Piano Technique – Juggling staccatos and legatos in a sonatina

I did something crazy on Friday. I put my name in for a piano competition. You might ask what is so crazy about a piano player entering a piano competition.

Well, this is not the first time I am doing this. The last time I made an attempt to play in a piano competition I froze on stage - could not even get through the first phrase.

It was an embarassing experience, so traumatic that I did not think I would ever be able to play in front of an audience again.

But on the 4 hour bus ride returning home, something began to dawn on me. I still loved playing the piano. The embarassment did not change that one bit. So I decided to start over, gain more experience, play more often and build the nerve and piano technique to compete in the next one. Now 3 years later I have the chance to bury the ghost from that disaster once and for all.

Only problem is, the category I am competing in demands a piece from Baroque to the 20th century, unlike before when pop songs were allowed. I am pretty good at playing romantic modern pieces, even my piano teacher has acknowledged her wonderment. When it comes to a classical piece though, I struggle a little bit.

To overcome that, romantic songs are forbidden to me now. She gave me a whole book of Czerny to practise my piano technique with and a set of sonatina to grow a repertoire of classical songs - which brings us to the song I intend to play in the competition – Sonatina Op.20, No.1 by Jan Ladislav Dussek.

It is a wonderful song to play but I chose it for a much simpler and practical reason – this is the song I am learning at the moment during lessons. So I figured by the time I can play it well enough I would still have plenty of time before the competition to polish my rendition.

Staccatos are ubiquitous in Sonatina, by themselves they do not pose much difficulties. Like in the first movement of the song whenever a staccato is played with the RH the LH is always resting.

It becomes a challenge when you have to play staccato with one hand while the other plays in legato - a piano technique that requires a great deal of practice to attain. In Sonatina this starts in the first 2 bars of the second movement.

If you wish to be a good juggler of staccatos and legatos, practise hands separately. If the staccatos are in the treble clef, have the right hand practise them until you can feel the fingers hopping to the short and detached beat of the rhythm in the bar.

Next play the melody in the bass clef with the left hand until you have the fingers flowing smoothly from one key to the next unbroken and smooth - overlapping perfecly the arc of the legato line.

Then only do you play both hands together. Vary the speed at which you are executing the phrase and lift the fingers high when playing slow. We are trying to be able to control the speed and tonal quality of the sound as well.

Speaking of which, pay close attention to tone coming out of the piano while you play, listen carefully to capture the essence of a musical phrase that combines the short bursts of staccatos and the smooth fluidity of a flowing legato.

After successfully absorbing the nuances of a beautifully played bar with differing articulation such as staccatos in the RH and legato in the LH, switch hands and repeat the process. You want to be able to do this with either hand.

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