Song Without Words: from Play It Again Piano

Aimed at returning pianists

Are you returning to piano after a break or perhaps looking for a set of pieces aimed to gradually build or rebuild your technique … this is my third instalment on  Melanie Spanswick’s Play It Again Piano Book 2 – today looking at the third piece she has chosen – one of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words (Op. 30 No. 3 in E Major).

To set the context, I started playing piano again after a 25+ year break and about 3 years ago decided to try to do some serious and regular practice.  I basically took the approach of either relearning things I remembered playing from before or trying to learn things I had heard on YouTube.

However, I decided that I should probably try to find something a little more structured.  I was always choosing pieces that were taking me a very long time to learn.  Whilst searching, I came across Play it again Piano by Melanie Spanswick.  Currently a series of 2 books, I’m reliably informed a third is on its way.  I bought Book 2.

This is now my third post on this book and looks, as you might have guessed, at the third piece. I invite you to readmy review of the first piece CPE Bach’s Solfeggietto  here and Beethoven’s Fur Elise (the second piece).

The Song without Words

It’s a lovely little piece that’s just 27 bars long.  It has a sweet 2 bar introduction followed by a beautiful chord based theme (which Melanie very aptly describes as reminiscent of a Hymn).  

As with all of the pieces, it has been chosen specifically to help the reader focus on one or more areas of piano technique.  For this piece, Melanie calls out two pieces of technique:

  • Chordal Playing
  • Lyricism

To these, I’d add ‘Smooth 2 handed Arpeggios’.

Chordal Playing

Let’s start with the Chordal Playing element.  The important area of focus is ‘Voicing’ .  Here, I don’t mean in the sense that jazz musicians talk about voicing.  In Jazz, this means which inversion or version of a chord you will use.  In Classical playing, it’s more specific to ensuring the melody line sings without being drowned by the four notes played simultaneously in the remainder of the chord.  

Melanie gives some great advice about how you can practice this element.

The second part is how to keep everything legato without reliance on the pedal.  This is very valuable exercise not least in finger independence – as you selectively move fingers around to hold on to as many notes as possible.  Melanie also gives some advice on the ‘illusion of legato’ – something that was totally new to me.  I’ve linked her blog post on this topic here for you as it’s an extra helpful tool to your piano playing.

This particular aspect of this piece was not massively difficult for me as I have a Salvation Army and Church background.  Playing Hymns was something I grew up doing from a very young age.  That said, when I specifically focussed on it, I have to admit that I could definitely spot plenty of weaknesses that needed some attention.  This is the real benefit of recording yourself.

Two handed arpeggios

For me, the major challenge with this piece was in fact the introduction (which repeats at the end).  This is basically 3, two handed arpeggios.  Luckily Melanie also calls these out with a whole set of practice suggestions on how to work on them.

An additional aspect that challenges me is to keep them smooth when going from one hand to the next. In Debussy’s first Arabesque there’s something similar in the introduction where an arpeggio-like figure passes from one hand to the other and back again.  Avoiding a ‘bump’ in the middle takes quite a bit of control.

So, whilst working on this section, I combined Melanie’s advice with some advice I’d seen from Graham Fitch in his Practicing Piano eBooks (which I highly recommend).  Graham’s advice was around the Arabesque but could be easily adapted to this situation.  He advised to focus on the transition between the two notes in different hands.

I also used Rhythm and staccato practice.  I have basically spent about 5 or so minutes per day just on these arpeggios.  In total, about 3 and a half hours just on this one aspect.  I’d say at the moment, I can get them OK 7 times out of 10 …. so still more work to do.  However, given that originally I was happy zero times out of 100 attempts it’s definite progress.

Third great choice

So, for the third time, a great choice of piece in Play it again Piano … well presented and with great practice advice.  So far, each piece delivered on helping me improve specific areas of my playing.

I’m already working on the next piece (the Berens Study) which I have to admit is given me lots of challenges … seems all the things I’m not particularly good at are in this little piece.  I’ll share my ideas on it in a week or two.

Play it again Piano is available on Amazon. Fantastic value for money.

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