Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Piano/Composition Update

Welp, my poor musical life ground to a halt over the Thanksgiving holidays. I was able to access a piano on Thanksgiving Day, but didn't get to practice again until late Sunday night, after we got home from Myrtle Beach. So I wasn't expecting a particularly good practice yesterday.

Turns out it wasn't so bad. I'd learned three more of the Suzuki pieces by ear, and Deborah was happy about that. Apparently, playing by ear is easier for me than it is for a lot of people. I guess I knew that, since I've been playing things by ear since the age of 4. Dan thinks my play-by-ear ability may be partly because I'm so deaf and am used to concentrating really, really hard on hearing things. I don't know. I'm just glad I have the ability.

Yesterday's lesson went very well. I have all of Suzuki Volume 1 down pat, except for the final little song, which I learned last night after cleaning our "Christmas tree room," a.k.a. the dusty sunroom that we rarely enter. Now, these Suzuki pieces are what I call "kiddie pieces"--stuff like "Lightly Row" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The goal is to listen to the recording and be able to play the piece, note for note, yourself. It takes me about five minutes to learn a piece, since they're pretty basic--no weird chords, simple melody lines, etc. From there, my goal is to play them as beautifully as humanly possible. To view them as a suite, expressing a different "personality" in each little song. To interpret them. So that's kind of fun. I'm working on technique at the most basic level, from sustaining repeated notes, to making the right hand sing to the left-hand accompaniment (and vice-versa), to imparting "personality" to very basic, simple pieces. If I can make "Lightly Row" sing, imagine what I might do with a Beethoven sonata!

So, that's the concept. My Mozart Fantasie in D Minor is sounding better. It's a very satisfying piece. On the surface, it's not the most difficult piece in the world (though it does have its moments). Technically, parts of it are actually quite simple--on the surface. But when you get into the deeper structures, it becomes much more difficult. Of course, I love getting into the deeper structures. That's why the piece is so satisfying.

The Dett isn't happening yet. Lately, the focus has been on Suzuki and Mozart. We have group class on Friday, at which I'll play both. Hopefully, a graduation from Suzuki Volume 1 is just around the corner. Once I've moved on from that, I'll be able to devote more time to the Dett.

Scales have been giving me a problem. Apparently, I play too much with my fingers and not enough with my arm. My fingers look like little centipede legs furiously working their way down the keyboard, even though I'm not playing the scales particularly fast. When Deborah plays them, her fingers glide. Her scales are a stroke, a motion. Mine have all the grace of a three-legged race. She says to "play with my arm," but I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the concept. I'm sure it's very simple ... and I fear this is one of those "bad habits" I've picked up after years of not studying piano seriously. But I'm not going to give up. One of these days, the graceful scales will happen. I just need to keep working at them.

Composition ... sigh. Poor composition and theory have seriously been on the back burner these past few weeks. It has been very frustrating because my mind is still spinning out musical ideas, but they keep getting squeezed out and stomped on by life's other little responsibilities. So I just keep feeding my mind a good diet of Bach so I can get those miraculous harmonic structures hard-wired into my psyche. Kind of like getting good grammar hard-wired in preparation for becoming a writer.

I'm (supposed to be) working on creating melodies. Melodies! Isn't it really sad that, just when I get to the point of writing MELODIES for my composition exercises, I suddenly become so busy that I can't seem to fit in five minutes of composition edgewise anywhere?

Is it possible that I'm scared to move on? That I'm subconsciously putting it off? Perish the thought. But it is certainly a thought worth considering. It wouldn't be the first time I've backed shyly away from something shining and grand. It's only melody-writing, but still ... for me, that is something shining and grand.

Tonight, I need to work on piano and my Precepts study. Somehow, somehow, I need to fit in composition. Oh geez, and it's poetry night, too. There go two hours of my piano/Precepts/composition time. Piano will take an hour, and Precepts three hours ...

So. According to my calculations, I can work on composition between midnight and 2 a.m. Or put it off (again) until tomorrow.

Phooey. I hate to calculate. But I love music theory. So hopefully I'll fit it in somehow.


oceanskies79 said...

Hi Waterfall, a short message to cheer you on!

You wrote about playing too much with your fingers and not enough with your arm. Somehow, I wonder if it would help to think of the concept of "arm weight". I'm not a pianist, but I remember how often my conductor (a strings player) would remind us string players to use more "arm weight".
"Arm weight" is like when you place one of your arms on a stand, and if you were to remove the stand suddenly, the arm will fall naturally with the force of gravity. Not sure if this might help a piano player though.... Anyway, warm wishes.

Waterfall said...

Hi Oceanskies, thanks for the advice! My piano teacher has similar advice, and I do try to think of my arms as being "weighted." Sometimes this seems to work, and then sometimes my centipede-like fingers just feel like they're carrying the burden of my arms.

I think the concept applies to piano as well as strings. Deborah is constantly telling me to relax my arms and elbows and "play from my upper arms." I think it's probably just a matter of practice. Hopefully one day it will become more natural for me.

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