Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Piano Lesson Today

Today's 1.5-hour lesson included a lot of talking, but in a good way. I love my piano teacher. It was a great lesson, even though it was mostly talking.

Today's theme seemed to be "Trust Yourself." See, I have very little faith in my ability to play well. Have you ever thought you looked good in a certain outfit, then, when you saw pictures of yourself in it, thought, "Oh, horrors! Why did I ever think that turquoise jumpsuit looked good on me? My butt looks like Mars!"

OK, maybe you've never had that experience. But try to imagine. I've always been very critical of myself, not just in piano. When I don't play well, I know it. When I do play something well ... I know it. I can feel it. Or I think I can. And the other week in the group piano class, I thought I played the Prelude and the Liszt well. Not perfectly, of course, but beautifully.

Then ... later ... I wondered ... "What if I just thought I sounded good? What if I really sounded like crap? What if I got too involved in the pieces and my playing was nothing but a bunch of muddy, overly rubaticized (is that a word?) cacophony of notes?

Oh, my. What if everyone could tell it was bad except for me?

This actually happened once. Sort of. I played a piece for a group class back when I was about thirteen years old. I thought I played fine. I felt good about how I played. Then, at my next private lesson, Mrs. W. said something to the effect of, "I couldn't believe how badly you played. I was embarrassed for you." Then she proceeded to get on my case (which I'm sure I deserved) for not practicing.

Well, the cut was deep. The scar is still there. To this day, whenever I think I've played well, I later think, "I wonder if I actually played so badly that people were embarrassed for me."

It's crazy, and it's silly, and it makes no sense. But I had to ask Deborah today, "Did I really sound good at the group lesson? I thought I sounded good, but I don't know. So if I sounded awful, please tell me."

So she looked at me kind of funny and said I'd played beautifully--not perfectly, but beautifully. I still didn't totally believe her, so I told her about the Mrs. W. tongue-lashing of 1983. Poor Deborah must think I'm crazy. We work though "childhood piano issues" a couple of times a year. She doesn't exactly play therapist at those times, though she does have some good advice--much of it gleaned from her own experience.

So we talked through the "Mrs. W. issue" today, and she said she's going to start giving me more responsibility for interpreting and judging my playing. (Ack! No! I like having an all-wise, all-knowing teacher!)

On to the lesson report (as if this post isn't already long enough!) ...

Scales: Good, good, good. I played Ab-major and F minor at 88. I'd been doing 84 forever, so 88 was new. I did well on the Ab, but struggled a little with the F minor (which, along with F# minor, is probably the scale that gives me the most trouble these days). She told me to trust myself (doesn't Yoda say something like that?), to accept that I know this scale and that I can play it. So I did, and even though I felt a little uncertain while playing the F minor again, I did play it evenly, and without a single missed note. So that was good.

Inversions: I've gotten a little sloppy about making sure all notes hit evenly. I'm to start listening to the inversions more attentively when I play them, hearing every note of each chord, and how the sounds differ from one inversion to the next.

Arps: Pretty good. She left the usual comments: "Soft thumbs." "Soft hands." I tend to tense up if I'm at all uncertain about hitting the right notes (which is often the case in the black-key arps--though I've developed an comfy-old-armchair feeling for the white-key arps). She said I just need to trust that my hands will fly to the right notes. I tried it. I played lots of wrong notes, and I usually don't play any wrong notes. But you know what? The world didn't come to an end. So I'm to practice the attitude of trusting my hands, and they'll know where to go.

Fugue: I wanted her to watch me practice the last couple of measures because I'm uncertain about the fingering (there's a weird jump in the left hand in the second beat of the penultimate measure, and I was wondering if I might somehow avoid the weird jump). So I went into a 10-minute mini-practice session while she watched and listened.

About six minutes into it, I asked, "Am I playing this too legato?"

She said. "What do you think?" (argh!)

I said, "I think I am. The sixteenth notes need to be just a little shorter ... like this." (And I played it.) And, "When I play them less legato, they sound more like Bach should be played (duh!) and that unavoidable jump in the LH doesn't sound out-of-place anymore."

She said, "See? You didn't need me to tell you that. You already knew."

Trust your feelings, Luke.

Prelude: Before we even started work on the prelude, I said, "OK, I need help on the last two measures of this one too. My left hand doesn't feel powerful when I play this, and it needs to." Turns out it was a matter of fingering (of course!). We changed the fingering around, and I practiced it a few times with the new fingering, and voila! my LH felt more comfortable.

Liszt: I'm still confused about pedaling. Apparently, I was pedaling it like a pro, except for a few measures. So she said I need to make sure my pedaling is good throughout, and that one measure doesn't jarringly morph into the next. Of course, Little Miss NAPS* becomes obsessive and overly sensitive about pedaling and starts pedaling very poorly (this was a couple of weeks ago). Tonight, Deborah said to play through the Liszt, and pedal it the way I felt I should, and that she'd stop me when the pedaling wasn't working.

There were just a few places where it wasn't working. And we fixed those.

My other "issue" (it's not really an issue, but ...) with the Liszt is the idea of "architecture." Right now, each section for me is a lovely little room, and I get lost in wonderment at the details of each room. I don't feel a sense of all of the rooms being connected into a single whole-is-greater-than-its-parts mansion. And that comes through in my playing. It sounds beautiful, but it sounds ... like a story that has too much detail and goes on too long. So I think I might actually write about the Liszt as if it were a house, picturing it as a single structure that contains lots of cool rooms. For some reason, I think this "creative-visualization" approach is going to help me.

But, ah ... She said the last page in particular sounded great!! Which made me happy. I actually spent a good bit of time practicing the chromatic scale toward the end--making it smooth, fluttering the pedal, slightly speeding up as I go, etc., and making the F# of that final third "ding" like a little bell.

It was a good lesson, even though it involved more talk than playing this time. And I do need to learn to trust myself more. It's not like I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to music.

Or ... am I? ;-)

*Neurotic Adult Piano Student


Anonymous said...

I DO know that feeling of "Did it really sound good, or is it just in my head?"! In fact, I will almost never play in front of people without taping a performance in private first and listening to it.

I like your creative visualization for getting a bigger picture of the Liszt!

Waterfall said...

dulciana: Good idea about recording the performance first! It's so hard to be objective about one's own playing, otherwise.