“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.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Is It Really Necessary to Practice Scales?

     Well, yes and no.
      I recently read a comment from a pianist (?) who didn't like something I'd written about the relative benefits of practicing scales. This person
sounded angry. It may be because I propose using the body in the way it was designed to be used, which sets aside all those chattering
old wives who think we need to train for physical strength. Folks who have been shooting themselves in the foot all their lives often don't like to hear that that approach does not produce excellent results.

 So. Yes. We have to learn all scales, major and melodic minor, for two reasons. First, we need them as a function of keyboard harmony and topography. More importantly from a technical point of view, we need to be completely fluent coordinating thumb crossings in both hands. As interesting as they are, the harmonic minor scales don't really pop up in pianistic gymnastics all that often. But do include them, if you want, for a feeling of completeness.

     And no. Once the scales are well worked-in and completely fluent in both hands together at a moderate tempo, there is no reason to practice them on a daily basis for technique. This is not an efficient use of time. When we confront scale passages in a piece of music, they are rarely (never?) in root position the way we learned them. So we have to practice them again anyway. I would rather spend time working on technical issues in the music itself. These are my etudes.
     My critic also took issue with  my mention of practicing scales in rhythms, something some of my early teachers advised without explaining why. (I don't think they knew why.) There is some confusion here. By practicing in rhythms, I mean stopping on each note in succession. For example, in running sixteenths with groups of four, stop on the first note, then the second, third and so on. The point seems to be to feel the weight of each finger when it takes its turn. This is more efficiently and easily accomplished by understanding how the forearm works on every note with every finger. (See chapters on forearm rotation.) 
     For the record, I have no objection to practicing scales with different pulses, as in duple, triple, quadruple. This is a good way to work on coordination.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Chopin's F Major Ballade: Double-Note Tremolo

     A pianist writes: "I was wondering if you could
F. Chopin 1810-1849
offer any suggestions for how to approach the following right hand passage in the F major ballade, particularly the lower line. 
 I don’t see another fingering option besides 32-51.  The thumb and fifth finger are so different in length that I can’t get them to sound their notes simultaneously, and I feel like I am sort of stabbing at the B natural and A with an independent motion of my thumb.  At speed, it doesn’t work at all."  
Chopin F major Ballade Excerpt

     Since I can't see exactly what she's doing, it's
hard to give a precise diagnosis. However, there are certain issues that are common to this sort of passage that she might want to consider. The first three bars apparently work satisfactorily. One way to start is to try to figure out what is different about the first three bars and the subsequent bars. Yes. Instead of relatively small intervals in close proximity, we now have larger intervals making the distance between the top notes farther.
    Since the passage is directly in front of the torso, try leaning slightly to the left in order to avoid twisting and feeling constrained. Remember, too,
that the thumb likes to play in the direction of in. Play slightly in the direction of in for the chord with the thumb and five (shorter fingers) and slightly out again for the longer fingers. These are tiny gestures. 
      This shaping may solve the problem for her. If not, she can try adding grouping from the wider interval to the smaller one. It's a little like a series of two-note slurs, but very close to the keys and virtually imperceptible. By thinking of starting from the larger interval, you give yourself a nano-split-second of time to get to it from the interval of a fourth without stretching.