“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”
Plato

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Waldstein Sonata: Where do the Little Notes Go?


     
Beethoven in 1803
     A student writes complaining of difficulty executing leaping appoggiaturas in the Waldstein Sonata (1803-04), measures 271-273 in the first movement. Remember, I said, the small notes, nuisance as they can sometimes be, become much less so when given a place in time. This concept goes for all ornaments indicated by symbols.

     Here is the passage as printed:

Waldstein Sonata, mm 271-273 as printed.
Click on image to enlarge.

Notice that the small notes are in fact printed as appoggiaturas, not
Count Ferdinand Waldstein
grace notes. So, the conscientious performer would logically ask, should it follow the rule and be placed on the beat? Try it. This creates a small but unruly bump in the forward momentum. Now look at the suspension in the right hand. The appoggiatura is indeed the bass note of the chord to which the suspension resolves, albeit delayed by one note. 
    What to do? Go with the momentum. In speed, the appoggiatura will not register as a beat anyway, so it becomes a de facto grace note to which is given a place in time. If we remember our theory, this is a so-called faux bourdon progression. Here's how most pianists play this passage:

Waldstein Sonata, mm 271-273 as played.
Click on image to enlarge.





















Saturday, November 8, 2014

Piano Technique Demystified, The Book

Some readers have asked about the video demonstrations (iDemos) for Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving2nd Edition. They are now located in the tabs at the top of this page at the right.






New technology—new to me technology—gave rise to the inspiration to invest the time and energy into revising "Technique Demystified." It now has more information on fingering and expansions in other chapters. It also has a new chapter on geography for pianists, links to iDemos and a nifty index. The technology made it possible to clarify and unify musical examples throughout, but I think the changes are particularly effective in the teaching moments section. When you get a
chance, have a "look inside" at the second edition of Piano Technique Demystified at Amazon I'd be glad to know what you think.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Forearm Angle: What About the Elbow?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Art of the Fugue

Some of my readers have inquired
about  the sight-reading book, Art
of the Fugue. Yes, it is available now
at Amazon and it is designed for the
late intermediate to advanced pianist
interested in advancing sight-reading.


Available Now








Improve your sight-reading by practicing it with a partner, a partner who helps keep the pulse moving. Of course, we learn to keep our eyes on the page and always look ahead. We know to scan for surprises of meter, accidentals or key change. We know, too, that setting reasonable tempos based on the fastest note values ensures a successful performance. But in the final analysis, we must learn not to stop for mistakes, the wayward flat, a dangling mordent or what-in-the-world-kind-of-scale was that anyway. It would be rude to abandon a partner in search of the aforementioned, so it is the duty of each to keep the other on track. Designed for partners of equal skill, this volume includes all 14 fugues and four canons in Bach's original work, the one he was working on at the time of his death. Only number 17 is omitted, as it requires two keyboards. I have also included solo versions of some of the two-part canons to be enjoyed while waiting for the partner to arrive.

