Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 34: A Brief Hiatus

I am entertaining guests from out of town for a few days, so I am taking a brief break in practicing Notturno and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. If you have recently started reading my blog, please take a moment to go read the first couple of posts to get a better idea of what I am doing here! I am making great progress and expect to be moving on to another piece of music by the middle of next week.  It would have probably been Monday, but with the slight break here this weekend, I expect that to be more like Wednesday.  Still way ahead of schedule.  I will probably take a few days between Notturno and the next piece to practice a couple of rough spots in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that still persist.  More about my progress and what I'm going to focus on next on Monday!  I also expect to start practicing on a real piano next week, so stay-tuned for that!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 31: Some Additional Notation of Note in Notturno

Like I mentioned the other day, the first 33 measures of Notturno have returned to memory with relative ease.  Measures 34 through 43 are the same as measures 1 through 10, so I essentially have 43 of 63 measures under my belt.  I got a surprise bonus this morning, though.  Occasionally, bits and pieces come back to me without practicing.  The five measures from 44 through 48 just rolled off my fingers this morning!  Now, for some additional notation I would like to introduce you to.

Poco a poco means "little by little."  It is a common qualifier and means that this section is to build and build, little by little.

Molto means "much" or "very" and is another common qualifier.  Whereas previously the notation called for poco a poco in building the intensity, molto now commands a quick building of intensity.

Dim. sempre or diminutive sempre literally means "always small."  Also note here the vertical squiggly lines. This means that the notes should be rolled or played in order from the bottom most bass note to the top most treble note, quickly of course.   

The horizontal squiggly line here preceded by the tr means it is a trill.  I believe I already covered this elsewhere.  I wanted to draw attention to the "8" here coupled with what looks like a backwards long-division sign.  This means that these notes are to be played an octave higher than they are written. That is your musical notation lesson for the day!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 29: Half Way There Already!

33 out of 63 measures of Notturno are now back in memory! There are a few parts of the first 20 measures that need to be ironed out still, but the thing that puts the biggest smile on my face is the middle 13 measures.  I never played it cleanly when I first played it.  I play it perfectly now.  I get the biggest smile on my face when I get to this part now!  I'm looking forward to maybe wrapping up Notturno by no later than five more days from now.  That would give me about a 26 day reserve for the remaining pieces which I predict I will very much need.

The only question that remains is: Should I go ahead an learn a new Grieg piece when I'm done with Notturno or should I wait until I have re-learned all my old pieces before tackling the new ones?  Also, for the sake of symmetry, I am thinking about learning two Joplin pieces so then I would have three pieces by each composers.  How does that sound?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day 26: Runs in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen

I practiced some runs in the left hand that have been giving me some trouble in WDAT this morning.  They are flowing much better now.  I will come back to them this afternoon and again in the morning to firm them up in my memory.

The 13 measures that make up the middle of Notturno are now safely back in my memory.  Not quite to tempo yet, but they're there.  That now leaves the first 20 measures and the remaining 30 measures (which are comprised partially of the first 20 measures) to tackle.

I had some technical difficulties with uploading a couple of videos yesterday to Youtube.  Both videos froze during the upload each time I tried.  I tried again just now and had the same issue.  I've experienced this once before.  I'll just have to try again later today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 24: Videos Made...

Videos have been made, both of the entire WDAT, but also of what I can remember of Notturno.  The only problem is that the angle I took the video from shows a lot of the top of my head and not the middle of the keyboard.  I'll have to drag a coffee table in there and set the tripod on top of that to get a better shot.  So, take two is being made in a little while.

Nocturne [nok-turn] (Noun)  Music.
1. A piece appropriate to the night or evening
2. An instrumental composition of a dreamy or pensive character

Oh how Notturno, or Nocturne, truly captures this dreamy or pensive character!  It is almost like I can envision a night-scape being painted as I listen to this music ebb and flow thoughout.  Not quite so much like Debussy's Clair de Lune, but it still works a lot like that.  Like WDAT, Notturno also has three parts: A beginning and end that are very similar and a middle section that is very different (a bit faster and more technically challenging). So, as I begin to re-learn this piece, I will start in the middle like I did with WDAT.

There are some important musical notations that I would like to briefly define for you in this piece.

