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Grade 5 ABRSM Piano Teaching Notes 2021 2022

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La Chevaleresque - A1

This piece depicts a Wandering Knight riding in search of gallant adventures. Try in your performance to capture the poise and chivalrous character of this subject. For example, the dotted rhythm should always be crisp. Don't let it become sluggish, turning into a triplet rhythm (the semiquaver occupying a third of a beat rather than a quarter). Keep all staccato chords very neat and synchronised together. 

In bar 4, it might be tempting to hit the last right hand note, (top A) too hard, keep it light and delicate, bearing in mind that the overall dynamic at this point is  piano and this note is not on an accented beat of the bar.

Notice the crescendo in bar 7 and the dramatic dynamic contrasts in bars 9-12.

For the triplet section (bars 17-24), don't let the repeated C's in the left hand thumb get too loud, they should be supporting the melody, but only in the background and enjoy the swell uo to the F sharps in bars 19 and 20.

Again, the cresc  of bar 23 could be easily missed. 

In bars 33,34, 37 and 38 you need to bring out the lower part as the melody is below the right hand chords here. Also in this section, watch the articulation in bars 35 and 39, where on the second beat the right hand is  legato but the left hand is staccato

For the final coda section, listen carefully to your playing that it is even and synchronised between the hands in the semiquavers of this showy finale. You may find some "dotted rhythm" and "metronome" practice or both, useful here. Varying from the printed fingering, you might also find a 4th finger better than the suggested 3rd on the B (seventh right hand note of bar 42)

Presto - from Sonata No. 6 - A2

Although the tempo is marked by the composer as Presto, the suggested speed in the ABRSM edition would seem to be slightly under this. Therefore, if you are able to edge a little above 88 bpm that would more adequately reflect the composer's intentions.

Again, the dynamics in the ABRSM edition are suggestions only and in the video performance above you will notice some variation from your book. For example, there is a piano in the upbeat before bar 5, then the following printed piano (bar 8) is played forte and then another piano for the ubeat to bar 12. Similar changes are made in the second half to keep consistent with the first.

Regarding articulation, generally, keep the dotted crotchets separate and the quavers legato, although the "crotchet - quaver" rhythms of bars 20, 22, 57 and 59 can also be separated.

On the final arpeggio of each page be careful that as the right hand progresses into the left hand it doesn't linger longer than it's written value. In other words, the last right hand note of bars 24 and 61 passes smoothly to the left hand but releases as the left hand starts. Many here, might be tempted to build up a spread chord out of these downward arpeggios, but that is not what the composer intended.

Toccata in G Minor - A3

According to Wikipedia a Toccata is
... a virtuoso piece of music...  featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections...  generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers.

... and you will have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate your dexterity in this piece with its elaborate ornamentation. The ABRSM edition provides some useful realizations on many of the ornaments written, and for those where no help is given, look for a previous example where the samee note values are used. For example, the trill in bar 4 should be the same as that in bar 3 as they are both on a dotted semiquaver, followed by a demi-semiquaver.

The slurs and dynamics marked here are editorial suggestions only and you should feel free to interpret this piece differently if you want, but bear in mind a couple of basic accepted rules for playing baroque music;

  • The next to shortest note value (not including ornaments of course) should be played in a lightly detached style. So in this case, the shortest note value is the semiquaver and the next to shortest is the quaver. Therefore, quavers should be played slightly separated
  • Dynamics are generally terraced, that is to say, they change in sudden steps rather than use crescendo / diminuendo
Indeed an examiner is likely to give extra credit if you can add some creative touches of your own, as long as they are in the context of the style and period.

Arctic Night - B1

This beautiful piece is all about the music and NOT the notes. It would be too easy to play mechanically just what's printed on the page, but the examiner is looking for a lot more to get a good mark in the exam.

This piece should never sound hurried, not even the semiquavers and at times the above video performance is quite a bit slower than the suggested metronome mark of 69. I say "at times" because this piece requires a lot of rubato. Notice the marking espressivo at the beginning. For example, listen to what happens to the tempo in the above performance in bar 14. Did you notice how it pulls back the speed on the repeated two note pattern. 

Speaking of repeated notes, look at bars 9 and 10. How do you make eleven repeated C's expressive? You need to add some interest to the dynamics and / tempo.

On a more technical note, watch out for tied inner notes which can easily get missed. For example the lower right hand A flat bars 13-14; the left hand top A flat bar 23, 47 and lower E flat bar 24, 48; the right hand C flat bar 39 to name but a few.

The instruction is to play with the pedal, but then no extra help is given. The best judge is your ear. Although this piece needs a smooth atmospheric style, listen out for when the notes start blurring too much. You could even experiment with "half pedalling" which will add some length to the notes without them becoming too mushed all together. I would suggest, that you change the pedal where rests are marked in the left hand so that these rest can be heard (e.g. bars 4, 8 etc). Also be aware of the phrasing with regard to when you pedal. For example, the last quaver of bar 24 starts a new phrase and your pedalling should match this rather than blending everything together.

