"Freedom is when one hears the bell at seven o’clock in the morning and knows it is the milkman and not the Gestapo."

~ Georges Bidault (via smokeandsong)

(via thegrayprince)

19 October 2014 ·


Tumblr, with its vibrant musical community, already abounds in posts of this nature. But I posted this in another site, and thought it might bear reproducing here.

Practice at any musical instrument isn’t about quantity. It’s a matter of quality, and this is the biggest flaw in the “10,000 hour” myth. The only way quantity — in terms of hours, say — enters into the equation is to ensure that one establishes and maintains a certain amount of forward momentum. Even then, a relatively small amount of consistent and efficient practice is vastly superior to a large quantity of disorganized, unproductive dawdling. Practice doesn’t pay by the hour.

I’m a big proponent of the value of sitting down at the instrument and just playing, because I think it deepens one’s relationship with the instrument, enriches the affinity for and fluency with music in general, and prevents us from bringing a mass-production mindset to the piano bench (where it certainly does not belong). The figure is somewhat arbitrary, but I’d say that for beginning and intermediate students in particular, something like 30% of one’s time at the instrument should be spent in this unambitious, exploratory manner. This, too, is practice, and practice of an important kind. To sit down at the piano, or any other instrument, with clear, hard and fast goals at all times is not in my opinion a healthy and sustainable approach to music-making, though some might disagree. 

At any rate, I don’t think the desire to do this — to sit and play, for heaven’s sake, enjoying sounds and livening up the synapses the way a child would — can be forced where it doesn’t already exist. But if a person doesn’t find pleasure and knowledge in aimlessly spending time with the instrument in this way, then I do find myself questioning from whence comes his or her desire to play at all.  

With that preliminary aside out of the way, I’m happy to share some of the ways by means of which I try to ensure efficiency and productivity in piano practice:

  1. Consistency of practice habits. The most powerful way to promote efficient practice in the context of the individual session is to foster regularity by creating a basic practice schedule, say on a weekly basis, and sticking to it over the course of weeks to months. If you have to lose some time, make it up, and plan in advance to do so. Guard your practice time jealously. Having established a routine, you can add to it or adjust it if you must — but don’t cheat it, and don’t get in the habit of soothing yourself with reassuring internal chatter like, “Well, this week, I just didn’t have time." We either make time, or we don’t. Period. It doesn’t have to be a severe affair: just establish a routine, and hold yourself accountable for it.
  2. Begin with a warm-up. Piano-playing involves a truly athletic component, and practicing without a thorough warm-up is as disadvantageous for a pianist as for a gymnast. It’s crucial that the warm-up not be mindless, perfunctory. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. When it’s ready, you’ll know. When you’re simply stopping after minutes in hopes that you’re ready — well, you’ll know that, too. You choose.
  3. Don’t practice for longer than you can remain engaged, and experiment with segmenting your practice. Even for advanced pianists, practicing for more than about two hours at a stretch starts to push it. You may find it helpful to divide your practice time into segments: 15 minutes for a casual warm-up, 30 minutes for Piece A, another 30 for Piece B. Take short breaks between the segments if you find they help you refocus — get up and walk around a bit, maybe. 
  4. With respect to the music itself, divide and conquer. Few habits are as unproductive as the practice of “running” a piece before you’re ready to do so. Be methodical and Zen enough that you can devote 30 minutes or so at a time to a troublesome passage that’s only a few bars long. Save big-picture thinking and big-picture work for when you’re ready; in music, there is no such thing as filling in the details later. The musician needs a large number of manageable short-term goals, not a small number of castles in the sky. That’s not to say that the latter option is destructive, only that it must be converted to the former in order to produce results. (See item nº 1 for how to create a systematic approach that will keep you from needing to “cram.”)
  5. Practice technically difficult material slowly and methodically. At the piano (and at other instruments, certainly) there are healthy motions and unhealthy motions. To “power through” a technically difficult passage is to learn to accomplish that passage with unhealthy motions that will produce inconsistent, shaky results. To rehearse it methodically, beginning far under tempo and gradually increasing speed with repetition, is to begin with healthy motions which then get organically integrated into the flow of the music and produce a result in which you can be as confident as humanly possible. It’s old, dry wisdom. And it works. Andrés Segovia said that methodical practice is like a scaffolding which we construct around something we are building. Eventually the scaffolding is taken away and only the structure remains, with no evidence of how it was all put together; but if the architect didn’t bother to use scaffolding at all, we can sure tell it.
  6. Make use of ‘varied repetition.’ The concept of varied repetition relates to the theory that we learn best through practice when the repetition that is inherently involved is…well, varied. Turn even-flowing scale passages into jagged, dotted rhythms and practice them that way for a while before going back to the original. Practice complicated or troublesome passages at a variety of tempos, from unreasonably slow to unreasonably fast. For breakneck pyrotechnics, practice them with much greater velocity than necessary once they have been brought up to performance tempo in a healthy fashion. One of Rachmaninoff’s favorite maxims was, “The way to ensure the horse can win the race of a mile is to first make sure it can win the race of a mile and a half.”
  7. Keep the ears online, always. Always pay attention to the sounds you are making, and critique them by connecting the ears with the hands. Making music requires both fire (passion and intensity of involvement) and ice (cool, critical detachment). Don’t think of them as separate phases of the practice process — learn to integrate fire and ice at all times. This will make your music flow like water rather than in fits and starts. Modern technology can help: get comfy with the idea of recording yourself. For pianists, even very lo-fi video recordings are especially helpful and will reveal quirks (both positive and undesirable) that you probably weren’t aware of before.

18 October 2014 ·

342 plays

Brahms: Piano Trio #1 In B, Op. 8 - 3. Adagio

Eroica Trio


Brahms - Piano Trio No. 1 In B major, Op. 8, III: Adagio
Performed by the Eroica Trio

(via marimbamixolydia)

18 October 2014 ·

Ein musikalischer Spaß (A Musical “Joke”), K. 522

I. Allegro
II. Menuetto e Trio
III. Adagio cantabile
IV. Presto

Returning this morning to one of my favorite works of music. It’s not clear exactly why Mozart composed his “Musical Joke,” but it’s worth keeping in mind that the piece is dated 1787 and was composed during work on Don Giovanni, at a time in which Mozart would not have been likely to complete a work without a performance near at hand. 

Works parodying and satirizing inept playing have a long, sordid tradition — the Dorfmusikanten or “village musician” genre — extending back far before Mozart. Mozart’s offering is unique, though, in how thoroughly and artfully it also pokes fun at inept composition. Ein musikalischer Spaß is written for a somewhat unusual ensemble of horns and strings — whether a quartet or a string orchestra was intended is up for debate, though the effect of the satire is, I think, increased by augmented forces. Mozart’s village orchestra is not the best, but his village composer is just about the worst; the more familiar is the listener with the conventions and practices of the period, the more riotous the fun will be. 

Here is just a part of the festivities:

  1. Allegro: The primary theme of this sonata movement is completely impotent — the phrasing is odd, the motives and melodic arcs say nothing in particular, and the rhythm alternately jangles and barks like a guard dog on a chain. The composer struggles awkwardly toward the dominant key in order to present his second theme, which them seems to offer no melodic content at all. Throughout the entire divertimento, the self-conscious effort to do something interesting with the viola part is painfully evident and never leads to sensible results, and the voicing of the horn parts is constructed for maximum opaqueness, loudness, and discomfort. The exposition ends in the very same “barking rhythm” with which it began, making it difficult to distinguish when the repeat of the section has started. Absolutely nothing happens harmonically in the first clause of the development; as if to compensate, the composer then executes a quick series of random, directionless, but exactly sequential modulations before plainly re-establishing the tonic of the movement and instantly proceeding to the recapitulation.
  2. Menuetto: The string parts are comically “busy,” and throughout the work Mozart’s composer injects nominal counterpoint to liven things up chiefly by means of non-functional scale passages, often in thirds. One of the most famous parts of the work is the horns’ bungling of a transitional episode early in the minuet. The dance comes to an end with a preposterously overstated final cadence. The trio theme seems to be composed entirely of technical exercises for the violin, including a number of rather unidiomatic Alberti figures.
  3. Adagio cantabile: Here the village Kapellmeister shows off his dubious and distasteful command of the empfindsamer Stil. Part of the humor here is in the unmusical placement of sforzandos, which are not as pronounced in this recording as they should be. When an unnecessary cadenza for the concertmaster arrives, we are treated to a quick treatise on diatonic fiddler-tricks followed by an overly ambitious altissimo scale. 
  4. Presto: The rondo appears to have been quite hastily jotted down by our feverish tunesmith. Its inane, sickly galloping theme gives way to a sturdy formulaic fugato — although such fugato writing later in the movement will cause a cadential dominant/tonic clash which the composer does not seem to notice. What few ideas there had been to work with seem to dissolve quickly, leaving the composer to doodle aimlessly for a few episodes before issuing quite a proclamation of victory (perhaps right after a nap). The last movement ends in a polytonal fart. 

