Rule # 8 Distributed Work

We have all been guilty of trying to cram for a test, or writing a paper the night before it is due. What is the usual outcome? Not good! The human mind needs time to fully absorb new information, neurological pathways take time to form and become stable. Part of becoming a professional musician is the ability to absorb and perform music in as short of a time as possible. However this ability is really a reflection of solid earlier study which created a broad familiarity with a particular type of music. Taking time to carefully learn something new, giving yourself time to revisit the material many times over many days or months is the surest way to fully absorb and integrate this new material.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Journey Interrupted Update #3

As I waited for my left hand to heal from surgery, I took the opportunity to explore the very limited literature for the right hand alone. There has been very little ever written for just the right hand at the piano. However I did find one interesting nugget. Charles Alkan wrote a series of Etudes in his Op. 76. The first one is for the left hand, the second is for the right hand, and the final is for the hands reunited. These are substantial works with the Right Hand Etude running about 24 pages. It is written in a theme and variation format. It has the expected Alkan challenges but sits very well in the hand.

For therapeutic purposes I have returned to playing the 15 Two Part Inventions of Bach. One of the most interesting editions of these and the Three Part Sinfonias is the Alfred Edition with Willard Palmer as the editor. As part of the preface of each set, Mr. Palmer produces a chart of about 15 different performances, editions, and commentaries’ tempos. For most of the works there is about a 100% difference between the fastest and slowest tempos. As an initial part of my rehabilitation I am exploring how to create effective interpretations at the slower tempos. As my hand improves I will move to the other side of the scale and explore the changes which occur in the character of these pieces as their tempos increase.

One aspect of much of Bach’s music which has always fascinated me has been the flexibility of his music to make sense at a wide variety of tempos. There is content within every note such that even pieces which are traditionally played very fast such as the 4th invention in d minor can be played quite expressively at a slow tempo as well.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule #7 The KISS Principle

One of my favorite rules is: Keep It Simple Stupid! I am often guilty of analyzing a passage or even a written performance instruction to death.

This also reminds us that simplicity is the beginning of expression. We should project the central idea or line and then all else becomes secondary. Playing too many important things makes for a cacophonous mess, or is simply a case of lazy playing. Think about the single most important element and make sure that is clear first.

Many editors also will suggest elaborate fingering schemes which add unnecessary layers of difficulty to otherwise simple passages. I am not nearly smart enough to remember all of this fancy finger dancing so I always choose simple, easy to remember fingering patterns.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com

 



Commandment #6 Thou Shalt Concentrate at all Times

Technical facility is only developed with repetition, sometimes massive amounts of repetition. And here lies the problem. It is very easy to let the mind wander far afield as we slug through the 20th or 30th repetition of some passage. On a certain level mechanical facility is only arrived at when conscious control has faded far into the back ground. A certain degree of “mindlessness” is our goal. But this is not a time for day dreaming, but rather a stepping back and becoming mindful of a higher level of activity. As mastery is achieved incrementally, you become aware of a larger context. You fit the details into the larger context of the phrase or series of phrases.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com

 



Commandment #5 Thou Shalt Practice Every Day

While this might be self evident to those of us who have made daily practice a life time discipline, we shouldn’t assume everybody shares our understanding of its importance.

In the studio of a client of mine there is a poster showing the difference in how long it takes to do 100 hours of practice. At 5 minutes a day, or 30 minutes a week, it takes 4 years to practice 100 hours, but 30 minutes a day it only takes 9 months to do the same work.

Cognitive scientists can also demonstrate the greater learning efficiency which occurs to more substantial study periods done on a very regular basis. The 30 minute per day practicing student will actually accomplish 5 or 6 times as much learning with the same total time invested as the 30 minute per week student. Athletic coaches figured this out long time ago, hence the daily practices most school athletic teams employ.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com




Me and Charley Hanon

I, like most pianists, have a long and at times sordid history with Monsieur Hanon. As I begin to rehab my left hand I thought that maybe a return to the simplicity and repetitive nature of Hanon may be just the therapy I needed to restore coordination and strength following the surgery.

Going through my filing cabinets I found my original copy of Book One of Hanon’s virtuous exercises. I was a little taken back by the dates my first teacher, Velma Snodden, (yes, the little old lady down the street) had written into the book. I had started this endeavor in my second year of lessons. Upon completion of this book with her I moved on to the unending joys of Czerny.

My next contact with dear Charles was my freshman year at college. My teacher said he preferred the “pure” technical work of Hanon to the quasi-musical works of Czerny, so back to Charley I went. Somewhere along the way I had heard it is best to play these gems in all 12 keys, and certainly you can do better than the posted speed limit of 108 to the quarter. So always being one to over-do everything, I spent my youthful energy working every one of the first 20, in all 12 keys, to the magical speed of 144 to the quarter note. Ah, the follies of youth.

I did succeed in my endeavor and in the end asked myself if it had really been worth the effort. There is no way to truly answer this question, though I think I did reach an answer because I never used them in my teaching and had never once played them again after reaching this milestone.

And now here I am in my maturity returning to Monsieur Hanon’s exercises in the hope I will be able to play again at the level I had become accustomed. The paths we take through life sometimes takes us back to where we began for the most unexpected of reasons.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule #6 Be Mentally Active “How can I Remember That Note?”

I shudder to think about how much time I wasted in my own practice with mindless repetition. I would often play scales and my literature with thoughtless and endless repetition; hoping somehow that I would learn the music and usually through brute effort eventually succeeding.

As I got older and busier and the literature I was playing became greatly more complex I realized I needed to become more efficient and productive in my efforts. One of the breakthroughs was learning to ask the question: “How can I remember that note?”

This question causes one to look for relationships between passages, relationships within passages; anything which would aid in understanding the function and purpose of each individual note.

The boarder understanding of a note’s relationship to the rest of the work allows you to bring a fuller musical understanding to bear in addition to aiding memory.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Journey Interrupted Update #2

When I last visited these pages I had just had surgery on my left hand and was experiencing the usual post-operative pain issues. That began to change about the 5th day after my surgery. My hand became increasingly sore and I found the bandages more irritating by the day. At the followup appointment with my surgeon it was determined I had an infection in my hand and I was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL.

By the time I arrived at the ER I was in pain such that I have never experienced nor wish to ever experience again. I was given several doses in quick succession of a pain medication 4 times stronger than morphine just to bring the pain to a manageable level where I could participate in discussions about my condition with the physicians. The next morning I had surgery to install 3 drains in my hand and to take tissue samples of the infection. While these cultures matured I was put on broad spectrum antibiotics and continued with significant pain medications. I was released 5 days later only to be readmitted a couple of hours later when the infection reasserted itself. I had another drain put into my hand and continued with broad spectrum antibiotics and antibiotics specific to my pathology. After nearly 8 total days I was released again and am now home.

The surgery seems to have been successful, though my rehab has been delayed due to the infection, but every day I have less pain and more mobility and strength.

I spent both stays at Good Sam on the 53rd Ward. If you have ever had to stay in the hospital for a long duration under very trying and frightening conditions you know how critical the nursing and nursing aid staff is to your recovery. I cannot sing my praises of these tireless angels of mercy loud enough. The effects of heavy narcotics and unremitting pain through long lonely nights can leave you in a very fragile state. The care and compassion I received from these exemplary professionals will never be forgotten.

I came to learn that there was a whole host of brothers and sisters holding me up in prayer throughout this long ordeal. I learned what it means to be carried by others when I couldn’t carry even myself.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com