Saturday, July 08, 2006

Friday, July 7: Piano Notes

I wrote about yesterday's disastrous lesson here. I have this bipolar thing going on, and I've been allergic to the 2,381 meds they've tried, so I'm currently unmedicated. That can make for some awkward situations, and yesterday's would-be piano lesson was one of them. Luckily, I have an understanding piano teacher.

Today, after a full day of editing and spending some time with my parents (who were in town for a few hours), I finally had a few free hours for piano.

I'm up to 80 for my scales and 63 for my arpeggios. For scales, I did G major, E minor, Ab major, and F minor. For arps, I did B major, G# minor, F major, and D minor.

Here's what I do for both scales and arpeggios:

One octave, similar motion, one note per beat
Two octaves, contrary motion, two notes per beat
Three octaves, similar motion, three notes per beat
Four octaves, contrary motion, four notes per beat

Scales sounded quite good. I'm only "supposed" to do a major with its relative minor each day, but I'm flying through them so fast that I added a second set today. I played each scale through five or six times, giving myself a new challenge each time: legato/staccato, loud/soft, dotted notes, etc. Finally, after at least a year of doing this, those contrary motions scales are getting to a point where I can play them without having to give each individual note 100% of my attention. So it's good news that I was able to add the dynamics and rhythm variations and still play them.

My arpeggios are ... hm. They're not bad at all. But they're not ... good. Mr. Opinionated Arpeggist, perhaps you can give me some advice here. I want smooth-sounding arpeggios. They sound great until I get to four notes per beat. They still sound OK--I'm hitting the right notes, and my timing is good--but they're ... wimpy. The timing is even, but the volume isn't. One note will be louder than the other, then the next one will be too soft. Or I'll completely miss it. I won't hit the wrong note; I just won't hit the right one hard enough to make any sound.

It sounds OK at 60 and at lower tempos, but it still doesn't have the smooth, consistent sound that I'd like. What's your advice? To slow down again? Aaarrrggghhh ... I did work in rhythms tonight, and consciously made myself play with more force. That helped, I think. It didn't sound very pretty, but at least I was pressing all the notes down with equal force.

Next was Liszt. I thought I had the 9-against-4 thing, but I didn't. I tried just "winging" it, but that doesn't work, either (would that it did!). My brain wants to make it 12-against-4, timing wise, would would be oh-so-easy. So my right hand starts at the tempo it would need in order to play twelve notes ... and it's, of course, too fast. So, when I consciously try to play the RH more slowly, guess what ... the LH slows down, too. I guess this is just something I'll have to keep practicing until I get it right. It's just very, very frustrating. I'm not used to not being able to do something after a couple of tries. Here I've tried it at least 100 times, and I still don't seem to be able to wrap my brain around it.

After practicing the 9-against-4 measures ad nauseam, I went on to the next section: the one with the echoes. I'm being wishy-washy about the fingering. Here's why: it's physically impossible for me to hold all the notes that need to be held while playing the other notes that need to be played. The truth hurts, but there it is. I'm 5'2" and very petite. I have Mozart-sized hands. Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Brahms ... those guys weren't thinking of me when they were composing, no sirree. I can comfortably reach a ninth on the white keys. And I can reach up a ninth to the next black key (say, from middle C to the Db one octave up). But that's about it.

Well, I'd worked out some rather awkward fingerings that worked (they involved weird things like playing 2-against-3 with a single hand), but were awkward. My piano teacher said I should do the less-awkward fingerings and compensate for my hand-smallness by using dynamics and pedal. I'm not sure if I agree with her on that, but she's the one with the D.Mus. from Indiana University. I'll try her method, and if I just can't get used to it, I'll try mine again.

So I went through and changed some of the fingerings tonight. I spent a long time playing and replaying a section of about eight measures with the new fingering. A long time, for me. Maybe an hour or more. On just those few measures. I could have moved on to something else (say, Bach or someone), but dammit, I'm sick of having this piece not feel like an easy chair. If I have to play those eight measures 1,000 times for them to feel comfortable, then that's just what I have to do.

By the time I finished the practice session, those eight measures were sounding pretty good. And something else happened: I noticed that my fingers are starting to look graceful and relaxed as I play ... not like they're struggling to reach the notes and hit the right ones. That was a good feeling. That's what they're supposed to look like.

Only eight measures. I have a long way to go. This is so much work. Mind you, I'm not complaining about the work. I love the work. I don't love the fact that my time for the work is limited, but I do love the work itself.

And it is so much work. My admiration for professional classical pianists is increasing astronomically these days.

1 comment:

robert said...

Don't panic, Waterfall! It's not as bad as you think. No, I'm not addressing the, er, larger issues. Sticking to the two pianistic ones which seem to be troubling you here.

First, on hand size. Do you know how many superb, world-class pianists have hands your size? Trust me -- many! It's true that Rachmaninoff, the "six and a half foot scowl" (Stravinsky's comment), had enormous paws and was a super pianist. Cliburn has big ones too, for all the good it's done him. I think hand size is tied up with another chimera, raw speed of scales and arpeggios. Bigger is better. Faster is better. Notice that they sound alike? It's a boy thing. Incredible numbers of pianists and teachers are, and there's such a macho element in piano playing that it can affect even the most stalwart of us. I think you should take your teacher's advice, and think about those wonderful pianists (of both genders) who have small hands.

As for arpeggios. Here are some things I learned from my teacher. Accents -- say you're doing five note groups, run up and down with the accent on the first note, then the second, and so forth. Do them slowly and the accent loud -- get your full body into it. Second, look at the finger which is playing the "crossover note." For example, Ab (I'm working on it right now). LH going up 4 on Eb, RH going down 4 on Ab. Start HS, slowly, and punch the crossover note. Then do HT, everything but the crossover note really soft. Do this for a few days along with your regular practice, then try my rhythmic arps practice routine normally. Let me know (somewhere ).

Dare I say it? "Buck up, little camper."