Fast Finger Practice: Clementi Prelude in E Minor

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Today we’re going to be learning a short piece by Muzio Clementi. It’s really more of a technical exercise, like scales and triads, but a little more interesting in my opinion.

It’s also a fast finger exercise, so we’ll be referencing the video on “how to speed up a piece” from last week quite a bit, to take those concepts and practice applying them.

And as always, the PDF for this music can be found linked below. Let’s jump to it!


Clementi Prelude in E Minor

Prelude_in_ _Minor sheet music

Muzio Clementi: Backstory

Muzio Clementi is not a name many people are familiar with nowadays – not like Beethoven or Mozart. But in his day, which was the late 1700s and early 1800s, he was almost as well-known as Franz Joseph Haydn.

Clementi spent a lot of his time teaching the next generation of musicians – notably, he taught Ludwig Berger who then went on to teach Felix Mendelssohn (a famous Romantic-era composer), and John Field, well-known in his own right but would go on to be a major influence to Frederic Chopin.

Clementi is best known for his Sonatinas and Sonatas for keyboard. Beethoven in particular loved to play Clementi sonatas, as did Carl Czerny (a student of Beethoven’s), and Carl Czerny then went on to teach the sonatas to Franz Liszt.

The Art of Playing the Pianoforte

Since Sonatinas (miniature sonatas) begin at an intermediate playing level (around Grade 3), we won’t be learning any of those yet. Instead, we’ll look to a teaching book that Clementi published, called “The Art of Playing the Pianoforte”.

PDF for “The Art of Playing the Pianoforte” can be found here.

This is an interesting book that begins right from the basics – how to read notes on a staff, intervals, rhythms, and much more. I think it’s a good read for any student, not just ones from 200 years ago.

In The Art of Playing Pianoforte, Clementi provides a mix of preludes and compositions by other composers, ranging from relatively easy to relatively difficult. He composed a prelude in every key signature, as a sort of warm-up exercise before playing more difficult pieces in that key signature.
They’re all worth looking at, honestly. If you’d like, I can do tutorials on some of these preludes – just let me know in the comments if that’s something you’d be interested in.

Prelude in E Minor

We’ll be focusing on the Prelude in E Minor today, since it sounds cool and moves at a fast clip.

First of all, let’s get our bearings. What is the key of E minor? To answer that question, let me ask another one:

What major key does E minor relate to?

The answer is G major. The key of G major and E minor both have an F# in the key signature. They’re like twins, but with the G major twin being fairly happy-go-lucky, and E minor being dark and moody.

This prelude, like many pieces, uses the harmonic version of the minor scale, meaning the 7th is raised. Remember, harmonic minor scales have that interesting Egyptian sound to them. If you don’t remember what harmonic minor scales are all about, definitely take a look at the Introduction to Harmonic Minor scales video. Or, you can look at the video tutorial of how to play E natural and harmonic minor.

Now let’s take a look at what this Prelude sounds like.

This guy plays it at a much more moderate speed than I do (you can see me play it in the PianoTV video).

Clementi Prelude: The Details

There’s a lot of fun stuff in this piece to unpack, so let’s get right into it.

First of all, we know this piece is in E minor because of the title, and if we look at the key signature (F#) and the starting notes (E), we can confirm that.

But how do we know it’s based on E harmonic minor scale, and not E natural minor scale?

Well, in an E harmonic minor scale, the seventh note is raised – so instead of playing a D, you’d play a D#. If you glance through the sheet music, you’ll notice that basically every D in this piece is a D#. That’s all there is to it!

Chords and Harmony

Now let’s have a look at the chords and harmony of this piece, because it’s really quite simple – but very effective.

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Our first bar has an E minor harmony – we can tell by looking at the E octave in the left hand. Even though there are a bunch of notes in the right hand, we still get the sense of E minor harmony because of how on each beat, a note from E minor chord appears (E G B).

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In the second bar, something neat happens. We start with some C major harmony. Take a look at the left hand – a C octave. On the main beats in the right hand, we have notes that imply a C major chord – the Cs in the left hand, and the G and E in the right hand.

But halfway through the bar, the main right hand harmony switches over to an A and E, which, if we combine with that sustained C in the left hand, forms a different chord.

What chord is A C E?

If you guessed A minor, you’d be correct.

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Moving on to the third bar, we switch to a B harmony. But what B chord is it? B major? B minor? B7?

It’s actually more complicated than that. If we look at the first few notes, you can see it’s outlining a B major chord (B – D# – F#). But a little further in, it begins outlining an E minor chord. And then at the end of the bar, it goes back to outlining a B major chord.

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In the fourth bar, things are spelled out a little more for us. Looking at the first chord, we see the letters B – E – G, which, when re-arranged, form an E minor chord. Next we have a chord in root position – B – D# – F# – A, which is a B7 chord.

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And then we finish the piece with E minor harmony, except this time the left hand is doing all of the leg work.

In-depth Chord Theory

Just to go even more theory nerd on you, this chord progression in bar 4 is special. So we already know the progression moves from an E minor chord to a B7. But we can’t just label the E minor chord as “Em”. We have to label it like this:

Em/B

The “/B” is telling us that, though we’re playing an E minor chord, the bass note is a “B”. From there, moving to the B7 chord is a breeze because you’re already on that bass B.

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This type of chord progression is incredibly common at the end of pieces or sections. If we were to notate the harmony, we’d write “I” under the E minor chord, and “V7” under the B7 chord. In Roman numerals, I=1, and V=5, referring to the scale degrees 1 (E) and 5 (B).

But wait, there’s more. If your head is spinning, you don’t need to worry about this right now – what I’m getting into is Grade 9 Harmony level stuff. But I still think it’s cool and worth sharing – we won’t be here long so bear with me.

We wouldn’t notate it just as I – V7. Since the Em chord is an inversion, we’d actually have to notate it as:

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To make a long story short: Your chord is E, but the bass note is B. The top number, 6, refers to the top note in that E chord – G. The distance between B (the bass note) to G is 6.

The bottom number, 4, refers to the next lowest note, an E. The distance from B to E is 4.

Hence, V64.

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And then we’d notate this next chord – B7 – as V753, with a sharp just like in the sheet music. Again, this is based on note distances: B to A is 7, B to F# is 5, and B to D# is #3.

Again, this progression from V64 to V753 is incredibly common in all kinds of music, whether for the keyboard, string quartet or choral.

Speeding Up a Piece

So how to get this song from slow to fast?

Let’s review the checklist from the video “how to speed up a piece on piano”.

  1. Make sure you know the piece very well (and slowly)
  2. Make sure you know the keyboard, and aren’t constantly peeking down at your hands
  3. Make the same fingering choices every time. In this piece, you have no excuse because all of the fingering is clearly labeled.
  4. Pick a slow and playable speed, and gradually boost it up bit by bit.
  5. Remind yourself of the goal seed by attempting to play it up to speed once in a while.
  6. Focus on tiny segments, instead of playing through the whole piece again and again.

Conclusion

And that’s all there is to it! This isn’t a wildly difficult song, but it does take some time speeding up. Have fun with it, and I’ll catch you next time. 🙂

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.