Friday, January 10, 2014

The wages of sloppy practicing

I had one of those piano lessons yesterday that made me feel like I haven't been practicing at all. First up was the Sinfonia (first movement) of the Bach Partita in C minor. I am going to be playing it on an AMSF recital on Sunday -- I figured since I've been working on it for ALMOST A YEAR NOW (ahem) I should give it a go in public. Only five minutes of music, after all. I had hoped to be able to play it from memory, but it's still in that shaky stage where I'm not 100% sure of the notes. In front of my teacher, I got through all but the last page or so and then broke down -- though before the breakdown, it wasn't going so well either. He had me put the music in front of me and try it again, and of course it was much better. So I'll probably use the music on Sunday.

But it wasn't just the memory thing bothering me. The 16th notes are uneven, for one thing. For another, I don't feel I have the balance between the hands worked out, and the hands aren't entirely together. This piece is pretty much in two voices, so the counterpoint is really much simpler than in most of Bach's music.

For those who don't know this piece, it's in three sections (thus, the title "Sinfonia"): a French-style slow opening, with lots of chords and double-dotted rhythms; then an aria-like andante, with walking bass in 8th notes; and finally, a lively fugal section in 3/4. It's the last section I have the most trouble with. This evening I went through that section in small chunks, hands separate and then together, and discovered some dismaying sloppiness and lack of certainty about fingerings that, sigh, I've been baking into it with sloppy practicing. The usual result of impatience, going too fast, and practicing without really listening.

I spent more than two hours last night practicing each small chunk in different rhythms and speeds, and by the end of the session it was cleaner. I can't fix it entirely by Sunday, but I'll try to get it at least a little better by then.

At this same lesson, I also played the Brahms Rhapsody Op. 79, No. 1, in B minor. Also a piece I've been working on for most of the past year. I am planning to play it at a recital the following Sunday to see what happens with it. Again, I've wanted to play from memory, and I can do it at home, but I didn't even try for my teacher. I've rigged up a way to use the music with minimal page turns, so I did it that way. But with this piece, some sections are so vast and move around the keyboard so quickly that I can't really play and watch the music at the same time. So I need to orchestrate when I can look at my hands and when I look back up at the music. Sloppiness and lack of clarity aren't so obvious in this as in the Bach, but I know they are there. My teacher did compliment me on how I played the B major middle section. He said it sounded like Brahms.

When I was still working full time, that was my excuse for not practicing wisely; that's gone now! I need to figure out a better system or I will continue to have these problems.

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