Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Catching Up

Greetings from your long-absent piano blogger! Have my three regular readers been wondering what happened to me? Well, in this case, infrequent blogging does not translate to infrequent practice. What it does translate to is a lot of life-stress, particularly related to work, and I haven't had the time or desire to be at the computer any more than necessary. So no blogging.

I do want to write a quick update, though, for myself as much as for anyone who is reading this. The main reason I started this blog was so I could track my own progress, so I want to start doing that again. Below is a quick update on my progress in everything.

Slow and steady is the rule here. I'm slowly, very slowly, working my way up the metronome. I'm still not playing anything fast (72 for major scales, 52 for minor), but I'm working on playing everything perfectly--smoothly, with total control. I now have near-total confidence in being able to play all the notes of a given scales; for those pesky black-key harmonic minors (C#, G#, and Eb minor, I'm looking at y'all), I no longer feel like I'm re-learning the scales every time I play then. I know them. I know what's coming next, and I don't need to much time to think about it. I don't know if I've ever known the harmonic minors (including contrary motion) as well as I do now. Perhaps I did, but I don't remember.

Arpeggios seem really easy. I've always thought they were hard, but they are so ... well, they just seem so easy. Have I changed somehow? I don't know. I'm going through all of them (major keys) at 80 (or something), and not having a problem.

Oh, Hanon, how I love you! I have had too many piano teachers who didn't require, or even assign, Hanon. But I do love it. I have been playing the first dozen or so exercises just about every day, and I can tell that my finger-independence has improved. My hands are also less tired at the end than they used to be, so I think I'm building endurance too!

I can play the whole thing! It's taken forever (such is the life of the adult piano student), but I have all the fingering down and can play through the piece just about perfectly, albeit at a slow tempo. Now I'm taking them in short sections and working up the speed for each short section. a few more weeks of this, and I'll be playing it the way I've always imagined!

As with the Schubert, I can play the whole thing(s)! I have the prelude at a pretty good speed, though my left hand 4th and 5th fingers aren't always behaving. To help with that, I've been doing a lot of rhythms. I also think the Hanon exercises are helping. The fugue is at a similar place as the impromptu: I can play it perfectly (at least in terms of hitting the right notes) as long as I don't play it too fast, so now I'm working up the speed in short sections. Also as with the impromptu, I imagine that, in just a few weeks, I will have this down and will really get to focus on bringing out the different melodies/themes.

I think I'm playing the Chopin as well as I've ever played it. I still have a few areas to work on, but I feel like I am so close with this one.

What's Next?
I'm still pretty deep into these pieces, so I'm not consciously thinking of what I want to play next. I've also been mulling over some general music goals recently, so I'll likely be writing more about those as we get into the new year.

That's about it! I'm in North Carolina for several days with no access to a piano for practicing. So I'm counting the days (3) until I am reunited with Henry the Grand!

Monday, December 03, 2018


I've hit a milestone. It's not a particularly measurable milestone, but I know that I've hit it.

Ever since I started taking lessons again, I've had this sense of, "Ugh, I'm so out of piano-playing shape. My fingers are weak. My timing is off. My technique is bad. I can't remember the minor scales. Ugh, ugh, ugh."

Of course, there wasn't that much ugh. There is always piano love and piano happiness and piano joy. But I was definitely out of piano shape, physically and mentally.

I'm getting back into shape.

I've been playing a lot of Hanon, some of it quite slow, always focusing on keeping my thumb relaxed and forcing my fourth and fifth fingers (particularly on the left hand) to work. This has been a challenge, but I can tell that my fourth and fifth fingers are starting to feel more independent, starting to carry more of their own weight. This is huge.

The Chopin is starting to sound good. I don't know if I'm playing it as well as I played it in 2005 with Deborah, but I'm getting there. I'm playing it more intentionally than I did before. I've done an analysis of the whole thing, so I know exactly where I am at all times, and there is something to be said for that. (What, I don't know.) I've also been working hard at playing "levels of softness," and it's helped my Chopin-playing.

The Bach prelude sounds good as well. I still need to do some work with rhythms to get it perfectly even, but I have the notes down cold. And even the fugue is coming along. I can play through the entire thing, start to finish, at a super-slow pace. I could probably hum each of the three parts by heart .... okay, maybe not totally, but almost.

And the Schubert ... ahh. I hit a milestone this weekend when I finally got the fingering down for everything and can play the entire piece slowly. So now I'm ready to do the real work! I love that final page, the Coda ... I have it down pretty well, at tempo, and it is soooo much fun to play--so loud and powerful and tempestuous! Like me! Ha ha!

Oh, and scales! I can play the majors perfectly at 76! And the minors at a little slower than that! All contrary-motion, of course. Neither are "fast" yet, but I can play them, and they feel comfortable. I'm no longer uncertain about where my fingers should go. I just know. I guess practicing every single scale, every single day, will do that to you.

These days, I'm just feeling a greater sense of power at the piano, something that has come from the many hours of practice (including finger exercises ... so many finger exercises), and from detailed, focused study of where the music is going from measure to measure. I have put in the work, and will continue to put in the work ... and I'm starting to see results.

It's all strange because it seems I'm never able to get any focused, long-term practice in. It's all just 10 minutes of scales here, some finger exercises there, twenty minutes of work on a measure of the Bach a little later, maybe ten minutes to play through the Schubert Coda a couple of times. That's it. But every little bit really does count.

Piano life is good.