judi

At the Noodle Bar: Developing Speed in Grieg’s Puck

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.

judi

At the Noodle Bar: Practice Tips for a Chord Stream

I have just featured the hauntingly beautiful B minor Intermezzo of Brahms (from the op 119 set) in a series of video demonstrations for Trinity College London on their new piano syllabus. This work appears in the Grade 8 list and will pose some challenges to the candidates who choose to master it, mostly to do with finding the right sound.

It’s the change of texture in the second section in D major that I am interested in today (at the end of the first system after the double bar). I am struck by how Brahms lays out the RH chords by first presenting the middle notes, tying them over and then adding the outer notes. Apart from supplying rhythmic flow this way of breaking the chords encourages us not to voice too brightly to the top but to find a chocolatey warmth and richness for our sound from the middle notes.

Staggering the chord layout is of course a great way to practise any chord stream. Practising chords from the inside out and from the outside in helps us achieve superlative tonal and technical control. I have been doing this for years and my students find it works wonders for them. I have chosen just one short example to take to the noodle bar today, a tricky LH chord stream from the Ravel Sonatine (bars 54 and 55).

Online Academy’s Study Edition

I have published a study edition of Ravel’s Sonatine, available through the Online Academy. It features video clips demonstrating various features of the work, together with footnotes, video walkthroughs and score examples with exercises. I hope you will it a valuable resource as you practise this piece.

For details, follow this link

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