Saturday, November 29, 2008
COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE METHODOLOGIES OF THREE DISTINGUISHED PIANO TEACHERS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: BEETHOVEN, CZERNY AND LISZT
ANGELA P.Y. CHAN
Untitled: "Here I would like to mention briefly about teaching young gifted students. As Czerny mentioned, generally due to their high sensitivity to music, they may be negligent of their technique, and simply play in a messy way. They may be impatient during practice, and aim too quickly for the 'finished version'. Very often, instead of practising short passages in great detail, they would run through the whole piece as if it was an actual performance. They are too absorbed in listening to the ideal version of the music in their mind. They would not bother to listen carefully to what they are actually playing, nor do they have the discipline to slow down and practise in manageable short sessions. Slowing down is particularly difficult, as it appears to be going against the musical flow: the gifted student may perceive this as a conflict to his musical intentions and leads to frustration. Therefore, instead of insisting the student to isolate the difficulties from the piece and practice slowly, (which from my experience is virtually impossible for a musically gifted child) who would speed up after the first few bars, I propose to use short passages (a few bars) which do not belong to the text, but with similar technical demands. In this case, the student is clearly told that his aim is to acquire technique for subsequent musical expression, and he is only required to practice for technique. In an apparently incomplete "excerpt", there are no tendencies of musical flow which would urge them to rush through. Hence he would be better able to focus his attention in completing the task."
Czerny was one of the greatest teachers of the time. I grew up playing his exercises and the more I read about his teaching, the more I admire what he accomplished in his life. Czerny seemed to understand perfectly that each student was different and that each physique was different. His many exercises seemed to bring enough variety for developing each technical area.
I also agree with Beethoven to use a relaxed hand and to move each finger as little as possible. I show a similar idea to my students: the finger, comfortably curved, touches relaxed the top of the keys (hand is curved, fingers are curved, not flat) and you depress each key from the top of the key to the bottom of the key, about 5/8".
Liszt plays with a flat hand and fingers. It seems he had a very large hand and could acquire amazing dexterity in all fingers. Not everyone could do that, Schumann completely ruined his hand, his playing and technique by attempting something similar using a mechanical device.
Here is a reference to Schumann's injury: http://www.jstor.org/pss/954772 from attempting to acquire complete independence in the 3rd and 4th fingers.
Here is a reference to the Chiroplast device that Liszt suggested using: http://www.jstor.org/pss/966259
Liszt: " Then he stressed the great need of flexing and relaxing the fingers in all directions by multiple exercises for at least three hours a day; these exercises would include varied scales in octaves, thirds, arpeggios in their inversions, trill, chords and finally, everything that one is capable of doing. When one has perfectly flexible and strong fingers, one has conquered the greatest difficulties of the piano."
Definite YES, not enough attention to scales, chords and arpeggios is given in most modern piano lessons. The foundation, regardless how tedious, must be acquired sooner or later or larger repertoire cannot be learned.
Almost 200 years later, Czerny's teachings are an absolute stand-out and still stand true today.
My conclusion, teaching piano technique, after a life long quest searching for answers:
1. You must sit correctly (weight over your feet, knees end about where the keyboard starts, midsection - your core - pulled up, slightly leaning forward, absolutely lose shoulders and arm)
2. Floating arm; the function of the arm is to move the fingers over the right keys and drop the gravity weight into the fingers.
3. The hand stays as relaxed as possible and returns to relaxation instantly, allowing instant tension (depression of the next key) again.
4. Pain is an indicator that you are doing something wrong. Stop, find a way to relax, find a motion that works and try again. Use the levers of your back, upper, lower arm, wrist and hand.
