My Mozart Project
Learning Mozart, learning to concentrate again
I have allowed my powers of to wane. It is most noticeable when I am learning a new piano piece. It takes longer, and I don’t do a good job because my performances are never free of lapses and blemishes. And soon after I’ve finished with the piece, it slips off my brain. I can still concentrate at the piano, but only for moments that are not often enough or long enough to engender lasting improvement. This has been playing on my mind, and now, housebound courtesy of the pesky coronavirus, I am going to do something about it.
My project is a Mozart sonata. The benchmark is the video below. Jianing Kong plays Mozart especially well.
K333 is ideal for this type of project. Though technically demanding it is within my grasp. But I need to sustain good concentration or I will never learn everything required to play the sonata with the lightness, clarity, control and musicality evident in Jianing Kong’s performance. I can hear every note. Even the subservient ones provide a silken backdrop to the melody. There are no unimportant notes. A correct note played wrongly, let alone a wrong note, will stand out and spoil the performance. Only Mozart demands that level of precision. No other composer exposes the pianist so much.
Page one (of twenty)
So, how will I approach learning a piece of music containing a few thousand unforgiving notes? I have created a project plan in which the piece, broken up into segments, will be taken through learning the notes, picking up speed and preparing for performance.
I don’t know how long it will take, but it doesn’t matter as I practise every day.
I prepare a checklist of things to focus on. My rule for ensuring good concentration is constant review and repetition.
Learning the notes, laying the foundation
A project of this sort is like building a house, and learning the notes is the equivalent of laying the foundation. I read the pages I am about to tackle for the first time. I look for repeated sections to reduce duplication and note patterns to simplify the effort. I write the fingering for tricky passages. I go over my checklist and start to play. I strive for a pace that enables me to sight read fluently while assessing what’s on the list: Learning the notes; choice of fingering; relaxed state of fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, back, neck; posture; position on piano stool.
After a minute or two I stop and go over the checklist. If something has escaped my attention or is not good enough or needs correcting, I repeat the section, maybe a bit slower.
Picking up speed, overcoming challenges
This is where difficulties surface, where my technique is challenged. I read the pages I am going to play today, noting the sections that will require extra effort. The same checklist applies, with a few additions. I start. Playing fast entails different muscular behaviour, somewhat like the difference between walking and running. My mind will need to work quicker too. When I reach a difficult section, I practise it in isolation using the metronome to build up speed. In my reviews I analyse every moment of awkwardness, of unnecessary tension. Once I understand the cause, the solution won’t be far away.
The reward: preparing for performance
It hasn’t happened yet, but I suspect I’ll be ready to embark on this stage when I can play the entire sonata with floating arms gliding my hands across the keyboard, dropping fingers effortlessly into the keys. I’ll keep you posted.