Tag: music teacher

More Thoughts on the First Fugue of Book One (C Major)

#1

To even out the touch on a series of notes, especially if the sequence of fingers are adjacent, it is best to precede the execution of the separate notes by play a cluster made up out of all the notes.  The trick is that when you now segue to the notes played sequentially, you retain in your hand and in your body the feeling that each of the five fingers is playing each individual notes, and not that only one finger plays at a time.

#2

The Bach fugue starts with a lone voice to which, one by one, other voices are added.  You want to stay at the same level of relaxation when you go from one voice to two voices, two voices to three voices, and three voices to four voices.  Nothing new has to happen.  There must be no  extra effort at the point where the new voice is added.  No extra energy or physical application of energy.  Even four voices is as easy as playing a series of chords.*  This requires a counter-force to remain subjectively “more and more relaxed” when the body, as the voice number increases, naturally tends to increase in tension and effort. One might call this compensatory, subjective feeling in the body, a crescendo of relaxation.

#3

There is a wonderful point of stasis in the fugue when three voices simultaneously play A naturals (a2-a3-a4). Even though the pianist knows from experience that the next note is C natural, they should nonetheless wonder out loud “what will the next note be that spoils the stasis of the three a-s; how unexpected, it is a C natural”.

#4

The stretto sections are hard.  When a new voice enters with the  theme before the previous voice has finished its rendition of the theme, it requires a split mind to play it so that the first notes of the new theme entrance sound-like the beginning of the architecture of the of the theme, while the voice that is already playing not be made to sound as if it too is once again at the beginning of its career, but is at the middle or closer to the end (depending on the exact circumstances) of the archetectonic curve of the theme-phrase.  Playing two voices that are at different points in the arc of its phrase, is one of the most difficult things to do in a fugue.  It is like listening to an actor give a speech and noting the difference between how they begin the  speech and how they end it, and yet, in music, superimpose the two upon each other.  They both can’t either begin or end when a second voice joins a first voice in a stretto.

A special case of this situation is when the three sixteenth notes in one voice is the finishing the theme, the tapering off, while if there is another voice present playing the beginning of the theme which is a statement, a declaration appropriate to the opening of a  statement.

#5

Sometimes, when two voices are in one hand, and one voice is static while the other is moving towards the held note, the easiest fingering is to use the same finger over and over on each of the moving notes.  But to do so, it helps if the stationary finger acts as an anchor to the other finger, using its muscles to pull the other finger towards it as if making an attempt to create a glissando with the finger that is to move from one note to the next rather than a ratcheting motion as the other finger leaves one note and passes by the gap between that note and the next adjacent note.

#6

When the right hand plays b4-d5 then g5-bf5.

One of the most marvelous implied dissonances in Bach.  And if you play those four notes together so as to emphasize the dissonance, then start transposing the chord downwards one, then two, then three octaves, you will suddenly hear one of the most dramatic moments in Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” that early unsurpassed masterpiece in his output.

#7

Joe to A.B.: In general when you play the two thirty-second notes in the middle of the theme, they are not timed right in relation to the eighth notes that have preceded them.  They tend to be too fast and a bit spasmodic.  One of the most important rhythmic exercises that a pianist can do is learn to switch from a series of quarter notes to a series of eighths, to a series of sixteenths and then to a series of thirty-seconds.  Once adept at doing this then do a series of quarter noted first then eights.  Then back to a series of quarters followed immediately by a series of sixteenths.  And lastly a series of quarters followed by a series of thirty-seconds.  Changing speed in the ratio of 1 : 2 is easy.  But to change in the ratio of 1 : 4 or 1 : 8 takes more practice and experience.

* And in these chords, sometimes it is hard to remember that one, or more, notes in the chord are held notes that begin sounding before in another such chord

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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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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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The Technique of “Isolating” Variables

Isolating Variables.

Whenever a passage involves an intricate balance between two concerns, such as rhythm and pitch, pitch and fingering, etc., there is a method by which one of the two can be “held constant” while allowing only the other one to change.*

In the following examples we separate apart two intertwined issues, putting emphasis first on one and then the other, by holding the other one constant.  Each is mastered singly before putting them back together again.

1.

If rhythm and pitch are changing at the same time:

Make all the pitches just one and the same pitch, and play that note in the rhythm of the passage.

or –

Play the sequence of pitches as written but do so in a “neutral” rhythm, (for instance giving each note the same duration).

2.

If loudness and pitch are changing at the same time:

hold the loudness constant and let only the pitch vary.

or –

hold all the pitches to one repeating note, and only let the loudness vary.

3.

If an intricate series of notes also requires a difficult pattern of fingering:

Play every note with one and the same finger.

or –

Stay on one note, but use the fingers in the order that they will need to be used when playing the passage in its normal form.

or –

‘bunch’ up the finger tips and use them as a single unit on just one note and play the rhythm of the passage.

4.

If the two hands are doing things that are quite different from one another and, thus, hand coordination becomes an issue:

Have both hands play the right hand’s notes, but in two different octaves.  Then reverse the procedure, and have both hands lay the left hand’s notes in two different octaves.

5.

If a melodic line involves sudden changes of register (octave).

Put all the notes of the melody into one and the same octave (a perfect example is Brahms: Op 117 No. 3, the middle section).

6.

If it is difficult to play a melody in octaves in one hand. Use the pinkie to play just the pinkie notes.  Then use the thumb to play just the lower notes.

7.

If there is a variety of articulation marks within a small group of notes.

Play it all very legato; then all very staccato; then all accented; then all sotto voce.

Then add back the articulation.  By this time you will be practiced in executing each type of articulation.

8.

If it is difficult to play something slowly (or rapidly) enough:

Play it first at the opposite extreme of tempo.  This procedure is especially useful for learning to sustain a long phrase or melody, that evolves over many measures.  First play it extremely rapidly.

You will get a sense of the main outlines and directions in the phrase.  Then slow it back down, and you will notice that the way the notes adhered to each other in the fast tempo is preserved into the slower tempo.

Mention is also made of these types of procedures in the blog:

https://joebloom.com/rhythmic-coordination-between-the-hands-in-sight-reading/

* In mathematics, when there are several different ‘variables’, all intermixing and interacting with each other in a single equation, mathematicians, in order to gain understanding of how the equation behaves as a whole, use a procedure in which they treat all of the variables except one as if they were no longer capable of varying but were held constant.  Then, one can go through each of the original variables in turn, each time making it, for the nonce, the only one varying.  This is called partial differentiation.

 

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