This is the first in a new series I’m calling “At the Noodle Bar”, where I take a question or a problem and noodle with it at the piano. Here is a question that reached me from Dean from Perth, Western Australia. Dean writes:
Q. “I have been having tremendous fun discovering the endless repertoire of classical piano (rather than doing things to pass grades), I came across a piece which I am finding challenging to get up to speed. I was browsing through your website and came across your two blog entries on double notes, and wondered how you might recommend practicing this.
Specifically, it’s the double notes that are found embedded adjacent to some single-note quavers, first occurrence in bar 3 of Grieg’s Op 71 no 3 (“Puck“) in the right hand. This kind of pattern repeats its self several times throughout the rest of the piece. Playing this at half tempo is fine, but as soon as I try to speed things up a little bit, I find that I can no longer play the thirds precisely at the same time, making the whole thing sound sloppy. I have tried practising this slowly and staccato, with limited success. Have no idea how one might get this up to the 176 minim per minute!?
Listening to various different performances online, it appears to be at least humanly possible to get it fast and crisp, but have absolutely no idea how one might go about practicising this, and if a staccato approach is even productive?
This performance appears to be up to the tempo of Grieg’s intentions.”
A. Thanks so much for this excellent question, Dean. It raises some interesting points. There is no getting away from the fact that slow practice in a fast, intricate passage like this has only limited value – we will never learn to run just by doing a lot of walking! Over-stressing slow practice here would be counterproductive, since we need to develop the reflexes to play this note pattern at speed and at the required dynamic level fairly early on in the learning process. Some staccato practice at a slower tempo, using the finger tips, is not without value but the main requirement for success here is mobility.
The problem with passages in a five-finger position like this is that it is easy to keep the hand in place and try to manage everything with the fingers. The extra pinky note on the top and the soft dynamic level compound the difficulty.
I’ve put together a quick video addressing your question, it is by no means comprehensive nor my last word on the subject but just what came from the top of my head when I switched on the camera. I hope it enables you to get closer to a solution.
For a link to the score, click here
If you have a piano-related question for me here or through Pianist Magazine, please contact me via this site. I can’t guarantee to answer every question, but I’ll do my best.