Ornamentation and embellishment is uncharted territory for many piano students heading into more serious repertoire. Most method books don’t touch the topic of trills and the like… but once they move away from method books, all of a sudden… “BAM!” there’s a funny squiggly line on their music that is not only confusing but it requires a certain degree of dexterity and coordination.
If you’re wondering how to better prepare your students for their first glimpse of ornamentation, check out the 3 suggestions below.
Ornaments Hang on the Tree…The Tree Doesn’t Lean on the Ornaments.
This is a silly way of explaining the fact that trills, mordents and the like are meant to enhance the main melody line. Therefore, your students should be completely comfortable with the melody line before adding ornamentation. Your students should also be using the correct fingering from day one. They will have a much easier time fitting all those rapid notes into an even tempo if they can hear the original underlying beat of the music first and if their invented fingering isn’t causing hiccups in the flow. However… don’t wait for too long before adding in the ornaments to avoid creating mental blocks in those sections. Even though ornaments are meant to enhance the melody line, they should eventually become a part of the melody line without any sense of interruption.
Make the Squiggles Make Sense
Oh those wavy lines… some with a tail that points down, some with a tail that points up, some without a tail at all, just the letters “tr”, a squggily line with a line down the middle… good grief! It’s like deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphs!
Help your student to make sense of the muddle by actually writing out the notes that are involved on a piece of staff paper. Once all of the notes are written out, have your student highlight the melody line note that is being ornamented to really show their understanding of which note is the “important one”. Begin by playing the ornament using their staff paper as guide with a slow tempo and then gradually build up to reading off the music again at the given tempo.
Teach the Technique
Before your student begins work on ornamentation you need to ensure that their hand position is correct (see our previous post for help with this) and that their wrists are loose (see our previous post for help with this). Once you have the basics down pat try these:
1. Hold it: Have your students hold a note with one of their fingers and, while it remains held down, rapidly tap the note beside. It’s like playing a trill on a piano with a broken note (only one sounds). Teach your students to do this with each of their fingers to build flexibility and strength. It can become part of their warm-ups at the start of each lesson.
2. Black and White: Using their Right Hand 2nd and 3rd fingers, place finger 3 on D. Alternate between playing DCDC and DC#DC# so that your students get used to playing a trill on only white keys and on black and white keys. Once they are comfortable with this arrangement try fingers 3 and 4 and increase the tempo with each.
3. Don’t Leave the Left: While practicing the two exercises above be sure to add the left hand. Help your students to find the appropriate place for the Left Hand to play (and hold) a single note. This helps them to get a feel for timing when the trill happens in the context of a piece. You can then increase the difficulty of what the left hand plays by changing the single held note to a set of notes that step up or down etc.
With an early introduction to ornamentation you’ll help your students to avoid the discomfort and reluctance that can occur when seeing them on their music for the first time. Include trills, mordents, appogiaturas and the like into your regular technique work and watch soon them play Daquin’s le Coucou like a pro!