Differences Between Rests and Phrases

Differences Between Rests and Phrases

In this article I am going to talk about the differences between rests and phrases and less how to play them.

But before talking about that, I would just say that, arguably, music has one of the largest catalogue of words to describe its ever-changing doings. And it is up to us to decide how to interpret those words, no matter what the current musical zeitgeist prescribes.

 For instance, compared to classical ballet, which has a relatively smaller number of contextual interpretations of its directions, music’s musical directions (such as articulations and dynamics) are not only vast but also we use them in vastly varying styles of compositions.

Now and then, poor pianists find themselves confused by the very same musical directions they have met in a previous piece. For instance, the staccato on Rachmaninov should have a different attack and decay from the Staccato on Schnittke.

Piano teachers also find themselves drowned in a pile of similar musical directions, that often they need to be approached differently from composer to composer and even from piece to piece from the same composer. “Sir, what is the difference between this legato from the legato non troppo here?” How to play staccatissimo in this passage and what is its difference to the staccato from the previous bar? And, of course, you get more obvious, explanatorily, questions such as, “what is the difference in the legato here from playing the same passage leggiero there? (Ex. See Crammer Opus 740, study in d minor). Often, the physical effort to explain those various directions is immense.

 Anyway. Back to the rests & phrases. One of those questions I often get asked is what is the difference between a phrase and a rest. My students will argue that, since in both instances you would have to “stop” the sound, how then could we make them sound unique?

Again, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, it is left to us performers to decide the fate of what’s is written on the paper. However, let’s think for a minute, and decide on the definitions of rests and phrases before deciding on their performance attributes. Let’s start with the rests.

Now, rests are simply signs that tell us to stop producing sound — that’s the basic notion of a rest. Stop the sound. And then, of course, we would have to continue the “sound”, unless we are at the final bar of a composition.

Phrases, on the other hand, have a slightly more elaborate meaning.

  1. Phrases are musical chunks that contain a unique and concrete musical meaning
  2. Phrases could include rests within themselves
  3. Phrases could start after a rest
  4. Phrases could finish with a rest
  5. Phrases could finish after a rest
  6. Phrases could start without a preceding rest
  7. Phrases could finish without a rest

Go figure. And then talking about the hurdles of parkour.

How do we approach rests & phrases

So, how do we play them rests and phrases?. Well, simply we play them, as the composer dictates. For example, a rest by Schnittke will be more abrupt and “rigid”, than rests from Chopin’s first four bars of his nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth.

If we use this very nocturne by Chopin to elaborate, we reach the following conclusions:

  1. There are two main phrases in the four-bar intro of the nocturne (marked with a thickened red slur on figure 1)
  2. Those two main phrases have two bars each
  3. Within those main phrases there are rests
  4. Within each main phrase, there are three smaller “sub-phrases”
  5. Both phrases finish with rests

figure 1

So, again, coming back to our personal styles of interpretation and the choices we should have to make to perform a piece, we are being asked here to decide how to perform those rests within the phrases and, of course, how to perform those two larger phrases without making them sound fragmented. In my opinion, and since it is near impossible from a website to master musical performance, I would just say that we should try to preserve the oneness, per se, for each main phrase at all costs. And, at the same time, we should play the “veiled” rests as small breaths, helping us to define the larger meaning of the main phrases.

Copyright © 1st of February 2023, by Nikos Kokkinis


Why Do We Practise Hands Separately

Why Do We Practise Hands Separately

In the last three weeks I started asking my students why they think I ask them constantly to play hands separately in class and of course, why should they practise at home with hands separately. I have to admit none gave me a satisfactory answer — well, at least none gave me the answers I wanted to hear… Not too surprisingly one might say, since they are, um, let me think… STUDENTS! Some souls incapable of knowing how to go about making a block of wood with strings make nice (and acceptable in today’s zeitgeist) sounds and they need an instructor? That’s why they are called STUDENTS, let me remind you, you gullible, nonchalant, and ever so incompetent teaching fellows. 