5. Finger movement up and down is too restrictive
Scales, chords, arpeggios, Hanon exercises are an absolute must. Starting very young students with scales is quite possible and fun using my fingering charts and practice instructions. They work with any physique and any age. The tone is singing, always musical and well timed. As suggested, there are also other great finger exercises for more advanced students -- I have not had a chance to look them over, but am certain they fulfill a 20th century purpose of developing physical motion and movement in varied exercises on the piano. (Take a look at Ganz and Persichetti)
Absolutely do not let your mind wonder while practicing; the suggestions of practicing scales for hours and reading a book at the same time, as Liszt had suggested, well -- I guess I could see the point -- but truthfully, I do NOT see the point. IMHO, we do not have that much time at hand to just sit and brainlessly wiggle fingers, even if it might be scales. Part of the exercise is to be there, while watching the fingers move and stay focused with the tune like a mental exercise to not let your thoughts wonder elsewhere. For a successful performance you need exactly that: stay with the music, the tunes, project the feelings and leave other thoughts out of the picture.
There is another interesting point, though: Liszt suggests to sit straight up and actually lean a bit back, with the head more backwards: On trying that, I can feel that the upper arm actually relaxes, making a gravity sound possible with a relaxed arm weight. Well, the singing sound will only emerse, once all unnecessry tension has vanished. Liszt experimented with various touches, devices and techniques.
Nevertheless, I stay with my conclusions which I have found to work with everyone, no exception.
I hope you enjoyed my little excursion to 160 - 200 years ago.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Music Review - Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman - Pianists Let Intuition Take Over at Carnegie Hall - NYTimes.com
Oh my God! Suddenly I MISS Vienna, the music scene, while looking at this great photograph of these two great artists having so much FUN! I used to attend weekly recitals, the greatest of greats performed -- all in walking distance! Long evening gown, jewelry, fur coat. Five minute walk to the tram, wait 5 minutes, tram ride 5 - 10 minutes, right there. you even survived the walk in heels. Blessed with the greatest music, live.
Here: Oh well, mostly memories -- or 90 minute drive 1 way without traffic,....
Thank goodness for the Internet, most is at my fingertips now -- forget walking distance....
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Eubie Blake, quoted in Rudi Blesh, Combo USA."
What a great musician. Such fabulous rhythmic pulse. Always, in teaching the standard classical repertoire, I attempt to focus on rhythmic pulse. Even classical music sounds so much better, if there is a natural pulse, than just NOTE PLAYING.
Growing up in Vienna, I remember the very same derogatory attitude towards Jazz, Rag, Blues music. And of course, I fell in love with it.
A few years ago, I was teaching a very young exchange student from Germany. She had piano for maybe 3 years and grew up with the very same "straight jacket" mentality that I grew up with in my own teens: Upon interviewing her parents, the dad proudly announced: "We only play classical music, not this Jazz, Broadway or other "low grade music". I had to quickly swallow and keep my thoughts to myself (which is difficult). She was attempting to practice and learn a difficult Theme and Variations work by Beethoven, obviously lacking technical foundation, musicality, feeling, phrasing, breathing and advanced musicianship to play this piece well. Coming from Germany, she had correct notes and note values and was hammering away, note by note, quite good for her age and length of study. I found the identical attitude towards music in her that i was brought up with: "Music starts when you can play Sonatas and other difficult works, until then, there is no value in playing." A very difficult concept to digest. I remember revolting against this thought when I grew up; I LOVED listening to the rock bands in the 60s and early 70s, collected several LPs of Blues and Rock music on a trip to England in the 70s, but on the other hand still LOVED playing classical music. But I wanted more. I wanted to know WHY popular music was so popular while classical music had it's followers but was more "stale".
The answer is really in the BEAT, the pulse. Playing Baroque music, requires a perfect pulse to sound beautiful and stylistically correct. Many pieces stem from actual dances of the time. Classical pieces require a similar pulse, but a little less strict in some instances. If we look at the Schnabel edition of the Beethoven Sonatas, we will find the many metronomic tempo markings that Schnabel used himself, that are a very good standard of interpretation of this style. Romantic music requires much more freedom in pulse (rubato playing).
All classical music will sound FABULOUS if practiced and played with the correct choice of PULSE.
Training a good solid time sense (pulse) in classical piano, takes time and needs to be trained from the very beginning piano lessons through performance levels later.
The essence of music is rhythmic pulse and musicality expressed. When we diligently rehearse these concepts in our daily practice (starting with scales) and in each piece getting ready for performance, we get good results every time. Although I do not actively advertise my scales manuals, I feel I do need to mention, that a step by step approach on training piano basic technique, scales and pulse is explained in great detail. Please, go to http://www.classicalpianolessons.com/ for more information. I am making new manuals and free reports available as I get them ready.
