Jon Lee


Back to some drawing board

I decided it was time to return to lessons.

To start, I played through most of the Beethoven op. 101 sonata. After a concert of trio repertoire, I had spent little time on solo works, and hoped that I would play something from that program. Instead I improvised this performance.

Beethoven op. 101 in A major

Played up to the fugue.

Because this is a “big” piece that explores both the cosmic and personal scales, one can tell much about a pianist with this piece.

There is something unique about the first movement. It only crescendos to a mezzo-forte, a dynamic rarely used by Beethoven. He tends to denote the extremes of the range from piano or forte, but not mezzo-anything.

Pianists tend to play the opening theme better after the third movement than at the beginning. Why, because they’re joining in a flow. So, to open the first movement, join as if there is this existing stream of quarter8quarter8.

Think 8quarter in the gesture to ensure that the eighth is getting full singing power and not getting cut off.

For the opening of the first movement, don’t break up the two-measure phrases by ritarding the second one. Detach second and third phrases. Mind the rests between first and second phrase.

In the third phrase, the fermata happens after the f minor chord is played. How do we know? Look at the return of the phrase between third and fourth movement. The second phrase, the fermata is over the rest, not the note.

In an ensemble, the bass line/left hand/cello leads the tempo. Is that true of the trio? We played the third phrase left hand where he was the bass and I was the upper tenor note. I had to follow his lead. Bring more prominence to the bass.

Despite the length, Beethoven is contracting the form, making it more compact. He speaks more with less.

First movement is metaphysical. Think of the space between the left and right hands at the conclusion of the exposition in the tied over notes. Hearkens to the 3–1 (4–3 fingering) ties in the second movement of the op. 69 A major cello sonata.

Second movement is youthful. It’s a character we are familiar with. Trio has the ominous C. But does it have to be played like fate? We recover from that relatively quickly.

Third movement is also metaphysical. How do we know? One hint: there is no dynamic indication.


Start with Russian scales:

Scales, with metronome, crotchet= 60–80. Seven patterns:

I found out I mixed up the order of the patterns, and was corrected.

To switch among various patterns, play a major scale and its parallel minor. That is, B major, then b minor. Go around circle of fifths. Always use metronome.

I could work on finger independence.

Managing time

With only two hours, do a total of 30 minutes of scales. But you can break it up into multiple 10–15 minute sessions.

While randomly looking for videos to include in this blog post, I found this video of a practice technique to help keep figurations between the hands coordinated. Play the figuration but repeat the notes 4, 3, 2, 1.


Notion of speed and weight in the fingers.

To feel the action coming from the upper arm, poke the key with your forefinger. The fourth finger is the weakest and needs to be compensated for in order for a melody to have a consistent tone.

Poking in and out has a bad let-off sound. Instead you could roll the wrist forward and off so let the damper down easy on top of the strings.

When playing soft, you have to firm up the finger. One way to firm it up is to support the finger with another one, like your thumb against the flesh of the forefinger. “Firming” up actually refers to solidity of the joints. Think of the finger as just an extension of the arm, and don’t let it flop or collapse.

Exercise for weight: make a fist and hang it over a note. Hold up the wrist with your other arm. Relax the arm so that you feel the weight. Let go of the wrist and let the arm drop. Try doing it with the fist several inches away from the keyboard. Try doing it with the fist touching a key. Distance determines velocity.

But this is a passive way of using the mass of the arm. What does this exercise teach when applying force with the arm?

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