Penelope Roskell - Ask me anything about “The Pillars of Piano Technique”

One of the most popular courses on tonebase is Penelope Roskell’s “Pillars of Piano Technique”. We encourage you to check out these lessons! If you have questions about the courses or about technique in general, please ask Penelope!

 

“The Pillars of Piano Technique”

 

(Excerpt)

 

 

How to participate

  • Ask your questions until Friday December 10th
  • Penelope will answer questions by December 17th
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  • Hello

     

    How fur an adult pianist to decide how far out from keyboard to sit? Does  that vary according to specific repertoire demands? For example, I’m playing a tango piece with rapid percussive octaves in both hands separately or at same time, sometimes spread 3-4 octaves apart. Very different than Bach Partita! Thank you. 

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    • Emogene Bedrosian I use the same sitting position for all kinds of repertoire.  One useful guide that some teachers use to determine distance is to touch the fallboard with the back of your hand and keep your arm straight.  That will show you where to position the seat. However, I prefer to sit a couple of centimeters further back, as it allows me to have more space to move freely around the whole keyboard.  

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    • Penelope Roskell thank you.

      I’ll try checking distance as suggested 

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    • Will
    • Will
    • 1 mth ago
    • Reported - view

    I've played many of Chopin's etudes, but there are a few that really escape me. For op. 25 no. 6, when I try to play it fast, the notes of the thirds don't exactly line up. For op. 10 no. 1, everything feels very smooth up until the wide A major Arpeggio (A-E-A-C#), where everything goes badly. I have wrist twisting (ulnar/radial deviation), and even when I remove the twisting, can't play the passage much faster than 125 BPM. My hands are decently sized, so I can play a 10th on white keys but not this 10. The problem. I have a short pinky, and a long 4th finger and thumb, which seem like they are making the passage more difficult. I'm not interested in learning alternate fingerings, as I do not intend to perform this etude. I'd be interested in hearing your approach to these specific problems, as well as general thoughts on these pieces. Also, do you have advice for practicing a piece where bad technical habits are already engrained (a situation I try to avoid)? 

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    • Will Very few pianists indeed feel comfortable playing all of the Etudes.  I know several great virtuosi who have still struggled with some of them.  The problem with many of these etudes is that, if you find the technique challenging in the first section, then by the end you will really be struggling!  The important thing is to get really comfortable with the technique in a short section - then the rest will flow naturally. Op 25 No 6 is challenging, and if the thirds are note synchronizing well, it might not be the time to pursue it.  Maybe better to move on to something else for the time being?  You are lucky to have large hands.  I am not sure why you are not interested in looking at alternative fingerings, though, for Op 10 No 1?  For that bar, I like to take the first semiquaver in the LH then, in the RH, 1242 1242 etc.  That completely takes away the stretch.  By the way, you do not have to play this piece fully legato.  At an allegro tempo, nobody notices if you slide off some notes (in this case the second finger) and just move quickly to the new hand position.  

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    • langpark
    • langpark
    • 1 mth ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi, how would you teach kids whose nail-skin connecting parts are over their fingertips, ie. the shortest point they can cut their nails is passed their fingertips?  Thus, when they play the keyboard, it's their fingernails that would touch the keyboard first.  So, they can't really play piano with their fingertips.  They can only play with flat fingers.  Just to give you an idea of how they play, they basically have to play with nail sounds all the time with their best fingertip position. Thanks in advance!

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    • langpark It's not necessary to play completely on the fingertips. The hand is in its most natural position when playing rather more on the fingerpad - and this position also generally produces a more cantabile sound.  Of course the fingers shouldn't be completely flat either!

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  • Dear Penelope!

    How do you sequencing technique with a young beginner (7-9 yo)

    and what is your lesson routine for technique? Thank you so much!

    oksana

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    • Oksana Reedy I will just summarise some ideas here, as I am currently writing some books which do precisely that -  sequencing technique for young beginners.  The books will be published by Peters Edition in March 2023. 

      I start with non-legato on black notes, then move towards the white-note keys.  I avoid playing too many pieces around the middle C area, as this causes muscles to tense up. Instead I use exercises and pieces that cover the whole keyboard.  I also prefer to teach a light detached touch before introducing legato.

      I think that most methods introduce chords and hands together too early.  It's better to develop good hand position and freedom of movement in each hand before adding the extra complexity of playing hands together.  Some strengthening exercises for the intrinsic hand muscles can be very helpful.  But most importantly, try to keep technique fun and musically-focused!. I can send you details of the books when they are published, if you would like to send me your email address?

      Like 1
    • Oksana Reedy Penelope Roskell 

      Thank you so much! It’s hard to structure a progress without a method book, but they all around middle C. 

      [email protected]

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    • Penelope Roskell I would also be interested! My email: [email protected] Thank you!

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    • Oksana Reedy I agree!  These books have been hugely challenging (but fun) to write, as I am trying to change a lot of historical entrenched traditions.  If you like, I'll add your email to my mailing list so that you are notified when they come out.   

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    • Andrea Buckland OK!

      Like 1
    • Penelope Roskell 

      Yes, please!

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  • Don't know how to start a  new thread, but I would be interested in your thoughts on how best to learn the proper techniques of voicing. Thank you.

