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So I am composing a piece for a competition, and it has a strict criteria about the song being playable. I am looking for reviews for a section in my piece for playability.

The piano part , 16th notes repeating both hands playing and at 140 bpm : quarter note, 4/4 time signature, same for the violin part

Will it be playable ? If not, how could I change it to have the same effect ?

Thanks !

enter image description here This is the piano part , 16th notes repeating both hands playing and at 140 bpm : quarter note

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    I’m commenting instead of answering because I’m not a technically skilled pianist. Keep in mind that certain instruments can play rapid repeated notes fairly effortlessly. Piano is not one of them. It can be done but repeated notes require more advanced techniques to accomplish. Also, the word, “professional” does not guarantee a very specific level of ability. Whatever the pianist is doing with the other hand may be relevant so you should edit and include the bass clef of the passage as well. Dec 3, 2023 at 19:58
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    I’m voting to close this question because this type of discussion better fits "The Auditorium" chat room rather than as a Q&A on the main site.
    – Aaron
    Dec 3, 2023 at 20:22
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    @DevJ Well, ironically, repeated notes are no problem for the violin. You could swap the parts and it would be not terribly challenging for either instrument. Dec 3, 2023 at 23:23
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    @DevJ If that is all a pianist had to do with both hands then it wouldn’t be impossible but not easy either. There could potentially be a limit to how fast the actual keyboard can respond though. As for other instruments, orchestral strings can play very fast repeated notes as can fretted instruments, percussionists and even some wind and brass instruments. Dec 4, 2023 at 3:31
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    "strict criteria about the song being playable" - In my experience, if you have to ask whether something is playable, then the best thing for you to do is make it easier. The only time musicians or audiences complain about music being too easy is when it's also music they don't like. Dec 4, 2023 at 5:29

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Your score calls for 9.33 repeated notes per second (140 x 4 / 60).

With piano, you have one additional problem: fast repeated notes are lot harder to execute in upright pianos due to the inherent limitation of the hammer actions (also possibly in some digital pianos / keyboards) unless the manufacturer designs the action to facilitate repetition (such as Sauter R2 Double Repetition System used in their upright models such as this one). Comments from @ToddWilcox: "Quality digital pianos have actions as fast as the fastest grands."

As for the fastest repeated notes called for by a major classical piano piece:

  • Schubert's Erlkönig's piano accompaniment calls for about 160bpm (see sample performance here), so about 8 repeated notes per second. But then, the notes relatively stay the same longer, unlike yours that changes every beat.
  • Ravel's Alborada del gracioso measures 42-57 which calls for about 87 bpm (260 beats per 8th note) (see sample performance here), so about 13 repeated G# per second! Again, having it fixed at the same note (G# throughout all those measures) make it a lot easier. Also, this piece is for concert pianists, not for accompanists. This Piano Library difficulty rating website, rates this piece at the highest level.

So I would say your piano part would be very hard to play even for professional pianist. I personally cannot play that passage easily (especially on black keys), even with switching fingers; maybe one day I can but I need to spend considerable effort. Comment from @ToddWilcox:

"I don't find switching fingers on the black keys much harder than on the white ones. I would probably play this 4-3-2-1 except C to E which I might do 2-1 then 3-4. That said I cannot play this at tempo."

This thread in PianoWorld forum has responders say their maximum speed between 6 to 10. Maybe you can post your playability question there as well.

I suggest making them 8th notes instead of 16th notes, or to maintain 16th notes but alternating with another note of the implicit harmony. But composition suggestion questions are better asked at The Auditorium chatroom.

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  • I am trying to get the same effect on 8th notes but I am not able to achieve something like this, maybe I will try putting the left hand to use and play 8th notes on the right hand with accompanying left hand playing something filler to have somewhat the same effect.
    – Dev J
    Dec 4, 2023 at 0:05
  • @DevJ As AndyBonner suggests, for composition tips, the Auditorium chatroom is more appropriate. I myself is a high enough level classical pianist who can play Erlkonig's accompaniment just fine, but far from being able to play Ravel's Alborada del gracioso. Dec 4, 2023 at 0:19
  • @DevJ I make this a wiki answer so a violinist can edit this answer to add input for the violin part's playability. One fast violin with extended 16th notes is this Paganini's Caprice No. 24 Variation 2, played at 130bpm, slightly slower than yours. Dec 4, 2023 at 0:38
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    Even Boston uprights do not have very fast actions. Good grands can likely do this. Quality digital pianos have actions as fast as the fastest grands. I don't find switching fingers on the black keys much harder than on the white ones. I would probably play this 4-3-2-1 except C to E which I might do 2-1 then 3-4. That said I cannot play this at tempo. Dec 4, 2023 at 5:24
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    I don't know how you play the piano, but I find repeating the same key extremely fast is incomparably harder to get right than repeating short scale fragments like this. Dec 4, 2023 at 14:41
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To address the violin part: This should be quite reasonable for a professional or even advanced non-professional. I think I could play it correctly even without any practice if I turned the page and happened on it at 120 bpm, and could get it up to 140 with a few minutes of practice. To go much faster than that would start to make it a virtuosic passage, but could be conceivable. Hilary Hahn's recording of the last movement of the Barber violin concerto is around 600 notes per minute, and this is only 560 and is much more straightforward.

That said, there are definitely players who could not play this. This passage would require the player to be comfortable in second and third position (maybe fourth?) and have a good sautillé or spiccato bow stroke. While you might find this in an advanced student, it would be very surprising to find it in someone younger than their teens or who had been studying for less than 4 or so years.

For the benefit of other "how fast can a violin play" questioners, let's talk about what makes this passage harder and what makes it easier. In general, the hardest thing for playing fast is moving the bow to a different string; the second hardest is moving the left hand fingers especially in unpredictable patterns or stretches; and the least hard is simply changing the bow, up bow to down bow. Notes at this speed would be easier (or at least accessible to less experienced students) in first position. Although these pitches are lower than B5 and therefore can be played in first position, the player would be using their fourth (weakest, slowest) finger a lot in the first measure, and forced to change between D and A strings in the second. Most advanced players would opt for second position in the first measure so they can use fingers 1, 2, and 3, and perhaps move to fourth position for the Abs, Bbs, and Cs (I'm not quite sure about the easiest way to make that shift). The passage is much easier than it could be because the pattern is a simple repeating one. Although each beat looks different, it's just three notes being repeated. Also, they're mostly adjacent, step-wise notes. The very fastest thing a string player can play is a scale.

So all that is to say: Things that could render this not playable at 140 would include shuffling the order of the notes in a way that was harder to intuitively grasp, or choosing notes that could not be played on a single string no matter what position one chose. (In fact, if the player had to cross from one string to a non-adjacent one, e.g. D to E, that would quickly lower the maximum possible tempo by a lot.)

Or to boil it down even simpler: the "fastest a violin can play" isn't determined simply by the tempo and rhythm, but by how the notes lie on the instrument.

Meanwhile, I think it's clear that the piano part can not be considered reasonably "playable" at this tempo. Ironically, the piano part would be quite easy on the violin. While it's challenging for piano to repeat the same key rapidly, it's quite easy to change the bow while playing a single note. That passage wouldn't even require shifting above first position. I could imagine a good middle school orchestra playing it at 140, with plenty of practice.

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