Tag: beginner student

Leverage and Sound

Chopin, Etude in C# Minor from Opus 25:

Irving’s brother came today.  We wanted to get a rich cello-like / vocal-like tone out of the piano for the notes of the opening “baritone” melody for the left hand.  It is in single notes without accompaniment, so it is very exposed.  We need our entire sound/mechanical tool-kit to keep it resonant and sustained so there isn’t a moment’s break in the flow of the line.   Their softness shouldn’t belie their resonance.

Our first exploration was with leverage, the principle being that the greater the leverage you have over the production of each sound, the more that sound approaches the ideal piano-resonance.

The effectiveness of a lever is a function of how long the lever is and where you place the fulcrum on which to rest it*.  Leverage increases with the length of the lever and how remote the fulcrum is from the end of the lever that, from which in this case, the pianist initiates the motion of the lever.  If, for example, the lever is solely the length of a finger, and the third knuckle is where the fulcrum is, there is little mechanical advantage to depressing the key through the motion of that lever.  If the lever extends back into the wrist, and includes the finger, there is greater leverage on behalf of the movement of finger tip.  So the question is, how we can create the greatest leverage with the human body.

We ended up using a curious combination of several different levers, that ended up being connected one to the other.

The length of the arm, from shoulder to finger tips, while perhaps not the longest lever we can make of the body, is a conveniently long one that is still easily manipulated.

We started by his holding out both his forearms; straight out in front of him so that they parallel with each other and were horizontal to the ground.  We Left a comfortable distance between the two hands, about the same as the distance between the two shoulders.

We then had him move his arms up and down using just the shoulders as pivots.  At their highest points the arms were aiming well above the horizontal, at an angle of about forty five degrees.  At their lowest points the arms were just slightly below the horizontal.

Very soon, we changed it to an oscillating motion between the arms. One arm was at its lowest when the other was at its highest.  And they exchanged these positions.  We did this until he felt a sort of physical exhilaration from all that motion.

The next thing we did was to create a second, more imaginary, lever.  At the same time the arms were moving, we pretended there was the plank of a see-saw that connects the two hands (traversing the empty space between the hands), which, as a result of the arm motions, was itself going up and down as if two people were seated at each end of the see-saw.  The pivot of this imaginary see-saw was exactly half way between the hands, so that neither hand or arm had a mechanical advantage over the other – the advantages were equal.

I also had him imagine a secondary but similar see-saw between his two shoulders, as if an, albeit, small person was seated on each shoulder.  We continued exercising the combination of these levers until he felt a definite exhilaration from making these motions.

We then ‘elected’ his two index fingers as the sole ‘beneficiaries’ of all the motions he was making, so that the each index finger was backed up by the entire arm and contributing see-saws.

While continuing the oscillation of the arms he used alternating index fingers to play first the opening note of the second note.  The solo was no longer distributed solely to the left hand but alternately, from note to note, between one arm lever and the other.  If he played the first note with his left index finger, then he played second note with his right index finger.  Then back to the left index finger to sound the third note, the right again for the fourth note, and so on through the line.

During this procedure the fingers were to never loose their connection to the hand, and on to the wrist, the forearms, the elbows, all the way to the shoulders.

Sometimes the arms had to cross one another, but the more important thing was the swinging motion from one arm to the other regardless of which one was to the right or left of the other.

When he did this with physical abandon fervor, without thinking so much of the ‘proper’ or ‘usual’ way of pushing the notes down, the result, to our joint delight,  was an unusually rich sound, one that he was unaccustomed to getting on single notes.

Even when consecutive notes were ‘next door’ to each, only a half step or whole step away, we did not diminish the feeling of the widest possible see-saw between the arms.  In other words, while the objective distance between the consecutive notes might lessen, the subjective sense of how long that distance was always remained large.

The last step was to preserve the widest and most dynamic sense of an oscillating motion when going not just from one hand to the other, but from one finger of one hand to another finger of the same hand.

* The saying, concerning how levers work, as attributed to Archimedes, is: Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth.

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Young Students and Music Reading

Diagnosing the cause of note reading difficulties in beginners.

Pointing to a measure in the music score, or even just a single note from either clef, and asking the student to draw on paper what they see on the page is often the fastest and most direct way to see how the student’s brain is perceiving what they see when looking at the music score.

We do not expect the student to make an exact representation, but what they do draw still gives us insight into how their mind is perceiving the music page.

There are certain types of discrepancies that are most revealing:

#1.  Are their five lines to a staff or some other number. Are the lines spaced with any regularity.  Do the lines cross or converge, or is there an attempt to make them parallel.

#2. If there is a clef sign, what is it vertical position relative to the staff and is its size and height in proportion with the distance between the staff lines.

#3. If drawing more than one note, how are the notes spaced horizontally.  Are they cramped, do they have breathing (“perceiving”) room.

#4. Most importantly, what is the vertical position of the note circle relative to the staffs. If it is the F above middle C and in treble clef, is it in the first space of the staff, or just in any space.  How does the note circle fill the space.  Does it use the entire space, more than the space allows or less than that.

What does the student feel is sufficient to draw a note.  Is the note drawn with staff lines appearing.  If drawing a single note, and there are staff lines, how far do the lines extend on either side of the note, or do they exist in  close proximity to the note circle.

If the note to be draw happens to be middle C, does it have the ledger line, is the space between the ledger line and the nearest staff line approximately the same as the distance between the lines that are adjacent to each within the staff.  If not, is the space bigger or smaller.  Does middle C appear as a circle with a line through it, but positioned arbitrarily on the staff amid the five lines.

#5. If there are whole notes mixed with halves and quarters, is there an attempt to distinguish between their appearance.

What to do next:

By considering these accords or discrepancies, and of others of a similar nature, we now have a primitive ‘snap shot’ of the student’s brain when looking at the music.  What do we do if the drawing is significantly different than what appears on the page.  First I make a copy of what I, as the teacher, see on the page when I try to draw the same thing that I have asked the student to draw.  I then ask the student if the two drawings, theirs and mine, look the same or different.  In this process it is best to avoid any notion of correct or incorrect, we should merely help the student pick out any differences if there are ones, without yet assigning any relative value to either one.   It is important, in this regard, that the teacher’s drawing conform as closely as possible to the score, or we may find the student strangely expert in finding true differences other than the ones we consciously intended.

A lot of patience required from the teacher when using this procedure with the young student.  It is best to remember this general principle: a student is not not understanding on purpose.  They are trying to understand their best.

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