Several Quite Specific Things About Octaves
March 20, 2021
Several quite specific things about octaves:
#1: the role of the other fingers.
Schumann: Davidsbundler: #4
I’ve talked in the past about how, when playing octaves, the middle
fingers (2, 3, 4), in the same hand as the octave, can intimate that
they are playing notes as well located between the octaves.
That’s true of this entire movement. Always feel as if the middle
fingers (3, 2 and 3, 2 3 and 4) that are not making sounds are
nonetheless pushing down keys that lie under them, almost more so than
the pinky and thumb feel like they are pushing their keys down. They,
the middle fingers, feel like they are the principal fingers making
#3: Scale in double octaves (2 notes in the left hand, and 2 in the
right). Zig-Zag motion
Example: A-Major ascending.
Alternate the hands as follows:
a3-a4 b3-b4 cs4-cs5 d4-d5 …
a1-a2 b1-b2 cs2-cs3 d2-d3 …
Do this at a rapid speed.
When the hands return to playing simultaneously, keep that staggered
feeling in the hands, as if the left hand was whipping each right-hand
octave into action. Just let the notes from both hands ‘seem’ to
sound together. In this way, the energy will flow right and left,
zigzag fashion, and not just rightwards. For any motion that in any
way repeats over and over, eventually tires, in this case, the constant
being the direction of the motion – always rightwards. Relieving this
is the zigzag motion; the left hand feeling like it is playing a
grace note to the right hand – which also has the benefit of
electrifying and making more alive the octaves.
#3: Jumping octaves from a black note to a nearby but not adjacent
Example: Chopin: A Flat Major Polonaise: D Major Section: Left Hand
As regards the left-hand connection from cs2-cs3 to b1-b2
I find it helpful if my third finger and second finger in the left
hand are resting on ds2 and fs2 respectively. It helps the hand pivot
over the C natural on the way between the C# and the B.
#4 There are times a second should feel like an octave and leap and
Bach: The Well-Tempered Klavier: Book I: Prelude in C-Sharp Major:
You don’t want the kinetic energy to drain out of your hands when
the notes lie nearby each other and can be covered without much if any movement of the hands or arms.
If you move an octave between two notes, using for example the thumb
and the pinkie, you get a more expansive feeling in the body than if
you moved a shorter distance with the same fingers. You should be
able to project to the listener the same intensity of kinetic motion
propelling one pitch into another no matter how close or far those two
notes are on the keyboard. In this Prelude, the kinetic energy should
exist at maximum almost all the time, whether connecting notes a
second apart or a tenth apart.
In general, it is misleading to evaluate the intensity of a change in
pitch by converting it into spatial distances on the keyboard as if
measuring with a ruler. If we can’t resist making that sort of
translation in our minds, then at least use the increase in the
‘subjective’ distance between keys on the piano until they seem
internally and physically like motions that span at least an octave.
To ‘inflate’ the energy between the notes in this Bach Prelude, look
for the quality of motions more easily induced in the body when moving
between two spatially far away notes. This is more likely to provide
the body with a feeling of what the true ‘musical’ distance in between
sounds. The structure of the music provides, at different times in the
same piece, different senses of by how much a pitch changes going to the
next note, even though the distance on the keyboard between the keys
producing those two sounds remains the same.
It is always best to listen to notes as pure sounds and not as
measurable pitches that one coverts into measurable distances. This
is especially true for people who play string instruments. Their
‘keyboard’ is just a string, and the string is not divided into equal
linear units. As one goes ‘higher’ up a string the physical
distances between pairs of notes a half step apart shrink until they
are less than the width of a finger, eventually approaching zero as a