Practising Duets: Part 2

Wishing all my readers a very happy and restful Bank Holiday weekend!

In Part 1 of today’s post (which you can read here), I suggested some warm-up and practice exercises for students prior to working on repertoire. This post offers various practice ideas for duos. These are described via my collection of little duets, SNAPCHATS.

Snapchats Front Cover SNAPCHATS are a useful teaching resource for pupils between Grades 1 – 4 (ABRSM). They consist of 11 extremely short works (8 – 10 bars in length), which can be easily negotiated by less experienced players. They might be a good choice for festivals or recitals; pairing two of them together also works well. One aspect I was keen to explore when writing, was to include several different techniques and piano sonorities, which may be new to players of this level.

The title Snapchats was derived from the social media platform, but the pieces are not specifically related to each other and have eclectic titles. I love harmony, and this is often my primary focus, however, there are a few tunes, with a nod to Minimalism too!

I’m going to do a quick ‘tour’ of each piece, exploring a few of the piano techniques employed, with two or three suggested practice tips. I’ve included a video of each work, some performed by myself and British pianist Nick van Bloss, with two duets played by young students Arthur and Alex Anderson (who performed them at a recent concert).

SUTRA

The first piece (which is around Grade 2 ABRSM level) is calm and tranquil, as the name suggests, yet it must be precise rhythmically or the meditational (or chanting) character will be lost. Chords in the secondo (lower part) are answered with notes ‘ringing’ out above, in the primo. There are several technical aspects here:

  1. Once chords have been negotiated in the secondo part (this could be a new challenge for the inexperienced), experiment by playing them legato (i.e. going from one chord to the next, without any gaps in the sound), voicing the top note. The primo octave pattern, meanwhile, must be placed very rhythmically on the 2nd and 3rd beats of the bar, with a tenuto touch (first line) yet slightly staccato touch (second line), and with some directional colour, precipitating the musical line and how it develops in subsequent bars.
  2. I would encourage players, to count in quavers throughout until they can convey the chanting successfully.
  3. The repeat can be played pianissimo, dying away at the end. It might be fun to add Sustaining pedal too – one pedal per bar encapsulating all the harmonies.

DATE IN MIND

This Minimalist inspired piece (which is around Grade 3 level) focuses on an Alberti Bass secondo accompaniment with a chordal primo (often in intervals of 3rds & 6ths).

  1. The secondo part weaves its way through various chordal patterns and should ideally be light, yet appropriately colouring (or emphasising) various points in the score, particularly in the bass, which provides the all-important bottom of the harmony. Examine the bass line alone, and focus on incorporating it with the primo (i.e. practice the secondo left hand with both hands in the primo part).
  2. Primo players might like to highlight the top line, separating it (tonally) from the other notes in each chord. To do this, weight the hand towards the right or weaker side (that of the 4th & 5th fingers), moving the arm and wrist accordingly.
  3. I would work very slowly with young players, taking a bar at a time, ‘fitting’ each beat together (rather like a jigsaw puzzle), ensuring each quaver in the secondo is exactly ‘placed’ with the melody in the primo).

LIGHT

Probably amongst the simplest of all the pieces in Snapchats (Grade 1 level), Light would be suitable for those who have less experience playing duets. A simplistic tune is accompanied by chords.

  1. Chords must all be placed together which is quite challenging here, as they occur on the second (or weaker) beat of the bar. Therefore, it might be an idea to work at the accompaniment first. Take the chords in the primo’s left hand and the secondo’s right hand; play them with a metronome set on a slow tempo, or count carefully.
  2. Add the bass note on the first beat of the bar (secondo, left hand), practising until all notes have been thoroughly digested and can be played without hesitation.
  3. Finally, add the melody, which may need some attention where fingering is concerned as the tune doesn’t always move in stepwise motion. Highlight the counter-melody in the secondo part too.

This duet can be played without any pedal, but will need plenty of colour and sound variation.

SAMSARA

One of the more difficult of the set (around Grade 4), this can be played at any speed, from Moderato to Presto. The secondo’s accompanying Alberti Bass must be light but very rhythmical, and this is combined with the primo’s rapid melodic passagework.

