Fun Shorts

Little Etude Nº3: Ventricular Bigeminy

Nº3 of seven Little Etudes for beginner and intermediate piano players based on different cardiac electrophysiology aberrations for day 3 of WHRW2020: World Heart Rhythm Week (1-7 June 2020). Etude Nº3 is based on Ventricular Bigeminy, a periodic kind of premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). These extra heartbeats begin in one of the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart and disrupts the heart’s normal rhythm. They can cause the feeling of palpitations or a skipped beat in the chest. Occasional PVCs are relatively common, but frequent ones can promote arrhythmias or weaken the heart muscle.

When a normal beat is followed by a PVC, there is a slight pause, followed by a stronger-than-normal beat. During the pause after the PVC, the heart fills with more blood than usual, making the next beat feel more forceful. PVCs can occur sporadically or periodically. When the pattern occurs every other beat, it is called a bigeminy; when it occurs every third beat, it is called a trigeminy; every fourth beat is a quadrigeminy, etc.

This little etude is based on Samuel Barber’s Sea-snatch, No.6 in his Hermit Songs, Op. 29. The right hand part marks the alternating PVC (followed by slight pause) and more forceful normal beat. The more forceful beats following a PVC are marked with sforzandos (sf).

Little Etudes for piano

Hear the original Sea Snatch by Samuel Barber as performed by Leontyne Price and by Lauren Pollock Cohen: