Details on Solving Technical issues in the Chopin Etudes. Part two.
Continuing entries about the Etude in C Sharp Minor: Op 10, No. 4
- Op 10 / 4 : measure 8
What is the theoretical limit of playing a series of notes as fast as
possible? The faster they go the more they approach being sounded
simultaneously, with no time duration between the beginning of
one note and the beginning of the next note.
To attain maximum velocity we should not begin at a slower speed from
which point we gradually increase the tempo. Rather, it is best to begin
at the opposite end of the spectrum, causing the notes to begin
simultaneously, from which point we can then back off very slightly to
create a state just bordering on simultaneity, a slightly “blurring” the oneness of sound, if you will.
It is like a beginning, younger student who is asked to play for the first time a C major triad (c4-e4-g4), who is not yet coordinated enough to sound
them simultaneously. They try to play the notes simultaneously but
unintentionally add a discrepancy so that the notes do not all come
out together. Their intent is still nonetheless simultaneous, only a
slight error has been introduced. There is no intention to play them
staggered. The more experienced student can also intend to play the three notes simultaneously but then, in a spare compartment of consciousness, let in a slight deviation, one that in no way negates the original strength of the overall will to play them simultaneously but introduces the bare hint at sequentiality.
In this measure of the etude we will use little bursts of extreme
speed that can later be concatenated.
Take the first two sixteenth notes in the right hand, e4 and fx. Rather than trying to play them very fast, play them as if your intention is to play them simultaneously – yet secondarily introduce a little tremor in your hand that, without loosing the intention of simultaneity, causes the first note to sound like an ephemeral, almost non-existent grace note to the second note.
This can be repeated for the second pair of sixteenths (ds4 gs4).
At that point see if you can fuse the first four notes, as if the
physical mechanism is fully committed to playing them simultaneously, only the pianist unintentionally “goofs” slightly. Barely misses the mark. The hand comes down simultaneously, as if to play one note but four emerge to the ear. And the perception of time it seems to take to enunciate the four notes should feel physically, and consciously, no different than the time taken to enunciate a single note.
The same procedure can be used with sixteenth notes 5 through 8 (fx
through b4). We now have two groups of four sixteenths travelling at
extreme speed. At this point we fuse those two groups of four into
one group of eight: one gesture, one single tremor in the arms.
- op 10 / 4 : measure 13 : the first two notes in left hand
Change the fs2 to an a2. Then rapidly go back and forth between es2
and a2. The purpose of changing the higher note is to widen the span
bridged by the two adjacent fingers. These adjacent fingers are now far
apart enough that one can implant an imaginary shunt or see-saw to connect them, one whose ends rest on surface between the finger tip and first knuckle of each of the two fingers.
Once in place, imagine a pivot point midway across the shunt, bridge, or see-saw. This pivot point causes one side to go down if the other goes up.
The right hand can get into the act to help the left hand. Choose two
fingers from the right hand, one each to help depress one of the keys under
the two adjacent fingers of the left hand that are playing the es2 and the a2. Use these two “helping” fingers of the right hand to keep the left hand fingers moving steadily and at a high velocity.
Then compress the interval spanned by the two left hand fingers from
five steps to just the one half step written. This act of compressing
is not to be felt as instantaneous but as a process by which the action of the
imaginary lever between the fingers is not diminished in any way but
through compaction is exaggerated.
- Op 10 / 4 : measure 16 : starting on beat 2
The descending scale-like passage in the left hand.
- Play the left hand notes up through the fs3 and then continue to hold
the latter. While holding the fs3 play, with the thumb, g3 then f3,
Then continue on with the written notes to the cs3 (with the third
finger). Hold the third finger down on the cs3 while the thumb plays
the series of notes d3, c3, and b2.
Then play on to fs2 with the fourth finger, and while holding it down
play, a2 g2 f2 e2.
2. The second thing I can do is to gently spread the right hand over the
left hand. Lightly press it, in its entirety, against the entire left
hand. This as a way of insuring that the left hand remains close to
the keyboard. The interaction between the two contrary forces
resulting from 1) the left hand fingers trying to rise upwards between note
attacks (so that they can descend again onto the keys), and 2) the
right hand resisting the first by balancing it out with pressure
downwards, has the cumulative effect of keeping the left hand in
balance, and increasing rather than diminishing the force of the
fingers moving downwards to depress the key.
Pantomiming helps this process along. Because without the other fingers
having to make with the key surfaces I can practice extending the
thumb even further downwards from the rest of the hand in order for
the fingertip to make contact with the keyboard.
Alternatively, use the right hand to raise the left wrist higher off the keyboard, enough to necessitate that the thumb of the left hand has to extend further downwards from its third knuckle in order to reach the key surface.
