Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 95: Habit Forming

I have managed to get up early for the past couple of days and, even though I don't want to stick to it, I pushed through each hour of practice yesterday and today.  I try to warm up with some Czerny or Hanon first and will break up my practicing of Clair de lune by going back to Maple Leaf Rag and some of the other pieces I have learned so far.

I move on to measures 15 through 26 this morning.  Tomorrow and Sunday, I will focus on measures 1-26 before moving on to measures 27-50 next week.  I will also intersperse each practice with focus on rough parts of the previous pieces I have picked back up as well as finishing off Maple Leaf Rag. A completion video will follow when I'm ready there (the piece is 90% ready as-is).  Since moving on to measures 15-26 of Clair de lune, I have some additional notation to bring to your attention!

First of all, see the "tempo rubato?"  This means that you may take liberty in how quickly or slowly you play the notes in these measures, but they must still each finish in nine beats.  It is Debussy's way of telling the pianist to interpret this how you wish, within the bounds of the time signature.  An eighth note does not necessarily have to be held for one count, but if you hold one longer, the rest have to be more hurried.  Also, my music is not marked like my original score I owned, but the initial notes of each measure here in the bass clef are sustained throughout each measure using the middle pedal on the piano.  And you thought that pedal was just there to separate the damping and sustaining pedal, didn't you?

I also did not mention in my overview of the first few measures of this piece an important piece of musical notation: the tie. You will notice several sideways parenthesis-looking marks between some notes.  This means the note is supposed to be held, not re-played.  For instance, if two eighth notes are tied, then the notes played are held for two beats, even though you see the same notes written twice.  There are several spots in the first few measures where Debussy wrote only one note of a chord tied, so it carries over to the next chord.  This promotes the flowing sound of the piece very well.

Also note here that the very lowest note of the chords in the bass clef and the very highest note of the chords in the treble clef are marked with a horizontal bar.  This is meant to remind the pianist to emphasize these notes most of all out of all the others in the chord.  Top and bottom notes carry the melody.

Lastly, you will note the French phrase: Peu a peu cresc. et anime.  This literally means to get louder little by little, while playing animatedly. There is also a notation that you cannot see in the picture above towards the end of measures 15-26 of dim. molto.  Dim. molto means get a lot softer.  Dim. is often a notation used for softer and molto means a lot.

Whew!  Lots of education out of such a few short measures, huh?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Replacing Bad Habits With Good Ones

I was reminded recently of something I heard a while ago about habits.  If you're going to break a bad habit, you need to replace it with a good habit or you are doomed to fall back into the bad habit you're trying to break.  Also, you should devote a certain amount of time at the same time every day to your new habit for at least 21 days to make it stick.  I have been trying to replace bad habits with a good one: Daily practice on the piano.  I have found, though, that since I haven't devoted the same amount of time during the same time of day each day to my endeavor, that I have had trouble here and there sticking to my daily routine.  In fact, if you have been following me, you have seen me have departures from my practicing several times already.  What I really need to do is sit down and tell myself that I WILL practice at a specific time EACH day and I WILL practice for AT LEAST one hour.  So, here it goes: The only time of the day that I can have complete isolation for practicing is before 8:00 every morning.  My aim is to practice between 6:30 and 7:30 every day.  If I can accomplish this for at least 21 days, I should have a new and very good habit formed.  I will be sure to tweet about my daily progress and will occasionally make remarks on the blog about how I'm doing with this new, stricter way of approaching practice.  The rough edges will definitely fall off the pieces I have already completed (see Youtube) if I can stick this out!  Clair de lune will undoubtedly be complete in 30 days or less as well if I can just make myself stick to this schedule!

Day 93: First Day on Clair de Lune

Today was the first day back on Clair de lune. Since the first couple of pages are mostly still there, I expect these parts to go pretty quickly.  The first page is comprised of 14 measures and practice went well this morning.  The piece is set in 9/8 time which means there are nine beats in a measure and an eighth note gets one count.

