Getting to Grips with Octaves


Having great octave technique is an essential hallmark of virtuosity – how fast, how loud and for how long can you play that octave passage while wowing your audience and getting them to their feet as they applaud, rapturously. Some players are hindered by small hands, but large hands can be a handicap too (Rachmaninov writes surprisingly few extended double octave passages).

So what’s the secret of octave technique, and how do we develop it? In this module I will guide you step by step as you build up your octave technique from the start, looking at the role of the finger tips, wrist, forearm and upper arm and shoulders in the various different types of octaves we encounter in your pieces. You will find exercises as well as examples from the repertoire, along with detailed video lessons and demonstrations.

Why Do Composers Write Octaves?

Composers write in octaves when they want to reinforce either a melodic line or a bass line, or both. The musical texture becomes richer, fuller or brighter as the extremes of the keyboard are brought into the sound picture - the sonorous and resonant bass register, and the brilliant and sparkling top treble register. When both hands play fast octaves in unison together (so called "double octaves"), huge orchestral sonorities are possible – the pedal is involved too, of course. Passages featuring double octaves abound in the Romantic repertoire, and we think of Liszt’s music in particular.

In this module, I start with some general observations before moving on to describing the various different types of octaves found in the piano literature and suggestions on how to tackle them. Please note that octave playing does not feature in elementary playing, so our first contact with octaves is likely to be at the intermediate level!

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