The ten pieces that make up Jacques Ibert’s collection of impressionistic piano pieces, entitled Histoires, sound as fresh to us now as the day they were written. Actually, they were composed over the course of a decade, between 1912 and 1922 when Ibert was based in Rome. Many of the pieces drew their inspiration from the sights of Spain, Italy and Tunisia as Ibert travelled around. 

We are going to look at a small section from the second piece, Le petit âne blanc (The Little White Donkey). This delightful work is suitable for the intermediate player; it needs plenty of imagination to play it with the colour and vibrancy it requires. It is not hard to hear the trotting of the donkey in the left hand, or the gentle braying in the right hand that comes later. In the key of F sharp major, the piece might pose some challenges initially, but once the notes have been learned you will find that the music lies very well under the hand. 

As part of my Q-spot series, I have selected two places from The Little White Donkey that will need your careful attention for the piece to flow well as a whole:

  1. Bars 20 – downbeat 25
  2. Bars 25-29

In my full article on the Online Academy, I give detailed step-by-step practice guides for both these quarantine spots together with a video tutorial. Let’s have a look at an especially challenging moment from the second Q-spot, from bars 27 – 29. How many players have stumbled here, uncertain as to how to improve the passage?

This short extract makes an excellent exercise in double note playing, where the intermediate player can learn the same practice techniques used at the advanced level. We begin by taking each hand separately. Thinking in two independent voices (perhaps two flutes), we play the top line (with the fingering we’re going to use when we play both lines together), and then the lower line until we can manage each beautifully. Thereafter, we can put the two voices together by double tapping the upper voice while holding the lower notes, then reversing the process.

The next stage involves playing broken thirds both ways up (from upper note to lower, then from lower note to upper). This helps muscle memory greatly.

When you do it the other way around, you’ll notice there are a couple of places where we have to break the legato:

Having worked on the left hand in the same ways, we are ready to put the passage hands together. Some initial ultra-slow practice is always a good idea, but no amount of slow practice will enable you to play fast. I suggest assembling the passage by chaining, making sure to get each stage absolutely right before adding the next link.

In this short extract from the long video I demonstrate the forward and backward chaining practice techniques. If you go over these processes every day for a few days, patiently and mindfully, you are bound to notice tangible results.

Many further practice stages for daily work on these Q-spots are available on the Online Academy as part of our Q-spot series. Click here to view this article on the Online Academy or click here for a blog post with more information on quarantining and the Q-spots series.

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