18 October 2014 ·


The Death of Klinghoffer is about to go on at the Met and Rudy Giuliani is using it as an excuse to publicly wedgie his own panties and I love it.

18 October 2014 ·


It has recently been revealed to me that Meryl Streep is about to play the role of Florence Foster Jenkins in a new film, and I think this is an important milestone in human history which we should all get excited about right now.

17 October 2014 ·


"Hey, did I just leave my keys in there?  I can’t get into my giant car.  Hello?"


"Hey, did I just leave my keys in there?  I can’t get into my giant car.  Hello?"

(Source: neoretro)

17 October 2014 ·


Presumably, many performers would use theoretical insights to deepen their interpretations. But unfortunately, the marked separation of theory, composition, and performance into different disciplines has become a key feature of modern musical life. In contrast to the past, people in different walks of musical life often have very little to do with each other. I find this development rather sad.

Overspecialization is a very serious problem. I think it has many causes. It’s related to the state of composition nowadays and the fact that most performers are very detached from what most composers write. Then, there is certainly a pervasive tendency for people in academia to intellectualize about everything and to feel that collecting quantities of information and categorizing it is in itself valuable. And of course there’s the widespread use of computers, which keeps many people in music far away from real music. One finds many people going into the field of theory who may not have much musical talent — who have bad ears or don’t play anything or don’t know the literature very well — but who do have the kind of self-discipline and intelligence that enables them to get through graduate courses, write some kind of dissertation, and teach. Specialization is meant for such people because it means they can work with some little corner of music theory and thereby hide their general inabilities. The same thing happens in every field. Of course, music theory deals in abstractions—that’s what it is—but the person who’s doing the theory ought to know what an abstraction is and what it is being abstracted from. For many of these people, the abstraction is the only concrete aspect of music. I think this is very bad.


~ Carl Schachter
Interview, 1977

17 October 2014 ·

"Breathe. Focus. Try again."

~ what every student should hear from time to time (via medschoolandthreequarters)

(via melodramaticsoprano)

17 October 2014 ·


Samus your right hand is essentially a gun

(Source: dbsharpy, via sassygayklavierspieler)

16 October 2014 ·

8 plays

Sports et divertissements
II. La balançoire (The swing) (ブランコ )


(img: Fig. 26 from The Civil Engineer’s Pocket Book, 1918) 

16 October 2014 ·

Philip Taaffe

Il Terrazzo; Onement; We Are Not Afraid
(clockwise from top)

16 October 2014 ·

F. Couperin
6ème Concert

I. Gravement

Voices of Music
Gonzalo X. Ruiz, Hanneke van Proosdij,
William Skeen, David Tyler (2010)

16 October 2014 ·

"When I rise, the sky
Will be dead and plundered;
I’ll be dead myself.
Dead will be my desire, dead,
The swamp without chords."

~ Carlos Drummond de Andrade

16 October 2014 ·

236 plays

Benny Goodman
"Sweet Georgia Brown"

Bill McGuffie (p), Bucky Pizzarelli (g), Lennie Bush (b),
Bobby Orr (d)

(img: Patten Chapel Church, Hamilton Co., Tenn., 1930s)

16 October 2014 ·

Curtis Lindsay
Pianist, composer,
expert in nonsense.

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