ABOUT THE MUSIC
     
     
J.S. Bach
 In order to improve sight-reading skills, I often suggest to students that they keep some scores on their piano that are several levels below what they can actually manage technically. One excellent resource is the church hymnal. These mostly homophonic melodies, some familiar, can usually be managed at sight if we find the right tempos. The absence of counterpoint makes this material more readily sight-readable. For the more advanced pianist, however, pieces with the added challenge of contrapuntal textures can be a way to advance reading skills and stimulate musical sensibilities.       
Art of the Fugue Subject
       Which brings me to J.S. Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. Begun in the 1740s and  left unfinished at his death in 1750, in The Art of the Fugue Bach once again has the last word on a given subject. His apparent intent was to explore as many contrapuntal techniques as possible using a particular theme, a summation, really, of his life’s work. Incomplete though it is, the master accumulated here fourteen fugues and 4 canons on some variation of his theme, infusing each in succession with ever increasing complexity. Some authorities argue that this collection was meant as a compositional study guide, not intended as performance material. In this context I offer up the solo cello suites as evidence to the contrary. Until the cello suites fell into the hands of the legendary Pablo Casals, they, too, were considered only exercises. All of these fugues were written in open score with no indication of instrumentation, except for number 17, which bears the note “fugue for two keyboards.”  (I omit this two-keyboard fugue.) Nevertheless, they can be managed quite nicely on a keyboard, or in various instrumental ensembles which, according to the distinguished pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen, was the intent.
         To the best of my knowledge, The Art of the Fugue has never before been transcribed for piano duet. Difficult to play with two hands, with four they make excellent and enjoyable fodder for sight-reading, albeit with some challenges. I have tried to maintain Bach’s voice-leading as much as possible, though it seemed prudent to relocate voices in cases where collision would be unavoidable, particularly between tenor and alto voices when present in the right hand of secondo and left hand of primo. Incidentally, if you are new to duet playing, be considerate of your partner by getting out of the way as soon as possible. You will notice occasional crossing of voices when they can be negotiated by one player. 
     
Should we imitate the harpsichord?
 Articulation can be a matter of some contention among performers, particularly among keyboard players who feel—and those who don’t—that virtually every note should be played detached in imitation of the harpsichord. We have evidence in Bach’s own hand that he favored a cantabile style of playing, which he declares in the introduction to the “Inventions and Sinfonias” as follows: One of the purposes of these pieces [the Inventions] is to “above all develop a cantabile style of playing (am allermeisten aber eine cantabile Art im Spielen zu erlangen).” Since these fugues and canons were offered in open score, it seems reasonable to imagine they might be played by strings or winds, which could imply a different style of articulation than that of a harpsichord. So, my advice is to think musically in a global sense. 


     My metronome and dynamic indications are only guides and not to be taken too literally. Remember, when sight-reading the right tempo is the one that allows continuity. You will find in my version the addition of solo incarnations of some of the canons, which may be enjoyed while waiting for a partner to arrive. Also, I have separated the rectus and inversus from the open score so that they can be played individually as intended. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tchaikovsky Concerto: Scherzo Bliss





Peter Tchaikovsky

     


My student brought in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, complaining of difficulty in this example from the scherzo section, measure 50, of the second movement. In my student's edition, the editor had placed the fifth finger on B-flat and thumb on the following A.
Fingering in the Scherzo, Measure 50
(Click example to enlarge.)
Though not impossible to execute, this juxtaposition of the two short fingers can feel cramped, a pinching together. Not nice. I recommended the fingering indicated in the example above and pointed out that the technical grouping falls into groups containing four 16ths, creating a hemiola (three pulses instead of two). I've been practicing this myself and find it quite easy. Incidentally, the B-natural on the first beat could also be taken with the left hand. Who'll know the difference? I won't tell.
     In measure 43 the composer also places the technical pulse, the technical grouping, against the beat by creating a hemiola. Keep the eighths constant and put the pulse in the left hand.
Grouping int the Scherzo, Measure 43
(Click on example to enlarge.)
Confused Conductor

     In  fact, begin the entire scherzo leading with the left hand as the pulse and the piece becomes much easier. True, the conductor has to figure out where the beats are in order to punctuate the passage. But that's his problem.
     Side note. I once played in an orchestra when the conductor did indeed become confused in this passage. He lost track of the beat entirely, even though the soloist played with the utmost precision. He stopped conducting and whispered loudly, "play, play!" Well, we did the best we could, but I fear a few punctuation marks went missing in that performance.







Thursday, October 2, 2014

Name That Pianist: Chopin's Berceuse Played by 10 Great Pianists


     I've added a new listening assignment in the Listening Tab: Chopin's Berceuse played in many different styles. Can you name the pianists without looking them up?




1.



