At some point, piano students will face the challenge of playing a super fast-paced piece without having it fall apart. And while such a task may seem daunting, the player can begin to allay his fears by devising a parceled out practicing strategy.
The best panic attack prevention, (at the sight of a MM quarter= 138) is a measured approach that should include crowd control: spacing notes in incremental tempo settings; anticipatory anxiety relief (when bursts of energy follow tapered cadences); relaxed breathing at climactic junctures, intensified crescendo sections and poignant harmonic moments.
If the score is permeated by insanely driven staccato notes that are interrupted by sudden outbursts of obtrusive accents (sFp’s), these mood-triggered shifts must at all costs, not ignite a fight/flight reflex.
The mood state duality
Robert Schumann’s “Hasche-Mann,” (“Blindman’s Bluff”) from the composer’s well spun Kinderszenen (“Scenes From Childhood”) begs the player to inhabit a dual universe.
Framed as a very short, energy-packed tableau, it requires a face-off between a pianist’s sensibility and his propensity to fly off the handle.
If the latter prevails, the piece collapses like a house of cards.
However, where unabashed freedom of expression is allied to technical control,(Horowitz’s “Fire and Ice” analogy) the pianist will have mediated a potential conflict between the two.
In the attached video, I walk through a stepwise process of desensitization that enlists back tempo practicing, and draws on legato playing as the model for shaping lines in a CALM frame, before “snipping” 16ths into staccato. I also pinpoint the most vulnerable, anxiety-provoking measures, using mental prompts and chord “blocking” choreography to oppose frenetic tempo spurts.
An examination of harmonic rhythm also helps to clarify dips in phrases that flesh out deceptive cadences, and Neapolitan to Dominant progressions.
In summary, capturing the spirit of a piece in the fast-lane must exist side-by-side with impeccable control so that practicing should encompass both.