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Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments (Read 3573 times)

Offline pianovirus

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Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
« on: September 23, 2008, 11:37:20 PM »
I have decided with my teacher to devote about 30-40 minutes of daily practice time (from an average of around 3 to 3.5 hours on weekdays and usually at least 5 hours on weekends) to studying in detail a fixed selection of representative fragments from all op.10&25 etudes (I have played 10/1,2,4,12 and 25/9,11 and 12 at various times, but this time I really care about pursuing it more intensively, for all etudes, and as a more continuous effort).

The approach will not be sequential (i.e. to work on some fragments for three weeks and then move on to the next set), but rather as simultaneous as possible (in practice: sample about 8-10 fragments, keep them for some successive days, then re-sample from the set of fragments [some fragments could also be kept], and to frequently re-visit fragments over time).

I plan to devote 30-40 minutes a day for as long as necessary (say 8-10 months). When my teacher and me are both satisfied with the results on the fragments, we will start to work on all etudes as complete pieces (and from this point on, I will also move from 30-40 minutes to 100% of the daily practice time for the etudes). The goal is to be able to play the full set in an evening.

My questions are:
1. do you also consider this a promising approach of working towards the goal of playing all etudes at a very high level at a single point of time? If not, please share the reasons why you disagree, because I might reconsider the plan if the reasons are convincing.
2. if you think it's promising, would you be interested in joining? This way, it could be a lot of fun, and we could benefit from the exchange of ideas and experiences (problems we encounter, solutions we find, ...). One could also share videos or recordings of fragments for mutual benefit on a regular basis.




----------------------
The rest of this and the entire next post only contain some more details
----------------------

1.) Here is why I think this approach might be better than just working on full etudes sequentially:
-- With only 30-40 minutes daily time (as I said, the rest goes into the transcriptions for the next months), it is not feasible to expect intensive work on all etudes and to keep them all alive and in steady progress for a long time.
-- By working on selected, representative fragments, we can work in very much depth on every little detail of motion and musicality (because in the end the fragments should be played as musical as possible, as they would appear in the full etude). Once the details are understood for the fragment, it will be much easier (at least this is the hypothesis    :p   ) to transfer this to the full rest of the etude.
-- In this approach, very little time is spent on "learning the notes". I quickly know all fragments by heart and we can focus entirely on the real stuff.
-- Most importantly, I will have practised all fragments for a very long time, and crucially with many and frequent revisits. This is also not feasible when working on the full etudes with the time that I want to devote to this.
-- By working on other repertoire during this "preparation phase", I have enough diversity of styles and pieces to also cover other aspects of piano playing.

2.) A caveat I have not mentioned above: In several etudes, stamina is a substantial problem for most people (10/2 being a particularly notorious example for many, including me). This means we also need to add some stamina exercises for these etudes, but they should also be derived from the same fragments (by repetitions or very simple alterations of a fragment) for the reasons listed above.   

3.) In the next post, I will share what I plan to work on for the next two weeks, mainly to give a concrete example of what I outlined above.

Sheet music to download and print: Etudes by Chopin



Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #1 on: September 23, 2008, 11:38:26 PM »
Here are the suggested "representative" fragments for four etudes (bar numbers, e.g "7-8" means beginning of bar 7 to end of bar 8 ) I plan to start with. "Representative" should actually be a mix of frequently occurring patterns and the most difficult single parts of a piece (very subjective, of course). It should not just be the beginning of each piece, because I think the most useful patterns for intensive preparation practice might be others.

As I said before, the goal is to accumulate a complete, fixed set of fragments for all etudes rather quickly and then keep them active for several months, often mix among them to ensure steady progression on all of them over a period of time. I'm very happy to change the choice based on other peoples' comments! Also, suggestions for fragments from all other etudes ae also very welcome (again provided there is any interest at all in this idea).

