Have you ever played a piece of music that’s easy, except for one difficult, almost impossible spot?
Chopin’s Prelude in Em is a famous example of this. It’s pretty easy for most of the piece, and then… BAM!!!! It gets way hard for 2 measures before becoming easy again.
In jazz, the bridge of Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” is like this. Measure 5-6 of the bridge are so difficult and awkward to play on piano that many players substitute their own simplified version.
During our practice sessions, we can slow these passages down and repeat them until they become easier for us. But what do you do when you’re in the middle of a performance and you’re faced with this situation?
As I see it, you have 4 options:
- Play the whole piece a little slower, so you don’t have to play the difficult measure(s) so rapidly.
- If the piece sounds good with a little rubato, you can sometimes get away with slowing down slightly during the hard part. This can sound either very effective or very amateurish, depending on the particular piece and how well you can pull it off. Use your best judgement!
- You can simplify the music at that spot. Leave out one note in a big chord. Play single notes instead of octaves. Plan this in advance and try different things. You still want to practice as diligently as you can but hey, we pianists are only human, and sometimes a passage is really and truly too difficult for you at a particular time.
- “Go for it!” Don’t make any compromises and see how it goes, even with a wrong note or two. The great classical virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz took this approach himself. Horowitz would sometimes play a passage with such passion and intensity that he’d flub a few notes. Maybe he’d play it faster than he had practiced. But he didn’t mind a few mistakes. He knew that live performance is about musicality and energy, and your music can sound dull and uninspired if you’re overly concerned about playing “perfectly.”
Whichever approach you decide to take, the key is to always play with passion and a wholehearted commitment to the music. As for these pesky measures that are a lot harder than the rest of the piece, remember that the more options you give yourself, the better prepared you will be to handle these moments when they arise.
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