But, to be on the safe side, and become politically correct for the pianistic masses that are ready to butcher my pedagogical inefficiencies, and rightly so, I would also say that every so often you get to learn from your pupils through their innocent wordings. There. I said it, okay? I am officially politically correct now. But, on this occasion I learned zilch. Oh, well. 

So, here’s a few of the reasons we need to practise hands separately, we came to agree upon during those lessons:

 1. We should practise hands separately, in order to observe whether we play each hand satisfactorily; for, if we cannot convey the piece by playing decently our hands separately, how can we expect to combine them together in a decent way? Well, this deserves a lot of conversation — about whether we must play equally well hands separately and together — but that’s for another episode. 

2. A second reason for why we should practise with our hands separately, is to avoid straining our brain and rendering it ineffective to bear the rest of our practising session; the more we tire our brains the less they can keep practising effectively (obviously). 

3. And the third reason we concluded was, that we should practise separately to speed up the learning of a piece. It is a fallacy that we will learn a piece faster if we directly practise it with hands together. Guilty, your honour! Now and then I have to resort in practising together even the hardest of passages, especially when confronted by the date of an eminent concert or appearance. But, while I am disgracefully practising hands together — even if I know that I don’t know what I’m doing — I know that the most efficient way to learn that passage, or at least its hardest bits, is to tackle it with hands separately. But ok, I mean, should you practise everything separately? Even the easiest of passages? Of course not, but, at least you should refrain from jeopardising a piece (with wrong fingerings or technical inaccuracies) because you cannot get a hold of yourself or your anxiety. 

There you go. I’ll tell you what happened in my next practising session in the next one…

Copyright © 1st of January 2023, by Nikos Kokkinis


Anna Magdalena Notebook and Its Technical Approach

Anna Magdalena Notebook and Its Technical Approach

Who hasn’t played pieces from the Anna Magdalena Notebook? I, for one, have. I have played pieces from this legendary notebook as a child and I keep playing its colourful pieces every now-and-then out of my need to entertain my soul.

But, as you know, the, understandable, audacity of human race to interpret Bach and its musics, has led to numerous dubious interpretations and editions of his work. As I write, the Anna Magdalena Notebook has a zillion of bad editions sported on the shelves of music stores worldwide. I personally own five different editions, three of which are, to say the least, horrid; from wrong ligatures and staccatos, to bad fingerings and poor engraving choices, those editions can be found everywhere.

But, who is the judge of the opinion that those editions are not good? Yes, it is me amongst others, but come on, there cannot be that all editions in the world have their merits. Some of them are great and some of them could be subpar, wouldn’t you agree?

On the other hand, who can blame the editors of those editions? Who wouldn’t indulge in editing those masterpieces?

Guilty, your honour! I have! I too had the audacity to edit Bach, off all composers. It would have been much easier to choose a lesser “serious” composer — nowadays the internet is full of them — but, no siree, it had to be Bach. And, not just Bach, but Johann Sebastian bach.

Still, I came to learn a few things out of this endeavour of mine.

First, it made me think how to teach Bach. Also, it made me think of how to choose techniques and furthermore, it allowed me to devise a blueprint, per se, to interpret his various musical elements. I had help from various sources, such as from teachers, friends, online manuals and facsimilli, and I more or less came up with the following two rules.

First rule: We should play the faster notes of a piece legato.

Second rule: We should play the longer notes of a piece non-legato.

Non-legato implies that the longer notes can be played staccato, detached and everything else, but legato.

Here’s an example of my edition of the minuets in G:

Figure 1 Anna Magdalena Notebook: Minuet in G

Notice above that all the “faster” notes of the piece—in this case, the quavers—are being played legato. Whereas the “longer” notes—the crotchets—belong to the non-legato sphere; the staccato, detached, marcato, mezzo-staccato, etc.

