The Play-Place-Play Method to Conquor Large Leaps

This problem of notes at a great distance from each other usually are first encountered when Chopin waltzes and preludes come under study (lower advanced level). Not only that, during the learning process, the student is unlikely exactly where the notes are on the keyboard while the eyes track the printed music to see what is played next.

For purposes of discussion here, please allow me to use the shorthand slang I use with my students: boom and chick. "Boom" is the low note, usually found in lower third of the keyboard, and "chick" is the note/chord located in the middle portion of the keyboard. Thus, a waltz or a prelude in triple meter (such as Chopin's famous one in A Major, Op. 28 #7), is boom-chick-chick. Pieces in duple meter a boom-chick (or boom-chick-boom-chick) or, less commonly, boom-chick-chick-chick. This is one of the most prickly problems students encounter, and they need specific practice techniques immediately. Do not assume the student will learn the "booms" and "chicks" as easily as the rest of the notes. Of course, the notes themselves are known, but the student will need geography help.

Hands-separately practice is the first step, as always.

Here are some other ideas to explore. Some will work on some students but not others, however, the play-place-play technique works for almost everyone. I advise you to try the easier methods first.

The most obvious solution is to memorize the notes as the piece is learned so the student can look at the keyboard as often as is necessary to locate the next "boom" or whatever jump note is needed. This memory should be done while learning the notes, not afterwards.

Another is to approach this problem is to look at the keyboard quickly to locate the low note. (This "boom" falls after a note/chord in the middle of the keyboard, since if the piece began with the low note, the hand would be placed there before beginning to play.)

You can see immediately that peeking at the keyboard puts at risk the keeping track of the printed page.

By far, the most effective technique, I have found, is the "play-place-play" method.

Of course, right after the "chick," there is liable to be a new "boom." If so, address it in the same way. Work each place-place-play separately. Don't try to do two as a unit.

You may find it helpful to work with the student during the lesson with each of place-place-play problems, assigning hands apart and previously-learned place-place-play sequences for the coming week. When you are confident the student can carry out the place-place-play practice technique, putting similar figurations out-of-bounds will not be necessary.

Note that further increased speed will happen naturally in the entire piece as the student gains control over this problem spot in the music. Reassure the student this is true.

As regards the looking back to the page and finding the proper place on it, if this is needed, allow the student to move his eyes back to the page with no comment. If no red dot has been placed on the destination, try this. If further assistance is called for, expand "place-place-play" to "place-place-play-look," where "play-look" eventually are reduced to half-values, also.

Using the "place-place-play" technique is time-consuming and requires patience not to jump ahead, but it is effective. Once a student sees that a practice technique is successful, he is willing (not thrilled!) to use it for similar appearances in the same piece or in another piece because he has seen it work at the lesson.

copyright 2006, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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