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I'm working on a piano arrangement of an orchestral piece where there's three "lines"; chords going down, a melody staying in the same register, and another melody going up; the right hand taking care of the latter two. The span between those lines ends up reaching two and a half octaves at the widest (A4 to D7). So to perform this, a player needs to jump around.

sheet music sample

In my provisional version, I have the tempo as 33 BPM (in dotted quarter notes) which I would guess still works mechanically; the original orchestral version has a tempo closer to 47 BPM which I think doesn't.

Now, I understand that just marking this with the original tempo indication (Andante rubato) in words, without a number, is more than sufficient to let the player decide with what they are comfortable; this is an expressive part and a wide range of tempi should work, depending on the player's tastes. But, I'm uploading this to Musescore so I need to select a numeric playback tempo that I can be sure is achievable for most non-novice players.

So, how should I judge this? What's a reasonable top sideways speed of a player's hand? For comparison, here's my tempo followed by the orchestral tempo (marked as 50 and 70 BPM based on regular quarter notes, a bit awkward in hindsight): Musescore link

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  • Maybe the real question is "when arranging, at what point do I alter the material to make concessions to the limitations of the instrument." Should this just be a 4-hands arrangement? Apr 10, 2023 at 13:13
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    @AndyBonner There's a number of possible concessions besides slowing down, another one is to move the whole line down an octave. I feel more justified in choosing something like that if somebody can tell me that the idea as-is can't work at any ordinary tempo; I currently don't know that.
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 10, 2023 at 13:17
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    @ToddWilcox Yep, it's solo and already marked rubato, so theoretically a player can take five seconds to do the jump if they prefer :) I'm really looking for a rule-of-thumb, a way to judge performability, and to set the suggested playback speed accordingly.
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 10, 2023 at 14:39
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    Are your BPM based on eighth notes or dotted quarter notes?
    – Aaron
    Apr 10, 2023 at 15:30
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    I'm very late to this topic, but I ditto the comment about left hand. I think the rubato could work much more naturally that way -- the left hand chords are already arpeggiated so could be given some extra time such that the chords and the high note become in practice one arpeggiated chord, with right hand keeping stricter (albeit not strict) time. This also means only one consecutive large, fast jump, rather than two. You could also achieve an interesting effect with right hand only playing the highest notes, left hand playing the bass and most of the treble clef. Nov 13, 2023 at 19:19

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Note: The post is based on keeping a consistent pulse/rhythm throughout. Since the piece accommodates rubato, there is some wiggle room toward higher tempos. The degree of wiggle room depends on the degree of rubato the piece can accept.


Sight-reading this at dotted-quarter = 46 (eighth = 138), I was able to execute the leaps with reasonable accuracy and timing. With practice I see no problem at that speed, or certainly the lower suggested speed of d-q = 33.

Liszt's "La Campanella" includes similar leaps at a much higher tempo, though that would generally be considered a virtuoso-level piece.

For an advanced, but not virtuoso pianist, leaps of the sort in this piece could probably be handled up to about eighth-note = 160 (dotted-quarter = 53ish).

I would grade the given part of the score as "early advanced", for which the given max tempo of d-q = 46 is probably the limit, and slower would be fine.

For an intermediate level player, this is a very, very big ask, but for someone nearing advanced level, they could do it at one of the slower tempos.

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  • Very thorough answer and great feedback, thank you very much! This will help both with this piece and in general
    – KeizerHarm
    Apr 11, 2023 at 0:13

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