Sunday, September 16, 2018

Practice Time!

Oh, what a weekend. I got some good quality time with Henry on both Saturday and Sunday. We focused pretty intently on the pieces I'm learning in piano lessons, as well as on scales and finger exercises. This is going to be a nice, long recap of everything, though I love all of my pieces so much I'm tempted to devote a post to each one.

Scales: I've been running through all 12 major scales, four octaves with contrary motion, a couple of times a day. I'm keeping the metronome at 60 for now, though I can play them faster than that. I really want to focus on playing evenly as I increase the tempo, so I think it's necessary to keep it slow for now. My minor scales are another story. I can play c, d, e, g, a, and b at 60 easily (same thing -- four octaves with contrary motion). But the others? Ha. I can't even play them at 40. So I have the metronome on 60, where each beat is an eighth note instead of a quarter note. At that pace, I can play each of the harmonic minors pretty smoothly, without too much trouble.

I don't know why I have so much trouble with these. I'll work really hard on, say, E-flat minor. And then the next day when I try to play it again, it's like I've never played it before. There is some kind of disconnect in my brain, and I don't know what it is. I've tried these approaches:
  • Play the relative major first for context.
  • Take note of where the 4th finger goes on each hand.
  • Pretend that the two notes I skip at the end of each scale have cooties, and I can't touch them or ... I don't know, something bad will happen. Maybe a rash or an explosion of some kind.
  • Play in rhythms.
  • Isolate the places I get stuck, and play those in rhythms.
  • (Just in case I'm thinking too hard) Don't think as I play, and just hope my fingers hit the right keys.
Each time, I'll eventually get the scale and can play it through several times. But then the next day gets here, and ... I have to start all over again.

And then I wonder, "What's the point?" I mean, I know the minor scales. I can play them in parallel motion all day long. What's the point of contrary motion?

Hanon: We are starting at the very beginning with Hanon. I'm doing one exercise a week, just like I did with Mrs. Wood in 5th grade. This time around, I'm playing them legato, staccato, and syncopated. I'm generally keeping the metronome at about 60. The legato and staccato sound fine, but it's with the syncopation that the weakness of my left 4th finger really comes out. That one just feels like it doesn't have any muscle in it at all, so when I do the Hanon exercises, I'm focusing hard making that 4th finger work and not get lazy.

Bach: My focus for this weekend has been on mm. 10-11 (yesterday) and 6-9 (today), paying particular attention to the second half of measure 6 through measure 8.

This part is tricky because the RH plays something different each time, and the LH has its own sort of melody going on. I took a four-step approach to these measures:
  1. Figuring out (as best I could) what chords were being played.
  2. Practicing in block chords, where I played all the keys of each chord at once. I worked until I could do those with the metronome and not stall or falter between each chord.
  3. Practicing the chords in broken triplets. Obviously, I had to leave a note out. So, for that first chord, instead of Bb-F-D-F, I played Bb-F-D as a triplet. Again, I played these over and over with the metronome until I had it smoothly and it felt natural.
  4. Playing the music as written, still as a glacially slow pace.
I originally went from step 2 to step 4, but I found that too hard. For some reason, adding that triplet step made all the difference.

Schubert: I managed to learn the whole last page! That's the entire Coda section, for those of you who are following along at home. Yesterday, I worked hard on mm. 259-266.

Played it slowly, drilled it, wrote in the chords, played block chords, etc. The whole time I practiced, I kept thinking, "This should be harder than it is. It looks hard to play ... but really, it's not too bad. Not too bad at all."

Today, I sat down to tackle the first eight measures of the Coda (which, since I'm working backwards, are the last eight measures I need to learn in this section). And guess what! They are almost exactly the same as the next eight, only an octave lower ... which means it's easier to play! So it took all of maybe three minutes to play it through.

I played the entire Coda through very slowly, with the metronome, several times. It's not sounding too bad!

Chopin: Oh, my beloved Chopin. I really do think I'll write a separate post on this one. I have been playing this nocturne for years without seriously looking at the music. This weekend I spent some time reacquainting myself with what's written on the page, making sure I understood and took note of all the directions (legatissimo, smorzando, poco rallentando, poco stratto, etc.) that I've more or less not noticed for years. I played while looking at the whole music, not just the notes, and incorporated Chopin's directions in a way that I haven't in a long, long time. The result? A much softer, more thoughtful (I think) rendering of the nocturne.

All righty, that's about it. It has been a great couple of days with ol' Henry. I have a busy week ahead of me (as well as a busy few weekends), so I likely have several weeks of nothing but micro-practicing ahead of me. I'm glad I could get some quality time in now because I won't get another weekend like this for a while.

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