Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sunday, July 9

What a long day I had today. Didn't get to sit down at the piano until 10:15 tonight.

I practiced for about 70 minutes tonight. About 20 minutes were spent on scales and arpeggios: Eb major and C minor for scales, and C major and A minor for arpeggios.

Eb major and C minor are two of the easiest scales to play in contrary motion because they're "mirrors" of each other. I had no problem with the initial playing of either tonight, so I quickly went on to "scale variations" of all kinds. Tonight I worked on staccato/legato, plus a fun loud/soft exercise: The RH starts out soft, and the LH starts out loud (or vice-versa). As I move up the keyboard, the RH does a crescendo and the LH a decrescendo. As I move back down, they go back to the original.

I'm able to do this. I have to focus on the crescendo/decrescendo to the point that I forget to focus on the notes. And I still played them correctly! The muscle memory is finally kicking in! Yay! The scales are sounding smooth and polished, too. I'm playing them at 80 now (can't remember if I mentioned that before.

Oh, and I also tried playing them two octaves apart (rather than one octave). Would you believe, I find them easier when I play them that way? Go figure.

You would think that C major and A minor would be among the easiest of arpeggios, since they consist of white keys only. Nope. I find the black-white-black arps, like Eb major and Ab major the easiest. Bb and B are pretty easy, too. The all-white and all-black keys are more challenging.

Still, C major and A minor sounded fine tonight. I did some similar games with dynamics and rhythms. I played them with a swing rhythm, then made up a few other rhythms, and at some point I realized I was having fun, I mean, really enjoying myself. Go figure. :)

Then it was onward to the Bach Fugue in C#-major. I approached it the same way I did in yesterday's practice: chose a handful of measures and drilled the hell out of them.

In the past, either because I didn't have enough time or because I didn't know any better, I would drill something--a measure or a handful of measures--five or six, maybe ten times before moving on to the next few measures. I never really counted. Now, however, I'm drilling small sections a minimum of twenty times each, with the metronome, by memory. I speed the metronome up a bit--not nearly to the prescribed tempo, of course. I got up to 60 tonight, working HS on measures one through eleven.

Why drill it so many times when I actually feel like I've "gotten it" after five or six?

For one thing, only five or six repetitions do not constitute "getting it," even if it feels that way at the time.

But here's the main thing: around repetition number fifteen, something happens. My hand falls into its own rhythm and suddenly seems to acquire a gracefulness--the kind of gracefulness and ease of movement I usually see in the hands of concert pianists. It is pure delight to watch my hand dancing so easily across the "stage" of the keyboard, and to hear each note executed with clarity and conciseness and charm. No, I'm not bragging about my playing. Just trying to explain the joy of working really hard at a fugue and experiencing the tiny victories that come with setting small goals and reaching them.

As I mentioned earlier, I've decided to start trying to memorize it now, even though I'm still in HS stage. (I should have started learning it HT this week, but we never got around to the fugue at my last lesson.) See, I can play the whole thing, relatively smoothly, hands separately. Because it sounds only relatively smooth (relative to how it sounded the first time I tried to play it!), I decided that wasn't good enough, and that I wanted to use this "extra" week to really learn it.

While learning HS the first time around, I would think to myself, "This is going to be a bear to memorize. How will I ever memorize this?" I usually like to memorize a piece as I learn it, thus saving myself the hassle of having to memorize it later. I think I shied away from trying to commit the fugue to memory because ... well, because it's a big, convoluted piece with seven sharps. It's possibly the most difficult piece I've ever played. It's big and mean and scary.

But it's not mean in a bad way. I love this piece. I listened to all of the Book I preludes and fugues, and I loved this one the most, and that's why I'm learning it now. I was a little anxious about the seven sharps, but I've found that I actually like playing in seven sharps. But the thought of trying to memorize this lovely fugue was ... intimidating, to say the least.

I bit the bullet and started working on the HS by memory. And I now have measures one through eleven seared, seared in my memory. I'll have the first two pages in the old noggin by the time I go to bed tomorrow night. At least that's the plan.

I didn't get around to poor, neglected Liszt tonight (it's very late). I'll just have to make up for the lost time tomorrow. :)

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