Players who have made some sort of preliminary effort to understand the shape and structure of the music they are about to learn before they rush to the piano tend to learn it quicker and more thoroughly than those who allow the musical design to seep in unconsciously as they learn the piece phrase by phrase from start to finish, repeatedly playing the piece through over time. I consider it essential to have a clear mental map of any piece of music we learn, especially if we plan to memorise it, in advance of ingraining muscular habits at the keyboard.
It should be obvious that while some background in theory is extremely useful when it comes to playing an instrument, not everyone who is capable of playing advanced piano music has had the benefit of a formal education in music theory and harmony. I would like to offer a taste of what I have come to call “quick and dirty analysis” as an example of how to approach analysis freely and personally without too much textbook theoretical or harmonic knowledge. Quick and dirty analysis is something you can do at the keyboard by exploring the music according to the shapes and designs that you notice and that are meaningful to you. Pretty much anything you notice is fair game, and can help you create a mental map of what is going on on the page. In this post you will find a short video of me doing a quick and dirty analysis of the opening few bars of Mozart’s G major Sonata, K283, at the piano using a stream-of-consciousness approach that I think most people could do themselves if given some gentle encouragement (I am assuming anyone who approaches this piece will know what sonata form is and how it works).
Before we get to that, have a squint at the eighth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test designed by Swiss psychiatrist, Hermann Rorschach. The basic idea behind this is that when a person is shown an ambiguous, meaningless image (such as an inkblot) the mind will work hard at imposing meaning on the image. That meaning is generated by the mind, but each personal will find their own individual meaning. What do you see in this inkblot?
Everything you saw in the inkblot was “correct” in the sense that it had meaning for you, and by the same token nothing was “wrong”. While a Mozart Sonata is of course not meaningless, it might be approached in a similar vein. Next look at the first few bars of the Sonata away from the piano. To get the ball rolling you might want to print out page 1 and jot down your observations about the shapes and designs you see directly onto the score – remember anything you notice is fine.
For the Urtext edition of the score, click here
And now to my video talk-through of the first few bars.
The reason I chose this particular sonata is because of a series of videos on YouTube by Austin Patty offering a Schenkerian approach to the analysis. You can follow the links to the others in his series once you are on YouTube, but here is one that relates to what I was doing in my own video.