Jon Lee


The melody is dopey, with a low IQ


We paused on E. The coordination of the two hands wasn’t there on the final sextuplet pattern. There was too much wrist movement happening in the left hand. It made the rhythm uneven and also ended up emphasizing the pattern, particularly the downbeats of each sextuplet.

Corrective measures taken:

  1. Again, drive the left hand through the arm and elbow. Keep a constant (obtuse) angle of the forearm, wrist, and hand and push the arm up or pull it down along the plane of the keyboard. The angle allows for easier finger crossovers.
  2. Going through e minor, I went through just the contrary motion, and played the scale is duples (similar to pattern 2) in an attempt to better coordinate the fingers, and to hear the different intervals. Then I repeated in the sextuplet pattern at one-quarter, then one-half tempo. Just go through two octaves’ worth of the scale.

When going through the harmonic minor at the slow pace, I could add nuance at the augmented second.

Amazingly, we’ve completed the full circle of fifths an octave apart. Next would be thirds, sixths, and octaves. Either we redo the “normal” mode, or move to something else.

It seemed going through the cycle again at the octave would be beneficial because now I had to fix all of the issues that I encountered the first round. The second round should aim for technical perfection.

I wanted to revisit the keys, especially the ones I didn’t do well on, but also wanted to feel like I could move on. I proposed doing “normal” and thirds in two of the scales instead of doing either one in four scales.

“I see you have confidence in knowing all the scales.”

When dealing with thirds, it’s not necessarily just shifting the right-hand notes and using the same fingering. Sometimes a new fingering is desired. I’ll keep an eye on that and see if an alternate one feels more comfortable in that mode.

Next: C and c, in octaves and thirds.

Brahms #18a

There was concern over the support of the fifth finger in my right hand; that maybe it was just flailing about. It was true that I was concentrating a lot more on what my left hand was doing. The lack of solid sound shows that there is collapsing happening somewhere through the arm. Flexibility around the elbow and wrist are fine, but there should be no collapsing of the finger joints or the wrist. We discussed in prior lessons the motion of poking, and it applies here for the fourth and fifth fingers.

Need to work reducing the amount of bouncing happening for each duple pattern. What it seems I was trying to do was resetting, but the phrasing was forced.

Next: E and E

Brahms #20

For the second week in a row I was asked whether I still liked the exercise. If I were younger I would have thought all of this is a slog, but nowadays I find these oddly meditative, a good warm-up, and a constant reminder of just how much farther I have to go.

“It’s my favorite. It’s so Brahmsian.”

After going through the A major version of the exercise, we talked about the phrasing and how to get a larger sweep in the line. Previously we talked about each sextuple going to the downbeats.

Try an experiment: wrists are down low on the way up, and higher up on the way down.

Then we talked about having the left arm push the whole figuration on the way up, and the right arm push the whole figuration on the way down. I think it’s another way of talking about having the elbow and back arm push the hands up the keyboard in the left hand when doing scales.

Coin pusher

Pretend your arm is the shelf. Just to get a prize.

The analogy used was like the shelf that pushes a pile of coins down into a chute to get tickets at a carnival.

With this mindset it was easier to navigate the exercise, and the line was more there.

Next: B

Prokofiev third movement

I tried to play it at a tempo slower than what I intended. I had practiced it a few times using what I measured to be Pollini’s tempo, which was crotchet= 182. I probably played it at around 150 or so. That was fast enough. People would perceive the tempo to be faster anyway, and going any further would probably lead to loss of line. And I wouldn’t want to find myself regretting the tempo once the recap arrived.

Comments were mostly about dehumanizing the movement, except for the espressivo line in the right hand in the C section.

A sections

We immediately went to articulation. The quarter notes weren’t always being held to their full length.


I went through the recap, when the melody gets doubled everywhere. In particular, the two-note chords, when they drop down an octave, get lost.


Practicing it afterwards, I found myself treating the quarters like tied eighths with a crescendo in the tie. It also helped keep the tempo steady.

Except for the accents, the left hand eighths need to be staccatissimo throughout. It was called out especially after the wandering eighths, since the right hand has pretty dense chords:

Repeat of theme, after a jaunt up the keyboard

Avoid any slurring. In the passage above, it’s tempting to do so with the chromatic eighths, but make them all staccato. Also, bring out to the 2–3–2 patterns with accents.

Generally, for pedaling, best to avoid it completely in this piece. The hall will resonate anyway. Well, except for the climax of the first section:

Climax of section A

… and lift off the accented C.

Apparently there is a good way to voice the left hand, but time ran out.

B section

One unexpected comment was the idea of actually bringing the constant barrage of eighths from the top audible. I figured that the bottom movement was to be paid attention to, but maintaining a steady rhythmically clear 2–3–2 grouping at the top makes it active, and a line could be made since the phrase goes from E to G.

When the transition happens, avoid any slurring. Keep the same articulation:

B section

In the left hand, there is no slurring in the sixteeth-to-eighth figuration:

B section

In the interest of this, the second time, I had fingered it 1–2–45–1, but I observed an alternative: 2–1–34(23)–2:

B section

The eighths that introduce that figuration should be softer. It is first marked mezzo-forte, then forte marcato.

Next, the transition to the next section needed to lighten up a bit. The beats leading to the tenuto quarters should feel like a leap up and be lighter to contrast to the heavier quarters:

B section transition

And the sixteenths in the 8 8 8 8 8 16 16 16 16 rhythm should be lighter. “Play like a drummer” leading to the downbeat:

B section transition

Those low bass notes are going to resonate a lot. Consider giving it a scratch-off-the-scab articulation for maximum sharpness, even perhaps slowing down a tad.

C section

The left-hand melody sounds like an awkward clown. Not staccato but non-legato, which I took to mean from observation to let there be a break between notes, but keep the length as long as possible. Avoid any sweeps of dynamic. Then when the right-hand comes along with the espressivo phrase, it really stands out.

Don’t forget everything is staccato:

B section

B’ section

Remember that repeating A is a leading tone back to B when the A’ section returns.

Hi! Have a comment, question, complaint, observation, or criticism about this post? Leave your comment below!