5 top tips for fluency


By Melanie Spanswick


Melanie Spanswick, at Steinway Hall, London (© Erica Worth)

Creating even passages, devoid of lumps, bumps, and rhythmic jerkiness, can be a demanding challenge. How can we practice fruitfully, encouraging fingers to work optimally?

Here are a few ideas:


1. Locate a suitable passage in one of your current pieces

Aim to find a faster section or a phrase, in one hand or the other, but preferably not in unison. The passage might contain semi or demisemiquavers, it could be a scalic passage, arpeggio figure, or it might be an awkwardly placed groups of notes with fingering requiring a turn of the hand.


2. Play the passage and listen carefully to the notes, and pay attention to the fingers as they play the notes

Notice which fingers sound ‘weaker’, or where are you possibly ‘skating’ or ‘skimming’ over notes or note patterns, or perhaps they are rhythmically uneven, and therefore not sounding with clarity. Make sure you are using optimal fingering for this note pattern, and always try to tackle groups of notes by staying ‘in position’ as much as possible. By that I mean so that you are not constantly turning the hand, or relying solely on fingers 1, 2 & 3. If you can cultivate using the fourth and fifth finger efficiently, you will add another dimension to your hand!


3. Once you’ve re-fingered your passage and you’re happy with it, focus on the notes which are still precluding evenness

These are often caused by the fourth and fifth finger. Play slowly and add accents or tenuto markings to those notes. On playing the particular section, work at sounding notes which you consider to be ‘weaker’, or those which you were previously ‘skating’ over, with full power and plenty of tone and sonority; it can help to play on the tips of the fingers here. Ensure that the pattern is played very rhythmically, too. When playing powerfully, try to use fingers in conjunction with the arm, hand and wrist, so that you are fully supporting your fingers, avoiding possible injury.


4. Now play those ‘weaker’ notes with a deep staccato touch

Then play the passage at full power with all notes sounding optimally, and hopefully, evenly.


5. Finally, play your passage swiftly and lightly

When you lighten your touch, the tricky corners, those which were previously being skimmed over, should now feel comfortable and even. If not, work at them for a few minutes during every practice session, and eventually you will find they become easier to negotiate and the passage will hopefully be more rhythmical, too.