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Topic: OCTAVES.... Earlking, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, Appassionata (coda 1st mv't)...  (Read 10025 times)

Offline kevink

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Hello everybody,

I would be very, very grateful if someone could describe for me how they practiced and learned to play fast repeated octaves/chords such as those found in Schubert's Earlking and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.

I have asked MANY teachers to help me learn this technique, and none of them have been able to do so even though they are all highly qualified.  This would make sense if I were an idiot slacker, but I'm neither! 

Everyone I've asked has either "always" been able to play fast repeated octaves, and thus has never practiced or had to learn how to do it; or simply can't do it in the first place, which also doesn't help them to teach me how.

It has been suggested to me that genetics play a role, and you have to be born with this ability--but that isn't good enough for me, I'm not willing to give up on this. 

I've heard just about every suggestion on how to do this technique in the book, and nothing really works for me.  I'm most interested in hearing from those of you who once were unable to do this technique, and now can--how did you learn it??

For reference, I'm looking for a technique to play triplet eighths at quarter=160 or thereabouts.  I have it hovering around 140, tops.  I haven't met anyone who can do this, who has not "always" been able to (ie, hasn't had to learn). 

Can you help?  I would be very, very grateful if you can.

Best wishes,
Kevin
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Offline opus10no2

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I've never had a problem with the technique, the motion at anything but fast tempos should be completely free of tension.

Practice 2 ways - at the maximum tempo you can play without tension, and maintain that lack of tension.

The other way is to blast off and go AFAP(regardless of tension), and gradually your max speed should increase, in theory.

But essentially, DO IT   8)
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Offline pseudo.naivete

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My uneducated guess would be that you're either using the wrong muscles to play the octaves, or your concentration is not efficiently targeted. I used to do both a lot as a beginner, and still do the latter frequently. In any case, I definitely don't believe its something limited by your genetic heritage. The tendency for realizing or not realizing just *how to* do these things (and further develop them), could depend on genotype, but I certainly dispute the idea that there are as radical differences in people's brain that would divide the people so roughly into two categories: Either you do or you don't. The more realistic scenario is that some people's orientation gives them "wrong" ideas about how certain things should be done, whereas others just happen to have the "right" idea from the beginning. On the other hand, some people are also better at changing their conceptions than others etc.

Warning: Redundant explanations ahead.

Try to reduce your technique into the core components of what is absolutely essential for playing the passages, that involves getting rid of all the even minimal movement and tension that are unnecessary for the actual physical execution (which in itself is always a simple manoeuvre between any two chords). The difficult part is teaching your brain to do all the work so that you don't need to think with your hands (as in consciously). Thinking with your body generally slows you down. Try to do a long and fast trill being as aware as possible of the fingers' position while lifting and landing them in turns, it becomes a lot more difficult! You teach your brain to "do the math" and reduce more complex tasks into simple routines or "programs" which your brain then utilizes when it commands your body to "execute" those "programs". The trick with fast chords/octaves, trilling, arpeggios etc. is to pay attention to what exactly are the essential movements your body has to perform and then condition your brain to form as energy-lossless sequences of those movements as possible. That's how you do trills, your brain has learnt the frequency in which it has to activate the correct nerves. When your finger has just hit the key and you're about to realize that in those couple-hundred milliseconds as it reaches your awareness, your brain is already ahead of the action getting ready to fire the nerve again. If you try to place your consciousness in your fingers, then your awareness becomes a hindrance for the much more rapidly calculating well-taught brain. I think the same applies to playing those repeated octaves; if your awareness lags from the actual movements, then you're doing it right. If you try to have your body follow your thought, then you won't develop your speed past some frustratingly low threshold.

What muscles do you use to play the octaves? Does your elbow maintain vertical position? Do you play with your wrist or the hand? If you feel your wrist is too slow, try doing this: play the end notes of an octave with your fingers 1 and 5, in turns. Increase the tempo to near-maximum and observe and feel how your wrist moves naturally now that you're alternating between those two notes in a rapid succession. Now grasp the essentials of that motion, and start alternating the positions of your wrist and fingers so that the separate notes following each other slowly become the same so that finally your using the exact same physical movement to play repeated octaves instead of alternating C4 and C5 for example. This will most probably result in a carpal tunnel syndrome if done wrong (or too harshly and with too much tension), but the point is to refine the hand's "mobile awareness" and learn that the actual movements it has to make to play the octaves are in fact minor, and if your hand is too rigid while practicing the octaves, you never learn just how little the hand actually has to do to achieve it's goal.

Just some ideas, probably trivial stuff, but I thought I'd share it.

