Tag: classic piano

Six short blogs about Beethoven’s “Andante Favori” in F Major

#1.  Key Signatures

Some advanced students have trouble changing from one key signature to another, even when they are finished playing one piece and are starting to play another.  The previous sharps and/or flats in the previous piece’s key signature “bleed over”, or persist into the next piece.  For this type of student it is not enough to suggest that they practice scales and get to know key signatures.  One has to reach back further in time to re-build conscious awareness of keys.  Using just one hand, and just one finger from the hand, have the student play, very slowly, one octave’s worth of a scale.  As each note is played the student should say out loud the name of the note being played.  This has less to do with teaching the hand what notes are in the scale and was more about raising to a high state of conscious awareness the “name” of each note.

Only two preliminaries were required to begin this procedure for the major scales in particular:

review of: whole-whle-half-whole-whole-whole-half

the “law of the alphabet”: that each letter in the musical alphabet must show up once in the scale.  The letters should appear, in order and without any omission or doubling.

#2. The use of “Least Common Denominators” to gain control of  rhythmic details.

Counting “beats” out loud is often as difficult as it is unhelpful to straightening out rhythm details.  It is better to “count” the passage of one of the shorter rhythmic values.  J.M. is having difficulty counting the rhythm: dotted sixteenth – thirty second – eighth – eighth.  This appears at the beginning of the Beethoven Andante Favori. Instead of using a counting-ruler that was marked in eighth notes we used a ruler marked in thirty-second notes, four of which equaled one of the eighth notes.

J.M was not used to counting out loud.  She would encounter these obstacles.  1) She couldn’t coordinate doing two things at once, playing a rhythm, and saying a counting.  Even getting the voice to begin speaking while the fingers were playing was difficult.  One took attention away from the other and both would suffer.  2) when she did have her voice and her fingers activated together, the voice tended to follow any inaccuracy in her fingers’ playing of the rhythm.  The fingers were leading the mouth, so to speak.  For counting out loud to work, the voice must take a higher priority than the fingers, so much so that eventually the sounds themselves appeared merely as shadows of what the voice was doing.* They were entirely under dictates of the voice**. 3).  Understanding that what we were counting was not ‘counts’ (I.E. beats), that we were actually counting repeating groups of four thirty-second notes.  That we chose thirty-second notes because 1/32 is the least common denominator if one wants to add together 1/2-s, 1/4-s, 1/8-s, 1/16-s, 1/32-s, and dotted versions of all but the last.***

* I said to J.M.: The louder you say the numbers out loud the better the fingers will cease trying to dictate things to the body and the more the voice takes control so that the notes arrive with the counts.  Also the louder you count out loud the more likely you will notice if there is any unevenness in the way your voice is counting.

** To form a bridge or meeting place between never having counted while playing and doing so competently, as she played the opening notes of the piece I played the notes of the melody an octave higher but I repeated the same note as 2 or more thirty-second notes when the note in the melody was a sixteenth or longer.  As I did this I was using my voice to encourage her voice by my counting the thirty seconds out loud (1 2 3 4).  By relying on following both the notes I was playing and saying the counts I was saying, she broke through the barrier of merging counting and playing.****

*** Funny thing about me and least common denominators.  In grade school I used to think that the phrase least common denominator, meant least-common denominator, and not least common-denominator.  For instance 1/4s seemed to have too much in common with 1/2s to be the least common denominator for the two of them.  Perhaps  something less common, like a 1/16th or a 1/32nd.  I used the term correctly but always with a bit of puzzlement in my mind.

**** I noticed that I changed the inflection of my voice depending on whether she was holding an eighth note, or playing a dotted sixteenth and a thirty second.  In the first case my word ‘one’ was the loudest syllable, and the other three drifted off quieter (though still promptly on time).  Sort of like as if I were taking the 2 3 4 for granted.  In the second case, after putting a certain emphasis on the word ‘one’, I made a crescendo in my voice through the words ‘two’ and ‘three’ as if handing to her, or pointing the way to the word ‘four’.