2.
3


4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Moving Notice: iDemos

Please notice, dear readers, that the iDemos are now located in the tabs bar above. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

For Photography Enthusiasts

Zion National Park, Utah
I know some of my readers share  an interest in photography, which is of course off topic. Nevertheless, for those curious shutterbugs here is a link to my recent work: Stannard.SmugMug.com. I'd be glad to know what you think.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chopin Nocturne Op. 27, No. 1: Getting There from Here, or Leaps of Faith

Frederick Chopin
     A student brought in this soulful nocturne, Op. 27, No. 1, the companion to the famous D-flat, No. 2 of the same opus. He observed that it's not as simple as it at first appears. Naturally, I took up my post as devil's advocate and asked what if we knew at a glance what the piece required technically, would it appear simple? This is another way of saying nothing is difficult if you know how, and learning how is, fortunately, the purpose of this blog.
     My student pointed to the leaping left hand in the  three-four section marked appassionato: 


Chopin Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 1
(Click on example to enlarge.)


When leaping, always be sure to notice
 if there's water in the pool. That is, practice the landing.
The first issue to consider is how to group the left-hand triplets. Instead of thinking 10ths, start each group with the thumb and continue thinking octaves. Always when leaping back and forth take care to group notes in such a way as to avoid feeling as if the arm is going in two directions. In speed this can cause a jamming of the forearm, a condition I call lockjaw of the arm (lockarm?) In this case we start with the thumb to 5 and allow the hand to fall back from 5, passively, to the new thumb. In measure 5 of the example, it's possible to take that last left-hand E-flat in the right hand, although not really necessary. Remember, there is a continual broadening (sostenuto). On the downbeat of measure 6, I take the left-hand A-flat with the right hand.
     But wait! There's more! My student had another question. What about the forte section before that? Where the stretto begins? This is another left-hand leaping issue:
Chopin Nocturne Op. 27, No. 1
(Click on example to enlarge.)
Leaping is easy when you have a running
 start,  when you consider how to do it.
This one is a little harder to describe in words without demonstrating, but I'll try. Notice that most of each measure lies more or less under the hand, if we also shape to the wider intervals as they occur. These notes may be considered a group. The octave represents a separate voice and lies outside of the group of triplets. The technique is a combination of a leap from the octave by means of a pluck, or springing action, and a slight rotation toward the thumb. That is, the 5th finger is like a hinge from which the 3rd finger rotates toward its landing place on the F-double sharp. The feeling is of 5 moving to 3. Once the hand is balanced with 3 on its note, it plays the neighboring notes in succession before opening to accommodate the ever widening intervals played by the thumb. Take care that the hand doesn't remain in an open position.
     The last left-hand note in measure one sends the hand to the following octave by means of a pluck and a rotation. This time 3 is the hinge, which allows the hand to open to the left and land on the octave. The feeling is 3 moving to thumb. Give the octave a little time. By that I mean go to it as if you plan to stay on it, which of course you won't. 







































Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tchaikovsky Concerto: Small Point, Profound Result


Peter Tchaikovsky
     A student in the final stages of preparing the Tchaikovsky Concerto for performance pointed out certain passages that didn't feel right. He knows that such discomfort can be a red flag, so he asked, almost as an afterthought, about this measure, 46, in the second movement scherzo: 

Tchaikovsky Concerto, Second Movement, Bar 46.
(Click on the example to enlarge.)


     We had already discussed many passages in the concerto that presented much larger problems, all with satisfactory solutions, making this one little measure seem inconsequential. I had noticed a slight unevenness in his performance and had already made a note to ask him about it. But he brought it up first, for which he gets a gold star.

     Look at the example and see if you can figure out the problem. (I've given some clues in my notes.) When the 16ths begin on the 2nd eighth, the thumb quarter-note needs to be out, toward the torso, in order to accommodate the left hand. It also happens to be easier to play in that position. At the last eighth, though, the thumb plays a black key, C-sharp, requiring the hand to move in. I asked him to play the passage for me, and I observed a sudden lurch in (toward the fallboard) and his wrist made a slight twist toward the thumb side. Both of these gestures are uncomfortable, unnecessary
and the result was not only a bump in the technique, but in the sound as well. The solution is ridiculously simple: move the thumb in in advance by shaping a little up with the third finger on the G-sharp just before the final eighth of the measure. This made all the difference, both in sound and feel of this passage.
     So, dear friends, no problem is too silly to consider. Don't accept less than easy and fluid at the keyboard. Teach the fingers-hand-arm collaboration what it needs to know at the basest level and it will remember the lesson for more complex situations.
     