Btw, those *** faces in opus10no2's post were quite disturbing as they kept interrupting me by their glaring everytime I had a "memory lapse" thinking of a correct word for expressing some specific thing. "Do it." What the.. but... I'm.. never mind.
"The kid who swallows the most marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own."
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Offline ramseytheii

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To play fast repeated notes, you can't let the key come all the way up, and you absolutely have to have good phrasing.  In Erlkoenig for instance you have to feel 4 beats per bar, and the first of each triplet should go all the way down, the second and third of each triplet should not come all the way up. 

This may cause problems at first, but having a vision of the end goal can help you to relieve the tension yourself and not need specific physical directions, which are usually useless.

I mention phrasing because it can be intimidating to listen to, esp. in Erlkoenig when it sometimes sounds like the pianist is playing DADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADA but it should feel subtly like DAdadaDAdadaDAdadaDAdada etc.  It won't end up sounding like that but it has to feel like it.

Walter Ramsey

Offline kevink

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Thanks everyone for your helpful comments so far.

In answer to your questions, pseudo.naivete....

I try to keep my upper arm as relaxed as possible, with as little clenching in the elbow as possible.  The motion comes from my wrist. 

I've identified a couple ways of playing an octave; one is to play with the arm, which results in the wrist being at a low position at the point when the key hits the keybed--the wrist is acting as a shock absorber, not as a motivator.  Cortot advises this kind of action when playing legato octaves in the Chopin octave etude.  You can practice it by first holding down an octave and then oscillating your wrist up and down, and then slowly advancing the tempo on repeated octaves.  The impetus for this action is mainly from the back of the arms and upper arms, or from gravity.  If I try to use this motion, I quickly tense up in the upper arm.

The other approach I can see to playing an octave would be from the wrist.  The wrist itself moves very little, but if anything it is in a higher position at when the key hits the keybed.  This gives me pretty quick staccato octaves, but not anything dependable above 8th note triplets at quarter=130 or so.  By dependable, I mean, sustainable. 

I've witnessed people play using the second method (apparently) at quarter=160 or more.  They do pulse, as Walter Ramsey suggests.  I'm sure this is a key part of obtaining sustainability at that speed.

I'm just a little frustrated by my lack of progress despite these insights.  Every other technical issue I've encountered gets better... this just sort of stays.  Very irritating!!!  :)   thanks for your help everyone.

Any advice on how to practice for better speed?  How did you get fast?

Also, I wonder if a combination of the aforementioned motions is useful?

-kevin

Offline counterpoint

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I can't give any help, but I wanted just to say:

It seems, that Erlking is a very unhealthy piece  ;)
If it doesn't work - try something different!

Offline pianowolfi

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I hate Earlking. But ONCE in my life I played through the whole thing at my home, with metronome on quarter= 152, like Schubert wrote, and I was in ECSTASY. I have to play this hundreds of times at a school where I accompany singing lessons. And I admit that I am cheating most of the time by using tremolos at certain places. Because the effort to keep the level up for more than three days would just be too high. For a performance I practise with accents on every count like described above. Loose wrist!!!!!! Very slow practicing for about a week, then successively speeding up.

Offline ramseytheii

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It's right that you have to be loose, but be careful that you don't start flopping all over the place.  The goal is less movement rather than more, and sometimes in trying to affect a loose wrist (known in some circles as a "limp" wrist, ie "those sure are some limp-wristed h**s...") ppl start playing every octave with a wrist movement, which just isn't possible.  Here Josef Lhevinne's advice that the wrist is the "shock absorber" is most useful. 

Stay inside the key!

Walter Ramsey
 

Offline invictious

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Try this: imagine a ball bouncing

now project that onto your wrists.

ouch pianowolfi for playing erlking for..hundreds of times.
Bach - Partita No.2
Scriabin - Etude 8/12
Debussy - L'isle Joyeuse
Liszt - Un Sospiro

Goal:
Prokofiev - Toccata

>LISTEN<

Offline pianowolfi

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ouch pianowolfi for playing erlking for..hundreds of times.

Lol but I said that I was often cheating. But I learned that I definitely prefer other Schubert songs, like "Der Wegweiser" (my absolute favorite one) or, well the whole "Winterreise" actually :).

Offline timland

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You might want to take a look at Seymour Fink's "Mastering Piano Technique". He goes into a lot of detail descibing 2 basic octive techniques (forearm bounce and hand bounce) then shows how you combine the 2 where you start groups with a forearm drop and continue with hand bouncing. While hand bouncing raise the wrist slightly. There's some excercises on p163 & 164.

Tim

Offline invictious

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Lol but I said that I was often cheating. But I learned that I definitely prefer other Schubert songs, like "Der Wegweiser" (my absolute favorite one) or, well the whole "Winterreise" actually :).
A little bit of pedal, and a bit of faking of arm movements, makes playing that piece a lot of better.

