Tag: beginner piano

A subliminal way of providing music theory information to the student

Today’s incarnation of “Irving”* is playing the C Major Prelude from book one of the W.T.C.  I’m bringing up the subject of chords probably for the first time.

The harmonic-rhythm of the piece (the rate at which the chords change) is slow and even paced; the chords change only when measure changes.  It leaves me ample time to say to him casually, as he playing: “this is now a C major chord”; “this is a now D Minor-7 chord”; this is a G Major Chord, etc..

I do not assume he will understand the bigger part of what I am saying, but it is more at creating a subliminal background to what he is  playing.  Much like those once fashionable “learn while you are sleeping” tapes.  So, even if all he gets are the things listed below, that is more than enough:  1) There is something called a chord and apparently I’m playing first one then another; 2) that these chords apparently come in a wide variety of types; 3) but one can identify these types based solely on the notes I am playing.  He is getting used to hearing the terms I am using, terms like “major”, “minor”, “7-chord”.

It can be an advantage that he does not have to stop the flow of his playing in order to try to understand what these terms mean.   He may know no more than that the terms change in a way that, at this point, almost seem to vary in a patterned way with the sounds he is making.  Each time I use them in the future there will be a growing sense on his part what they mean and how to use them.

* I promise to give Irving a new name one of these days.


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Micro-managing the motions of the fingers by micro-managing time

When playing we are lulled into a sense that we make one physical motion for every note we play.  That, however, leaves out many subtle motions we make before we play a note and while we hold a note (even if the note is brief).

I wanted to call Irving’s attention to motions that take place so rapidly that we are unaware of them, but at the same time are motions that are critical to the successful execution of the connection from the current note to the next note.

As an example we used the “Revolutionary” Etude (Chopin’s op 10 / 12).

The first four notes in the left hand at the beginning of the piece (A-flat, G, F, D in the octave of middle C).  We used the fingering 2 1 2 4.

I raised these questions for Irving.  They were rhetorical in the sense that I did not want a verbal answer, but wanted him to be aware of what he was doing physically from instant to instant in time.

-At what exact instant does the thumb start moving under the second finger on its way towards the F.

-At what exact moment does the second finger, in turn, start its motion leftwards to pass over the thumb (the latter now being on F).

When our awareness re-sets itself only one to three times per second, we sometimes we ‘lump’ together certain physical motions.  We assume that they either will occur together, or one right after the other.  This is often too vague a description of what goes on in our hands.  Smoothness is something that exists to the finest perceivable granularity in time.  The smoothness of the execution of a group of notes depends on the exact moment during that execution when one particular component of the motion begins relative when another component begins.

Note, too, that the exact proportion of when these timings occur will probably need to change if you change the tempo.  Sometimes one of the components does not make this adaptation, and the group is spoiled.

We can call the above an example of “finger ergonomics”.

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