Piano Practice & Music Theory 19-10-2020.

It has been a good two months, since I began my pianistic adventure. And I have learnt much.

There is no easy way through practice. Although, one can make it more pleasant by not ‘forcing’ anything. Enjoy the process. Practice should be comfortable, yet also challenging. Also, when practicing one must focus on that and nothing else at all. The professional pianist has an altered sense of consciousness for that reason, they have the ability to tune all else out.

I have gone out and done some ‘field-work’/studies on observing pianists from The Conservatoire. All varying levels, in regard to their skill–although, all well past ‘student’ level.

When I watch pianists, I watch them intently and take notes. I care just as much about the performer, as I do the very music they are performing. Whether the pianist would like to admit it, or not… they reveal themselves through how they play. To perform in front of others, is to truly be vulnerable. And to be truly creative, is to be vulnerable. One cannot become who they must, until they allow themselves to be. The artist creates for one thing, above all else… connection.

Our desire to connect, is in direct correlation with empathy. To feel what the instrumentalist is playing…

In regard to piano, one learns the fundamentals and requirements for proper technique. Then, with the proper establishing and acquisition of that skill… one can then develop their own ‘style’ on top of that. Similar, to the draftsperson. Piano is quite the popular instrument, as elucidated from my teacher. She mentions that there is a good 50 or-so piano students, in the classical department alone… with a good 20 pianists in faculty. She mentions that the instrument is in demand due to pianists being needed. ‘Deed, they are.

And music is art. Art is art, for art’s sake. There is no intellectualizing true art. Art just is. A true artist creates to do only one thing: to touch eternity, perhaps even for a moment. Art therefore, is an act of individuation. The artist creates by themselves, and is alone for the most part… why pour hours and hours of one’s life into the act? It is not about mere financial security–I don’t believe true art can be created under conditions, such as that. The artist will create, regardless.

Art is created through some level of dissatisfaction, toward life. There must be a fine-line however, between oppression and total freedom. We create, due a desire to connect to others–and in others, we are attempting to connect to something higher. Something eternal. Art outlasts the artist, in most cases.

Similar to those of us seeking true love, one creates art to touch something beyond the beyond.

There is one parallel I have noticed between those, truly gifted in pianism. That is, the ‘top students’ I had observed. Call it a kookiness at a surface level, but one thing remains clear. They have an impressive ability to focus on the now. That is not to contend that they are safe from depressive states, or anxieties… not at all, however, my argument is formed on the basis of the way their neurology presents itself. The ability to ‘tune’ all else out, in favor for the moment.

My teacher had mentioned that it (their mind set) can be rather ‘schizophrenic’, however not in an inherently bad way. Rather, the gifted pianist has the ability to experience several states of consciousness all at once. That is not to contend that they multi-task, rather, the inverse. Their perception is expanded in favor of focusing on, themselves playing, and those they are accompanying or leading. All micro-tasks are attached onto other tasks. Think about is, how on earth can they allow their hands–and by extension, their fingers, to do two different things all at once? They must pay attention to those separate windows of consciousness. But how do they do this? It is through their developing that state of ‘flow’, they had spent hours and hours of their lives… alone, honing and developing. Many of us don’t realize that, in watching a performer. The ultimate result of their playing, is a consequence of their ultimate failings.

Whatever it is they are attending to in the moment, is all that matters. The best of pianists, I’ve observed have that. Never mind rote memory, or practice… that does well to sharpen their communicative abilities, sure. But yes, they all, are connected implicitly to something much higher.

On stage, it reveals itself.

This manifests in behavior which would lead one, to say they (the pianist) are rather ‘mismanaged’ and scatter-brained. For example: A fellow I had the opportunity to speak with briefly, before a Chamber Showcase, exhibited this. He requested that I record him, with his phone. I happily obliged, despite my being a stranger. He wandered off to get ready for his performance, without excusing himself, and left me with his phone for an hour. Was it that he completely trusted me, or he completely forgot all else? I would say, it is the latter. He mentioned after the performance, during a brief chat that he had trouble keeping track and organizing schedules. Ultimately, I could not record the performance due to his phone being password locked–a detail, that skipped his mind. I laughed at this, afterward. They all have this endearing one-mindedness. A tad bit ‘autistic’ in nature. It is perfectly harmless. One that isn’t spawned from their intention to offend. Take note, that this young man is known as the ‘best pianist’ by his colleagues in the University. He had mentioned that he can play all repertoire, even 20th century pieces… though he had began pianism at age seven, and was near 19-20 years of age. If one would permit him, he could talk about the piano for many hours. He had cast appreciation toward my curiosity and respect toward music, when I queried him. Just as well, he was humble throughout, and I could sense that exaltation and compliments meant nothing to him. His mind suited the piano, very well.

Just as well. Each have an endearing scruffiness to them, each dressed in a functional manner. Is it eccentricity, perhaps? It is their individuality which is kept intact, yet, not to a superficial degree. The expression of this individuality is of a much higher degree, one which transcends mere physical strictures. It is elucidated through what they create, past how they appear… ultimately. Just as well, their minds exist on the very edge of this illusion we call time. To be at ease, to be in the middle. To be in no rush. Yet, perhaps to the detriment to all else.

The professor of pianism, who teaches my teacher has an air of zen to her… for lack of a better description. I had observed her and her husband (also a pianist), at times during piano performances. Not to the point of being ‘airy-fairy’, however this state in-which I had observed is one which is grounded in this reality. Again, focusing on the ‘now’ past anything else.