#3. A tricky rhythm in measure 47.

This is a place where the right hand basically enunciates a scale, two notes a time, each a thirty-second there are the places in the piece where the right hand enunciates a scale, two notes a time, each a thirty-second, but also pauses for two-thirty seconds in between the end of one two note group and the beginning of the next.

I said that many pianists had difficulty with enunciating this correctly (as do certain orchestra conductors in similar sections of works like the slow movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G Minor.

Why is it difficult?  Because when we play two consecutive notes of a scale rapidly, followed by no further note, the first one tends to act like a grace note to the second, with the result that the second gains an emphasis defined the former.  But this is rhythmically incorrect.  It is not the second which should be emphasized.  If anything it is the first note with the second tapering off form it.

#4. A scale like passage in parallel thirds in measure 43.

Rather than getting lost in how to finger such a passage, it is best if the entire arm moves, as a single unit, over and over again regardless of which notes are played and which fingers are used.  As for how to activate the arm to make this identically repeating gesture, I suggest feeling as if the arm is being moved by an external force applied at a particular spot along the forearm.

I demonstrated that this was possible by my moving her entire in repeated groups of four each time by my applying force from a different location along the arm.  I showed her that I could make her entire arm move by moving just one of her fingers through space.  I did something similar with the wrist, the forearm, the elbow.  I even did it with the upper arm, but the result was clumsier (the “tail wags the dog”).

The actual activation point we chose was for the purpose of playing even thirds was underneath of the ridge of the wrist.   I had her create even, soft, random note-clusters with the heel of her wrist.  Then I asked her to switch to articulating the thirds but to feel, as it was happening, that she was activating the entire arm as a unit, and always from the underneath surface of the wrist.

To help her along, I lay my second finger, lengthwise, underneath the span of the ridge of her wrist.  I then asked her to repeatedly push down on my finger with the arm, while all the while I offered resistance to her pushes.

#5.  A scale like passage in parallel thirds in measure 43.

Rather than getting lost in how to finger such a passage, it is best if the entire arm moves, as a single unit, over and over again regardless of which notes are played and which fingers are used.  As for how to activate the arm to make this identically repeating gesture, I suggest feeling as if the arm is being moved by an external force applied at a particular spot along the forearm.

I demonstrated that this was possible by my moving her entire arm in repeated groups, and switching where I was applying my force from group to another.  I showed her that I could make her entire arm move by moving just one of her fingers through space.  I did something similar with the wrist, the forearm, the elbow.  I even did it with the upper arm, but the result was clumsier (the “tail wagging the dog”).

The actual activation point we chose was for the purpose of playing even thirds.  This spot was ridge of her wrist.   I had her create even, soft, random note-clusters with the heel of her wrist.  Then I asked her to switch to articulating the thirds but to feel, as it was happening, that she was activating the entire arm as a unit, and always from the underneath surface of the wrist.

To help this along, I lay my second finger, lengthwise, underneath the span of the ridge of her wrist.  I then asked her to repeatedly push down on my finger with the arm, while all the while I offered resistance to her pushes.

#6. In measure 41, a note held in one voice is interrupted, mid stream, by the same note sounding in a second voice.

Here is a brief example of when one voice of several moves onto the same note that is already being held by another voice.  It occurs one sixteenth note into the measure.  The middle voice has an eighth note g4 on beat one.  One sixteenth note into that beat, the bottom voice sounds the same g4 for one thirty-second note.  The issue, with all such situations, is how to allow the two voices to stay sonically independent of one another.

This is the series of steps through time required to keep the voices separate.

Step 1: start the eighth note g4 in the right hand.

Step 2: immediately  before it is time for the left hand to play the same g4, the right hand partially or completely  lifts the g4 key, so that, an instant later…

Step 3: the left hand can begin the thirty-second note g4.

Step 4: during the duration of this thirty-second note, the right hand silently takes over for the left hand on the g4.

