Welcome to the 4th part in our ongoing series on the Burgmuller Studies for piano. If you want to catch up on the past lessons here they are: Part 1 (La Candeur), Part 2 (L’Arabesque), and Part 3 (La Pastorale). Today we are going to be covering “Ballade” which is a wonderful piece for intermediate students that provides impressive music to perform.
The biggest challenge with this piece is going past just playing the right notes rhythm and fingering and putting some life into this music! The secret to making this piece come alive is in how you approach the phrasing and expression – particularly the dynamics. It’s not just about which notes are played, but how they are played.
This piece is in an A B A form, meaning there is a section in the beginning that repeats at the end with a middle contrasting section.
It’s important to articulate the staccatos in the right hand while maintaining a smooth legato in the left hand. These are essential principles that we’ve have talked about before: How to Play Staccato on the Piano, How to Play Piano: It’s all in the Wrist and How to Play Piano: Arm’s Equal Power and depth.
You need to learn when to play from the arm, when to utilize the fingers, and when to play from the wrist; these are fundamental skills for developing a first class technique on the piano. It’s important to keep your fingers close to the keys when playing fast, and utilizing the wrist for short staccato notes.
As always, I recommend that you practice your music slowly and build up notch by notch on the metronome developing security in your playing. This will help keep your rhythm precise. As you progress faster, you will find it necessary to play with a lighter touch in order to accommodate more speed. When playing faster, keep your fingers closer to the keys and utilize the wrist for staccato notes.
The middle section of this piece has a slow lyrical line in the right hand with staccato 8th note chords in the left hand that are played lightly from the wrist.
In the left hand you make sure to keep your fingers close to the keys (less than an inch above) and play from the wrist – otherwise it will be too heavy and will overtake the delicate right hand melody.
In the right hand, you will utilize the weight of your arms to create a fluid line. You will need to play with substantial arm weight even though these notes are played piano. Ask any wind player and they will tell you that playing a quiet line takes as much energy, sometimes even more, to play quietly; the same applies to the piano. Let your arms sink into the bottom of the keys and you will notice the lovely singing legato this produces as you transfer the weight smoothly from note to note.
The most challenging part of this piece is the ending. There is no shortcut to mastering this section. You must practice slowly at first and work your way up with the metronome. This section takes a commitment of time to master.
When you’re practicing with the metronome at slower speeds you will want to raise your fingers to delineate the notes. Play at a comfortably slow metronome speed until you feel secure and can play numerous times without problems. Move the metronome up one notch and start again. Keep doing this until you reach the desired speed. It is a great way to perfect your performance.
If you are having trouble, try practicing hands individually (WATCH: The Right Way to Practice Your Music). This will enable you to hear each hand separately listening for the evenness of the notes. Another great technique is playing the hands 2 octaves apart so you can hear things more clearly.
This is a really great piece for students and the music is rewarding. I hope this was helpful and if you have any questions about this piece or any other please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.