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A Piece on Piano Accompaniment

Accompaniment

 

 

A sharing by Mr Wong Chee Yean, MMus

SMART & RISE Master Trainer

CheeYean

When I started playing together with people, one of the first things I had to learn is starting together with the person whom I am playing with, getting the first note to sound absolutely together.

 

Understanding of the mechanism of sound production of other instruments or voice is surprisingly neglected in the study of piano playing, I think it’s because we are so occupied with the technical aspects of playing, very often it’s about how to play fast, and faster and louder.

 

The closest thing you come sounding together when you are playing alone is playing a chord, with ONE sound, all the notes sounded together, no delayed or missing notes.

 

So in order that you start together with the musicians you are playing with, you need to develop this feeling for how a sound is produced by other instruments. Each family of instruments starts a sound differently. For example, let’s compare an oboe with a violin. The oboe makes sound by blowing into two pieces of reed. Hence a sound is produced when the resistance of the cane is overcome and starting to vibrate. The process, in a beginner, often results in a clear attack, hence a very clear entrance. However, with an experienced player, he is able to somehow softens this attack by getting the air flowing before the sound is made. Violin or any other string instruments on the other hand, have more flexibility. They can either glide to soften the initial attack of the sound, or make a very clear attack if the note is accented.

 

My worst nightmare was playing the harpsichord at the MPO chamber music series. You probably know that harpsichord makes sound by plucking the strings. You can’t play it like piano, because there is a very clear point when a sound is made, if you attack the keys too slowly thinking that you want to soften the entry, there simply won’t be a sound. The only way to make sound is in fact having a very clear attack. Hence there is no way you can soften the initial attack of the sound. When I played with the strings, they kept gliding in at their entrances, and I easily sounded too early even though I am actually right on time. 

 

So how do you develop a feel for the timing so you can all start together? That boils down to rhythm. When you count three, four, one, it’s very important that each beat has energy and that the invisible dots are clearly felt. You need to feel where the points of the beats are so you can all start together.  In fact, rhythm is everything. Without inner rhythm you can’t make music.  You need rhythm to have technique – your coordination, your speed; you need rhythm to create dynamics and colour – the timing of your tonal inflection, your sound, your tone, your articulations. Rhythm in the end is the root cause of all musical problems. So it is very important to develop your inner rhythm.

 

Having a solid inner rhythm as an accompanist gives you the stability needed to support your partner. A solid inner rhythm doesn’t mean that you are rigid, but rather because you are secure, you can adjust your pulse to the pulse of others, and be on your toes for tempo changes, and therefore making you a flexible accompanist. But the story doesn’t just end there, at times, you mustn’t be too adaptable and you both are constantly slowing down, you need to know when to give your partner a push, or being consistent with your pulse so that the other person doesn’t slow down. So it’s a contradictory role that we play as an accompanist. You mustn’t drag or push, yet you must adjust and support. All in all, staying together is much more important than being correct with your pulse - you are there but not there.

 

In order to be flexible and constantly on your toes to be adjustable, you also need to develop the ability to listen to yourself and the person you are playing with simultaneously but independently. A very good way of developing this is to sing the other part while playing the piano part. That forces you to be aware of what others are doing while you are busy playing your own part, and forces you to know how other parts are related to your part WHILE you are playing.

 

And of course, it’s also very important that you know your role within the musical context. Sometimes we are providing an atmospheric environment, sometimes a rhythmic drive, sometimes harmonic progression, sometimes thematic materials, sometimes a conversation with the person; so when to remain musically inactive or being a driving force underneath will depend on your understanding of the music. Sometimes we need to be sensitive to what difficulties others might be having in their part, high notes in voice or wind instruments for example, that might require us to give them a bit more time to reach there, or a long phrase that needs a lot of breath and we need to keep going with our piano part.

