Saturday, May 26, 2012

Part Playing

The ability to hold one finger down while playing others in the same hand is challenging for students at first, but with some preparatory drills, the difficulties can be overcome.  Second year literature frequently contains passages requiring application of this technique.

Proper phrasing (down-up wrist motion) should be employed, and both parts should be released at the same time on the count with an upward wrist motion.

Numerous second and third year pieces require the mechanics of holding one finger while playing others in the same hand.  For example, one note in the right hand must be sustained while playing from the second part to an entirely new note using another finger.  One instance of this might be an interval of a 4th played by a 2-5 in the right hand, sustaining the 2 and dropping into a 4, then dropping smoothly into a 1-3 without lifting.  These two problems can be solved with concentration and practice.

For more information about piano lessons in Bernardsville, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Dynamic Shadings

First year piano students really don't have adequate control over their fingers to spend much time shaping melodies using more sophisticated dynamic colorings.  But, within the second year some work should be done to create a more singing line and include dynamic shadings.  Repertoire and sight-reading materials studied will provide increasingly more sophisticated dynamic shadings.  Students should also be given a few exercises for crescendos and descrescendos within a phrase.

Phrasing, legato and staccato, balance between hands and dynamic shadings should be included in the repertoire at this juncture.  Melody should "sing" over the accompaniment.  When a melody is a sequence (repeated melodic motive) it should become slightly louder as it ascends (dynamic shading).  It is important to point out these features to students before they begin to practice the pieces, as it will help to avoid one week of incorrect practice.

Careful adherence to correct application of phrasing, legato, staccato, and balancing the hands with dynamic shadings will produce a musical sounding performance.

For more information about piano classes Bedminster, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Phrasing Technique for Piano

Good phrasing technique does not come easily and naturally, even to gifted students. Piano teachers constantly must show students how to drop on the beginning of a phrase and lift the wrist at the conclusion of the phrase. The result is a musical sound that is something like taking a breath in singing.

To teach phrasing, begin with short slurred groupings. Piano instruction should include a "down-up" wrist movement. The down movement is on the first note (usually the strong beat) and the up movement is on the last note (often a weak beat). Second year students will find a variety of phrases which will include a combination of slurred and staccato groups.

Sometimes it helps for the student to verbalize or say out loud the phrasing: "down-up" for surs, and "up" for staccato notes. By saying the phrasing aloud the student will become aware of the correct hand motion for each technique.

Because of the complexity of hand motions and coordination problems in a piece that combines staccato with phrasing, the difficulty of such a combination is usually late second year or third year for students. Compositions of this type are excellent pre-literature studies for teaching various motions of piano technique. Piano teachers should assign a number of pieces like this before and even during the time standard piano literature is being assigned.

In combination studies, each hand should be studied independently (hands separate). By saying the phrasing in each hand, the student can begin to acquire the needed skills and feeling for the correct interpretation of these basics. Depending on the piece, it is possible to combine some counting with phrasing (down-up). Be sure the student phrases (lifts) both hands together when both treble and bass end on a phrase. The release of both hands should be simultaneous just like the individual voices in a choir.

The ability to play one hand staccato and the other legato simultaneously becomes increasingly more important for the correct performance of pre-literature pieces and some of the easier classical pieces. The main difficulty for students when first combining these two touches is coordination. Both hands "want" to do the same thing at the same time, and each hand must be trained to function independently.

For more information about piano lessons Millington, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Year Piano Lessons

Most second year piano students are over the hurdles of absolute basics and are ready for more challenging repertoire and expanded technique and theory. Most average or better second year students will be ready for easy classical repertoire near the end of the second year of piano classes. But younger students, or those with less ability, may not be ready for serious literature until the third year of lessons.

There's no need to rush into music by master composers just for the sake of getting there. Students would be much better prepared to begin easy sonatinas, Bach minuets, etc. Some teachers assign difficult music too soon. Students should be allowed to develop naturally and gradually from level to level with sufficient material at each level for reinforcement. The result of assigning difficult music too soon is a general breakdown in the natural development process.

A student introduced to difficult compositions too soon will spend months on the piece trying to perfect the complexities with which he is not ready to cope at this time. Difficult music can be learned at an early time, but at the sacrifice of learning a great deal of progressive, graded material which would insure a solid background in reading and general learning comprehension, rather than a kind of rote learning. Rote teaching at this level is not advisable, and teachers should not push the student's fingers down and spoon feed them pieces note by note. If a student is ready for pieces by master composers he should be able to figure them out mostly on his own, and not be led on, coached all the way by the teacher.

It usually takes about two full years of lessons to build a solid background to the point where a student would be able to play most of the pieces contained in easy classical collections. Repertoire such as elementary sonatinas, easy repertoire collections, etc., are best for third year students.

The performance of easy classical music by children sounds most convincing when the student has developed basic techniques sufficiently to present these works as the composers intended them to sound. The mechanics of hand coordination, phrasing, delineation of linear line, gradation of dynamics, etc. must be at a sufficient level to play these pieces musically. Only with correct and careful practice will students begin to develop the equipment that is necessary for projecting the style and mood when performing miniature master works. Suggestions include:

1. Hands separate practice
2. Slow practice
3. Paying careful attention to the correct fingering
4. Using the correct hand motions needed for phrasing
5. Tapping one hand or foot like a metronome while playing the other hand
6. Using a metronome while practicing

For more information about how to learn piano in the Bernardsville area, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Minor Chords and Five Finger Positions

Minor finger positions and minor chords can be related to the major keys that the student has already learned. To create the five finger position for the minor or minor chord, begin with the major position and move the middle finger (degree 3) down the nearest key (one semi-tone/half-step). The nearest key can be either black or white.

Have the piano student practice parallel major and minor chords in various rhythms. When changing chords he should not look down at the keyboard. He should form a mental picture of the chord shape and arrange his fingers this way.

Optimally, each new class in theory should be accompanied by ear training drills. Use ear training games to distinguish between major and minor tonality. At first the student can sing the tones while the piano teacher plays minor positions or chords. Emphasize the minor third. Next have the student listen to a chord and tell if it is a major or minor. Lastly, play several chords in a row (major, minor, minor, major) all in the same key, and have the student ascertain what was played. Later, play the same pattern, but change the first tone of each chord (CM Am Gm EM).

The student can then create little tunes based on major and minor scale fragments and their chords.

For more information about piano instruction in Basking Ridge, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.