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27 September 2023

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Vals Poetico - Grade 6 ABRSM Piano B2 - Teaching Notes

Vals Poetico: No.6 from Valses Poeticos

Enrique Granados

Teaching  Notes
Timing should not be too strict with this piece as the instruction at the beginning indicates "Quasi ad libitum". There are numerous places where an easing of the tempo is indicated and these opportunities should be explored fully (e.g. bars 7, 14, 23, 39, 45).

Pedalling also requires careful attention. In some cases it is just once per bar such as in the first 3 bars, but at other times the harmony changes every crotchet and so pedalling must reflect this (e.g. bar 4). Also be careful that the pedal does not linger over into LH rests, so for example, the last beat of bar 7 into bar 8, only the RH should be heard. Similar passages include bars 23, 24, 29 and the RH rests in bars 16 and 32. Also be careful that RH and LH finish at different times in bar 40.

Another aspect that the examiner will be looking out for is the voicing of the melody. Often this is simply a case of bringing out the top lines, but sometimes the melody is in a lower part such as bars 11 to 13. 

There are even occasions where the RH is split into parts that need to be voiced differently. For example in bars 5, 6, 21 and 22 the melody is the higher dotted minim, but there is a moving lower RH part on the second beat of each of these bars. These "second beats" should be at a lesser dynamic so as not to distract from the top melody note.

Finally notice the rather strange pause on the final rest which seems to be AFTER the music is finished. Why would you pause on a silence after the final note. I would argue that the composer is trying to suggest here that the music does NOT finish with the last note, but rather that the final two beats of rest are PART of the music. As such, you should stay involved with the performance during this silence, not taking your hands off the keys immediately but rather holding the silence without moving away from the piano, thus creating a "you could hear a pin drop" atmosphere that captures your audience's attention until the end of the bar which can be as long as you feel appropriate bearing in mind that these two beats rest are not only with a pause but also part of a "molto rit".

22 September 2023

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Indigo Moon - Grade 6 ABRSM Piano C2 - Teaching Notes

Indigo Moon - from "Pepperbox Jazz Book 2" 
Elissa Milne

Teaching Notes
This expressive piece will need to feel almost without a strict pulse, although at the same time you must be very careful to make the long tied notes in many of the bars the correct length. For example compare bars 22 and 23 where the former has a quaver at the end of the bar and the latter, a semiquaver. Whilst learning the piece, it might be useful to count 8 semiquavers for each bar to enable accurate rhythm.

Another aspect of rhythm that you need to be aware of is that fast notes at the ends of bars must always follow through across the bar line onto the next beat. For many of the students I have taught playing this piece, they will get to the demisemiquavers at the ends of bars 1, 3, 5 etc, play a very fast pair of notes and THEN think what comes next, invariably ending up with a hesitation on the bar line. You should however always be conscious of what follows the demisemiquavers before starting them.

To make an outstanding performance, dynamic shaping will be key. There is plenty of direction given in the score which doesn't need to be repeated here, but just to say don't be shy to let the passion out in the big crescendo section from  bar 20 to the "piu forte" in bar 2. Indeed the direction "piu forte" asks for something not lacking in emotion. Notice also the "molto rit" in the previous bar that allows for some idiomatic rubato.

The following bars are mainly a repeat of bar 9 to 15 albeit louder, but watch out for the extra notes that didn't appear the first time, that is the extra bass E at the end of bar 27 and the extra bass A at the end of bar 28.

Finally, make sure the ending is not hurried. Bar 38 instructs first a "rit" and then a "molto rit". Here is would be an idea to silently count the semiquavers, that are gradually slowing down, especially through the tied crotchet of bar 39. The final chord also, must not be cut short, continue to count another 8 of these ever slowing semiquavers with the bottom B and then some more for the pause. 

02 September 2023

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Honey - Grade 6 ABRSM Piano B1 - Teaching Notes

Honey: (Humouresque): 3rd movement from "In the Bottoms"
R. N. Dett

Teaching Notes

The subtitle of this piece is "Humoresque", which refers to compositions from the Romantic period which convey a good humoured mood, (rather than the witty sense of the word humour).

The next direction we are given by the composer after the initial dynamic is capriccioso which refers to playing in a free almost unpredictable manner. For example, the tied grace notes before the bar lines (e.g. before bars 2 and 3) have the effect of unsettling the pulse in an unpredictable manner. Throughout the piece, you will need to use a lot of rubato and not be afraid to linger on the pauses.

Attention also needs to paid to the changes of tempo: meno mosso  bar 17 and molto meno mosso  bar 29.

Another source of unpredictability in this piece is the use of dynamics. The pp  opening is unexpectedly interrupted by the mf  in bar 4. Notice this bar contains a pause with the word lunga  above it. As mentioned above, don't be shy to hold this longer and keep your audience guessing what's coming next.

In bar 5, notice the octave D's in the RH tie over into the next bar, but then observe carefully the phrasing, where in bar 6 you'll need to lift the first note (and pedal), starting a new phrase from the second semiquaver. Similar bars will be found  in bars 13>14; 25>26.

Bar 20, provides another opportunity to engage your audience. The term lusingando  means "coaxingly" and again this is best achieved by not hurrying the pauses.

Another surprise the listener will not be expecting is bar 29. The dynamic here is f accompanied by the direction parlando meaning "speaking", so make them listen with your bold statements of these big chords. However, the playfulness continues with the alternating f, mf, f, mf so that one never really knows what's going to happen next.

Bar 39 has proved to be a trap for many students in that after mastering the "semiquaver / dotted quaver" rhythms of bars 29, 33, 37, it is tempting to incorrectly use this rhythm here whereas the quavers this time are even and equal.

And then we're back to pauses again. In bar 41, there is already a long note tied to the last semiquaver, but in my experience of teaching this piece, many students are uncomfortable waiting even longer for the pause on the bar line. Then after the characteristically unexpected (that's a contradiction right there - hence the title), echo effect, we find another pause before bar 44. And ANOTHER one on the 2nd beat of this bar, but this one is different in that you will need to be careful to release the LH (notice the rest) and just pause on the top D flat.

Of course we couldn't end without another surprise, so after dying away in volume and tempo, we wake everyone up again with a contrasting Allegro con brio.