These days I have been giving this simple guidance to my students. Whenever they get stuck in their practice, they must ask themselves, “is it technical or musical?”
Technical Command means two things : 1. appropriate application of technique, and 2. sufficient command of the technique applied.
For TC 1, you must find which technical application you need to execute that certain passage, is it more of a forearm rotation or an upperarm rotation? Is it the palm grip or knuckle issue? Or are your fingers not close enough on the keys before execution? Etc etc. Or for TC 2, you have the right technical application but you have trouble in making it happen with solid control, then how are you going to fix it? Is it just about slow practice that magnifies the movement? Or is it a preparation problem, meaning you don’t prepare your hand position early enough prior to the execution of the pattern in question?
Musical Knowledge on the other hand, includes : 1. harmonic and structural analysis of the music (form, sections, phrasing, tonality, key changes, chord progression, notes: chord tones and non-chord tones, and relationships between notes i.e. intervals etc) , 2. historical background of the music (genre, the composer, and the period – other genres, philosophy, aesthetics, and other arts e.g. literature), and 3. interpretation resulted from the understanding of both 1 and 2.
I would point out MK 1 is what most need for the basic interpretation for MK 3. Without 1 there is no basis and knowledge as to where one’s performance interpretation and discretion arises from. How do you know what to do with that particular phrase or chord or note in terms of emphasis, articulation and dynamics? What do you feel and how do you present it and what is the difference when there is a minor 6th but not minor 3rd, or even, and augmented 5th? Of course, now I am pointing out a very small detail here, but always, especially when you have little experience in analyzing the music, start with something big. You start with bigger sections, then find out where each phrase starts and ends, and also the repeated /similar patterns in terms of melody and rhythm. Look for the chords especially some special sounding ones, and the cadences which define the keys and key changes. Where are the secondary dominants? The pedal points?
Let me discuss further in the next post. I think there is already a lot to digest for now. Always one step at a time.
Recently I am trying to explore more on how to bring students’ attention towards engaging their bodies in the playing.
What do I mean by “body awareness”?
In piano playing, especially in the initial stage of the learning process, many teachers and students place their focus on the fingers and hand shape etc. It is not wrong, and in fact it is quintessential that one should have proper finger stand, in addition to a firm hand grip and right control of the palm muscles. Yet, without the incorporation of the whole body and the energy transfer from it, one’s playing is to a certain extent limited.
In this video, I show briefly how you can start incorporating some body movement into your playing. It is of utmost importance that one should feel free and movable (as opposed to being rigid) at the piano.
Cheers and until next time,
P.S. Please give me some comments on the video and/or any other related videos/posts as I have recently received quite some positive feedback on videos especially regarding this topic, thank you.
Due to popular demand, I am now officially offering online lessons to anyone anywhere in the world who cannot reach me locally. I already have students around Asia region, regarding topics on ABRSM / Trinity diploma exams. Look forward to connecting to more of you!
I am also re-launching my consultation lessons – they are basically those I have been conducting in “piano clinic“. You can come in for one-off session in which I address any issues you have regarding technical issue, musical expression, structural analysis, historical musical knowledge and understanding, performance practice, or anything concerning your preparation for diploma level exams (viva voce and quick study, program notes) and interview/audition for local and overseas summer schools/music institutes/colleges/universities. It would be useful for teachers who have questions over their teaching and playing technique as well. Interested parties please contact me through email@example.com.
Thank you for your attention.