Top Tips

A Useful Research Tool

I was working with someone on the Appassionata Sonata of Beethoven this week. The rhythmic organisation of the trill in bar 3 was not clear to me, so I asked to hear this bar slowly. Slowing the trill down proved a bit of a challenge, so I came up with a solution along the lines suggested by Artur Schnabel in his landmark edition. The principle here is that since a trill has a finite number of notes, it greatly assists performer and listener if these notes can be accounted for metrically. Here is Schnabel’s first recommendation: He goes on to give an alternative, but more difficult version: So which to choose, and are there other possibilities? I often find myself advising students to practise two or three strict versions of trills (if possible) in order that a freer version might emerge spontaneously in performance. And speaking of performances, we can easily research the vast number of different recordings available on YouTube using a simple tool hidden within the settings. This feature enables us to slow the speed down so that fast surface detail becomes clear and audible – at three-quarters, half or a quarter speed. The slower the setting, the lower the sound quality and of course the musical meaning is almost entirely lost. But how useful to discover how other pianists organise details such as this trill! I have made a short video to show you how to do it. ***   ***   *** If you enjoyed this article then please click here if you’d like to sign-up to our mailing list to receive future articles, content updates and special offers. You may also be interested in the following resources: Practising the Piano eBook […]

Top Tips #1: Start Anywhere!

I first published this post on top tips in October, 2015. I am republishing it now, with a couple of updates. ***   ***   *** The first of an occasional series of tips – these are quick and easy to read, and I hope they will be useful in your practice. Top Tips #1: Start Anywhere! When you have thoroughly learned a piece and you’re getting it ready for a performance or an exam, it’s a great idea to be easily able to start from anywhere in the piece. Left to your own devices you would probably start in a comfortable place, such as the beginning of a phrase or section. That’s fine, but for a challenge use a random number generator to decide for you where to start. 1. Figure out the number of bars in your piece – let’s say it’s 87 bars long 2. In the Min field, enter 1. In the Max field, enter 87 3. Press the Generate button 4. Play from the bar that comes up – not the bar before or after for convenience but the bar specified, even if it is in the middle of a phrase There are many ways to do this – make a decision beforehand how far you’re going to play on from the bar you started at. It could be 1 bar, or 4 bars – whatever! Tracking If you have divided your piece into sections, you can use the random number generator for that too. For details of this approach, click here. Tied Notes If the bar you land on has tied notes, depress the key(s) silently before you begin. Here’s why…

Top Tips: Bar by Bar Practice

I would like to share a very helpful tip for when you need to begin somewhere other than the start of a section or phrase during practice.  You’ve identified the need for greater security, and are practising bar by bar. The rule is to play from the first note of a bar and stop on the first note of the next bar, resisting the temptation to carry on past this point. This is great for control, and also for memory work. It does take a fair amount of discipline and concentration though. Having played the bar, we stop, remove our hands from the keyboard and reflect on our results  Were the notes all correct? Did I play rhythmically, with flow, dynamics, organisation and shaping? Did it feel and sound good? If not, you’ll need to repeat the bar until your inner quality control inspector gives it the green light before moving on to the next bar. But let’s say you get to a bar that starts with a tied note – how do you accommodate that? If you leave that note out you create a problem, because you are not accounting for the finger whose job it is to be resting in that particular key at the precise moment you play the other notes. Playing the note where the tie originates is certainly an option, but my preference is to put the key down silently ahead of time so the finger is in its place the moment we start. In the third bar of this example from the D minor Fugue from Bach’s WTC (Book 1), first put down the Bb with your RH 5th finger silently (a useful skill in itself) and you’ll be ready […]

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