Today I present an excerpt from my walkthrough of Max Bruch’s delightful Moderato from the Sechs Klavierstücke, Op. 12, No. 4 (currently on the ABRSM Grade 6 syllabus). In the video I illustrate three practice tools that will help gain control of the jumps.
You may think my demonstration is a bit long-winded and laborious, but the idea is to show you principles of practice that you can apply to any jumps that cause difficulty – no matter the grade or level. In the Bruch piece, the jumps are in the left hand and it is important that the left hand be very comfortable with what it has to do, so that you can put your full attention on making the right hand sing expressively.
For a link to the score, click here
You will probably want to begin by playing and singing the right hand, to get a sense of the character of the melody. Next, look at the left hand and notice there are two components – a bass line in single notes (on the main beats, played with the pinky) and a harmonic filler (on the off beats). For the second step, play the melody line against the bass line (omitting the chords). Then, to help you relate one chord to the next, you might try playing the left hand chords without interrupting them with the bass notes to create a harmonic progression (just make sure you use the fingering you will end up using when you put everything together).
Now we are going to work at the left hand by itself, using the three practice tools:
- Play the bass note and hold it. Prepare yourself to move to the chord that follows it.
- When you are ready, in your own good time, use a fast but free and loose motion of the arm to move like lightning to the surface of the keys of the chord. Do not play it yet!
- Before playing, check to see that you arrived at the centre of the keys, so that no finger is in the cracks between the keys and no finger is hanging half over the edge of a black key (where appropriate). You are aiming for a millimeter-accurate measurement of the distance involved across the keyboard and within the hand.
- If you were 100% accurate, and you got there fast, then go ahead and play the chord.
- Sit on this chord, and prepare for the next quick movement down to the new bass note. We are not playing rhythmically here, our only concern is to form the reflexes involved in making the jumps very fast and very accurate.
- If your measurement was not 100% accurate, or if you overshot, undershot or otherwise fumbled, then do not play the notes. First, learn from your faulty measurement so that you can make the necessary adjustments when you try it again. Perhaps the span between the second finger and the thumb wasn’t quite wide enough, so that the second finger was too far to the right? Diagnose where you went wrong before trying it again.
- Place the hand on the surface of the key(s), without playing.
- When you are ready, use the key(s) as a springboard to the next position. As you play the note(s), propel your hands off the keys and land on the next note or chord. Feel this as one motion, and do not prepare the position. Make sure that when you move, your arms are loose and free.
- Freeze! The golden rule is to hold on to whatever you land on, whether this be the correct chord, nearly right or a fistful of clangers. The point here is to see how accurate your measurement was.
- If you were totally accurate and dead centre of the keys, release to key surface and use this as your springboard to the next position.
- If not, your instinct will be to make the necessary corrections immediately but resist this. Instead, examine what went wrong and learn from it before going back and repeating the process from the previous position.
This is similar to springboarding, except that instead of landing on the complete new chord position with all the notes, we select those notes we wish to land on, and then fill in the remainder just afterwards. This is a particularly useful process when we wish to see (and feel) how a particularly awkward chord is built up. We can effectively play it in stages. Note that this does not have to be done rhythmically.
And finally! Here is the excerpt of the video where I demonstrate the three practice tools.
Let common sense prevail when applying these tools in your practice. It would take quite a bit of time if you went through all three stages one after the other, so you might want to do one stage one day, and another the day after, etc. Or work on a few bars at a time going through all three stages. You will certainly want to repeat the steps several times before you can expect to feel tangible results, avoiding busking through the piece at the end of your practice session in the early stages of the note learning.
For more information on measuring distances, and other aspects of technique, follow this link to my eBook series (Part 2)
If you would like to explore our full guide to the ABRSM examination syllabus, click here
For the full article and video on the Bruch piece, click here