Category Archives: Articles

How to Practice the Piano: Avoiding Play-Related Injuries

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How to Practice the Piano: Avoiding Play-Related Injuries

When I was a little girl and just beginning piano lessons, my teacher spent what I considered an inordinate amount of time talking about posture and hand position. At eight years old, I was much more interested in making music than getting posture and position correct.

But when I retired from teaching and began seriously practicing piano again in my mid-sixties, I found that my hands ached during and after practice. I chalked it up to arthritis.

The repeated chords in the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata were particularly troublesome. I realized I was tensing my fingers and pounding the piano. But how else could I play that passage?

I was also revisiting the Schmitt exercises, and I found some that specifically dealt with eliminating tension by moving the hand from the wrist, keeping the arms still. Exercise 48 works with thirds and sixths, repeated and scales; exercise 51 works with repeated octaves and scales in octaves. I applied that technique to measures 25-29, 43-52, 121-125 and 138-147 of the Moonlight Sonata, third movement, and it helped.

Over 50% of professional pianists experience play-related injuries at some time in their careers.

 

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Sergei Rachmaninoff

I saw a list of famous pianists who suffered from injuries, and Sergei Rachmaninoff was mentioned, which I consider poetic justice. How many pianists were destroyed by the unplayable chords in his Prelude in c# minor? I have small hands. How do you play a full, wide chord without stretching your fingers to the breaking point?

I polled some of my pianist friends on Facebook, and their best suggestion was rolling the hand from left to right, letting go of the lowest note and keeping it sounding with the sostenuto pedal. That’s a new skill for me, and it will take lots of practice until I can do it well. I didn’t even know I had a sostenuto pedal until recently.

Realize that the editor’s fingering markings in your music might not work for you. I’d always assumed they were the only correct way to play the passage. However, it’s subjective. Experiment with different possibilities, especially on chords of less than five notes in either hand.

Playing piano with tension in the body (hands, arms, shoulders, back, butt, legs) causes damage. So does playing while slouching. If you’re having pain, that’s a sign that something is wrong. Stop. Playing through the pain can have long-term adverse effects.

Elizabeth Mueller Grace discusses the role of posture and alignment in preventing injuries:

Beth Grace works with a student to correct alignment errors.

Muscle memory is a boon to pianists, in that it enables us to memorize music; but it’s also a curse, because it makes bad habits in our practice are so very hard to unlearn.

Dorothy Taubman developed an approach to playing the piano that eliminates damage caused by improper alignment. She identified four errors that cause structural damage: twisting the hand, collapsing the wrist; overspreading the fingers; and overcurling the fingers.

An introduction to the Taubman Approach:

I would love to learn the Taubman Approach for playing dense, spread-out chords, but the only way is to take lessons from a Taubman-trained instructor, or to take the Taubman workshops yourself. Or you can stream Taubman Approach videos for $14.99 per month. I have not done any of these, but I’m thinking about them.

Sources and related reading:

https://majoringinmusic.com/preventing-resolving-piano-injury/

http://thepianoteacher.com.au/articles/the-taubman-approach-to-piano-technique/

http://www.pianocareer.com/piano-practice/how-to-deal-with-piano-practice-related-hand-injuries-and-muscle-pain/

http://pianomap.com/injuries/index.html (read all 7 sections)

http://pianomap.com/taubman.html

https://takelessons.com/blog/piano-guide-injury-prevention Scroll down to “Knowing When to Stop: Common Injuries and How to Avoid Them.”

http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/pianoinjury.htm

http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/bptaubman.htm

https://www.nytimes.com/1981/06/14/arts/when-a-pianist-s-fingers-fail-to-obey.html

https://www.richmanmusicschool.com/articles/pianists-pain-prevention-tips

https://medium.com/real-world-music-theory/how-to-play-large-chords-that-are-too-far-for-your-hand-8d6b72d5bc2b

Georges Seurat

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Georges Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat (December 2, 1859–March 29, 1891) was a French post-Impressionist artist. He is best known for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism. Pointillism is a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image.

Georges Seurat followed a conventional academic training, drawing from casts of antique sculpture and copying drawings by old masters. Seurat’s studies resulted in a well-considered theory of contrasts. His formal artistic education came to an end in November 1879, when he left the École des Beaux-Arts for a year of military service. After a year at the Brest Military Academy, he returned to Paris where he shared a studio with his friend Edmond Aman-Jean, also an artist, while also renting a small apartment. For the next two years, he worked at mastering the art of monochrome drawing. His first exhibited work, shown at the Salon of 1883, was a Conté crayon drawing of Aman-Jean. He also studied the works of Eugène Delacroix carefully, making notes on his use of color.

