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FAQ: online music lessons for piano and violin

What is anticipation and why do I need to know this?

Anticipation, according to the dictionary definition is an expectation, foreknowledge or foresight. In playing an instrument, anticipation refers to thinking and preparing ahead. What do we prepare ahead? We prepare the fingers, we prepare the hands movement and we prepare looking ahead when we read the sheet music. Anticipation in playing gives you a flow of movement which translates in the easy, natural flowing of the music you play. Otherwise you’ll stumble, hiccup and feel like you are ready to fall on your nose!

Fingers anticipation

In the simplest form, we prepare the next finger we need to play by lifting it while we are still on the current note. The next finger needs to lift to be ready to come down on the next key. This is why I insist students practice their warm up exercises for lifting the fingers. The mechanics are similar to little hammers that need to lift in order to come down. In cases when the next finger is not going to play an adjacent key, the anticipation includes not only lifting the finger but also extending the finger to be ready to hit the next key. If you are waiting until the note needs to be played, you’ll always be late. I am now talking of passages where the tempo (speed) is relatively fast. So when practicing you need to play slowly and prepare the lifting/extending of the next finger while you are still playing the current key. This technique practiced consciously many times, will not only give you speed and evenness in fast passages, but it will become an automatic habit, so then you’ll not need to keep thinking of it!

Arms/hands anticipation

This is needed when you have to shift the hands position to skip keys: either for single notes, or especially for chords that could skip over more than one octave. For example assume you have a chord on the Middle C, and the next one is on the next octave C (higher or lower), separated by a quarter rest. Once you finished the middle C position chord, do not wait for the rest with your hand still in that position. During the rest move your arm at the next octave, on top of the keys, ready to play on the required measure beat or count. In other words, if there is a rest, wait at the destination! This will ensure you don’t miss or land on the wrong keys! Always practice slowly, but moving the hand fast and relaxed to the new position, then wait there before you hit the keys. This is applicable to any skips where you have to change the hand position and the tempo warrants it. If the tempo is slow, of course the movement will be slower but you’ll still need to prepare ahead of time.

Reading the sheet music anticipation

This is probably something you do when you read any text, but you are not thinking of it. Why? Because when you learned how to read you practiced it and it became automatic! If you try to read word by word you’ll probably not read fluently. The eyes move ahead to the next bunch of words. It is the same in reading the music. While you are at the current measure the eyes should move ahead towards the next one, especially when you are at the end of the staff going to the next row.

Hearing the music anticipation

This is not something you are aware in the beginning but as you advance, you anticipate in your mind what comes next. Just like when we are walking our body is leaning a bit forward with the flow rather than backwards!

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