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My Alberti bass in the 3rd movement of the "Moonlight" sonata by Beethoven is way too loud, so that the melody in the right hand often vanishes. So I wonder how I can fix it. It should be played piano but also fast. If I use only forearm rotation, it is even getting louder. So I wonder if one has also to use more the fingers than the forearm. How should I practice to play fast but also piano?

I have the same problem with the triplets in the 1st movement of the "Tempest" sonata. I can play them either fast or quiet. But not both.

ie

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Some things can not be practised slowly, and this is one.

You can play this Alberti bass slow and soft several different ways, none of which would work to play it fast and soft. You have to start from some method that can play it fast. This is no different from an athlete learning how to do a high jump for example - you can't learn that by walking up to the take-off position and then trying to jump, you have to be running when you get there.

You are right to use forearm rotation, but too much energy is getting from your arm into the keys. Try playing this at full speed with forearm rotation, starting fff, and making a gradual diminuendo as far as you can go. Notice carefully what it feels like as you get softer. If you can feel you are making it softer by increasing the tension in your arm or hand, you are doing it wrong!

To get very soft, you need to combine the forearm rotation with "soft fingers" which absorb the energy of the rotation instead of transmitting it to the keys. Try the extreme of making the forearm rotation action, with your fingers making contact with the keys, but not pressing them enough to play the notes at all. Again, notice carefully what this feels like, and make sure you are doing in with your hand and arm relaxed.

You then need to stiffen your fingers just enough to make the notes sound, but not enough to play them loudly. Try doing the hand motion to play the complete Alberti bass (at full speed) but with only one of your fingers stiff enough to actually play the note. Do that for all the fingers individually, then put it all together.

When you first try this, the result will probably be uneven, with the notes sometimes sounding and sometimes not. But with practice, an even result will come. And in reality, if this passage is played at up to tempo, softly, and with the sustain pedal, nobody will be able to hear a few silent notes anyway.

  • Thank you very much for the good detailed description. I thought so, that I probably hit a wall if I only practice slow. – Matriz Aug 21 at 16:52
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If you can play it correctly but slowly, stick with slowly for now. Ramp the speed up very gradually. Success WILL come, I promise. Check with your teacher that you're not doing anything silly.

  • Thank you for the comment. Should my fingers slightly lift (not too much of course) from the keys or should they stick on them like they were glued there? I am faster if they move a little bit above the keys. – Matriz Aug 18 at 16:07
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From your description I would say that you are using too much weight from your arm and therefore hitting the keys too hard.

Try to ensure that your arms are in the correct position, elbows raised slightly, and control the weight that you are using to strike the keys.

And, as Laurence has already said, practise slowly and check with your teacher.

Good luck.

  • Thanks a lot for the comment. So is it ok, if my finger slightly lift (not too much of course) from the keys or should they stick on them like they were glued there? – Matriz Aug 18 at 16:05
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    @Matriz The finger should lift away from the key slightly to ensure that the key returns to the correct position for the next strike. – JimM Aug 18 at 20:49
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    @Matriz I lift them. The louder I want the sound, the higher I lift them, and the more I oscillate my arm from the elbow. I don't get more sound by pushing down harder on my arm so much. (Of course, different people have different ways of getting what they want. You have to find your own way.) What's most important is finding the most relaxed and most comfortable way to position your fingers for the next strike. And, as Jim says, while making sure that each key has a chance to return to its original position. – BobRodes Aug 23 at 17:41
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Sounds familiar. I spent a year working up the Tempest for my senior recital in college many years ago, and I had a similar problem to overcome.

The reason that you can play fast or soft, but not both, is most likely the same as mine was: you're putting too much effort into getting all the notes in. Check and see how much effort you are putting into your arms to bear down on the keys while playing these. Play slowly and quietly, and speed up gradually. As you do, you should notice that the tension builds in your arms if you watch for it. If you are playing mostly with the fingers, you should be playing pretty quietly.

So, if you find that you are using a lot of arm exertion as you speed up, then you need to concentrate on get that out of there. Try to play the Alberti bass mostly with the fingers, and try to minimize the oscillation of the arms when playing the soft tremolos.

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Children sometimes call the damper pedal the loud pedal. So, for quiet, do the opposite.

Avoid that pedal, of course, but also ensure that you're not holding any of those notes much longer than a sixteenth. (Think staccato.) Record a video of the dampers on the strings, and step through it a frame at a time, checking for more than one raised damper.

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