Velocity, Lightness, Looseness, Elasticity
I wish to share one of my favorite exercises found in Alberto Jonas’ Master School of Piano.
When playing an exercise, one must always inquire about its purpose; otherwise, it is pointless. Hence, the goal of the following exercises in all keys is that of developing velocity in playing scalar passages. It is also that of developing mental speed in conceiving tone progressions as groups.
Scales employ our thumbs to extend the horizontal direction of a passage either up or down the keyboard. To speed up the path of the thumb, one must begin thinking in groups.
For example, in C Major, one must think of the seven notes in two blocks involving the fingers 1, 2, and 3 for the first, and 1, 2, 3, and 4 for the second. When played fast, the groupings omit a few notes to awaken the sensation of thumbs as signposts or pointers. They indicate locations in the keys. At the same time, the 3rd and 4th fingers represent either passing or arrival points.
In the examples below, Jonas expedites the process by showing the following:
- 1 – with arrival on the thumb at the end of the scale of 8 tones
The thumb is employed three times in short succession, which is why, in preparation for that, I would rather advise beginning with the following chart:
- 1+234 – stopping on 4, for C Maja-flat for D-flat Major, on so on
The exercise reinforces the concept of speed through a succinct performance based on the simple idea of a departing point (the thumb, or first note, in this case) and the ending or arrival point. The “summary” is the execution of a simultaneous block of notes with 2 and 3 or 2, 3, and 4 to waste less time reaching the destination.
The exercises must not be an end in themselves. On the contrary, to provide help, they must have a practical scope aside from the pedagogical speculation. Jonas conceived them as a reflection of a specific problem found in the literature. Still, for a performance, any theory derived from practice as a means for deepening one’s understanding must return to practice ultimately.
I suggest you remember the method shown in these exercises by Jonas by understanding its scope and how he conceived the study of that given problem. He is teaching you how to speed up your ability to think and summarize to reach. Whenever you find a scale in pieces, you are learning, given the specific key of such passages, to apply the exercises of Jonas or invent your own.
Similarly, below is another exercise that shows an even more concise approach. The two blocks shown below by Jonas contain seven notes.
Try for yourself on a desk first (not a keyboard yet), and realize that a horizontal motion, while necessary, is not sufficient to perform two diatonic “clusters.” Touch the surface of a desk with the right-hand fingers 1-2-3 (or 1-2-3-4 if you wish) while horizontally moving to the right to imagine and feel an ascending motion kinesthetically. What did you discover? First, you must feel the suppleness of the movement and the lightness of it. No pressure is needed for a smooth horizontal motion to occur.
This technique is similar to that of a glissando. It defers from the latter because for a glissando on one key, you rest on one finger, but you must release some of your right-hand hand and (probably) forearm weight for any sound to occur as you move horizontally.
Try on your desk once more and, this time, release more weight as you move forward. The more weight you employ while exerting a lateral motion, the more friction you obtain; the more weight you use, the louder the sound will be (on the keyboard); however, the louder it gets, the slower your motion will be. In that case, there is a chance that the weight release might be confused with “pressure” (added energy caused by a muscular exertion).
Let us return to the concept mentioned earlier: a horizontal motion, while necessary, is not sufficient to perform two diatonic “clusters.” You understood the lateral movement already, so try to choreograph two small downward, light gestures involving first your wrist motion and imitating what you would do on the keyboard if you were to play two staccato clusters. The first gesture is executed more lightly with muscular action (which is quicker than a weight release); the second may have a little more weight, but you must then reabsorb such weight with an upward gesture after reaching the bottom of the keys (keybed). You could learn to first use your weight on the second cluster by lengthening the arrival on the second gesture. Ultimately the purpose of the exercise is to play both sets fast and light and short, just as shown in Jonas’ example below.
Piano Technique: Reflections, Videos, Exercises, and Scores.
Reflections on Technique
- Part 1 – Introduction
- Part 2 – Technical Regimen. Finger Exercises. Purpose? – click here.
- Part 3 – Psychic and Physiological Factors
- Part 4 – Flexibility and Motion at the Keyboard (finger independence, evenness of tone colour, finger mobility) – forthcoming
- Part 5 – Motion in Scales
- Part 6 – Motion in Arpeggios
- Part 7 – Trill: Busoni and Brugnoli
- Part 8 – Five Concepts for the Development of a Young Pianist’s Technique
- Part 9 – Busoni’s Three “C” – Czerny, Clementi, Cramer (and Heller?)
- Part 10 – What can we Learn from Other Instrumental Repertoire? – forthcoming