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broken octaves

Discussion in 'Technique' started by StuKautsch, Jun 16, 2013.

  1. StuKautsch

    StuKautsch Member Piano Society Artist

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    I searched this forum for a discussion on this important point of technique and came up empty, so I'll post this. If someone knows of another discussion on the Piano Society please point it out and I'll read that one.

    I never got very good at these; i.e., when I'm doing a piece with fast broken octaves - particularly in the left hand - I have to practice a lot. Excessively, in the opinion of an old man who wants to learn a lot of music in a short time!

    Of course, I make sure that I master them in an unbroken fashion first, which at least relieves me of the worry about notes. After that it's just raw repetition. One of my teachers (when I was young) had me practice the thumb separately and the fifth (and fourth) finger separately, but that did not seem to speed things up much.

    Anyone have any favorite, clever, ways of practicing broken octaves???? Or am I paying the price for insufficient attention paid to this when I was young? (I knew my sins would catch up to me sooner or later!)

    This is in regard to an actual piece that I'm learning for recording (Clementi op 24 no 2) of which I've already mastered the first mvmt, so any help could have a practical consequence for the Society.
     
  2. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    When something goes wrong, what is it? do some notes fail to play? does the rhythm become uneven? do you hit wrong notes, and if so, are there any patterns as to how far the wrong notes are from the right ones and in which direction?
     
  3. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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  4. andrew

    andrew Member Piano Society Artist

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    L.h. broken octaves are a particular pain: I always used to have trouble with the first movement of Beethoven's op.2 no.3.
    I went to IMSLP and I assume you're talking about the last movement of the Clementi Bb, specifically page 11.

    If so, I'd recommend the following: practice the l.h. slowly at first, no pedal, and try to play the bottom notes (which do appear to have a melodic line of sorts) as full quavers, legato, whilst also playing the upper notes at their designated point in the bar. Start slowly; this won't be comfortable at first but I think you should get the hang of it quite quickly. I'd personally finger the lower notes (starting from the initial Bb) 454/3534/5354/3534/5454/3534/3545/4534/5 - but I can stretch an 10th with ease and an 11th if I have to, so it's possible you may have to find another option. Once your hand is acclimatised, speed up and play as written (by now I'd probably just change the initial Bb back to a 5 as it's more convenient and the legato aspect is no longer present). The one thing you must do is settle on a fingering for the lower notes; if you're groping around and the hand doesn't "know" which finger to go to next, it's going to get messy very quickly.
     
  5. StuKautsch

    StuKautsch Member Piano Society Artist

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    Wow - thanks for the quick replies.

    Heather,
    It's partly a question of velocity and also of the amplitude of the lower note - not solid enough to lend the music a 'beat'. Wrong notes are not a problem (after a certain amount of practice, of course!). Also, the faster I play it the more uneven it sounds - like I'm trying too hard. (Which I am.)

    Monica,
    Thanks, but most of those discussions are about 'regular old octaves'. To me, octaves and broken octaves are very different. Other discussions in those posts are about regular exercises, but I'm looking for specific ways of practicing certain types of passages. (Also, I belong to the "just play difficult music and the technique will take care of itself" school, which does not always work.)

    Andrew,
    This is an intriguing practice technique and I'll try it. I have average hands (10th is ok, but 11th is out). Also, the wisdom in your last sentence (about having consistent fingerings) is a good reminder to someone who is intimidated by the first encounter with a difficult task. Thank you.
     
  6. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    Got it. I'll suggest an alternative to Andrew's suggestion, to get at the same issues he's after in another way. I do think you should try both and do what works for you.

    1.) Make it a habit to practice broken octave scales at a relaxed and comfortable tempo, trying to maintain legato and evenness at all times.

    2.) With a metronome set at one tick per 16th note at a relaxed and comfortable tempo, practice the passage in exaggerated 2-note slurs that start on the low note and end on the high note, with the hand dropping from the air and landing ff on the low note, then lifting up into the air as you play the high note pp. The 16th note metronome is to verify that you are absolutely even. This step gives you practice keeping a beat with the low notes.

    3.) Do the same thing, but this time the slurs start on the high note pp and end on the next low note ff. Now the slurred groupings are not the same note. Some of the stretches will be a little big but it looks like the largest is D to B flat, which will be fine for you if you have a comfortable 10th. Since you're now ending the slur ff on finger 5 (or 4 if you prefer for the black keys), use a different hand movement: drop down gently on the high note, then swing your hand and arm sharply down and to the left like you're trying to swat a fly that is sitting on the low note. This gets the weight of your arm and hand behind the finger. This step gives you practice arriving decisively on the low note to help you keep the beat with the low notes, and gives you practice maintaining legato between the notes that are not exactly an octave apart.

    4.) Practice as written. Keep the 16th note metronome until it's easy to stay even, then switch to 8th note, then quarter note, then no metronome. Musically, I'd recommend placing slurs like so

    and use finger legato during the slurs, maybe a little pedal for color, but don't rely on pedal for legato. Find a hand movement that supports what you're playing. My teacher would probably want me to use wrist rotation like turning a doorknob back and forth, unless finger 5 or 4 sounds too weak, in which case the fly-swatting movement works better.
    Arrive decisively on the downbeats (that's what step 3 was for) and make little crescendos during the slurs. You might choose bigger crescendos on the slurs in which the right hand is helping to emphasize arrival on downbeat with those chords, smaller crescendos on the slurs with no RH involvement. Or you might choose to do the opposite.

    PS Since I don't have a comfortable 10th when it's a major 10th, I'd probably move the slurs over one 16th note so that the finger legato concludes with an octave leap and the leap of a 10th occurs in the air. Musically that would still support arrival on the downbeat.
     

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