Sunday, January 8, 2006

Piano Practice

This is an introductory practicing post, for any new people out there.

I am an amateur pianist (amateur in the good sense ... I hope). I love to play, and I minored in music in college, but I never pursued music as a career. Actually, I never technically completed the music minor because of "issues" my senior year that forced me to withdraw from school for a semester. But that's another story.

I started playing by ear when I was four, and I started taking lessons when I was six. I took lessons all through school, then went on to take lessons in college as well. I've taken lessons on and off since grad school, but I've moved around so much and maintained such a busy schedule, that piano pretty much stayed on the back burner for a decade. I've been through about 15 piano teachers, and my piano-practicing history has at times been very focused and regimented, and at other times been non-existent. In other words, it's been spotty.

I have no dreams of being a concert pianist, competing as an "adult amateur," or even giving a recital, but at the same time, I do have high standards and am a bit of a perfectionist. I take great joy in practicing a piece until I can play it as "perfectly" as I'm capable. I love to practice.

When I met my current piano teacher, Dr. Deborah Belcher, I told her that I wanted to start working hard on piano--the way I did when I was in college. I haven't quite been able to do that, but I've definitely spent more time practicing and playing in the last two years than I have in the last ten. I had to re-learn a lot of things, and un-learn even more, and lessons have been a struggle. They've also been rewarding, though. So far, I've learned these pieces:

Bach, Invention in A minor
Bach, Invention in A major
Bach, Sinfonia in Eb Major
Bach, Sinfonia in G minor
Mozart, Fantasie in D minor
Dett, "Juba"
Chopin, Nocturne in Bb minor (Op. 9, No. 1)
... and a few other things

I'm currently working on Suzuki Book 2 (don't ask) and Bach's Sinfonia No. 15 in B minor.

I know that doesn't seem like much for two years of playing. Progress has been slow because I'm an adult who works full time and really has to make time for practicing. It will continue to be slow, but that's OK with me. I just love being able to play.

I've made a new year's resolution to practice more. My practicing has really suffered ever since I started teaching school. That must change. God has given me a gift for music, and I feel like I have an obligation to keep working at it.

I'll be updating this post periodically as I log my practice times. I don't have very many readers anymore, so I'm not going to try the "practice pact" thing. However, if you are interested and want to log your own practice hours in the comments, that would be great. Anything to help folks get back on track with their practicing!

Saturday, Jan. 7: Practiced for 1.5 hours. I've been listening to different pianists' versions of the G minor sinfonia and trying their versions on my own. Glenn Gould's version is very slow and romantic sounding, and Wanda Landowska uses so much ornamentation. Angela Hewitt sounds very business-like and has very little ornamentation, other than what's already written in the music. I can't remember the others ... I have about five different versions.

How do pianists know when it's "okay" to add a trill or a mordent or any of the other little ornaments that you play in Baroque music? I'd love to just add things when they "feel" right, but I don't want to be overly romantic or untrue to what someone in Bach's era might have played. It's something to ask Deborah ... or any of you readers, if you know the answer.

I'm not really supposed to be practicing the G minor sinfonia. Technically, I "graduated" from the piece a couple of weeks ago, but I'm not happy with it yet. It sounds beautiful, but I have the feeling that there is something more to it, something I'm not getting ... something that will make it transcendent. Not that I'm such a great pianist or anything ... I just feel like there is still treasure waiting to be found.

What I'm supposed to be practicing is the B minor sinfonia. And I actually did practice it for a long time yesterday. By the end of yesterday's practice, I had the first page, hands together, sounding pretty good (at a slow pace, of course). It's fun, though it doesn't have the haunting beauty that keeps luring me back to the G minor piece.

January 8: Practiced for 1 hour. I got up early to practice the praise music for church. When I finished that, I had plenty of time left for my beloved, bejowled, and bewigged one. I played through the G minor a couple of times, experimenting with adding different ornaments on my own, but then I really got down and dirty with practicing the B minor. There is one measure at the bottom of the first page, and it just didn't feel ... comfortable. So I drilled the heck out of it for a while, then practiced playing that first page, hands together. It came back quickly, and I was happy about that.

My plans for the next few days are to work on the next (and last) two pages of the B minor. The first page is really the trickiest (other than one section at the bottom of the second page, which I've already learned). Now that I've gotten the hang of it, I think the next pages will be a little easier for me to learn.

Whew. That was a long post. Again, if you're a reader and amateur musician and would like to post your practice minutes and comments about your practices, I invite you to do so in the comments to this post. You can also click the link under the piano icon in my sidebar, and it will bring you here.

Monday, January 9: 15 very focused minutes on three measures of the Bach Sinfonia in B minor. That's all I had time for, but I actually got a lot done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where did you find the recordings of the Bach Sinfonia in B minor BWV 801? I am also working on that - for an exam, actually. I also am an adult getting back into taking piano lessons after raising my kids and putting them through piano/violin lessons. I don't work outside the home, but I have a large acreage and animal chores outside, as well as a huge garden, so my practice time is sometimes difficult to find, as well. The technique is the killer for me, especially since I am working towards an exam. I'd like to hear those versions of the Sinfonia #15 to compare my work.

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