Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lesson 1

The teacher is from New York. She holds a DMA from the Eastman School of Music. She visits Ohio once a month or so. Being the first lesson, she had me play some pieces that I currently play and made some suggestions. The most valuable suggestion was about needing more arm support for my 4th and 5th fingers, especially while playing the Chopin Etude (No. 2, Op. 25). More explanation later. Some of the pieces I played along with the teacher's suggestions:

Bach: Prelude and Fugue in Cm, BWV 847. I only played the Prelude as I hadn't learned the fugue. She played a bit of the fugue for me and suggested I play the eighth notes with articulation and not detached, though the notes had staccato markings on them. I guess it has to do with Baroque interpretation. The sixteenth notes (with the same staccato markings) needed to be more detached. In any case, the pattern used for the opening theme needs to be used for all the subsequent voices. I need to learn this fugue for the next lesson which should be in a month's time from now.

Chopin: Etude No. 2, Op. 25. The main suggestion was that I needed to use my arm a little to move in the direction of the 4th and 5th fingers when these fingers were being employed. This would result in less tension in the lower forearm and below the thumb region. This would also help me get more legato. The way I'm playing now, my hand (along with the 1st and 2nd fingers) maintains its position while the 4th and 5th stretch to play the notes they are supposed to play. Instead, the suggestion is to have the arm/wrist follow the 4th and 5th fingers. I tried it, it works. I'm going to have to work this out slowly with the entire piece. The resulting sound ought to be more legato and lighter than what I produce now. There was also a suggestion to use more flesh on my finger tips to play the keys. I think I play with slightly more pointed fingers now and that most definitely contributes to the slightly harsh (sharp?) tone. So paying attention to that should also help produce a lighter tone. Another important suggestion was to play with slightly higher wrists (again, this probably helps with lightness of touch).

Beethoven: Sonata (Tempest), Mvt I. The only suggestion here was to do the drop roll in the second measure (which I was already doing) but without so much of a flappy wrist. That would help with the accents on the first notes of those eighth notes and having a relatively firm wrist would probably also help being consistent with that accent. I have been asked to learn the third movement and if possible, the second movement too for the next lesson. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to do both. Being in grad school and in a non music related field complicates matters.

Reading: I need to work on my reading skills. The suggestion is to get Music for Millions (red = easy) and practice reading everyday. Take a piece, read through it once at moderate speed. Maybe do the same piece the next day. She also asked me to find my way on the keyboard without having to look at it. So that means, I close my eyes, decide on a note to hit.. search on the keyboard with my hands till I get there, play the note. The most important part though is next: visualize the hand position on the piano as you play the note. Open your eyes now and check if reality matches what you saw in your inner eye. The other idea is to effectively use the "ridges" between keys and all of those physical features in between keys to guide your fingers to the right positions on the keys. Once this becomes second nature, sight reading becomes easier because you no longer have to look down while reading.

I also need to buy the Chopin Preludes and Etudes. The teacher thinks that those etudes would be ideal for me to do right now. I had bought the dover edition book some time ago but I donated it to the music academy back in my hometown. The teacher suggests that I buy the dover publication (which is the Mikuli edition), the same that I had bought earlier. She also likes the Paderewski edition. I didn't read too many favorable reviews of the Mikuli version online. People seemed to prefer the Paderewski edition. Mikuli was a student of Chopin's though and one would think that his edition would be the "better" one. I'm undecided as to which one to get. I might go for the Paderewski one as I managed to find the Mikuli version online (Schirmer) at IMSLP.

I will also work on the Mephisto Waltz No. 3 (a later work of Liszt's) in the near future. So that sums up the first lesson. Please leave a comment if you have a question.