Thursday, October 6, 2016

Accidentals Galore

Earlier this week, I was working on accompaniments for German lieder and found myself struggling. I simply couldn't get the notes right! I was playing slowly and pulling sections out of context to work through them. When I stepped back for a moment to think, I realized the problem was the extreme chromaticism. It felt as though there was a sharp, flat, or natural on almost every note! That's when I decided what I would write about in this week's blog post.....just how do we learn repertoire easily when there are accidentals galore?

The first step in plowing through these passages is to step away from the keyboard and thoroughly examine the passage. What's going on harmonically? Can I identify the chords that are being used? I'm not talking about using Roman numerals either -- leave that work for your theory class! At this point, I just want to recognize that this G minor triad is moving to an F# diminished triad in 1st inversion. You might find that you are encountering triads that have been respelled as well. Don't worry about how the chords are functioning; use names for them that you will recognize and recall. (I'm much more likely to play an F# minor triad accurately in the heat of performance than I am a Gb minor chord. Call me crazy....but it's how my brain is wired, so I'm not going to fight it!)

Now move back to the keyboard and begin to block out the chords. As you begin to hear the progressions and understand how interesting the accidentals make the passage, work out the passage as written at a slow tempo. Make sure that you are practicing methodically and with careful attention to the details. If you find that you are missing an accidental repeatedly, write it in! I find that colored pencils are a great tool to use in this situation. I use one color to mark fingerings and another for accidentals. This helps my eyes to focus on what is needed without having to sort through all the information I have on the page. A score that is filled with symbols and comments is not a sign that the performer is unskilled; rather, it suggests that the pianist is being thorough in their pursuit of accuracy and artistry!

Insert the isolated passage back into context as soon as you are able (even at a slow tempo). Sections that are highly chromatic tend to build on themselves and difficulty can arise getting into and out of the said passage. The sooner you can put the plethora of accidentals back into the whole piece, the more confident you will ultimately feel about the passage.