Teaching Tips from Alfred Author, Dennis Alexander!

Dennis AlexanderAs many of you might know, I am a “dyed in the wool, hopeless Romantic” and have always loved the music of Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and other wonderful composers from the Romantic era. As a teacher, I’m also particularly aware of just how difficult and challenging it can be to get students to understand the many facets of performing romantic-style compositions. I’m delighted to share with you some “teaching tips” from one of my personal favorite collections, Especially in Romantic Style, Book 2. The piece is entitled “Impromptu in G minor”, and is a colorful, expressive piece that will help students at the intermediate level become more aware of these essential qualities that allow for a beautiful and artistic performance. As an added bonus, I am including this entire piece with notes (click here to view).

One of the first things I do when teaching a new piece is to go through the score with the student and determine the location of the “heart” of each phrase, i.e. the focal point, or most important note within the phrase. For many students, putting a few words underneath the melody line can help to achieve the correct shaping of the phrase. I also like to pencil in a little heart directly above the note that serves as the focal point of the phrase. Then, when the student goes home to practice, he/she will be more apt to shape the phrase correctly!

Notice that I have indicated “Dolce e con anima” in the beginning of this piece. It is tender and sweet, but also has many opportunities to push forward and then relax throughout, which helps to give it an impromptu or spontaneous character. Of course, what we’re really talking about is subtle rubato (I have indicated a tempo of 58–63 for the half note). This piece would sound deadly if played with the metronome throughout. There are ample opportunities throughout this piece to reinforce a floating, rising wrist at the ends of phrases.

In measure 16, ask students to slightly exaggerate the “and” of beat 2, which helps to create the musical placement of that downbeat in the following measure. Work on bringing out the top of RH chords in measure 17–20.

Between measures 22 and 23, take a little time between the E-natural and the A to help make this sound more tender and expressive. In measure 29, linger slightly on those descending eighth notes to create a warmer color and mood. Relax and breathe before the return to a tempo in measure 33. In measure 41, listen carefully to the balance of LH melody with RH accompaniment (work to bring out the top of the LH chords in measure 41–44). Again, I’ve made this a little easier for the student by using strong fingers on the top of each chord.

Use full arm weight behind the fingers in measure 45 to get a nice, rich tone in this RH melodic line, pushing the tempo ahead slightly into measure 51. Going into measure 53, do a graceful arc in the RH over that big leap into the 3rds of that downbeat. This also helps to place the downbeat rhythmically. The ending of this piece will feel very solid in the hand if your student blocks the groups of notes as indicated in red. Ask them to practice blocking this backwards as well, starting at the top and going “downhill”. This is harder, which in the end makes going up feel so very easy and secure. Then, take time at the end, and don’t be in any hurry to release the final chord; an elegant, beautiful rising wrist will help give the ending the right character and convincing choreography. It is always important to give a memorable last impression!

Working on pieces like this will help students understand the complexities of Romantic-style practices. When they get to their first Chopin waltz or mazurka, they’ll have the necessary tools to make those pieces come alive with color, choreography, and style!

Best Wishes,

Dennis Alexander
Author, Arranger, Composer

Especially in Romantic Style, Book 2

"Impromptu in G Minor" with Teaching Tips

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