“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.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Pianist's Guide to Practical Scales and Arpeggios

Scales and Arpeggios from
 the Repertoire

     A student asks about boosting speed in the study of scales and arpeggios as they appear in repertoire, which is the subject of this volume. As always, my advice is to play no slower than needed and not faster than you can. This means that at each tempo, from slow to fast, the technique always feels easy. 
     This begs the question, how does one achieve ease? Well, the first step is to solve the physical problem(s), decide what is needed for speed and work that in slowly. Yes, this is possible with knowledge of how the playing mechanism works. (See Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving.)  
     Here are some questions to ask yourself: What fingering will allow me to group notes to keep them under my hand without extreme stretches? How do I use the last note of one group to get to the first note of the next group? Is there a shape to the passage, under or over, in or out? What is the angle of my forearm relative to the keyboard, meaning, if I am approaching a thumb crossing, do I have my thumb behind each finger as it plays on the way to the thumb? Working up to top tempo is an excellent use of the metronome, especially when working in sections. I do not recommend using the metronome for playing through an entire work.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 2: Tension in the Agitato

Frederic Chopin

A student writes: "1. Configurations of four sixteenth notes with a syncopated inner voice, such as in the 3rd/4th beat of the 1st measure, or the 2nd beat of the 2nd measure, seem to give me the most trouble. I feel tension immediately, along with a general lack of coordination. 
     2. The 2nd beat of the 6th measure, with its slightly awkward 1-2-5 (C#-D#-C#) reach, is also uncomfortable."
Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 2, (Agitato) As Printed

My response: You are quite right, rotation is involved. But maybe the simplest way to go about solving this is to keep in mind that when playing chords mixed with single notes, the chord feels "down," slightly heavier. In the example below, you'll see that the technique levels the playing field. That is, I think of playing constant sixteenth notes, noticing the rotation and feeling the heavier chord. One way to "feel" the heavier chord is to group from the chord, start from it. I've included my fingering, but other approaches can also work. Be sure to avoid clinging and gripping, as if you were playing the organ. You can use pedal discretely. Once that is worked in, the rest is just a matter of voicing. In other words, show the melodic line. The second part of your question is much simpler. In measure six of the example above, second beat, take the C-sharp and D-sharp with the thumb.
Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 2,  Technique