  1. Ensure the secondo’s lower part provides a firm first beat, after which the remaining quavers can be light, skimming the keys for a soft, even sound. The primo player will need to know the notes well in advance, as there are some tricky turns, particularly in the last bars. As always, practice bar by bar.
  2. For two players to learn to ‘place’ beats at speed, the  metronome might provide the perfect aid. Start under tempo, listening to where the beat falls, gradually learning to observe your duet partner and keep time (which is usually a slow process). Physical gestures will also help. Keep pedal to a minimum here (you actually don’t need any), and end with a full sound.

FLOATING

Another Minimalist inspired piece (around Grade 3 level). The harmony in this piece provides its wistful quality, so to begin with, I would examine the chord structure.

  1. Aim to play the chords altogether in minim beats (blocking them out), therefore two chords per bar (incorporating the accompaniment and the tune).
  2. Once the outer structure has been assimilated (this will help with fingering, and learning where to move), work at the accompaniment, ensuring all the quavers sound together; i.e. primo’s right hand & secondo’s left hand.
  3. Then add the tune, allowing it to float above other texture. Some arm weight will be necessary in order for the melody to sing above the texture; practise by employing a free, flexible wrist, and use the finger-tip, weighting the key with your wrist, arm and elbow behind the note as you play it. This take practice (and a good teacher who will show you what to do), but will be worth it in terms of sound quality.

MISTY RAIN

One of the more unusual of the set (probably around Grade 3), it requires use of harmonics to capture the misty effects of the rain.

  1. The opening chords (in both parts) must be played ‘silently’ to start with (and then held in place), so they unleash the full ‘resonance’ of the piano strings as other notes are played. Practice balancing your hand and fingers first; hover over the keys and take all the notes down, finding the ‘biting point’ or the double escapement where the sound begins. Then take notes carefully past the escapement without sounding them at all. This might need some practice. When both pianists can do this, keep the chord in place until the end of the piece (it only needs ‘playing’ once).
  2. The melodic material must be crisp, detached and light. Work at both right hand parts, playing with a legato touch at first. When notes and fingerings are secure, change to staccato. It’s easier to play if the wrist is flexible, combined with finger staccato (i.e. using finger-tips in a quick, tapping motion, keeping close to the keys). The effect of the quick staccato with the harmonic series behind it will create the misty vibe.

BLACK SQUARE

My favourite of the set! Around Grade 3 level, melodies intertwine here with a strong harmonic pattern.  The melody, which is essentially in the left hand of the primo part (as well as a counter-melody in the right hand primo), requires a full sound and careful shaping.

  1. Again, focus on flexibility in the wrist so that the fingertips delve deeply into the key in combination with weight from the arm, encouraging the melody to sing through the texture. The top line is merely delicate filigree and can be played lightly.
  2. The accompaniment should ideally be rich with minimal pedal. Aim to hold notes for their full value in the secondo (particularly when playing chords, such as at the opening), joining chords with a legato, smooth evenness. Hold notes in position until the very last millisecond, then quickly raise them all and move to the next note position (if different), and depress softly as the sound from the previous chord dies away, so as to match the sound. The join should almost be seamless, and the sound, ongoing, acting as a foil for the primo
  3. Plenty of ensemble work will need to be done in order to play beats exactly together.

ANDANTE

Another interweaving melody which moves between the parts (and is around Grade 2 level). The offbeat tune is present in the secondo right hand and primo left hand, the colouring of each part must be such that the listener is immediately aware of the syncopation.

  1. With this in mind, work at the melody lines first, counting precisely, taking them out of context and playing around with them: experiment with different touches (non-legato, staccato), followed by various accents, which should help to ‘feel’ the slightly off-beat character.
  2. The final two bars (suddenly in a new time signature: 4/4 after 3/4), contain rather unexpected note patterns which might require separate hand practice (primo & secondo right hands alone). Be sure to observe the tenuto markings

HOPSCOTCH

The first of two energetic, zippy pieces, calling for sharp articulation and tight ensemble playing. The overriding feature in this little piece (which is about Grade 2 standard) are the glissandi. They feature in the second line only.

