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#1236348 - 07/24/09 05:00 AM Blues God needed for help with tremolos!
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Hints and tips needed please!

I've been learning blues from a book (the Mark Harrison one) and I'm having trouble with tremolos. I understand the concept generally. It's the specifics I'm not sure about.

Should I try to keep the whole thing even, or put a pulse, maybe on beats 1 and 3? Should I control the speed, or just play as fast as I can (for the correct amount of time)? Am I playing too heavy?

Here's a sample of something I'm working on just now. This is from Joe's Jump (Harrison) - I want to do this for the up-coming recital. You will hear (1) the intro - tremolos between the hands and (2) the final chorus - octave tremolos in RH.

http://www.box.net/shared/od69j6vcjg

It's not as polished as I'd like - obviously! smile Perhaps I should also say I have small-ish hands, so to reach an octave (white notes) my hands are on the corner of the keys.

I've been at this a while now, with no clear direction, so any help appreciated! laugh
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#1236447 - 07/24/09 11:21 AM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: ten left thumbs]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Need to go to work now, and won't be online probably until next week. Thanks in advance to anyone who replies - I'll check for responses nest week.
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#1236453 - 07/24/09 11:32 AM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: ten left thumbs]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
I think your tremelos sound just fine.

I play tremelos in two ways...either as triplets, so its tri-pi-let with the RH on each beat, or just fast, which works nice with slow blues.

As an exercise for tremelos in general, try working on them slowly with 6ths rather than octaves, so in the key of C it would be either g-e or e-c, working on having a relaxed wrist, fingers just strong enough to support the movement w/o causing stiffness in the hand, which will lock the wrist. (try it...make a stiff claw w/your hand, and your wrist is locked)

You sound good...keep at it.
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#1237987 - 07/27/09 05:49 AM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: rocket88]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Thanks, Rocket, that is encouraging and helpful! smile

I hadn't thought of practicing with a 6th. I do some that are a 3rd (fingers 2 and 4), and they are easy. The octave ones kill me. I need to keep a fair bit of tension in my hand to reach an octave. But I *try* to keep my forearm relaxed, as I would for playing parallel octaves. Whether I manage to keep my wrist relaxed, I can't honestly say. I'm also attempting some tremolos (RH) that are a 6th and an octave, and they kill me too. smile

I think maybe it's just a case of getting on and doing it. Maybe it'll get easier in 5 years time...
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#1238163 - 07/27/09 01:01 PM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: ten left thumbs]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3160
If an octave is a very big stretch, so that you can only get the corners of the keys, then you are automatically introducing enough tension into your wrist so that you by default cannot do octave tremelos relaxed.

That is why I suggest you do sixths for a while, even a long while, until you get very used to them, and then perhaps you can transfer that muscle memory into octaves.

BTW, tremelo sixths are a very legitimate and common figure in blues piano, so you are not really playing something that is less than.

Also, you could easily substitute some inversion of a tremelo sixth for the octave tremelo in the piece you are working on, and few would notice, as, again, 6ths are very legitimate. Or you could go back and forth between 6ths and octaves.

Don't worry...keep at it, it takes a while. If playing blues and boogie-woogie piano were easy, everyone would do it.


Edited by rocket88 (07/27/09 01:03 PM)
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#1238447 - 07/27/09 07:57 PM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: rocket88]
JazzPianoEducator Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/13/09
Posts: 203
Loc: Denver, CO
Rocket88 gives great advice here. One thing that I would add is that you can practice this away from the piano too. Even doing it on a table and listening for a smooth tapping between your thumb and pinky can help. It's actually nice too because you're learning to do it first without the pressure applied to the keys.

Like Rocket88 said, really focus relaxing when you do it. No only just your fingers but your entire upper body. Try to take note of tension in your neck or shoulder and correct it. The more relaxed you are, the more your feel will improve...

Good luck and keep it up!

JPE
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#1238715 - 07/28/09 07:52 AM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: JazzPianoEducator]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Thanks guys! I've been doing a bit of experimenting, and feel I'm beginning to get somewhere.

So, first, JPE, yes, I had been practicing on a table (that's how I learned trills) *but* I hadn't been paying careful attention to what I was doing. It's a great exercise because it forces you to focus on the percussive nature of what's going on, rather than the tonal. So, what I immediately noticed is that finger 5 was flicking up - that whole side of the hand infact, and the thumb was pretty sluggish. So I realised I need to adjust the centre I pivot through to about between knuckles 3 and 4. I do that and the whole thing is much easier, because it's balanced properly.

Then, rocket, I went back to my pieces and worked out which ones I can get away with just doing a 6th. For Joe's Jump, I don't think the 6th works because there are parallel octaves in between the tremolos. For another piece I'm working on, it works a treat. In this one the tremolos are a 6th and an octave, in between you get the 6th and the octave (aka a 3rd) without the bass note - so all I need to do is omit the upper voice. And them something that was horrendously difficult is suddenly quite OK, and no-one listening would know, excpet perhaps the composer himself. smile

So, then I went back to the octaves in Joe's Jump and asked myself if I can do this without holding all that tension in my hand. Here's what I discovered, and I'll explain it as best I can. I need a fair bit of tension to make the initial stretch. But then, once my fingers are there, I don't need to hold that tension for the full 4 beats. Instead, what I can do (this is new to me) is kind of grip onto the edge of the keys with my fingertips.

Sounds strange? Remember, for an octave on white notes my fingers are coming on the diagonal, not from directly above. So, while I'm on that diagonal, all I need is slight forward pressure, and I can relax my hand and let the keys do the work. There is also minimal movement with this, I'm not banging the keys from above. Minimal movement for greater speed, hopefully, eventually.

Try it on a 10th, or whatever strecthes your handspan. I'm pleased as punch with this. smile Hope this all makes some sense.
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I am a competent teacher.


www.justfingers.co.uk
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#1240254 - 07/30/09 09:34 AM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: ten left thumbs]
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
In addition to the advice given:

1) Don't over do it. Practice the technique a little a day. It will gradually improve. If you practice past where you get fatigue, bad technical habits will set in.

2) Practice short groups fast. - eg, three notes (thumb - 5th finger - thumb. Listen that that's the sound you want, repeat a few times. Add another note to the groups, so 4 notes (thumnb - 5 -thumb - 5), listen, repeat. etc.

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#1240459 - 07/30/09 04:23 PM Re: Blues God needed for help with tremolos! [Re: Phlebas]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Good points, Phlebas. I don't normally do high-intensity stuff like this for more than 10 minutes. And that's after warming up. I hadn't thought of doing short groups fast.
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I am a competent teacher.


www.justfingers.co.uk
www.babysinging.co.uk

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