My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beethoven in a Quandary - Day 13

It's more like I'm in the quandary, but I decided to stay consistent with my titling.

Rodin's "The Thinker," image from
Wikimedia Commons
It all has to do with fingering.  Here I am, one week before I'm going to record the Beethoven, still finding new and sometimes better fingerings for various passages.  I suppose it's inevitable because at this point I'm really nitpicking and being sensitive to the little things that aren't working as well as I'd like them to be working.  And when things don't feel like things are comfortable in my fingers one of the first things I do is examine fingerings.  I think that's fine, especially early on in the learning process but what I'm wondering is when I should stop changing things and just make do with what I've got.  In this post's practice session I spent quite a bit of time at the end of the cadenza figuring out and writing in new fingers but after listening to day 13's session and having another go at the passage in question today I'm having second thoughts about whether or not I should really be changing this late in the game.  I feel like I'm confusing myself now and I'm concerned that when I go to perform I'm going to be trying to remember the fingering instead of playing the music.  Probably not a good thing.   So my conclusion, for now, is that I'm no longer going to be changing fingerings.  If I play this piece again in the future, then perhaps I'll revisit some other options.

Following my fingering fest I grappled with another passage in the cadenza that I want to improve.  I decided to use another one of my practice techniques that I often use.  I call it my "Reductionist" technique.  It is comprised of reducing a passage of music to the bare bones, more importantly what I consider the essential bare bones, leaving out a lot of the filler material that can often distract me from the important line.  When I do this by memory, it makes the technique even more challenging but also productive.  You'll hear several wrong notes while I'm working this all out but I think that's ok - the wrong notes aren't there out of ignorance, they're there because I'm struggling a bit and for me, cognitive struggling produces more solid understanding.  I see several other advantages to doing this exercise.  First of all, the process of distilling what I think is important prompts me to really listen and to make some important decisions - I'm not just playing the notes because that's what's on the page.  Secondly, if I have a specific line that I'm following it can help me stay on track should a few filler notes get played incorrectly.  I can more easily say, "Oh's what's really important anyway" and move on while maintaining the musicality that I want the audience to grasp.  Doing this exercise also forces my mind to slip out of automatic mode, engaging it in an activity that usually re-energizes me, which is always a good thing when it comes to practicing.  

I practiced the opening of the slow movement to review what I had worked on the previous day in regards to opening my sound up a bit and allowing all the notes to sing.  I was so tempted to just keep playing on in the movement but since I only had 15 minutes I moved on to the third.  Sigh.  

Third movement - continued drilling in the coda.  It's a tricky passage and my hands keep getting quite tired so I tried to find places to make sure that I was retracting my hand so that it wasn't staying open for the entire time, thus tiring me out.  I'm hoping that it's partly my piano that's contributing to the problem - I think I need to try it out on another piano to check on that.  More woodshedding in the third movement and then "ding" - time's up!

Time flies by when you're having fun.  


  1. I think you have a very rational plan for mastering this music to your satisfaction before recording day. You probably already plan to do this, but may I suggest that you stick with one way of doing things (fingering, phrasing, etc) at some arbitrary point before you record? My hunch is it will make your recording session more efficient. Best wishes!

  2. Jamey,
    Thank you - that is a very good idea and as of today, I'm done tweaking the music I think. I feel like I need to just live with it now.

    So there you have it. We'll see what happens at next week's recording session!

    Thank you so much for listening and for all your very insightful and helpful comments.