Nearly any Mozart Fantasy, Progressive Items and Giving voice a Melody

In this month’s practice clinic, Graham Fitch answered questions on tips for practising a passage from Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor (K475), starting a new piece with Tchaikovsky’s Sweet Dreams used as a demonstration and bringing out the melody in an excerpt from Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu.

Practice clinic questions

WA Mozart – Fantasy in C minor, K475 – I’m wondering the best way to learn and practice the Piu Allegro section is as I have no idea really how to go about it properly without making a mess of it!
Learning a New Piece (Tchaikovsky Sweet Dreams from Album for the Young) – Your books are my first exposure to any type of practice or even the fact that there was a way one can practice other than sight reading and then playing the piece over and over! Can you suggest how I go about learning a new piece from scratch, including planning practice sessions and selecting which practice tools to use?
Chopin – Fantasie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 66 – I watched your walkthrough of this piece again and while your advice helps a lot, I am missing one detail concerning bars 17-21: what kind of movement and what kind of exercises do you recommend for bringing out the melody with the fifth finger? I have no problem bringing it out with the thumb, but 17-21 do not work well. Furthermore: in some bars of this section (16, 22-24) there is no melody (according to Henle), do you make these parts sound very different? And if so, how?

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Next practice clinics
Our next practice clinic takes place on Wednesday 22nd September on our Facebook page at 12:00 BST. Please sign-up to our mailing list here for updates on future practice clinic dates.
Watch previous clinics
Recordings of past practice clinics are posted up on our Facebook page and YouTube channel shortly after each event. You can also view our full archive of previous events via these links!
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Further information on how our practice clinics work is available here or please click here to find out more about the Online Academy.

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Increasing Your Repertoire with Fast Research

In this week’s post, Ryan Morison discusses how quick studies can be used as an effective tool to broaden your repertoire and develop good habits and skills when learning new pieces.
I recently wrote a blog post about one of my main piano goals for 2021 which is to broaden my active repertoire. A tool that I have found to be invaluable for the purposes of achieving this goal is quick studies.
Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels
Quick Studies – What & why?
Quick studies are an often overlooked, but incredibly beneficial way to grow your repertoire. They also help you develop and hone the skills required to new learn pieces faster.
The concept is very simple: you reduce the amount of time you have to learn a piece e.g. often one or two weeks rather than months. The objective is to do this without compromising significantly on the quality of the musical result.
Tips for quick study projects
The following are some tips and suggestions that I have found which may be useful if you’re considering embarking upon similar projects:

Not too difficult – Don’t be overly ambitious in choosing pieces. Select works that are realistic given your abilities and the shortened timeframe. It’s far better to choose something easier than too difficult. One way to measure difficulty is to use examination syllabi as a guideline e.g. select pieces one or two grades below your current level (this worked very well for me!).
Not too long – Shorter is better, especially if you’re not quite sure if a piece is at the right level.  Personally, I found that pieces approximately three pages long with some repetition worked well. I also checked my selections by doing a run through and keeping a tally of difficult spots. These were places that I couldn’t sight-read and therefore would need to practise. A few tricky spots is fine, but if literally every bar has something challenging then the piece probably isn’t suitable.
Lay good foundations – The things that caused me the most problems down the line were errors with fingering and other sloppiness in the earlier note learning stages. Just because you have less time doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow a systematic approach, in fact it’s the opposite! This free email course gives a great process to follow for the early stages of learning a piece and can be applied to quick studies.
Be consistent – Consistent practice, even for short time periods, is far more important than the total time spent practising. I used regular “micro-practice” sessions targeted at specific problem areas which helped me make great progress despite having very limited time. This blog post gives some useful tips for short practice sessions.
Be disciplined and focussed – Simply playing through your piece daily and hoping that things will improve or correct themselves is a sure recipe for failure. A much more disciplined, strategic approach is required. This might include highlighting problem areas upfront and adopting a plan to tackle them systematically (Graham Fitch refers to this process as Quarantining).
Set goals and milestones – Working towards defined milestones e.g. recording for yourself, a lesson, playing for others is an excellent way to give your practising structure and focus. There are so many opportunities to do this, even in current circumstances. For example, over the last year I participated in various online meet-ups and even an online masterclass (click here if you’d like to see a video of my performance and feedback session!).

