Adult Piano Lessons: Practicing Trills with a Metronome (2 of 2)

Sometimes gripping something one wants out of life is an effective strategy. But in the case of Chopin’s C-sharp minor Nocturne, I was so determined to master the trills that I tensed my hand.  In effect, I strangled the trills.

The trills give this Chopin Nocturne suspense and also momentum. While the trills warble—two of them for essentially an entire measure—the melody waits, coiled inside. This Chopin Nocturne was one of the pieces Adrien Brody played in the movie The Pianist.

I knew it was highly advisable to be able to spin trills not simply for this current work I was studying in my adult piano lessons, but also for what I perceived was my lifetime journey towards classical piano music. I unwrapped my new Seiko metronome, placed it on the side of my grand piano, and pressed open my book of Chopin Nocturnes. I would allow the metronome to step forward and handle the trill’s rhythm element so I could concentrate on softening my palm and back of my hand.

With the metronome set at 40 beats per minute, the lowest speed available, a very relaxed largo, I rocked my hand back and forth between F-sharp and G-sharp, one lazy beat for each note in the trill. Borrowing a technique from my yoga class, I inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly. At this glacial pace, I could finally release my hand muscles. I thought about how this exercise was one more example, in adult piano lessons, of the merits of slowing down.

Here’s what came next in the instructions my piano teacher, Stephen, gave me:

  1. I doubled my speed to two trill notes for each metronome tock, then doubled again to four trill notes per beat, concentrating on keeping my hand soft and relaxed.
  2. I increased the metronome speed to 50 beats per minute, considered the heart of largo territory, first playing one, increasing to two, and finally four trill notes per metronome tick.
  3. Once I could master 50, I repeated the entire process at 60 beats, then 70, and finally 80 beats per second.

It was not until I set the metronome to 80—the region of andante piano music—then attempted to play four trill notes for every beat that I had met my metronome match. But it turned out that the speed I had reached was good enough and that a couple of days of this practice was all it took. At my next adult piano lesson, I thought Stephen would murmur encouragement for a good start and instruct me to continue with the metronome work.

Instead, he told me I had fixed the trills. To my surprise, the repetitive, unimaginative metronome had freed me to create elastic, sweet trills.

Read Part 1 of Practicing Trills with a Metronome.

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