“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, December 29, 2015

Scales on the Piano: Do I Have To?

A student writes:

"I am reading your excellent book at the moment. I like this idea [of practicing technique in the music]. I mostly play Bach and I would love to practice specific technical skills by practicing specific Bach pieces. Unfortunately, no one has yet written a book covering all relevant technical exercises, in [progressive] order, using only Bach.
      Anyway, my question is then: Does your idea go for scales as well? Should I never practice scales?"

My answer:

       The simple answer to your question is no, you don't have to practice scales, but you do have to know them. As you rightly point out, scales and arpeggios are the building blocks of music, and the techniques—the thumb crossings—are quite similar. So, as a matter of keyboard harmony and understanding the topography of the keyboard, it is important to be able to play fluently all scales in major and melodic minor keys for at least two octaves. I don't stress the practicing of arpeggios particularly because there are different fingering possibilities—better to practice these in the music itself. The purpose of learning scales is for the thumb crossings and the hand coordinations to become automatic. Drilling scales on a daily basis (once learned) for developing "strength" or "independence" is in my view not a good use of time.
   My new book, Mystified No More, Further Insights Into Piano Technique includes a chapter on increasing speed in scales and arpeggios, including video demos on how to do this. Suddenly I feel like a book salesman (well, he did ask), but I also have two other books, The Pianist's Guide to Practical Scales and Arpeggios, which is a collection of scales and arpeggios as they appear in repertoire. It includes quite a number Bach works. You can look through the index at Amazon.com. The other book is called The Pianist's Guide to Practical Technique, a collection of graded excepts from the repertoire. There is also a scale routine outlined—octaves, sixths and tenths—for those who want to organize a scale routine. However, as I said before, I don't think it's necessary to practice scales routinely once they are securely learned.
     Side note: The chief challenge in Bach is coordinating the counterpoint, the vertical-ness of the lines—feeling the points where the hands play together.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Brahms Op. 118, No. 2: On Voicing at the Piano

Brahms at about the time of Opus 118
A student brought in this wonderful and ever so popular intermezzo from Brahms' opus 118. There is much to consider here in the way of voicing—by which I mean featuring the essence of a particular line—but my student missed completely the structure of the passage at  piú lento.

Brahms Intermezzo Op 118, No. 2
(Double click image to enlarge.)
   It's one thing to think in terms of featuring the soprano line, located as it so often is in the fifth finger. (There are those of us who ponder whether God actually meant us to play the piano, having put all of those luscious melody notes in that tiny appendage.) If we always feature the soprano, we would probably be more often correct than incorrect. However, in this case there is more going on that met my student's eye. Do you see the canon with the tenor voice in the left-hand thumb? 
Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 Canon
(Double click image to enlarge.)
     Our job as pianist's—as musicians—is to first show what's there and then what's different. This passage functions as a transition to the return of the "A" material. But isn't it more than just a transition? Using the material of the previous eight bars, a section of subtle anxiety, Brahms takes us—now in F-sharp-major—to church and a moment of refuge before the greater storm emerges. What could be more liturgical than counterpoint? In this case, showing the canon gives us more than a singable hymn, and takes us not only to church but references an ancient time.
The chiroplast, a hand stretching apparatus
similar to the one Robert Schumann may
 have used, causing irrevocable injury.
    As a matter of technique, though, do not suddenly become an organist. The poor organist doesn't have the advantage of a damper pedal, which more often than not results in a lot of stretching and pulling in an effort to sustain these chords. True, this is hymn-like, but I rather imagine a brass choir playing somewhere off the nave.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mystified No More Now Available

Get it today                                                               HERE. Amazon will also have it.

       Knowledge is a wonderful thing. Have you ever noticed, though, that the more you have, the more you seem to need? 
       In an earlier volume, PianoTechnique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving, we learned that it is more efficient to move than to stretch to an extreme and how to make decisions regarding fingering. We learned how to "get after" a passage and to play "honestly." We learned that mindless-rote is more likely to produce technical vagaries than reliable passage work. Perhaps most importantly we learned that if a passage doesn't feel easy, then we haven't solved it. 
     The essays in this book—along with the 141 musical examples and over an hour of YouTube iDemos—are like mini private lessons. You will find here brain teasers drawn from concert repertoire at intermediate to advanced levels that are designed to develop an instinct for building a practical technique. You will learn more about solving technical problems, the point of which is to make music with ease and efficiency. Knowing how it is that you do what you do is the objective. There is really nothing more satisfying than that.
     Praise for the first volume, Piano Technique Demystified: Insights Into Problem Solving: "This book is a delightful collection of helpful insights. A terrific aspect is its inclusion of online video demonstrations. Many of the fingerings, note-grouping concepts, rotational ideas and so on make the passages in the examples easier to play than when approached with more traditional ideas." American Music Teacher, Feb./Mar., 2015.***"This is an excellent book. Whether you are an advanced pianist or a novice, the concepts shared in this book will bring your technical skills at the piano to a new level," Ashley Rose, March, 2015.***"If there is 'A' right way to play, you will learn it here, because Stannard's tips are based on the body biomechanics principles," Flavio Chaperone, August, 2015.