Monday, July 29, 2013

Some examples

I use repetitious practice to help to establish a sense of pattern. In my previous post, I wrote about how pattern could be manifested in terms of notes, harmony, or rhythm. Below are a few examples from my recent work. In each case, these are excerpts of the whole, and the entire pattern-finding process is greater than the single examples I give for each piece.

Bach: D Major Prelude, Well-Tempered Clavier I
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I've been aware of this prelude for a long time, having played it as an undergraduate pianist. I already had a lot of the right hand (the "tune") in my ear, so memorizing the left hand became the challenge.

The left hand begins with a series of repeated notes (in octaves)--six, in fact. Measure 6 (a landmark) starts with four repeated notes, and then there are eight repeated notes starting in m.8. These moments of pedal points continue throughout the prelude.

Bach: C# Major Fugue, Well-Tempered Clavier I
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This was a fresh learn for me last fall, having heard others play it for years but never having played it myself. Believe me, it took a long time to memorize!

I came to think of this as an etude on thirds. An obvious example would be the descending gesture in the right hand (m.7). This returns in the left hand in m.12 and many more times throughout.

On a larger scale, Bach takes more complicated patterns and has them descend by thirds: mm.16-18.  Later on, he overlaps the two descending thirds gestures in mm.31-34.

Bach: c# minor Prelude, Well-Tempered Clavier I

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In m.5, a pattern emerges in the alto voice. The first pitch appears as a quarter note and is then repeated as a dotted half-note in the same measure. This alto line descends for three measures.

Couperin: Les baricades mistérieuses
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In the third couplet, there is a famous pattern of deceptive cadence, repeating a bass line of D-E-F-G nearly four times. In looking at the tenor line, one sees an undulating D-C-D-C pattern. However, in once instance, the bass line is D-E-G-F. In this case, the D-C pattern is D-C-C-C.

Couperin: Le tic-toc-choc
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Throughout the piece, the right hand has repeating fifths or arpeggiated patterns. In the rondeau, the arpeggiations conclude with the lowest pitch in the pattern, as opposed to what one would expect: the next pitch in the pattern (e.g., m.3). A hallmark of the third couplet, however, is that the arpeggiations conclude as one would expect: on the next pitch in the pattern.

Bach: Concerto in d minor, 3rd movement
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One of the hard things about memorizing this movement is keeping the cadences straight. The cadential formula set forth in the opening ritornello (mm.8-12) never seems to come back the same way twice. The trick here is to establish how each ritornello cadence is different from each other and then find a mnemonic to keep you on track. Otherwise, it would be very easy to play any d minor ritornello cadence exactly as it appears in mm.8-12!

These are just a few micro-examples from my work. Obviously, the memorization of an entire piece will be made up of many of these types of examples. And, in the end, the performer may not even remember the process that led to full memorization--especially if this slow process results in very good aural and visual memory. Regardless of how one ultimately retains a piece, these patterns create essential mnemonics for the early stages of memorization.