Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween Flaustenbach

A hungry crow feats on eyeballs on the way to the studio...

Igor warms up the piano...

Students await Flaustenbach's appearance...


Friday, October 30, 2009

Hiistoric Flaustenbach Recording Found!

A primitive recording has been found of Mildred Irene Tomsheck's playing of the theme of Heinrich Wilhelm Flaustenbach's "MIT Variations" which he wrote for her in the 19th century. Click on "MIT Variations" or on Mildred Irene Tomsheck to hear the recording.

Clearly Flaustenbach was a genius with electricity! See also: electrified piano mistake corrector.

What remains of Mildred...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Insanity and Music

There is no doubt in my mind that Flaustenbach's brain worked differently from other musicians. Of course almost any pianist is a little crazy, but there are degrees!

Instruments of instruction on the piano - including the octopus light treatment - the different-colored arms of the lamp envelope the student, creating a warm, yet uncomfortable embrace. Correct posture is absolutely essential!

Igor, Flaustenbach's lab assistant, demonstrates the electric finger rats. Perfect for practicing Hanon and other composers of torturous, tedious hand exercises...!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Flaustenbach Story Continues

While Flaustenbach haunts my studio...strange things occur. One day sheet music began appearing on the walls.

Perhaps this is an explanation... from the "Wikipedia article" at ...

His father, Heinrich Johann Ludwig Flaustenbach (author of Harpsichords of Middle Europe – A Complete Taxonomy) was also a music educator and scholar, as well as an experimenter in the non-traditional use of musical scores. The elder Flaustenbach is perhaps best known for his unsuccessful early 19th-century attempts to use pages from oversized oratorio scores of German High Baroque composers as cheap wallpaper for the homes of lower-middle class German families.

It is believed that the imposition of reams and reams of musical wallpaper in Flaustenbach’s earliest environs may have had a significant formative impact on young Heinrich Wilhelm, and had a causal effect on some of the more remarkably unfortunate episodes that would mark his adult life.

And like all good dead musicians --- he's no longer decomposing! In the PianoSmith MadLab, Flaustenbach has started to write "The Bell Cantata". Does the bell toll for you?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flaustenbach's Mottoes

It is important to set the correct atmosphere for learning. Posters and signs in music studio have achieved this purpose for generations. Flaustenbach had adapted MadLab posters for his own unique purposes...

The fine print reads..."Children Should be Seen Practicing, Not Heard... Therefore, in this studio, only the works of SCHubert, SCHumann, SCHopin, and SCHaminade shall be played"

We all know that "acid" rock melts a pianists fingers!

The "electrified" piano was one of Flaustenbach's great "flashes" of inspiration. It also explains why his lab assistant is so twitchy.

One of Flaustenbach's more outlandish ideas was to force groups of students to practice all of their instruments in the same place, at the same time. According to the Wikipedia article on Flaustenbach, this had incendiary results:

One of his very few published papers, “On the Efficacy of Simultaneous Practicing of Various and Several Musical Instruments by Multiple Students” (1831) led to a vociferous debate (which nearly devolved into fisticuffs among the brawnier musicians in attendance) at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria, and is thought to be responsible for the strict isolation of students from one another while practicing on their instruments today...
And my personal favorite...

this simultaneous homage to Bach and Oppenheimer reflects one of Flaustenbach's experiments - which accidentally provided a century's worth of power for his future mad laboratory creations...!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dr. Flaustenbach Has Taken Over My Piano Studio

If you haven't heard of Heinrich Wilhelm Flaustenbach, the 19th Century German Music Pedagogue, I suggest you click on his name and read David Saslav's story about Flaustenbach now. Fascinating practice tips, such as "Practice Makes Permanent Scars" and other gems from a life experimenting with how to get the worst out of students.

For some reason, Flaustenbach has risen from his place of eternal (not so much) rest to HAUNT my studio....

At the entrance to the PianoSmith Mad Lab where Flaustenbach has taken up residence, is "Mildred Irene Tomsheck" Flaustenbach's beloved student for whom he wrote the "MIT Variations". She died while trying to perfect this most difficult work. Flaustenbach had her remains glittered to honor her dedication to his piano methods.

