Piano songs - Ballade Pour Adeline

Playing chords in piano songs can refined by practicing tapping them and the use of the wrists’ rotary movement likened to the turning of the knob of a door

“It is like turning a door knob” – was the metaphor my piano teacher used to describe the rotary movement of the wrist. The lesson was so vivid in my mind I still remember the musical phrase I was learning on that occasion. They were chords from Ballade Pour Adeline, shown in Image 1 below.

Returning to the piano after a couple of years away, I decided re-start my music making with this song. Says a lot about how special it is, does it not? Miraculously and to my great relief I had not lost the touch, I could still play. Except that my sight reading was a bit rusty, after a few days of practice the fingers, arms and the rest of the body regained their familiarity with the motions involved in drawing out the sound from the piano.

Then I came upon the phrase shown in Image 1. In it two note chords are alternated with a single note echoed six time throughout the phrase, each time in decreasing pitch.

Problems with chords in piano songs

The first challenge was the fingering. The chords were entirely played using the 3rd and 5th fingers. Being my weakest finger, the 5th began to strain before it could complete the full cycle of echoing this pattern six times.

Secondly, the single note in between the chords required the thumb pressing the keys. Therefore, the hand was stretched to the maximum because on the other furthest end the 5th finger was playing the chords.

Thirdly the chords (played with 3rd and 5th finger) and single note (played with the thumb) were continuously moving downwards on the keyboard, decreasing in pitch which stretched the fingers involved even more. Additionally, the phrase consisted of squarely of demisemiquavers therefore the movement had to be completed in mere seconds, that is 12 beats in 6 seconds approximately. A complex maneuver within a narrow window of time.

Tapping the notes to chords in piano songs

There are 6 pairs of 2 note chords in the phrase with which my 5th finger is struggling. Many exercises exist designed to help a piano student strengthen his fingers. I find using the chords themselves as the exercise to be the fastest way to overcome this predicament. Practicing the first pair CE, rest at the bottom of the key of C with the third finger, use the fifth finger to tap the key of E. Play it three times.

Do the same with the other pairs. Resting at the bottom of the key of B with the third finger, use the fifth finger to tap the key of D. Then resting at the bottom of the key of A with the third finger, use the fifth finger to tap the key of C and so on until the last pair of EG.

Tapping the keys of the chords this way builds independence in the fingers, the method can be applied to any chords including those with 3 or more notes. With regular practice you shall be able to play any chord without experiencing strain in the fifth finger.

To play the single note in between the chords requires the thumb to press on the key. When the 3rd finger and the 5th finger are pressing on the 2-note chords, the wrist and the arm should be in a position where they are lined up on a straight line. Use the wrist’s rotary movement to turn an outwardly extended thumb towards the key of E, here is where I was told to liken it to turning the knob of a door. The forward thrusts of the arms will guide you to descend the keyboard, decreasing in pitch until the last pair of chord in the phrase are executed.

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