Sara Davis Buechner: Ask Me Anything!

Sara is here as our next featured "Ask me anything" guest!

Noted for her musical command, cosmopolitan artistry, and visionary independence, Sara Davis Buechner is one of the most original concert pianists of our time

Watch her exclusive tonebase lessons here:

With a variety of topics including: which edition to use, alberti bass, practicing scales and arpeggios, and much more!

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

  • Ask your questions right here until October 10th!
  • Sara will answer questions from October 10-15th!
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    • aliceyip
    • aliceyip
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hello, which periods of piano repertoire can be asked?

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    • aliceyip Dear Alice: Happy to answer questions about any period at all.

      Like
      • aliceyip
      • aliceyip
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Sara Buechner 

      Bach Toccata No.3 in F Sharp minor difficulties:

       

      1.  In the opening section, I am not sure whether I need to use Pedal and the Articulation should be all Legato or some slurs in Demisemiquavers and Semiquavers.

       

      2.  I am not sure whether the rhythm of demisemiquaver and semiquaver in bar 46 should be fast or not.

       

      3.  I am not sure whether the rhythms of the semiquaver notes and semiquaver rests from bars 61 - 64 should be all equal or not.

       

      4.  I am not sure whether the semiquavers should be all Legato, or slurs for each two notes or four notes from bars 71 - 75.

       

      5.  I am not sure whether the semiquavers should be all Legato, or slurs for each four notes or eight notes and how much pedals should be used from bars 110 - 112.

       

      6.  In 6/8 time, I don't know how to arrange the slurs on both semiquavers and quavers from bars 158 - 163.

       

      7.   I am not sure whether the semiquavers should be all Legato, or slurs for each four notes or eight notes and how much pedals should be used from bars 186 - 196

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    • aliceyip Alice, hope you got my answers which I pasted just a little while ago.

      Like
    • Angelo B.
    • Angelo_B
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Ms. Beuchner, your lessons on tonebase have been very helpful to me. I've been playing piano for about 8 years now, and unlike many of my peers, I'm really quite poor when it comes to classical period repertoire like Mozart. I'm able to get the notes under my fingers, but I am greeted with a very bright, dry, toy-like sound no matter what I do (and for Mozart who for the most part, already sounds quite happy - I end up stripping the music of its elegant and lithe quality in favor of an overly humorous one). I'm working on the K. 283 Sonata and I've begun practicing the K. 310. Neither is going particularly well. I would not be happy to present them to other people. 

     

    And so comes my question. I've really tried very hard to employ various techniques to get that slightly muted, slightly leggiero touch when playing Mozart, but I'm met with much resistance. Still, I would like to at least get it to a level where it is presentable to other people, so rather than asking about how I can achieve the sound I want, would you have any advice for how I can instead take advantage of my piano's very bright sound and my drier touch? My own personal attempts have only resulted in making my Mozart sound - well - a little angrier, so to speak. In any case, sorry if this is a vague question, but I'd still appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thanks! 

    Like 2
    • Angelo B. Dear Angelo: I think it is always a good idea to practice legato in general, and in the case of Mozart, many of the great European players have advocated a kind of overlapping legato wherein you hold one finger down on the present note, and keep it down as you press the next. It's a kind of finger pedaling. This helps make for a seamless sound and you can of course also apply pedal with the foot as well for sonic bloom.

      Slow practice (without a metronome) and great attention to detail is the key to success in this realm, I have found. It takes patience!

      Like
    • Michelle
    • Michelle5
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi, Ms. Beuchner, I am having trouble finding a balance on the stage. It appears to me that I have been finding myself making a lot of mistakes while performing on the stage, including memory slips which never happened before; also tend to tense up while performing a really exciting passage. Do you have any advise or tips for me during practicing or on the stage? Any help would be really appreciated! Thank you.

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    • Michelle Dear Michelle, performing in public always guarantees a certain amount of distraction and nervousness which shows itself in the form of simple mistakes and of course, memory slips. For my advanced students, I always urge them to study the score away from the piano so they can get it firmly into the brain. It's also a good idea to sing the piece, again away from the piano and without the music. If you are able to do that, you have internalized the memory and it will not bother you again.

