The following article was recently published in Pianist magazine’s newsletter (you can subscribe, here), and I hope it might be a useful practice tool for all those who are planning a weekend of piano practice!
Creating even passages, devoid of lumps, bumps, and rhythmic jerkiness, can be a demanding challenge. How can we practice fruitfully, encouraging fingers to work optimally? Here are my 5 tips:
1. Locate a suitable passage in one of your current pieces. Aim to find a faster section or a phrase in one hand or the other, but preferably not in unison. The passage might contain semi or demisemiquavers, it could be a scalic passage, arpeggio figure, or it might be an awkwardly placed groups of notes with fingering requiring a turn of the hand.
2. Play the passage and listen carefully to those notes, and pay attention to the fingers as they play the notes; notice which fingers sound ‘weaker’, or where are you possibly ‘skating’ or ‘skimming’ over notes or note patterns, or perhaps they are rhythmically uneven, and therefore not sounding with clarity. Make sure you are using optimal fingering for this note pattern, and always try to tackle groups of notes by staying ‘in position’ as much as possible. By that I mean so that you are not constantly turning the hand, or relying solely on the thumb or second and third fingers. If you can cultivate using the fourth and fifth finger efficiently, you will add another dimension to your hand!
3. Once you’ve re-fingered your passage and you’re happy with it, focus on the notes which are still precluding evenness; often caused by the fourth and fifth finger, but the second finger can also need attention, too, as it sometimes has a tendency to collapse. Play slowly and add accents or tenuto markings to those notes. On playing the particular section, work at sounding notes which you consider to be ‘weaker’, or those which you were previously ‘skating’ over, with full power and plenty of tone and sonority; it can help to play on the tips of the fingers here. Ensure that the pattern is played very rhythmically, too. When playing powerfully, try to use fingers in conjunction with the arm, hand and wrist, so that you are fully supporting your fingers, avoiding possible injury.
4. Now play those ‘weaker’ notes with a deep staccato touch followed by a non-legato touch. Practising note patterns using double notes, that is, for every written note add another, so there are two notes playing the same note in place of just one; the wrist must be loose and flexible here to avoid any tension or ‘locking-up’. Double and triple note patterns cement finger positions and can also provide a firm connection with each key. Next, play the passage at full power with all notes sounding optimally, and hopefully, evenly.
5. Finally, play your passage swiftly and lightly. When you lighten your touch, the tricky corners, those which were previously being skimmed over, should now feel comfortable and even. If not, work at them for a few minutes during every practice session, and eventually you will find they become easier to negotiate and the passage will hopefully be more rhythmical, too.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.