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Help with octaves

Discussion in 'Technique' started by Chopinesque, Mar 4, 2008.

  1. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

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    Hello,

    I'm finding it difficult to play the octaves section in Beethoven's Andante Favori. My hands are small (can't reach beyond the octave) and get very tired, particularly my right hand because it has a more difficult part with jumps. I normally can't play this passage more than once or twice without a lot of pain and stiffness, but I need to work on it a lot more in order to achieve fluency and accuracy.

    I would be really grateful if you could offer any advice on technique and exercises.

    Many thanks.
     
  2. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Yes that extended octave secion is very difficult indeed and requires a lot of stamina. I've never really seriously practiced this piece so I can not offer any practical advise. Relaxation is probably the solution but that is easier said than done !
     
  3. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Stretch your hands when you are not around the piano. Over time they should get used to the stretch and the stamina will increase.
     
  4. PJF

    PJF New Member Piano Society Artist

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    This is the "lost" movement from Waldstein, right? Is there a recording here? I'll have to go check.

    About octaves, all I can say is, make sure that the hand is in semi-passive mode and that the larger muscles of the upper body do the work. Also beware of any excess force or tension-building habits or "sticking" (keybedding). Go slow but not too slow and don't fear speeding from time to time. I agree with Juufa, flexibility needs extra work AWAY from the piano.

    If it hurts or feels unnecessarily difficult, stop and rethink.

    Don't forget to sing what you play!

    Pete
     
  5. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Yeah, the key thing here is BOUNCE. Relaxation, making sure you're not tense, gravity, etc....just allow your hand to bounce and drop, even when you're switching 4 and 5.
     
  6. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

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    Thanks for all the advice. I will definitely try stretching away from the piano.

    Yes, Beethoven originally wrote this piece as the middle movememt for the Waldstein.

    Relaxation is going to be difficult because you need to play so many consecutive octaves that there isn't a chance for the hand to relax, but I'll look into it.

    Regarding the bouncing - my hands have to stretch to the maximum to reach the octave. Is the bouncing achieved by bending the wrists up and down, or do the wrists need to be straight? (I think I tend to play with straight wrists).

    Thanks.
     
  7. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    You can bounce with straight wrists, but I wouldn't suggest tense wrists.
     
  8. nathanscoleman

    nathanscoleman New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Just an additional comment ... I don't know if it'll work for smaller hands, but try "snatching" the octave up. hehe (insert beavis moment) ... A teacher once described it like trying to quickly snatch a small ball off the keys as you hit the octave. It's a different technique for building stamina.
     
  9. diminished2nd

    diminished2nd New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I've never heard this piece before... but if the octaves are fast, I don't know how the snatching idea would work.

    I'm also not sure what Terez means about "bouncing". I've always believed that good octave technique has as little vertical motion as possible (your fingers should never come more than at the most a centimeter off the keys).

    For octave technique, try this little exercise:

    Sit somewhere, and put your hands on your knees/thighs. Now, without the tips of your fingers ever losing contact with your leg, lift the base of your hand up and then let it fall back down. Do this motion rapidly, alternating the hands.

    *ALWAYS STAY RELAXED*

    The point of this exercise is to not have any tension whatsoever in the arms, wrists, or hands. I can't stress this part of octave technique enough. It may be the hardest part, but it's also the most necessary.

    now, try playing the octaves part of your piece. This time though, instead of just playing the octaves, make it feel like what you were doing on your leg. Don't just play the notes of the octaves: smash all the notes in between too (and remember to stay relaxed!). Think of playing the octaves with the base of your hand, not with your fingers. Now take the notes in the middle out, just leaving the octaves. Finally, play without your thumbs. I mean, not literally... but just don't even think about your thumbs. This will make the voicing better and it mysteriously makes octaves easier to play

    Hope this helped :D
     
  10. Chopinesque

    Chopinesque New Member

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    Just to say thank you very much for the advice (I've been on holiday so I've only just seen the latest replies). I will try the exercise and see how it goes.
     
  11. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    Not all pieces are for everybody. Chopin use to forbid his students from every playing a piece if it caused great physical stress (in adult years). The possibility of damage can cause more problems later.

    In terms of developing a farther reach, you MUST go slowly. The muscles affected, like a bodybuilder, must be worked, and then rested two or more days for recovery. You can continue normal play during the rest period, just avoid the stretches.

    Try repetitive downward movement of the fingers cleanly on the keys during the stretch, use three or four fingers on a very wide arpeggio, holding the fingers in place over the keys during the drills until it burns, then shake it off and rest for a few moments, then go again for a few more durations in different octaves - wrist flexibility is also developed this way. Then LEAVE IT ALONE for a couple of days. Patience is important here. You will begin to feel results after a couple of weeks, and in six weeks, you should be able to obtain your physical limits. Beyond that, pivoting technique will have to be used to compensate if the notes are still out of reach.

    Good luck.

    Edit: One more important point: Avoid twisting your hand in an awkward position to reach the interval. Your best technique is to keep your hands in the natural position over the keys during the stretch. This allows your inner fingers to still hit their notes.
     
  12. PJF

    PJF New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I agree fully with the idea of never overstraining. As I said before, "If it hurts or feels unnecessarily difficult, stop and rethink."

    As to the second point, I don't disagree per se but I want to put forth the idea that it is of equal or even greater importance to fully coordinate the entire playing mechanism as it is to work the muscles of the mechanism. It may be more useful and less injurious to workout the larger muscles of the arms and torso using light weights geared toward building endurance and muscle tone. Then these newly toned and limber muscles will be ready to attack the keyboard.

    My point is, sometimes the solution to a technical problem is best found sans keyboard. Swimming single-handedly strengthened my octave technique, better than any amount of mindless reps of octave scales. Total-body strength, coordination, flexibility and fitness should be the first thing we assess before tackling the super difficult repertoire, IMO.

    You can't shoot a cannon out of a canoe. :D
    HAPPY PRACTICING!

    Pete
     
  13. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    I found myself having to lose about 15 lbs when my fingers were getting too "fat" to hit notes cleanly between the black keys. (although I look like a toothpick, but many woodworking projects have thickened up the hands over the years). The weigh loss did help.
     
  14. Sandro Bisotti

    Sandro Bisotti New Member Piano Society Artist

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    A good and surely useful technique to prepare and increase octave technique (used by many Liszt and Thalberg pulils, explained in Cesi technique method) is to practise scales, arpeggios, broken arpeggios, jumps, various pattern, and the passagges in octaves, with the only 5th finger, articulating the wrist and/or (if slow) the arm. I do regulary these excercises, using also my patterns, and also with the only thumb.
    Bye,
    Sandro
     

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