      But in the case of non-professional players, I simply say: why put yourself through such agony and extra hours of preparation? If you are playing for the joy of it, let yourself use the music. At times when I play with a score on stage, I always make sure to practice the page turns as well as the playing. If necessary I make xerox pages or do some cutting and pasting. Others use the AirTurn Pedal if they play from an I-Pad. You should not over-value the memorization of music if it takes away from the joy of playing or hearing the music itself.

      Like 5
      • Michelle
      • Michelle5
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Sara Buechner Thank you for your thoughtful advise! '

      Like
    • Tim
    • Tim
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I very much enjoy your teaching style, I'm hoping for more Mozart Tutorials! 

     

    I'm struggling getting the KV 280 to sound cohesive. It sounds like a lot of skills strung together. 

     

    Progress is much slower on the Mozart than other pieces I'm working on, is that typical? 

     

    I haven't played Mozart in a very long time but when you said "if you aren't working on any Mozart, you should be" - I took your advice to heart!

    Like 1
    • Tim Dear Tim:

      Thanks for your nice words. I struggle every day to make my music sound cohesive LOL. Welcome to the club! As for your progress, it is probably better than you think. Please read my other replies as there is some good info for you there, particularly my one answer regarding overlapping legato practice. That will help with the cohesive sound.

      Like
    • Lars
    • Lars
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions and thanks also for an interesting and informative interview about Busoni with Youssef Amin that I saw on YouTube. Busoni's expressiveness and tonality are discussed there and I came to think of scales in the Bach Busoni Chaconne where he changes the melodic line, for example variation 9, measures 73 to 76 but I am not entirely sure especially about measure 74, second quarter left hand. I have an idea to portray and present what seems to me like an argumentative struggle. I'm sure you have something to suggest for the fingering of these four bars to bring it out and would be very grateful if I could get some advice.

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    • Lars Dear Lars: I too have struggled with those scales and tried several fingerings. Make sure to differentiate between the small notes which must be executed rapidly, and the large notes which have clear rhythmic notation (and thus, slower). It's also well worth looking at Busoni's Klavierübung where he suggests unconventional scale fingerings including things like 1-2-3-4-5-1-2-3-4-5 (etc) for passages which must fly. I often use such fingerings and practice major and minor scales with consecutive 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3 (etc) and 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 (etc). Try not to get too hung up on old canards like "no 5th finger on the black notes."

      I think those bars have many possibilities depending upon the shape and size of the hand so I'm not sure just writing down my own fingerings would help much. Besides, I tend to change them each time I re-learn a piece! Also a good idea, to think of fingering as something malleable, not fixed or permanent.

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  • Dear Ms Buechner, I'm currently 'honing' Mozart's Rondo K 511. The way i approach the piece is to try express a feeling of pain.  I concocted a story of a despairing mother with a baby pleading with a man who for his own circumstances had no choice but to abandon them. She's come back to plead with him.  I hear their 2 voices in the music between the LH and RH.  Then in the B (or c ?) section they recall happier times as well as rocky patches. Ultimately the woman was denied her wish and in the final bars of the piece after being emphatically rejected by the man I see her turning away hurryimg off down the winding long road and disappearing over hill, never to return again. I created this story after my teacher asked me  " where's the pain ??" and I think it has helped in my playing. My question is : would you agree that the piece is about pain? I have heard on YT a number of pianists playing in a lighter even jaunty mood.  What is your personal preference? 

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    • Ching Lee Goh Dear Ching Lee: I'd say that there are many words we can use to describe Mozart's most exquisite Rondo in A minor -- painful, yes, but also poignant, nostalgic, gleeful in its mid-section, resigned, quiet, accepting. Words are always inadequate to describe music.

