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Filtering by Tag: piano instruction

Diabelli's Sonatina in F Major, Op. 168 No. 1

Cory Hall

This delightful gem has recently become my favorite teaching piece for a variety of reasons. I currently have several of my students working on this sonatina, students of different levels and abilities. This is "feel good" music that is fun to play and listen to, and in addition, is valuable for all piano students from the intermediate level up. Even students at the "advanced" or collegiate level can benefit from studying it. For more on the life and career of the lesser known Anton Diabelli, please CLICK HERE.

⇒ CLICK HERE for Piano Lessons via Skype -- I teach worldwide!! ⇐

The thing I like most about this work is that its brevity does not sacrifice musical quality. Every note and articulation is perfectly placed while each movement flows into the next with ease and grace. This sonatina teaches students many valuable skills, such as: staccato, legato, cantabile, staccato in one hand and legato in the other hand simultaneously, grace notes, short slurs, contrasting dynamics (pp to ff), ability to play in three different meters (4/4, 3/4, 6/8), ability to play in three contrasting tempos (Moderato, Andante, Allegretto), hand crossings.

In my opinion, this sonatina is an even finer work and has more to offer students than perhaps the most famous of all sonatinas, Muzio Clementi's famous Sonatina No. 1 (Op. 36 No. 1). Moreover, this sonatina serves as an ideal "litmus test" for the intermediate level pianist's overall technical and musical aptitude. If one has trouble with the technique and musicality in this sonatina, then one is not ready to study any of the Beethoven sonatas. However, if one plays this sonatina well and up to tempo and with good technique and musicianship, then one is ready to begin studying some of the less difficult Beethoven sonatas.

I urge all piano students to play and enjoy this sonatina, which is probably Diabelli's most well-known solo piano work. Please enjoy the video and thank you for reading this blog!


My Interpretation of "Für Elise" by Beethoven

Cory Hall

Für Elise (For Elise) is arguably "the most popular" piano piece of all time. I recorded it about four years ago for YouTube; however, I decided to upload a new interpretation which was brought about by my recent teaching of it to an 11-year-old student. (Teaching certain pieces to students often gets me motivated and in the mood to make video recordings.) I have since deleted the older version.

⇒ CLICK HERE for Piano Lessons via Skype -- I teach worldwide!! ⇐


One of the great things about music and piano is that, as long as one remains a human being and is still living and breathing, one will inevitably develop new interpretations of the same music. Play the same piece when you are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and beyond, and you will discover a different performer each time. This does not necessarily mean a "better" performer, but rather a "different" performer with a new conception of a very familiar work. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus claimed that one can never step in the same place in a river twice because the water is always flowing, and thus, the ground and sediment below constantly change. Such is also the case with musical interpretation.

In my new interpretation, I have decided upon a slightly faster tempo than my first recording. Most pianists, and especially young piano students, play this piece too fast and aggressively. Moreover, most piano students -- and I know this by teaching it hundreds of times -- play it much too loud and not "cantabile" enough. For example, the third section (with the repeated "A" in the bass) is often played like an aggressive "Indian dance" as if it were one the ubiquitous "Indian" pieces found in almost every piano method book. The correct character, however, is "subdued" and "mysterious" rather than "aggressive" or "energetic."

It is important to note that Beethoven marked most of Für Elise piano or pianissimo and that the loudest dynamic mark is mezzo forte. In addition, Beethoven also indicated several diminuendos combined with ritardandos, usually before the return of the main theme or end of a section. These are very often ignored or overlooked by most pianists. Another interpretive subtlety often overlooked by most pianists is the crescendo-decrescendo hairpin accompanying the first measure of the main theme. This indicates a slight emphasis on the second beat where the last "E" occurs before moving down to "B". I like to do an ever so slight holding back in tempo here, that is, a slight "rubato" which gives the theme added expression.

Für Elise is a calm, serene, and cantabile piece of music that should be played with a controlled tempo and with much expression. I have known this piece for around forty years now, and I never get tired of it. A good way to ruin Für Elise is to play it like a robot and ignore all the expressive indications, which is the way I have heard it played 90% of the time -- even by seasoned professionals. By the way, the tempo I have chosen in my new interpretation is 108 per eighth note (quaver) which to me, at this point in my life, seems like the perfect tempo. Please enjoy my new interpretation of Für Elise and thank you for reading this blog!


My Interpretation of WHITE CHRISTMAS by Irving Berlin

Cory Hall

This most famous of Christmas songs is gratifying and rewarding for all pianists to play. Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" has an interesting history. According to Wikipedia:

"White Christmas" is an Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta, California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there. He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!" (For the complete Wikipedia article, CLICK HERE.)

CLICK HERE for the sheet music for the original piano/vocal version, which is the version I play and discuss.

Although this song is classified as "intermediate" or "early intermediate," perhaps around level 4, this version transcends all classifications because it is simply great music. Intermediate-level piano students of level 4 all the way to advanced pianists of level 12 or beyond can all benefit by playing this version of "White Christmas." The most gratifying aspects of this version are the lush, legato melody accompanied by idiomatic chord voicings. The first four measures of the refrain -- that is, the famous "White Christmas" melody -- consists of continuous half steps creating a uniquely chromatic phrase. It is the only song or piece I can think of in which the main melody is fully chromatic. In order to do this phrase justice, the pianist must play totally legato 5-4-3-4 on the "dream-ing of a" measure while lifting 3-1, 2-1, 2-1, 2-1 on the bottom two fingers. In other words, with only one hand the pianist must connect one finger while not connecting other fingers. This is a particularly challenging technique that all piano students from around level 3 on must learn.

The technique of connecting some fingers and not connecting other fingers in the same hand is the most important technical challenge to be faced by intermediate level pianists. One will never be able to play 4-part writing in Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven well if one cannot master this technique. In most cases, like in this first phrase of the refrain, the top voice should be legato while the bottom voice(s) should be non-legato. This is also often the case in hymns where the top voice (soprano) is played legato while the voices below (alto, or alto and tenor) are played non-legato. Regardless of if the damper pedal is used, pianists need to pay close attention to the independent lines and the finger independence that is required to achieve a cantabile (i.e., "singing") sound, especially in the melody line.

I use much damper pedal in my performance, although I never let its use cover up my ability to connect voices and chords with the fingers. The general rule I follow is to be able to connect things and play fully cantabile without any pedal, and then finally add pedal for coloring and sonority. I like to refer to the pedal as the "frosting on the cake" once the cake is carefully prepared and ready to serve. In general, the pedal should be changed with every new chord or harmony.

Along with achieving finger legato and using of the pedal judiciously, choosing a convincing tempo is the next most important factor that contributes to a good performance. I play the tempo of half note equals 63 beats per minute. I find this tempo makes the song fast enough but at the same time not too fast. Of course, one wants to ritardando in strategic locations; however, when not slowing down at these points, it is best to adhere to the chosen tempo rather strictly.

I love this original version of "White Christmas" and believe pianists of all levels can benefit from practicing and playing it. It is melodious and romantic and requires careful finger control and voicing, judicious use of the damper pedal, and good choice of tempo. I hope you will enjoy my performance of "White Christmas" and if you are a pianist I hope you will practice and perform it not just in December, but all throughout the year! Merry Christmas!