 

However, in real life situation, things are a bit more complicated. Playing together with musicians who are your colleagues very often involves a set of social complications. You must learn to comment without sounding offensive. Instead of saying can you play softer here, try something like shall we all try to get the mood calmer? And there is also this question of who is the boss. Democracy doesn’t really work here. Imagine everybody gives an opinion, then you try out different options, then you resolve the interpretation issues or not. All this is very time consuming and does not necessarily solve the interpretation problems. I personally find that the most ideal situation is to have someone as a leader. Mostly you don’t need to verbally appoint someone. But that someone with more experience, or more musical, or simply has more interpretive ideas will prevail. Once that process of leading the group starts, the rest should follow and only occasionally voice out their different thoughts.

 

Then you also have the practical problems of how to rehearse a piece constructively. Basically, when you get together to play, you should already be able to play your individual parts properly, and have a basic understanding of how your part fits into the whole piece. Therefore you need to study the full score, to get to know the music as a whole, not only your part. So that getting together to rehearse becomes a process where you learn to put together the puzzle of the piece. And that helps to save everyone’s time, and it’s so much more productive compared to if you come to the rehearsal without knowing the music and your part. 

 

 

 

 

 

How to improve your Sight reading

Sight Reading

 

 

 

 

In 1848, the composer Schumann published a list of “House Rules and Maxims for Young Musicians”.  One of his maxims states, “You must reach a point where you can hear music from the printed page”.

 

In truth, many students have a vague idea of how to approach this aspect of music skill properly. Usually this is done through arduous repetitions playing the same sight-reading pieces over and over again. Also they tend to focus on this area only near their practical exam period.

 

Students often ask how they can improve their sight-reading ? This is a great question, but it’s also one that often gets answered with the a vague, apathetic answer “just sight-read more”. No matter how well-intentioned, it is not going to help them improve.  Trying blindly to improve sight-reading skills by doing it over and over again is definitely not going to help.

 

Here are 8 simple tips on how to sight read music properly and improve.  

1.Study the music first

Look through the piece.  Concentrate and focus. Note especially the following:

-      key signature

-      time signature

-      steps & skips

-      patterns & structure

-      accidentals & rests

-      dynamics

 

2. Visualize the note locations

Develop a sense of keyboard topography and hand-placement.  Locate and transfer the feel of the notes from the music piece to the keyboard.  Keep your eyes on the score rather than on the keyboard.

 

3.Sing the melody silently

You may either use solfege (do-re-mi etc) or sing in your head “la, la, la ,,,” to get the feel of the melodic line.

 

4.Choose a comfortable speed

Begin playing with both hands at a convenient speed.  

 

5.Count slowly and accurately

Rhythm is the main culprit in most student’s sight reading problems. Choose a good tempo and count properly.  Keep a steady rhythm.

 

6.  Look ahead

Get into the habit of continually looking ahead at the notes and rhythms coming up.  Keep an eye a beat or two ahead of the notes whilst playing.

 

7.Don’t stop

Even if a mistake is made, keep on going and don’t stop till the end is reached.  Remember to keep the music flowing.

 

8.Practise on each piece twice only

If too many mistakes are made, find easier music.   If successful, go on to more progressively challenging pieces.

 

A Final Word of Advice

Always maintain a good posture to play with ease and balance. Avoid unnecessary tension.  When a mistake is made, do not flinch.  Let those wrong notes be supported by a more beautiful tone and good intonation.  Using suitable duet pieces, try sight-reading and playing together with others – with the teacher or with other students.  Change parts. The student will be amazed at how refreshing, enjoyable and enriching this experience can be !

 
Remember - patience, persistence and daily practice are the keys.
  Practice smart, not hard.

 

Written by Mr Thomas Tan, MEd

Master Trainer, Seimpi School of Music

Lecturer, Seimpi Academy

Violin Studies

Violin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Violin teacher Ms Louis Roblin will perform several examination pieces from various grades.