       

      As a youngster I often made up stories to think of when playing, in order to provoke emotion into my performances. In time I stopped doing that, as I wanted to tell my own stories in sound, not portray a movie script. As for the emotion in the Rondo, well, it's far more complex than just "pain," I think. Mozart is the composer who can portray the emotion of tragedy in one measure, then like a coin just flip it over to reveal the humor in it all.

       

      I see no reason to rush into baleful emotions just to help you play the Mozart Rondo. Whatever you find in the piece, is valid. Make it yours and be proud of what you make.

       

      As for myself, I see that Rondo as an epic reflection on many spheres of experience. Mozart at the age of 35 had the wisdom of a very old man. When I play such music, I try not to project as much as I try to listen. When I play, people listen to me; but when I play, I am listening to Mozart.

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    • Dear Sara

      Thank you so much for your patience in answering all our questions in such detail! 
      I take all your points entirely. Sometimes we look for the short - handed way of achieving something, when we should be looking deeper, looking beyond, and looking into the composer himself. Thank you for reminding me of all this. Your comments have been deeply insightful and have made me think again about how I approach a piece of music.

       

      Many many thank again!

      Ching Lee

       

      Like
    • Michael
    • Art Historian, Musculoskeletal Radiologist, Former Harpsichordist
    • MichaelP
    • 3 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Could you speak about the historical, scholarly basis for the interpretation of ornaments in Mozart and contemporaries? The preceding generation of composers for harpsichord make use of an extensive array of symbols that designate very specific ornaments, varying by national school (most elaborate amongst the French clavecinistes). However, it appears that in most modern editions of Mozart et. al. only the  trill symbol “Tr” appears, and apparently the “turn” appears in some manuscripts. 

     

    Historical harpsichord performance practice is informed by multiple explicit sources alive at Mozart’s time or in the preceding generation that presumably established the expectations for his contemporaries, amongst them C.P.E. Bach’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen,  Quantz’ Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, Couperin’ L'Art de toucher le Clavecin, Hotteterre’s Principes de la flûte traversière and J.S.Bach’s Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Is Leopold Mozart’s Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule regarded as the uniquely decisive source for interpretation in Mozart?  It’s treatment of ornamentation is lengthy, but (in the edition I have found) the rich notational variety and specificity from the harpsichord literature is discarded. Why does this happen? Many historical harpsichords (mostly French) have longer sustain than contemporary fortepianos, so that is not likely the answer. Even the most elaborate ornaments are easily executed on the fortepiano; and with practice even on the modern piano the possibilities far exceed what is commonly heard.

     

    My cursory glimpse at Badura-Skoda’s work leaves the impression that it is lean on historical sources beyond Leopold’s treatise, and reflects mostly inferences from an intimate knowledge of Mozart’s scores themselves. As someone coming from a background of harpsichord performance, I am often perplexed by the interpretation of ornaments in Mozart’s keyboard works. I wonder if current interpretation represents just the style our generation has fallen upon by looking back from the perspective of subsequent piano literature and the modern instrument, or if it is thought to be reconstructed prospectively from particular, contemporary documentation. Is it just that the preponderance of music written during Mozart’s life persuade us that ornamentation is moribund?

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    • Michael Dear Michael: Your essay is quite detailed and intellectually probing and I doubt that I am up to the best reply. I had the great honor of working with Badura-Skoda in his last years and can assure you that no one could possibly ever have delved so thoroughly and so spiritually into the world of the composers he connected with -- Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert (not to mention many others, including his good friend Frank Martin).

       

      One of my favorite stories to recant is the time I played the slow movement of the Sonata KV 533/494 and executed an ornament in one of the repeated melodic passages. He stopped me, saying, "oh no, Zara, you must not do an ornament there." Then he sat down at the piano and played the same passage, adding a different one. "However, if you vish to do zo, ziss is a nice one!"

       

      Which rather sums up the combination of great scholarship and also performance practicality that the great musician knew so intimately. Yes, we should read all the treatises and ponder the solutions to the many questions of ornamentation and embellishment. But so many of those pedagogic tracts include the proviso, to use one's good judgement and taste. And judgement and taste are qualities that change greatly over time.