Andante means "at a walking pace."  This is somewhere between 76 and 108 beats per minute.  You'll also notice here that the first part of this piece is in 9/8 time.  That means there are nine beats per measure and an eighth note gets one count (or beat).

This is the beginning of the middle section of Notturno and it is set in a different time signature, 6/8 time.  That means there are now six beats to a measure and an eighth note gets one count (or beat).  Also note that the music says "Piu mosso."  This means "more movement" or "faster." 

Lastly, in this middle section there are a couple of trills.  These are denoted by a "tr" and followed by a squiggly line to indicate approximately how long the trill should last.  A trill is when you play two alternating notes very quickly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 23: Notturno

Today, I began working on Notturno, Op. 54, No. 4, by Edvard Grieg.  Notturno, or Nocturne, is one of the more popular pieces of Grieg's Lyric Pieces.  It is sort of the one-stop-shop for many different techniques such as hand-crossing, cross-rhythms of triplets against doublets, and multiple voices in one hand, among others.  I managed to play approximately 20% of the piece from memory.  I can play the entire piece still if I have the music in front of me.  Since my goal is to re-commit old pieces to memory, this will not do.  I am allotting myself 30 days for this piece as well, although I doubt I need half that time.  This is good, because I still have a few measures in Wedding Day at Troldhaugen that need some improvement.

Speaking of improvement, I had the opportunity to practice on a real piano this past weekend.  There is a vast difference between playing a piece on an electronic keyboard and playing it on an actual piano.  Weighted keys, for instance, make a HUGE difference!  I found myself struggling to play some parts of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen simply because I was used to the fluidity of non-weighted keys.  What I could quickly maneuver through on my electronic keyboard suddenly felt like I was wading through mud.  Well, not quite that bad, but I think you get the picture.  I have scoped out a location for me to go practice on a piano at least a couple of times a week until I can solve the problem of not having a piano here in my house.

I have also managed to set-up a great angle with the massive tripod I procured this past weekend.  I should be making both a video of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen tonight, plus a video of my starting point for Notturno.  I will tweet about the videos when they have been uploaded to Youtube as well as post links on my Facebook page.

One last thing to mention: I have a music theory workbook.  I do need the actual textbook that accompanies it, but may talk-up one of my music major friends locally to see if they have some music theory books I can borrow in the meantime.  I intend to share not only what I learn on my blog, but also what I do actually know.  Believe it or not, I do know a few things.  I couldn't have ever carried off the pieces that I once knew without at least a little knowledge of music theory.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 22: Real Keyboard vs. Electronic Keyboard

OK, I realize that an electronic keyboard is not a replacement for a real keyboard. That fact hit me smack in the face yesterday when I finally sat down at a real piano this past weekend.  I could play WDAT nearly perfect on my Technics keyboard, but had several rough spots when I played through it on the piano.  This means I must find a real piano to practice on at least a couple of times a week.  I think I know where I can use one, so this should not be a problem.

I originally intended to start Notturno today, but I was busy with too many other things and also busy traveling on the road quite a bit.  I will have to get to it tomorrow.  I am actually able to play it pretty well still with the music in front of me, so it probably won't be too difficult to re-commit to memory.

Lastly, I finally managed to get hold of a good tripod to take overhead video of my progress.  I should be able to capture video of WDAT tomorrow and what I can remember of Notturno (which isn't a whole lot).  Oh yeah, I also would like to mention that I DO have a music theory workbook in hand now and can at least start that portion of the project this week as well!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day 20: Moving On Soon...

I still have about five measures in WDAT that are shaky and a couple of more that are a little weak.  The only cure for that is practice, practice, and more practice! I have some weekend plans that may interfere with mastery of WDAT this weekend.  Regardless of whether it is mastered or not this weekend, I will be digging into Notturno on Monday.  A little variety helps when practicing something over and over again.

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I think my project should be such that I re-learn these pieces, but also to learn at least one additional piece by each composer: Grieg, Joplin, and Debussy.  Originally, I thought that maybe I should do this after re-learning all my senior recital pieces.  Now I'm thinking that maybe I should learn the additional piece after I re-learn the senior recital pieces.  In other words, after I am done with WDAT and Notturno, I should go ahead and pick a new Grieg piece (with your help).  Does this sound good, or should I just go straight through and put the new pieces after I re-learn the old ones?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 19: Weekend Plans...

