Practising intervals


In the following we cover the intervals and introduce a number of practising methods. The purpose of interval playing is to familiarise pupils with the fundamental cells of music, to refine their “musical ear” and the interaction between ear, hand and eye, and furthermore to provide tools for the understanding of structures and material for improvisation and composition.


The practice of intervals enhances

  1. the interaction between hand and ear

  2. familiarity with the topography of the keyboard.


It is beneficial to perform interval exercises alternately with closed eyes, when the tactile and aural senses heighten concentration.

Understanding the intervals facilitates the reading of music:


  1. the eye is free to stay focused on the music, since the hand perceives the distances on the keyboard

  2. the reading of chords is facilitated when the intervals become familiar


THE SECOND

Scales and trills consist of passages in seconds. Hearing the difference between a minor and a major second is essential in order to learn to perceive the leading-note character of the minor second.


Exercises:


  1. scales in seconds: fingers 2+3; 3+4; 4+5; 1+2 (begin with 2+3)

  2. major and minor seconds in scales/pieces

  3. visualising the octave chromatically as minor seconds: occasionally there are two adjacent white keys.

  4. the degrees of the scale: major and minor seconds

  5. scales in seconds staccato, clawing fingers, rebounding, moving to the next step as quickly as possible, relaxing and waiting there.

  6. slurred scales: perceive the glissando from one note to the next, produce it by sliding the whole hand, the weight of the arm shifting from one finger to the next. The exercise strengthens the fingers and combines the feeling of strong fingers and a supple wrist in the relaxed arm.

  7. trill exercise: plunge, add notes to the trill, one by one. Finally, practise a continuous trill, gradually increasing and decreasing the tempo. Do both hands together, starting in contrary movement and then in parallel movement. In an extended trill, the free movement up and down of the wrist combines with the rotary motion.

  8. play with eyes open and closed

  9. dry-practice on the piano lid.


THE THIRD

Thirds are fundamental elements in chords. It is essential to learn to identify them at the elementary stage, in sheet music as well. Circling all the thirds in a passage being practised and then playing them separately is instructive. Distinguishing minor and major thirds by ear is important, since their order in a chord determines its quality.


Exercises:


  1. scales in thirds with unchanged fingering: play the elementary version starting on the white keys with the pairs 1+3, 2+4, 3+5

  2. repeat the scales in minor and major thirds chromatically

as well as the thirds scales through the different keys, all the time using the same pair of fingers

thirds scales with varying fingering

plunging: plunge, wrist first, engage fingers, create space under the hand, float the wrist

linking: play the thirds broken, building the following third on the upper note of the preceding one, etc.

octave leaps, i.e. the frog exercise, the third leaps 1-2-3 octaves, the hand remembering the third grip

scales, hands separately and together, same notes

hands together as four-note chords, e.g. left a + c, right e + g

varying articulations, slurs, repetitions, tremolos and trills in thirds, alternating hands

play with eyes open and closed

dry-practice on the piano lid

changing fingering in the air


Exercise in thirds without piano: see video:

File:///Users/kristiina/Sites/tohtorisaitti/pianojumppa/terssiharjoitus _1.html



THE FOURTH

Chord inversions always contain a fourth. Distinguishing between thirds and fourths in scores is vital for the perception of chords.


Exercises:


  1. scales in fourths: fingering 1+4; 2+5

  2. hear the pure fourths and distinguish the tritone

  3. pure fourths scales consist of two superimposed scales: e.g., C above, G below; find the required black key!

  4. fourths portato: fingering 1-4; find the strong knuckle of the 4th

  5. fourths scales staccato, clawing fingers, rebounding, relaxing at the next step

  6. slurred scales: perceive the glissando from one note to the next, producing it by sliding the whole hand, the weight of the arm shifting from one finger to the other.

  7. Linked  fourths scales in two-note slurs

  8. varying articulations, repetitions, tremolos and tremolos with alternating  hands

  9. play with eyes open and closed

  10. dry-practice on the piano lid


THE TRITONE

It is essential to perceive the resolution of the tritone’s suspense. The dominant seventh chord, for example, contains a tritone that resolves to the third of the tonic chord. The tritone may be understood in many different ways: it consists of three major seconds, the fourth is augmented, the fifth is diminished, and the octave is split in two.


Exercises:


  1. chromatic tritone sequence, starting with the chromatic scale in both hands  (right starting on C, left on F sharp), then both hands separately and finally both hands together

  2. varying articulations, repetitions, tremolos and tremolos with alternating hands

  3. play with eyes open and closed

  4. dry-practice on the piano lid


THE FIFTH

A root-position triad always contains a fifth. As an interval, the fifth is a so-called “empty triad”.


Exercises (fingering 1+5, later 1+4)


  1. fifths scale on the white keys (identify the difference between pure and diminished)

  2. scales hands separately and together, in unison and as four-note chords (overlapping)

  3. fifths scales through the keys

  4. varying articulations: slurs, repetitions, tremolo-trills and tremolos with alternating hands

  5. octave leaps, i.e. the frog exercise, the fifth leaps 1-2-3 octaves, the hand remembering the grip

  6. linking: the fifths circle

  7. play with eyes open and closed

  8. dry-practice on the piano lid


Learning to identify the sixth in chord inversions is important: they contain a major chord and a minor one, depending on whether the third is above or below. Sixths exercises also provide preparation for octave playing.


Exercises: fingering 1+5


  1. sixths scale on the white keys, portato, resting

  2. sixths scales staccato, clawing fingers, rebounding, moving to the next step as fast as possible, relaxing and waiting there.

  3. sixths scales using wrist staccato (may be used as octave practice for small hands): the whole arm plunges, add one fast repeat to the same big impulse. Increase the number of fast repetitions. It is essential to produce a substantial, free impulse on the first plunging sixth

  4. legato slurs between the notes of the sixth: anticipate the glissando from one note to the other and produce it sliding your whole hand, the arm weight shifting from one finger to the other.

  5. sixths tremolo: plunge, add notes to the tremolo, one at a time. Begin on the thumb or on the fifth finger. Finally, practise continuous tremolo, gradually increasing and decreasing the tempo. Play hands together, starting in contrary motion, then in parallel motion. In extended tremolos the wrist’s free movement up and down combines with the rotary motion.

  6. sixths scales with varying articulations, repetitions and tremolos with alternating hands

  7. play with eyes open and closed

  8. dry-practice on the piano lid



THE SEVENTH

Musical development is frequently created by linking dominant-seventh chords, or so-called secondary dominants. It is essential to understand the resolution of the diminished seventh to the third and the linking of the dominant-seventh chords in the fifths circle.


Exercises:


  1. scales in sevenths, also providing preparation for octave playing and facilitating the extension of  the hand span

  2. play with eyes open and closed

  3. dry-practice on the piano lid


OCTAVES: cf. separate section


 

     pianotools          contents           videos          articles          links          contact