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10 April 2023

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Grade 4 ABRSM Piano 2023 - 2024 Teaching Notes

Presto: 3rd Movement from Sonata No.6 in C minor
G. B. Pescetti

Teaching Notes
As is the convention for playing pieces from the Baroque era, a slight separation of the "next to shortest note value" is required. In this case that means the left hand crotchets.

From bar 9, notice the overlapping minims in the bass that should be held until the end of the bar in each case.

As already mentioned in the footnote of the ABRSM edition "the dotted quaver figures in bar 52 should be played with a triplet rhythm to fit the rest of the piece". However, deviating from the suggestion in the ABRSM edition, the ornament in the next bar (53) could be played with less notes, i.e. crotchet E, followed by a rapid mordent D-Eb-D then finishing with a short C before the C in the next bar (54).

Another deviation might be in your choice of dynamics. Those written in the ABRSM copy are "editorial suggestions" only and you are free to make stylistic changes. Indeed, the examiner will be impressed by a little creativity. For example, you will notice in the above recording, the "p" marked in bar 54 has been changed to a "f" with an echo effect two bars later. A similar change occurs in bar 61.

Finally, the arpeggio figure in bars 69-71, should sound like one hand playing continuous legato quavers with no overlap, but with a slight separation after the crotchet at the end of each group. A slight easing of tempo would be acceptable for the last two chords, but be careful not to hold the final chord too long as there is a rest written after it.

Mouvement de Valse: No.15 from "25 Etudes Faciles" Op50
Louise Farrenc

Teaching Notes
The opening instruction to play "leggiero" needs a graceful touch and you need to be especially careful to balance the hands so that the right hand melody is not overpowered by the left hand accompaniment. 

Notice that the left hand often starts with a dotted crotchet, signifying that the bass note needs to be held the full length of the bar. However the two chords that follow will be played with a light staccato.

When we get to the middle section starting in bar 17, note the contrasting dynamic. The quaver chords in bars 18, 20 and 22, although not marked with a staccato dot, will be detached. This also applies in bars 26 and 28, but here the first note is to be held much like that of the left hand at the beginning.

In bars 31-35, there are rests in the left hand and wedges in the right hand. However, for the sake of a neat performance, the left hand should follow the articulation of the right hand here, thus automatically observing the rests mentioned above.

In bar 38, a slight "rit" before the return of the opening theme would be stylistic and then follows a repeat of the opening and so comments above would apply here as before.

Allegro in F - HWV 488
G. F. Handel

Teaching Notes
This lively piece will need careful articulation and so it would be recommended to learn at a slower pace, even HALF speed until all the slurs and detached notes are part of the muscle memory.

As a general rule, quavers should be detached unless marked otherwise. Note for example that in bars 2 and 3 the first pair of quavers are slurred but subsequent ones are not. This implies the last four are detached. Be careful especially in bars 7, 15 and 25, where the RH has slurs but NOT the LH.

Be attentive also to the lengths of crotchets. It would be easy, for example to shorten the 2nd beat RH of bar 4, or the 2nd and 3rd beats LH of bar 7, just because these crotchets follow directly on from quavers. 

Another note length that could easily escape attention is the long dotted minim bass note in bar 23 which should continue right to the end of the bar. 

Regarding dynamics, all those in the ABRSM edition are editorial, but as a general rule they provide a good framework to base your performance on. That is not to say you cannot add some creativity of your own. You will notice that the rising sequences in bars 9-13, also get corresponding rises in dynamics. The same might work for bars 19-21, each bar being a step louder than the previous, rather than a gradual crescendo as suggested, which in fact, is less stylistic for the period. Baroque music interpretation usually favours "stepped" or "terraced" dynamics in blocks rather than gradual changes, mainly because the harpsichord, which was the principal keyboard instrument of the period, was incapable of gradations of volume. The harpsichord can be played either loud or soft, but not in between.

Billie's Song: No7 from "Portraits in Jazz"
Valerie Capers

Teaching Notes
I will preface these notes with a question that I was asked by a student only today, 
"Is rubato allow in this piece?"

To which I replied:

" Absolutely, in fact more than allowed, but rather, required"

One of the first instructions given by the composer is "with pedal", but then no further direction is added. Generally pedalling is required to change once per bar except where there are changes of harmony within a bar i.e. bars 4, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 20 and 22.

A major area the examiner will be looking out for in your performance is balancing the hands. The piece is marked "cantabile" and as such there should be a singing melody, projecting throughout. However, you will notice that in the video performance above the LH is generally a lot softer and in particular where there is a moving accompaniment under a sustained melody note. For example, in bar 4, what the composer wants to stand out are the top B and A and the change of chord in the middle of the bar should NOT distract from the melody but be played especially gently. The same is true for bars 6, 14, 15, 20 and 22, all of which have the same moving accompaniment under a sustained melody note.

When the main theme returns after the bridge (bar 17), notice that it is at a lesser dynamic than the beginning. This final section needs a sense of coming to a gentle close.

Lastly be aware of the instruction to play the repeats, since usually in ABRSM exams they are omitted.

Idylle: No.1 from "Album des enfants" deuxieme serie, Op 126
Cecile Chaminade

Teaching Notes
Right at the beginning we are instructed to sing out the RH melody, even if the general dynamic is "p". This makes it ever more important to keep the LH softer. 

Particular attention should be paid to the pedal markings, which sometimes last for the whole bar (despite overlapping a rest such as bar 1) and other times, you are required to lift it at the half bar. This is usually when the melody in the RH has three quaver steps (such as bar 2, which would be blurry if pedalled).

