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  • Writer's picturerhapsodydmb


Updated: Jun 4, 2023

HOW TO USE YOUTUBE: Cello teacher Hans Jorgen Jensen (from Denmark) taught me the "right" way to use many performances on YouTube to which a student has access today.

Not long ago I learned the "wrong" way: taking any particular or all YouTube performance(s) or interpretation(s) of a piece I am studying, as the be-all-and-end-all for me.

In fact, since most interpretations I listened to of Amy Beach's Waltz from her Children's Album were very limited in musicality and tempo -- even by a music department head and also by a doctoral candidate in music -- I got misled as to what expression and tempo possibilities inhered in this composition.

Initially I played it to sound like a boring jewel box, organ grinder, or calliope, in part because that's all I heard on YouTube! It was not until my teacher played it for me more than once, that I really heard the possibilities and knew I had options. I was simply stunned to hear how my teacher manipulated the keys to follow a strong, determined note with a super-soft one, or move up in expressiveness as the line and phrase contoured upward! I had never really focused carefully on those aspects before. The very next day I was able to take a giant step forward in adding more dynamics, phrasing, rubato, and expressiveness to my interpretation -- and I surprised both of us!

Just what Jensen says,it takes tamping down a teacher's ego a good bit for a teacher to encourage the student not to just "play it my way," but listen to a number of styles, find out how the musicians make the sounds you want to make, experiment to develop technique, and then decide on your own eventual interpretation. It took Jenson some years of teaching to modify his original teaching theory and style. And guess one way he did that? He listened to and learned from a very thoughtful student (32.06 in the video)!

THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. Actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. In terms of protecting one's physical health while learning to play the piano, I just learned an cautionary lesson regarding this law.

I decided to implement a new technique I had never tried before: practicing in different rhythms. Josh Wright says that this, plus three more techniques he mentions, fix 95% of the problems one encounters. So I started with the twos, went to threes, and then to fours. Then I tried dah da da, dah da da, and went on from there, back and forth.

I got so fascinated with the new sound and feeling in my fingers and hands, that I continued the new technique on the Bach prelude I'm working on, for at least an hour and perhaps a bit more.

That night I felt some discomfort in my hands, specifically on the outside of my right hand and up the outside of my forearm arm. I also felt it in the pad of my thumb. Two days later I felt a tiny bit of fatigue in my outer right shoulder. It was a kind of mild, but noticable, dull ache similar to how I feel when I overuse a muscle after some other kind of physical exercise.

The discomfort did not come on because I had not warmed up my body and fingers and arms; I had, and I had played a few other Romantic era pieces before commending on the Bach.

I started to diagnose the problem by thinking that perhaps this new sensation was due to the fact that in both hands, I must hold certain notes while continuing the musical line with the other free fingers. As a brand new requirement, that is hard enough for me to learn. I must constantly while memorizing, also focus on what finger to hold down for how long and immediately put down another finger and hold that one down. So was some kind of new physical stress being placed on my right hand to have to hold down those notes?

But this was not the cause or not only the cause, because I only had the discomfort in the right hand. In this prelude there are held notes in both hands, but mainly in the left hand. So some other cause must be at the foundation. The only other thing it could be, was practicing rhythms.

The Law of Unintended Consequences! By not having an in-person teacher at the time, knowledgeable in body mechanics, someone who cold instruct me on how exactly to practice rhythms or for how long at a time to practice them and watch my use of hands and arm weight, I relied on my best judgment. But I got carried away with the level of my motivation and interest, and exceeded what my body could tolerate.

In addition, I was under a good bit of emotional stress, even if a good bit of relief from a few days prior when I decided to quit lessons with my then-teacher, because of irreconcilable differences resulting in recurring conflict between my goals and the teacher's methods.

Lesson learned. I've gone in search with a few close musical friends and one former piano teacher (not mine) to check out my suspicions, and will continue my research. For now I'm resting my hands, taking a few days off from practice, and likely if the discomfort disappears, will return to the Bach, but practice it for only ten minutes at a time. I'll avoid rhythms for a while, and go back to my normal Romantic era pieces, then build up time first and tempo last on the Bach.

(I'm pictured at the very first-ever, out of tune and condition, grand piano I played, a well-used and apparently abused for many years by a child, old grand piano. It had ID stickers on cracked, yellowed ivory keys, and was loaned to me for a possible "free" donation" during the time I was seeking a grand piano for my home; need-less-to-say, I passed this kind offer by).

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