In this month’s bumper Practice Clinic, Graham Fitch answered questions on works by Bach, Scarlatti, Liszt, Debussy, Schumann and Gershwin. Topics discussed included balancing voices, reducing tension, articulation, shaping and achieving rhythmic fluency.
Practice clinic questions
Reducing tension & coordinating breathing – I appreciate your resources about eliminating unnecessary tension. Having played for many years, I was surprised to notice how often I am holding my breath, even during something routine like triads. Do you have tips for coordinating breathing more evenly with playing?
Playing thirds – I’d like some tips on how to play thirds smoothly and absolutely together while emphasising the melodic line. Bars 30 -32 in Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 and 30-31 in the Adagio from Mozart’s K332 are examples.
JS Bach – Partita No. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830 (4th mvt, Air) – I’ve been practising this piece for years but I still have difficulty with fluency and rhythmic accuracy in the left hand (I do prefer a fast tempo – minim +/- 90), specifically the descending patterns from 2nd half of bar 8 to bar 11 and the rising pattern from bar 20 – 23. These, at speed always sound a little fudged. How would you suggest I improve this ‘left hand weakness’?
Shaping – I need a basic explanation of shaping. I hear the term from time to time in tutorials but don’t understand exactly what it is and how to do it. Could you also illustrate with a short passage, showing how shaping improves it? [include pieces?]
Debussy – Arabesque No.1 – Do you have any suggestions that would improve speed and flowing quality needed in this work? In particular, I refer to Bar 6 onwards where the 2 v 3 rhythm cascades beautifully. I have the rhythm down but getting it to that next level where it feels free and flowing is still eluding me.
Scarlatti – Sonata in G Major, K260 – I would like to ask about the articulation that we should use to play the notes at the start. These are arpeggios quavers, should we play them staccato (detached)? Should the whole piece be detached? Also, how to differentiate which notes should be played legato and which are not?
Gershwin – Prelude No. 3 – I’m struggling to reduce tension in the right hand octaves starting at measure 51, particularly with the triplet figure at the beginning of the phrase. I’ve been using the fourth finger on the Bb of the triplet octaves which I can reach fairly comfortably. Do you have any suggestions on how I can reduce the tension here?
Schumann – Of Foreign Lands from Kinderscenen, Op. 15 No. 1 – I am currently working on this piece and am around grade 5 level. I have done quite a lot of detailed work on the three layers of the music (melody, base, triplets), trying to achieve good voicing and balance of tone. I have now memorised the piece and have no problems with the notes. However, I am still struggling to get the voicing and the dynamics right. Despite my efforts, my bass and triplets sound too heavy and somehow not smooth enough and there is not enough dynamic contrast throughout the piece. When I try to introduce pianos, I find it hard to bring out the melody without it being too loud, and the whole thing loses balance.
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