Recital approaching… EEP!

My recital date has nearly been set. (They’re just trying to find a third examiner but they don’t anticipate having any problem with that.)

So the date will (probably) be Thursday 10th December. I think it will be 6pm.

I’m playing the Debussy piano and violin sonata in G minor and the Grieg violin and piano sonata in C minor. Both pieces are amazing and I shall struggle to do them justice. The Debussy is mysterious, fantastical, distant, capricious. The Grieg is exciting, virtuosic, extroverted and majestic. My associate artists are two wonderful violinists, one from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the other a fellow Honours student at the Con.

Entry is free and it’s at Elder Hall at Adelaide Uni. So please come if you’re free and in town. Because this is like, the single biggest event of the year for me and I need all the support I can get!

Once the date and time is confirmed I’ll do proper invites. (Meaning I’ll make a Facebook event, lol.)


A Fine Ear

What all fine musicians have in common is a good ear. Music is aural, so the ear gets to make all the final calls. A more discerning ear can detect more ranges of sound and nuance. To “laypeople”, a Steinway grand may sound much like a Kawai upright, and a first year Conservatorium student may sound much like a professional artist.

When you learn a musical instrument long enough, you get to a stage where you are no longer simply concerned with merely playing the right notes. Even louds and softs become obsolete. The way in which you judge the quality of sound has to become so refined. The word “soft” by itself isn’t descriptive enough. What kind of soft? A rounded, pebbly sound? Or a bright, sparkly sound? I often find I revert to visually descriptive words to talk about the kind of sound I want. My teacher, on the other hand, always tends towards describing sound as an energy force. Even the mystery of music as an emotive force is an illusion created by sound.

The difference between a fantastic piano and an average piano, is that the average piano will always sound, well, average. Upright pianos of fairly decent quality usually sound pretty unoffensive. A really awesome grand piano, like the Steinway grands we have at the Con are much harder to control. They can sound pretty awful if you bang away on them, not knowing what you’re doing. (Like how I played for most of my time as a student.) But they are capable of a huge range of sounds. To make the most of the instrument’s capabilities, the pianist has to have a large arsenal of playing techniques to draw upon, and, most importantly, the ear to detect what sound they want, and whether or not they have achieved that.

When I started out at the Conservatorium, I was playing without listening. I came from an electronic organ background, so I knew that piano technique would be the difficult thing for me to master. Only now that I have reached Honours level have I begun to make the connection between the ear and technique. Technique is nothing without ear.

Sigh. I’m rambling. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my first Honours recital is coming up. So I’ve been preoccupied with piano things. In other news, the music room gets devilishly hot when the weather’s warm, as it has been recently. I’ve moved a fan in there, making it more bearable, but I still have to come out for frequent breaks.

Besides recital stuff, term 4 is always a busy term for teachers. There’s a bunch of concerts and things to prepare for at Yamaha. So… much… to… do!!

Well, bye for now.

New Camera!

My Fuji Instax Mini 7 camera arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. It is so much fun and very addictive. I took the photos above with it the other day when my little brother and I took the dog to the park. The park was covered with yellow flowers; it looked amazing. Unfortunately, it was also covered with bees and I was wearing sandals, so we proceeded across the grassy expanse with caution.

The camera is heaps easy to use. It has just 4 light settings. A couple of the photos above turned out overexposed because I used the wrong setting. Film works out to about less than $2 each and loads into the camera in packs of ten.

These photos would be heaps good for scrapbooking.

I have been really busy and stressed lately, so no time for paper crafts unfortunately! I have a recital coming up and I still have so much to do! I am playing two piano and violin sonatas; one by Debussy and the other by Grieg. I am playing with two different violinists, too. One is a fellow Honours student at the Con and we have had only one rehearsal. The other is a professional from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and we are having our first rehearsal tomorrow. Both pieces are really fucking hard, but I am especially freaked out about the Grieg because I physically cannot play the 3rd movement. Sigh. Just gotta keep pegging away at it.

In other news, it is October and festive Christmas-ware has already begun to appear in the shops.

I ate a whole box of Mr. Kipling’s mince pies to myself.


Things You Shouldn’t Do in a Piano Lesson

Fart. This happens more often than you might think. I’ve learned to ignore it.

Say you were too busy to practice this week. This one never flies, ever. I always want to laugh a little, especially if the student is, like, 11 years old. My response is always something along the lines of, oh really, did you get time to watch TV this week? Play videogames? Yeah, I thought so. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT BUSY IS!! You’re 11!!

Pick your nose. Quite a prevalent habit among younger children.

Cough at me, or on me. Only a few weeks ago I had a student cough directly onto my hand. Yes, it was gross. I maintained my composure and went and used some water-free hand sanitiser straight away. In hindsight I probably should have allowed myself to lose my shit a little. Always cover your mouth and/or turn away to cough, it’s just polite.

Play the piano while I’m talking. How rude. Please give me your attention when I am speaking to you!

Technical Work

This week I decided to do all the scales and arpeggios for 1 note per day for my piano technical work, going up chromatically day by day. Today’s note was F. So I practised….

