The Story Before the Piano
Most probably, you are one of the many piano students who seek to know everything about the instrument you spent so much time with, playing pieces, practicing your scales, improvising or even composing new music.
The story of the Piano takes many centuries, even we can say dates from almost one thousand years. Almost everyone knows that the predecessor of the modern Piano is the harpsichord. This fact is known by all music and piano teachers alike.
Still, not everyone knows about the true origins of the Piano.
By understanding it, we will be able to appreciate even more the complexity and evolution necessary to bring this beautiful instrument to reality.
It began with the hammered Dulcimer in Medieval times. This instrument, surprisingly, is still performed today!
The Spinnet follows the line of the Dulcimer. This instrument was not very loud but had similar mechanics to the Piano, but was mainly used to compose music, not to perform it.
Lastly, we have the most famous of the predecessors: the harpsichord. This instrument earned fame and glory during the 1600s and was still used for many years during the 1700s after the Piano came to be.
It is said that there was one harpsichord in every Manor house or every Aristocrat household, and it was widespread to have musical gatherings around it.
When the Piano became famous, it slowly but surely won its position, and the harpsichord was left to be a historical instrument but stopped to be the instrument to have at people’s homes.
Today the Piano is a symbol of music; it is used to perform music from Classical to Pop, Rock, Blues, even Bebop!
It is one of the most versatile instruments that ever existed. For composers, it is convenient as it has 88 keys, which represent all the available sounds of an orchestra!
Tempo and Dynamic Markings: A useful guide for piano tutors
Guide on Tempo Markings
Guide on Dynamics
All piano students have come to the same issue in their training: at some point in their piano lessons, they encounter strange notations that are not just the notes or the values learned at the beginning of their practice: mf, ff, words like “adagio”, “presto”, we find them everywhere in music scores. But why?
Very simple, music is not just pitch and duration; we also have to consider how loud or soft we play the notes and how fast or slow the speed is.
For all the piano teachers out there, this article written by Anthony Elward comes in very handy to expedite the doubts their student may have.
Let us separate the terms first.
The dynamic markings refer to how soft or loud the notes should be played and all the gradients in between.
2. The speed is determined by the “tempo” (in Italian, it means literally “time”). Also, the character of the piece is shown at the beginning by words like “con fuoco” (with fire), “appassionato” (passionate) or “energico” (with energy). Notice that all the words are in the Italian language; this is just a tradition. Surprisingly, even today, composers worldwide use this language to describe the dynamics and tempo in their pieces.
The words to be learned are many and some quite difficult to pronounce for non-Latin speakers, but as long as they know their meaning and how to translate them into their performance, that is more than enough.
The most subjective terms are the piece’s character, but it gives us a rough idea of what the composer wants us to portray.
Also, we must take into account that before 1820, all the metronomic marks cannot be followed to the letter as the metronome had not been invented yet, that is the reason composers wrote markings as “Andante” (at a walking speed), or “Lento” (slow).
The principles of Renaissance Music.
I am quite sure that as piano students, you certainly know who Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn or Liszt were. Their music reached the highest artistic peak and inspired musicians and piano teachers throughout the world to make this music carry on living through concerts and performances along the years.
All these composers have something in common: they all lived after the Renaissance period. We can ask ourselves now: how many music pieces were produced from 1400 hundred until the 1640s?
We clearly have 200 hundred years of music that they are almost forgotten by musicians and teachers.
The Renaissance period was quite different from the Baroque and later periods in many ways:
Firstly, the concept that we know as the “beat” in the music was unknown in the way we use it. The mensural notation was used instead.
Another principle that reigned during the Renaissance period was that the music was entirely connected with the text, not only the natural accents but the word itself was connected with the music. The clearest example is a technique called “Word painting” technique that, in fact, it is still used in modern music.
Renaissance music cemented the foundation upon which Baroque, Classical music, Romantic and Modern music was composed.
Everything we know about music today started to take shape in this period: the scales, the rhythm, the modes, and most importantly, the so-called “Polyphony” by the hands of talented composers such as Joaquin Des Prez, Orlando di Lasso or Palestrina that pathed the way for composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, who took the techniques used in the Renaissance and achieved a level of perfection that no one in the history of music could match.
As a piece of humble advice, Renaissance music has to be a must to listen to every musicians or music lover. It is magical and captivating about this music that deserves to be kept alive.
Covid-19 became such a pain for everyone nowadays. Workers, businesses, music venues, restaurants, the economy in general, have been hit hard. The last months have been a challenge for us all. Nations united with one common purpose: fight against the spread of this virus. Whether the deathly rate or the real importance of this virus, this made us change our minds and, overall, our daily basis. Although it have not been easy at all, we must do it, and no excuse.
Musicians find the pleasure of doing music, playing, gathering and talk about music and art. However, music venues and music schools have been also very affected by this. You could see groups of people in the airports, in the planes, however, the music venues were completely closed. Who knows the reasons behind it, but this gave us no other choice than rethinking about the way we do it.
That is mainly you must have seen lately plenty of concerts, recitals and festivals via online. Using the common ways: Zoom, Skype or even Whatsapp videocalls. And that is exactly what we did in June, and we are organizing for this 28th of November evening. Together, with WKMT London, we will be hosting our II Online Music Festival with students of all levels and ages. Because music must remain within us. It is the only thing that make us still dream and continue with hope and smile in our hearts.
Do not hesitate to join us virtually to see these students playing what they love, and what we like to do: listen to live music, and enjoy the excitement this offers to us. Click on the link below mentioned and find all the details for this virtual set of classical concerts in London, and internationally.
Looking forward to keep on sharing and making music!