The following are excerpts from the video Piano Practice That Pays Off – Part Two. You can watch the video on YouTube.
What Are Articulations?
An articulation is how we play a note. More specifically, it is how we start or end a sound. Articulations add color, dimension, and texture. Articulations make the music come alive.
There are four articulations that will be discussed in this video:
- Legato – connected
- Staccato – detached
- Two-note slur – connected, then released
- Accent – attack with louder volume
When we play the piano using a legato touch on the keys, we end the note by connecting it to the next note, creating a smooth line of sounds.
When we play using a staccato touch, we end the note by releasing it quickly and separating it from the next note, creating a more distinct line of sounds. Each sound stands on its own.
When we play using a two-note slur, both notes are played legato, but we end the second note early. So, even though the second note is written here as a sixteenth note, we will interpret it as a shorter note value, followed by a rest. Then, during that implied rest, we would simply release the key as if we were taking a breath.
When we play using an accent, we start the note by attacking it with a louder volume and connecting it to the next note, creating a line of sound with sudden increases in volume.
Using Articulations to Polish Rough Spots
So now that we have defined what articulations are, how do we use them when we polish rough spots?
Let me show you how with a rough spot from Bethoven’s Für Elise – measures thirty-two through thirty-four.
In the last video, we used a step-by-step practice routine. We talked about:
- Isolating a rough spot so we could focus our attention on it,
- Then, we looking for patterns and blocked them,
- We jackhammered the rough spot into submission, and finally,
- We applied uneven rhythms.
Now, let’s apply different articulations – our newest practice technique.
You can see that this passage is written as legato. To continue polishing this rough spot, I am going to try the other three articulations to see how they can help.
Now, I will try it with two-note slurs.
And, finally, with accents.
Now, let’s see if this routine has improved my rough spot. I will play the passage as written – which is legato.
And, it already sounds a little better!
Playing Hands Together
We’re going to skip a few steps and go right to the end of the practice routine, which will be putting our hands together.
Just one thing – if your hands aren’t getting along with each other on a rough spot, there is an optional step you can take first.
Take your hands off the keys. Using the fall board or your lap, tap the rhythms – hands together, while counting aloud.
Why do this? Well, if we can’t coordinate our arm muscles, then adding the fine motor skills in our fingers is going to be frustrating and not very productive. Tapping creates muscle memory in our arms so that we can focus on the finer details. And, we can hear the combined rhythm created by both hands.
Let’s put everything together.
Remember, not every technique works for every passage, so you will want lots of choices in order to customize your practice – adjusting based on each passage and which techniques work for you.
Boredom When Practicing
And, there’s another thing – boredom.
We all get bored when we practice. The mind wanders. But, by changing things while you practice, you engage your brain, reduce tedium, and experiment with different sounds.
When you do all of this, you’ll find something interesting happens —you gain improved technical skills and more control of your hands. And, you’ll find that every time you perfect a rough spot, you’ll be better able to handle future rough spots.
Here is something else I tell my students. When you practice rough spots with different techniques, you build a roadmap that you can use when there is a problem on the road ahead. Just like a GPS system, that gives you alternate routes to get home, your practice routine gives you alternate ways to play the passage to help you play it perfectly.
Neuroscientists might describe this as building different pathways in the brain, but we’ll just stick with the roadmap analogy.
Let’s go over what we learned in this video:
We talked about using different articulations to smooth out rough spots and adding those to our practice routine.
We found that using different pathways makes practicing more fun, reduces boredom, and improves your technique and control.
We used different practice techniques to build many roads leading to the same place – a perfect passage.
In part three of this series, we’ll add even more practice techniques – speed, length of the isolated spot, and fingerings. So stay tuned!
Thanks so much for joining me today. If you found this video helpful, please subscribe. I have also enjoyed reading your comments. Keep them coming. You can contact me on my website if you would like to schedule live online piano lessons.
Until then, keep on practicing!