I once tried to accompany myself for that piece while singing it...well...let's just say..I ran out of breath..just playing that right hand octaved tremolos.
Bach - Partita No.2
Scriabin - Etude 8/12
Debussy - L'isle Joyeuse
Liszt - Un Sospiro

Goal:
Prokofiev - Toccata

>LISTEN<

Offline pianowolfi

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There is a saying that Schubert used to play normal eighth notes instead of triplets. The piece suddenly gets easy. But boring :P.

Offline kevink

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You might want to take a look at Seymour Fink's "Mastering Piano Technique". He goes into a lot of detail descibing 2 basic octive techniques (forearm bounce and hand bounce) then shows how you combine the 2 where you start groups with a forearm drop and continue with hand bouncing. While hand bouncing raise the wrist slightly. There's some excercises on p163 & 164.

Tim

Good Lord. 


You'll never believe this, but I figured out, basically word for word, exactly that approach to playing the fast octaves--just a couple days ago.  I was so proud of myself for making a technical breakthrough by thinking analytically.... well, shoot.  If I had only read that book years ago...

Thanks!

-Kevin

Offline thalberg

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Here is a video of some random woman teaching how to play the octaves in the Erlkonig:

https://www.taubman-institute.com/html/shaping1.mpg

Since she has an accent, it sounds like she knows what she's doing.

Offline pianowolfi

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Here is a video of some random woman teaching how to play the octaves in the Erlkonig:

https://www.taubman-institute.com/html/shaping1.mpg

Since she has an accent, it sounds like she knows what she's doing.

Rofl ;D I have an accent as well, so.....

Offline thalberg

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Well, in America, an accent gives you instant credibility.  We are naive like that.

When I was in music school, the foreign students remarked on it--they said they couldn't believe how everyone instantly respected them because of their accent.

Offline pianowolfi

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Well, in America, an accent gives you instant credibility.  We are naive like that.

When I was in music school, the foreign students remarked on it--they said they couldn't believe how everyone instantly respected them because of their accent.

Hmmmmm that might be good to know 8) :P ;D

Offline kevink

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Here is a video of some random woman teaching how to play the octaves in the Erlkonig:

https://www.taubman-institute.com/html/shaping1.mpg

Since she has an accent, it sounds like she knows what she's doing.

It looks like she's using the arm+wrist technique that Seymour Fink describes, although she doesn't describe it in those terms.  She's not going very fast, so she probably hasn't thought about it in those terms, either.

Offline thalberg

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It looks like she's using the arm+wrist technique that Seymour Fink describes, although she doesn't describe it in those terms.  She's not going very fast, so she probably hasn't thought about it in those terms, either.

You're right, she's not going very fast.  I feel sorry for her. 

Offline kevink

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You're right, she's not going very fast.  I feel sorry for her. 

I'm sure she'll figure out how to go faster if she wants to.  Until then, I wish she wouldn't claim to teach the technique to people. 

I realize I speak with frustration; well, I've wasted lots of time and money on teachers who couldn't teach.

Offline thalberg

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Me, too. I've wasted more time and money on bad teaching than I care to think about--I can't sleep at night when I think about it.

Take a break from practicing octaves and look at this Erlkonig poster.  It will make you feel better.  Perhaps purchase it and practice octaves while looking at it.

Offline ramibarniv

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Hey Kevin,
I don't agree that a good teacher has to be a first rate virtuoso who can play everything attempting to teach.
About genetics, I don't know if you have to be born with it, but playing the piano from an early age can certainly help.
If you can play Earl Koenig at 140, you're in pretty good shape, or is it the Appassionata that you can do at 140?. Appassionata is easier, as the repeated notes alternate between the hands, so there's time to rest.
The first thing I'd recommend is to practice the "butterfly technique", which is using your hand from the wrist only, moving the hand up and down like a butterfly wing, not using and/or moving any other part of the entire arm.
This will serve you also for chromatic octaves, scales in octaves and chords, etc.
The next thing is very similar to what the woman in the video suggested (in spite of her being of the Taubman-institute, as the url suggested, when she demonstrated, her hand looked very tense):
Move your wrist slightly up while moving the whole arm slightly further in on the keys (towards the back board) and move your wrist slightly down (back to the starting position) while moving the whole arm slightly back/outwards on the keys.
But there's one difference between what she suggested and what I suggest.
She moved in and up playing 5 1/8 notes and moved back and down to her original starting position on the 6th 1/8.
What I suggest for this rhythm is moving up/in and down/out every 3 1/8 notes.
BTW, I'd recommend practicing to start both ways 'in/up - out/down' and 'out/down - in/up'.
Also, don't limit your wrist to only moving up and down from a leveled starting point, but also down first and than up, meaning the wrist can move up and down beyond the starting level point and not only above it.
Whatever tempo you can do at whatever piece, this practice will gain you some extra notches on the metronome, and will keep you hands healthy.
Best wishes and good luck,
Rami
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https://ramisrhapsody.tripod.com/

