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The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915605 01/01/08 10:25 PM
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One of the most frequently asked questions here regards the measured LH tremolo that accompanies the main theme of Beethoven's "Pathetique" sonata.

So, here are my suggestions for tackling this infamous accompaniment:

First, the major joints need to be free of tension. This means the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Keep in mind that tension is cumulative, so I'd suggest practicing this section after you're warmed-up or have taken a short break, not after you've already been playing for an hour straight.

Try varying the height of your wrist and the height of the bench. Also, avoid extremes - your wrist should not be concave or overly convex (I prefer a slightly raised wrist.) Another interesting way to practice is to turn your bench and your body about 60 degrees to the right. This will keep your left elbow away from your body in a more natural position. Once you've got the hang of the passage in this position, it'll be easier to transfer that feeling to your regular position.

Visualize two things - imagine your left arm is a garden hose and that the sound is the water. For the sound to flow freely out of your hands, there can't be any kinks in the hose. As you practice, feel for those kinks and free them up when they happen.

One more bit of visualization that helps - imagine a light breeze passing through the crook of your elbow and through your armpit. Tension in those two joints spells disaster, so keep them well ventilated!

Practice on doorknobs and salt shakers. Every time you open a door, use your left hand and rattle the knob a bit. Every time you add salt to your food, sprinkle it on with your left hand.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915606 01/01/08 10:34 PM
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These are all really good suggestions. As an alternative, you could arrange to be left-handed like me. I can play octave tremolos all day with my left hand. Now my right hand is another story entirely.

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915607 01/01/08 10:35 PM
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"But Kreisler, that's BORING, I want to really play the piece!!!"

Okay fine, try these exercises. The key is to keep it nice and light. Don't make it happen; let it happen.

Exercise 1 - Burst Practice

This works well for anything that has running sixteenth notes. Passagework in Mozart concerti, the LH of the Revolutionary Etude, and the Pathetique:

[Linked Image]

The dotted 16ths in the LH should have a light relaxed bounce to them. This will help you build points of relaxation into the passage.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915608 01/01/08 10:39 PM
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Exercise 2 - Triplets

Often the problem with the tremolo is that the 5th finger is underdeveloped and the thumb is too clunky. As a result, the hand is off balance and favors the thumb side, creating a sound that's too loud and a feeling that hinders speed.

Practicing in triplets can help! Again, keep it light and gently throw the hand to the left as it rotates toward the 5th finger (we're talking millimeters here, don't overdo it - it's more a feeling than an actual motion.) When the hand rotates to the thumb side, feel for a slight throw - it's like following through in a baseball swing. You have to finish the motion and keep it round. Stay fluid, don't jerk your wrist back and forth!

[Linked Image]


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915609 01/01/08 10:44 PM
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Exercise 3 - Accents

In this exercise, I suggest accenting the lower C slightly. This will keep the hand weighted more evenly and give you a better sound. The key here is to keep that thumb light:

[Linked Image]

For another little trick, stop every now and then and squeeze the muscle between your LH thumb and 1st finger with your right hand. That muscle is the largest single muscle in your hand, and when it tenses up, your whole hand loses flexibility. Take a break and massage that muscle every now and then.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915610 01/01/08 10:48 PM
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Exercise 4 - One Less Accent

Once you've got the hang of exercise 3, try halving the number of accents, putting them only on the strong beats. One bit of advice that many advanced pianists go by is to let your ear guide the technique. Listen for that low C, and your hand will find a way to make it happen. If you don't listen for it, the thumb will take advantage of you and butt in. Keep your ear on finger 5 and let it guide you through the passage. (But keep it light - a tense 5th finger is dangerous too!)

[Linked Image]

Finally, try all of the above exercises with a 5th or 6th in the LH instead of an octave. It might sound strange, but it'll help you find the right motions and make it all feel more comfortable. It'll make your practicing feel like less of a struggle, and the technique will transfer to the octave quite easily.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915611 01/01/08 10:56 PM
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And finally, some general advice:

Practice for comfort, not speed. It's 100 times easier to make a comfortable passage faster than it is to make a fast passage more comfortable.

This is a physical skill. GI Joe's maxim does not apply. Knowing is not half the battle. Patient and consistent implementation of knowledge wins this war.

There are no shortcuts. Stop looking for them. Concern yourself with two things - the sound you want and physical comfort. Enjoy the journey and you WILL get there!


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915612 01/01/08 10:59 PM
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Okay...let's hear from everyone else, too.

Are you an advanced pianist? How did you conquer the LH? Are you a beginner? What works best for you?


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915613 01/01/08 11:00 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by Kreisler:
It's 100 times easier to make a comfortable passage faster than it is to make a fast passage more comfortable.
So, so true! thumb


Du holde Kunst...
Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915614 01/01/08 11:48 PM
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Hi Kreisler:

Your exercises inspired me to go to the bookshelf and look for Ruch Slenczynska, Music at Your Fingertips, which I haven't looked at in years. Great way to strengthen the fingers and get rid of accents. Thanks!


