Tag Archives: Classical Music

An Approach to Studying Written Music

13 Apr

I have recently studied pieces by Beethoven, Bartók and Manuel de Falla, and used this approach. It proved to be helpful. Benjamin Hochman, a great Israeli Classical pianist, once suggested I will l give it try.

The basic idea is simple: for a while, refuse the temptation to play the music on your instrument. Get it ingrained in you in other ways.

1. Spend time reading the score. If you don’t have absolute pitch, you can check notes and phrases on an instrument every now and then. Not too much, though, as part of the idea is to develop your inner hearing.

2. Make note of the various tempo markings throughout the piece. Feel the tempo. You can use a metronome. Try singing the music in the marked tempos.

3. If the score includes foreign-language performance instructions which you are not familiar with, this is the time to look them up in a music dictionary and understand what they are.

4. Notice the appearance of new themes, new phases and so on. Begin to understand what the piece is about.

5. Get physical. You may move your fingers around, approximating the movements that you will later be required to perform.

Get a sense of the physicality of the piece: your hands go here, then they go there, then an immediate quick leap from here to there, and so on. This will supply major short cuts once you will approach your instrument.

6. Listen to recordings or watch videos while reading. This is not a must, and some classical players will advise against it, to avoid emulating others. I personally like knowing what other pianists are doing, and I still do the complete opposite when I feel like it.

7. Begin practicing the piece on your instrument; If you have never tried everything described above, the first moment of playing will most likely be a moment of revelation.

Note for Improvisers:

I have done this with Jazz as well. Learning the written music itself is usually a much shorter procedure then in Classical music; but figuring out ways to improvise on it, is a cool thing to do while away from your instrument.

First of all, it is effective. Singing a couple of solo choruses helps you internalizing the harmonic structure. You can think about improvisational strategies that the given tune may suggest, and become familiar with them.

Second, we all have our improvisational tendencies when we play our instruments. Beginning your relationship with a tune away from the instrument, you become connected to the music on a deeper level. It often provides you the starting point for a more original and genuine improvising approach.

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Recent Addictions

3 Dec

The last months were packed and exciting. In August and September we played in Europe with the trio. Also in September I was playing solo and teaching in Israel, then in Belgium. In October we recorded our next trio album in New York, to be released in 2012 – more about that soon. Then November brought concerts in Germany, and the exciting solo show in Tel Aviv with Alon Oleartchik as a special guest. But what was I doing in my spare time? The (somewhat partial) answer is found below:

1. Mozart’s widely celebrated Quintet in G minor, for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello. I could probably listen to the first movement  repeatedly forever. Good thing the next movements are so enchanting so I can bring myself to move on.

By the way, I have an old score of this piece, that I bought who knows where and when. Now that I can read a bit of German, I saw that it used to belong to a dentist called Kadish, who must have been a German-speaking amateur  musician, and that he performed it twice, in 1921 and 1923.

2. Elsa Morante‘s novel, La storia. One of the most profound novels about World War 2.

3. Charles Rosen’s book, The Classical Style. Takes you by the hand through the musical worlds of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

4. Michael Brecker’s solo on John Coltrane’s Transition, from Hancock, Brecker and Hargrove’s Directions in Music. It’s a tour de force demonstration of how all you need for a great solo is one idea. Well, that and the ability to expand and develop it masterfully.

In order to balance all this culture, you have to eat something.

1. If you’re in Tel Aviv I highly recommend Eyal Shani’s Miznon. It’s something like Gourmet in a pita. The minute steak is great.

Miznon, Ibn Gabirol 23

2. One of my favorite italian restaurants in New York City is kind of a best-kept secret. Bring cash, they don’t take credit cards. And don’t miss out on the Tiramisu.

Celeste, 502 Amsterdam Ave.

3. I think I’ve found the best three restaurants in Düsseldorf. These are all amazing:

Toxotis, Kaiserswerther Straße 402. One of the best greek places I’ve ever been to is surprisingly in this west-german city – I swear. I took Haggai and Ziv here after our concert at hofgarten in August and they couldn’t believe it. Get the lamb chops and thank me later.

Robert’s Bistro, Wupperstraße 2. An old establishment. The menu supposedly hasn’t changed for decades, and in this case that’s a good thing.

San Leo, Wallstraße 31. Probably the best Italian around. I thank drummer and friend Peter Weiss, a veteran Düsseldorfer, for the tip. Highly appreciated.