Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tips for Transposition

Pianists try to avoid it like the plague. The very thought of it can send shivers down the spine. Who in their right mind would willingly agree to play a piece in a key other than the one it is printed in? Transposing is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Even though most pianists hate doing it, transposing is an essential skill for the collaborator. Here are a few tips to make your transposing assignments a little easier.
  • Begin with a chordal analysis of the piece. Knowing how chords progress makes things much easier in the new key. This is also the time to begin marking passages that look as though they will be problematic. If you think it will be helpful, write the chord names in the score as well -- especially in the most difficult passages.
  • Notice shapes, intervals, and repetitions that appear in phrases. A passage that has a repeated figure suddenly becomes much easier to transpose when we deal with the pattern instead of each individual note.
  • How will chromatic alterations impact the new key? Will the printed sharp result in a natural instead in the new key? Depending upon the spacing of the score, it might be helpful to write in the altered notes in the new key with a colored pencil.
  • Pay careful attention to extended cadences and modulations. These passages can be some of the most complex harmonically. I begin the transposing process at these points so I know where things are ultimately going.
  • Practice, practice, practice! There is no substitute for it. The key to feeling confident about your transposing is to feel comfortable with the piece in the new key. It just takes time and a lot of thought.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Finding the Right Fingering

The beginning of the fall semester is right around the corner. That means that pianists of all levels are gearing up to begin working on new repertoire. It's an exciting part of what we do and is one of my favorite times of the creative process. Along with the fun and excitement can come times of frustration as we struggle to navigate challenging passages. While there are many things that can be the source of the problem, often I have found that one of the biggest things standing between me and a successful performance is finding the fingering pattern that works best in the passage. There seem to be so many possibilities.....and the only "rule" is that the pattern you select simply must work consistently. Here are some of the things I typically work through when trying to find the best fingering for a challenging passage.

Decide where you need to end. Does the hand continue to play at the end of the difficult passage? If so, what finger needs to be available for the continuation of the line? Mark these fingerings because this information will help as you begin the process.

Determine what finger starts the passage. This is only necessary if the tricky portion is flowing out of a phrase that is actively moving before the craziness starts. If the tough part can begin with a hand shift -- especially if it comes after a rest -- then the starting finger may not be essential to figure out at this point.

Now that you know where you need to begin and end, begin to figure the fingering out by working through the passage backwards. I know it sounds crazy, but it actually makes things much easier to figure out and will give you extra practice through the more complicated aspects of the passage by working through it from the end.
  • Begin on the finger that you have determined needs to end the passage. Look backward and determine how much can be played without having to make a shift. (Here's a hint.....I generally look for thumb placements.) Let your training in scales, arpeggios, and alternating passages (1-3-2-4) guide your thought process. Mark where your thumb lands and realize that the fingering you are selecting right now is not set in stone. There will be opportunities later to modify it.
  • Continue looking backward to determine what finger needs to make the cross over the thumb. Once again, think about the fingerings you have used in other pieces. For instance, if my right thumb has landed on a C and the note immediately before it is a Bb, I'm probably going to try using the 4th finger there. Make note of the cross finger and continue back to the next thumb.
  • Combine the separate phrases and make minor adjustments as needed. When you add the new section of fingerings, does the first one you decided on still work? If it does, you're ready to move to the next section. If things feel strange, decide if you need to make a change. Normally, I try to make only one adjustment at a time so I don't forget exactly what I've done! Once you've settled on the changes you need to make in the passage, update your markings in the score.
  • Continue the process in this way, adding one short passage at a time. You are not adding musical phrases, but instead you are focusing on the technical structure of the phrase -- how it fits in the hand.
  • WRITE DOWN YOUR FINGERINGS ALONG THE WAY! I cannot emphasize this enough. In order to master a challenging technical passage, it is essential that you use the same fingers every time you practice. Most pianists find that they only need to write down non-sequential fingerings in the score. That allows the brain to realize that something unusual happens here, so I need to pay attention.
  • Once you have developed a fingering for the entire passage, continue to modify as needed and then set it to memory! I encourage students to identify tricky passages early in their learning and to find good finger patterns as soon as they can in the process. There is no reason to develop poor habits that you will ultimately have to unlearn later.