Piano Olympics

Notes from Piano Olympics

These are quotes from Alexander Peskanov, gathered from various times that he has conducted Piano Olympics in the Breth Studio.

Sound

What am I listening for in your playing? I am listening for mastery of the sound. When you have that, you will have the ability to express your feelings through sound.

Put more thought into how your playing sounds. Use dynamics to make it sound more like music. When we play music, we phrase, giving each phrase a beginning, a climax and an end. It should be the same with scales. Make the scale like a phrase, like a sentence.

Play RH louder than LH. Don’t use the same sound in both hands, because then you can’t hear the difference between registers: the notes blend too much.

Practice

What is the purpose of the technical regimen? To learn how to practice, which means, to learn how to think about important things: counting the pulse, listening to every note, making beautiful music.

As you practice the regimen, you’re not just training your fingers, you’re also training your ears. Making music is really the objective here. So when you practice, spend more time listening to the quality of your sound. Make comments to yourself like, “That was a good chord” or “My tone is weak here.” Listen to what you play, and react to what you hear.

You would be much more confident if you practiced hands separately.

If you practice slower, you will learn faster. Stay slow until you can hear every aspect of your playing; only then should you speed up. The older I get the slower I practice. Why? I’m afraid of losing my skills. I might get sloppy. The kind of speed you are using is a luxury: you haven’t earned it yet.

These imperfections are embedded in your playing because you practice fast and without listening. You don’t direct the line enough: it sounds boring to you and so you get dizzy and lose track of where you are; then come the mistakes.

If you always practice fast, you might start playing like a machine. Slow practice allows you to hear the imperfections. Also, when you play slower you can hear what’s happening between the notes. Younger kids who can’t play fast yet often play more musically than older kids who play fast. That’s because the young ones are still listening to every note and to what happens between the notes.

To play fast you must have everything completely under control. Good practicing means total listening and complete correcting of every single imperfection.

(After playing a complex, fast passage from Rachmaninoff’s Concerto #3, from memory,  played the same passage, again from memory, at a snail’s pace. His comment on that follows.)

I can play the whole concerto at this speed without the music. This gives me tremendous confidence. But it’s not just a matter of playing slowly: you have to listen and phrase everything. Do it with pedal and also without pedal, but no other detail should be excluded. If you practice this way you will actually learn at a much faster rate.

When practicing the regimen, never play up into the top octave.

Scales

Don’t play so fast. Instead play with better sound & articulation. Use a warmer tone—sink more into the keys. (AP demonstrated by playing a scale at about 80 per note, but with intense dynamics.) Listen for synchronicity, voicing, legato, dynamics, articulation. Challenge yourself musically.

More accents will help the hands to be better in sync.

Use more dynamics. Make a crescendo to the top, then diminuendo back down. Make the scale like a phrase, like a sentence. On contrary motion, do different things with RH and LH to point up the directional changes.

(For level 6/7) Three pairs/day is not enough to build stamina. Start slowly; accelerate gradually after 3 or 4 pairs.

In fast scales, reduce the accents. I want to hear one line.

Broken chords

Are you tired? That’s because you are not relaxed enough. Use more lateral motion, especially on 7th chords, to avoid tension.

When you play faster, the accents should have more energy.

Chromatic scales

When playing in Russian pattern, concentrate on the two “refueling stations”. Move from one to another without thinking too much about the notes in between.

Block chords

COUNT!

As soon as you play one chord, think about the next one. Move your eyes to the next position before you put your fingers there.

When you listen to block chords, think of eight different instruments, or eight different singers.

When I play, do you hear one note that is louder than the others? Start thinking about showing a melody by bring out the top notes of the chords.More advanced students should practice stressing each of the four or five notes in one block chord.

Because you don’t distribute the sound well among the fingers, there are holes in the sound. Practice slowly and prepare each chord better.

Use more weight from the shoulder. Move forward slightly (from the hips: don’t stoop over) as you play the chord.

Arpeggios

Group the 7th chords in threes.

Octaves

Play staccato. Play lighter, softer.

Show the upper notes.

Broken double octaves

Use more lateral motion. Make the notes detached, not slurred.

Don’t try to stretch; instead, jump [shift].

More RH, more accents.

Double thirds

Do you every play this slowly? Try it at 60 per note. Use more weight. The sound quality and confidence must not change, whether playing fast or slow.

peskanov/brian

Alex Peskanov leads the studio’s annual Piano Olympics day.