Leaps can be scary, insecure feats of technical fireworks but when there’s a will, there’s a way!
(pssst! There's a 8 tips in the video and 2 Bonus ones at the end of blog! ;)
Do you have these concerns over leaps on the piano? :
- What if I miss the notes?
- What if I can’t get to the chord fast enough?
- What if I’ll never be able to land the leaps?
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, Having the hands leap around freely, quickly, and with dexterity is fun and impressive to do….when you can.
Here are 10 ways to make moving and jumping around on the piano attainable!
Tip #1 - Move in an arc- like motion
Travelling around the piano, especially in leaps, often uses an arc-like motion, no matter how far or close the keys are.
The body has an easier time moving in an arc-like motion. It’s a smoother way to get around the piano than lifting the hand vertically, moving it horizontally, and then placing it in a new position. These sharp changes in direction creates tension, especially if you are trying to accelerate the horizontal movement across the keys in attempt to reach your destination faster. Suddenly stopping an accelerating movement builds tension because of the need for abrupt stop.
An Arc like motion is smoother and more efficient because it don’t involve those sharp changes. You get to use gravity to your advantage, allowing you to drop into the designated key without effort. Think of it like throwing a ball. The only energy you expend is the throw, you let gravity do the work in landing the ball in the correct. All you need to do is calculate how much energy, speed, and how tall or shallow the arc needs to be in order to land the ball in where you want it.
Tip #2 - Prepare Hand shapes
Hand shapes are the shape your hand makes when it plays a chord. For example, the way your hand looks and feels when it plays a C major triad is different from a Dominant 7th.
Going along with the arc-link motion, it is helpful to prepare the hand shape of the chord you’ll be landing while moving towards the next chord. When gravity pulls you down, you drop right into the keys you need. This is more efficient than trying to assemble the chord at the very last second before you enter the keys. Not only is that risky, it builds unnecessary physical and mental tension - what if you don’t make it time or hit the wrong notes?
Thus, prepare the hand shape of the next chord while you’re travelling towards your destination.
Tip #3 - Spring off and Cover, Practice both ways
Spring off the keys and then silently covering the notes you want to land on helps you build muscle memory, dexterity, and accuracy. By landing on the notes silently, it gives you clearer feedback on whether or not your hands truly know the hand shape and which keys they are supposed to be playing. Landing silently on the keys also lets you see more clearly and deliberately where your fingers are supposed to land. Make sure to practice this in both directions - ascending to your designation and descending.
Tip #4 - Look before you leap
This one is pretty self explanatory. Look before you leap! Look ahead to your landing place so your body has some extra guidance for it’s aim.
Tip #5 - Finger Flick
If your arms are free and you’ve built the foundation for the above, then using the thumb or the pinky to “flick” yourself in the direction you need to go can be a really efficient, and almost effortless way to propel your hand to its next destination. If the leap is a small one, the energy from the flicking motion might be the only amount of energy you need. If the leap is large, the flick is an easy power boost that gets your hands going - kind of like running over a speed boost ramp in Mario Kart!
Tip #6 - Practice with Your Eyes Closed (to build muscle memory)
I know I just told you to watch your step, but sometimes we can't! Sometimes the music will require you vision’s attention so you’ll have to build a strong trust in your muscle memory. Plus, the more you can trust your leaps and landings without help, the more confidence you build in your own playing.
Tip #7 - Find the closest notes or shared notes so that the jumps don’t seem as far
Leaps can feel more insecure when they feel far. So sometimes, the distance of the leap isn’t from the two farthest fingers, but between the two closest fingers. Just being aware of this helps ease the mental tension and insecurity that could be getting in your way
Let’s say you’re practicing this jump (Rachmaninoff Prelude op 23 no 5, m 3, LH)
Having a look at the LH, this jump is not as far as some other ones in this piece.
However, If you’re thinking that you have to move the Thumb and/or pinky to the next destination, the G minor chord, which is 5 notes apart, it can see quite far. It might even feel like a lot of effort to move one hand shape to the next
Instead, notice that the Thumb on G is quite close to the 2nd finger on Bb. Since your hand is already holding the octave hand shape, the thumb and pinky will already be prepared to land the octave Ds in the next chord. Then moving the thumb from G to Bb is really not that far. What’s important then, is using the 2nd finger as an anchor for the chord. Once you move your hand shape and arm to land on the Bb, the rest of the chord will be placed as well. In fact, it will almost feel like you’re throwing a finger over another, similar to the motion you might find in a scale or an arpeggio. But instead, you’re simply throwing a hand shape (chord) over the thumb.
Tip #8 - Have a Reset Point
If leaps are always returning to the same point, the repeating notes can become the landing home base. Take for example: La Campanella
It looks like you’ll have to use rotation to jump to the changing notes and also back to the Repeated Ebs. Don’t get me wrong, yes, you will be moving up and down the piano,
But instead of thinking of having to overly control the rotation between two directions, practice one direction in isolation to hone in the muscle memory and relaxation for the rebound. For example, imagine that the higher D# is your home base that you always ‘reset’ and relax to, while you’ll mostly be focusing on landing on the changing note. Allow your hand and arms to “reset” and relax at home base as opposed to controlling the movement back to the Eb.
Of course, it’s beneficial to practice the opposite direction of travel in isolation to hone in the muscle memory, the relaxation, and the rebound. At the end of the time, you’re trying to simplify the mental load so the mental tension of moving your body doesn’t create physical tension and get in your way of executing the passage.
Tip #9 - Pick one finger as your landmark or security
When executing chordal leaps, it’s often difficult to feel secure landing all the notes in the chord at the same time, accurately with confidence. Sometimes, there is a certain note or finger in the chord that acts as your anchor in landing all the notes. I find that this finger is often the 2nd finger in the chord. If you have the hand shape confidently, then the pinky and thumb often know where to go. It’s the middle notes in the chord that can be missed. Landing that 2nd finger creates more dexterity - it’s kind of like when we point to something, we use our index finger, not the thumb or pinky. I don’t know if it’s psychological or not, but really knowing where that 2nd finger goes has saved me many times.
Tip #10 - Slowly Practice the Hand Choreography
If both hands are doing leaps- practice slowly, choreographing which hand moves and lands first. Over time, they will start to be able to move and land at the same time!
This Video goes into it more deeply (1:38)!
This isn’t an exhaustive list of tips and tricks so if you have your own methods to feeling secure with leaps, let us know in the comments below! What other tips and tricks would you like me to write about? Happy Practicing!
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