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Grade 7 ABRSM Piano Teaching Notes 2021 2022

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Bagatelle in E flat - Beethoven - A2

Beethoven's initial tempo marking Andante grazioso, quasi allegretto  gives a good indication as to how this piece should be played. The overall pulse is really not that fast, but with all the virtuoso type figures that run through this piece, increasing in complexity as it continues, it has the impression of being quite lively. That being said, the speed must never give the impression of being frantic , but as Beethoven prescribes, "gracefully".

There are a few tricky corners to master and I would suggest starting with these first, namely bars 4, 28, 54 and 78-81. Some slow metronome practice with a quaver beat, building gradually from 60 to 150 bpm will help these to truly become embedded in your muscle memory and thus help the execution of them, as we mentioned, "gracefully". As with any isolated section practice, always overlap onto the first note of the next bar. Regarding the octuplet  of bar 81 you could divide this in the ratio 2-3-3 per quaver beat.

Once mastered, let's go back to the beginning. There are two markings used frequently throughout this Bagatelle, that of the wedge sign and the sf marking. Both should be taken, always in the context of grazioso, indeed, the wedge sign was commonly used in the Classical period much like we use the modern basic staccato dot. You will notice that on two occasions, when the main theme returns at bars 25 and 75, Beethoven marks them dolce. That is not to say that they are to be played differently to the other instance of the main theme, but rather, may I suggest, that Beethoven just forgot to write dolce in bars 1 and 51. Clearly this theme is intended to be played very delicately.

Likewise, the sf marking should not be overdone, although there is an obvious contrasting style in bar 9. In bar 19 you will notice that the theme from bar 9 double in speed and in the video performance above, the detached nature of the quaver theme continues when played as semiquavers.

Another marking that that needs care is the sfp. Be sure that the note straight after the accented note is immediately quiet again. It is used on three occasions, bars 24, 50 and 74. Each time it introduces the grazioso / dolce main theme and you will also notice in the video performance above, the slightest touch of rubato in these bars to help the "mood change".

For the E flat minor section (bars 32 - 44) be careful of the voicing. There is an inner / lower right hand part which should always be kept dynamically subservient to the melody. For example the right hand thumb notes in bars 34-36 and  38-42 should be quieter than the notes above them. Notice also the length of these "thumb notes". Make sure you hold them for the exact value notated, no longer / no shorter. This might be problematic when requiring a stretch of over an octave (bars 40-42) and in this case a touch of carefully placed pedal, just for the exact length of these crotchets would be acceptable.

In bars 62-64, notice the semiquavers are slurred in pairs and again, in the video performance above you will hear a slight crescendo through these semiquavers. Some unwritten dynamic shaping can also be heard in the above performance, on the delicate runs of the final section (bar 82 onwards).

Vivace - Telemann -  A3

When performing Baroque music there are two stylistic rules that should be applied. The first is the use of detached notes for the next to shortest note value, so in this case the shortest note value is the semiquaver and the next to shortest is the quaver. You will notice in the above video performance that most of the quavers  are played separate, with the exception of those that are joined by step to semiquavers (e.g. the last beat of of bar 4).

The other stylistic rule is to use "terraced dynamics", in other words changes between loud and quiet playing should be sudden, not gradual. However, regarding this, it should also be noted that these dynamic changes mark out the phrases and in the case of this movement, many of the phrases start half way through the beat. For example, notice the ABRSM suggestion in bar 5 of a "piano" dynamic on the 2nd quaver of the bar, and then its inverted echo effect (forte) in the next bar, likewise is half way through a beat.

It should be noted, that the dynamics written in the ABRSM edition are SUGGESTIONS ONLY and as it says in the footnote, "dynamics are left to the player's discretion". Indeed, you may lose marks in the exam if you ONLY play those that are written, the examiner is looking for some musicality / creativity from you as a performer. In the above video performance for example, you will notice an unwritten change to "piano" for the last three quavers of bar 8 and likewise a "subito forte" on the 2nd quaver of bar 16. There are others - see if you can spot them.

Cradle Song - Ni Hongjin - B3

This  piece explores the beauty of dissonance. The cantabile melody should never be overpowered by the rocking left hand accompaniment. Indeed you should notice the the first two dynamic markings p and mp are applied separately to each hand, e.g. the mp  at the end of bar 4 is written higher up between the left and right hand staves to indicate that it applies to the right hand.

The marking con ped leaves you the performer, the decision as to where the pedal should change, but as a general rule, use your ear to hear where the harmony changes so that you don't blur two harmonies together. For example, in bar 3, the A natural at the end of the bar would not blend very well with the A sharp earlier in the bar and so here a new pedal would be advisable. Additionally, a new pedal should be used at the rests in bars 14, 20, 28 and 41 and maybe completely leave off the pedal for the short section of slurred pairs in bars 32-34. That is because, in this section of slurred pairs, there should be a complete break, lifting off of hands at the end of each slur, creating the smallest breath of silence between each pair, otherwise being lost if you pedal right through them.

One of the challenges of this piece, is the frequent use of polyrhythms and in particular, twos against threes. If this idea is new to you, I recommend using the phrase "Nice Cup of Tea" as you play three notes in one hand at the same time as two notes in the other as shown in this example

How to play twos against Threes

and if you require further practice, try this video challenge

In bar 22, you also have another polyrhythm of 4 against 6. Basically this works in the same way, where the 2nd and 4th right hand notes are played exactly half way between the 2nd/3rd and 5th/6th left hand notes respectively.

It would be stylish to add a little rubato, especially just before a new phrase. You will notice for example, a slight easing of tempo at the end of bar 12 in the above video performance.  

Bar 39 is a little awkward for hand positions, not only because the hands overlap (I would suggest it easier to place left hand above right hand), but also the sustained lower right hand C sharp needs to be played by the left hand at the same time. Therefore you will need to sustain this C sharp with the pedal, but being careful not to blur harmonies at the end of the bar (A sharp against the previous A natural).

The ending should be as quiet as possible, noticing not only the pp marking in bar 36 but also here una corda and the last two bars add a decrescendo  to this already quiet dynamic as if creeping out of the room once the baby is asleep (note the title of the piece!!). 

Pink Minor - Madeleine Dring - C1

The main theme is written with a dotted rhythm, but this should be interpreted as a swing rhythm. The same is true for the duplet quavers (bars 2, 4 etc). Be careful when these duplet quavers, lead into a tied note in bars 10, 32 and 62, it would be very easy to copy the initial pattern of staccato lifting the final E,  rather than hold the last note over into the tie.

The dynamics are also fairly specific in this piece and some subtle shaping can easily be missed such as the hairpin swell in bars 3 and 4, the subito piano in bar 18 and the mp on the second beat of bar 57.

The left hand needs to be light and delicate throughout and particularly the theme from bars 21-24 should be quite scherzando (playful).

The subsequent richer sustained section (bars 25-28) might even benefit from some pedalling and you will notice in the video performance above a slight easing of tempo just before the return of the main theme in bar 29.

Pedal may also be employed from bars 37-42 and in the following section (bars 45-50) watch out for the isolated staccato chords amongst otherwise tenuto  chords. In the final bar of this section (50) the instruction "poco tenuto"  indicates a slight slowing down before the "A Tempo" in bar 51.

The last page is quite complicated and really demands secure muscle memory, by building gradually with a metronome and may I suggest doing this WITHOUT looking at your hands, to get a muscle memory not only of the finger patterns, but also the jumps in the left hand.

In bar 63, notice the slurred pairs and in bars 67 and 68 count the beats carefully, giving the effect of three time rather that common time.

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