Pianist, teacher and writer Catherine Shefski studied at Smith College, Massachusetts, and at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, where she was taught by EPTA founder, Carola Grindea. Catherine has performed as a soloist and chamber musician, has taught “virtual” piano lessons, and writes an informative blog, All Piano, with the mission to “make piano lessons relevant for the digital generation”.
During my piano playing “formative” years, age eight to seventeen, I studied with four piano teachers. Two teachers at college and four post-grad brings the total to ten. Each teacher contributed something to my growth as a pianist and as a teacher. I find myself passing along choice tidbits of information to my students, clearing up confusion about musical terminology and offering practice tips.
I’d like to share just a few lessons I learned along the way, in addition to all the repertoire, which made certain teachers (and lessons) memorable.
- Piu means “more” and peu means “little.”
- Piu mosso means more motion and meno mosso means less motion.
- Accidentals do not affect the same note of a different octave, unless indicated by a key signature.
- Senza means without and sempre means always.
- To shape the melodic line it usually makes sense to go to the long note.
- If there is no fingering written in the score, follow the “next note, next finger” rule.
- Una corda means use the soft pedal (one string); tre corda means release the soft pedal (three strings).
- When you have two phrases with identical notes and rhythm, make them different by dynamic contrast or a change in touch.
- Grace notes in Chopin are generally played on the beat.
- F# minor melodic scale is the only scale that changes fingering on the descent.
- m.d. (main droite) right hand and m.g. (main gauche) left hand.
- With a ritardando at the end of a piece pay attention to the space between the notes. Should be incrementally longer with the longest wait before the last note.
- When working on very soft passages, practice “excavating the pianissimo.” In other words, begin from nothing and then gradually you’ll get to the softest sound possible.
- Before playing extended octave passages, try flipping your arm over and reaching an octave with your hand upside down, fingers pointing to the floor. It a good stretch!
- Sopra means above.
- Sotto voce meas “under voice”, or soft.
- A staccato note under a slur is a portato. Think of it as a “plump staccato.”
- When working for dynamic contrast, practice stopping and preparing before the change.
- When working with large complicated chordal passages, practice squeezing the chord to shape the hand. Your muscles will remember.
- Sightread chords from the bottom to the top.
- To play a passage of thirds, fourths, fifths, etc. legato lift the finger that is to be repeated while connecting the rest.
- When in doubt sing the melody.
© Catherine Shefski