I'm staring at a weekend trip that may cause me to not be able to practice like I want to tomorrow and Sunday.  I will take my music with me in the hopes that I get some practice time in.  WDAT (see earlier posts if you are confused as to what I've been practicing) is coming along very nicely.  I have less than ten measures left that are giving me some problems.

I am now in search of a piano in a church somewhere that I might be able to use occasionally.  This is only because the electric piano just doesn't cut it when it comes to touch.  I think I know of a place I can go and someone who will keep my secret (and even maybe be an encourager and much needed critic).  I'll have that conversation soon!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 17: Keyboard Limitations

I am a bit frustrated by the limitations of the electronic keyboard I am using.  It is fine for getting the notes down, but when it comes to playing the widely varying with emotion...with playing at the correct intensity...with playing at the gentleness is just difficult on an electronic piano to properly capture the wide range of emotions of a piece.  The Technics keyboard that I use only has four distinct levels of intensity, so unless I grow a third hand to keep on the volume control to artificially adjust things, pieces don't come across just right.  They still sound good, but they don't sound great.  At least that is my opinion.  So, I need to find a real piano as soon as possible.  Whether it is an upright or a baby grand, does not matter so much to me.  Just as long as the action on it is good.

I am still focused on a small number of measures that are giving me problems.  I have improved quite a bit after practicing this morning.  It looks like I will have a good hour or so later today that will allow me to practice some more.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 16: Left Hand Weakness?

I have broken up those pesky remaining 19 measures or so into much smaller chunks because my left hand just seems to be lagging my right hand through these parts too much.  I will still get there by the end of the week, eight or nine days ahead of my goal for this piece!  I may finally get my hands on a music theory book this weekend and start the other part of my project.

If you're just joining me on my journey, I encourage you to skim through the past two weeks of entries.  I'm still looking for a good tripod to take the overhead video.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day 15: Time Signatures

Things are getting a little easier with those remaining measures that have been giving me some problems.  I still feel confident that I will have this entire piece locked away in memory again by the end of the week.  I am trying to find a tripod that will crank up way over my head so I can get a downward shot of the entire keyboard.  Anyone know a great place to buy tripods?

Now for your dose of music theory.

The time signature denoted here is 2/4 time.  That means there are two beats per measure and a quarter note gets one count (or beat).  Then it logically follows that a half note, which is counted as two beats, occupies an entire measure such as in the picture above.

Common time (denoted by the C above) is also known as 4/4 time.  That means there are four beats to a measure and a quarter note gets one count (or beat).  Also in this picture is the notation "Tempo I."  This is usually used after a passage of music that is at a different tempo than the composition began with.  Once this passage of music is complete, a composer will often note "Tempo I" to let you know that the original tempo called for at the beginning of the composition is in effect again.

Remember forzando?  I can not seem to track down a definition for fffz, but I can imagine that it is like forzando (fz) but with the most sudden emphasis that you can muster.  This is an intense finish to the piece.  The most intense chords in the entire piece.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Word About My Buddy Edvard Grieg

I love Edvard Grieg.  He was a truly gifted composer.  His lyric pieces for piano are among some of the best at capturing the emotion(s) of what he was writing about.  It is almost as if you can close your eyes and see him painting a scene with notes.

The short run down on my man, Edvard Hagerup Grieg (June 15, 1843 - September 4, 1907).  He was a Norwegian composer and pianist of the Romantic period.  He and his wife were barely five feet tall.  He was raised in a musical home and studied in several schools during his youth.  He even attended the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory, which was directed at the time by Ignaz Moscheles.

In June of 1867, he married his first cousin, Nina Hagerup.  The following year, their only child, Alexandra, was born.  She died only a year later from meningitis.  They made their home at Troldhaugen, Norway.

He was responsible for many familiar piano compositions including Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Puck, Butterfly, March of the Trolls, and Berceuse.  In fact, many of Grieg's lyric pieces may be familiar to you from movies and tv shows over the years.  In my opinion, though, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is probably his most recognizable work.  These lyric pieces were composed in the 1890s during his nationalist phase.

