Today’s lesson is piece no.12 in the '40 Easy to Early Intermediate Pieces' anthology, and comes from a dance manual. As in all dance pieces, rhythmic security and stability is very important, and can be difficult to maintain through the various left-hand shifts and changes of texture. The big chords in particular can disrupt the pulse. The temptation is always to spread big chords before the beat, so the treble note arrives on the beat. It may be much more effective to spread FROM the beat, so the bass note lands on the beat, and the rest of the chord is spread through the duration of the beat. Be sure to give enough emphasis to the melody note if you choose this way of spreading, otherwise the melody will appear to falter at those chords. Avoid the temptation to spread every chord; this will rob the piece of the crispness required in the dance. Another danger point is that long notes and dotted notes can be rushed because they can appear improbably long at slow practice speeds. If your rhythm is unstable try playing to a metronome (or a metronome app on your phone or computer); to start set the speed to one which is comfortable for the whole piece. If this is very slow, so much the better since the discipline of playing to a slow click is very useful.
The piece is already fairly fully fingered for both hands, but there are options for the left hand shifts, so one of the first decisions is to choose a fingering for each of the passages where a shift is necessary. Stumbles during performance are often because of failure to decide on a fingering and stick to it. Write it in – in pencil but bold enough to read without uncertainty at music stand distance – you can always change it if you find that after a fair trial it is not working well for you. In general where there is a choice it is best to place shifts after notes on weak beats rather than after strong notes; they will be less audible that way. Even if you choose to modify some of the suggested fingerings, the left hand little finger is going to be busy in this piece, and it needs to be very accurately placed wherever it lands. Be sure to keep it relaxed and curved, poised ready for immediate action when it is not actively stopping a note; be careful that it doesn’t stiffen and stick out straight. It should also land tidily right behind its fret; if you land further from the fret you will have to press harder to get a clean note, which can be very tiring for the little finger.
For the right hand, the challenges include negotiating the different textures with sufficient clarity; a common problem is losing the middle notes in 3- and 4-part chords. If you think this is happening, try playing each of these chords slowly and deliberately, out of context, and listen carefully to their constituent notes. Then play the chord without spreading it and listen out for all of the individual notes you have just played. If one is inadequately present, you will need more string contact from the relevant finger. Note that the number of notes in a chord is not always in direct proportion to its importance in a phrase; sometimes you will want to play a 2-note chord quite strongly, sometimes you may feel that a 3- or 4-note chord needs only a light touch. Learning to introduce this sort of ‘light and shade’ will result in a significantly more interesting piece.
Once you have the technical issues under control, gradually increase the speed but be sure to maintain your chosen speed throughout the piece. Consider the phrasing; the phrases are not all the same length, some being 2 bars, others being 4 bars. Try to vary the dynamic so that, for example, bars 3 and 4 are not simply a repeat of bars 1 and 2. You might choose to play them more loudly as a reinforcement of the original statement, or more softly as an echo, and/or consider adding some simple ornamentation.