Practicing to realize a score in performance can involve repetition, variation, and experimentation.
To awaken one's own creativity, a score previously unknown to the practitioner can be approached in the following manner when looked at for the first time:
-Take two blank sheets of paper and use them to cover everything but the first measure of the score.
-Learn to play the first measure and then find numerous versions of what the second could be like. Write down the satisfying realizations, or use a recording device to document them.
-After finding numerous plausible realizations of the next measure, move one of the blank sheets of paper to expose the second measure of the score.
-Move the paper accordingly to see the second measure and compare it to your versions.
-Continue, measure by measure, until the end of the piece.
See the example to the right. Because the music in the example only contains two beats per measure, the strategy as described above was utilized in the example but with two-measure units. In other words, the first two measures were initially exposed, then the first four, et cetera.
The following suggestions for systematically experimenting with the contents of a score are categorized by the dominant musical parameter subject to experimentation. The four basic parameters present in piano playing are articulation, dynamics, timing, and pitch.
Experimenting with articulation can help clarify what physical gestures are useful for performing a score, and there are theoretically even more ways to use your body in order to create various articulations than there are terms to describe them: tenuto, portato, staccato, martellato, etc. Any number of articulation structures (a fixed group of various articulations – three tones played legato followed by a fourth staccato tone to provide one example) can be super-imposed onto a score at any position and scale, producing infinitely various ways to practice a score while experimenting with articulation.
Systematically practicing various approaches to dynamics creates a repertoire of gestures readily available to the performer. Of particular interest in my opinion are gradually changing dynamics – crescendi and diminuendi. Any number of dynamic structures can be super-imposed onto a musical score at any position and scale, producing infinitely various ways to practice while experimenting with dynamics.
Before continuing to the discussion of timing and pitch, consider that parameters can be super-imposed onto each other as well. The reader-practicioner might already be inspired not only to experiment with dynamics or articulation separately, but to super-impose dynamic and articulation structures onto a score simultaneously.
Musical timing can be understood in terms of rhythm, tempo, and specific to piano playing: the micro-timing issues that emerge from dissynchronizing notes.
Experimenting with rhythm
Experimenting with a certain rhythm can help the performer find the most efficient physical gestures needed to play any given passage.
All variations of longer and shorter note values in comparison to each other can be realized in practice. I claim that rhythmic variation is widely practiced by classical pianists today.
Experimenting with tempo modification
Experimenting with timing in music can also be achieved by means of tempo modification. Rhythmic variation provides local variety and direct contrast between notes and their neighbors, whereas tempo modification can create variation over larger time structures by influencing phrasing and larger-scale timing decisions.
Robert Hill argues that "when the player organizes time subjectively rather than adhering to an external, regular beat, timing decisions must be genuinely intuitive. They must be improvised, even according to some kind of schematic plan; they cannot be reproduced" (Hill 1994, 42).
In November 2014, Eugene Feygelson and I presented the strategies towards experimenting with tempo modification that I learned from Robert Hill at the Musikhochschule Freiburg from 2011 to 2013. Proceedings from our presentation at the Orpheus Institute in Ghent, Belgium, as part of Daniel Leech-Wilkinson's presentation entitled Preparing to escape Utopia include multiple performances of the first measures of Richard Strauss' Violin Sonata subjected to a systematic approach towards tempo modification.
Experimenting with arpeggiation and dissynchronization of the hands
Arpeggiation and dissynchronization of the hands were commonly practiced by pianists during the era of early historical recordings, and create potential for expressive spontaneity during performance when integrated into one’s practice. Here to the right is an example, presented in Anna Scott's "Romanticizing Brahms...," in which pianist Ilona Eibenschütz realizes a simple voicing of a B Major chord – B, D#, B – in four different ways during one recording. Scott claims that "Eibenschütz [...] uses subtle variations of dislocation and arpeggiation [...] to bring out inner melodies" (Scott 2014, 263). Because more than one realization of a texture is possible, I believe all realizations should be practiced systematically.
Experimenting with character distinction
Experimenting with character distinction combines all the parameters inherent to piano playing – timing, articulation, dynamics, and possibly also pitch (still to be addressed) in potentially unforeseen ways. Playing music angrily, or serenely, in a militant manner, or gently, just to give a few examples, fuses the performer's ability to play in a variety of different ways with an understanding of character external to musical practice. As mentioned above, experimentation with multiple musical parameters simultaneously can also be done in a systematic way, but using an external influence such as character in order to inspire the playing is also useful for finding various ways to approach practicing a score.
Of the four musical parameters present in piano playing, experimenting with the pitches in a score can bring the music-making into territory that no longer resembles the score at all:
Re-arranging the pitches in a score
Example 1: from Kreisleriana, op. 16: I: Äusserst bewegt
The right-hand motive can be understood as containing three voices: soprano, alto, and tenor. Referring to them as such, the original Schumann can then be described as having been composed according to the following model:
This material could also be practiced in all other formations:
SSTAAT (notated here to the right), SSTATA, SSATAT, SSAATT, SSTTAA
TTSAAS (notated here to the right), TTAASS, TTASAS, TTASSA, TTSASA
AATTSS, AASTTS, AATSTS, AASTST
ATASST, ATASTS, ATATSS, ATSATS, ATSAST, ATTASS
TASSTA, TASSAT, TASATA, TAASAT, TAATSS, TATASS
TSAATS, TSAAST, TSTAAS, TSSAAT, TSTSAA, TSSTAA
STAAST, STAATS, STTAAS, STSAAT, STSTAA, STTSAA
SATTSA, SATTAS, SAATTS, SASTTA, SASATT, SAASTT
Example 2: from Humoreske, Op. 20: Einfach
1. Keep the melody and bass lines intact while creating new accompanying material.
2. Play the melody line in the tenor range with both thumbs and adjust the accompanying material while following the standard rules of counterpoint.
3. Combine the melody line, moved to the tenor range, with alternate accompanying material.
4. Exchange the melody with the bass while keeping the accompaniment intact.
These two examples could inspire the reader to find other ways of re-arranging the pitches in a score. A further step in this direction is exposed later in this chapter when different scores are super-imposed onto each other (see Eusebius Traum, Melancholic Flowers, Kreisleriana V. meets Kreisleriana VIII., and R meets R).
The process of understanding and then playing music in a simplified, harmonically-driven form is often called harmonic reduction. It is most commonly realized at the piano by blocking harmonies vertically into their corresponding chordal structures and playing them in order while maintaining the rhythm in which they are presented in the score.
Transposing musical materials into all twelve keys is a conceptually simple but crucial aspect of practicing in order to improvise in tonal contexts. It could even be considered the main key to unlocking improvisation skills. A more detailed discussion of what is happening when a pianist transposes music from one key to another, especially for the first time, can be found in the chapter On Mimesis and Morphosis. I find that transposing music into different keys is generally more effective and a better starting point than transposing between the major and minor modes. There is generally enough major to minor correspondence in the repertoire that shows how a particular composer deals with the differences between these modes already, so that shifting between them in practice can be redundant.
Example: a recording, made on November 8th, 2016, of the passage to the right – the complex developmental passage from Einfach (from Humoreske, Op. 20) – played in E Major instead of Bb Major (note that this passage begins in Gb Major, so the recording correspondingly begins in C Major):