Melanie Spanswick answers your questions every Tuesday.
Welcome to Q&A Tuesday with Melanie Spanswick! This is a brand-new series in which pianist, author, teacher and composer Melanie will tackle all your burning questions every Tuesday.
Our sixth question comes from Instagram. @chgarciacastillo asks:
How do you practise the coordination between an accompaniment pattern and a trill?
This requires careful preparation to achieve thorough coordination. Start by practising the accompaniment. Let's assume it's an Alberti Bass (played by the left-hand), that is, usually a quaver or semiquaver pattern built on a chord or triad. Take a bar at a time and block out each pattern, so that you are playing every crotchet beat (if the Alberti Bass is in semiquavers) altogether as a chord. I find it helpful to play an entire left-hand accompaniment in this manner. Now practise as written, using a very deep touch, that is, play each note heavily into the keys using your fingertips. Keep your wrist and hand loose and relaxed as you do this. Slow speeds are best at first. Now lighten your touch and add speed. Keep the upper notes lighter (those usually played by the thumb), and focus on adding colour to the lower notes in the left-hand pattern. You should find that your semiquavers are now more even and rhythmical; this will be imperative as the trill needs to be played against a rhythmical accompaniment.
Take a look at our Piano masterclass on trills below. This masterclass compliments a full-length article, "Improving Your Trill Technique" inside Pianist issue 75.
Turning to the trill. Let's assume that the ornament is spread over a crotchet beat with four semiquavers in the left hand, as is typical in much Classical music (Mozart, Haydn etc.). The actual trill will probably consist of eight demisemiquavers; ensure a suitable note pattern (usually starting on the upper note for Baroque or Classical styles). It's crucial to be comfortable with your chosen fingering, so work this out before practice begins, and practise the right-hand trill alone without the accompaniment.
Play all notes in the trill pattern very slowly. Use a deep touch and add various accents on each note. Start with an accent on the first note (repeat this a few times), then one on the second, and third, and so on. Decide which of your fingers is the weaker (we generally have a 'weaker' finger when playing trills). Apportion extra attention to this finger by sounding the note clearly. To do this, you could add more accents, a very deep touch and aim to nuance with a slight tenuto too. When you are happy with how the trill sounds slowly (it should hopefully be very rhythmical) lighten your touch and increase the speed.
Here are some crucial tips for when you are ready to practise hands together:
1. Work at extremely slow tempos so that you can listen and coordinate note patterns effectively.
2. Count every semiquaver out loud to ensure accurate rhythm.
3. Your speed can be raised once you feel your fingers are stronger and more confident.
4. You may need to keep a firm awareness of the left-hand semiquavers during the trill; you could add an accent on beat 1 and 3 of the Alberti Bass, just to help keep the trill in check.
Join us next Tuesday for question 7.
Have you got a question you’d like to ask? Contact Ellie at firstname.lastname@example.org.