Learning musicality - Icing on the cake?

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Aug 27, 2006 8:54 am


Can you tell us who wrote it and when?


Bill L.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby Glissando88keys » Sun Aug 27, 2006 11:20 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Gliss.,

Can you tell us who wrote it and when?


Bill L.

Certainly. Piano Technique: Tone, Touch Phrasing and Dynamics, by Lillie H. Philip, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1982. The Dover edition, first published in 1982, is an unabridged republication of the work originally published by MCA Music, New York in 1962 under the title Piano Study: Application & Technique.

This book contains all of the basic technique essentials, as well as tips for practicing and pedaling. It includes excerpts from the masters, as well as illustrations and quotes.

The author, an accomplished performer and teacher, studied with students of Busoni and Liszt.

A Tree of Keyboard Masters and Students chart is included at the back of the book.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Thu Jun 21, 2007 11:37 am

Hi. I've just discovered this forum and have been reading about musicality, technique etc. I am a half-century old violin student with no musical training whatsoever until a few years ago. I had the ability to "move" people with my playing, felt the music etc. which is one definition of musicality. I taught myself piano as a child which I played rather wildly I assume and then did not have access to a piano for almost 30 years. I got a shallow keyboard, a "toy" a year ago, and just replaced it 3 months ago.

In the last 12 months my attitude toward music has turned sharply. The "feeling" and even the external music that the audience hears is no longer what I aim for, yet it ends up being produced. I've had some long conversations with my teacher about what constitutes musicianship and musicality, and who would be willing to go through the trouble of labouring through the tools needed. We do some piano.

I am studying music theory as I can. I will be performing the some Gavotte variations and another piece in a few days (to my surprise). I am developing these pieces, and the only reason I can do that is because I have some of the theoretical tools. A baroque trill: light attack, strong into the main note, a certain speed. There are a pairs of phrases with different notes but same rhythm: antecedent and complement. How long, while respecting tempo, do I want to draw out the last note and come into the ending of the phrase on the next note of the bar (drawing it out in order to use time as an accent)? Knowing that what I do in the first phrase I will mirror in the next phrase in order to set this pair apart. What are the dynamics of 4/4 time, 2/2 and how do I use this? I googled gavottes and was fortunate to see some period dancers. An old man with a white beard and a tuxedo in the middle of a park, like in a fairy tale once told me, "You must make the singer sing when you play." If I am playing a gavotte, I must make the dancer dance. How can I play a gavotte if I do not understand the rhythms, the dance style, the nature and personality of the piece - if I do not know that accents consist of tempo, dynamics, or (not on piano) pitch? How can I play something if I don't have a concept of what I want to play?

All of these elements are incorporated into my playing. It makes a humungous difference to the piece. However, not everyone will want to learn these things, work in that way, or maybe manage to get beyond the mechanics.

An experience re: playing with feeling. Maybe that's the first step? A few days ago I was playing the piece with the feeling of the music in my hands, as I always play. Something was missing. I played again, and the second time I shifted my focus, concentrated on the technical details that create the dynamics, rythm, subtle pauses etc. The feedback I received was that the second time I played, there was much more musicality and feeling, than when I played the first time with "musical feeling".

So these are the thoughts of one adult student on musicality.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Jun 22, 2007 9:22 am

Good thoughts, and some good experiences to share. Thanks for writing, and welcome to the board. It's especially helpful sometimes to have the input of people whose main instrument is not piano, but who share the same personal feelings and experiences that music uniquely provides, and work with the same interplay between the technical/analytical aspect and the instinctive/musical side.

The great pianist Josef Hofmann once illustrated ideal musical growth with a circle. At the beginning (top of the circle) it's all simple--we know nothing of the complexities involved. Then, as we progress around the circle we become more and more aware of the enormous technical difficulties, and the discipline necessary to learn theory, history, style and to refine and channel our musical feelings. The bottom of the circle represents the point of greatest complexity. Then we begin to ascend the opposite side, gradually mastering technique, historical knowledge, theoretical understanding, and an ever-expanding awareness and expression of the infinite variety of emotions music can give us. Eventually, all these things are gradually merged together and cease to be separate categories, and we arrive at the top of the circle and simplicity again.

