Issue 120: Elephants and kangaroos – the tricky bits

No, nothing to do with “Carnival of the Animals”, but that’s probably why I chose these animals to teach some tricky moments in a Grade 2 piano piece.

The problems started in bar 3 and continued into bar 4:

Exceprt from Attwood Sonatina in C

In bar 3, she couldn’t coordinate the two right-hand crotchet Cs with the left hand, playing C E instead of C C. That meant that the second half of the bar was doomed. In bar 4, the combination of the grace-note and the left hand change of position was causing a complete brain malfunction, and all rhythm, fingering and note accuracy was scattered to the winds.

So, we started with the first problem; the two right hand Cs and the matching left hand quavers. I called this section “Elephant” (I have no idea why) and we worked on learning to play just that little bit. When that was secure, we moved on to the next two beats, which I called “Hippo” (what is happening in my subconscious? Probably better not to think about it). Anyway, the “huge problem bar” was transformed into simply playing “Elephant” and then “Hippo”, which for some reason appeared to be much easier than playing the notes on the stave.

I labelled bar 4 “Kangaroo”, because it “jumps”, firstly with the grace note hopping in before the beat, and secondly with the left hand leaping into the bass clef. This simplified itself into “play the grace note while you move your left hand, and then plonk the RH pointy-finger onto D and LH pinky onto G at the same time”. Easier to do it than to say it.

Once we had done this in slow motion a couple of times, she was able to start at the beginning, deal with “Elephant”, “Hippo” and “Kangaroo” and continue without a hitch. To begin with I would mutter “here comes the elephant” just as she approached the crucial bar, and that would be enough warning for her to organise her fingers and brain in time.

Later in the piece, the “Kangaroo” bar appears again, but it is well worth doing the suggested altered fingering for the LH; 4121 instead of 5131. I merely called this bar “Wallaby”, because it is similar to a kangaroo, and she sailed through.

I have often found that “labelling” a chord, or a passage, seems to help with the learning process. Why? Magic? Pixie dust? Anyhow, it works.



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