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Thursday, May 28, 2020
The Polonaise I worked on today was Op. 71 No. 2, and I got through most of the piece in the hour I spent on it. I think the next time I work on it I will start with the last page. As I write this I am listening to recordings of it and it seems I have been playing it more uniquely than I am comfortable with. Sometimes when I do not listen to recordings of pieces as I learn them, I get sloppy with lengths of notes. In this Polonaise you have many thirty-second notes which makes almost a grace note pace for many of the passages. I will be glad when the four Polonaises I am working on will be finished, but I do not want to rush them because I would like to have them in my repertoire for those who like to listen to Chopin at the assisted living communities.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Polonaise Op. 26 No. 1 was the piece I practiced today, after sight-reading movie scores. I spent my time going over the details of this piece, on pages 2 and 3, instead of playing through the whole thing over and over again. Yesterday I ended my practice session with this Polonaise, reviewing the first page, which made me feel accomplished. Today was about picking apart small sections and repeating them with the correct fingering until I was able to play them correctly at the appropriate tempo. It was not too difficult, and my next practice session will be spend on a different Polonaise. Thinking about it, I might start playing yesterday's Polonaise for the retirement homes through Zoom to see if I truly am comfortable with it.
Later in the day I started recording "The Prologue" from Final Fantasy IV, and out of roughly fifty or so takes, I got one decent recording. I still have a long way to go before I have a good recording of this piece, but for now I know I can play through it all the way without stopping at a semi-regular tempo. I know I can get through the first two pages without stopping now, so that is great progress from the last recording session when I would get choked up in the middle of the second page. I find it interesting how frustrating recording this piece is compared to other pieces I have played, but I think that is because I have only practiced it under six hours total. There are a lot of chord jumps that can be a little confusing, but the melody stays the same and the most complicated thing so far was adjusting to the page turns. Tomorrow I will have more time to get a better recording of it, so I am looking forward to that.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
I wanted to refresh and begin the phrasing process of one of Chopin's Polonaises, so I picked Op. 40 No. 2:
I spent about an hour and a half on it and got a good handle on the notes, but the phrasing it where I wanted to concentrate on most. Something I like about this piece is that there are many pauses where after you can introduce your own interpretation of how the next section is supposed to be played. It is almost as if Chopin had many thoughts about the direction and pacing of his piece, and wanted to explore all of them at one point in at least small portions. There is a dolce section, there is a dramatic left hand octave section, there is a small portion where you are playing loud chords, and there are interspersed phrases of a line or two that seem like they come from a different piece altogether, but somehow fit in this one as well. I find the challenge in this interpretting is making sure you take your time with expressions, and not to rush anything that does not need to be rushed. It is not a particularly fast Polonaise, so I play it like I would play one of his longer preludes.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
I took advantage of having a quiet weekend to catch up on some practice time. Saturday and Sunday I worked on Rachmaninoff's 5th Prelude because I have not been performing it lately for the seniors and I know that is one piece they really enjoy. The prelude came back to me quickly and there were only a few tricky sections that involved forgotten fingering. I was surprised I remembered the arpeggios without much issue, however there is still phrasing to be worked on. I plan to listen to several recordings to get inspiration because I feel like I can get stuck easily if I listen to my same phrasing interpretation every time I play the same sections. The only section I was not able to get to was the ending, but I feel like that will come back to me quickly as well. What I am looking forward to most about practicing this prelude the second time around is that I get to add an extra amount of semi-polish to it. I am sad that I cannot perform it at retirement homes in person since it is a piece that really benefits from the textures an acoustic piano can provide, but for now performing it on Zoom is OK.
Thursday, May 21, 2020
I did not get much time to practice piano today since I wanted to spend the day taking it easy and working on other things. When I was able to get to the piano, I only played in thirty five minutes sections. When I was recording downstairs that added about thirty five minutes of extra recording time. I practiced "The Prologue" from Final Fantasy IV since I have been determined to get it recorded for a while now. After finishing my preliminary practice session I left my upstairs piano studio and went to my piano studio downstairs to record the piece on my baby grand, but I did not get too many good recordings. I suppose I have a short while before I get to a point where I am comfortable recording the piece. Perhaps I have to memorize it first since there are portions of it that are difficult to record, including the page turns. I have to recognize that memorizing the piece would take care of that issue.