  1. In order to grasp the feel of sliding the back of your hand across the keyboard in time (for the glissandi), start by practising running your hand (which is turned, with nails facing down on the keyboard) over the keys (using the nails to touch the keyboard, otherwise you will break your skin and bleed), and skim over two octaves at a time within the 2/4 framework. You might choose to play the intended note at the end (and F in the final bars) or leave the glissandi ‘open ended’! Either option works. Avoid ‘digging’ into the keyboard too much when skimming over the keys.
  2. Once you can glissando effectively, learn each phrase, using an extremely short, spikey touch for the staccato melody, phrasing each note so that whilst you are playing the notes in a short detached manner, fingers are not ‘rushing’ to the next beat. In other words, space rhythmically. Each two bar motif (or theme) must ‘answer’ the other.

QUICK CHAT

This is a fun piece for learning how to play as a duo in a fast tempo. As quaver passages are often played together by both primo and secondo parts, the notes must be played as if by one person.

  1. Start by playing legato, and slowly, only building speed when confident and when the parts can be securely played simultaneously. Set the metronome on a quaver beat and play with every beat, listening for where the beat falls.
  2. For staccato, practise lifting fingers cleanly off the notes, picking them up, using a combination of wrist and finger staccato.
  3. The difficulty here is playing in the same staccato manner; one pianist’s short and detached is not necessarily the same as another’s; aim to play them with identical shortness and crispness, and with a sharp attack. I find it best to play on the tips and use the top half of the finger to rapidly ‘tap’ or ‘scratch’ the key, softening the wrists after each group of four to counteract any tension.
  4. The glissandi at the end requires pizzazz and intuitive playing; work slowly only increasing tempo when quavers are aligned and the glissandi can be played quickly.

SHANTI SHANTI

A zen-inspired title and Chinese melody, this little piece is around Grade 1 level and is ideal for those starting out.

  1. The chords in both left hand parts must be soft and languid; work at taking the notes down slowly, for a shady, soft colour.
  2. The melody needs a brighter, deeper sound and must be absolutely together (it’s played by both right hands), so working at them alone will help alignment and, counting aloud will keep the rhythm precise. It can be helpful to count in ‘double’ beats when placing notes: if the melody is in crotchets (as here), then count in quavers, or even semi-quavers, for precise placing and voicing.
  3. As with all the duets, I advise working with a metronome, starting out at slow speeds, raising the tempo only when secure and reliable (and without hesitations).

The techniques suggested can be applied to many four hand (and six hand) pieces. Enjoy practising duets and relish the opportunity to work with another like-minded pianist.

SNAPCHATS was recently highly recommended by Spanish pianist, teacher and blogger Juan Cabeza Hernández, as extremely beneficial teaching material. You can read his blog post here; Best 10 Piano Teaching Resources 2016

You can find out more and purchase the SNAPCHATS score here.


 

 

 

 

Weekend Competition winners…

ed_13860-turner_648_Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. The prizes consist of one copy of My First Chopin and one of The Piano Playlist, both published by German music publisher, Schott Music.

Without further ado, the winners are…

David Barton wins My First Chopin

and Helen Miller wins The Piano Playlist

CONGRATULATIONS! ed_22459_1-ohmen_648_

Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and your book will be on its way.

You can find out more about these publications on Schott’s website here.

There will be more competitions coming soon!


 

Weekend Competition! Safari by June Armstrong

safari-cover-238-236-225-light-backgroundMy competition this weekend features a new collection of beginner to pre-grade one piano pieces written by composer June Armstrong.

Safari consists of 23 elementary pieces and follows the course of a day in Africa, starting with African Dawn and ending with Night Sky with Stars.  You can meet all the animals along the way – gazelles, flamingos, lions, giraffes, hyenas, monkeys, elephants and many others, as well as a myriad of atmospheric scenes such as Mountain Mist and Mirage. To listen to every piece click here.

This selection contains a distinctly appealing atmospheric sound, and one which I think both adult and child beginners will enjoy. A wide range of piano techniques are introduced, and therefore these little pieces form excellent teaching material.

I have two signed copies of this volume to give away, so please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will select two winners (and announce them on this blog, so stay tuned!) on Sunday evening (British time). If you would like to purchase Safari, you can do so here.


