Monthly Archives: July 2015

How to Have a Successful First Lesson

Wether you are starting lessons with a new teacher, or are just having a single lesson with a professor at a conservatory, having a lesson with a new teacher can be intimidating. I frequently travel to have lessons with teachers from different schools, or have lessons with different teachers at summer music programs. Over the many first lessons I have experienced, I have realized what I did in some of my lessons that either helped or hurt my experience with the teacher.

A lot of your experience during the lesson obviously depends on the teacher and the way your way of learning corresponds to the teaching, but what you may not know is that some of the outcome is in your hands. Everything you do counts even from before you start to play. When you walk into the lesson, you should of course greet the teacher and try to make things less nerve wracking by saying how much you admire the teacher, or how grateful you are for a lesson. In most cases, the teacher reciprocates by asking you questions about yourself which loosens the atmosphere before you play. The most important thing wether the teacher is friendly to you or not, is that you don’t show weakness. When the teacher asks you what you would like to show them, you must have an answer ready. Do not allow the teacher to pick what they would like to hear. This gives the teacher the idea that they can have control over you and this can lead to a terrible lesson. Be ready to play the piece you suggest. The most important thing is to play like you are in a concert, so that means with musicality and technicality, just doing the best you can. You may not know if the teacher will have you play a few measures or the whole movement before stopping you, but be prepared for anything. The most important thing is to always have a strong response to any questioning and always defend your own view as well as that of your private teacher.

The other important thing in a lesson is knowing why you came. You may want to ask about a specific passage. If that is the case, don’t be afraid to ask, teachers love to get questions! If you don’t have a specific concern but just want to improve your overall performance, than you must be willing to change something in your playing or at least be willing to try a new way of doing something and see how you like it. Trying new things is the only way to find out how you really want to play the piece and this teacher might be able to give you a new view.

These are just a few tips on how to have a successful lesson with a new teacher. This is just what has worked for me and I hope these ideas will help with your first time lessons in future.

Musical Analysis: Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat Major

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As a violinist, I have never played anything written by Schumann before. He composed several things for piano, but nothing (that I am aware of) for solo violin. At a music festival I attended earlier this summer, I played the second violin part of the Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat Major. My chamber group played all four movements during the two weeks of the festival. I am going to share what I learned from playing this piece and how we broke down the learning process.

Movement 1: I like to think of the beginning as an E flat Major parade. In the third measure, the first violin actually has two melodies which he/she is switching between. The second violin has just one melody. This theme is continuing to develop until everyone in the group played two half note b flats, after which the music settles down. When it gets to the cello and viola duet, I think of a meadow setting and two people having a conversation that is being passed back and forth. A little later, someone in the group plays the theme from the beginning while other players perform virtuosic scales which actually are the melody in the passage. The unique thing about the next passage is that everyone in the group is playing the same notes and the same rhythms. Then the theme comes back but this time even louder! This is the climax. The piece has been building and this is the point where everything that has come so far is bridged together. The themes from earlier repeat themselves and the movement comes to a crashing end with as I call the “piano concerto”. I say this because the quartet is meant to follow the piano to a very fast and exciting finish, which is very different to what is about to come in the second movement.

Movement 2: The second movement is a funeral march. There is no room for taking any time in the first theme of the march, you just have to think “left right left right”, like a march. In the next passage, the first violin has a beautiful lyric theme that I look at as the hope within the sadness. The main theme is so melancholy and sad and this melody is so beautiful and hopeful. The agitato part is the climax of the movement and all of the anger and sadness really come together will all of players using the off the beat rhythyms as a fugue (a fugue is a compositional structure where the melody repeats itself in different voices). Then both the hope theme and the funeral march return and this finishes off the movement.

Movement 3: The third movement is so much fun to play and to listen to. This movement is a scherzo, which means a joke. In the first theme, everyone is playing triplet scales. The trick is not to play the triplets like an etude and not to have it sound like just scales. The first trio relaxes more and I think of this as floating through a pool with the sun shining before the storm. Then the triplets come back. I like to think  of the triplets as greyhound that are racing, but you can’t let them run so fast that they run over something. The most fun part of the whole piece is trio II. This is a scalar passage as well but this time in 16th notes. The best advice for this passage is: DO NOT ACCENT FIRST BEATS! Create one phrase instead of creating small chunks by accenting the first beats. The “motor” of this passage is 8th notes and that should be brought out more here. From here it goes back to the greyhound-like triplets and comes to a halting finish.

