Piano songs - Rondo Alla Turca
(Turkish March)

One of the most famous piano songs ever composed, Turkish March’s rare legato phrases in a hectic environment occupied by staccatos offer the chance to create a contrasting sound that sparkles over the rest by joining the notes in a binding legato

Most of Turkish March aka Rondo Alla Turca is played in staccato, the few and far between phrases that do not have the dotted staccato markings above their notes offer an opportunity to infuse an element of contrasting sounds by playing them in a binding legato. The difference in sound compared to the phrases played in staccato would so palpable it would make for a unique listening experience.

The phrase shown in Image 1 taken from Rondo Alla Turca below presents a great chance to do this. I studied with a teacher who always emphasized on creating the legato with the hands. So I have never known any other way, even if I used the pedal and pressed it with my feet, not joining the notes in a binding legato using the hands has never produced my desired effects.


Getting a binding legato in piano songs

I get my desired effects by not releasing the key with my finger until the next one has been played, and I wait until last moment before lifting off of it. To lift at the precise moment, I was taught to do it rhythmically. It means to count the beat of the rhythm, 1… and 2… and 1 (this is when the next key is played, lift on the ‘and’ before it).

When I first learned to do this, I found it interesting that lifting a finger away from a key rhythmically has a big impact on the sound I was trying to create as much as pressing key.

Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there. The quote made famous by Miles Davis proved to be true once again. Since then, I have tried to overcome my laziness by pushing myself to look beyond the obvious when reading the scores of the piano songs I was learning. The space between the notes, the invisible silence promises creative riches to articulate.

Forgive me for going off topic a bit, the next example in Image 2 is not taken from Rondo Alla Turca but one of Mozart's composition nonetheless, Piano Sonata in A Major No.11.  

For example, the notes E and D indicated near the red arrow below in Image 2 are separated by a big interval. Maybe It feels big only to me because I have small hands. When the hands have to jump bigger intervals to reach a note we tend to separate them, it is not wrong to do so in fact it is clever articulation.


And there is a way to make it even better - to make the divide between the phrases more pronounced, I would lean on the note a little longer before making the jump. Then make the landing on the E softly and continue in a gradually increasing crescendo to express the rising sequence of notes in the phrase that follows.

The sympathetic finger ruins piano songs

The wide distance between the jump makes a clean landing on the E more challenging. Under pressure to hit the note accurately, and with the added expectation to connect it with the rest of the phrase in a smooth flowing musical line cause the body to over-apply pressure to the arms, hands and fingers fueled by its reaction of releasing adrenaline.

As a result, when attempting to hit the E with the 4th finger, the muscles of the 5th or 3rd finger are pulled into executing the task as well causing them to unintentionally make contact with nearby keys, playing notes that are not supposed to be played. This is the dreaded sympathetic finger movement.

The rare existence of legato phrases in Rondo Alla Turca is like an oasis in a hectic environment occupied by staccatos. Take advantage of the chance to create a contrasting sound that sparkles over the rest by joining the notes in a binding legato. It is done through the use of the hands by lifting the fingers at the last moment rhythmically before playing the next notes. 

Overcome sympathetic finger movement by building strength in the fingers through the practice of bouncing the 1st and 3rd fingers off the keys of the piano and then bringing them down. Repeat the movement with the 2nd and 4th fingers. It can be done with any 2 notes that are separated by at least 2 intervals.

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