As part of the technical work section of a Trinity piano exam, students perform two exercises from three they’ve prepared – one chosen by them and one by the examiner. These exercises help pianists develop key technical skills through performance, and promote agility, harmonic and melodic awareness and underpin musical style. They all feature in Trinity’s Piano exam repertoire books.
To help you explore how you might work on these exercises with your students, Trinity’s lead senior examiner and primary consultant on the Piano syllabus, Peter Wild, takes you through a selection in a series of videos. We’ve pulled out some of the videos in this article, and you can find the whole series of videos here.
‘Tundra’, ‘Ming Vase’, ‘Going Underground’
The first exercise, ‘Tundra’, is all about control of tone through changing dynamics. The opening builds a crescendo, neatly balanced by the diminuendo back to piano that follows. Things to watch are the chords in the LH, which need to be played evenly with firm fingertips, whilst the RH is mainly responsible for controlling the tone and shape.
As the title suggests, ‘Ming Vase’ requires a lot of care and delicacy in coordinating the steady flow of quavers between two hands – to create the lovely finesse to the melody, as if it were a continuous stream of sound played by one hand. Bring out the pentatonic scale shapes, as found in traditional Chinese music.
The final exercise, ‘Going Underground’, features spiky staccato notes in the RH that, together with the minor key, give a mysterious and enigmatic feel to this exercise. Here, the main skill is thumb and finger flexibility – care is needed in passing the thumb under the hand, to avoid any bumpiness or awkwardness in the control of the tone.
‘Hand to Hand’, ‘Prelude’, ‘Invention’
As the title suggests, ‘Hand to Hand’ is all about balance between the left and right hands. The steady pulsing chords in the RH need good control, and form the background over which the LH sings. Think of a sonorous cello sound, and use some arm weight to project the LH melody. The hands reverse their contrasting roles in the second half of the exercise, with changing shapes in the LH as the bass notes descend.
‘Prelude’ is an exercise in co-ordinating pedalling with fingerwork. Note that every piano will differ, so let your ear be your guide – can you pedal cleanly, with no blurring and no gap? The harmony changes at the beginning of each bar, so that is where you have to listen carefully.
‘Invention’ harks back to Bach’s two-part inventions, where the musical material is shared between the hands. The playing requires clear and neat articulation and good hand independence, whilst maintaining a sense of flow.
‘In the Chapel’, ‘Penny Farthing’, ‘Jumping Beans’
The contemplative nature of ‘In the Chapel’ requires care and sensitivity when producing the tone and when balancing the texture. Ensure that the upper line sings above the remaining layers; it is worth practising the RH in isolation to balance the melody against the accompanying figure in the same hand.
‘Penny Farthing’ is about precision in the coordination of hands; the RH has the melody line which is projected with a nice cantabile, and this is accompanied by a LH figure in a semiquaver Alberti Bass pattern. Notice the expressive ‘yearning’ notes in the RH, which can be played with some intensity.
The final exercise, ‘Jumping Beans’, has a completely different character, full of spiky staccatos, and is great fun to play. It uses an irregular time signature of 5/4 – keep a good sense of forward direction and move on through the barlines with no hesitation. Enjoy the fanfare at the end!
We hope you enjoy learning and playing these exercises. As Peter says, they contain many contrasting facets of piano style and technique and “are full of colour – which is what playing the piano is all about!”
• Piano Pieces & Exercises Initial-Grade 8 is available for purchase from our online shop
• Get more free sample exercises, and free sample songs by downloading our Piano Sample Booklet
• Find out more about Trinity’s Piano 2018-2020 Syllabus