Tag: Harmony

Techniques in Opposition

E. and I were working on Variation 9 in the Brahms variations on a theme by Schumann (in F# Minor).  In this variation, at the beginning of each measure, the right hand has two sets of triplet sixteenths in the form of an ascending arpeggio.

We discussed two opposite ways of dealing with the evenness required of the arpeggio.

#1.

In method one, the hand makes no rotation, the wrist makes no lateral adjustment, the thumb does not even come under any of the other fingers.  The hand retains a constant spatial attitude and alignment. The only adaption necessary, which compensates for the other motions, is that the pianist ignore the moment when the thumb usually wants to begin its journey under the other fingers, and wait virtually up to the moment the next starts sounding before making any motion takes place at all.  This delay compresses a spring-like mechanism in the hand, which when it at last releases, causes the thumb to simply ‘show up’ on its next note in the next octave higher.

This worked every time.  However he said that it would be difficult for him to remember this procedure in each and every measure.  He found it counter intuitive.

Thus, at least temporarily,  I set aside method one, and switched to a method that was diametrically the opposite of the first as regards the motion of the thumb in time.

Not only would he pass thumb under the other fingers, but do so very slowly.  It exaggerated things in the opposite direction.  Thus, instead of one constant motion of the thumb rightwards, made in one brief span of time, I asked him to use a series of smaller motions of the thumb, one leading into the other.  At every moment of time when the thumb was in motion, I asked E. to keep track close of where the thumb was exactly in space relative to the keyboard.

The overall motion of the thumb is the fusion of the smaller motions.  Why go about it this way; it seems to make things more complicated?  If the motions are practiced very slowly, the pianist will become aware that the thumb does not naturally want to move at the same speed through each of the subdivided segments in space.  At different points along the thumb’s progress, different muscles will engage to different degrees, different leverages between the thumb and adjacent parts of the hand will become more or less activated.  Without this overall flexibilty in stages of the thumb’s progress, then the pianist will assume that whatever way the thumb begins to move should continue to the end of the motion.  Without the subtle changes through time and space, what starts as a fluency to the thumb’s motion at the beginning of the overall motion to its new note, can create, an instant later, through inertia, an abruptness or stiffness in the next  segment and moment of the motion.

The first method relied on the hand’s ability to move, as if instantaneously, from one discrete position in space to a second, and being in as stable and balanced a stance in the new octave as in the previous.  By making the  motion unconscious, the body will insure that whatever details there are within the motion, they will automatically occur.

The second method relied on a close examination of the natural propensities of the thumb when assuming different spatial arrangements relative to the second, third and fourth fingers.

In terms of the overall speed and fluency of the arpeggio, each may work as well as the other, or the pianist will discover that one works better than the other, or that sometimes one works better and sometimes the other.

On the one hand there is no consciousness of the motion of the thumb, in the other the the motion of the thumb is being ideally tailored to each subdivision of space.

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An Addendum to Sight-Reading Blogs

Links to previous blogs on  sight reading are at the end of this post.

Today, we devoted Irving’s entire lesson to sight reading.  During the lesson we noticed that these things were recurrent themes.

Trust your ear to judge if there is you have played a wrong note, but that sometimes though a note sounds wrong to the ear it is still correct because you are playing the piece in a slower tempo.

Remind yourself of the key signature in each new measure that you read. If you have an excellent visual imagination, just place the key signature after each new bar line.

Keep track of accidentals that have arisen in the current measure and remember to honor them throughout the rest of the measure*  (be on the lookout for a natural sign as one of the accidentals in a measure).

Make sure all the notes your fingers are pushing down are actually sounding.

Try to think ahead.

Try to make the bar lines “transparent”. See if you can use any of the time playing the current measure to read ahead and figure out some or all of the next measure.

Sometimes try to sight read in “real time”, I.E. with no pauses or hesitations. Keep up with the beats, even if it means skipping over notes or even measures.

* even though the accidental sign only shows up the first time it applies in the measure and not the remaining times that it may apply.


Links to previous posts about sight reading:

#1  Habits that produce good sight reading:  https://joebloom.com/habits-that-induce-good-sight-reading-skills/

#2  New rule for Irving regarding Sight Reading. https://joebloom.com/a-new-rule-for-irving-about-sight-reading/

#3  Rhythm & rhythmic coordination in Sight Reading. https://joebloom.com/rhythmic-coordination-between-the-       hands-in-sight-reading/

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