People have a general misconception about classical music.
“It’s for the elite.” (“high-class”).
“It’s old. Who wants to listen to that?”
“I don’t understand it.”
“I don’t play an instrument, so I don’t get it.”
Classical music is just another music genre, like jazz, hip hop, rock, pop, world.
Of course, in the hearts of “classical people” – meaning the classical musicians and connoisseurs, classical music is “unique”, “pristine”, even “sacred”, like the untouchable.
I like to think there is something special with classical music of course, with my own background of years of classical music training and study. Even I like many kinds of music, classical music does have a special place in my heart, there’s no doubt about it. But I also like to share with people who are interested in learning and listening to it more, because there’s nothing “scary” or “boring” about classical music at all. In fact, once you get a hang of it, you would start to be able to appreciate it more and bathe and rejoice in the beauty of it, that I can assure you of.
Now, where do we start?
Let’s start from singing.
Who doesn’t like to sing? Who can’t appreciate a good singing voice, even one thinks they cannot sing?
I enjoy listening to vocal music, be it solo or choral. I am quite inclined to listening to choral music though -perhaps due to my training as a choral conductor – from a cappella to chorus with a full on orchestra. My favorite choral music would be gregorian chant and mass, then followed by some beautifully harmonised “modern”choral songs.
Now how do you listen to the music here?
- listen with your mind open – forget about what kind of music it is. Just listen and feel. And ask yourself, “do we like it? why?”
- find out more about the music – google it, who wrote it? who sang it? is there any story to the music/about the composer – there’s always some story, at least if there’s lyrics, you can appreciate the words.
- if you know how to play an instrument and understand some music theory, then you can find out some basic structural information about the piece. Or simply, listen to the ebbs and flows of the music. Or, if there’s more than one instrument, can you hear what’s there? How do the different instrumentation come together, and how do they interact with each other?
So here are some of my favorite, please enjoy:
First, some good old fashioned piano solo music, everyone’s favorite! : s famous nocturnes by Chopin:
Now, some choral music with piano accompaniment, some more harmonized, easy listening and “modern”:
And here is some unaccompanied (“a cappella”) mass, it’s for me very healing and almost spiritual experience listening to this kind of music:
If anyone wants me to talk about these genres, like the background and things like that, I am happy to write about them in the future. Just send me a message and let me know!
Much blessings in music,
Do you want to play scales faster? Do you have a problem with arpeggios? Are you preparing for your graded exam in April/May? Do you want some advice for your ATCL/DipABRSM exam preparation?
Now it’s the time to contact me!
I offer a one-off consultation session for any non-students of mine. So whether you are piano students preparing for your graded exam, or improve your basic piano skills, or you are piano teachers helping your students to be successful in their exams, I welcome you.
This service can be provided in person at my studio or via skype.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for scheduling and more details.
This is a studio recording of Chopin’s C# minor Nocturne I did in the States. Enjoy!
(中文) Teresa Wong plays Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor op. posth.
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.
內在旋律線為甚麼這樣重要？因為它們組成了樂曲的必要元素。當我們忽視樂曲中的一部分，就不能充分表現它的內容。以拼圖為例，一幅50塊的拼圖只拼合了30塊，我們看到的會是甚麼呢？當然只是整幅圖畫的一部分，儘管是很大的部分。另一個例子是填充題。還記得小時候學習英文文法時那些填上詞語來完成句子的練習嗎？內在旋律線就是那些不見了的字。I _ _ going to _ _ _ mus_ _ m on _ _ _ day.（有時甚至是不見了的字母。）它們只是方程式的一部分，來幫助表演者和聽眾從整體上理解一篇樂曲。
Teresa Wong plays Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 24 No.2.
Teresa Wong plays Chopin’s Mazurka Op. 17 No.4.
A historical recording: Chopin’s Prelude Op.28 No. 15 in Db major (“Raindrop”) played by Ferruccio Busoni (“Duo-Art Reproducing Piano Roll #033” – how rare!).
Most appropriate for rainy days (or a rainy night such as tonight)..
On Preparation of the dipABRSM Viva Voce Section
More on dipABRSM Viva Voce
Thank you reader Alicia for her provision of the following questions from her recent DipABRSM exam. I really appreciate her input in this. As she mentioned that she learnt quite a lot from my site for her preparation of the exam and sent me an email with such useful information below, I hope you all find this equally useful and would in return send me what you got in your exams! Let’s share and help each other out here!
1. Debussy – La Plus que Lente
You mentioned in your program notes that Debussy was influenced by Javanese Gamelan & French Symbolist Movements. Can you explain how did these Javanese Gamelan & French Symbolist Movements influence Debussy?
What does “en serrant” mean? (it’s a tempo marking indicated in the music score which means gradually getting quicker)
2. Chopin – Nocturne Op. 62 No. 2
You mentioned in your program notes that this nocturne was not very much appreciated by the public by the time it was published. Can you explain why?
Do you notice any canon pattern in this nocturne?
3. Beethoven – Piano Sonata Op. 13 (Pathetique Sonata)
How do you interpret a piece of music?
Was the piano of Beethoven’s time similar to modern piano?
Can you point out the sections of the 1st movement? (basically is pointing out which are the introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation) What key is the recapitulation 2nd subject?
In the 2nd movement, which part of it is in dissonant harmony? (as mentioned in the program notes)
What were your considerations for choosing your program?
Is there any burning issues that you would like to ask about?
To read more:
ABRSM Diplomas: Written Submissions
DipABRSM: Examples of Viva-Voce Questions
Viva Voce: What it is & how to prepare for it (II)
Viva Voce: What It Is & How To Prepare For It (I)