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Today while practicing Messiaen, it occurred to me that “pppp” is not a dynamic marking that we are called upon to produce every day. And what do you do when that marking is at the end of the piece?

You could hope to play as softly as possible when you reach the end and pray that the notes will sound…

That scares me for an entire concert! There is another way….

The piece in question has markings all the way from “p” to “pppp.” Yes, Virginia, that’s 4 levels of soft playing!

What I’m relying on is to find the softest level first. Practicing backwards is helpful once again!

The softest level is something you need to be comfortable with. What is the softest you can play and be sure the notes will sound? No walking on eggshells, please. Remember, the audience has to be able to hear you.

But you can’t cop out and substitute “mf,” either.

After finding something you can count on, try going up a level, practice going back and forth between the two, then add another level louder. Repeat!

Working on forte markings would go the other way. Try your loudest good sound first, w/o pounding. Then work down to one “f.”

Another consideration: every piano is different. It’s important to try out the dynamic extremes of your program on the piano you’ll be playing for the concert. You’ll want to hear how various levels work in the hall’s acoustics, too.

Once you become accustomed to trying things out like this, you can incorporate it into your warmup when you arrive at the hall. It need not take long, but checking out your comfort zone can help you be much calmer during the performance. (The amount of time this requires is most likely related to how much experience you have performing. Speaking for myself, during college this took quite a bit longer.)

Today I practiced 1 Bach prelude & fugue and 1 Messiaen prelude, all slo-mo, for my NY concert. Total time: 1-1/2 hrs.

Happy practicing!

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