Lost in Thought: Practice Tips

Schott mag

The following post was written for Schott’s magazine üben e musizieren, and it’s been published in the most recent edition. The article is a veritable ‘How-To-Play’ of my little piece Lost in Thought, which is the first piece in a collection entitled No Words Necessary. Here, I’ve printed the English version below, but you can click on the link at the bottom of this post to read the original in German, and also to obtain a free copy of the piece, which is suitable for students of around Grade 3 level (ABRSM). Enjoy!

Lost in Thought was written in March 2018, and it was published by Schott Music later that year. It’s the first work in a collection of twelve piano pieces called No Words Necessary (ED 23075). Inspired by Heinrich Heine’s apt sentiment “Where words leave off, music begins”, these educational pieces are intended for students, and are approximately intermediate to late-intermediate level (between Grade 3 – 6 of the British music examination board system).

I wrote the piece whilst adjudicating in Hong Kong. I enjoyed long lunch breaks during my sessions judging the piano classes at the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival, and I had the opportunity to work in beautiful theatres complete with impressive concert grands. Lost in Thought was composed during one such lunch time session.

Comprising of a chordal texture throughout, it inhabits a dreamy, atmospheric sound world, which relies on the sustaining pedal to create the necessary resonance. My intention was to capture, in sound, the often reflective and wandering ‘thought-process’ synonymous with the human mind. My music has been influenced by many factors, but I particularly like listening to minimalist and post-minimalist composers. Whilst the pieces in this collection are not strictly ‘minimalist’, certain moments definitely draw on the ‘repetitive structures’ frequently found in this style.

Lost in Thought is eighteen bars in length and constructed in four-bar phrases, employing a series of chord structures. I love to employ a particular key (G major, in this case), and add increasingly dissonant harmonies, whilst still keeping to the key of G. This piece never strays into the realms of dissonance or atonality, but it does push harmonic boundaries. I have kept the tonic note, G, present in most bars, where it is used as a pedal note (a crotchet played in the left-hand part on beat three of bar 1 – 12), as well as appearing in the semibreve chords.

Here are a few practice ideas which may be helpful when learning to play Lost in Thought.

Start by assimilating the semibreve chords; it can help to secure fingerings (which I’ve suggested in the score) and note patterns. Play each semibreve, slowly, as one whole chord, that is, without spreading it. Once you can play these chords at a very slow speed from the beginning of the work to the end, gradually increase the tempo, so that you are able to play all eighteen bars fairly swiftly, one after another. Moving from chord to chord should feel easy and comfortable, and you will be aware of the harmonic progressions within each phrase.

Although this piece doesn’t really contain any obvious melodic line or visible ‘tune’, the top note of each chord could be considered as part of the melodic interest. Therefore, aim to place slightly more weight on every top note, allowing them to ‘ring’ out. By spreading the chords, as written, it should be quite easy to highlight the highest note in the right-hand chord despite being played by the less powerful fourth or fifth finger; that is, the D in bar 1, and the top E in bar 2, followed by the E flat in bar 3 etc.   

It’s worth noting that the climax of each phrase is often present in the third bar within every four-bar phrase, and therefore, at bar 3, 7, and bar 11. Aim to adjust your crescendo accordingly, and ‘place’ these notes with a deeper touch, in order to nuance the most powerful chord within these phrases.

The crotchets, which appear on beats 3 and 4 of bar 1 – 12, should ideally be ‘added’ into the texture. Try to play both the bass note on beat 3 and the treble note on beat 4 with a softer sonority to that of the semibreve chords. The fourth beat always leads on to the next bar, so therefore might benefit from more colour than the preceding bass note. Observe the tenuto markings on these beats from bar 9 – 11; this passage requires greater intensity. Bar 13 – 17 features quavers on the third and fourth beat of the bar; ensure that the hand and fingers move swiftly into a suitable octave position, so that these notes can be played rhythmically and with a diminuendo throughout the phrase.

The last phrase feels like a reflection of all that has gone before, in keeping with the meaning of the title. The ritenuto, which presides over bar 17 – 18, can be as slow and drawn-out as you like, with a very soft, tranquil final bar, drifting off into the distance.

The sustaining pedal plays a fundamental role in this work. I would pedal for the entire bar throughout, as marked, with just one change at the beginning of every bar, capturing the introspective mood.

Read the original article in German and download the score, here:

Lost in Thought by Melanie Spanswick

Find out more about No Words Necessary: https://en.schott-music.com/shop/no-words-necessary-no376136.html

You can listen to all the pieces in the volume on YouTube:


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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