How to Learn Schumann: Scenes from Childhood

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to present to you ways of practicing the first movement of Schumann’s wonderful Kinderszenen, or Scenes from Childhood. This is a glorious set of pieces that is accessible to people who are not necessarily on a virtuoso level of technique, and yet it is an absolutely stupendous piece of music! It’s a whole series of small movements, so you don’t have to take months to learn each one, and you don’t have to learn all of them. You can just learn select movements. I’m going to focus today on the very first movement: From Foreign Lands and People. It presents a unique challenge that you’ll find in other pieces. So what I’m going to show you here is not just for this movement. It covers a lot of things you can apply to many pieces of music!

A piece like this can be challenging using my usual practice method.

Any of you who follow me probably already know how I practice and how I teach how to practice, which is to memorize first. After reading the piece maybe 2 or 3 times, I get right to work, taking very small phrases, memorizing the right hand with all the details, memorizing the left hand with all the details, and then putting the hands together, going on to the next section and connecting. A piece like this has challenges when using this approach. First of all, I want to just play it for you so you can hear what the piece is about, and then I’m going to show you what challenges this piece has with the way I’m talking about practicing.

Watch the video to hear the music!

So I usually take two or four measures at a time, learn the hands separately, and then put the hands together. Then I move on to the next phrase. But the problem is, just like with a fugue, you have a middle voice, and it’s divided between the hands. At the beginning, you basically have a melody and a bass part. It’s a nice duet. But then you have a middle part that is divided between the hands. So if you try to learn the hands separately, it doesn’t make much sense. You end up with that middle part being bisected.

It makes much more sense to learn the inner voices as chords.

You really want to learn the melody and the bass, and then the middle part. It’s almost like you have three hands there in those three individual parts. Once you learn the three parts, (melody, bass, and chords), you can play the hands separately. But you want to understand that the three parts are basically a trio. Now I’m going to give you a bonus tip here.

How do you get that middle line to be quiet?

To control it, you want to play with different articulations in your practice. Try practicing using a gentle finger staccato on the broken chords so you can learn to control it. Then you can play it legato and very quietly so the melody comes through. So those are the tips for how to approach this piece. Any time you have a piece where you have middle parts, and I’m sure you have lots of scores like this, try to identify the melody, the bass, and the inner parts in chords first. Then you can practice hands separately, but realize that you’re only playing part of the whole when you’re doing that. And using different articulations is a great technique for identifying melody from harmony and getting your hands to recognize it so you can create a beautiful, subtle voicing. By doing this, you can have gradations of tone in the melody and yet have the triplets in the middle line very subservient. I hope this is helpful for you! Let me know how it works for you in the comments here at LivingPianos.com and on YouTube! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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3 thoughts on “How to Learn Schumann: Scenes from Childhood”


 
 

  1. Wonderful! I would prefer to play the first of three eight exactly together in treble and bass so the counterpoint line can ring through. Good tip holding first note longer and the other shorter. Thanks!

  2. My favorite piece of Schumann when I was a kid, was The Merry Peasant. Just a simple happy page. Never mind that Liszt then had to elaborate on it and made it very difficult!

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