Although he was in failing health in 1900, he continued to undertake long concert tours.  He loved the public spotlight and could not stay away from his adoring fans.  He actually passed away suddenly in 1907 getting ready to depart for a concert tour in England.

For a more detailed run-down of EHG, please visit the following websites:

Day 14: Some Problem Areas

Making this journey without a teacher to help can be a bit discouraging at times.  I feel like I just want to give it up sometimes.  One of the biggest reasons why I chose to make this a public experiment was so I wouldn't just quit.  I chose to keep it anonymous, however, so if I failed to get to the level I wanted to in the end, I would not necessarily have to reveal who I am.  So, in a way, you are taking the risk by following me on my journey that I will not get to the top of the mountain.  It is a small risk, given the amount of determination I have in succeeding, but there will be times where I'll feel like I've hit a blizzard on the way up the mountain and need to turn back.  Today, I just feel like the cold is setting in and I'm wussing out.  I have about 19 measures of WDAT that are giving me trouble.  I know that with diligent practice, they will come out just fine.  I'm just getting a little frustrated, that is all.

So, if these 19 measures get ironed out this week, I will have remastered WDAT ahead of the 30 day goal and will then proceed on to Notturno at this point next week!  I'm still working on a set-up for the video camera to capture the whole keyboard.  Please be patient with me, I know it is important to post videos of some of my progress!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 12: More Progress and Notation Remarks

Day 11 sort of fell by the wayside.  That is ok, though, because I need a little break here and there to let things sink in.  I sat down and played, at tempo, those last 17 measures from memory this morning with no mistakes!  Today, I focused on probably the technically most difficult part of WDAT.  It is the few measures that lead up to "The Conversation."  The bass clef is particularly trying on me through this part.  I practiced for about 40 minutes, focusing on the left hand.  I will come back to this later today and practice it some more.  This will take a little longer to master than other parts of WDAT.  I still think I may have this under my belt by the end of next week.  If I do, great!  If not, I will still have time left on my 30 day goal.

Now, for the notation lessons of the day!

The notation fff represents fortissimo.  This is very loud.  As loud as can be played.  The notation fz is forzando.  This is not a notation I see very often.  In fact, of all the pieces I have ever learned, I think this is the only one I have ever seen this notation used in.  Forzando means to play with force.  In other words, these notes are to be played with a sudden emphasis or accent.

Here, we see poco rit. and a tempo.  Poco rit. is shortened from poco ritard and means to play these notes in the first part of the measure a little slower.  A tempo (say ah tempo, not a tempo) means to resume normal speed.  Pick up with the tempo you were playing right before the poco ritard.

Piu means more.  Since it accompanies the notation f for forte (loud), then the intent here is to play this measure "more loud."  As if there were a crescendo, but I believe the intent here is to play this measure a step up from the previous one.  A crescendo would be a gradual build from the previous measure, so I think this is more like jumping the volume up a step instantly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day Ten: Those Extra 17 Measures!

Since the bass clef of the last 17 measures is repetitious, I practiced this section tonight hands together.  There is quite a bit of repetition here, actually, so I can confidently say that after about 20 minutes into practice this evening, I had this last bit of WDAT re-committed to memory and at tempo!  After that was nailed down, I returned to the first 30 or so measures since there are still some weak spots there.  I should be moving on to the final 26 measures of the first section (which remember, are repeated in the final section, right before those final 17 measures) starting tomorrow.  By this time next week, I may actually have WDAT back in my memory, but some parts not up to tempo yet.  I expect to have re-mastered this piece by the weekend of next week!  More musical notation to discuss tomorrow and that promised mini-bio of Grieg will be here soon, I promise!

How am I doing?  What do my readers think of this so far?  Please comment!  And if you have not already, please follow me on Twitter (suzukibedamned)!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day Nine: Minimal Practice, BUT...

...some of WDAT is coming back to me with little effort.  Not all of it, but some of it is.  Some of the problem areas that I had before that I have practiced over the past couple of days with more intensity are coming out very cleanly now.  Feeling great!  I am getting more excited and confident in how this is all going to end up!  I still owe you, my devoted reader, a short bio on Edvard Grieg.  Perhaps I will take the time to do that tomorrow while listening to my Edvard Grieg channel on Pandora.