“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, March 29, 2022

Haydn Sonata in F: Choosing an Efficient Fingering



  A student writes: "In Haydn Sonata Hob. XVI:23 in F major, measure 25, I have trouble starting from 3, through 4 to 5 and back. It just ruins my hand and makes it completely weak. I can play from 5 to 1 easily. I can play from 1 to 5 easily."

MM 24-25

     My response: The issue you raise in m. 25 of the Haydn is common to many players. Coincidentally, this type of issue is the first I discussed with Mrs. Taubman when I met her. If you choose to begin the passage with 3 on the E, it's necessary to shape the passage in order to accommodate the shorter finger, the 5.  If you keep your hand at the same height as finger 3, finger 5 will feel too short, like a child sitting in a large chair in which her feet don't reach the floor. 

    This can be accomplished in two ways: 

    (1) After 3, feel a slight under shape to 5 (notes moving in the same direction upward in the right hand often take an under shape). Then from 5, which is the lowest point, begin an over shape on the way down. This helps power 4.

   (2) From 3, which will be the highest point, gradually lower the forearm (very slightly) to 5, and back up again on the way to 3. 

Having said all of that, I use a different fingering. Try this:

MM 24-25

    "A secondary question I have is about the bench. I've been messing around with the height, and I can't tell if I'm too high or too low."

    I usually recommend that the player sit with the elbow no lower than the key bed, ideally just above the key bed, which gives the forearm a slight downward angle into the keys. Take care that your hand and arm are aligned, that is, the wrist is rather like a bridge between hand and forearm, level, though not rigid.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Piano is Easy and Doesn't Hurt

Dear Readers,

I have new openings in my Zoom lesson schedule. Should you be interested, please inquire under the "Contact Me" tab above.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Solfeggietto by CPE Bach: Fingering vs Grouping

C.P.E. Bach
     My student, diligent as always, brought the little Solfeggietto by Bach's famous son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. He proudly offered  a revised fingering, one that corresponds to principles I teach. That is, notes that move in the same direction are often grouped together. This concept, however, does not always apply to fingering. He proposed the following: (Click image to enlarge.)

C.P.E Bach Solfeggietto, MM 1-2
Awkward Fingering

     Notice that this fingering does encompass the entire triad and its octave, all notes that move in the same direction. Notice, too, that notating the middle C in the bass clef seems to argue in favor of playing it with the LH.  Logistically, though,  the LH hand is perhaps too much in the neighborhood when the RH gets to play, creating choreographic congestion.  I propose the following, which, if memory serves is in the Emil Sauer edition:

The choreography in this version works more smoothly.
     So, if a passage feels awkward, look for a different solution. Start with fingering and don't be unduly swayed by the layout of the notation on the page. "The score tells us how the music sounds, not how it feels in our hands," to quote myself.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Sonatina by Kabelvsky: Coordination Between the Hands


Dimitri Kabalevsky

     My adult student brought this familiar foray into classical style a la the 20th century. He stumbled often, but not always, at the two scale passages, G minor as shown here (Ex. 1), and the same passage on C minor a few measures later. Notice that nothing could be more innocent harmonically: a G melodic minor scale over a first-inversion arpeggio, also G minor: 
Kabalevsky Sonatina, Op. 13, No. 1, Third Movement
Reliable fluency, however, eluded my student. So, we set out to solve this mystery.

     Two issues are in play here: the musical objective and the 
technical means. I know, I know. What else is new? I point this out because my student fell victim to the musical objective as indicated in the score, trying for a whoosh without feeling the milestones along the way. 

 Step one is to notice which fingers of each hand are partnered and encourage them to cooperate by feeling a down together. Do this very slowly. (I've indicated these fingerings in Ex. 2.) Feel these pairs first on each eighth. Then, moving on to step two, feel the pairs on each quarter—still very slowly. Then comes the crucial third step: Notice the pair of fingers on the downbeat of measure two. Aha! This is not the beginning of the scale. Feel a secure starting place here. Gradually work up the tempo feeling, though not necessarily hearing, the pulses. Go ahead. Try it. It's fun.
     I'm happy to report that my student was able to solve the issues in the lesson. I sent him home, though, having elicited a promise that he will continue to practice along the same lines.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Leaping To and Fro: Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Minor


    My colleague in the English department had a framed cartoon on the wall over his desk. A cowboy rushes out of a saloon, the swinging doors flapping. His eyes widened in panic, he runs toward a horse hitched at the trough. The caption reads: "And he ran from the saloon, jumped onto his horse and rode off in all directions."

    I think of this image every time a student brings in a leaping problem, one that requires leaping to and fro at a quick tempo. More often than not, when there's a problem, it's because the muscles that
propel the hand in one direction haven't had time to release before going back in the other direction. Repeated over several bars, this can add up to considerable discomfort. Just as the English student needs to learn to organize his thoughts, we pianists need to organize our directions. We can't go two directions at once. The answer is simple. Only go one direction at a time. ("Sir, this is a one-way street." "But, officer, I was only going one way!")

    Okay, okay. I hear the grumbling. This is about grouping. One way to organize groups is to start from the heavier to the lighter. Chord to single note, for example. Then, use the single note as a springboard to land back on the next starting chord. By springboard I mean something like a diving board that propels the hand to the next place, a passive motion that allows the hand to let go for a split second. By using the chord as the organizing factor, the playing mechanism won't feel as if it's going in two directions at the same time. Notice, too, that the left-hand leap is farther than the right, so it will move first.

    As I reviewed the video, I noticed I didn't start "in" as I recommended. I felt this as a greater distance than it needs to be. So, do as I say, not as I demonstrate. Also, when leaping to a place directly in front of the torso, lean slightly away, in this case to the left in order to avoid twisting at the wrist.