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Portrait of Edmond Armand-Jean by Seurat

Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières was rejected by the Paris Salon, so he showed it at the Groupe des Artistes Indépendants instead in May, 1884. Soon, however, disillusioned by the poor organization of the Indépendants, Seurat and some other artists he had met through the group set up a new organization, the Société des Artistes Indépendants. Seurat’s new ideas on pointillism strongly influenced the other artists in the new society.

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Bathers at Asniéres by Seurat

In summer 1884, Seurat began work on A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The painting shows people participating in various recreational activities. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors physically blended on the canvas. It took Seurat two years to complete this 10-foot-wide painting, much of which he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work (there are about 60 studies). A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886), altered the direction of modern art by initiating Neo-impressionism, and is one of the icons of late 19th-century painting. The painting was the inspiration for James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George.

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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat

During the 19th century, the scientists Michel Eugène Chevreul, Ogden Rood and David Sutter wrote treatises on color, optical effects and perception. They adapted the scientific research of Hermann von Helmholtz and Isaac Newton into a form accessible to laypeople. Artists followed new discoveries in perception with great interest.

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Parade de Cirque by Seurat

Seurat took to heart the color theorists’ notion of a scientific approach to painting. He believed that a painter could use color to create harmony and emotion in art in the same way that a musician uses counterpoint and variation to create harmony in music. He theorized that the scientific application of color was like any other natural law, and he was driven to prove this conjecture. He thought that the knowledge of perception and optical laws could be used to create a new language of art based on its own set of principles and he set out to show this language using lines, color intensity and color schema. Seurat called this language Chromoluminarism.

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Les Poseuses by Seurat. Note A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte hanging on the wall.

Seurat’s theories can be summarized as follows: The emotion of gaiety can be achieved by the domination of luminous hues, by the predominance of warm colors, and by the use of lines directed upward. Calm is achieved through an equivalence/balance of the use of the light and the dark, by the balance of warm and cold colors, and by lines that are horizontal. Sadness is achieved by using dark and cold colors and by lines pointing downward.

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The Seine and la Grande Jatte – Springtime by Seurat

Seurat fell in love with Madeleine Knobloch (1868–1903), an artist’s model whom he portrayed in his painting Jeune femme se poudrant. In 1889 she moved in with Seurat in his studio. He hid their relationship.

494px-Georges_Seurat,_1889-90,_Jeune_femme_se_poudrant_(Young_Woman_Powdering_Herself),_oil_on_canvas,_95.5_x_79.5_cm,_Courtauld_Institute_of_Art

Jeune femme se poudrant by Seurat

When Madeleine became pregnant, the couple moved to a studio at 39 passage de l’Élysée-des-Beaux-Arts (now rue André Antoine). There she gave birth to their son, who was named Pierre-Georges, on February 16, 1890.

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The Laborers by Seurat. Notice the thick brush strokes.

Seurat died in Paris in his parents’ home on March 29, 1891 at the age of 31. The cause of his death is inconclusive, attributed to meningitis, pneumonia, infectious angina, or diphtheria. His son died two weeks later from the same disease.

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Landscape at Saint-Ouen by Seurat. This one seems almost impressionistic.

It’s amazing that an artist with such a short career had such a profound impact on the art of his day.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Creative Juice #138

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Creative Juice #138

I am in awe.

Creative Juice #137

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Creative Juice #137

Inspiration for your creative soul:

Z is for Ziggy Marley

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Z is for Ziggy Marley

When I taught elementary general music, one of the songs in our series was Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, and it was often requested by my students. Here is Ziggy singing his dad’s song.

David Nesta “Ziggy” Marley (born 17 October 1968) is a Jamaican musician and leader of the band Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and the son of reggae icons Bob Marley and Rita Marley.

In 1979, Ziggy and his siblings Sharon, Cedella and Stephen formed the Melody Makers – named after the British weekly pop/rock music newspaper, Melody Maker – and made their recording debut with “Children Playing in the Streets”. The track was written for them by their father, who had composed the song for them four years earlier and wanted to share this gift with children around the world. All royalties from the single were pledged to the United Nations, to aid its efforts during the International Year of the Child.

