclockwise.
Sometimes a circle can be collapsed into a straight line for part of
its course as against all of its course. I might describe the motion
of my right arm in executing a passage as one large counterclockwise
circle or revolution that is fully rounded from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock
and then devolves into something close to a horizontal path from 4
o’clock back to 8 o’clock.
I use this as an example because it aids me in playing the very
opening of the Davidsbundler (#1). The left hand, with a reluctant
feeling of departing from g2-d3, makes a circle from about 8-9 o’clock
to about 4 o’clock, to bring the left hand from the the fifth in the
bass up to the third in the tenor (g3-b3). After that it begins its
less energetic journey around the rest of the circle until. nearing the
Schumann: Davidsbundler: No. 11: measure 13…
As I play this line I am struck by how dark and beautiful it is. Now, I want to probe deeper into the heart of this passage’s darkness (apologies to Joseph Conrad for appropriating the title of his novella.
Though the notes move by as sixteenths, I don’t want a single sound to escape me. Schumann has gone to so much trouble to create an ever morphing series of pillars of sound.
At the beginning of measure 13 I play and hold b1-b2–b3 and let that
sound dwell in my soul.
Then replay the three B-s but add to it a fourth note: d4. Now I
linger with the sound of b1-b2–b3-d4. I especially take note of how
that new note, d4, changes the sound of the B-s alone.
Then I replay b1-b2–b3-d4 but add a fifth note, fs4, to what is
becoming, in slow motion, an ever changing mood of the notes I am
combining. At this point I am conjuring with the sound of the chord
was not yet sensible to me in the previous, more truncated form of the
Then I repeat a similar procedure on the notes of the second eighth
note’s worth of the measure, building up, one note at a time the
following chord, which reveals itself to be strikingly different in
sound-aesthetic than the previous chord I built up:
2) b1-b2–as3 (NB)
And so on through the measures, an eighth note’s worth of the music at
I’ve moved far away from the sound of the passage when I first played
it as written. As with high-speed photography, I’ve elongated
Schumann’s original process through time into something I am able to
hear very differently, that which at first remained imprisoned in the
rapidly changing notes of the chords.
It is as if I’ve transformed the Schumann into a piece of music
written by a different composer, and then imitating that other
composer’s piece when playing the passage in its originally written
I am transporting a quality from something hidden by the notes into
something that now bathes the outside of the sound of the passage. I
see through every changing sound pattern produced by this kaleidoscope