Before learning to play music by composers like Chopin and Mendelssohn, intermediate piano students benefit from repertoire that nurtures expressive, Romantic-styled playing.
One of my best-loved pieces, ‘Green Shade’, is listed in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s 2015 syllabus as a Grade 6 List C selection. It brings out expressive playing, hand-to-hand slurs, has long phrases and is good for developing a singing right hand melody while balancing a softer, arpeggiated and flowing left hand.
In ‘Green Shade’ the music feels like a hot summer’s day when the breeze barely moves and you want to find a little shade. In the opening I imagine distant waves on the ocean shore. Take a listen!
Here are 4 pointers for expressive playing using Green Shade.
1. Hand-to-hand slurs
To create a flow from left hand to right through the hand-to-hand slurs in the opening and throughout the piece (as shown in the score below):
- begin on low E-flat playing LH finger 5 with a foundational, deeper sound and a little more weight from the arm into the finger
- blend over thumbs with no accents mid-slur, playing all the way to the seven chord on beat 1 of the following measure
- imagine each phrase as a single wave on the ocean shore, swelling through the phrase then breaking gently on beat 1
2. Bring out the melody
To play with a singing melody in the right hand while keeping the left hand accompaniment softer, try these warm-ups for unequal weight in the hands:
- hold your hands up and push your fingers on your teacher’s, pushing more with your right hand than your left. Your teacher should push back into your right hand for reinforcement, and keep your left hand light
- push both hands against the front of the piano, imagining you want to move it across the floor in a circle, pushing more with your right hand than your left
- drop into any piano keys, first RH deeply with a forte sound, then LH lightly with a piano sound, first melody hand (RH), then accompaniment hand (LH). Play back and forth several times, eventually playing both hands together, but continuing to play RH deeply and LH lightly
In ‘Green Shade’ the melody begins on RH B-flat in measure 4. Playing hands separately or together (after the above warm-ups), keep the feeling of more weight in your right hand melody, and less weight in your left hand accompaniment.
3. Play through the long phrase
To play a long phrase expressively, first find the apex of the phrase. The apex can be:
- the highest note
- can be on a first beat of a measure
- can be a long note
- is often found three-quarters of the way through a phrase
In short, the apex of a phrase sounds like the note to which the phrase is building, the destination point. In Green Shade, the apex of the second macro phrase is also the high point of the whole piece, and is found on beat 1 of measure 24.
To play the phrase musically, have the apex of the phrase in mind as the macro phrase begins in measure 15, and pace your delivery with a slow build to the apex, and then a falling away, or diminuendo afterwards.
4. Learn the inspiration behind the music
In the early 2000s I fell in love with Patricia Godwin’s I Feel Orange Today, a book of poems for children. In her book, Patricia likens moods to colours. I aspired to capture the spirit of her writing by turning each poem into a piece of music. Eventually the ten poems in her book became the ten pieces in The Color Collection.
One night a very musical teen who had been my student for many years broke the news to me that she was no longer going to take piano lessons. Basketball had become more important to her. Feeling sad after her lesson, I turned to the green poem and began to improvise on the piano to express how I felt about her discontinuing lessons.
When you read the poem, you’ll be able to hear how the rhythm of the words became the rhythm of the music. Knowing this will help you understand and perform the music better.
After an extended break from piano lessons, my musical student returned. I pitched Green Shade to her and she learned it! What a happy ending!
If you are looking to develop expressive playing in your intermediate piano students that will prepare them for more advanced repertoire like Chopin nocturnes and Mendelssohn songs without words, keep this piece in mind. ‘Green Shade’ is a little gem for the maturing musician.
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