One of the most intriguing topics in the study of piano technique that I’m excited to talk about for Piano Marvel users is how to play leaps rapidly, securely and without getting tired, especially in speed. Music is filled with fast-moving jumps of every size so handling leaps effectively is essential for a well-functioning technique.
A leap is made up of two notes: the one we are leaping from and the one we are leaping to. There are two types of leaps: legato leaps and staccato leaps. In both of these kinds of leaps, a common tendency is to barely play the first note and to stretch over to the second note. However, stretching is one of the main reasons for fatigue, tension and pain and also reduces speed, so it should be avoided.
Another common tendency is to detach from the first note of the leap and actively and intentionally move to the second note. This makes the movement bigger than necessary, slows down the leap, and often leads to inaccuracy and fatigue. Instead, there are motions that send us quickly and accurately from the first to the second note. In the case of a legato leap, a rotational motion combined with lateral hand and forearm motion take us from the first to the second note. The combination of rotation and lateral motion allows the fingers, hand and forearm to move quickly and accurately as a unit.
In the case of staccato leaps, the first note powerfully sends the finger, hand and forearm quickly across to the second note. Rather than moving oneself actively, the feeling is one of being automatically sent. The degree of staccato depends on the distance of the leap. If the distance is large, a shorter staccato is needed in order for the fingers, hand and forearm to be sent. If the distance is shorter, a less short staccato will suffice.
To minimize time and effort, it helps to not exaggerate the motion up but instead to move directly across to the second note. Adding rotation further expedites the speed and the amount of arm motion, all contributing to less effort, greater ease, security, consistency and speed. The result is that of security, consistency and the lack of need for endless practice.
In the Chopin Etude Opus 25 #3, which you can find in the Piano Marvel Music Library, the largest leaps in both hands go from the fifth finger on a single note going to an interval.
We clearly can’t reach this distance, because it is much bigger than the span of the hand. The most common tendency is for the fingers to pull away from the fifth finger which is the first note of the leap in order to reach the interval. Aside from stretching, this way of doing it is not fast enough. In contrast, after the fifth finger in the right hand rotates to the right and the fifth finger in the left hand rotates to the left, the fingers and forearms rotate back in the direction of the interval. These rotational movements are the way that the finger, hand and forearm, which are connected to each other, move us quickly across the keyboard, avoiding stretching, across large and small distances, with freedom, ease and security.
Other stretches in this etude involve the intervals going to the single notes in both hands. How do we overcome the stretch between the second and the fifth finger in the three-note slur in the left hand? Again, in this case, rotation comes to the rescue. There is a single rotation between the interval of the thumb and fourth finger going to the second finger, followed by a double rotation between the second and fifth finger, plus a staccato between the second and the fifth finger. From the fifth finger, there is another rotation back to the next interval.
Leaping with freedom and without tension or pain requires practice and dedication but can be accomplished through the techniques found in the Taubman Approach. I encourage you to dive into this piece and the extensive music selection that can be found in Piano Marvel’s library to practice these techniques mentioned above.
To incorporate and perfect the leaping techniques presented in this article, try using the "Minced" feature in the Piano Marvel Library to isolate and select the specific sections of Chopin's Etude Opus 25, No. 3 that contain the described leaps. This will allow you to play those sections repeatedly until you have mastered these techniques. To view the video version of this tutorial, please click here.
Edna Golandsky is a world-renowned piano pedagogue, the leading exponent of the Taubman Approach, and is the Founder of the Golandsky Institute.
A graduate of the Juilliard School, where she studied under Jane Carlson, Rosina Lhévinne, and Adele Marcus, Ms. Golandsky has earned worldwide acclaim for her pedagogical expertise, extraordinary ability to solve technical problems, and her penetrating musical insight.