Step 5: after the thirty second note has passed, the right hand goes on holding down the g4 key till the end of the eighth note.

#5. measure 141 for example: a rapid melody in octaves in one hand, in particular a smaller hand.

Because of her small hand, I suggested to J.M. that regardless of how brief each octave is, she not hold onto it its full duration but release before her hand had an opportunity to seize-up, or tried to maintain hold of the octaves by a gripping action.

As a preliminary exercise I asked her to flex the joints in her pinkie and her thumb that are not usually actively flexed when playing octaves.  Just hold out her right hand in front of her, and slowly flex, back and forth, the first knuckle of the pinkie and the first knuckle of the thumb.  Feel like those fingers are growing in length, and have become like fronds of a sea plant that are being stirred by gentle currents in the water.  Then, when playing the passage, try not to loose the feeling that these joints are actively flexing while one octave is being held – even if they are not so doing.  This virtual flexion in the first knuckles is not to be used to push the two keys down to sound the octave, but should occur independently of when and how we activate the keys.

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I’m back! Revving up your engine. Change of register within a theme. State “A” and state “B”

I haven’t blogged for a while.  It’s been a rough month health wise and mood-wise. But here I am again.  I’ve nothing too organized to write about today, so please indulge me is I am desultory in this blog entry.

#1 Revving up your engine for a moment before playing a difficult passage.

When confronted with a rapid passage that that moves in a series of notes of equal duration, let us say eighth notes in the right hand, covering several bars of 4/4 time, it is useful to rev up your engine (like a race car driver awaiting the flag to drop to start the race) and then overflow those four notes as the race begins and you cruise through the passage.  This ‘revving’ up can consist of playing the first four notes over and over again in a loop, until the thrust of your “jet engine” has increased to the amount when you can then let off the breaks and sail down the runway.

#2 Change of register within a theme statement

When a melody is transferred by the composer from one octave range to another, it is important that the pianist “carries” the sound of the note from one octave to the other.  Sorry to mix metaphors, but the listener has to be “led by the hand” from one range to the other, so that the new destination note sounds as alike as possible to the starting note, but for the accident of pitch range.  Usually changing the octave of a note causes a major change in the quality of a note.  But in this case we want to stress the sameness of the note despite its appearance in different ranges on the piano.

We want the listener to feel that it is the same sound that has taken off one outfit and put on a second, while still being able to recognize the person wearing the clothing.

#3 State “A” / State “B”

Solving technical hurdles, simplifying a passage,  If you are not already familiar with the idea of state A and B, see:

https://joebloom.com/solving-technical-hurdles-in-difficult-passages/

and also:

do a ‘search’ on the front page for “practice technique

With my students, I often use the terms “state A” and “state B” when referring, in the first case, to some altered way of playing or approaching a  difficult passage that sheds new insight on its meaning or which unlocks the technical difficulties involved in the passage. State B, which follows upon state A, is playing the passage again, but this time as written in the score (in its performance form).  The idea is that the insight gained in state A carries over into state B.

The important question is what to do after doing state A followed by state B.  Many students will do state A, realize the benefit of doing it as they then play state B, but if they play the passage a second or third time, simply in its state B form, the benefits from having done state A gradually wear off and the passage begins to resume the state it had been in originally.  When the student has completed the cycle state A – state B, she should resist the temptation to try the passage again in state B, almost as if to test whether the benefits previously gained are still showing in state B, or perhaps to try to improve the passage even more.  Unfortunately the benefit from state A though it normally carries over automatically into the first iteration of state B, by simply following state A closely in time, becomes lost and diluted if you simply replay the passage in state B, over and over, without going back in between to state A again.

Always go back to state A, before doing another try at state B, for state A stands to state B as a going back to the well, the fountain, the source of the inspiration and insight that enlightens the passage.

Thus concludes a series of scattered thoughts. Let me know what you think  or have questions about in the comments, and also tell me if you would like me to write about something specific next time. Some health stuff has burdened me, so the posts might be a little scattered. But stay tuned, I’m here.

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