Other than that, I am trying to muster up the energy to practice more again. I have learned when I over exert myself and practice for 3+ hours a day, I start feeling mentally unwell, and that I need to start taking breaks in order to distract myself from sitting on a piano bench in one place for over three hours. Those breaks usually entail spending the next day doing something totally different, such as working on my website, calling retirement homes for work, exploring my prospective lesson opportunities, and maybe just sitting in front of the television and forgetting that I am a pianist at all. I remember when I used to be able to practice 4 hours a day, 5 or 6 times a week, but work can change and you have to adjust your life accordingly.
I am writing this Friday the 22nd and it is a new day filled with opportunities to practice, so I think I will practice while my wife is doing her home workout. I may start out with sight reading, but I would prefer to go back to Beethoven's Sonata in F since I would like to continue performing that for retirement homes. There is also Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G minor that I want to work on, so maybe I will start with that today.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Yesterday I was not able to do much practicing, but I made up for it this morning by practicing a couple of hours. I will do more later, but for now I am happy with the work I have done. I always tell my students it is better to spread out your practice sessions and not do it all in one day, but there are circumstances where that is not possible. In times like that, I would say to use whatever motivation and determination you have from missing a day to play to your heart's content today.
The piece I practiced this morning was the presto movement of Beethoven's Sonata in F, and going through it a second day was not as frustrating as the first. No matter what, there are times when I forget that picking up a past piece is like taking your garaged bike for a ride. The notes come back quickly, and you also have a new determination and fresh perspective to continue playing a piece you might have stopped before the polishing stage.
For this piece, I continued my typical practice strategies of drilling problem sections, such as left hand sequences, introduction measures, and endings that I skipped over during the first few months of practice. I feel I was able to get through those sections without too much frustration, and even if I did get frustrated, I would move on to other sections. After that I would return to what was giving me problems in the beginning, and by then I had more of a tolerance to missing notes and other aspects of incorrect playing.
Monday, May 18, 2020
I thought I would try something new this week and continue working on older pieces that I can perform at retirement homes through Zoom. Today's piece was the third movement of a Sonata in F by Beethoven. It's a challenging piece for me because of the fingering changes throughout. In the past when there would be repeated notes, I would usually use the same finger to play them, but this sonata has me changing fingers most of the time when a note repeats. This can be a little confusing, and has me relying on perfect memory to get everything played.
When I watch YouTube videos like this I get
intimidated because I cannot play this piece at that speed, and
has me a little frustrated because I know I have been working on
this sonata for a while, and I still am not on a real
performance level. I hope one day I will be able to come back to
this sonata and finish it, but for now I play it at a slower
As for the actual technique I worked on this practice session, I drilled all the portions that had incorrect fingering, and played the entire piece as a whole afterwards. This is only the first day I am working on this piece, but if I show great improvement I may continue to work on it during the upcoming week.
Thursday, May 14, 2020
I was determined to practice for a while this morning, since two days ago I barely practiced at all. I went through all four of the Polonaises I have been working on, and discovered I can play all of them without much trouble now. Next I have to work on my phrasing while bringing it to the written tempo. I have been told that Chopin has a distinct style that makes it difficult to polish his pieces, and I have to agree for these Polonaises. Each one has it's dramatic moments along with it's slow moments, in addition to moments filled with subtle emotion and feeling. Polonaise Op. 26 No. 1 starts dramatically with shocking intervals and chords, and then proceeds quickly into a melody that moves higher into the staff, ending with a calm resolution an octave down.
After practicing my Polonaises, I still wanted to stay at the piano, so I brought out a Sonata in F by Beethoven to play. I have not played it in a couple of months since retirement homes have closed their doors to entertainers, but it came back to me quicker than I thought. One thing I like about playing the piano is that it's like riding a bike. Once you learn how to do it, you can always do it again even if you are rusty at the beginning. This applied to the movement I practiced of this sonata. This was the first movement, and all I had to do was drill certain sections ten or so times in a row before I knew them again. The most difficult section to review was the alternating right hand octaves, but that was only because it jumps around, taking some time to relearn the spacing.