In 1984, Ziggy Marley got back into the studio with his siblings and English producer Steve Levine for what became the single, “Lying in Bed.” The following year, they released their debut LP, Play the Game Right. The album was produced by their mother, Rita Marley, and featured Aston and Carlton Barrett, who were originally the rhythm section for Bob Marley’s Wailers, on bass and drums, respectively.

Skipping forward to 1995, the group signed a record deal with Elektra and released “Free Like We Want 2 B” accompanied by the group’s own recording label “Ghetto Youths United”. The album charted at #170 on the Billboard 200 chart and #3 on the Top Reggae Albums chart. The single “Power to Move Ya” charted #13 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles.

In 1996 Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers released a song called “Love Power” for the Jim Henson soundtrack movie Muppet Treasure Island with the composers Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil. He also performed the song “Hey What a Wonderful Kind of Day” which was later released as the theme song to the Arthur TV Show on PBS.

Here’s a more recent version of “Hey What a Wonderful Kind of Day” with friends Jon Baptiste and Chance the Rapper:

In early 1997, the group performed at the tribute concert “Marley Magic Live” in Central Park, New York on the Summerstage. They also released their second best-of album “The Best of (1988-1993)”. Later that year, the group released their ninth album “Fallen Is Babylon“. In 1998, the second single “Everyone Wants to Be” charted at #16 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart. The album earned the group their third Grammy award.

The YouTube video below of “Everyone Wants to Be” has an annoying crackle. Another YouTube video was redubbed directly from the album, without the crackle, but after a while it doesn’t sync correctly. I’d say watch this one until the crackle starts.

In 1999, the group released their tenth studio album, “The Spirit of Music”. The album peaked at #1 on the Top Reggae Albums chart. The album spawned the singles “Higher Vibration”, “Jah Will Be Done”, and “One Good Spliff”.

Ziggy Marley’s debut solo album, Dragonfly was released on 15 April 2003. The album featured the single “True To Myself.”

Something more recent, Rebellion Rises, which came out in 2018:

AtoZ2019tenthAnnMuch of the text of this article was excerpted from Wikipedia.

Photograph of Ziggy Marley by John Mathew Smith, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

X is for Xu Wei

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X is for Xu Wei

Xu Wei (1521–1593) was a Ming dynasty Chinese painter, poet, and dramatist famed for his artistic expressiveness. He is considered the founder of modern painting in China.

Xu, a child prodigy, was raised by a single mother who died when he was 14. At 21, he married a woman surnamed Pan, who died five years later.

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Chrysanthemums and Bamboos

Though he passed the county civil examination at age 20, Xu was never able to pass the provincial civil service examinations, even after attempting it eight times. Nevertheless, Xu found an unspecified job working with Hu Zongxian, Supreme Commander of the Jiangsu-Zhejiang-Fujian coastal defense against the wokou pirates.

During the 1550s and ’60s he succeeded in gaining a reputation as a poet and painter, but as his reputation as an artist grew, so did his infamy as a drunkard and a madman.

When General Hu was arrested and lost his position, Xu Wei feared a similar fate for himself. Xu became mentally distraught and attempted to commit suicide nine times, such as by axing himself in the skull and drilling both of his ears. His mental imbalance led to his killing of his second wife Zhang after becoming paranoid that she was having an affair. He was jailed for seven years until a friend managed get him released at the age of 53 by reason of insanity.

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Grapes

Xu spent the rest of his life painting, but with little financial success. However, his paintings are highly sought after in modern times.

Xu Wei wrote a play based on the Ballad of Mulan. Yes, that Mulan, Disney lovers. She may have been an actual female warrior between 420 and 589 AD. He also wrote three other plays with women’s themes. Xu was an early women’s rights advocate.

Xu Wei was also an accomplished poet. Xu’s collected works in 30 chapters exists with a commentary by the late Ming writer Yuan Hongdao.

Of the various arts Xu Wei practiced, he held his calligraphy in highest esteem. Next was his poetry.

It’s ironic that a scholar who could not pass the civil service examination is remembered today for his achievements in the realms of literature and art.

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Bamboos

You can see more of Xu’s paintings here.

Information for this article came from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia.

AtoZ2019tenthAnn

Creative Juice #136

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Creative Juice #136

Great offerings today: