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.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Musical Investigations: Episode 4 - Muczynski's "Time Pieces"

In this musical investigation I look at just two measures from Muczynski's first movement of his "Time Pieces," for clarinet and piano.  I knew right off the bat that I would be spending quite a bit of time with these 31 notes and it's proving to be true.  But I'm getting there.  

Here's the passage in question:

I've learned a few things about Mr. Muczynski.  I've learned that his name is fun to say, that his music is always very rhythmically exciting, and the thing that begins our current investigation, that he must have loved octatonic scales which are scales that alternate between whole steps and half steps.

I love octatonic scales - truly.   But not this particular use of them.  Why?  Because Mr. Muczynski decided to not have the hands playing the same intervals at the same time - when the right hand is playing a half step the left hand is playing a whole step.  And when the right hand is playing a whole step, the left hand is playing a half step.  Oh ugh.  That is not nice!  But it does provide a wonderful mental challenge which I gladly accept.

So how to proceed?
  1. Find a good fingering and mark it in.  I knew that I wanted to reduce the number times I needed to shift my hands in order to keep things more simple and to avoid finger-tangling episodes.  I also found a way to finger them so that I would be using my thumbs in both hands at the same time as much as possible.  This gives me a sense of security and helps my brain to regroup whenever I land on those thumbs.  I made sure to mark in all the fingerings so that in the beginning stages I would be repeating the exact same fingering.  Not all people like doing this and would rather keep the music more clean but I prefer this method.  I figure I can always erase some of the more obvious ones as soon as the passage is well-learned and memorized.
  2. Mark in the material that immediately follows the scales.  Of course this passage falls right on a page-turn which is an invitation for a weak moment so I took a second to write in the notes that fall on the downbeat of the next measure so that I could work that in from the beginning of learning this passage.  
  3. Learn each hand separately so that I can play it in my sleep.  This didn't take terribly long because like I said before, I love octatonic scales and am pretty familiar with them.  But I always like to give myself a moment of success before I tackle something challenging, in this case putting the hands together.  
  4. Slowly put the hands together.  I have to admit this was slow going and I do believe my brain started to physically hurt.  Realizing that this might not work very well on its own I moved on to...
  5. Come up with a strategy to help my brain have something to grab onto.   After struggling to come up with something I finally realized that if I locked onto the right hand and onto which interval I was playing at a given moment I could pretty easily tell my left hand to simply do the other interval.  Seems crazy, perhaps, and keep in mind I had to do this super slow, but pretty quickly my brain and my hands started to latch onto the technique.  It allowed me to focus my eyes on only one line of notes which left some room in my brain to process the I should be doing in the other hand.  Quieting my eyes almost always quiets my brain.
After these steps I was well on my way but I still had to build up speed, comfort, and accuracy.  That leads to today's practice section which I videotaped.  Using many of the practice techniques that I use in fast passages, here is what I did in about 6 minutes of practicing:
  • rhythms (I don't like to do dotted rhythms, personally - I chose these because there are always two notes in the pattern on which I can really sit on and affirm that I know what I'm doing.)
  • add-a-note, starting first with the individual measures and then linking them all together
  • backwards - this is a relatively new technique for me.  I like the challenge in it and I do think it helps, for whatever reason.
  • hands crossed - in this exercise I play the left hand up an octave so that it's higher than the right hand.  It's a great way to really hear that left hand that so easily can hide behind the right in terms of security, clarity, and sound.  

So there you have it!  Musical mystery solved.  Hopefully a few days of practicing these two measures 6 minutes will work.  


  1. Good anchors noticing when thumbs play together. FWIW, I see these (visually on keyboard) as diminished chords with grace notes.

    Happy practicing!

    1. Ooooo, RachDminor...I didn't see that! Thank you!!


  2. Another method is just to hold the pedal down (all the way down - wait, make that both pedals) and close your eyes and....go! You're a proponent of improvisation, right?

  3. Ha ha ha! Now that is a solution that I may just have to resort too ;-). Thanks, Michael.