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Hi,

I'm currently working on Chopin's Ballade in G Minor and have come across a problem I can't work on. The two sets of scales shown below are meant to be played rapidly. However, whenever I try this, my right and left play out of sync and ends up sounding really muddy. I've tried playing slowly with a metronome but hasn't helped me reached the speed I want it to. Any suggestions?

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    Practice. That perhaps feels too simplistic, but we could use some more information from you if we were to suggest how you should practice. A few questions to start of with: can you get the correct speed with individual hands while sounding regularly (equal eights, accents in the right places)? Do you practice scales outside of this piece regularly? Can you identify more clearly at what point things go bad (first few notes, after one octave, certain hand positions/finger crossings). At what speeds can you still handle the scales comfortably? How long have you practiced this section? – user18490 Jan 17 '18 at 3:57
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    The usual trick I apply is to let the left hand lead (which usually means it'll be louder than the right hand), since the left hand tends to be the underpracticed hand for scales, and causing the hands to go out of sync. Over time, the left hand can fade back to its normal loudness, while still performing that lead for a double scale. – user18490 Jan 17 '18 at 3:59
  • Start slow and increase the speed more slowly than you tried. That sounds unhelpful, but I can assure you that the only way to make progress for this nasty run is to approach the final tempo so slowly that you think you're not making any progress. – Kilian Foth Jan 17 '18 at 9:44
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Two things.

First, those scales need to run pretty quickly, it is true. Are you able to play any scales at, say, 144? Probably not. You have to work at them. And, all the while you're working on them, it often seems like you're not making any progress. But then one day you sit down and run one off, and it suddenly sounds a bit better than it did just the day before.

I suggest that you practice your G melodic minor scale, both in octaves and in tenths, four octaves. Make sure that you don't allow yourself to let the hands get uneven. Work on it very slowly (start with, say, one note per second or 60 on the metronome, and two octaves is ok to begin with), note by note, making sure that each hand hits at exactly the same time. As you get the evenness, the speeding up will happen naturally on its own.

If you aren't finding that to be the case, then it's most likely because you aren't being rigorous enough with yourself in paying attention to that evenness. Probably because you are letting your right hand tantalize you a bit, because, you know, it plays so much better than your left (if you're left-handed, then the opposite is true of course), and so is so much closer to what you want.

One of my teachers once told me that he spends three times as much time working on his left hand as he does with his right. Your right hand has to slow down and give your left hand a chance to keep up with it. Don't let yourself become impatient; a way to not make progress is to keep going over things wrong. If you do that, don't expect things to improve; you're just teaching your hands how to play things wrong. Then you have to un-teach them, and that's much tougher than teaching them right in the first place.

If you don't work out the problems with the evenness, they will magnify exponentially as you attempt to speed up the scale. So work on it.

The next thing is that if you can't play your scales evenly, you are having problems with most of the rest of the piece as well. Don't obsess over one detail or another and gimp your way through the "parts that you're putting off until later." If you're practicing in problems, you'll have to unlearn them. So be rigorous with your approach. Don't let details go.

Above all, be patient. And don't feel like a failure if you decide to put this aside for a while (you'll have improved your G melodic minor scale, after all) and work on some less difficult Chopin music. (Mazurkas!) It's a way of breaking up problems into smaller bites. Every piece you learn well contains keys to mastering more difficult pieces.

p.s. In case you couldn't tell, I did all the things I'm telling you not to do, slopping my way through this very piece until nobody could stand to listen to me practice it any more.

  • Or, more briefly, KEEP practicing it slowly with the metronone. It WILL come right. – Laurence Payne Jan 17 '18 at 10:31
  • Yeah, my left hand tends to fall behind the right hand once I get to a certain speed. I don't have much trouble playing scales at around 88 speed but one it exceeds that, my hands start going at separate speed. (I noticed that many of Chopin's work contains these rapid scales) A bad habit I've had for many years is impatience, as you stated above. Whenever I work on a new piece, I tend to rush the piece instead of practicing it slowly with a metronome. And whenever I do finish the piece I feel like there are parts and details lacking all because I didn't practice it slower. – soap Jan 17 '18 at 11:04
  • Also if I come across a section where my technique lacks or I just can't simply play well, I end up panicking and just try to cover up somehow(usually with the sustain pedals) – soap Jan 17 '18 at 11:05
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    Soap I think you’ve hit the nail in your own comment. As I always tell students: if you want to play fast, you must practice slow. If the foundation is there, speed increases pretty quickly. Two suggestions: do a 2-1 approach: two metronome clicks up, 1 back = 60, 66, 63, 69 etc. Max out at 7 +/- 2 up clicks a day and you’ll begin to see consistent progress. Give it the time it needs. The funny thing about impatience is that it prevents you from doing things as quickly as you want to. – jjmusicnotes Jan 18 '18 at 5:46
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When I'm practising hard passages like this, I have a 'practice toolbox' which I find very useful. This includes:

Slow practice - as numerous others have said, preferably with a metronome. But slow practice alone will not help you get the speed up.

Rhythms - really surprised nobody mentioned this! Maybe triplets then a long note, short-short-long-long, dotted rhythm, whatever suits you and whatever fits. Again with a metronome if possible.

Staccato - playing the whole passage staccato works fine, some more creative (and probably more helpful) things are to do two staccato notes then two legato etc.

Every week, you might want to increase the speed a little, and gradually you will find it super easy to play!

Of course, you don't have to isolate all of these things- you can play staccato rhythms slowly and things like that. The reason that these techniques work is because they force your brain to subconsciously think a lot harder about the passage than it normally would when taking it at face value- it's like playing practice games! A change of 'mindset' might also be useful- instead of looking at the passage like it is, see it as a scale (which you might find less scary).

Really hope this helps!

  • Thanks for the tips. If I was to increase speed every week or every few days, how long should it take until I can play these passages fluently and at the correct speed? – soap Jan 20 '18 at 22:09
  • I've been at it for around a week or two and I'm not seeing drastic improvements. – soap Jan 20 '18 at 22:15
  • It depends how much you practice to be honest, and the quality of your practice. My teacher always taught me to be extremely disciplined, eg when Im practising and I make a mistake, don't just carry on but go back to a suitable place. Also, you shouldn't increase speed every few days or week.you should do it whenever you feel comfortable doing so, maybe record yourself, liste to see if the notes are all smooth, even length etc. – Shawn Li Jan 21 '18 at 15:49

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