Movement 4: The finale is actually one big fugue. The strings start as the motor or the pulse and the piano is the melody. In this movement there are many transitions but Schumann did not write them in, but instead Implies them. The musicians have to create the transitions by taking short pauses in-between sections to show musical understanding. This movement can sound like fighting and banging if everyone plays their loudest, so be careful to measure your dynamics well and bring out the soft passages. The half notes all need to be extended throughout the movement. When the second violin starts playing the 8th notes by him/herself  at letter N (in the middle of the movement), the piano actually has the melody with its very rhythmic line and accompaniment sounding line. When the first violin comes in with the theme from the first movement ( this is the best and coolest part- good job Schumann), this is the first violins chance to have a solo and should project as much as possible. After this, another huge fugue begins with a new version of the theme. At the coda, the tempo should slow down only to speed back up until the ending. This creates a perfect ending for a seemingly magical piece.

Why Do We Play Music Anyway?

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The main question amidst all of the work is why are we playing music anyway? Why am I committing my whole life to a dream that may or may not happen? Everyone has a different answer to this question, but my answer is that I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I would not be happy doing anything else everyday day. Music is not work, it is what I love to do. Music is such a gamble and takes hard work, and if you can imagine a life without a musical career, I would suggest following that other career. Becoming a musician is not a life for someone who wants normalcy.

I often have people telling me that they worry that I don’t have a normal life and that I will not experience common rites of passage, such as going to pop concerts, shopping at the mall, playing on a sports team, etc. because I am inside practicing. I always respond by saying that if I wanted a normal life, I would have it. If I wanted to go shopping or play sports, I would do it. I love to play violin and in order to do that as my career in the future, it takes hard work that I am willing to put in. I don’t want a normal life because I am not normal. I am happy that I am different and we should celebrate the fact that I am living the life that I want to live, and creating a future for myself. If you feel passion for something, go tackle it with all the energy you can because that is how you live your life to the fullest with no regrets.

Many people believe  that classical music is a dying art and that in a few generations, there will be no such thing. I, on the other hand, believe the future of classical music is very bright. It is my job, as a young musician, to share my passion with others who could grow up to do the same. Music is an art that will continue to be passed down. We need to introduce classical music to children at an early age, before their views are tainted by other children, who are pressuring them into the realm of pop music. Classical music creates feelings that words cannot describe. Classical music isn’t boring because it is a story of history, and a metaphor for life. As long as people continue to see this, classical music will continue to thrive.

The Complexity of Intonation

 

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When I say “intonation”, most people ask me what that means. I always say that intonation is how intune or out of tune I play (on a violin this is relative to where I place my fingers). That answer, while explaining the main concept of intonation, isn’t the full answer, which is so much more complex. When you google the definition of intonation, it provides a similar answer to what I give when asked this question. When I am complimented on my good intonation, that means that yes, I played in tune, but no one every really discusses what “in tune” is and how there are many different ways to play a note “in tune”. Pianists don’t have to worry about intonation, as they play a pre-tuned instrument, but the rest of us battle with having good intonation every day in practice.

A piano is tuned to what people call equal-temperament. There is a formula for the distance between the notes in equal temperament, but simply, this just means that all intervals are constant on the piano and there is only one way to play an “in tune” note. On a violin, you can pre-tune the instrument to many different “in tune” A’s*. The most common tuning system is A 440. This means that the string will vibrate 440 times (another common tuning pitch is A 442- A is the pitch an orchestra/ chamber group/ soloist tunes to). Because violin is pre-tuned and the A pitch can vary, there is no single way to play an in tune third, or any other interval. There is definately a way to play an interval out of tune, but there is a very small amount of wiggle room where the pitch remains in tune. This cannot happen on a piano.

When you play with a quartet, or to mix it up even more, a piano quintet, things start to become even more confusing. In a quartet, the pitch you play must be relative to the pitch the other musicians play (playing in a small group requires more attention to intonation than playing as a soloist or in an orchestra). Example: certain intervals must be played lower and quieter if the first violin is playing a certain pitch. (There is a basic chart for this at the top). When you add a piano to the traditional string quartet, the piano with it’s equal temperament will be considered out of tune next to the quartet. This is considered ok and the quartet doesn’t need to tune to the piano, but tunes to the lowest instrument, in this case, the cello.

On a piano’s equal temperament, it divides each octave into 12 semitones of 100 cents each (semitone is a half step). A cent is a unit of measurement for each interval. The alteration of one cent is to small to be heard. An octave in equal temperament spans 1200 cents.

This is just delving in to the basics of tuning, and I am by no means an expert. Many musicians don’t teach tuning with this method, but it shouldn’t be hard to find information. There is a chart on the top explaining how intervals go together and how they change if certain intervals are played together.

*A=the pitch A