I have always felt that each solo that I write should fit comfortably in the hands of students and teach something of value both technically and musically. As an example, I would like to take a look at “Grand Tarantella” from Piano Extravaganza, Book 2. This new series consists of three books containing pieces in a variety of styles.
In measures 1-8, the right hand should make an oval shape in one smooth motion for each measure. Start the first note with a low wrist and raise the wrist on each ascending note, then circle back down and around to the left, lowering the wrist with each descending note. There should be one gesture per measure, not a series of five down-motions for each note.
There are accented staccato endings in measures 4 and 8. “Pushing off” on these endings prepares the student to place his/her hands for the following measures. Like measures 1-3, these measures should be done with one smooth motion. Measures 1 and 5 outline an extended A minor triad while measures 2 and 6 use a D major triad in first inversion.
Measures 9-15 (and the similar passage in measures 17-23) feature a sequence of stepwise, broken, second inversion triads. In a sense, these sections are little etudes drilling second inversion shapes. Like measures 1-8, these should be played with one oval gesture per measure, but starting at the top of the shape. The wrist starts in an “up” position and makes ovals that lower towards the thumb and rises again with finger 5.
Measures 27-30 drill the B-flat major triad in all of its positions: second inversion, root position, first inversion and followed again by a second inversion. Create a keyboard harmony drill for students using triads and their inversions so that they intellectually know which inversion of the B-flat triad they are playing and that finger 3 of the right hand is always playing the root of a second inversion triad. Notice that both hands play the same second inversion of the B-flat triad in measure 30.
New right hand broken-chord shapes occur in measures 48 and 52. They are E7 chords with measure 48 starting with the 7th at the top of the chord and measure 52 starting with the root of the chord. Therefore, the entire solo can be used to teach the technique of circling the wrist from left to right and right to left, and playing chord inversions.
After students understand the technique, hand shapes, and chord structures, the emotional and dramatic content can be addressed. The left hand 5ths on beat one of measures 1-7 should be light and precise. Start p in measure 9 for the long crescendo to the mp at measure 16. Then start quieter in measures 17 and crescendo to the f in measure 24 before reaching the dramatic echo in measures 25 and 26.
Notice the eighth rests in measures 16, 24, and 26. Observe them and release the damper pedal exactly on the rests. This provides a breath between musical statements.
The most dramatic portion of the piece is the crescendo that starts in measure 27 and the ritardando that begins in measure 29. They culminate in the dramatic high point with the return to a tempo and ff in measure 31. The tension of these measures is caused by the B-flat triad over a pedal point E in the bass. The emotional release of this harmonic tension comes in measure 31 with the return of the first theme and the A minor harmony.
On the return of the first theme in measure 31, play with a strong, full ff with dramatic fire. This is the section of the piece that inspired my title, “Grand Tarantella.” The bass uses dotted half notes and the damper pedal is held through each change of harmony. Starting in measure 41 the strong ff of the tarantella slowly recedes joined with a final ritardando in measure 52 and ending with a very gentle pp.
Extremes of dynamics, touch, and emotions, plus freedom of movement in the arms, wrist, and hands provide a vehicle for students to exhibit their pianistic abilities. I truly enjoy playing this piece and hope that others will too!
Robert D. Vandall
Author, Arranger, Composer
Thank you so much. It really gave me a lot of information to help my students.
I have given this piece to a student. She is enjoying learning it. We have
noticed that in measure 16 there is no 8ve higher sign…. shouldn’t that
sign continue until the end of measure 16?
This is a wonderfully intelligent way of writing music with the intention of drilling home new concepts, and giving some relevance to new techniques that are imperative to continue progressing through a piano education. Having something as motivating as a great piece of music to play is the best reason to buckle down and get some of those shapes (like the inverting Dominant 7 chords) or the dynamic control that shapes this song quite well. We can’t wait to hear more of your work, thanks for sharing this with us!