Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to Basics -- Scales

I have to admit, I have been relieved that I haven't had to play scales for a very long time.  Mainly because playing them don't make me feel very good--they sound uneven, the left hand misses lots of notes, etc.

But as I'm practicing the Chopin piano trio, I realized I probably need to get back to practicing some scales.  There are a few passages where the two hands play in parallel motions.  I'm not too happy with my two hands being uneven, and I just realized that they are thirds.

I've never been good at parallel thirds in both hands.  They have never been even.  Maybe that's why thirds, as well as sixths and tenths, are something I haven't played since middle school.  Wow!

My left hand is actually a bit worse than I thought.  The only thing it is consistent in is missing notes... my 2nd finger there isn't very reliable either.  Well, that's kind of annoying, because those are things that can only be fixed through months of practice.  I was hoping I can get away with it now that I'm playing "real pieces"--but sometimes, missing links can come back and bite you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Use Your Imagination--Having a Vision for How to Make Music Sound Good

So I've talked about how I've been working on making musical phrases when playing the piano.  That's coming along quite nicely, at least in the sense that I actually actively think about phrasing now, as opposed to ignoring composers' phrasings marks when I was younger.

Another thing I briefly touched on is having a consistent interpretation of a piece of music.  This is something I need a lot more work on, but until I actually play a few more pieces of music in completion, I'll remain deficient in this regard.  I'm in no rush, of course.

I also mentioned that I need to let music come to me once in a while.  That's tricky, because unless you have good intuition, letting music come to you sometimes means you're churning out madness.  Think of children playing--not the prodigies, of course--say, Mozart's K. 545.  Extreme speed, right?  That is not what you want when I say "letting the music come to you".  It's something that needs to be nurtured, but at the same time, you need to expose your primitive modules of your brain to grow musically.

Today, as I'm listening to the Ax, Frank and Ma's version of Chopin Trio, I am struck by how good it sounds.  I've been a little distracted by the despite wild fluctuations in tempos and some seemingly non-faithless interpretations in my past hearing of their performance, but as I'm being frustrated by my inability to make my piano part sound good, I realize just what caliber of musicians they are.  And I realize, I am been following scores to such a tee that I am hampering my imagination.

Currently, I do have have the vision to be able to create good musical sounds in my head, and perhaps that's why I have so steadfastly remained faithful to the score.  I need to be able to imagine and hear various ways of playing music in my head to actually be artistic and creative--after all, that's what playing music is all about.  It's not about following every last bit of the composer's dynamic and tempo markings.  That's what professors and, gasp, musicologists do.  As an artist, you need to be able to go one step beyond that.  I'm not talking about violating the composers' intents, but turning the music the composers created into pure gold.  Once the composers wrote their music, the music becomes human property, in a sense, and as long as you understand the spirit what the music was written, the dynamic marking and tempos should all come naturally if you have that artistic vision.

And that artistic vision and imagination is what I need to develop.  It kind of encompasses "letting the music come to you", I suppose, because now you're letting the music come to you even when you're not actually making the sounds at the piano.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Letting the Music Come to You

So I've kind of went through the 4 movements of the Chopin Trio, and the few days have been playing something different.  A couple of Scarlatti Sonatas, some Bach Prelude and Fugues, Poulenc Mouvement Perpetual, and also, Chopin Etudes.  Actually, I should say, mostly Chopin Etudes.  Op. 10-5 (Black Key), Op 10-8 (Sunshine?), and Op 10-12 (Revolutionary).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Learning the Chopin Piano Trio -- Part III

The piece is quite a bit more difficult than I had imagined chamber music pieces to be.  Or maybe it's just me not trying to play all the right notes in the past and now I'm trying to?  Either way, this post will be more about technical difficulties I'm encountering as I'm learning the 4th movement of the Chopin Piano Trio.

1) Bar 35.

Chopin Piano Trio, Bar 35-37
  I've been following the fingering suggested by the National Edition, in blue.  I find the D circled in red to be very awkward to play with thumb.  Maybe I should have explored alternate fingerings, but they're all hard in one way or another.
  The Chopin National Edition also suggested using the left hand to play some of the notes, as indicated by the dotted lines.  Those definitely make it easier to play, although the left hand would have to do a lot more jumping around and I have been playing those notes heavier than that right hand, which is bad.

2) Broken 6ths, octaves, 10ths and 11ths
Chopin Piano Trio, Bar 69-70
  This passage is proving itself to be hard.  The 10th and 11th are hard enough as is, and jumping from the F back to the C doesn't help.

3) Big broken chords
Bar 132-136

  The big broken chord in 132 (and 131, not shown) isn't exactly trivial, but the ones in bars 134 and 36 are simply not something I'm used to playing.  Obviously, the 5th and 4th by themselves are easy, but once you combine with the rest of the chord it becomes quite hard to hit all the right notes, unless you have hands like Rachmaninoff.  I've been trying to play them as legato as possible, so I've been using a lot of 4-5 fingerings playing those 5ths and 4ths, but maybe I need to lift and reposition my hand here.  It's probably okay with all the pedaling going on, but it's hard to make it sound even and smooth when you lift your hand.

  This is where it reminds me of Chopin's Op. 10-1 etude.  Only not in the key of C major.

4) Thirds.
Chopin Piano Trio, Bar 168-170
  Well, this actually isn't as bad as I originally thought.  The Chopin National Edition had some weird fingerings that I should have ignored earlier.  Now, for Bar 168, I'm playing (52)-(31)-(42)-(31) and Bar 170 basically the same.  But I haven't quite nailed it down yet.

  I don't know why Jan Ekier suggested for bar 168 (53)-(42)-(31)-(2/3 1) and essentially the same for Bar 170.  (31)-(2/3 1) doesn't work that well for me (2/3 meaning either 2 or 3); and isn't moving the thumb like that the wrong fingering anyway?


Man, I didn't know having to play all the right notes make a piece so much more difficult.

There are a bunch of other things that are hard, mostly bringing some of the polyphonic stuff in the piano part.  For the time being, I'm thinking the strings will detract attention enough so while I'm paying some attention to them, I'll try not to spend too much time worrying about that for now.