Note the key signature: D-flat major.  Also note that this is very soft.  Imagine the music is painting a picture of moonlight (literally what the title means).  Adante tres expressif means to play this adante very expressively. For a quick refresher, adante means rather slow, but with flowing movement.  Con sordina means to mute.  It is interesting to see this here, partially because this notation is not in French.  It may be something this particular publisher took the liberty of adding, because I don't remember a call for muting anywhere in this piece.  Muting means, in the case of the piano, to depress the damping pedal (the one on the left) to produce a softer sound.  Maybe I'll give it a try this time around...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 92: Back To Debussy

Well, I still have some polishing up and just a handful of measures left on Maple Leaf Rag and it is going a little slower than I would like, so I am breaking away from it for a little bit to start up Clair de Lune. This is probably Debussy's most recognizable work and is oft requested from people who know I once played it.  I am very excited about having this piece back in my repertoire!

I can play the first couple of pages of this piece still, but I am missing some notes (not hitting wrong notes, just missing all the notes in some chords).  Not sure if I want to make and post a starting video for this one.  We'll see.  I will more than likely just start from the beginning in this piece.  There will be lots and lots of musical notation to discuss on here in the coming days!!!  At day 92 out of an 150 allotted for the five pieces I have or am relearning, I'm doing pretty well to be moving on to the last piece with only a bit of polishing to be done on Maple Leaf Rag.  When I wrap up Clair de Lune, I do intend to perform a piece or two of what I've learned in a local church during worship.  I will also be moving on to those other pieces I selected a few weeks ago (  I don't expect these new pieces to take the rest of the year or so I have scheduled for my entire project, so at some point I will be selecting more pieces to learn (in addition to devoting more time to music theory since I DO finally have a textbook).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 87: Ragtime Isn't Meant to Be Played Fast!

Scott Joplin once was quoted as saying: "Don't play this piece fast.  It is never right to play ragtime fast."  So true.  So many people seem to forget the notation of a vast majority of ragtime pieces, or at least the pieces that Joplin wrote.  Ragtime is often set at tempo di marcia.  This is a marching tempo.  You can't march to something going a mile a minute, can you?  It is hard to control yourself with such exciting music and it can be really exciting to play fast, but it truly does not get played that way!  And, I might add, it is quite a relief that a lot of ragtime isn't played quickly because it is already difficult enough at a marching pace!

I am down to the last ten or so measures of Maple Leaf Rag.  I have a lot of work this week dealing with junk in my garage for a garage sale this coming weekend, but I still intend to get Maple Leaf Rag out of the way by the weekend.  I truly enjoyed getting a lot of practice in on a 1970's Baldwin baby grand last weekend.  The 70's were prime years for Baldwin and that baby grand is no exception!  I should be able to get back into a good schedule of going to the local church and practicing a couple of times a week starting next week again.  Thanks for sticking with me while I go through a bunch of breaks in practicing due to other commitments!  Clair de lune is right around the corner and there is a lot of musical notation to talk about in that piece!!!!

Be on the look-out for a mini-biography on Scott Joplin soon!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 81: Some Review and Continuation of MLR

I have been busy busy busy cleaning out my garage the past couple of days, so I have limited a lot of my practice time to reviewing already re-learned pieces to help keep them fresh.  This means I did not get to make my Golliwogg's video yet.  Sorry!  I have a feeling I will be posting the completion videos for Golliwogg's and MLR as well as the initial video for MLR all at the same time.  Thank you for your patience!

I am working through measures 52 through 59 of Maple Leaf Rag hands separately right now.  The piece is only 85 measures long, so I don't have far to go.  Well, at least measure-wise, but I am having some difficulty with the key-change, so that plus my lack of practice time due to the spring cleaning has contributed to me not getting any farther than I already have this week.  I will be travelling this weekend, but should have access to a good piano, which is a major plus.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 77: Simplified Versions of Songs

Re-learning Maple Leaf Rag has brought back the memory of hearing a simplified version of it a couple of years ago at a talent show.  This is just plain wrong to me.  If you cannot learn the original piece, you should not learn it at all.  Learn pieces at your skill level.  Learning is a "dumbed-down" version of a piece of music is akin to reading an abridged version of a great masterpiece such as a Shakespearean play or an epic novel by Dostoyevsky.  Actually, I think it is worse than that.  It is more like reading the Cliff's Notes. Yeah, you get the essence of the story, but you don't get the real meat of what is going on.