Weekend Competition…

Faber MusicIt’s a Friday and therefore time for a weekend competition. I have two books to giveaway to two lucky readers; Easy Jazzin About The Year and Mindfulness, the piano collection, both published by the fabulous Faber Music.

Easy Jazzin About The Year is the latest book by Pam Wedgwood, and is part of her extremely popular series, Jazzin About. It is intended for those of Grade 1-2 (elementary) level and contains a fun selection of original and favourite tunes perfect  for celebrating various ‘occasions’ throughout the year, such as Halloween, Christmas and Bonfire Night. It comes with a useful CD too.

Mindfulness, the piano collection is a delightful anthology of famous and less known pieces for those of around intermediate to advanced level (Grades 6-8), all designed to help you relax, unwind and practice the art of mindfulness. Works include pieces by Satie, Chopin, Ravel, Schumann, Beethoven, Einaudi, Goodall and Frahm.

I have one copy of each book, so please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post to be in with a chance of winning. I will select the winners on Sunday evening (British time). Good Luck!

If you would like to find out more or purchase these books you can do so here and here.


Piano Waves: 5 Piano Pieces

Piano WavesMy new piano pieces are now available, both in hard copy and digital format. Piano Waves consists of 5 pieces intended for intermediate level, which is around Grades 4-6 of ABRSM, Trinity College, AMEB, or RCM examination board levels. They  are published by EVC Music Publications, and are part of a group of books entitled Piano for Fun Series. Four publications are included in the series written by composers Olly Wedgwood, Heather Hammond, Alison Mathews and myself.

With a hint of minimalism, Piano Waves lie comfortably under the hands for pupils. Inspired by my adventures at sea, when I spent many years giving piano recitals on ships, I hope these pieces provide food for thought musically, as well as developing certain technical aspects of a student’s playing.

The first of the set, Seahorse Dream, portrays the Seahorse’s initially peaceful slumber, but after a while, the creature is suddenly awoken by a vivid memory, before dozing off again. Waltz on a Sunken Ship is an eerie, underwater peek at a handsome passenger ship at the bottom of the sea, complete with faded yet elegant dining rooms and dance halls, depicting scenes of yesteryear. Ocean Surge reveals the power and beauty of the sea; the climactic cascades characterize the colossal swell of the waves. Asilomar is a ‘refuge by the sea’; the overall calm, joyous feel of this work, might suggest a leisurely hot afternoon admiring the ocean from the shore. The Flying Dutchman represents a mythical ghost ship, always sailing but never quite reaching land; a shadowy, apparition of a ship, continuously moving on in the distance.

Piano For Fun Series LaunchYou can listen to each piece by clicking on the links below, and can purchase in either format here. Alternatively, do come along to the Music Education Expo Event being held at Olympia in London next week (25th & 26th February 2016), and enjoy an informal presentation given by all four composers (taking place on Friday 26th February at stand 119 at 12 noon).

 




 

Music Expo 2016 logo.indd

Weekend Competition Winners…

WinnersLogo_0_0Many thanks to all those who took part in this weekend’s competition, to win one of two books by American educational composer Glenda Austin. These books hail from the Composer’s Choice series which are published by the Willis Music Company.

The winners are: Jo Snowden (who wins the Mid to Late Elementary book), and Jana Poljanovskaja (who wins the Early to Mid Intermediate volume).

Congratulations! Please send your address via my contact page on this blog and the books will be on their way very soon.

You can purchase these books by clicking here.

Image link

Weekend Competition: Composer’s Choice Series

20160204_205923_resizedFriday seems to present itself on an increasingly quicker basis! The weekend competition today features two books by American composer Glenda Austin. They come from the Composer’s Choice series, published by The Willis Music Company. Glenda is in demand as a composer and teacher, and she frequently presents workshops for conventions and teaching organizations all around the world; her music has been published and recorded in the US and Japan.

There is much to enjoy in both volumes of piano music, each containing 8 original compositions; the first is intended for Mid to Late Elementary (Grades 2-4), and the second, for Early to Mid-Intermediate (Grades 5-6). The books include performance notes written by the composer, and contain a whole smorgasbord of Contemporary styles, which will appeal to a wide range of students.

As usual, just leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will pick two winners on Sunday evening (British time). Good luck!

Alternatively, you can purchase these volumes by clicking here.