Here’s my iteration of the facsimile:

Figure 2 Anna Magdalena Notebook: Edition from the Facsimile

See? There’s nothing written above; just, a simple monumental tune for us to botch, I mean, to interpret and edit wisely.

Below there is another example, this time from the G minor minuet:

Anna Magdalena Petzold Minuet in g minor

Figure 3  Anna Magdalena Notebook: Minuet in g

So, longer notes = non-legato approach. Shorter notes = legato.

And, here’s my Urtext edition of the facsimile below:

Anna Magdalena Petzold Minuet in g minor

Figure 4 Anna Magdalena Notebook: Edition from the Facsimile

Again, Bach and his peers were laconic when it came to music engraving. Less so today’s geniuses that leave nothing to chance, as they say! I wish their musics weren’t so unlistenable, though.

So, I mean, is my edition better than the rest? I don’t know. Is it the most up-to-date? Perhaps. Of course, there are some purists around that say that there are no rules in Baroque music and perhaps, anything goes. I don’t know to be honest. Just play and perhaps think later…? Who knows.

The examples above are from my editions of minuets in G found here. Those are Urtext, performance and annotated study editions. You don’t have to buy them, of course, but I use them as a resource to teach other pieces from the Anna Magdalena Notebook.

Copyright © 1st of November 2022, by Nikos Kokkinis


When To Let Go Trying To Improve Your Piece

When To Let Go Trying To Improve Your Piece

Apparently, every single piece of music, in the historious, historical history of serious (not the non-serious) music had room for improvement. Any piano teacher worth their salt would have advocated this at one point or another during their despairing teaching careers. I, myself, have, but with the added disadvantage that I am an extremely mediocre piano teacher and a particularly subpar pianist!

But, to be honest, we all know that a piece of music is only improvable if we, performers, have the pianistic capacities to improve it. If can’t improve it, then we better have to let it go — at least temporarily. 

So, when we must, finally, let go of a piece and leave to rest? Here are a few suggestions: 

When our inner auditory perception of the piece is not fulfilled by our playing. Meaning, when we cannot make the piece sound the way we want. We often desire our practising pieces to end up having specific speeds, phrasings or dynamics and more often than not those derive from the influence of our teachers, favourite performers, or recordings. However, the question is whether we we have the technical capacities to follow upon the steps of our favourite influencers. Because, if we compare ourselves with those idealistic performances, we will often fall short of our expectations. 

When a piece, or pieces, doesn’t get us where we want in the musical arena. Did this sonata passed us our audition? Did this violinist used us again to be his accompanist with that program in his solo recital? Thankfully, I’m not politically correct at all, and I dare calling us “accompanists!” The horror. Instead of calling us “pianists” or “collaborative pianists” that’s in vogue nowadays. And not to mention the use of the words “used us”! How horrible a person I am. Couldn’t care less, still. So if a particular sonata, etude, or song cycle didn’t get you that “gig” then it’s time you aborted the mission. 

A more practical reason for why we should stop slaving away in an effort to improve an unimprovable piece, is to exchange it with a technique-elevating piece so as to eventually reach the technique necessary to play properly that elusive piece of ours. Not the shortest of sentences, but hopefully you got my gist: a piece that doesn’t improve should act as a sign of the need to change course and rectify our own technical inefficiencies. 

More often than not, a piece just doesn’t improve because we grew to become bored with it. Yes, even our most favourite piece can fall prey to boredom. A favorite piece can easily become boring when technique gets in the way. Again, here we should concentrate on improving our technique and tackle the piece again at a later stage. 


Copyright © 1st of November 2022, by Nikos Kokkinis


Questions a Piano Teacher Should Never Answer Truthfully

Questions a Piano Teacher Should Never Answer Truthfully

In my minute experience as a piano teacher, I have concluded that, arguably, there are many questions coming from a student a piano teacher should never attempt to answer — at least, truthfully. 