Don't be afraid to get rather dramatic at the climax of the piece (bar 32), we have had a gradual build up from the crescendo in bar 26, followed by a marcato marking and then another crescendo in the first half of this bar 32.

Again, watch the phrasing in bar 52, the last three quavers should be separated from the beginning of the bar with a breath (hand and foot) and don't be in a hurry to release the very last note. Create a "pin drop" atmosphere before you end the final chord (Notice on the above video, just HOW long the last chord is held.)

Starry Dome - B2

The notes might look relatively simple in this piece, but as with "Arctic Night " above, the examiner is looking for far more than just playing the notes. You will need excellent tonal control in this one, to depict the stillness of a night sky. Notice right at the start the each hand has a different dynamic and throughout the piece, this repetitive bass theme should be kept as quiet as possible.

Even though you are evoking an atmosphere of calm and stillness, you must count very carefully in your head as there are some tricky time signature changes. The 5/4 bars especially might take more than one glance. It might help here to mark on the part exactly where the beats occur.

Watch out for some sneaky tied notes, e.g. last beat F in the right hand bars 13, 32 and 45.

In the middle section, (where there are semiquavers), aim for a very graceful delicate touch, again trying to imagine what picture you are trying to evoke, in this case twinkling stars. As before, count the tied beats carefully (once more it might help to pencil in the beats on your page).

Finally, notice the very precise pedalling directions. Sometimes the pedal is held for many bars all together, (1-6; 33-38; 46 to the end) and it might be tempting to lift the pedal in these sections.

Douce Reverie - B3

The two main areas that the examiner will be looking for in your performance of this beautiful melody are your tonal control and sensitive use of rubato.

At all times the melody must sing out, whatever the general dynamic. The second most important voice to be heard is the bass line and the quietest of all are the internal off-beat chords. Note that the melody transfers to the bass line in the middle section from bar 17, but even here there is some imitation between right hand and left hand (bars 21 / 22 and again 29 / 30).

The phrases in this piece are organized consistently in blocks of 8 bars and it would be stylish to ease off the tempo at the end of each block i.e. bars 8, 16, 24, 32, 40 and a final ritardando at the end.

The marking  con ped although editorial in the ABRSM edition should be observed to create a smooth legato throughout the piece, changing with every change of harmony. Sometimes this will be every beat (such as bar 1) and other times held for a whole bar (e.g. bar 2). As a general rule, a good clue when to change pedal, is when the bass line moves by step (when it moves in arpeggio like figures e.g. bars 17 and 19, these are obviously the same harmony and so need only one pedal for the whole bar).

You will notice in the above video performance that the spread thumb fingering suggested in the ABRSM edition has not been followed, since careful and accurate pedalling will produce the same effect. As the ABRSM syllabus regulations state, any fingering that produces the desired effect is acceptable in the exam.

Mister Trumpet Man - C1

The marking "With a pronounced beat" indicates that this piece should be quite accented. It might be tempting to play it faster than suggested so always check with a metronome that you're not getting carried away as you get more used to the notes.

There are some pedal markings in the music, but the above performance also adds a few extra dabs of pedal that are not marked. For example, The crotchet at the beginning of bar 3 is NOT marked staccato like the following two beats in that bar. Therefore, to help give it some extra length, a touch of pedal is added just to the first beat. The same is true for bars 7, 27 and 31.

You will notice also a bit of licence has been used for the minor 2nd chords (e.g. first note of bar 2) where they are played more like a grace note than a simultaneous chord. 

Be careful not to get carried away with the fortissimo in bar 23, it needs to decrescendo again and bar 25 is only mezzoforte, quieter than at the beginning.

Watch the length of the left hand crotchet in bar 37. It is not marked staccato, although many may be tempted to make it so. Release half way through the following right hand note.

Changing Times - C2

The title of this piece is a clue as to what you need to do in your performance. Not only is there a change in tempo, but also time signature and complete mood after the initial opening introduction.

This slow intro, should also be played with a little rubato whereas the quick waltz should keep exact time.

In the Waltz section, pay very close attention to the exact articulation written. For example, in the bars where the left hand has just crotchets (e.g. bars 11, 13, 15 etc) notice that only the second two beats are staccato, but the first beat is NOT. Also there are many parts where the right hand is slurred and the left hand staccato, for example the last quaver of bar 10 into bar 11. Take your time learning this piece very slowly at first to get all these minor details into your muscle memory. If you play it too fast initially before you have perfected the articulation, it will be too late to add it after, when bad habits start developing.

Watch out for the long dotted minims in the lower right hand, bars 26-30 and similar and try to transition into the final section without to much jarring, think of merging into moving traffic as you enter a motorway from the slip road.  

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