Monday, September 28, 2009

Practice Tip Number 3

Thanks to Dr. Helen Marlais for these tips!

Number 3: Phrasing

This seems like an obvious tip, but how often I forgot to think of the long line while immersed in the minutiae of each measure.

1. Find the phrases: if marked easy - if not, play through and number the measures until you find the beginning of each phrase. Always use pencil as sometimes mistakes are made or you change your mind about which measures make up the phrase. Then count of the number of measures in each phrase - some pieces will have phrases with an even number of measures (4 bars in each phrase for example) and others will have quite irregular numbers of measures (like Bach). Play the piece - thinking about how to shape each phrase so that the composer's intent is clear.

2. Once you hear the long line of the melody - then practice over the bar line to phrase correctly.

3. Look at phrases versus articulation - articulation happens at the end of the phrase, but also with the phrase.

4. This process is helpful to begin to see the structure of the piece. And,

5. For flow ---- seeing/hearing the big picture.

It might seem like this is something to do later in the practice regimen. I thought so, and I often practice impulse and other ways first, but I'm beginning to see the value of looking at phrasing early in the practice process. I always tell my students not to wait to put in the dynamics and articulation. I think it is so difficult to add later and expression is a vital part of any piece. I once had a teacher who said that if I played a note with the incorrect articulation or dynamic --- I played a wrong note. My finger had pressed down the right key, but in the wrong way. I think that when there is too much focus on the details and not any notice of the long line, then extra work is needed later to develop the long line. Not to mention the crucial smooth crossing of the bar lines so that the piece flows beautifully and expressively.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Practice Tip Number 2

The next tip is: Procrastination....KIDDING! (Just a little slow getting to the piano this morning)

Dr. Helen Marlias' Tip Number 2.

Blocking - creating vertical harmony

This is one of my favorite tips. Finding chord patterns in music and then playing them as a block chord. Not only does it help to establish what the harmony is for a given passage, but puts the notes quickly into your fingers. It is also helpful for leaps. I practice this way all of the time and I also show my students how to block passages in their pieces. A most useful way to practice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Daily Practice Tip

I attended one of Dr. Helen Marlais' workshops at the MTAC conference this past summer. I thought instead of posting all of her tips in one email, I post them daily.

Tip Number 1:

Play - Prepare

For me this means to be aware of where you are in a piece and where you need to go...for the next note, phrase, theme, section, movement, next piece, etc. Dr. Marlais specifically mentioned this technique for practicing leaps. When I practice leaps, I

1. look at the keyboard for the shortest distance between the leaps (which interval is the smallest part of the leap);

2. stay on the first note of the leap for a long time until I've mentally prepared where on the keyboard I need to leap to - then I leap as fast as possible and try to land in the correct place. If I've mentally prepared and correctly visualized the key/chord/octave pattern in my head of the jump - I rarely miss; and

3. have fun by leaping to just get the gesture and to measure the distance of the leap.

For example, if I need to leap from a "C chord" in the middle of the piano to the lowest "C chord" on the piano...I'd play a five finger cluster in the middle of the keyboard and then leap as fast as possible to the bottom of the keyboard and play a finger cluster where eventually I have to play a chord. As soon as that is easy...I'd play the chord in the middle of the piano and then a cluster at the bottom of the keyboard. Then once that was easy...I'd play the chord in the middle of the piano and the chord at the bottom of the keyboard. Success!

All of the pieces I'm playing this Sunday - have really challenging leaps. Believe me, I've been using all of these techniques over the past several weeks.

Also for my concert preparation this Sunday - I'm using the play-prepare tip for pacing myself to play for 45 minutes in one stretch. Flexing my mental muscles--- as I have the technical, expressive and imaginative aspects of the works in place --- in order to pace myself to have enough energy for the demands of each piece. I'm "leaping" from one piece/one mood to another piece/mood. Just as challenging as leaping from note to note.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Moon Music

The Moon is now making music! : Moon Music

You may have to be a little patient for this to load in:

But notice how the satellite carves out an orbit, and the music is composed based on the surface height being passed over at that moment! Also try "Free Scratch" which allows you to play a single note (click the mouse) or an elongated sweeping melody (click-drag over the moon's surface). How cool is that? The music is eerie and yet kind of self-consistent in a mid-20th century kind of way!