This is my second post on Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. In the first, I proposed two different ways of choreographing the LH, the arm steering the hand in both. I also discussed practising the RH first of all slowly and firmly, and then in a bunch of different rhythmic groupings, and then using accents. I am going to do one more post next week, where I’ll talk about individual spots in the piece. This week, my suggestions are more general.
I would like to suggest two other ways of practising the RH, which are in many ways much more effective:
If we can reproduce at a slow tempo the exact length of time each semiquaver in the RH lasts at full speed, we will find this is extremely short! Now, if we retain this shortness and practise each note staccatissimo, we will be able to practise slowly and fast simultaneously. The tempo is slow, yet the key speed and the way we react to each note extremely fast. Think of each note as a grain of rice that we unclump from a piece of sushi and lay out with plenty of space in between. We feel staccatissimo as a plucking or scratching motion in which the active finger tip moves towards the palm of the hand. This motion is generated by and confined to the tip of the finger – the wrist and arm remaining quiet. Start off by placing the finger on the key, and pull the finger quickly into the palm of the hand. Make sure the arm does not pull back, that the motion is only in the finger. Make sure to be in contact with the key before you pluck.
Making A Chain
I’ll probably end up doing a whole post on this at some point, but I’ll outline the process briefly. When we practise slowly, we are deliberately thinking about one note at a time, one finger action at a time and while this is indispensable in the early stages of learning a piece, it is only a part of the story. After a while, we will need to group notes into ever larger units, thinking less about each finger and more about the bigger gesture. Making a chain allows us to do this by adding a note at a time. Start with a small group of notes, one that you can manage at full speed straight away:
Before moving onto the next stage (adding the next note), ensure that the previous group has been perfected – it needs to sound and feel good. The small grace notes are very light and fast, and lead to the big note. Having reached the big note, we hold the key and switch off all effort. You can practise the chain note to note, or beat to beat. Some points:
- You can start a chain from any note or beat.
- Start a new chain from the second half of each bar, perfect this and then tack it on to the first half bar.
- Start from the end of each bar and work backwards: add a note or a beat before the group of notes until you reach the beginning of the bar.
A variation on this idea is to practise short units of the figuration as ripped or swiftly spread chords, using one motion of the arm. You can either release the last note, or hold on to it. Do this extremely lightly.
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In a previous post, I suggested how we might address the problem of how to practise the outer sections slowly hands together, given the complication of the LH 6’s against the RH 8’s. Synchronising the hands at speed is much easier than doing this slowly, so I like to use a skeleton LH, playing only those LH notes that coincide with the RH. This is not to say we can’t derive benefit from attempting the cross rhythms slowly, but it is quite challenging. Here is my post on practising cross rhythms.
Further Reading & Resources
A complete set of video walkthroughs for this work is available as a series on the Online Academy and can be purchased individually here or as part of an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.