I would have to say this was a productive practice session and almost makes up for the fact that I only practiced fifteen minutes two days ago. I hope to practice my sightreading more today after I am finished updating my website.
Wedneday, May 13, 2020
I figured I had to change my practice schedule in order to refresh my motivation, so I left my house today and practiced piano at my Mother-in law's house. It helped, and I was able to play about twice as much which was a welcome change from barely being able to sit at the piano at all.
I started with Chopin's Polonaise Op. 40 No. 2:
This is the Polonaise I have been
working on the longest. At first I was having trouble with the
phrasing, however, after listening to many recordings and
interpretations, I have found a way to make this piece my own
while observing Chopin's dynamics. I feel it is a strong
Polonaise, especially expressed in the left hand in the
beginning followed by the second page in which the right hand
is increasing in intensity with descending thirds.
The other Polonaise I have been playing today is Chopin's Op. 71 No. 3:
I only spent fifteen minutes going
through this Polonaise at an even, slower pace, and it felt
comfortable. Over time I have become much better at reading
music with several accidentals in the key signature so I do
not really have to think too much about potential mistakes. I
have a decent ear so I can also hear when the intervals or
combined harmonies sound too dissonant for comfort.
Later on today I plan to practice my sight reading and maybe I will spend twenty minutes recording "The Prologue." Something I have to think about when I record music like that is I cannot compete with pianists who have been playing since their childhood years, and I have to focus on my niche to feel comfortable. To me, that is performing relaxing or non-complex piano at retirement homes, parties, or bars, and teaching beginning piano.
Tuesday, May 12th, 2020
I thought I would have a lot of
time to practice due to COVID-19, but sometimes it is
difficult to practice when there are several factors against
you. For students, it can be difficult to practice when the
piece that is given is too difficult, there is too much work
to complete each week, the teacher and student are not
communicating well, the teacher is not a good musical
influence, or there are outside life events, not including the
pandemic, that affect motivation. As a teacher and performer
relying on piano as a career, it is difficult to practice when
there is no foreseeable future and reason to keep it as a
career. That can lead to negative thinking and illogical
reasoning that tells me to do something else. I will never
quit playing piano, but it is still worrisome to come to a
place in my mind where I cannot see an answer. Unfortunately,
this is why most people who study music are not able to
continue, and this is understandable. To me though, it is my
passion, and to arrive to a place like that is terrifying. To
any past, present, or future students reading this, there will
be times when studying music or practicing any art will feel
uncomfortable, but unless it is a toxic relationship, I urge
you to find a way to keep it in your life. If we have enjoyed
it enough to begin, that feeling can always come back.
To continue with my usual piano practice log, today I practiced my sight reading with random pop songs for a grand total of fifteen minutes, before laying my head on the keyboard for the next fifteen minutes. I decided after that I was going to get no work done that day before I processed my thoughts.
However, recently I have been getting into organizing more of my recorded pieces and songs, and uploading them to places like iTunes and Spotify. At the time of that idea I was also into learning new pieces I would usually never record, such as ones from video games. I was able to record "Into the Darkness" from Final Fantasy IV while also learning "The Prologue." By the time I was going to record "The Prologue," I became interested in learning "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John/Bernie Taupin, so I will put that on the back burner for another week.
As for my usual repertoire, I have been learning four Polonaises by Chopin. They have been a lot of fun, and not as difficult as I thought they seemed at first. Pieces always seem more difficult before I sit down and go through them myself. It's always nice to see what you're capable of, especially when it has to do with your passion.
The Polonaises I have been learning by Chopin are mostly slow pieces, so that is why I think I am not having the most difficult time with them. I feel like I can add some rubato here and there, while not being too ridiculous in my interpretation. They are all interesting in their own way, with cadenzas and phrasing that are unique to his style.
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