You might wonder why do I even raise this subject in this article. One of the reasons I attempt this is for you to write to me and comment and really enlighten me with your wisdom. All you better pedagogues and piano teachers than me you are most welcome to write and tell me your experiences with questions asked by your pupils, and of course, how you handled them. And I am not in any way patronising you here. It could be an honest survey, per se, so for us pedagogues to have a readily available list of all possible answered questions and relative scenarios handy. Ok, this sounds a bit far-fetched. But, let’s face it, at one point or another a hard question will arise, and we must be prepared, well, as much as possible, to tackle it. 

Another reason I brought forward this theme in today’s article is because of a peculiar question I was asked recently — and needless to say, I didn’t have a clue on how to answer it. This question wasn’t of the type “Sir, are you sure you’re not an alien”, that I have to admit I was asked in the past by a student of mine in his effort to understand how my technique was of such a high standard — to his eyes, anyway. No, I am talking about a question of the type “Sir, what shall I do when my [parent, brother, friend, uncle] says this to me?” I mean, the question I was asked wasn’t from the child-abuse denomination, where you should immediately alert the authorities, but I won’t disclose this question today. 

I am talking about hard questions like the following ones:

  1. Am I good at the piano? 
  2. What should I say to my mum to persuade her I want to become a musician?
  3. Why my mum shouts at me all the time?
  4. Will I ever be able to play a solo recital at Wigmore Hall?

Well, all those questions require you to utilize one of the most unfailing elements of human communication… ‘lying’. Lying is one of the greatest “inventions” of humanity. Lying is so powerful that can turn a timid piano pupil into a superstar, my dearest friends. But, why do I dare say this un-pedagogical thing you might ask? 

“Nikos, you should always be honest with your pupils and let them know what you really believe,” I hear you say.  

Here’s an example using the last question from above: First, I would like to ask you whether it is possible for all your students to play at Wigmore Hall? Will they ever? Come on, be truthful to yourself for once, and abandon your uncontrollable urge for pedagogical acceptance using in-vogue pedagogical conventions. You know this cannot happen; perhaps only 1% of your students could ever walk the stage of the Wigmore Hall in London. I would go one step further and say that perhaps none of your students could make it to one of the world’s greatest venues. 

But what would you say to your student if they asked this dreaded question? Would you say “No, you cannot play at Wigmore Hall, what are you thinking? It is very hard and you spend more time on TikTok than on practising the piano”. Would you say that? No, of course not. You need to lie, and you need to shamelessly lie to your student. I would say “Yes, you could play at Wigmore Hall one day, if you practise hard.” — before eventually that very student is graduating with a law degree and working in an office — The horror. You need to lie, but not only to your student. First, you need to lie to yourself. You need to lie to yourself because you know your student won’t be able to play at Wigmore Hall, and then you need to say yet another lie to your student: that they can make if they only tried their best. It is a lying fest, indeed. 

So, you are blatantly lying, and you accept that. Don’t worry about it too much. It is human nature, after all. Young people depend on good wordings and fake encouragement from their parents, friends and peers. Even if they are 5 foot 4 and they aspire to become the next Michael Jordan, there will be someone around to promise them glory on the NBA. As you may have noticed, this website is by no means politically correct. But, perhaps that’s why many people read it, because at least it’s, to my eyes anyway, truthful. 

Lie as much as possible, but lie with honour and purpose. 

Never say your own truth to your student, because at the end of the day, you are not the seer Calchas. You are not to proclaim that your student won’t be able to play a piano recital at Carnegie Hall, then get to a spaceship to Mars, come back, win the Nobel prize in literature (with his lone novel), and proclaim the meaning of life while at it. You know zilch about your students’ potential.  

So, stop playing the “honesty card” and start lying as soon as possible! Off you go!

Copyright © 1st of October 2022, by Nikos Kokkinis