Scott Joplin is not easy.  Lots of people play The Entertainer.  There is a reason for that: It is one of his easier works to learn.  Syncopated rhythms are difficult to master, but if you practice enough, you can get it down. The kids and adults you hear playing The Entertainer may not be playing it well, but at least they are usually playing the original version.  Think I'm being too harsh?  Think there is actually some good that comes out of these simplified versions of songs?  I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 76: Music Theory!

I apologize for slacking a bit for the past few days.  I have been busy with some to-do items around my house and around my mother-in-law's house, plus I have been back into cooking every meal and spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen this past week making some very good food.  My focus is back, however, and I got down to practicing some yesterday and got some great practice in this morning as well.

I finally received my music theory book this week.  I bought Tonal Harmony, fourth edition, by Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne.  Remember, I explained that my music theory knowledge is kind of like swiss cheese?  I obviously know more than enough to play music properly, but I don't know some things that I consider basic knowledge.  For instance, I can figure out scales on my own because I know if they sound right or not.  I do not know the names of the scales, though, and am not familiar with a popular memory aid known as the circle of fifths.  Know that I know the names of scales, though, I can relay to you that a piece that has four flats in the register is in fact A♭ major.  Yay!  I feel smarter already!

So, the only real notations of importance in Maple Leaf Rag are:

The tempo here is a march.  This should not be played too quickly.  Also note that the time is 2/4 time, where there are two beats to a measure and a quarter note gets one count (or beat).  Four flats in the register means this part of the piece is in A♭ major.

This last bit of the piece is marked with a key change from A♭ major to D♭ major (see the extra flat?).  I'm not sure what "Trio" means other than this is the third part of the piece and it is a bit different.  I'm just guessing here, though.  Anyone care to chime in?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 71: Ragtime!

I tried making a recording of Golliwogg's Cakewalk on Saturday, but it isn't quite polished enough for my taste to post a recording.  Expect to see it posted to Youtube this week, though.

I moved right along into Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin today.  This piece is comprised of 85 measures, of which the first 17 are still solidly in my memory.  The piece is essentially broken down into four parts, each of which repeat themselves.  There is a brief return to the initial measures of the piece after the second section ends, as a bridge to the third and fourth sections.  There isn't a whole lot to talk about with musical notation in this piece, but I still plan on posting a bit of a discussion about that tomorrow.  Ragtime is probably my favorite product of American music.  It was popular in this country and around the world over a hundred years ago and has seen a couple of periods of revival, most notably in the 70's (remember the movie, The Sting?).

I focused right in on measures 19 through 23 today.  I'm taking it a bit slower because I absolutely remember nothing about a majority of this piece, so it is almost like learning from scratch.  Don't ever discount ragtime for a simple genre for the pieces are deceptively complex on a technical level, although not necessarily on a musical level.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 69: FB Public Page

A select few of you are members of my private Facebook page and know who I actually am.  I started a new FB profile with my alter-ego, Edvard Claude Scott, a little over a month ago and have been steadily adding mostly music professionals to my "friends" in an effort to get more attention on my blog and tweets.  I am now ready to create a public Suzuki Be Damned FB page to hopefully gain even more visibility.  I would advertise on FB, but I don't exactly have the cash right now.

Enough about the FB, after a couple of down days from not feeling so hot, I am back today.  I will hopefully get the chance to make and post a Golliwogg's Cakewalk completion video today.  If not today, it will happen during the week next week.  Regardless of when that happens, I will be starting in on Maple Leaf Rag tomorrow!  So, if I took the full 30 days for each piece, I would only be about nine days in on Golliwogg at the moment, but find myself moving on to ragtime!  I'm not going to get too excited, though, because I will need all the extra time I have gained to re-learn Clair de Lune  for sure.