“But what will the examiner say?” Part 4: Dominant 7ths

Have you ever noticed that some dominant 7ths feel much more comfortable than others? That your students can fly up and down the keyboard with some, but don’t like practising all the dominant sevenths on the list? Chances are, the favourites are Bb7, Eb7, Ab,7, and Db7.  The fingering traditionally used is perfect. The minor third is placed between the 1-2, which works well, and the 3-4 only has to cover a tone. Moreover, the long fingers are mostly on the black keys, thumb on the white, which means few in and out adjustments also. Wonderful.

Bb7

The great news is, we can use that same spacing for F7, G7, and C7. You are probably already doing that for some of the inversions. You may consider  keeping this pattern for all inversions, with the 3-4 moving over a tone,  instead of struggling with a minor third.

G7

 So seven of the possible twelve combinations are taken care of. Done.

Now, D7, A7, E7, and B7 all have the same geography, that is white black white white, and subsequently  the same problem. The minor third over two white keys is not recommended for the 3-4, yet other plausible inversions have the 3-4 over D-F#, which is even worse, or F#-A, which is also not a viable solution. The only possibility without stretching that we found in my work with Edna Golandsky and John Bloomfield on this project is this below. 

D7

Yes, it’s unorthodox. But it’s completely manageable. As per my blog on diminished sevenths, the 3-5-1 combination does require more skill than stretching with the traditional 3-4-1, but with a good single rotation from the 5-1 and matching the tone, the cross sounds legato and convincing. Most people confess  that they were doubtful that this fingering could work, until they hear the demonstration.

For those of you who are still not convinced, I ask you, Where in the classical repertoire do we ever have to do D7, A7, E, or B7 over even two octaves, let alone four??  As per my blog on some of the diminished seventh fingering, if a student is really struggling to create a legato effect and would rather do the traditional fingering, just assign these patterns close to the exam so that they’re not building these stretches into their hands for the whole year.

Admittedly, F#7 is problematic. If you want to avoid stretching, this is a possibility, which you may or may not like. There’s just no silver bullet for this topography.

F#

Before you shake your heads, please consider that this F#7 configuration DOES NOT EXIST anywhere in the (classical) repertoire – that I know of at least.  If this does appear in the romantic literature (I’d love to see an example), using some pedal would be the norm. What is wrong with using a tiny bit of pedal for an artificial situation that will never be seen again in actual music-making? My colleagues in the US could not fathom why we have to practice these dominant sevenths over four octaves; this requirement simply does not exist there.

Perhaps when the time comes for a review of the AMEB technical requirements, we could suggest that some of these dominant sevenths are removed from the requirements for Australian pianists’ examinations.  Just as the decision was made to drop LH chromatic minor thirds for Gr 8. As there are already choices for key centres in the higher grades, perhaps  these could be narrowed further to focus upon dominant sevenths in keys that actually appear in the repertoire, and fit the hand comfortably. Alternatively, perhaps candidates could learn and present dominant and diminished seventh figures in configurations that are typically found in the literature (and often present obstacles), such as this excerpt below from Mozart’s K310, 1st movement. The aim of developing a technique is to be able to play the repertoire well, is it not?

mozart 310 dim-page-001

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