02 October 2012
When you watch John Maul's video lessons online he shares two clever and important tricks of the trade with us – <strong>finger pedalling</strong> and <strong>finger substitution</strong>. You can find examples of finger pedalling and finger substitution in John’s composition Theme for Constanze on page 32 of the current Pianist 68 (and indeed in all the pieces inside the Scores). So read what John has to say here, then start learning – with the help of his online video lessons of course!
When we are taught the piano, we hold on to a key for as long as the composer asks, and then release it when we move on to the next. Finger pedalling is a technique in which you can actually hold the notes down longer then their written value. This is a very useful technique for creating a richer sounding chordal or alberti bass accompaniment without relying too much on the sustain pedal.
- Refer to my Theme for Constanze (page 32, Scores Pianist 68).
- The first 8 bars in the left hand (LH) feature a typical arpeggiated accompaniment. It should be played very smoothly with a little emphasis on the root notes.
- You can do this by holding them down for a longer length.
- If I were to play this section without pedal, and with exact quaver length notes, it would sound quite dry. However, if I were to play using a finger pedal technique, still without the pedal, it sounds more smooth and sonorous. [Watch John’s video lesson where you can see his hands really do the demonstrating.]
Why use such a technique when the sustain pedal would achieve something similar? We also have to consider the right hand (RH) melody. Bar 2 for example has the two semiquavers played a semitone apart. There’s a danger that too much pedalling would make these notes muddy. This finger pedalling technique helps us compensate for that by using less sustain pedal. The next section from bar 9, forces us to be more reliant on the pedal however seeing as the LH accompaniment covers a wider range and therefore requires us to let go of certain notes. Those same semiquaver melody notes may require you to lift the sustain pedal at that point for the sake of clarity. At the very least, be aware of the dangers. From Bar 17, the LH can again hold down the root notes but from bar 25, we’re faced with the same challenge as before where a wider range accompaniment means letting go of certain notes. Give it a try.
Finger substitution is a technique use on all types of instruments. It is used when you want to create a connecting, flowing legato. The simplest type of finger substitition is when a finger replaces another finger during a rest; the more difficult type is to replace one finger with another while a note is being played. The latter is what I’ll discuss here.
- Again, look at my Theme for Constanze (page 32, Pianist 68).
- At bar 17 there’s quite a big octave stretch in the RH from the lower quaver D to the top crotchet D, and for many pianists, using the thumb followed by the 5th finger would be the obvious choice. The only problem here is that this next note is the E above, and this is tricky to play legato as the E also needs to use the 5th finger.
- So here’s the trick – it’s a trick that classical organists like to use all the time seeing they don’t have sustain pedals. I will go ahead and play the top D with my RH little finger, but then I swap (‘substitute’) fingers – without making a noise – to the 4th finger, keeping the key held down throughout.
- This is a technique that takes some getting used to at first. It’s very important to use only the bare minimum weight required to hold down the key. Otherwise your hand may tense up. The more you learn how to use play this way, the less dependent you become on using the sustain pedal for legato. You will find many places within all types of piano repertoire where a little help of finger substitution can do a lot of good. John Maul