From bar 17, some longer notes start appearing in the bass, although in reality, these will be covered by the pedal if executed where marked. Watch out however for the tied C's in bars 17 and 19.

Up until bar 21, the prevailing style has been legato in both hands, but note here the use of staccato at the end of the three note slurs. It would also be an idea to introduce a slight separation to the RH chords so that they lift in synch with the staccato LH notes, thus producing a unified effect.

After a brief pause in bar 32, which is preceded by an easing of the tempo, make sure to clear the pedal and any LH notes, before starting the recapitulation of the main melody (last three quavers). Indeed, a slight breath before this new phrase wouldn't come amiss.

La Nouvelle Poupee: No.6 from "Album pour enfants" Op. 39
P. I. Tchaikovsky

Teaching Notes
The two main areas for attention in this piece are balance and articulation. On the former, the LH chords should never become louder than the RH melody, but rather use a short delicate touch.

With regard to articulation, there are some small details which could be easily missed. For example the very first F in the RH is not included in the long legato slur from bars 2-5. Then in bars 6 and 7, the last RH note should be released at the end of the slur, but NOT in bar 8 where the slur marking goes over the bar line, thus releasing on the first note of bar 9. This pattern is repeated in future sections of the piece (9-17, 33-41). 

Notice in these opening 17 bars that each phrase of approximately 8 bars is one big crescendo / decrescendo

There is a middle section which uses a less sly articulation, but nevertheless, pay attention to always release the last note of any slurred pair. Again, a long rise and fall in the dynamics should be noted.

A slight easing of tempo before the end of this middle section in bar 33 (maybe starting a couple of bars earlier) and before the reprise of the opening melody, would be stylistic.

Finally notice the pause on the rest in the last bar. It might seem rather pointless since the notes have already finished, but the silences are part of the music and for a true professional performance, you and your audience should still be involved with the "music" even after the notes have finished. This can be achieved, by not moving away from the piano too suddenly after the last note, even remaining as a statue for a few moments longer.

Pentatonic Tune: No. 29 from "For Children" Vol. 1
Bela Bartok

Teaching Notes
Bartok is very precise with his articulation markings. For example in the very first bar we find a tenuto (held but slightly separated) crotchet, followed by two staccato quavers. Bars 2 and 4 have a heavier accent whereas in bar 3, a normal accent should be applied to the first beat. 

Notice also that the instruction to bring out the main theme in the left hand appears from bar 9 and again be careful with the articulation. In bar 10 for example, we have tenuto LH crotchets off-set by staccato RH quavers. Since the tenuto notes need slight separation, it might be an idea to lift them WITH the RH notes.

In bar 15, note the accent on the last RH quaver to bring out the change of harmony. The same happens in bar 31, but before this there is a distinction between the dynamics for each hand in bar 25 where the RH is marked "p" (after the first note), but the LH is marked "mp". This has a similar effect to that in bar 9 where the LH was brought out.

Finally, notice the little changes in tempo where a "poco rit" is often added to the ends of phrases (bars 7, 23, 31, 50).

Ninette's Musette: No5 from "Romantic Impressions"
George Nevada

Teaching Notes
Balance between the hands is of great importance throughout this piece especially on the 2nd beat of the bar. Very often this 2nd beat involves a chord in the left hand whilst there is a held note in the right hand. Care should be exercised particularly that the accompaniment is always softer than the melody.

Apart from the printed dynamics there is room for a little artistic creativity. For example, the "answering phrase" from the 3rd beat of bar 6, until two bars later could be played at a lesser dynamic, as an echo.  Again this particular phrase might also be afforded an easing of the tempo picking up speed and volume again at the start of the next phrases (3rd beat of bar 8).

Rubato throughout can be used tastefully, even from the very first two quavers. The instruction at the beginning specifically states "Rubato a la Musette". As explained in the footnote of the ABRSM edition, a Musette is a "pastoral dance piece" used in French ballets during the 18th century. Therefore, in your interpretation, always try to imagine how this piece would need to be played to accompany some graceful footwork.

Pedalling has been prescribed quite precisely, but this should not be an excuse for lazy fingering. Take care especially when the pedal changes during long sustained notes (e.g. bars 15-16).

For the purposes of an exam, the first repeat is not necessary, but the "Dal Segno" instruction SHOULD be observed.

Ticklin' Toes
Florence B. Price

Teaching Notes
The articulation markings in the piece are very precise and not always what you would expect. The left hand at the beginning has no markings, smooth or otherwise, but it seems in keeping with the style and character of the piece to employ a detached style.

Notice in bars 1-4, the second note of the right hand is always lifted / staccato, but when you get bars 6 and 7, the syncopated rhythm similar to that of the previous bars is legato not staccato.

In bar 14, be careful that the left hand lifts before the right hand since there is a quaver rest at the end of the bar for the former and then note "mp subito" straight after. 

Some more variations that could go unnoticed are found when comparing 17 and 19 to 21 and 23. The second pair have a slur in the right hand whereas the first pair do not.

In bar 29, be sure to pick out the melody, that is the upper minims written with accents, but be careful at the end of the phrase to detach the last two chords - compare the lack of a slur in bar 32 with the slur written on the same notes four bars earlier.

From bar 33-40 there are some interesting dynamics that add shaping to the piece and although not written, a slight easing of tempo would be stylistic at the end of this section. 

If you are having trouble with the page turn, it is worth noting that bars 41-56 are an exact copy of the first page. So if you can memorise the last 8 bars then there is no need at all to turn the page.

For the coda (from bar 57), be careful not to start any faster. "Accel." is a direction to get gradually faster, but lesser experienced students often interpret this incorrectly as suddenly faster.

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