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    • Ron G. Franklin This is an important aspect of technique - but one that pianists only usually master when they reach quite an advanced level.  Good finger independence is required but also the ability to rest the weight on the fingers which are playing the main voice (usually the outer fingers) while keeping the other fingers light. It can help to swivel the wrist outwards slightly so that the fifth finger is in line with the forearm.  This gives more weight to those notes. (Conversely, if you want more weight on the thumb, swivel the wrist inwards to align the thumb with the arm).

      Not knowing what level of pianist you are, I wouldn't want to suggest specific exercises.  Do you have a copy of my book The Complete Pianist?  There are several chapters on voicing, with exercises at different levels as well as  videos.   

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    • Roy
    • Royhj
    • 1 mth ago
    • Reported - view

    Hello Penelope, 

    Working on the chromatic scale, I've hit a maximum speed at which I'm having difficulties with my left hand, especially going down, where there are two consecutive white keys, e.g. G-Gb-F-E-Eb fingers 1-3-1-2-3-1. With the 2 finger (here, going to E) feeling like the problem at speed.

    I'm currently comfortable playing 16th at 110 bpm, above getting sluggish with the LH. 

    I've been trying the grouping workout quite a bit, targeting a different end note from the sequence, playing staccato, repeating notes twice with the previous still down, and emphasizing a different single note every time going through.

    Would appreciate tips how to work on LH speed.

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    • Roy In what way is the second finger a problem?  I think I would have to see you in action to be able to answer this.  Tonebase have asked me to do a live Q&A sometime soon.  Perhaps you could submit your question then, and I could watch you demonstrate it on the screen.

      Like
  • Hi, First, let me say I enjoy your videos. Here is my question. What is the best way to practice alternating hands for notes, chords, and octaves for clarity and speed. I thinking specifically of the passages in The Market Place at Limoges and The Hut of Baba Yaga from Pictures at an Exhibition.  

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    • Michael Filak Thank you.  When alternating hands, there are two main challenges.  Firstly, you need to have really good coordination - to establish a rhythm that goes by itself.  How good are you at drumming on a table?  Practise that until you can do it at speed comfortably, rhythmically and at speed.  In both these passages the hands are pitched very near to each other.  To keep them from feeling too tangled up, I suggest you keep one hand and wrist quite low and the other quite high and nearer to the fallboard.  In that way you will have plenty of space between the hands.

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    • Joao Pio Pedreira
    • Developer web+mobile, tech entrepreneur
    • Joao_Pio_Pedreira
    • 1 mth ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi Penelope, I'm studying Chopin's nocturne n. 20 and struggling a little with the fast scales at the end, namely the long scale below. I'm trying many approaches (rhythms, slow/fast, etc) and I'm definitely getting there (it's alright about 90% of the time). But maybe I'm missing something?
     

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    • Joao Pio Pedreira It's difficult to say without seeing you play, but I suspect that you are working your fingers too hard and pressing too much into the keys.  Keep your arm very light so the fingers feel as though they are almost floating on the keys.  Think of this passage as a flowing sideways movement of the arm, rather than fast finger action. Start by playing 5 or 6 notes at speed, being very aware of the light, flowing arm movement.  Then add more notes, one at a time.  The longer the phrase, the more the arm has to lead, taking the fingers into position.   

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  • Hi Penelope! Your Pillars of Piano Technique classes have really transformed how I approach the piano -- thank you so much. 

     

    My question is about playing different dynamics simultaneously on different fingers. Examples are Beethoven's Pathetique Mvt. 2 or Schubert's Impromptu 90.3, where the primary melody is played with the pinky. I imagine this really shows up for Bach 3-voice pieces also. 

    What are your tips and suggestions on distributing dynamics to different fingers? Especially when I want to add more color to small details of the piece (such as where I still want the soprano dominant, but something special is happening in the alto line that I also want to showcase)? 

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    • Khoa Phan Howard I am pleased to hear that my videos have helped you. I am not sure whether you can see this whole thread, but I already discussed some aspects of voicing in my reply to Ron Franklin above.  The Pathetique and the Schubert are both excellent example of voicing - in fact I used both these examples to demonstrate voicing in The Complete Pianist!  For the Schubert, it's important to separate out the two actions.  Play the first note with the Parachute touch, to give it a cantabile sound.  Pause a moment while you twiddle your other fingers very lightly in the air.  Perhaps 'shadow' the notes on the keys.  Then play those notes with a very light finger touch. 

      If you separate out the two elements in this way, you will train your fingers and arms to naturally respond to the sounds in your inner ear and soon find yourself voicing passages very naturally. 

      When you want to also emphasize some alto notes, for instance, you may need to play the fingers more energetically for those notes (perhaps even lifting the finger a little before playing the note to give it added emphasis NB this is not a technique I advise to use regularly for other passages).

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  • Over the years I’ve mostly avoided works with rapid octave passages. However, during the pandemic, decided to embarque on more serious study habits!  Things that I never had time for due to work schedule.  (I’m a concert technician in Brazil) I’ve worked with most international artists and have observed closely how they play. Só having free time allowed me to calmly work on technique, principally Chopin etudes.  My question is…… in certain passage work, like the end of Liszt Sonata, or Chopin G minor ballade, where octaves are fingered , 3,4, and 5, I have managed to get quite a bit of speed.  But in earlier sections of Liszt sonata, where octaves jump, is there a specific practice technique generally accepted, which allows high speed jumping octaves?  Hand and wrist positions which are”always “ used in preparing and playing! 

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