8. Outlining (Beethoven’s Sonata #1)

Outlining is a method for accelerating the learning process by simplifying the music. It allows you to maintain the musical flow or rhythm, and to do this at the final speed almost immediately. This enables you to practice musically long before that segment can be played satisfactorily or at speed. It helps you to acquire difficult technique quickly by teaching the larger playing members (arms, shoulders) how to move correctly; when this is accomplished, the smaller members often fall into place more easily. It also eliminates many pitfalls for timing and musical interpretation errors. The simplifications are accomplished by using various devices, such as deleting “less important notes” or combining a series of notes into a chord. You then get back to the original music by progressively restoring the simplified notes. Whiteside has a good description of outlining on P.141 of the first book, and P.54-61, 105-107, and 191-196 of the second book, where several examples are analyzed.

For a given passage, there are many ways to simply the score, and a person using outlining for the first time will need some practice before s/he can take full advantage of the method. It is obviously easiest to learn outlining under the guidance of a teacher. The idea behind outlining is that, by getting to the music first, the technique will follow more quickly because music and technique are inseparable. In practice, it requires a lot of work before outlining can become useful. Unlike HS practice, etc., it cannot be learned so easily. Use it only when absolutely necessary (where other methods have failed). It can be helpful when you find it difficult to play HT after completing the HS work. Outlining can also be used to increase the precision and improve the memorizing.

I will demonstrate two very simple outlining examples. Common methods of simplification are:

  1. Deleting notes
  2. Converting runs, etc., into chords, and
  3. Converting complex passages into simpler ones

An important rule is: although the music is simplified, retain the same fingering that was required before the simplification.

Chopin’s music often employs tempo rubato and other devices that require exquisite control and coordination of the two hands. In his Fantaisie Impromptu (Op. 66), the six notes of each LH arpeggio (e.g., C#3,G#3,C#4,E4,C#4,G#3) can be simplified to two notes (C#3,E4, played with 51). There should be no need to simplify the RH. This is a good way to make sure that all notes from the two hands that fall on the same beat are played accurately together. Also, for students having difficulty with the 3-4 timing, this simplification will allow play at any speed with the difficulty removed. By first increasing the speed in this way, it may be easier to pick up the 3-4 timing later, especially if you cycle just half a bar.

The second application is to Beethoven’s Sonata #1 (Op. 2, No. 1). I noted in the Reference that Gieseking was remiss in dismissing the 4th movement as “presenting no new problems” in spite of the difficult LH arpeggio which is very fast. Let’s try to complete the wonderful job Gieseking did in getting us started on this Sonata by making sure that we can play this exciting final movement.

The initial 4 triplets of the LH can be learned by using parallel set exercises applied to each triplet and then cycling. Parallel set exercise #1 is useful here (play the triplets as chords) and practice relaxing. The first triplet in the 3rd bar can be practiced in the same way, with the 524524... fingering. Here, I have inserted a false conjunction to permit continuous 524 cycling, in order to work on the weak 4th finger. When the 4th finger becomes strong and under control, add the real conjunction, 5241. Here, TO is required. Then practice the descending arpeggio, 5241235. Practice the ensuing ascending arpeggio using the same methods, but be careful not to use TU in the ascending arpeggio as this is easy to do. Remember the need for supple wrists for all arpeggios. For the RH, you can use the rules for practicing chords and jumps (e. Playing (Wide) Chords, Finger/Palm Spreading Exercises and f. Practicing Jumps above). So far, everything is HS work.

In order to play HT, use outlining. Simplify the LH and play only the beat notes (starting with the 2nd bar): F3,F3,F3,F3,F2,E2,F2,F3, with fingering 55515551, which can be continually cycled. These are the first notes of each triplet. When this is mastered HS, you can start HT. Once this HT becomes comfortable, adding the triplets will be easier, and you can do it with much less chance of incorporating mistakes. Since these arpeggios are the most challenging parts of this movement, by outlining them, you can now practice the entire movement at any speed.

In the RH, the first 3 chords are soft, and the second 3 are forte. In the beginning, practice mainly accuracy and speed, so practice all 6 chords softly until this section is mastered. Then add the forte. To avoid hitting wrong notes, get into the habit of feeling the notes of the chords before depressing them. For the RH octave melody of bars 33-35, be sure not to play with any crescendo, especially the last G. And the entire Sonata, of course, is played without pedal. In order to eliminate any chance of a disastrous ending, be sure to play the last 4 notes of this movement with the LH, bringing it into position well before it is needed.

For technique acquisition, the other methods of this book are usually more effective than outlining which, even when it works, can be time consuming. However, as in the Sonata example above, a simple outlining can enable you to practice an entire movement at speed, including most of the musical considerations. In the meantime, you can use the other methods of this book to acquire the technique needed to “fill in” the outlining.