3. As the left hand scale moves further and further leftwards from the center of the keyboard, the right hand, if acting as the helping hand, can guide and urge the left hand to the left. Furthermore, as the notes get further from the center of the keyboard, it urges the left hand to move more and more rapidly to the left. This is to compensate for what I call the tangent-circumference principle: the further the arm gets from a position directly in front of the torso, the further the motion of the arm, using the shoulder as a pivot point, wants to take the hand further and further away the keyboard and inwards towards the body.
For the arm naturally wants to describe the circumference of a circle, whose radius is the length of the arm from shoulder to finger tips. If we measure the length on the keyboard from one octave to an adjacent octave, then that measurement will progressively shrink in comparison to, or in ratio with, the length the hand would travel along the circumference of the circle, as the left hand generally moves leftwards.
Thus to cover the same distance on the keyboard there has to be an increasing velocity to the leftwards motion of the left hand to make up for the disparity between the length of the straight line of the keyboard and the length of the arc of the circle. By making this compensation in velocity, the left hand doesn’t get caught off-side and out of balance.
- Op 10 / 12 : measure 22 and measure 25
One of the “joys” (sic) of old age is that I have developed what is
medically called an “essential tremor” (the term sounds somewhat worse
than the actuality). My hands and my fingers intermittently shake.
There are times when it is necessary to move the pinkie of my right
hand to the right, away from the remaining four fingers of the hand.
The tremor acts up in this situation. I needed to find a way to
stabilize the pinkie and thus regain control of its motion. The
solution that was most closely available was to lay my fourth
finger on top of the pinkie. This entailed having to move the pinkie and fourth finger somewhat towards each other until the first knuckle of the
fourth finger was juxtaposed with the upper surface of the nail of
the fifth finger. These fingers, acting as one, created a very strong and solid lever with which to depress the key that the pinkie was supposed to play by
- Op 10 / 4 : measure 28
Here I try something different than grouping the notes so that the
pitch ascends from the first to the fourth note of each group.
I take the quarter note triad and play it four different times, as
four sixteenths, so that two hands work simultaneously within the
duration of the beat. I do the same for the notes falling within each
of the following beats.
At the end of each group, as the third finger segues to the fourth
finger, I use the muscles within the third finger to remotely pick up
the thumb and deposit it on the note it plays on the next beat. This
insures that the thumb remembers to move rightwards at this moment in
time in addition to the other fingers moving rightwards.
- Op 10 / 4 : measure 30
Physical and Sonic “Glue” for tying the notes together.
An example of using “physical glue” (an explanation of which can be
found using the front page search feature. Practice going from the c5
with the fourth finger at the end of the second beat, to the same c5
played this time with the thumb at the beginning of the third beat.
And an example of “Sonic Glue” (an explanation of which also can also be
found using the front page search feature. There are two f-sharps, fs5
on the third beat with the third finger, and fs4 with the first finger
on the fourth beat. Let the ear give preference to the fact that both
of these notes sound like F-sharps, rather than sounding like two different F-sharps (separated by an octave).
- Op 10 / 4 : Measure 31
I find that I loose alacrity in enunciating the sixteenth notes when
there is an interval of a third between one note and the next, I.E.
between the second and third sixteenth of each beat. I can take those
pair of notes and turn them out “on a lathe” by repeating the two
notes over and over again until till they attain the right speed and
without any change or distortion to that speed.
- op 10 / 4 : measure 42 through measure 44
For when the thumb articulates a note followed immediately by the pinkie
articulating a higher note. This is an example of an extra strong rotational motion anchored by the thumb and designed to slap the entire hand over the pinkie note.
Put the thumbs down on the two notes that they are to play. Then
anchor the lengths of the thumb solidly along the lengths of their
keys. Then, without loosing equilibrium, rotate the thumbs along their
longitude at the same time using them as an axle on which to rotate
the remainder of the hand. The latter will raise as a unit higher and
higher off the keyboard until they are as close as possible to being
vertically arrayed over the thumb – but without any straining.
This may be a coincidence, but when I rotate the axle of the right
thumb clockwise, in order to bring the rest of the fingers back in
contact with the keys, my elbow wants to lead this overall motion by
descending rapidly as far downwards as it can go to lead the thumb
- op 10 / 4 : measure 79 and 80
In measure 79, once I play the thumb for second repeated cs4, I can smother the elbow downwards to smother the other fingers downwards onto their keys, through the fourth finger on cs5. Then the elbow lifts quickly; only
to smother down the next group of fingers on their notes in the next
In measure 80, when the thumb lands on cs6 (the third note of the
measure), I combine a longitudinal axle rotation of the thumb –
counterclockwise this time – with the thumb pulling the other fingers
towards it and then over it.
MORE BLOG ENTRIES ON SOLVING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES IN CHOPIN ETUDES TO FOLLOW IN ANOTHER COUPLE OF DAYS.
Opus 10 / 4