Ear training is a vital skill for every musician. It is important to be able to recognise chords, name intervals, and cadences. I have no proms with this except with major sixths and minor sixths. Those 2 intervals are horrid to remember, and try as I might, I still have trouble remembering the difference between the 2.
I’d tried all sorts of ways. First, there’s the “name that tune” method. This requires that you learn a tune for every interval. I found this time consuming and frankly I couldn’t remember them all. I found I wasted time searching my memory for the tune that matched the interval. The process would go like this for me… Hear the interval, remember the tune it sounds like, remember the name of the tune, then state the interval. Way too time consuming for me!
Then there’s the chord method. Quite often, when I hear an interval, I don’t just hear the notes of the interval. This is where perfect pitch can become a curse. It’s a great skill that God has blessed me with, but has its quirks. When I hear a interval like g to e, I think to myself it’s an e minor first inversion. It’s so automatic I can’t seem to stop it.
The method I have decided to try to learn those pesty intervals is the “logical process of elimination” method. That is, using the chromatic scale to work out the intervals. I’d thought and thought about this and realised tonight that minor always precedes major. Therefore, a minor 6? is a semitone or half step above a perperfect 5?, and a major 6? is a tone or whole step above a perfect 5?. Now all I need to do is get this firmly planted in to my brain.
Playing the piano is a very physical activity, more than a lot of people realise. I have to remind myself and work on constantly relaxing and playing with no tension. There are a variety of factors that can affect the quality of my playing. One of the biggest is the variation in temperature. On a cold day like today, and the fact that I am just over the flu, my hands were freezing! Even after trying to warm up for half an hour, my hands were cold. They felt like ice blocks but sweaty at the same time. So on the one hand, my fingers felt frozen in place and weren’t moving freely, and also they felt really sweaty so they kept sliding off the keys. Very frustrating when playing a fast Bach fugue, or scales. I think I will need to take a hot water bottle, or a rag for the sweat. It was a real pain.
This brings me to another point. Every piano is different, and somehow working out which type of piano you have in a few moments can be a challenge. You can usually tell by the tone what it’s going to be like. If it’s out of tune, which is like a cat howling, then chances are there will be sticking keys, and some keys will require less movement to depress than others. If you have a nice bright sounding piano, it could be technique brilliant to play, but for me slow movements just don’t really sing on those. I like the mellow sounds pianos the best. I think part of it is personality though.
Yesterday, I got ill and missed practice, and with 3 weeks until my grade 8 exam, it’s not good to miss to much practice. To help me not lose any ground, I did a few things.
I took the e flat minor arpeggio and imagined myself playing it in my mind. Not just the notes in my head, but the physical act of playing the notes, the stretch of the fingers, every thing I could. Also, I played the Bach fugue extremely slowly in my mind, and used my fingers to tap rhythms for the hard parts.
I have also discovered that you should move your hand to the next note not before you play the note, but as you are playing it. Not sure how to explain this yet, but it has helped my with accuracy.
Tonight I performed at our local church cafe. It went well, even though I was quite unprepared.
It has been about 4 years since I played my casio keyboard. It’s a 6 octave, touch sensitive keyboard with non weighted keys. The experience was quite strange. I found phrasing really difficult, and I missed the variety of tones colours I can get on a piano. I missed the fact that I can’t bring out the voices conn the music any where near as well as I can with a piano. Playing the pedal was like having full sustain, no half pedal is possible, resulting in blurring at times. The keys seemed really shallow rather than nice and heavy and springy. I’ll take the piano any day.
I’d spent most of my practice time working on Mozart. I used the techniques outlined in my last entry, as well as a few others which I will discuss now.
My teacher and I had a discussion about the Mozart during my lesson on Monday. I left wondering what he was talking about, because I just couldn’t pick what he was talking about. Every thing seemed to sound fine to me. He suggested recording myself playing it, and if necessary compare it to other recordings online.
Last night I recorded it, and I was quite shocked at what I heard. If you want a really good critical look at your playing, record yourself. You will hear every thing in all it’s true colours. I found myself with heaps to work on.
Another technique I used today extensively is slow practice. I’m talking about something that is so slow, and can hardly stand to play it, because it’s so slow. But it helps develop muscle memory, accurate note playing and in combined with rhythms helps increase the tempo. It also makes you stop and listen to the tone you are producing, the loudness of the sound, the evenness of the passage.
I am currently perfecting the Mozart Sonata k331 first movement and I have recorded it tonight. Here is what I need to work on: Creating a more mellow tone rather than a harsh one.
The 2 against 3 in variation 2.
Sort sort of contrast in variation 1.
Contrast in variation 3… It’s in a minor key, so needs to be different!
The melody needs to come out more in variation 4; That’s the one where the hands cross.
And of course, variation 6 needs to be bought up to tempo. Also, the twills in general need work, but not sure how to perfect those. One good thing I noticed was the lyrical playing in variation 5.
One of the most important things about learning any instrument is effective practice. Mindlessly playing the same passage over and over again, or playing the same mistakes over and over again can actually hinder progress. I used to do this for years, until I learnt some more effective ways to practice. That, I will discuss just a few things that I’d found to work well. The practice technique I use most is rhythms. My teacher at music school had me do this, and I recently rediscovered it with my current teacher. What you do is take a passage that is really give you trouble. Something like a fast passage in the last variation of the first movement of the Mozart k311 sonata. I’d even done this the dominant 7 and arpeggios. First I break the passage in to sections of 2 or 4 bars. Then I play it first with a dotted quarter eighth rhythm, after 4 or 5 times, the other way around. I do this until I can play it correct both ways. Then I play the passage in triplets. After I can play it like this, I play it as written and notice the huge difference. Another thing I do is accents. I do this mainly with arpeggios to increase the tempo. First, I play the arpeggio making sure to play it in 4 beats per bar. It can be hard at first, because it’s natural to play it with 3 beats per bar. But I’d found playing it with 4 beats per bar makes them sound more even. Accent the first beat of every 4. Then accent the second beat, then the third beat and then the fourth beat. Then play it as normal 4 beats per bars with no accents. I was surprised just how well this method works.