Saturday, November 22, 2008

Classic piano jazz - ragtime jazz from Eubie Blake: "The higher class fellows who played things from the big shows looked down on this music. Nobody thought of writing it down. It was supposed to be the lower type of music, but now it is considered all right. I don’t quite get that part of it”.
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 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".

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