Many of these principles apply not just to quick studies, but to learning new pieces in general. Because of the time pressure of a quick study, they become even more pertinent. This makes quick studies incredibly effective for building and reinforcing good habits that apply well beyond the project at hand.
I recently concluded my first quick study project and found it to be such a positive undertaking that I’ve since started several further pieces in this manner (If you’d like to find out more, I’ve documented my experience in the form of a “video journal” on my website). I highly recommend the quick study approach and if you’re looking to improve your ability to learn new pieces, encourage you to give it a try!

Further links & resources

How to Start Learning a New Piece – Click here to sign-up for a free email course designed to guide you through the early stages of the process and show you principles and practice tools for efficient and effective learning.
Quarantining – Click here for a blog post on quarantining with links to further information and resources.
Examination Resources – Click here to view our Guide to the ABRSM 2021 & 2022 syllabus or click here to view an index of all of our resources and guides for piano examinations

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Discovering and Selecting Piano Fingering

Open up a score of piano music, and the chances are you will find fingering suggested by an editor, and sometimes even by the composer. If you consult a different edition of the same work, the fingering is likely to be different. What does this tell us? There can be no standardisation of fingering, no matter whether it is from the composer, an editor, or a teacher. The only correct fingering is the one that works for your hand. Fingering in any score is a suggestion only!

“The only correct fingering is the one that works for your hand!”

Once a fingering has been selected, practising always with that fingering means that after a while the series of finger strokes will become automated – we will not have to think about which finger goes where because when we master a new motor skill, we go from active effort (thinking and concentrating) to automatic ability.

If we haven’t taken the trouble to organise a good fingering or we practise with different fingerings each time, we make life difficult for ourselves – especially if we are preparing a memorised performance. Practice makes permanent, so whatever we engrave on our motor cortex is going to stick. This is why it is very difficult to correct embedded errors later – and this includes sloppy fingering.
Suggestions for choosing fingering
The following are some suggestions for choosing and embedding fingering:

Fingering in any score is a suggestion only. Consult as many different editions as possible (IMSLP is a great online reference source, and often has multiple editions of standard works, each with its own editorial fingering).
It is vital to consider the eventual tempo, as well as the dynamic level, articulation, phrasing, shaping, timing and tone quality when working out a fingering (as much as is possible at the start).
Keep the hand closed as much as possible, avoiding stretches between the fingers that can lead to tension.
Avoid staying too long in one fixed position. Frequent changes in hand position keep the hand mobile, and thus free of tension.
Fingering that feels fine when playing each hand alone might not work so well when playing hands together. Try to organise the fingering with both hands together (after which you can practise hands separately).
As you start embedding the fingering during the process of practising, you might find you want to change some of it. Allow a small window of time to do this before settling on your final fingering.
Commit to the fingering you have chosen and it will soon reach the automatic stage.

Principles of Piano Fingering – Online Workshop
Join us on Sunday 13th June @ 16:00 – 17:30 BST (GMT + 1) for an online workshop in which Graham Fitch explores the principles of piano fingering, showing how to choose the best fingering for your hand to find solutions to the technical and musical challenges. The following topics will be covered:

Basic principles of identifying and choosing fingering
Pitfalls to avoid e.g. unnecessary stretching between the fingers
How to factor in the eventual tempo, touch and articulation, etc. when selecting a fingering
How to embed a fingering, once selected, so that it becomes automated
Tips for hand redistribution and solving problems for players with small hands

 Click here for more information or to book your place!

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