Ruders - Swinging Bells

Interpreting the Music

Swinging Bells by Poul Ruders is set for the ABRSM Grade 5 piano exam 20134 - 2014.

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Ruders: Swinging Bells

• No key signature; mostly A major feel
• Bright unusual piece
• Quiet dynamic level
• LH in treble clef
• Frequent time signature changes
• Staccato in RH against sustained LH chords
• Building chords and letting go of notes in the right order
• No problem for small hands

This sparkling piece will appeal to many different students. The way it uses the sonorities of piano sound in new ways is an inspiration for improvisers and would-be composers. It is such a good teaching piece with regard to counting, finger precision and dynamic control that it would be worth learning even if it is not used in the exam.

The first possible error would be to fail to notice that the LH notes are in the treble clef. It is also possible to be confused about which notes are sharpened because of all the ties across the bar line. The music builds the chords note by note so they are not as daunting as they look on the page. In places where a chord is played all at once, it is in fact a repetition of a previously built chord, so the student only needs to lift and replace the fingers: bars 8, 13 and 15.

At every notated LH chord, check thoroughly the number of tied notes and whether there are any new ones. This often follows the staccato notes of the RH, but not always!

As well as adding notes, Ruders also sometimes takes them away. In bars 9 and 10 only the F sharp is held over. It is a little more complicated in bars 17 and 18 where a LH B is repeated and held over, whilst at the bar line the rest of the chord must be let go.

Fingering is quite obvious, and there are no issues for small hands. In bar 12, a 2 could be used on the G sharp as it is already there from the previous bar. In either case the hand should be slid forward to bring the thumb in reach of the C sharp.

There are no big stretches or hand movements required until the very end. The bar’s rest at bar 24 is a chance to reposition the hands on the semibreve chord, which is not far away from the notes of bar 23. There is no need to feel any pressure over finding the last note – it is the lowest C on the piano and there is a minim’s worth of time to get there.

The mixture of articulation between the hands gives the piece its unique sound. Note that there is no pedal marked until the very last note – indeed the composer specifies at the beginning that pedal should not be used (senza ped).

Another big source of errors will be mis-counting. In a piece with 18 time signature changes in 25 bars this is a vital aspect of learning. Play the recording of the piece and count along in quavers. If necessary, make a copy of the music and write counting numbers in every bar, for the student to recite while practising. A metronome set to tick each quaver may also help, when students miscount irregular bar lengths (e.g. 7/8 time, where it is easy to insert an 8th quaver without knowing, as it feels more normal). Bar 24, a whole bar of silence, should conform to the latest time signature, i.e. 7 quavers.

Although it is a joyful piece, it is not at all loud. The single dynamic marking given for the whole piece is p. This does not mean it is to be played in a monotonous or subdued tone. There is room for shape and liveliness. If you consider the sound of a bell, it begins with the clapper hitting the metal, so there is actually quite a hard edge to the sound. The RH staccato can be used to give this impression.

Let the sound die away for quite a long time at the end, enjoying the new overtones opened by the pedal and the sounding of the very low note. The last action of this piece is the lifting of the pedal, and it should be done carefully – if the sound of the dampers reconnecting with the strings is too abrupt it can spoil the effect of the fading bell tone.

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