       

      Decisions over such matters vary widely in any case, and particularly if playing on different instruments. For me, the idea of not using the piano pedals when playing Bach or Mozart is as inane as not using the pedals of a bicycle. The instrument will never sound good without using its full resources. I'd say the same of any organ or harpsichord or clavichord. It is the performer's duty to find the ways of adapting the instrument's possibilities to recreate the correct sound and emotional world of the composer.

       

      When I am unsure of such things I always consult Badura-Skoda's book on Mozart, or the equally wonderful Frederick Neumann volumes.

       

      And lastly, I'll add, in the midst of performance, if an ornament strikes me as "a nice one," as Badura-Skoda put it, I will play it and answer the musicologists after.

      Like
      • Michael
      • Art Historian, Musculoskeletal Radiologist, Former Harpsichordist
      • MichaelP
      • 3 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Sara Buechner Thanks for your thoughtful and entertaining response! I hadn’t realized the extent of Frederick Neumann’s work in Mozart, but found something like 114 references including multiple pertinent journal articles by him, as well as reviews of his book on Mozart performance.  But honestly, even should I muster the fortitude to browse through them, I’ll surely end up just doing what sounds musical to me anyhow. Because, why not?

      Like
    • Michael Neumann's signature volume on Mozart, "Ornamentation and Embellishment in Mozart" (Princeton U Press) is a vital work that is also quite entertaining to read. Well worth the time to look it through and afterwards you can make more informed choices about which rules to follow and which rules to bend or break.

      Like
  • Sara, I am working on the first Brahms exercise of 51. I marked and studied the fingering before I started working on the exercise.  I thought the polyrhythms would be my waterloo.  Though still working at a snail’s pace with both hands, its fingering mistakes that are hindering my progress.   Please offer any recommendations for cementing fingering that can then become second nature.  Thank you!

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    • Sherry Knowles Dear Sherry: I wouldn't worry too much about "cementing" fingering in the Brahms exercises. I think they are meant to have fluidity. And of course it's the intellectual idea of how do you adapt such fingerings when executing those exercises, in all 12 keys as indicated. I think one of the best uses of both the Brahms and shorter Czerny exercises is as transposition material. And don't practice any of them for a long period of time, either. Regardless of whether you can play them at a particular tempo, or even correctly, just keep moving on. Remember that exercises are just as much for the mind, not just the fingers.

      Like
    • Sara Buechner I very much appreciate your thoughts on this...I wanted to work on these exercises particularly for the polyrhythms of the first exercises and my  brain related coordination.  Fingering frustration or not, for me working on these exercises is more fun/ rewarding than brain games. 

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    • Sherry Knowles The challenge of matching up rhythms of 5 vs. 4, or 4 vs. 3, etc. is in NOT figuring out what finger hits in the right in the space with the left or whatever. You have to FEEL the pulse of the downbeats. In college we all had to learn how to conduct a 3-pattern in the right hand at the same time as doing a 2-pattern in the left. Then we did 3-pattern vs. 4-pattern, which is much harder. Another place where command of downbeat listening is vital is in the Barber Cello Sonata. You simply will never be able to play it unless you train your ears NOT to listen for the match-ups of every note.

      Having said that, I would urge you to practice hands separate for a long time, and before putting hands together, try to play the pattern with more notes in one hand while SAYING the lesser pattern as you play. Try to put the number 1 with the downbeat. Anything you can say or sing, you can play with the hand. Concentrate in the hand, with the finger that plays a downbeat -- preferably a thumb, or at times the 3rd finger. A strong finger, not 4 or 5.

      This kind of thing is devilishly hard to teach in a written forum or even a Zoom lesson -- thank goodness!

      Like
  • Hi Sara, thank you very much for your great videos on Tonebase and this AMA. I am currently practicing the Mozart F- major Sonata KV 332 and was asking myself if grace notes in Mozart’s music are generally played on the beat? And if so does this rule also include other composers? Thanks!

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