Baldwin SF-10 320152, Marshall & Wendell, Steinway B
Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915615 01/02/08 01:57 AM
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This is awesome!!! Thanks!


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915616 01/03/08 01:29 PM
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Do you think that a lighter action makes the tremolos easier? When I played this work about 50 years ago, I don't remember having tremolo problems but my piano had a very light action. Or maybe I really did have problems but it's been too long to remember them!

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915617 01/03/08 05:56 PM
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Kreisler - excellent posts and suggestions. Much of this applies to Alberti bass patterns and miserable Haydn accompaniments as well.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA
Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915618 01/04/08 01:39 AM
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Thanks for these excellent exercises. Your visualization suggestions are particularly helpful.

Once I got the tremelo technique down and was working toward getting the LH tremelo up to speed, my teacher recommended that I neither rest my LH fingers on the octave keys, nor raise my fingers off the octave keys. Rather, the trick to speed was to keep my the fingers "almost" on the keys at all times, lifting them not more than a few centimeters. It really improved my speed.

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915619 01/04/08 08:38 AM
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You request advice form other pianists. I am an Advanced player.

It may sound trite but the way I eventually conquered the left hand tremeloes was to play many times over the boogie woogie pattern. I know it may sound terrible to you classicians but by marching up and down with those octaves and working the C,F and G chords in the right helped me. This is an example of how experimenting and messing around can widen the scope of your playing. I've been playing Pathetique on and off since I was 12. I feel absolute zero stiffnesss in the shoulders, wrists and finger joints. I love the tremeloes. They are a holiday for me even with no pedaling.

Admittedly playing them on a digital is easier than on a heavy action acoustic. But I also can play on acoustics strongly and without tiring. If you do a lot of that pinkie to thumb walking you develop a strong little finger. My little finger is very powerful from playing of many other pieces with a rythymic base pattern such as the Rondo Al Turca by Mozart. Check out that piece as it has a really excellent octave run in the bass. Also try and play Finlandia the piano score by Sibelius. That also has a lot of nice left hand tremeloes and will build you up. Practice those and you may return to Pathetique armed with more confidence.


It don't mean a ting if it don't have dat swing
Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915620 01/07/08 06:48 AM
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actually my solution is very simple
just cut down on the amount of unnecessary motion (means, do NOT do a lot of very pronounced pronation and supination). The less your hand moves, the less energy you waste, and the more effortlessly you can play.
if you think the tremolando of the pathetique sonata is difficult, try the piano part of the kreutzer sonata or the 2nd ballade by liszt... pages and pages of that stuff

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915621 01/12/08 09:58 PM
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I'm a new member here ... bit more time on my heands these days, so thought I would browse some of the piano related sites.

After reading ALL the above ... I'm in a state of shock ... although I guess I shouldn't be surprised ... I have known for several decades how IGNORANT just about ALL pianists and teachers are regarding BASIC technique.

If I have time in the next day or so ... I'll respond at some length ... although it may be a week before I get to it ... we'll see

HOWEVER ... just to summarize ... I have NEVER read such RUBBISH in my entire life ... MOST if not ALL of the above will not in ANY WAY assist you ...

In fact ... MOST of the above is guaranteed to cause INJURY

NOT ONE of the above contributors have even a BASIC understanding of piano technique

Sorry ... sad tale but true

Ian Mac

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915622 01/12/08 10:15 PM
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cool, i hope to hear what you'd say soon! i don't play this yet, but am always curious about techniques someone would describe.

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915623 01/12/08 11:48 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by Mac777:
HUAH
Awesome, we'll wait for that expert commentary.

Thread contribution:

For my hands, I find a dropping motion to be helpful in maintaining freedom. A fluid, continuous up-down motion at the rate of one "drop" per bar keeps the thumb relaxed. Tension comes from being locked in the same position for an extended period of time. If you "hit the ground running" on the first beat of each bar there's a little more flexibility as opposed to trying to control it too much. Someone earlier mentioned the Kreutzer Sonata - yes, it's the same issue there as well. I found those passages very challenging until I started experimenting with dropping within a wrist motion.

The same principle can be applied to most technical issues: the octaves in Petrushka, Chopin's Thirds Etude, etc. Of course, the REAL issue is evening out tone quality and making sure that the drop doesn't produce an accent.

Re: The Left Hand of the Pathetique
#915624 01/13/08 01:14 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by Mac777:


In fact ... MOST of the above is guaranteed to cause INJURY

NOT ONE of the above contributors have even a BASIC understanding of piano technique

So practicing in different rhythms and relaxing your body is guaranteed to cause injury?? Funny, I've never heard that one before.

Also:

When I played this piece, I did what Brendan suggested and started the tremolo flat and grouped upward every measure.


Houston, Texas
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