Flaustenbach developed potions to increase memory function, speed of fingers, and mental and physical stamina at the keyboard. Careful...drinking and piano playing may be fatal!

If you did not practice in Flaustenbach's would be labeled a "RECALCITRANT" student and put into a jar!

Flaustenbach will demonstrate many of teaching methods with his Lab Assistant on Saturday, October 31, 2009, 1-4 PM in San Francisco. Come if you dare...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Practice Tip Number Seven

Slow vs Fast Practice
Notes from Dr. Helen Marlais' Lecture at the MTAC Convention / July 2009

This is the piano version of what your trainer at the gym suggests you do while working out on the treadmill.

Play a passage three times slowly -- and really do play slowly, then once more, immediately, at full tempo.

If the piece is long, use this method for individual sections -- playing an entire movement of a Beethoven Sonata in this way could drive a person to really hate practicing, which would be counter-productive.

Since the ultimate goal is to play well and enjoy your repertoire, all of these tips will make your practice time very efficient and manageable. Tip number seven is also great for solving a tricky measure or any difficult passage in a longer piece.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Practice Tip Number 6

Practice Tip Number 6: EIGHT (8) Times to Perfection!

This one is a killer.

One measure - 8 times perfectly;
One passage - 8 times perfectly;
One phrase - 8 times perfectly;
One section- 8 times perfectly;
One page- 8 times perfectly;
One movement- 8 times perfectly; then
An entire piece - - 8 times perfectly!

Thanks to Dr. Helen Marlais for this practice gem.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dr. Marlais' Practice Tip Number Five

Impulse Practice

This is my "go to" practice method for almost every piece. I first learned this technique from Eliane Lust. This method moves you through difficult passages beat by beat.

Basically it works this way:

  • Start with a difficult passage (leaps, scale runs, tricky turns, etc.)
  • With the first note and/or chord of the first beat of the passage held down, think about what comes next in the beat, but don't move your hand or play it yet. Check carefully to make sure that the hand, arm, and fingers are in the exact right position to begin the passage.
  • As soon as you have thought out where to move next, play up to the next beat as quickly as possible, but not beyond.
  • If you miss notes - do the same transition again.
  • Sometimes you may only be able to play up to the half beat in one move, depending on the difficulty of the passage.
  • You may also need to do this work hands alone, then repeat the above impulse practice steps "hands together".

Repeat the above transition until one beat is perfect, then move to the next and repeat the above.

The next step is to put multiple beats together (from beat to beat to beat) until you have the entire passage up to tempo and mastered.

As you might have guessed, impulse practice is related to muscle memory practice; after practicing a passage with the impulse method, you most definitely have developed muscle memory for that passage.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Practice Tip Number 4

Practice Tip Number 4 from Dr. Helen Marlais' 2009 MTAC Conference Lecture

Develop Muscle Memory!

Practice slowly. The only way for the "muscles" to remember is to imprint the actions slowly.

Don't let you mind drift.

  • Think about how the keys feel as you depress them.
  • Look at where your arm is in relation to your wrist and fingers: are you moving across you body, are you moving in parallel or contrary motion: is every part in alignment - are you moving without pain, without twisting, is the hand and the arm moving as a unit, etc.?
  • In scale passages - activate each finger in the passage by trying to get exactly the same sound on each note.
  • Memorize the patterns (sequences, motives, themes, etc.)
  • Listen, listen, listen to the sounds you are making.
  • Think vertically and horizontally (melodically and harmonically)
Unit practice.

  • I wouldn't try to play the whole piece (unless it is under two minutes) this way.
  • Take one measure, one line, one phrase, one page and really concentrate.
  • This is difficult practice, but very efficient practice.
  • About five (5) minutes a day will garner results.

I worked this way on Chopin's Butterfly Etude and learned the piece in 28 days with only 10 minutes of practice a day. It works!

And don't forget this practice gem while developing muscle memory: PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT!

Oh and by the way, one of my teachers told me that "muscle memory" is the first to go with nerves when performing, so never rely on muscle memory as a memory trick. Grrrrrrrreat!