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  • Writer's pictureMary Barton

Making the Jump — From Elementary to Intermediate!

Ever stood on the edge of a swimming pool, longing to swim but delaying to jump in? You love floating and roaming free like a dolphin, but that first plunge in is, well, cold! And you know it takes a few hardy laps to warm up!

Perhaps you are on the precipice of intermediate piano studies and are hesitant to dive in because, well, it seems like more work than anything you’ve encountered at the elementary levels.

While intermediate repertoire is definitely more work, it’s also more rewarding! The gently expanding musical sophistication from one intermediate level to the next and the wonderful diversity of sounds and styles in the broadening musical landscape are exciting to incorporate into one’s musical palette. Plus you begin to encounter some of the more beautiful repertoire out there.

If you’ve taken your elementary studies seriously, learning to polish your pieces, not just mediocrely playing them through, you will have a solid foundation beneath you and the confidence to commence your studies at the intermediate level.

Let’s take a quick tour of how things gradually become more complex at the intermediate level. We’ll compare Level 4, the highest elementary level, to Level 5, the introductory intermediate level, using repertoire selections found in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s (RCM) 2015 Celebration Series curriculum:

Increased Difficulty

Comparing J. S. Bach’s Level 4 (L 4) Minuet in G Major to his Level 5 (L 5) Menuet in E Major:

  • L 4: falls easily under hands; easy fingering; predictable step-wise sequences

  • L 5: challenging key; more varied patterns; difficult fingering; blocked 6ths/3rd

Complicated technique

Comparing Jean-Baptiste Duvernoy’s Level 4 Etude in C Major to Samuel Maykapar's Level 5 Staccato Prelude:

  • L 4: 6th’s move by step using fingers 1/5; all white keys; piece almost entirely 8th notes

  • L 5: 6th’s move by various intervalic distances; alternating fingerings; frequent accidentals; alternating 16ths/8ths notes; jumping left hand

Rhythmic complexity

In Level 5’s Allegro agitato, by Jon George, we encounter 2 against 3 rhythms

Artistically demanding

Level 5’s Dedication by Enrique Granados not only involves challenging right-hand passages, but also more voicing and expression is expected

Complex fingerings & patterns = harder to memorize!

Comparing Muzio Clementi’s Level 4 Sonatina in G Major to his Level 5 Sonatina in C Major:

  • L 4: repetitive, easy-to-manage, predictable patterns;

  • L 5: long, intricate patterns; various motives; finger changes

The technical requirements also become more demanding, each new intermediate level adding new scales, chords, arpeggios and increased speeds. Learning these technical elements helps hone the skills required to master the repertoire encountered at each level.

A good way to approach any new level is to dip your toe in with strategies that ease the transition:

  • Start with a couple of easier pieces and work up to the more challenging selections within the level.

  • Start with musical styles that you enjoy. Perhaps you prefer jazz, or slow-paced waltzes

  • Start with pieces that highlight your strong points. For example, if fast-paced pieces are not your strong point, start with a slow, more expressive piece

Of course, you will want to eventually avail yourself of all that a level has to offer by taking on pieces that strengthen your weaknesses, becoming proficient in a variety of styles, and by challenging yourself with some of the more difficult repertoire.

Getting used to new musical waters is a great alternative to diving in cold, as it were. It gets you off the edge, into the flow and building musical muscle you didn’t know you had!

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