Scales and arpeggios

May 14, 2009 – 7:07 pm

“What have you been working on this week?”

“Arpeggios.” I sit at the piano, bright yellow t-shirt slightly sticky from the rain.

“All right, let’s hear them. On the grid, diminished.” I begin a clumsy two-handed dance up and down, tangle the notes, and stop. “Um, I’ve, um, mostly been doing them with one hand, mostly in the up direction.”

“Ok, show me how you practiced then.” My right hand stretches out over a major C chord, soaring up, teetering on the third finger – and then my thumb sledgehammers sideways into the second octave, slamming my right elbow out as it goes. Da-da-da… WHAM-da-da… WHAM-da-da.. WHAM-da-da… a neglected pinky grasps tenously at a high C, and then it’s back down, third finger limping over the thumb. Da-da-daWHAMSPLAT-da-daWHAMSPLAT-da-daWHAMSPLAT.

We agree that teaching me how to work out fingerings for these might be a good idea.

I have a decent-sized classical repertoire… which all came pre-notated with fingerings. All I can do is cheat on pieces with fingerings requiring larger-than-Mel hands. So trying out chord inversions to experiment with different places to pass my thumb under is something new to me.

“When I play arpeggios,” says Kevin, running up and down the keyboard with a grace and ease I envy, “I try to move my elbow as little as possible. Especially when you’re playing fast, you get that extra millisecond.” My elbow continues to fly up, pinning my shoulder blade towards my ear. I grab my right elbow with my left hand and fight it as I crawl up and down on the diminished Eb, grimacing in concentration. After a while, it feels less awkward. I let go of my elbow, and my hand flies smoothly down the keyboard, starts upwards again, and rockets my elbow up to the ceiling. I mutter under my breath and grab it again.

After nearly an entire hour of working clumsily through fingerings for all the different arpeggios, I have a lot of notes and an intellectual understanding of what my hands and arms ought to be doing. The muscle memory is slower to arrive. (Keep your fingers close to the keys when passing your thumb. Turn on black keys with your 4th finger, not your 5th. Play them evenly spaced; don’t accent every third note. And so on.) It’s practice time for me. I’ll have to listen to plenty of Art Tatum for motivation. (Or maybe if I start going “CURSE YOU ART TATUM!!!” I’ll go back to listening to Monk.) This setting of muscle memory isn’t my favorite kind of work – I prefer the crazy intellectual “ooOOo, it’s math!” theory, but that’s also the imbalance that I’m trying to fix; less overthinking, more playing. And I have to learn how to love the plateau, and how to love the fundamentals.

Besides, there’s no way I’m ever going to play “Groovin’ High” at more than a poky tempo if I don’t get fingerings worked out. My current ad-hoc method involves fingers slipping and smashing into keys like panicky overgrown colts in inflatable sumo wrestler suits on a buttered ice rink and 10% more notes sounding than should actually be played. So… progress gauge: I have one.

This is fun.

In other news, I have to figure out how to get a rental car from the airport when I get to Raleigh on the 25th. I’ve never had a rental car before. (I didn’t think I was even old enough to drive a rental; apparently I was mistaken.) This will be an interesting adventure! I even get to stay at a hotel for a week! *is excited* Yes, I realize the glow of travel may wear off if I start doing it 200 days a year, but while it’s novel, I am darn well going to enjoy this.

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  1. One Response to “Scales and arpeggios”

  2. Hey Mel,

    Realized you might enjoy my friend Rob’s blog. There should be a Planet Geeky Pianists somewhere. :)

    http://blog.distantfuture.org/

    - cjb.

    By Chris on May 15, 2009

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