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Learner 3


Learner Three has been studying music with me for four years. Studies commenced with little to no experience and a Grade Four pass was achieved in 2018. Since then progress slowed a little as the learner took a role playing piano for a local pantomime. This opportunity increased the learners confidence in personal performance skills and reignited his enthusiasm to increase personal ability.

The last graded exam taken by the learner was a Grade Four examination in 2018, due to additional activities the learners personal standard has risen and the learner decided to engage in teacher training to join the teaching team. In 2019 the learner passed a DipLCM(TD) in piano tuition.  Education has been gleaned from many sources, some formal and some self generating. It was decided to focus on developing the seemingly natural ability to achieve the grade eight examination in 2021 and the second diploma in late 2020. His fluidity is clear due to the work completed for the pantomime as are technical skill, finger dexterity and knowledge of keys by working professionally as an elementary tutor  Sensitivity of touch is developing and maintenance of speed and character requires further work.

This course of study aims to develop the skills to pass the graded examination and teaching diploma. This will include an awareness of form, keys, skills and technical requirements for the repertoire.

The chosen pieces for this study period are the first movement from ‘Solfeggietto in C minor’[15] by C.P.E. Bach, a Grade Six piece alongside ‘Allegro’[16] by Dussek and ‘Moderato’ [16] by Bruch which are ABRSM grade 6 pieces and permitted under the recorded examination syllabus.

The learner had two lessons a week and was practising within the Academy.

The ‘Allegro’ by Dussek includes many styles that were popular during the Classical Period including an Alberti bass, scalic runs, part playing, rinforzando accents and plenty of dynamic contrast. The four page length of this piece enhanced the requirement to focus on a detailed piece for an elongated period increasing the stamina. With this piece the learner has studied extending the rotary technique to a concept that can be taught. Initially this involved guiding the learner in the Roskell Warm-ups.[3] This range of exercises releases the tension through the neck, shoulders and arms and brings the body into an ideal place to practice. To encourage the correct execution some reminder cards were produced. (figure 4)

Once the forearms and upper arm were released attention moved to the development of a released wrist.[4] before attention was given to the provision of a more secure Alberti bass. This took a week's practise to balance the tone of the repeated notes and add finger legato to the lowest note of each grouplet.

The wrist releasing is required to correctly play the parallel split octaves in bar 25 and 26, bringing the learners awareness to the contrary motion complementary melodies between the single notes of the bass octaves and the lower notes of the thirds allowing a natural movement to the internal interval in the bass of a compound minor third between F4 and D3 requiring a very active rotation to conceal the potential legato break and achieving this tenth jump in the same time as the split octaves.

The series of legato thirds and punctuating sixths require consistent finger patterns that allow for the flexibility of a released wrist. In the following example the arm should align to the fifth digit, with rotation of the wrist on the held A4 flat . You would bring the thumb in line with the second digit allowing the thumb to rest on the G4 flat. (figure 5)

Given the alignment of the first two bars of the ‘Allegro’ this finger pattern grants greater fluidity, although it does depend on a good size second to fifth finger span. The alignment for the first chord is towards the first digit whilst the second chord aligns with the fifth digit producing a straight line down to the outside of the right hand and arm. The third chord would have a central alignment to the third digit moving to a second digit alignment on the fourth chord. (figure 6) A released wrist will allow for this movement producing a comfortable hand position that should be maintained when the sequence is lowered an octave and the rhythm is reintroduced.

The ‘Moderato’ by Bruch has given this learner an opportunity to develop a theme over a steady bass line. Accurate positioning of the lower note on beats one and three need to be accurate, producing a clean staccato note which is light in touch and ever so slightly dark in character. The previously mentioned released wrist was discussed during the initial sight read of the bass section in relation to the movement. This balances the ‘cantabile’ character in the right hand which although a little sinister is still quite melodic. Together the two characteristics produce an inauspicious character that the learners experience in pantomime has aided.

The Una Corda pedal could be used to add a veiled character in the ‘pianissimo’ sections. Gentle use of half pedalling with the Sostenuto pedal throughout the themed sections enhances the ‘cantabile’ character. It was expressed to the learner that care must be taken with the Sostenuto pedal not to blur the notes, and by extension the character, too much.

The ornamentation required extra practice for clarity of notes. This piece still requires work to achieve the dark and intense character.

The ‘Solfeggietto’ by C.P.E. Bach is a fabulous piece for the perfection of melody transfer at speed. Ensuring this learner holds back the speed is a challenge, although the movement was achieved with comparative ease.  Learner Three has never been fond of arpeggios therefore preliminary work needed completing to achieve the “Fluent arpeggio playing is essential, along with a sense of bravura and confidence in tackling such a well known show-piece.” [6]

The dependence of this piece on scales and arpeggios may remind the learner of the Praeludium in C {BWV 939} [14] by J.S. Bach where the phrasing also follows units of scales and chords. Once the learner had achieved the fluid nature, the focus turned to the articulation for which we looked at a score from various eras via the website IMSLP from 1770 to modern day and decided on the preferred articulation with a slightly detached feel allowing for a little phrase shaping.

Consideration was given to the alignment through the arpeggios,. The learner could benefit at a later time to introduce the double rotation method popularised by the Taubman Approach.[17]

Learner Three is a very able young adult with many distractions and a periodic inability to ignore these distractions, that is the learners biggest weakness. In many ways the greatest strength this learner has is the ability to admit this flaw. The learner maintained the ability to focus throughout this case study and the benefitted from the experience. I hope that it has shown what is possible with focus, and the learner manages to maintain the forward momentum taking part in this study has provided.

The relationship with Learner Three is more complicated. We have been colleagues and friends for many years. This has positive and negative effects on the learning and educating experience which needs careful management. A third party educator was engaged two years ago which did not result in any significant engagement by the learner and I resumed the position. When the opportunity is there, this learner makes progress similar to my method at the same age. Due to our similar learning paradigms adaptation to his learning style has proven viable.

Figure 4: Warm up reminder card

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Figure 5 and 6: Consecutive 6ths

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Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)

Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher

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