Take advantage of integrating some of these concepts into your own practicing to increase enjoyment and efficiency.
I enjoy teaching here tremendously, since there really are no further barriers of "low class music". Teaching Rags, Jazz and many other 20th century and 21st century music styles is very refreshing and enjoyable.
Alex Few, age 14, just won 1st place in the CAPMT Honors auditions category B, performing the Scott Joplin Maple Leaf Rag (as well as the BWV 889 Prelude and Fugue WTC II, JS Bach and the Op 27 No 2 "The Moonlight Sonata" 1st movement by Beethoven).
The judges appreciated the musicality and energy and "fun" in the Scott Joplin piece.
I just cannot say it often enough; "I love hearing good music".
You see, this is really a very nice critique on a performance of scales in a difficult pieces in recital. Regardless which instrument, the control, polished and flawless execution of "basics"- scales is always expected, but it is refreshing to read a review where they are commented on. Quite obvious, there are performances of lesser quality.
If focused correctly with the goal in mind, that excellent performances are possible and a LOGIC consequence to proper practicing, the daily "chore" of working scales should not be more than a refreshing, easy "walk in the park" of beautifully executed structured sequences of sounds. Any agony or frustration will not result in "usable" scales now, later or anytime.
The other day I had a student play scales, as fast as she could (fourth year piano), sort of getting through the notes, lose wrist, correct notes, correct fingering BUT: the notes were uneven, there was no evident rhythmic pulse, no beauty of tone. Why practice in a manner that will NOT RESULT in the ability to play more difficult works? Students need to be reminded DAILY, that all practice needs to lead to eventuating in a RESULT now and later. The result NOW needs to be USABLE, beautiful scales totally under control AT THE CURRENT SLOW SPEED. Later on at a faster speed. The focus must be: TOTAL CONTROL at ALL SPEEDS from the very slowest to the very fastest.
Good luck in your daily practice.
Teaching this so obvious concept is almost like needing to REMIND a student to breath: "now, make sure you take a deep breath and then blow it out, etc. or you will choke!". Do I need to mention that? Of course, not. Well scales are similar: If you continue to "noodle" scales now, you certainly will "die" trying to play more difficult pieces later. Is that so difficult to understand? Well it must be, since it's a daily battle for most (even in my studio).
But for those students where everything comes together and we get beautifully played scales at several slow to medium speeds (for starters), then we really have a good foundation to build on. And patience is a very good virtue!
Piano playing is like solving a 10,000 piece puzzle. Each stone needs to fit perfectly to result in the final solved picture. Each day's scales practice equals 1 stone. Maybe now you can understand WHY a bad daily 10 minute scale practice session will only destroy the beautiful expected result for now and down the road.
Each note in every scale needs to be "cultivated" like a budding rose.
Simply put, enjoy each note and scale played well. And as you see in the review above, scales appear in most all pieces and if well performed are an absolute delight to listen to.
Learning HOW to practice and perform scales is really NOT THAT DIFFICULT, if you know how. Maybe, I can make a difference sharing my years of dedicatd practice and finding answers on how to PLAY.
Back to practice!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
“A lot, yes?”
“A lot…. I believe I can do it though.”
“Ah, that is because Qimmah…”
“You are destined to attain balance. You Will attain balance. And the piano, as you have come to it, has found you.”"
I found this absolutely great little post about a Buddist Piano Teacher and one lesson. I think, I got balance now. Great way to start learn piano.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I just found this less than favorable review and consider it the ultimate nightmare. Just think, the performer's worst "enemy", the critic, is turning your pages!! What agony. Just wanted to share this one. Please, find an unbiased page turner next time!
What a hard lesson to learn.
San Bernardino concert to feature Mozart piano concerto | Inland News | PE.com | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California
For this reason, she said, Mozart is very difficult to play.
'The problem with Mozart is that he uses exactly the right notes, and if you play one wrong note, the audience knows. It's in the ear. You simply can't mess with perfection. This piece pours forth like fine wine.'
To Fialkowska, Mozart's compositions are deceptively simple. 'He makes it sound absolutely spontaneous. Even the surprises, of which there are many, are comfortable and right. It's all absolutely logical.'"
I could not agree more. Often students perform a Mozart piece and the pulse, the articulation the beauty of shaping each individual even tiny phrase as part of a longer line is not thought through enough in practice. This makes Mozart very difficult to play, not to over play or not play too fast, missing the essence of the beauty of simplicity.
Anyone who can play Mozart beautifully is a definite Master of the piano.
And the Mozart piano concerto #27 is also one of my favorites, goes right under your skin -- so touching.
Do not just play NOTES, or only scales, play FEELING, melodic expressions, crescendo when the melodic line rises, diminuendo when it lowers, as if you were singing the tunes.
All the best, as always]Eva
In The Music Studio: To Work on Exercises or Not to Work on Exercises...That is the Question...Indeed.
Amazing, I have not heard anyone mention the Liszt Exercises in 35 years. I have at least one of the books in my library, but feel they take a more mature technique and a larger hand to master.
The staples in my "for every physique" piano exercises, is definitely Hanon and yes, once you have mastered all Major and Harmonic, Melodic, Natural Minor scales, using my scales fingering charts, practicing each set of Major and parallel Minor scales (Harmonic, Melodic, Natural) 4 octaves, absolutely correct fingering, with metronome, working towards an effortless smooth sound (not a hammered harsh sound) -- yes, once you have learned your basics, you can start working the Peskanov "Russian Technical Regimen" single note scales, broken chords, block chords and arpeggios. Any one of my students whom I could interest and motivate to spend quality scales practice time, has improved by leaps and bounds.
Anyone who just "hammered" scales who did also not work for a beautiful, expressive sound had much less progress or fun with scales. Anyone who could express beauty in their scales, with an effortless touch, floating arm weight, fingers falling in place, sound like smooth even pearls in the most expensive jewelry store,... now, we got something useful for later pieces. And they all use scales, chords arpeggios one way or another.
'It makes such a nice sound. And you can really feel the music, You can feel the sadness and happiness, excitement,' said Bobby".
What an excellent way of stating the essence of the music experience. I am very happy to mention, that it is not difficult to bring out one's own feelings in music and for anyone any age, it is a great experience being one on one with your own inner self -- your own World of Music.
Adult, early beginner, child protege and anyone in-between: start connecting with your own inner feelings, your own emotions, try playing them out into your piano room, letting the sounds of your expression reverberate.
Winning is not everything; the daily journey of unfolding what you have inside you, plus good foundation as in good practice habits and scales will take you a very long way.
Cannot wait to hear your practice in your next lesson, excuse me, piano playing party (minus the fattening donuts).
Artist, musician deconstructs pianos to get at more music inside
By Stacy Trevenon [ email@example.com ]
Published/Last Modified on Wednesday, Nov 12, 2008 - 02:42:48 pm PST
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Mauro Ffortissimo calls himself a “piano liberator.”
More precisely, the native Argentinian, a 24-year Coastsider and co-founder of the Enso gallery in Half Moon Bay, has made an art out of taking apart the complex construction that makes up a piano in order to play the music he can find in the parts that remain.
Another reason he deconstructs pianos is to make art out of the innards of a piano."
I am absolutely certain, that several of my piano students would absolutely LOVE to take the piano apart, so practicing does not need to continue. But that then would not get you through your piano exams, would it?
But you see, the difference is, art is re-assembling, re-arranging, making a public statement, exhibiting and sharing the created effect. The audience looks on and reacts emotionally.
On the contrary, a piano technician just takes a piano apart and does not make a public statement of the different pieces.
