Tuesday, July 24, 2007

scales and arpeggios

I had my first piano lesson last Sunday. And I never thought it would be that stressful. It was not because of the teacher. No, she wasn't Helga the Barbarian with thick-rimmed glasses, stiffly coiffed hair, ill-fitting dentures, and a long-sleeved blouse with ruffles on the cuffs. And she didn't have a stick to whack my fingers with. She was just wearing a tight-fitting shirt and an extremely short pair of shorts. Appropriately so. It was a blazing late afternoon. Dust particles lay suspended in the rays of the sun dilating through her apartment windows. None of these rays reached the bench upon which I was sitting. The upright grand was tucked in a tiny air-conditioned cubicle below the stairs. Inside that box, I labored hard to get those damn arpeggios right. And that was the source of all my stress.

My main problem was incorrect fingering, which she identified right away. She told me to work on legato passages and be sensitive to the emotion in a musical phrase. Every phrase, like in spoken language, starts with an uphill surge which climaxes into a passionate summit and then goes downhill again, which she called the “decay.” Now that's something I could really use.

Years ago, there was a piano teacher who came to our house to teach my nephews. I asked her if she could give me lessons, too. She willingly agreed but she wanted to hear me play first. So I sat and played Beethoven for her. After nervously listening to me, she said she couldn't possibly teach me because I played “too well” for her. She recommended another piano teacher, “the maestro”she called him, who could handle advanced students. Of course I never got to meet this maestro and my nephews never got to learn how to play.

Last Sunday was the first time I actually sat up for a lesson. It was comforting to know that my teacher knows what she's talking about. I had watched her play with an orchestra during her graduation recital. Her execution is clean, her notes distinct. I said to myself that if ever I would formally study the instrument, it would have to be under her. Her eyes lit up as she spoke about the pieces she would give me. She tossed some names: Bach, Mozart, Espino, Mendelssohn, and perhaps Chopin. She was already contemplating on making me play a full Haydn sonata. Just thinking about it overwhelms me. That afternoon, she made me play something from Hanon's Exercises for the Virtouso Pianist. She skipped the first 49 pieces and asked me to go straight to Exercise Number 50. This book only has sixty progressively difficult technical exercises. My poor fingers got confused with the alternating thirds, but I think I managed to pull it off. And then came the annoying scales. It was so confusing I felt like I was playing the piano for the first time. I can't believe I had studied complicated pieces on my own before and I can't even finger the scales right. She was patient enough to guide me through it, sometimes touching my hand, her rough palm grazing against the back of my hand; sometimes humming the melody which I needed to distinctly pluck out of the clutter of the arpeggio lines. If the room weren't heavily air conditioned, my armpits would've sweated a river. She asked me to study Daquin's Le Coucou as my homework. You have to follow the correct fingering, she said, otherwise you won't be able to play it well. We would also have some advanced Czerny exercises and more scales next time.

I excitedly went home that night and practiced until midnight, the prospect of playing a Haydn sonata titillating my ego.

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11 Comments:

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi slim whale, how much do you pay your teacher per session? How long is each session?

 
At 4:23 AM, Blogger ie said...

i never really aspired to play an instrument. (but if i were to choose, violin would be it.) i sing though, my notes scattered and abrasive, and i do it only in the bathroom. :)

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger aryo said...

"My main problem was incorrect fingering, which she identified right away."

Bakit ba kung saan-saan napunta ang utak when I read this? He he. Sori po. Peace!

 
At 5:51 PM, Blogger slim whale said...

anonymous -- one session lasts for an hour. it's not that expensive. but i don't know how much she charges for beginners. i think it's higher.

ie -- i do that too. it's my service to the showerhead and toilet bowl. they need to be entertained.

aryo -- oh yeah, we do a lot of "fingering." that's why i love the piano so much. hehe

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger rmacapobre said...

quand j'étais plus jeune, un ami m'a appris comment à jouer la chanson qui est intitulé tell me par joey albert? .. i memorize which keys to press thats it .. not a good way to learn ..

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger rebel_heart said...

piano lessons ! =D WOW . go you . but i could've taught you and you wouldn't have had to pay me . still , good on you for picking up a musical instrument . i wish i could pick up a new one too . music skills are wonderful to have . and handy for ice-breaking , random inspiration or whenever boredom strikes .

 
At 5:58 PM, Blogger slim whale said...

rebel hear -- really? you also play? wow, that's cool! you must be way better than i am.

 
At 7:20 PM, Blogger slim whale said...

rmacapobre -- ah, ouais, je la connais! quand j'étais jeune aussi, j'appris cette chanson de joey albert parce que ma petite coupine m'a donné la partition. Cette chanson apporte tous les souvenirs de l'amour enfantin...

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger Jap said...

I'd rather finger an organ than a piano lol

how do you even begin to read notes? it's so frustrating. I only do chords on the piano. makatugtog lang ako ng "a thousand miles" ni vanessa carlton ok na ako hehehe

hope you could upload some of your sessions here =) would love to hear you play Haydn.

 
At 1:26 PM, Blogger jet descallar said...

"She was just wearing a tight-fitting shirt and an extremely short pair of shorts." - i was delirously waiting for you to give more details on this... i'm surprised you didn't...

 
At 3:42 AM, Blogger slim whale said...

Jap -- who wouldn't want to finger that? :)i learned how to read notes first before i learned chords. chords are very tricky. you can play aroudn with it and people will think you're really great. i do that sometimes, i play with the same chords, rippling my fingers throughout the keyboard in very fast, vivace notes and my friends think i'm playing chopin. hehe. i'm actually just faking it.

jet -- manyakis! was so stressed during that time to actually notice the other details of her "attire"

 

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