Tag: advanced piano

When Practicing is Emotionally Painful

S.B.’s lesson on 6/25/19

S.B. is sensitive to good music, his soul clearly derives sustenance from it.  Part of him loves being at the piano.  The fly in the ointment is his sight reading.

Because of his love for music he periodically subjects himself to prolonged periods of discouragement by trying to learn pieces. The discouragement stems mostly from the difficulties he experiences in sight reading.

He could possibly become better at sight reading if he did more of it.  But without a proximate aesthetic reward to be gained from the playing of the piece, there is little incentive to practice sight reading.

Reading pieces that are simple enough for him to sight reading produces apathy on his part. The music has little to offer his rather refined artistic sensitivities.

Analysis:

Difficulty in sight reading leads to prolonged practicing time before
the musical qualities of a piece begin to emerge in the player’s consciousness, which can then be savored by our aesthetic sensitivity. The longer this delay, the more bogged down the pianist gets in the tangled web of a forest–with no apparent way out. Just more and more forest, without
end.

Eventually, the displeasure of making gradual, fitful, disconnected small gains in learning the piece, that cumulatively don’t seem to be leading anywhere, outweighs any pleasure, even anticipated pleasure, that the learned piece would bring him. Thus a lot of work is continuously required without the goal of enjoying the piece seeming to get any closer. This is compounded by the growing feeling that he is incapable of learning the piece. Eventually one is forced to the conclusion: “this piece, musical as it is (when I first heard it in performance), may not be worth the effort I have to put into learning it.” With great patience, discipline and fortitude, one  might hold out against this discouragement, even for a long time, but time always wins in the end … the discouragement does not go away.

A tall order:

As a first step in dealing with these issues, I suggested that during the coming week’s practicing, he should take notice of the moments of
pleasure that may occur, even if they are in the minority. To identify to himself that THIS is the state he wants to experience at the piano; the one that makes it all worthwhile. Then to stay with that a moment before going on, to stave off heavy and seemingly ineluctable drift of displeasure that is waiting to take over.

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An Unbroken Persistence or Continuity of Sound

J.M’s lesson around Friday June 14, 2019 on the Beethoven “Andante Favori”

#1. The beginning of the piece.

Stated ideally there should be no difference between, on the one hand, playing and sustaining a single chord throughout the first measures of the “Andante”, and, articulating all the written notes (in their written rhythms). It is as if the latter “lived inside” the former, but that the former is where the unbroken continuity of the sound comes from.

At first these two ways of playing the opening will strike the pianist as sounding extremely different. There will be a constant feeling that something is missing in the former that can only be supplied by the latter. However, by making several “side by side” (sequential) comparisons of the former with the latter, the perceived difference between the two will gradually seem to subside, as the former begins to inhabit the latter, and
the latter seeks the stability of the former.

The goal is to play the written passage with an absolute connectivity of sound, sounds that fuse together in spite of time, which in turn brings on changes in pitch and rhythm.

It is perhaps more realistic to say that former and latter are descriptions of two ideally defined end points of a continuous spectrum of possibilities that lie between the stasis a single, enduring chord, and the interruptiveness, or disjointedness, of one single note replacing another.

At the beginning of the lesson J.M. was too close to the latter end of the  spectrum, and we wanted to seek a position more in the middle, that preserved the best qualities of both ends.

What we’ve said about the opening measures of the “Andante Favori” can
apply as well at any point along the course of the piece. While playing through the work, as soon as one feels they are loosing the connectivity in the flow of sound, perhaps attained in the earlier measures of the piece, as soon as one hears that the measures begin ‘breaking up’ disjointed parts, one can form a new series of side by side comparisons of the two extreme
states, bringing them closer together, until even changes in rhythmic values from longer notes to sixteenths or thirty seconds. Still, feel that they emerge out a non-change, a constancy, a prolongation of the fabric of sound-as-sound.*

Here is a tip on how to bridge the gap between the two ends of the spectrum: disruption and continuity in sound. Take the first chord of the piece and repeat it exactly, in the rhythm of the opening passage.  Instead of changes in pitch, only rhythm remains, with a droning over and over of the same chord. When repeating the chord, do not let its sound ever disappear. Play the notes of the chord in the balance (or aftertouch) of the keys so that each new intonation of the chord fits, like a tongue and groove, into a  prolongation of the previous chord. An unabated, yet murmuring sound.

#2. The measures with ascending and then descending parallel thirds
in the right hand.

Play c2-c3–c4-c5 and hold it. Once that sound is imprinted on the musical memory, imagine that that is all you hear when playing the written notes. All the thirds seek their home in this prolonged unison. I held her right arm, pressing downwards with medium pressure: so something physical was constant that underlay the changes that were happening in pitch and  rhythm.

I said: if you were able to play all the thirds at once, creating a cluster based on an extended C-major scale, that cacophonous cluster could or would act as a model for the constancy of sound that persists and underlies the activity of the changing thirds which show up as an archipelago of islands in that sea of sound.

*  The pure presence of sound: what is left to sound when one discounts the pitch of the sound, its loudness, timbre and duration.

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Shifting Perspective to Play Easier

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

#1.

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.

#2

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.

#3

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).

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What to “bring out” in a Complex Passage

Debussy: First Arabesque: the conclusion to the first of the three main parts.

What is the main melody that one should bring out during the passage that concludes the first part and leads to the middle part of the piece.  A.J. said that when I played it I was doing something that that made it work sound-wise but he couldn’t figure out what i was doing. He assumed that I was emphasizing one of the three layers of melodic motion embedded in the passage. I said, it is more complex than that.  There are three different things going on, but no one of which, by itself, is a significant melody.  it is only in the complex ways the three interact that causes the positive quality that I think you noticed.  The rising quarters in the rh form a melody of no great significance.  The cello=like melody in the left hand does have a singing melody, but by itself it doesn’t seem accomplish that much, as well. Then there are triplets.  Are they important or not? The real question is how to bring them together in a complex fusion that makes the passage glow and excite.

To relate the quarter note melody in the right hand with the triplets in the right hand,  I played gs4-b4, then held the two notes as i added in ds4, which I also held, and lastly added fs4.  If at this point I continue holding those four notes and not go on in the measure,  I realize, after maybe about a second, that those notes add up to a four-note chord with a specific flavor that independently of the single notes of which it is comprised, has its own specific flavor and character.  I might have missed hearing this had i not stopped to listen to the chord after it was finally formed.  The realization of the chord does not come instantaneously to the ear.  We have to patient, and wait for the four notes to all be there (five if you add the bass line).

It is a delayed satisfaction, one that is very desirable, but one that cannot be rushed.  Thus the triplets get their meaning in the  sound mixture by our waiting to hear the result of total participation.  Eventually, when we play the passage, he don’t have to pause on the clock to  wait for the four notes to congeal, we only have to subjectively, in the imagination, make the pause, to bring the four notes to life as members of a single chord, so that, at    the end time-wise, it is not any of the four notes that are significant on their own, but how they loose their identify in the sound color of the chord where they vibrate together – as equals – but to a common good.

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When it’s difficult to get from one chord to another

Sorry to have been out of touch for the past two weeks.    I had cataract surgery and was waiting for my eyes to be able to read the computer screen again.  Anyway, I’m fine now, and the hiatus is over.  But please excuse typos and misspellings.

Consider the situation when we try to connect one chord to another chord, but the second chord is a difficult to get to from the first chord, we can do the following.  The solution ultimately lies in not going from one chord to to a second.  We have to break down this apparent cause and effect within time.  Order in time need not dictate to our imagination order in which our body does things.

We let the hand get used to the second chord before playing the first chord.  We play the second a series of times.  After the first time we move the hand just a little bit away from the keyboard and then find the chord again.  Then we can move the hand right (and then left) along the keyboard, horizontally away from the chord, in gradually increasing distances, and each time find your way spontaneously, without thought, without set-up, to the second chord as if you were already on it.  Eventually your hand ‘remembers’ what that chord feels like, and can return to it from any place at all on or off the keyboard; from any position in all three dimensions that the hand can first be removed to, including for instance from your lap.  Of all these infinite places and positions from which the hand might come to return to that chord, just one such possibility is that the hand is first on the chord that is written first.

Memory is like a glue that adheres to a chord like a familiar friend. Benefiting from this fact, we just have to add in a trick with time.  Instead of the ‘first’ chord being followed by the ‘second’ chord, the second chord is there before the first chord.  we must feel that he have already been there, that the glue of the memory causes our hand to automatically be on the notes of the second chord.  I don’t so much mean that because we have practiced the passage, we get ‘used to’ where the second chord lies.  No, this is different.  This is truly being convinced that you are about to do two totally new things, for the very first time, and yet in spite of that, you act like you already know have been where the second is on the keyboard, tactilely, coverage-wise and finger-wise.

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