If I can spin this concept further: playing scales: if you just play notes (even with correct fingering and fairly even), if you only "report correct notes" with your playing, it is still not ART!! It's another bad rendition of the "CHORE OF SCALES"
But we are working so hard to play scales, making them sound BEAUTIFUL and artistically, melodically and musically pleasing. Then we are preparing the path to using the very same scales in more advanced pieces and a good portion of the hard work learning these pieces is already completed, with well learned scales.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Vol VIII (Opp 109, 110, 111): Andras Schiff - the Sunday Times review review | CD reviews | Music - Times Online
ECM New Series 476 6192"
This must be another absolutely fabulous thought-through interpretation of Beethoven's last Sonatas. Schiff's understanding of the composer, his attention to detail make him a very remarkable pianist. One of my present time favorites pianists. I cannot wait to hear these interpretations.
Maybe one of my young students will perform one of these Sonatas in several years. In my opinion, a teacher's dream to have young pianists perform these works -- and played well.
Well in our studio, we still have a few years to go.... In other words, practice those scales and arpeggios and these Sonatas will not be that far away.
I remember many years ago, practicing the Op 111. This sonata is still one of my very favorites. Absolute mastery of classical composition. A masterpiece that took music decades into the future.
All the best
Monday, November 3, 2008
Colorful areas, irregular forms, many grown over with lush green plants: this is how painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 - 2000) encouraged new impulses – and not only to Vienna’s architecture. He also created an exhibition center offering a permanent exhibition of Hundertwasser’s works as well as changing exhibitions of exciting contemporary art."
Please, visit this link -- I walked by this artsy house, daily, on my way to school before it was rebuilt by Hundertwasser and during the remodel.
I am wondering how the Riverside County Planning Department would consider such a building -- it certainly does not have a "matching exterior color" or "roof design". (They denied our 1200 sft storage and garage addition -- pathetic)
Welcome to the world’s music capital! More famous composers have lived here than in any other city – in Vienna, music is literally in the air: Waltzes and operettas have their home here, and so do musicals 'made in Vienna,' which have conquered international audiences."
More to come, I grew up inVienna, walked to the Conservatory and to School enjoyed the architecture, enjoyed our subscription to the Opera, Theater, Konzerthaus and Musikverein. Now, I enjoy the memories, the web is bringing the World to your finger tips.
What a great attitude, right from my heart. If you only play to collect trophies and placements, you will soon be out of medal reach. Listeners come to enjoy YOUR ARTISTIC INTERPRETATION, the emotional response is what matters. This is what you hear in our lessons from day 1 on. If you play Music for Little Mozarts at age 3 - 5 or Beethoven Sonatas and Rachmaninov, your emotional involvement is really the essence. Of course, technical, style and note accuracy cannot be omitted, either.
Yes, truly, I want it all -- this is what I LIVE FOR. Hearing great music in our lessons.
I will be hearing your scales, chords -- don't forget those: most of your theory is understanding scales and chords using scales notes; broken chords and arpeggios are still the black sheep in our practice, but when you get better, daily cultivating of your basics, practicing your pulse by counting loudly will get you quite far in a short time.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
The first sonata learned by someone starting piano may very well be a Mozart sonata. Yet the same piece may be performed on stage by an outstanding concert pianist. The music of Mozart is a delicate masterpiece in which performers can reveal Mozart’s unique faithfulness, child-like naiveté, truthfulness, and peacefulness."
I tell everyone, the most difficult music to play are second movements of Mozart piano concertos, since there are so few notes to be played but needing to be played so beautifully, requiring artistry, control, creativity and technique to express. It takes mastery of touch to make 1 single note sound beautifully ringing through the entire auditorium, touching the hearts of many listeners.
Of course, the other very difficult pieces are very fast pieces, but that I did not need to mention.
I hope, you feel blessed we are working on these skills daily. Start with beautifully played scales, chords, arpeggios and Hanon exercises. Learn to BREATH while playing your most fundamental pieces and exercises. The more difficult pieces will come in time.
Foremost, enjoy your own playing.
Amazing, we talk about the projection of your inner feelings and breathing in your artistic interpretation, daily.
Could not be expressed better.
Epoch Times - The Ultimate Goal of a Successful Piano Performance: "The chairwoman of the judging committee, Ms. Ma Changz, said:“A successful pianist should not only be able to grasp the style of each piece and precisely depict the structure conveyed by the composer, but also should be able touch people—this is the most important concern for pianists.”"