Ultimately, for them…

In this room, in his hall, all that matters is the piano.

I know this, for when I watch a true artist perform, I feel that time itself is of no consequence. And perhaps for a moment, I feel that eternity is near. No, it is not I, who is granted the privilege to touch eternity–it is the one who sits at the piano. The one who is at command of all 88 of its wonderful keys. The one who does not play for the sake of playing, but plays due a compulsion deep within. They must play. The piano commands them! This is a numinous underpinning, which leads one to express musicality. Musicality cannot possibly be an act. It is vulnerability… that is the pianist, to me.

One day, I too, will touch eternity.

Theory Practice.

Recap: There are three types of intervals. Major, perfect and major.

To discover what the interval is, one looks at the tonic/root of a note to determine whether it is a minor or a major. Accidentals, also help. Identifying the scale, also helps.

The root note refers to the base position chord.

The perfect interval is the same throughout both minor and major.

The basic difference between a major and minor interval, is that the minor interval is a semitone less. Three to the four of the major.

* Study up on Grade II terms. I am instructed not to look at 6/8 meters yet.
* Annotation of notational values, and their rests up to semi-quavers.

*Triplets:
A rhythm which plays three notes, in the space of two. Jazz music uses a lot of this convention. Firstly, we focus on crotchet triplets. A triplet is a type of tuplet, which allows one to play three notes in the time of two notes.


* Annotate 2 8Ve scales, and their relative minors:
A, Bb, C, D, F, G.

* Fill-in worksheet for diatonic intervals.

Pianistic Practice.

I had noticed a cardinal mistake shared between many pianists, at the higher level… a regret, if you will. That is, their regret is in not practicing, or establishing the fundamentals of proper technique. Pianists who are self-taught for instance, are very tense and stiff in their playing… this is opposed to the classically trained pianist. Their hands, and fingers are elegant in the way they dance across the keys. My teacher has stressed this point (technique), and so have the handful of pianists I have queried at the conservatoire. Their advice being, that proper technique paramount.

Each of their bodies intuitively adept to the needs of the keyboard, and the repertoire to which they play. Mobility is of utmost importance. Although they are fixed to sit in one position, they must pivot and move across the keyboard. And in-order to do so, they must allow their movements to be limp and graceful. That special flourish of their moving one hand from a couple of octaves, down or up in an arc-like motion is one instance of that grace.

From what I remember, here is what I keep in mind:
Focus on retaining supple, wrist. Graceful gestures. Pivot from the elbow. Do not tense muscles, to an extreme degree. Do not keep shoulders in a raised/fixed position. Posture should be straight, but not rigid to the extent, that you cannot move across the extremities of the keyboard. Ensure that your knees are underneath the keyboard, and if need be… for playing heavier chords, feel free to shift your left foot backward to either lean into the keys, or lean back (both are methods of utilizing power from the feet, to play heavier chords).

A healthy amount of tension is welcomed, of course… however not to the extent that it burdens the process. Tension is painful, if employed at an extreme degree.


* Scales:

Right hand practice:C Major.  
A natural minor. 
A harmonic minor. G Major.
E natural minor.  
E harmonic minor. Chromatic scale commencing on G.

Left hand practice
C Major.  
A natural minor.  
A harmonic minor.  G Major.
E natural minor.
E harmonic minor.
Chromatic scale commencing on G.


Similar and contrary motion practice:

Contrary: Mirrors the playing style for each hand exactly.
C Major. 
A harmonic minor. 
G Major.
E harmonic minor. 

Similar: Each hand follows the separate scale model of playing, simultaneously)
C Major.
A natural minor.
A harmonic minor.
G Major.
E natural minor.
E harmonic minor.
F Major.
D Natural Minor.

For repertoire, I am training myself to sight-read just as well. There is no intention to ‘perfect’ absolutely every note at this point in time. Rather, rhythm and technique IS the focal point. Rhythm, must be 100% perfected as opposed to the notes themselves. In my watching the professionals and or higher tier students perform, they still get their notes wrong-however, they always keep the rhythm of the piece intact.

A good rhythmic foundation is important in early music learning. My teacher suggests that I do subdivisions of the pieces I am playing through firstly… then, play with the metronome. Eventually, the process of subdivision will come naturally, and then I will be able to skip this step. 

* New Repertoire:

Lullaby by Johannes Brahms.
Canon in C Major.
Quadrille.
From The Top.

My teacher gave me feedback, that I am more relaxed and commends me for that. I am encouraged to practice more of this, as well as proper posture. Just as well, to play painstakingly SLOW… rather than speed up anything. If I cannot play slowly, I cannot play fast. She cites her own experience in this. I mentioned it has to do with my pride. I urged her to cut this pride down in my, so I can ‘get’ over myself.

The performing pianist will have their ass kicked many times.

Extra Listenings:

For minimalism, the true beauty is found in the simplistic. To strip down the music down to its basis, past decoration or embellishments. A 20th century convention.

In many minimalistic piano pieces, we’ve a clear example of triplets in action–that is, in clear contrast to the standard set of notational values. This is an example of ‘polyrhythm’. Where one hand may be playing triplets, and the other the standard double.

Do not utilize the power from the neck. It comes from the feet.

Whilst playing I simply tell my hands, wrist, and fingers: “No tension, tension does not belong there.” It can go anywhere else it likes, however… never below the shoulders. No. My neck can suffer, I don’t care. Leave my fingers nice and loose. Like noodles.

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