Intermediate piano students often study several Sonatinas from the classical era as part of their development. I decided this was a hole in my foundation, and suggested to my teacher that we do some. Enter Kuhlau Sonatina in C Op 20 #1. This is an easy sightread, but not an easy play at tempo. I have learned an amazing amount from this piece. My thumb position has improved dramatically, giving me a higher bridge. My scales passages are becoming more even. My legato is more flowing. I am now a big fan of Sonatinas!
I took on a Chopin Mazurka (6 2 in C# minor) for a PianoWorld online recital. It does not look challenging on the page, but the rhythm, syncopation, and dynamics are very challenging. I didn’t know what a Mazurka was! So, this piece is teaching better pedaling skills, and better phrasing.
And then there is Villa-Lobos! This will be my piece for the live recital on November 10. It has not been going well, and I couldn’t understand why. Then I recognized how many new techniques it was introducing! Rapid 4 note octave chords, awkward arpeggiated chords, rapid repeat notes and chord changes, tremolos, pivots for chord changes, 3 against 4 against a “salsa” accompaniment, and more! I realized I was not giving it the respect it was due, and slowed everything down to über slow. Now it is coming together nicely. Sometimes I just have to step back from a problem and give the music gods their due respect!
On Sept. 15, 2013 I participated in the ABF recital of Grieg Lyric Pieces. I played 38 3, Melodie, and 47 1 Valse Impromptu. Both were challenging and good learning experience. Each new recital I do pushes me outside my comfort zone and increases my skills.
If I work several months, I can play level 7-8 ABRSM repertoire convincingly. However, I have been questioning whether this is the best approach to improving my piano skills. I still have some serious technique issues that need to be corrected. My thumbs tend to stay stretched away from my hand, which collapses the bridge, and destroys the balance in my hand. Hence, I cannot play fast smoothly, and I make many errors due to being out of position. I have improved a lot, but I still have limitations that will keep me from going where I want to go. I need to tame my thumbs and put my 4th and 5th fingers to work.
So, I am going back to basics. Instead of choosing more difficult repertoire, my teacher and I are going to chose easier repertoire for me. Musician’s Way, a book about improving musical skills, recommended playing accessible repertoire to improve technique, musicality and performance. I have thought a lot about this concept. How refreshing it would be to sit down and confidently play a piece, instead of HOPE it comes out right! When the music is accessible, I can focus on correct hand position, the quality of tone, and accuracy. There is not “god I hope it comes out right this time!”
My teacher introduced me to exercises that I believe will help in build my technique and tame my thumbs. One is a thumb push up. I play with the thumb, and then role up on the tip of the thumb and back down without moving or tensing the other fingers. The other is to play play a key with one finger, hold it down without pressure and assure all other fingers are relaxed. This is done in five finger position with each finger, holding 15 sections for each.
It is fall, and it is like going back to school! I am very excited about doing this “remedial” work. If I can build a good base, who knows where I can go!
Practicing does not make perfect. It makes permanent – mistakes and all. Perfect practice makes perfect performance. This concept has been central to my thinking for some time. So how does one do perfect practice? After days of googling and reading, trial and error, I think I know what works for me.
For all types of practice, focus is key. If the brain is not engaged, it is wasted time. Sitting at the piano for hours means nothing. It needs to be mindful. This has been the hardest thing to achieve. My brain wants to think about a myriad of things, instead of being right here, right now. I have made great strides in improving this with disciple practice. If I see my mind wandering, then I take a break and try again later.
When learning a new piece, the rules are simple. Play small chunks very slowly and correctly seven times. It it is not learned after 7 times, cut the chunk in half. If it still isn’t learned, cut it in half again. Depending on the piece this “chunk” can be as small as a couple of notes! Once sections are learned, they are combined. Refrain from increasing tempo until the brain can stay ahead of the fingers, or errors are introduced.
Another difficult concept for me is “it takes as long as it takes”. I am used to getting things done, and moving on. Music does not work that way. Both the brain and the autonomic nervous system need time to incorporate the movements and the music. These things mature slowly, and one must be patient. This is completely agains my nature, but I am learning.
Polishing pieces for performance is like developing a relationship. First impressions may change as the music becomes more internalized. It helps tremendously to record my playing during this stage, and critically watching and listening to the video. Does it look effortless? Am I telling the story that I want with my music? Does it sound the way I want it to sound? Answers to those questions will help me adjust my delivery. Having a good teacher, mentor, in this phase is essential.
So, I am learning and improving. I am having the time of my life with my piano!
As August 1 approached, I battled the “red dot” of my recorder one more time. This time I played a piece that was on my to do list since I joined the ABF at PianoWorld – Debussy’s Arabesque 1. To finally be able to play it well feels like reaching a milestone in my piano journey. When I first started this piece in March, I was very frustrated because I could not master the 2 against 3 in the fast cascade. I had done 2 against 3 in prior pieces, but this was fast and 3 in the right hand and 2 in the left hand was different from anything I had before. I had to learn to count each hand’s rhythm and switch back and forth. It was brain- boggling.
In the early days on this piece I found myself not wanting to practice it. I was afraid of it. Eventually it clicked. Now, I absolutely love this piece and can put my heart and soul into it. It is a real confidence builder for what comes next on my piano journey. Here is the Youtube:
I attended the first ever PianoWorld ABF party in Brussels July 13. It was a blast. I played Debussy’s Arabesque 1, Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor, Jazz Reflections, and Liszt Consolation 3. The attendees ranged one year of experience through a lifetime of experience. Everyone had a great time, and were very relaxed are ready to play!
On May 15th, the 30th ABF Recital at PianoWorld.com was held. This was my 6th time to participate in this recital. It is very special to have this venue to prepare a piece for every three months. It helps me focus and stay motivated in my piano journey. This time was a milestone of sorts for me. I presented Chopin’s Nocturne in F minor op. 55 #1. The youtube video is on the music page.
This is a much more difficult piece than I have ever attempted before, and I learned a great deal from the experience of polishing it to performance level. To my ears, there is much I could have done better, but I am still pleased with the result. This is a confidence builder for the next challenge. The comments that I received regarding my relaxation and control were particularly rewarding. All my teacher’s hard work with me is paying off!
Adult Amateurs at the intermediate level have few performance opportunities available to them. Sharing music is a very important part of why most people play an instrument. It allows them to share a part of themselves with others. This forum offers that opportunity, and I greatly appreciate it and the members who are very encouraging and supportive. So, thanks PianoWorld!