PArt 14 Playing a piece
This month Charlie Griffiths extends his reading music series, beginning with a full piece that will test your skills not only in playing the right notes but also changing key!
The first thing to note about this piece is the use of multiple key signatures. the key signature is shown at the beginning of the stave in the form of sharp or flat symbols placed on the stave. The sharps and flats denoted at the beginning of the line are obeyed for the remainder of the piece unless otherwise indicated. the absence of any sharps or flats at the beginning of a piece means that it’s in the key of C major or A minor; the only two keys which do not contain sharps or flats. This piece in fact starts in the key of C and remains so for the entire first line. Upon reaching the second line you will see the introduction of one sharp symbol placed on the ‘F’ line and furthermore the third line has two sharps, the fourth line has three sharps and the final line has four sharps; put simply, the piece changes key at the beginning of each line. Your job is to translate the number sharps shown in the key into something meaningful and useful for reading the music. For this we need to remind ourselves of the ‘cycle of fifths’ as this relates directly to ‘sharp keys’.
As we have seen, the key of C major has no sharps, but adding a sharp puts us in the key of G, which is a 5th above C. two sharps takes us up a further 5th to the key of D and so on until the maximum amount of seven sharps is reached. those seven different keys are C G D A e B F# C# with a sharp being added each time. With practice you will automatically see two sharps and think ‘key of D’, or immediately equate four sharps to the ‘key of e’.
rhythmically, this piece revisits four different subdivisions: the first bar has four quarter-notes, which are played at exactly the same rate as the tempo of the piece. Following this there are eighth-notes, which go by at twice the rate of quarter-notes and then 16th-notes which are twice the speed of eighth-notes. Finally we have eighth-note triplets, which are played at a rate of three notes per beat.
Once you are able to play the right notes at the right time, you can safely move on to the next level of detail - the ornamentations and dynamics. In this piece the notes are given a more expressive element using: ‘vibrato’, which is a quick succession of pulsing bends added to the note; ‘trills’, which are a quick succession of hammer-ons and pull-offs and; ‘grace notes’, which are very quick notes preceding a longer note.
Finally we have dynamic markings, which tell you how loud, quiet or intense the part should be played. throughout the piece there is ‘mf’, ‘p,’ ‘f’ which stand for mezzo forte (moderately loud), piano (quietly) and forte (loudly) as well as a crescendo which is a gradual increase in volume.
Once you are able to play the right note at the right time, you can safely move on to the next level of detail ornaments and dynamics.
Can you navigate all the key changes in this month’s piece?