Offline ramibarniv

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P.S.
Wanted to add to my post one more little thing about that 'in/up - out/down' technique and practice.
Even if the passage is in triplets (like the Schubert song) one can practice it and also try to actually execute it in pairs.
2 notes (octaves) go 'in/up' and the next 2 notes (octaves) go 'out/down'.
Best,
Rami

Offline pla635

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Kevin,

I understand your frustration and difficulties as I am also struggling with my fast octaves.  I am practicing Stravinsky's petroushka and my goodness, the octaves and chords in the first two pages MUST go at a reasonable clip (I wanna sound like pollini... :( The only thing that makes me feel better is that this is one of the most difficult techniques to master.  140 triplets is pretty fast...and I think they will get better over time and constant alternation of differents ways of practicing.  I think obsessing over this particular issue will create mental blocks that can only hurt. 

I have found that choosing a fingering that alternates fingers 4 and 5 increases the speed because then you can rely more on finger speed rather than wrist or arm bounce.   I don't know how you practice, but I think it is crucial to come up with a system of working that takes in to account a slow gradual learning curve rather than instant success...practicing too fast out of impatience and worry is really bad...  the speed that you choose to work should always be comfortable.  If you push the speed too soon at the beginning, you won't know any other way to play other than tight and uncomfortable. 

So far, I can play the octaves on the second page in tempo but not under pressure yet and not with the necessary control....I'm going to have to perform petroushka with Davidsbundlertanze this fall so I am hoping my system will work... good luck to you.  With patience, I think one can solve anything....

Offline mrcreosote

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One thing that was not mentioned is the piano.  Some pianos are simply not capable of being played fast.   Vertical actions (uprights) can be very "bad."

It is counter intuitive but a heavy action seems to be faster - I believe it counters arm weight and helps you on the "upstroke."

I want to get into this topic myself, but am going to start a new thread since it's almost 9 years later.

I suggest that no one adds to this thread except for an "Appendix" addition like this comment.

Offline ramibarniv

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Funny how time flies...
In 1912 I published my book "The Art of Piano fingering - Traditional, Advanced, and Innovative".
All that octave-playing technique discussed above and much more is to be found in the book with photos, examples, and exercises.
The book appears now also in 2 other languages.
Available on CreateSpace and Amazon.
Best regards to all,
Rami

Offline mrcreosote

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rami,

I found a method and some theory that helped me achieve a speed that was totally out of reach when simply trying to "play octaves."  Your explanation of the in/out/up/down motion during a "cycle of 3" also got me thinking.  Also someone else's method of hitting a key on the "backstroke."

The Theory:

It is a must that you use "one motion" to play each triplet group.  One motion means 3 different motions that repeat.  BECAUSE if you use 3 identical motions, your muscles will tense and you're toast.  It seems to me that slight differences in motion vary each muscles action and this variance presents itself as rest/recovery for each muscle.  The more varied, the more recovery which results in a faster maintainable speed.

The Method:  (Let IN be towards the piano, and OUT be away from the piano)

First Note:

Accent the first note:  The trajectory of the finger tips is both DOWN and IN - a 45* angle perhaps.

The purpose of this angle is that it starts an INward momentum of hand/arm that is going to be used to play the 2nd note.  The second note is stuck perhaps 1/2" IN from the first. 

Second Note:

But here is the intuitive part, the 2nd note is the result of the hand "stumbling" off of he 1st note that "dug in."  In other words, the fingers stick to the key for the first note while the inward momentum builds, then the fingers lift, and dig in for the 2nd note.  This is exactly how a tool bit chatters in a lathe.  This could also be called a Bounce, but I wouldn't characterize it as that since Bounce implies UP/DWN with no regard for IN/Out.  This 2nd note is an "echo" of the 1st.

Third Note:

The third note is "pawed on the backstroke (OUT and UP) returning to the starting position.  The fingers touch they keys for the 3rd note at about the same point as the 1st note.   The "pawing motion" is used a lot by Lisitsa (whose technique is so beautiful to watch - for me at least.)

The results are 3 very different motions and lot of variance and lots of recovery.

Practice very slow with heavily accented 1st note - the other notes are echos.

Practice it until it turns into a "muscle mantra."

For myself, I found the results so effective, I was laughing out loud because it was almost like they weren't my hands doing it!

My attention for the moment is not focused n Erlkonig, and while I know this technique will make my a ton faster, I'm not sure if it will produce the ultimate speed needed for this piece.

Thanks everyone for all the bits and pieces I was able to use to develop this!
Tom






Offline huaidongxi

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bitte, refer to the Goethe poem or the lied that adapted it as 'elf king' or 'erl koening' or 'erl konig', acceptable but not as kosher, 'elf konig'.  'earl king' makes no sense because you are naming two titles/ranks of nobility with no reference to 'elf'.  dankon
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