 

Minuet (ABRSM Violin Grade 1)

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The Muppet Show Theme (ABRSM Violin Grade 1)

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The Lark In The Clear Air (ABRSM Violin Grade 3)

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Over The Rainbow (ABRSM Violin Grade 3)

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The Holy Boy (A Carol of the Nativity) (ABRSM Violin Grade 5)

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Romance from the Gadfly Op. 97 (ABRSM Violin Garde 5)

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Seimpi @ Jcube (Jurong)

 Seimpi-Group

 

Seimpi @ JCube is now open!  Visit us at #04-13/14  for new exciting courses like MIM Speech & Drama and LEAPS English.Of course we still conduct our proprietry Music for the Intelligent Mind (MIM) Courses for ages 13 months to 6 years old. MIM is a holistic, fun and formal way to lay a strong foundation in musical learning. Recently, our student Fong Jean Ann won the 2nd prize in the NAC National Piano & Violin Competition 2015. She started with MIM at an early age of 2, before progressing to individual lessons in our SMART and RISE program.

 

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 New-Outlet-JCube promotion-updated

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorizing Music

Memorizing Music

 

Memorizing is a necessary skill to enhance learning and retention  For children taking instrumental music lessons, memorizing their music will help to improve memory giving confidence in the child’s ability to remember. Young children should always be encouraged to memorize all their repertoire pieces. Compared to pieces learnt at an older age, pieces memorized in the early years are practically never forgotten.  And, even if forgotten, are most easily recalled. 

 

Walter Gieseking, a well-known 20th century pianist, was renowned to be able to memorize entire piano concert pieces whilst on a plane flight.  Did Gieseking do  impossible and magical tricks ? Definitely not !  A vast majority of children we know probably had a hard time memorizing music. Memorizing should not be difficult or frustrating using the right approach.  Follow some simple steps and put memory slips at bay.   Not convinced ?  Try these memory techniques.

 

Look at Music as a whole

Before beginning to play, firstly, study the piece.  Ask the child about the key signature, time-signature, dynamics, any striking features ? Visualize the piece through silent reading.  The child will soon discover each piece as not merely a series of notes to memorize but as a coherent musical structure to understand.

 

Look for Associations

Find patterns in the piece of music.  They are everywhere in music. Find them and label them.  Look for groups of notes that make harmonic sense or pattern, a scale-like structure, an arpeggio. and commit them to memory. 

 

Memorize right the first time

 

Always memorize everything right the first time. By the time you get to the end of the piece, it will be completely memorized and performance ready. There will never be a need to go back and add dynamics, or anything else. Because of this the child will find learning music very much faster than before.

 

Play very slowly

An important way to reinforce memory is, at the initial stage to play very slowly, less than half speed. Slow speed reduces the dependence on hand memory and supplant it with "real memory". The stimulation from the piano sound is also absorbed internally.    Always be at least a split second ahead of the music . As a general rule, think about one bar ahead.  Play it right the first time, complete with all the dynamics and other articulations.   

 

Break it up into Small Sections

If the music is a little long, it's always helpful to divide it into manageable sections. Memorize small clusters at a time.  Brian Specialists call this “chunking”. Look for an interesting phrase or a couple of measures. Remember again to look for patterns and associations within that phrase.

 

Repeat

Repeat a few times.  Learning by repetition helps to form connection of synapses in brain cells.

 

Sleep

If the child gets bored repeating a section over and over again, move on.  Sleep over it !  Sleep is the next best thing for memory retention.  Do the same thing again the next time. Too many children waste hours practicing sections that will never get any better at one sitting . By sleeping our brain solidifies everything we tried to memorize. Specialists call this consolidation.

 

Naps

Studies also show that naps can have a similar effect on memory as a good sleep. Memorizing something followed by a quick nap may be very effective. The nap in between can replace the consolidation that is needed with sleep.

 

Mind Maps 

For the more innovative,  making a colorful mind chart with the notations can help to concretize memorization. A little creativity goes a long way towards making the task fun and rewarding.

 

Conclusion

Admittedly, these activities do take a lot of time and it is easy to lose momentum and to stop memorizing. Following a few simple routine provides greater continuity besides establishing good memorizing habits.

 

Written by Mr Thomas Tan

Master Trainer and Lecturer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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