“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.”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Pianist's Puzzler Solution

In modern notation, the bracket means non-arpeggio. Some pianists think this bracket means to play both notes with the same hand. It does not. It means play the notes as an unbroken chord. Yes, I know, unbroken implies play it with the same hand. But what if the chord is too large to avoid breaking it? Now we're getting to the right question. If I wanted to observe the notation strictly, I would put the offending note in the right hand, which is very easy to do. Remember, the score shows us what the music sounds like, not how it feels in our hands.
Puzzler Solution
Arnold Dolmetsch
(1858-1940). French-born
 but of Swiss origin
     For those readers who demand chapter and verse, well, here they are. You can view common symbol notation at the Stanford University WEBSITE. Some confusion has arisen because the bracket in some Baroque sources could mean to arpeggiate, yes, the opposite of its current meaning. The Dolmetsch website, that would be a reference to the distinguished re-discoverer of Baroque instruments and their uses, gives us this chart for arpeggios:

Bracket Symbols, Including Two Obsolete

The text reads: [Arpeggios are] "indicated by a vertical wavy line, a vertical square bracket or a curved bracket (the latter two signs are now uncommon)." In a lifetime of staring myself nearsighted at an enormous variety of scores, including facsimiles of original manuscripts, I do not recall ever seeing a bracket that might be construed as an arpeggio. In fact, except as noted above in a more modern context, I don't recall ever having seen a bracket. Let it be briefly noted that we do see the curved bracket in certain editions of Chopin's works, which does mean to arpeggiate.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Pianist's Puzzler

In the example below, what is the meaning in today's notation (hint) of the bracket? How would you play this passage? The answers will appear in a few days, just as soon as I figure it out. Ready? Pencils up.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Finding a Hand Position at the Piano


     The shape of the hand when playing the piano is rounded, like a ball. No, wait. It's flat like a pancake. That's not it, either. I know! It's splayed like roadkill. Or maybe it's all or none of the above. 
     Method books and their instruments of propagation, piano teachers, often mislead the unsuspecting student into a concept that will one day have to be unlearned. That is, they teach that the hand needs to be molded into a particular shape and made to hold that shape. Usually, the preferred shape is rounded, with all fingers on the keys, including
the thumb. Gentle reader, let me dissuade you of this practice as it requires that the fingers pull in toward the palm, which is work. Though we pianists are not really lazy, we want to avoid unnecessary work.
     This topic came up yet again in an online thread prefaced with a gif of adorable chicks entering a nicely rounded cave formed by, yes, a pianist's hand. You can view the gif here: Chicks in Hand. The pianist who posted this gif swore she meant it as a charming side note and did not mean it as gospel. Well, the ensuing discussion became a firestorm of approval and disapproval. I decided not to weigh in, except for the query "what is to be done when the chicks become adults?"
     The best hand position at the piano is the shape the hand takes when it dangles at one's side while window shopping. It is the naturally rounded shape of a hand that hasn't a care in the world. Try this: Drop your hand to your side, raise the forearm in the elbow hinge and turn the hand/forearm in that elbow hinge toward the thumb (rotation), placing the fingers on the keys. No, do not include the thumb. Conjure up enough tension to allow the fingers to stand there; it takes very little. This is an excellent hand position. Notice that the thumb's position is in the air, in front of and not over the keys. Yes, the thumb is a dangler. Incidentally, this is another one of those early-learned concepts that must at some point be unlearned. The fingers do not each live in their own little houses, they are instead itinerant. And the thumb, poor thing, is at best homeless, finding temporary shelter only when specifically needed. (For a video demonstration of this, click on the iDemo tab above and select Forearm Rotation.)
     So, whether or not you decide to use chicks to demonstrate the shape of the hand, try to avoid teaching that which needs later to be unlearned. This includes, by the way, teaching that a whole note must be held down for four counts...but don't get me started.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Pianist's Guide to Practical Scales and Arpeggios

     I love it when my students pay attention.
Today my student brought in excerpts from Beethoven's Op. 57 sonata, the Appassionata. He has been working from my book of scales and arpeggios extracted from standard repertoire. (No, I don't make my students buy my books.) Ever so discreetly, he asked if he could use a different fingering. Well, I'm nothing if not flexible. But  when I looked at what I had written in this example (page 113, example 276, for those of you who are following along), I realized it wasn't actually what I do. The fingering works, but here's a better one, the one my student picked up on.

Beethoven Sonata Op. 57