  • F major scale, Hands Separately (HSep) and Hands Together (HTog). Legato and staccato, contrary motion.
  • F major scale in octaves, HSep and HTog. Double octaves with Right Hand (RH) leading and with Left Hand (LH) leading.
  • F major arpeggios. Root, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion, HSep and HTog. Also in 3rds and 6ths, HTog.
  • F chromatic, HSep and HTog.
  • F harmonic minor scale, HSep and HTog. Legato, staccato, contrary motion.
  • F melodic minor scale, HSep and HTog. Legato.
  • F minor arpeggios. Root postion, HSep and HTog.
  • F major chord progressions: I-IV-I64-V7-I. Also I-VI-IV-II-V-I6-II6-I64-V7-I. Also I-VI/V7-IV/V7-II/V7-V/V7-V7-I6-II6-I64-V7-I.

Okay, I realise I got a bit lazy with some of them, especially the minors, where I neglected to be as thorough as I was when practising all the variations on the major. But I console myself with the fact that this list still took fucking ages to get through. I used to think that doing technical work was taking precious time away from practising my recital pieces, but now I think I’m going to make sure I keep doing technical every day. I think it’s really important; it helps with my repertoire learning, it warms me up sufficiently and I feel good if I do it. A bit like exercising. Except I actually really like doing technical work and I don’t really like exercising!

I need to work on my staccato scales and octave scales the most. The staccato scales are especially relevant to some of my current repertoire. I really like doing the chord progressions. I sing the name of the chord, pitching to the bass note as I play. I only started practising chord progressions fairly recently, because my students have to do it. It’s really good for both me and them.

Tomorrow’s keys are G flat major and minor. One of my favourites! (Huge music nerd moment.)

Piano Love!

I am love love LOVING piano right now. Reasons for my joy:

  • It feels good. Seriously. I love that I’m learning how to use all my muscles and weight and bits and pieces properly so that the sound is great and the effort is minimal. It feels so nice and organic. It’s like walking. Natural and comfortable. 
  • Relishing the payoff that has resulted from my hard work. Technique isn’t an art, it’s a skill, and skills can be acquired. I love that the “art” of piano playing isn’t mysterious or enigmatic, it’s very sensible and logical.
  • Being able to actuate the ideas in my head. 

Advanced piano playing is so self-indulgent. My attempts at explaining what I’m learning and achieving to non-pianists or even non-advanced-pianists always results in fail. Consequently I feel as if I’ve had a religious experience or been “enlightened” in some way that is unexplainable to… lay-people. Bahaha.

Technique Accommodating Art

I love this passage because it’s true, not just for music, but all art.

Fundamentally, technique is no more than the ability to say what one wants to say: the greatest performing artists are often the greatest technicians because their technique has grown to accommodate their art, not the other way round. Saint-Saëns’s aphorism “In Art, a difficulty overcome is a thing of beauty” is neatly turned, but for the performer it is true only if Art – or artistry – is present in the first place. Performers need to have their imaginations awakened and stimulated before they can make music from the kaleidoscope of sounds the fingers can produce on the keyboard. As a ruling maxim I prefer the exhortation of that great pianist and artist Edwin Fischer: “Do not destroy this world of artistic visions that comes up from your unconscious – make room for it; dream dreams, see visions”.

– from “Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy” by Paul Roberts.

Things I’ve Learnt About Piano Technique in the Last Six Months

Fingers should not be slaves. There should be a partnership between the brain, the fingers and the ear. So, you use logical thought to figure out how to do something, the best fingering or whatever, then fingers and hands try it. If it feels uncomfortable for the fingers, then it’s time for fingers and brain to negotiate a compromise. Then the ear has to have its say and this is important because the whole act of piano playing is for constant pursuit of the right sound. If it sounds good, do it. If not, brain and fingers must find another way.

“The tip of the fingers must always be alert”. According to the wonderful Mr. Boris Berman; “every instrumentalist or singer strives to achieve clarity of performance, and for each of them one or more parts of the body are responsible for enunciation. For singers as well as woodwind players these are the lips and the tongue; for string players it is the right arm that brings the bow into contact with the strings. For pianists, this function is performed by the fingertips”.

Elbows are reactive, not active. Your fingers go someplace, the elbow reacts. The elbow (and all of the rest of the arm) doesn’t get to lead. 

Rotations and circles are good. All human movement is circular (think about walking, for instance). We rarely move in a series of super-straight lines. Therefore it feels natural to incorporate circular movement in piano-playing. 

Your fingers are all different lengths so you have to compensate for that e.g. with rotation of the wrist. Also, thumbs are amazing.



So I’m pretty glad I decided to go back to uni to do Honours this year because in a short time, I’ve really learnt a huge amount. Seriously, within my first few lessons I had more new information than I had after three years of doing my degree. What’s best of all is that I feel like I am finally getting to a stage where I can work autonomously, making my own decisions and doing my own problem solving to reach my desired result. And this is only the start! I have so much more to find out about and to learn.