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Introduction, and small hands trying to play 3rd movement of Moonlight Sonata (Read 1625 times)

Offline pjjslp

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Hello all, I've been lurking for the last few weeks and finally feel brave enough to dip my toes in.

I started playing piano at the tender age of 4, self-taught from my mom's big-note piano book. I took lessons from age 5 through 17. My life revolved around piano. The best times I could imagine were my weeks at piano camp, spending hours practicing, sitting in music theory classes... yes, a total piano geek.  ;D I was very good for my age, placing in and occasionally winning minor local contests.

At age 17, my family moved and didn't find me a new piano teacher, so my studies fell to the side. I continued to learn new pieces on my own. I went to college intending to major in piano performance, and took private lessons for my first semester, but I was a stupid teen out on her own for the first time. At that point in my life, I wanted to play concert halls throughout Europe or not play at all. When I realized I didn't have the dedication for a life as a professional musician, I pretty much stopped playing.

For the next 25-ish years, my playing was relegated to banging out a few carols at Christmas and the occasional accompanist gig. Then, about 2.5 years ago, I lost my home and my childhood piano in a massive tornado. I ended up replacing my 40-year-old console with a new mid-range Clavinova, as I was not impressed with the acoustic pianos that my insurance company deemed equivalent to what I had.

Say what you will about digital pianos, I absolutely love the sound and feel of my Clavinova, and it was just what I needed to rekindle my love of playing. I have relearned some of my favorite old pieces and also learned Clair de Lune last year to a point where I'm about 90% happy with how it sounds. Those darned LH arpeggios....

Now, sorry to ramble, on to my question. My lifelong goal was to learn the 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata (cliched, I know, but I was 11 or 12 when I set the goal  ;) ) and I started it a few weeks ago. I've learned the notes and am working on getting the tempo up. Oddly, for all of the things I thought would be near impossible, my biggest trouble spots right now are the RH chords in bars 49-53 and 143-146. Every time I speed it up at all, the whole thing becomes a mashup of wrong notes. My hands are small enough that reaching a ninth is a strain and a tenth impossible. These chords are very difficult for me and I'm looking for some advice on how to clean them up as I play faster.

Thanks much in advance!

Offline huaidongxi

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your studies and playing experience is at least 50 times mine, but you might benefit from considering how Alicia de Larrocha succeeded with small hands.  much of her preparation time was focused on choreographing and planning every hand/wrist/arm movement that presented physical hurdles, for every piece she performed.  she was so adept at splitting those big intervals and her use of pedal they were essentially undetectable.  your best recourse might be to find an instructor who knows the tricks of the trade for small hands in the advanced repertoire -- there are some who even do it via skype these days.  an instructor of that nature will have notes on all those frequently performed masterworks, or have worked out solutions on very similar problems.

Offline indianajo

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Beethoven was a big boned north German.  I'm not.  You're not either I guess. I have the bones of some very light boned short native American ancestors, not the blonde dutch looking guy I got my famiily name from.  Being small helps riding in coach airline seats, and there were things I could do as a mechanic the big guys couldn't.   
However, our teachers started us on Moonlight when we were 11, and we like to finish things, don't we.
Those measures 48-52 etc, are just octaves with a note in the middle.  I can just barely do a tenth on the edges of the white keys, and I can do those. If you can do a ninth I imagine you can do it.    Back the bench out.  Lean as necessary away from the the stretched hand to slant the arm out from the elbow and bring the thumb in to the front lip of the keys. Put finger 5 on the lip too. This slanted hand position pushes the index finger in towards the black keys, which you need.    Then practice very very slowly, and don't allow yourself to make mistakes.  The speed I practice is the speed of the worst measure in there, I don't speed up & slow down.  
You do have the hand drooping down from the elbow and the fingers curved naturally, don't you?  this is the position that causes the least pain, read a factory/office ergnomics textbook about typing if you don't believe me.  
When you get to stretches in the left hand, lean the other way to ease that one.  
I have the most trouble with the trills in measure 124 & 126 etc, and the left hand stretch in measures 49 and 109 etc were making my fingers hurt last night.  I haven't played it in 18 months, I'm going to have to slow down and pretend I'm 65 (which I am really).  
Best of luck.  My best speed is about 60% of Serkin's.  May you finish some day to your satisfaction.  

Offline huaidongxi

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correct me if you know better, but did the instruments in LvB's time have narrower keys, making those ninths just a bit easier to reach ?  he was still actively teaching when composed op.27 no.2 and probably hoped to hear some of his normal sized female students play it.

Offline pjjslp

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Those measures 48-52 etc, are just octaves with a note in the middle.  I can just barely do a tenth on the edges of the white keys, and I can do those. If you can do a ninth I imagine you can do it.    Back the bench out.  Lean as necessary away from the the stretched hand to slant the arm out from the elbow and bring the thumb in to the front lip of the keys. Put finger 5 on the lip too. This slanted hand position pushes the index finger in towards the black keys, which you need.    Then practice very very slowly, and don't allow yourself to make mistakes.  The speed I practice is the speed of the worst measure in there, I don't speed up & slow down.  
You do have the hand drooping down from the elbow and the fingers curved naturally, don't you?  this is the position that causes the least pain, read a factory/office ergnomics textbook about typing if you don't believe me.

Thank you, thank you! I think I was doing all of this except leaning away, and that definitely helps with hand positioning. Exactly the type of help I was looking for, truly appreciated. I was keeping my hand basically perpendicular to the keys and that was causing a lot of tension.

I actually have those big German bones, except in my hands. :P I am 5'9" with a medium build but have hands that are disproportionately small for my frame. How unfair, really! Two of my children have these beautiful long fingers, but only one has taken up piano. Ah, well. Thank you again!