Albert Pieczonka


Technical Tips on Performing the Tarantella in A Minor  

Many young students have developed their technical facility to the point where they can tackle a flashy piece like the Tarantella in A minor.  If their hands are small, however, technical and tension problems can quickly arise in this piece.  

Here are some practical suggestions to help adapt the Tarantella to fit small hands comfortably.

 The Introduction—A simple solution for speed and ease

 Most of the questions that arise about performing Pieczonka’s Tarantella involve the Introduction.  This passage has long been a stumbling block in achieving a finished piece.  Because the right hand is placed in an awkward position in front of the body, the Presto tempo is not always easy for students with small hands to achieve.  And yet, preserving the precipitous, dashing Presto of the dance is paramount.  

Ultimately there is no need to sacrifice speed or ease.  

Leaning to the left will help some students straighten out the right arm and free up the right hand for this passage.  Releasing the RH thumb will also help.

 The simplest solution to achieving speed and ease in the Introduction is to redistribute the notes between the hands:  the LH takes the first RH note in measures 1 through 4.  In other words, the left hand will play a 6th at the beginning of measure 1, measure 2 and measure 3; and an octave in measure 4.  This frees up the RH to play the remaining notes in these measures with the fingering 1 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 1.   Immediately, the student can achieve the necessary speed with minimal effort.  The fifth measure lies comfortably in the right hand, if the thumb is passed on middle C.   Little touches of damper pedal will help smooth out the passage, as well as provide shimmering color.  See the following example:



The Coda:  Try an Ossia in measures 179-184

  The repeating right hand figure found in measures 179 to 184 is another spot that is difficult for small hands.   As with the Introduction, the right hand is playing right in front of the body, which can be awkward for a lot of students.    Physical ease in this passage is often related to the size and shape of the hand, as well as the ability to accommodate the right hand comfortably in this area of the keyboard.  

As with the Introduction, leaning to the left can help some students free up the right hand.  Also beneficial is releasing and relaxing the thumb so it is not stuck in a fixed, stretched position.

 But for some very small hands, this passage will still be a problem that results in hand tension:  the students’ hands tighten up to the point of discomfort and the passage invariably becomes slower and labored.  Maintaining the Presto becomes impossible; changing to Andante is musically disruptive.   

Here, I suggest an Ossia for small hands—adapting the passage by changing the notes of the right hand to an arpeggiated, first inversion A minor triad.   With the dramatically surging left hand and carefully negotiated pedaling, the over-all effect is not altered and, at the rapid tempo, the RH Ossia will hardly be detected. Repeat the Ossia in measures 187 to 191 for consistency.  

 The original passage:



The Ossia for small hands:

 Maxwell Eckstein’s edition of the Tarantella includes this adaption.  It is found in a volume called, Music for Children, published in 1934 by Amsco, and it is still in print.  There are many other suggestions for very small hands in this edition.  Eckstein obviously felt that small hands should not prevent anyone from performing and enjoying this piece.  

The B Section—Two suggestions to avoid tension  

Measures 67-121 also contain challenges in the right hand for some small hands.  My first suggestion is: for small hands, the top notes (dotted quarters) of the eighth note figures should not be held—the damper pedal should be used for creating the required legato.  These top notes should be played by the fifth finger when the intervallic span of the figure is an octave, seventh or sixth.  The thumb should be played easily and gently.  The hand should not stay fixed in an extended, stretched position.  This stretching causes excessive tension.  Swift and skillful pedaling will ensure the smoothness that Pieczonka intended.  

Another solution involves a redistribution of the notes between the hands.  Through a lot of this section, the left hand is in a position to easily take the last eighth note of the right hand eighth note figures. 

 See the following example: 


The Final Chords—Dynamic and comfortable  

Many small hands cannot comfortably negotiate the final RH chords of the Tarantella.  After a very fast and brilliant Coda, this is no time to struggle with a tight hand and wrong notes.   

In the right hand, I suggest eliminating the bottom notes of these final two chords to ensure that they are easily and cleanly played at full volume.  The result will be first inversion triads for the RH, comfortably played with 5 – 2 – 1.


© Stephen Erickson

August 9, 2012  

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