I spent a lot of time in the practice room refining my fast, repeated notes, and for whatever reason, I would only nail these passages sometimes.
One blurred note in the 16 fast repeated notes, gives my entire passage a failing grade.
Before my piano lesson, I would cross my fingers. After all, having the piano teacher stand beside me always made me play approximately 39.94% worse. Anyone with me here? The “I played better at home” excuse never worked for me.
I’m talking Toccatas, Valse Brilliants, anything with furiously repeating notes.
After some long practice sessions, I finally got to a respectable rate of success with my repeated notes. Here are some tips to improve your repeated notes. This video demonstrates the concepts, and the article below explains in detail!
Pretend your wrist is bouncing from a rubberband.
I know, I have a wrist obsession.
“You have muscular forearms,” Pan says. “Flex them.”
“I don’t know how to,” I say.
“Like this,” he says. He bends his wrist inwards and makes a fist, which reminds me of a crow. His face looks a bit like a crow at that point, too.
In case you missed it, Pan is my trainer, but we train less often now, as I’ve gotten into running again, and he spends a lot more time at the gym everyday. I don’t go to his gym, which, from his description, seems to be frequented by wannabe bodybuilders and instagram models.
It seems I have tense, muscular forearms and it affects my playing a lot. Any pianist who’s ever toiled away at a keyboard probably have tense wrists to some degree. My kid music students rarely had tense wrists.
My favourite way to counter this is to imagine my wrist being suspended by a rubber band.
You can try this. Grab a rubber band and put it around your wrist. Then, with one hand holding the top of the rubber band, let your other wrist drop. I demonstrate this in the video above.
See how it bounces back up a little? That’s the kind of looseness you’re aiming for, when you’re playing repeated notes. Your wrist is a loose hinge.
Now, imagine that your entire arm is this loose. Your arm should be allowed to bounce. You need to hold the energy in your fingers, not your wrists and arms.
Play around with fingering, even for the same piece of music.
Option A is the classic finger-switching technique, where every time you play the note, you’ll use a different finger.
I like to use 3-2-1-3-2-1 and so on, depending on how many notes I’m playing.
It lets you play a clean, distinct ring for each note and you’re sure to play each individual note, because you’re switching fingers. Sometimes, the key doesn’t return to its spot before you play the next note, so you’ll blur or miss that key.
Option B is the not-so-classic, non-switch technique, where every time you play the note, you’ll use the same one or two fingers on the same key. If it’s a black key, you may find it easier to play with your 2 and 3 together.
It lets you play a strong, loud version of the repeated notes. Unfortunately, you’re more likely to miss notes if you have a fast rhythm to follow. And this is often not “proper” technique, as your two fingers end up stabbing into the keys straight down, and may come off as harsh.
Neither of them are ideal on an upright piano, which is what I used to practice on for my performance exams.
On grand pianos, the hammers lay horizontally, so they can return to their position more quickly with the help of gravity and you’ll be able to play the next note quickly. On uprights, the hammers are vertical, so they are slower to return to position and you might find that your notes go missing more often.
Try different fingering and see which one works for you.
Pay attention to the shape of the melody.
You’re playing repeated notes, but you’re not supposed to be in jackhammer mode.
Consider what shape your melody is in; where is it louder and where is it softer? How do the repeated notes fit into this?
If it makes sense for the melody, increase or decrease the volume of your repeated notes as you play them.
When you vary the intensity of each repeated note, you’re less likely to miss the next one because it’s played a different way, and the listener is much more forgiving for inconsistencies than if you tried to play every note exactly the same way.
What happens when you miss a few notes? Cry.
I know how annoying missing notes are.
Cry about it afterwards, but make sure you finish your performance first.
Don’t cry over missing notes.
I used to worry about how incompetent a few missed notes sounded. Man, I was worried it would ruin the entire piece. In a performance, the lights and cameras added a lot of pressure, and I’d feel like my entire body was pulsing with my heartbeat.
But once you play a note, you’re done with that note, so if you miss one, I repeat:
Don’t cry over missing notes.
If your entire piece is played decently, your reputation is still intact.
Take it easy, take a chill pill, Jill.
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