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fingering Major Seventh Arpeggios



     
A student writes: "I have a fingering question. How do you suggest fingering major-7th arpeggios that continue over more than one octave, e.g. C-E-G-B-C-E-G-B-C. Up to now I have been using 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, however this does require a little stretch between 3 and 4. Would you consider this ok or would you recommend 1-2-3-5 and then the famous rebound from the 5th finger to 1?"
     My response: Stretching to an extreme is never okay. In
Don't!
most hands, playing a major third between 3 and 4 feels, at the very least, uncomfortable, though it is not impossible to work in. However, I play the C-major seventh chord with 5 on B when 1 is on C. Depending on the context, the thumb might also start on E:

Fingering Major 7ths


Notice that there will be a shape in the direction of in to play the thumb and back out to play 5. This is particularly relevant when the thumb plays a black key. When 5 plays a black key, the shaping is reversed. Remember, fluency and speed are at issue here, and these only come when the hand is at ease.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Achieving Speed in Chopin's 3rd Prelude and Etude Op. 10, No.2



Frederic Chopin
     A student writes: "Could you please address the issue of speed (tempo)? I find it difficult to get Chopin's prelude number 3 and ├ętude number two up to tempo.  In the past, many of my teachers  have repeated the mantra 'speed will come' but I think this is silly to expect it to simply miraculously happen one day.  I have also had teachers tell me to practice pieces at tempo as much as I can but this also seems absurd (anyone who can immediately play certain
etudes at speed would be a prodigy in my book). So how do we achieve great speed without injury? How can we bring difficult pieces up to tempo?"
     My response: Regarding developing velocity, the one teacher was correct in that speed will come, but only if the underlying mechanisms are understood. Without seeing what you're doing it's impossible to give a completely accurate diagnosis. However, I can generalize.
     When I write about solving technical problems, I mean that we can identify solutions precisely enough to enable us to practice those solutions at a slow tempo. That is, we learn what we need for speed and practice that slowly, gradually working up the tempo. In the G Major Prelude, identify groups of notes that fall more or less under the hand and then practice that group plus one note, allowing the last note of one group to throw your hand to the first note of the next group. (Tiny movements.) I touch on this on page 101 in my book, Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving. There are of course many refinements, such as shaping in in time to use the thumb on a black key, for example (see measure 3 below). Shaping is crucial to the successful realization of this piece.

Chopin Prelude, Op. 28, No. 3
A study for the left hand
(Click on example to enlarge.)

     In the etude (Op. 10, No. 2), the method of working up the tempo is the same, but only after identifying the necessary movements. In this case, the grouping is after the  chord: 3, 4, 5, chord. The fingering in the Paderewski edition works, although I sometimes make adjustments. Remember, a longer finger may cross over a shorter finger (ascending) and a shorter finger may cross under a longer finger (descending). Use the chord to send your hand to the next single note; don't grip the chord. The chord is the diving board that sends your hand to the new position.

Chopin Etude Op. 10, No. 2
Paderewski fingering, mine in parentheses
(Click on example to enlarge.)

