Preparation and Presentation
Pieces that are helpful to have experienced or played before approaching this one:
- Burgmüller - Arabesque
- Rossi - Atacama Desert
- Atwood - Sonatina
- Kabalevsky – Clowns
Creative activities to explore before the first encounter with the score, to prepare a student for deeper engagement and more immediate success:
- What is a Ballade? An Epic Poem. What are some famous epic poems? (Greek mythology, Longfellow, Poe)
- Listen to the piece. Make your own story to go with the music. What is happening? Note the contrast in the B section and the return of the A section.
- Opening LH motive: Practice four different ways each day, e.g. slow and legato, staccato, different tempos, different rhythms, groupings of notes, double notes. When secure, play with both hands and do all of the practice variations with HT.
- Name the LH chords in the B section. How many different ones in this section?
- Broken RH octaves: descending in different keys. Listen for a staccato, robust sound.
Features to pay attention to first; priority steps in reading and absorbing the music:
- Articulation: note staccatos and accents
- Learning sequence: first motive, coda, approach to the reprise (mm. 47-56), B section, whole piece!
- B section: learn the LH chords first, then add the RH
Physical skills and drills for common technical challenges in the piece:
- Opening LH motive and coda: legato, staccato, varied rhythms, varied groupings of notes, double notes.
- Dynamic control of RH chords: practice playing RH chords at varying volumes.
Ideas to connect and reconnect with the expressive and musical nature of the piece:
- In the opening motive, the LH A (m. 7) is a "landing note." We go to this note because it is the highest note, and also outside of the key signature.
- In the B section there are groups of 4-measure phrases. Go to the third measure in each of these groups.
- Connect the musical elements to the story you are telling!
Approaches to set up for success with refinements that will need attention a few weeks down the road:
- Develop and secure the correct gestures for the LH articulation in the opening motive.
- Isolate the LH sixteenth notes in mm. 3-4, 11-12, 87-90. Vary the practice.
- Practice the leaps at the end of the A section.
Process and Practice
Tips for maintaining focus and engagement over time:
- Continue to connect the piece to the idea of an "epic story." The student can make their own story to connect with the music, and it's okay if this story changes over time. Going back to the idea of a story will keep the music fresh!
- As the student becomes more comfortable with the piece, the tempo can increase. This changes the piece for the student and keeps it fresh and alive.
- There are endless details to find within a phrase. One of my favorites is in the coda, once a student has learned the piece securely. The four repetitions of the motive in the coda each get louder, building drama and intensity to the end of the piece.
Useful practice segments; how to connect them and plug them back into the whole:
- This piece has obvious breaks or sections. This is helpful in isolating particular areas to practice further, depending on what the student needs. Even the major sections like A and B can each be broken down into at least four sections.
Tips for focusing on how the parts make up the whole:
- In the B section, each phrase is slightly different, but still part of the same idea. The first phrase is like a question, the second like an answer.
- The main motive is a unifying theme in that it reappears throughout the piece, even at the coda!
Ideas for finding and maintaining tempo, managing modifications artistically:
- The coda tempo will govern the flow of the whole piece. How fast can you play the coda accurately, evenly and with unity between the hands? This is your starting tempo.
- Be careful that the descending broken chords do not rush!
Tips for developing and refining a personal, internal sense of the piece:
- Continue to connect the piece to a personal story. The students could even write the story out themselves—perhaps make their own written "ballade."
Tips for securing memory:
- Be able to start from three different spots on each page.
- Be able to play the piece from memory at three or more different tempos.
- Be able to play the coda "cold" from memory.
- Be able to name the LH chords in the B section.
Tips for ensuring performance readiness, maintaining freshness and spontaneity, and reinforcing an expressive personal connection:
- Play for others and have them share what the story is about.
- Perform the piece at different tempos.
- Record the performance. Students could tell their story while the piece plays in the background.