This represents the ideal, of course, but it can happen to all of us in varying degrees.

Dr. Bill L.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:50 am

How interesting. It is all simplicity, isn't it? You can only play one note at a time, and move from one note to the next within a given space of time. That's really all there is.

Somebody or other said that it's not the notes you play, but what's between the notes in the silences. There is also a jazz musician who admonished playing what isn't there. I'm not sure that I'm there yet.
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Postby musicman12583 » Fri Jul 06, 2007 12:29 pm

pianissimo wrote:...In the last 12 months my attitude toward music has turned sharply. The "feeling" and even the external music that the audience hears is no longer what I aim for, yet it ends up being produced...


I think this is the most important thing we have to remember, either as performers or teachers. Music is based on the feelings and ideas of people who were moved enough by them to spend the time to put it down on paper. I think of all the performances that have inspired me most. There is only so much technicality that a human can attain, but the ideas and feelings the performer puts into the performance make the music alive. Beethoven's mind was not blank when he wrote the Moonlight Sonata (for example), yet so many students play it with a blank mind it is painful to listen to.

It starts from the first note the children play. The "Ant Song", with its two notes, can be played as an exercise or piece of music. The difference is what is done with the two notes. If it is called the "Ant Song", the child should be thinking about ants when he/she plays it, doing everything he/she possibly can to imitate the sound an ant would make. It is my job to teach the child to describe an ant through music. Once a person can put his/her emotions into a piece (or better yet, take on a reasonably close version of the composer's) that is when notes become music.
Anyway, that's what I think.
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Postby 112-1182392787 » Tue Jul 17, 2007 7:36 am

My statement actually reflected the opposite: however the two same things are contained. The theme that has occupied us for some weeks is the relationship between music and technique. As a previously self-taught amateur, I put feeling into my music, but I had no technique. In this time period what has gelled is: technique (how to do it); musicality-theory (nature of 2/2 or 4/4 time with strong/weak beat & its musical character through this, the perpetually rolling compound time that in 3's was once considered sacred, character & purpose of a Gavotte (slow dance - gotta watch period dancers before playing one!) but translated also back into dynamic-time-pitch (latter only if you're not limited by piano pitch :p ) --- "musicality" goes back into technique because with technique you have the how for the what ... and you get music out of this, and also emotion. These are the twins of technique and music. Which pulls the other?

On the other hand, when you learn technique as a bare thing, it has no purpose. What do you aim toward when playing a piece? The technique gives you the means to that aim. "Feeling" can remain as tension and a rapidly beating heart: you feel the emotion as you play, but it does not reach your fingertips and the audience. But those little kids playing the two notes with feeling are also connecting body, mind and emotion and bringing it into their fingertips.

The piece that I performed in the student recital was Tchaikovski's Choral movement in the Children's Suite. I worked out each phrase, which immediately goes into use of time (slight lingering from one note to the other, for example) and dynamics, thus technique. The 2/2 tempo meant only one strong beat, so 4 even tones with the first slightly accented, and this gave a character to the music. But there is also imagery: the choir singing fervently (choir voices are evenly balanced so left or right did not have a leading voice, or barely), the second half being an answer from heaven with the high chords descending like angels in a different character of the first part, but the ostinato E a steady reassuring beat of the Holy presence or rhythm of life, while the other left hand notes as they appear like a secular-sacred bridge answering the human voices. Technical again: how to move the pinky independently for all those E's, when it is the weakest finger, while playing the other notes very dynamically to match the dynamics of the 'choir'? "Musicality" - does the ostinato move dynamically as much as the other notes? This is a portrait of what musicality has ended up meaning for me.

In one of my last lessons before the concert I slipped into playing the piece as though "performing" as I might have in the past: I felt the music, played it that way, and it was not bad. Something was missing for me: the second time I played it while paying attention to every aspect of every note and the movement of one to the other, "technically". I was involved in my playing and could not judge. My teacher told me the second time, when I was playing more technically and into the "musicality" theoretical kinds of details, transmitted more feeling than the first time, when *I* was feeling the music and when it seemed to flow for me.

These are my experiences, and I'm still a student.
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