       My plan goes like this: write in your score the desired top tempo and a reasonable starting tempo, not slower than you really need. Then work between those two tempos in short sections, even one measure at a time, but always stopping on a strong beat. This is the best use of the metronome I know of. Keep track of your progress in the margins. It's okay if some sections seem able to go faster than others. At this juncture, don't try to put the sections together. If a particular section won't move, that is, it doesn't feel easy, then take another look at your technical mechanisms. It may be necessary to consider additional solutions, i.e., a different fingering, shaping, grouping, etc. Never force the tempo.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Art of the Fugue by J.S. Bach: More Sight-Reading Practice

Available Now
Improve your sight-reading by practicing it with a partner, a partner who helps keep the pulse moving. Of course, we learn to keep our eyes on the page and always look ahead. We know to scan for surprises of meter, accidentals or key change. We know, too, that setting reasonable tempos based on the fastest note values ensures a successful performance. But in the final analysis, we must learn not to stop for mistakes, the wayward flat, a dangling mordent or what-in-the-world-kind-of-scale was that anyway. It would be rude to abandon a partner in search of the aforementioned, so it is the duty of each to keep the other on track. Designed for partners of equal skill, this volume includes all 14 fugues and four canons in Bach's original work, the one he was working on at the time of his death. Only number 17 is omitted, as it requires two keyboards. I have also included solo versions of some of the two-part canons to be enjoyed while waiting for the partner to arrive.

ABOUT THE MUSIC
     
     
J.S. Bach
In order to improve sight-reading skills, I often suggest to students that they keep some scores on their piano that are several levels below what they can actually manage technically. One excellent resource is the church hymnal. These mostly homophonic melodies, some familiar, can usually be managed at sight if we find the right tempos. The absence of counterpoint makes this material more readily sight-readable. For the more advanced pianist, however, pieces with the added challenge of contrapuntal textures can be a way to advance reading skills and stimulate musical sensibilities.
       
Art of the Fugue Subject
       Which brings me to J.S. Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. Begun in the 1740s and  left unfinished at his death in 1750, in The Art of the Fugue Bach once again has the last word on a given subject. His apparent intent was to explore as many contrapuntal techniques as possible using a particular theme, a summation, really, of his life’s work. Incomplete though it is, the master accumulated here fourteen fugues and 4 canons on some variation of his theme, infusing each in succession with ever increasing complexity. Some authorities argue that this collection was meant as a compositional study guide, not intended as performance material. In this context I offer up the solo cello suites as evidence to the contrary. Until the cello suites fell into the hands of the legendary Pablo Casals, they, too, were considered only exercises. All of these fugues were written in open score with no indication of instrumentation, except for number 17, which bears the note “fugue for two keyboards.”  (I omit this two-keyboard fugue.) Nevertheless, they can be managed quite nicely on a keyboard, or in various instrumental ensembles which, according to the distinguished pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen, was the intent.
         To the best of my knowledge, The Art of the Fugue has never before been transcribed for piano duet. Difficult to play with two hands, with four they make excellent and enjoyable fodder for sight-reading, albeit with some challenges. I have tried to maintain Bach’s voice-leading as much as possible, though it seemed prudent to relocate voices in cases where collision would be unavoidable, particularly between tenor and alto voices when present in the right hand of secondo and left hand of primo. Incidentally, if you are new to duet playing, be considerate of your partner by getting out of the way as soon as possible. You will notice occasional crossing of voices when they can be negotiated by one player. 
     
Should we imitate the harpsichord?
Articulation can be a matter of some contention among performers, particularly among keyboard players who feel—and those who don’t—that virtually every note should be played detached in imitation of the harpsichord. We have evidence in Bach’s own hand that he favored a cantabile style of playing, which he declares in the introduction to the “Inventions and Sinfonias” as follows: One of the purposes of these pieces [the Inventions] is to “above all develop a cantabile style of playing (am allermeisten aber eine cantabile Art im Spielen zu erlangen).” Since these fugues and canons were offered in open score, it seems reasonable to imagine they might be played by strings or winds, which could imply a different style of articulation than that of a harpsichord. So, my advice is to think musically in a global sense. 
     My metronome and dynamic indications are only guides and not to be taken too literally. Remember, when sight-reading the right tempo is the one that allows continuity. You will find in my version the addition of solo incarnations of some of the canons, which may be enjoyed while waiting for a partner to arrive. Also, I have separated the rectus and inversus from the open score so that they can be played individually as intended.