Pianist, teacher and writer Catherine Shefski studied at Smith College, Massachusetts, and at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, where she was taught by EPTA founder, Carola Grindea. Catherine has performed as a soloist and chamber musician, has taught “virtual” piano lessons, and writes an informative blog, All Piano, with the mission to “make piano lessons relevant for the digital generation”.
[This post was first published on my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist.]
During my piano playing “formative” years, age eight to seventeen, I studied with four piano teachers. Two teachers at college and four post-grad brings the total to ten. Each teacher contributed something to my growth as a pianist and as a teacher. I find myself passing along choice tidbits of information to my students, clearing up confusion about musical terminology and offering practice tips.
I’d like to share just a few lessons I learned along the way, in addition to all the repertoire, which made certain teachers (and lessons) memorable.
- Piu means “more” and peu means “little.”
- Piu mosso means more motion and meno mosso means less motion.
- Accidentals do not affect the same note of a different octave, unless indicated by a key signature.
- Senza means without and sempre means always.
- To shape the melodic line it usually makes sense to go to the long note.
- If there is no fingering written in the score, follow the “next note, next finger” rule.
- Una corda means use the soft pedal (one string); tre corda means release the soft pedal (three strings).
- When you have two phrases with identical notes and rhythm, make them different by dynamic contrast or a change in touch.
- Grace notes in Chopin are generally played on the beat.
- F# minor melodic scale is the only scale that changes fingering on the descent.
- m.d. (main droite) right hand and m.g. (main gauche) left hand.
- With a ritardando at the end of a piece pay attention to the space between the notes. Should be incrementally longer with the longest wait before the last note.
- When working on very soft passages, practice “excavating the pianissimo.” In other words, begin from nothing and then gradually you’ll get to the softest sound possible.
- Before playing extended octave passages, try flipping your arm over and reaching an octave with your hand upside down, fingers pointing to the floor. It a good stretch!
- Sopra means above.
- Sotto voce meas “under voice”, or soft.
- A staccato note under a slur is a portato. Think of it as a “plump staccato.”
- When working for dynamic contrast, practice stopping and preparing before the change.
- When working with large complicated chordal passages, practice squeezing the chord to shape the hand. Your muscles will remember.
- Sightread chords from the bottom to the top.
- To play a passage of thirds, fourths, fifths, etc. legato lift the finger that is to be repeated while connecting the rest.
- When in doubt sing the melody.
© Catherine Shefski