Piano Song – What to do when confronting a difficult passage?

Piano Song – Overcoming a difficult passage: #1-Break the passage into shorter parts.

Even one line of a musical phrase can appear intimidating if you look at it as a whole. It is truer if the song contains triplets and semiquavers lined-up in close formation.

But looks can be deceiving. If you break the passage into shorter parts you will find that only small parts of the passage in the song is challenging enough to be considered difficult. And you can focus your piano practice on those difficult parts.

By dissecting a passage of the music into shorter sections, you can analyze the smaller parts that make up the whole piano song. Make judgments where the difficulties lie and channel your concentration and energy to smoothen the piano play in those areas.

Last winter, I was asked to perform at a Christmas party thrown for the music students at my school. I had two weeks to practise before the event. The song given to me was ‘River Flows in You’ by Yiruma.

In a day, usually after work I only have about an hour to practise the piano. With such limited time to polish my rendition of the song, I focused my attention only on the parts that had me stymied.

What did I do exactly? Here is how, you can apply this method to any song you are learning.

In the version I was using, there are 17 phrases in the music sheet of the song ‘River Flows in You’. But only 7 phrases are musically unique. The rest of it is just repetitions. If I could play the first 7 phrases perfectly, I would have the whole song mastered.

Out of the 21 bars in the 7 phrases, 8 bars are simple enough to be learned in a day or two. Leaving only 13 bars that is somewhat of a challenge - those with tiny quavers sandwiched between the regular sized ones that have to be played rapidly, a few bars with chords that have to be rolled and one long unbroken phrase of semiquavers stretching over 9 bars.

With one hour of practise a day I can usually get about 4 bars covered. By breaking the passages into shorter sections and identifying the parts that are difficult to focus my attention on, I was able to master the song in under a week.

Piano Song – Overcoming a difficult passage: #2-Decide on the fingering you plan on using.

Knowing which fingers you are going to use to play a passage is like knowing which road you want to take when driving. If you do not plan your route you will get lost.

Some music sheets have the finger numberings indicated in the score, but not for every bar.

The fingers’ touch on the keys should feel natural. There should not be any discomfort felt on your part when a finger stretches out to reach a key. If it feels forced the fingering may be incorrect and it is better to try another fingering variation.

Usually, this is the first thing I do when I am learning to play a new song. For the time being, I ignore the technical stuff, musical expression and even rhythm to first look for the most natural fingering options for every phrase in the piano song.

After I have a ‘fingering map’ of the whole song, I start from the beginning again to fix my technique, absorb its musical contents and correct my rhythm.

Piano Song – Overcoming a difficult passage: #3-Use your hearing to remember the rhythm and melody.

I have always found it difficult to capture the rhythm of a song on my own by playing the piece myself. My piano teacher would usually play it once or twice for me and tell me to remember it. But I always forget.

What I would do is try to find a recording of the song on the internet and listen to it until I can replay most of it inside my head.

But it is important to remember that the purpose of listening to a recording is to help us capture the rhythm so that we can play better and learn the song faster.

Do not try to copy the piano playing of the recording, which is impossible anyway. Each pianist brings her own individuality in her interpretation of a song, and you should be proud of that. The recording is only a learning tool that is there to assist us to capture the correct rhythm.

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