For each etude, I add some notes of the variations  I plan to practice for each fragment and some general things to consider (again, very subjective and may change a lot over time; credits to my teacher also). Since we only started discussing today and had other pieces to discuss as well, this is still very sketchy....

The main purpose for now is to show what I mean in practice with the post above and to see if people would be interested to contribute their suggestions and tipps and maybe join the exercise - and the fun  :)   

10/1:
7-8
21-22
29-30
31-32
35-36
59-60
63-64
Practice variations:
- legato
- staccato
- Rhythm alterations suggested by Cortot (exercises no. 12-15) - rhythm alterations are a widely useful exercise that many of us are doing all the time anyway. These four here are the four basic hand positions by starting at the first, 2nd, 3rd or 4th note of the arpeggio.
Some notes:
- keep in mind when practicing slowly that at full speed not all hand transitions should be played with a full finger legato, because it would cost a lot in terms of fluency. Also practice this exact movement at slow speed (one can still benefit from full legato practice even though it's not the final motion)
- no pedal
- practice loudly (but not harshly), from f to ff and back to f for each phrase
- don't forget the accents at the top of each phrase
- when practicing in small units, always include the hand transition either by playing the next note, or by at least ending with a hand that would be fully prepared for going on (I hope it's clear what I mean)
- always, even at very slow tempo, keep thinking in quarter notes
- also do practice with metronome, gradually working up the speed (leave quite some time for slow practice also)
 
10/11:
1-4
44-45
52-53
- No idea for practice variations (other than written) yet, need to check Cortot or get some other ideas
Notes:
- always have each arpeggio _fully_ prepared in mind before playing and as prepared _as possible_ in the hand.
- arpeggios are synchronous in LH and RH and it's crucially important to always beautifully shape the melody (top of the arpeggios). this may be hard to do by fingers alone; a little twist/kick from the wrist may help.
- don't play the "1" in each bar with too much emphasis, only possibly the top (melody) note.

10/12:
9-10
15-16
29-30
73-76
81-82
Practice variations: also no idea yet.
Notes:
- similar to 10/1, at full speed a full finger legato is not good for some transitions (e.g.  bars 15-16) because it would require big hand movements.

25/9:
25-28
33-36
Practice variations: same as above, no idea yet.
Notes:
- leggiero!!
- the succession of heavy-light-heavy-light-... is important throughout
- the thumb does not need a full legato; it may get too heavy otherwise
- the wrist has a little feeling of down-up (corresponding to heavy-light), but this is not a big motion (waste of energy). In the end it may even be barely visible, but the feeling is still there
- never forget about a sense of relaxation (this applies of course to all music, and yes, there is no complete relaxation.....)

Offline michel dvorsky

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #2 on: September 24, 2008, 12:44:40 AM »
Ok, I'm not sure if somebody will take the time to read the post above

You've got that right.
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Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #3 on: September 24, 2008, 01:06:26 AM »
You've got that right.

Fine then. But at least I wanted to try to get some opinions. A quick glance over the contents would have taken two minutes I'd say. It's a pity you have nothing else to share, or don't want to.

Offline michel dvorsky

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #4 on: September 24, 2008, 01:08:16 AM »
The secret of good writing is to do the work so that your reader doesn`t have to.

You can`t just throw a block of text at us and expect us each to take the time to make sense of it.
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Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #5 on: September 24, 2008, 01:19:52 AM »
The secret to good writing is to do the work so that your reader doesn`t have to.

Agreed. This is not my strength I guess...
Anyway, I have shortened and edited my post - maybe it helps.

Offline bjenkins24

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #6 on: September 24, 2008, 01:29:39 AM »
The secret of good writing is to do the work so that your reader doesn`t have to.

You can`t just throw a block of text at us and expect us each to take the time to make sense of it.

Come on!  It's not even that long.  Stop being lazy, if you didn't want to read it or make a intelligible comment then why reply?

Well I read it and think it seems like a good idea.  I would love to join you but I am so busy with everything I need to work on for school I don't think I could take 40 minutes out of my practice time to do it with you.  But good luck to you!  I would like to hear how it's going in a few months.

Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes preparation -- anybody interested to join?
«Reply #7 on: September 24, 2008, 01:44:16 AM »
Come on!  It's not even that long.  Stop being lazy, if you didn't want to read it or make a intelligible comment then why reply?

Well I read it and think it seems like a good idea.  I would love to join you but I am so busy with everything I need to work on for school I don't think I could take 40 minutes out of my practice time to do it with you.  But good luck to you!  I would like to hear how it's going in a few months.

thanks bjenkins for a more constructive reply. I'll certainly share how it's going.

Offline etudes

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #8 on: September 24, 2008, 02:00:37 AM »
it is kind of interesting idea though,but I would do something different I would rather spend like 2 hours on 6 of chopin etudes until they are done and move on to the different sets until 4 cycles are done. The rest you can just relearn all of them again and trust me they will much better and easier to play than the first time you learned (as a cycle of 6 etudes) and you can still have time to practise anything else (don't need to put 100% of practising time only for the etudes).
I did myself a little bit different. I did only op.25 (and doing op.10/1,2 now) I just started like 4 of them (1-4) and once I have them quite ok (doesnt need to be everything perfect in tempo) I gradually added the next 4 (which i picked 6,8,9,10) and go on with (5,7,11,12). They took me like 10 months or so to complete all op.25 (along with other pieces).
I am thinking of doing op.10 right after,but after the process of learning those etudes I think I would rather play something else before I go back to complete op.10
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Offline frank_48

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #9 on: September 24, 2008, 02:02:39 AM »
i plan to devote 100% of my practice time to the etudes, but not yet, maybe in 5 years or so, I plan to do it this way:

starting 4 etudes at the same time,(starting the easiest first) 2 hours of quality practice each, thats 8 hours a day, 56 hours a week, and 224 hours a month. Multiply that by 6 months and you have been relentlessly practicing etudes for about 1344 hours. if you divide that by 4 it comes to something around 330, so that would be around 330 hours per etude, meaning 4 etudes every 6 months, 8 etudes a year, 3 years to master all 24

im guessing it would only take about 100, max 150 hours to master an etude, but then again, these are just average figures.
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Offline etudes

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #10 on: September 24, 2008, 02:28:01 AM »
i plan to devote 100% of my practice time to the etudes, but not yet, maybe in 5 years or so, I plan to do it this way:

starting 4 etudes at the same time,(starting the easiest first) 2 hours of quality practice each, thats 8 hours a day, 56 hours a week, and 224 hours a month. Multiply that by 6 months and you have been relentlessly practicing etudes for about 1344 hours. if you divide that by 4 it comes to something around 330, so that would be around 330 hours per etude, meaning 4 etudes every 6 months, 8 etudes a year, 3 years to master all 24

im guessing it would only take about 100, max 150 hours to master an etude, but then again, these are just average figures.

hmm...I meant 4 etudes with 2 hours a day...not 2 hours each.
well...100-150 hours...can't really say...depends on the etudes also I heard of many pianists who spend like 5 years on just op.10 no.2 in order to ''master'' it (same goes with feux follets).
edit. BTW I don't think devoting 100% for the chopin etudes is a good approach to me. I need more vary degree of music,different epoches,composers to develop understanding of music is a better way than playing the whole day romantic etudes (say nothing about only chopin etudes) thats why I insisted on keep doing it 2 hours a day and keep the rest of your time for something else (don't forget how big the piano repertoire is)
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Offline 0range

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #11 on: September 24, 2008, 02:36:35 AM »
I tend to gravitate more to the OP's plan, which is what I have implemented for myself.

This is mainly because I physically couldn't take two hours of technical work on Chopin etudes every day, I would injure myself. I've found that, for myself, this sort of painstakingly technical work (as opposed to polishing and working on interpretation) has to be done in small, 5-10 minute little bursts scattered throughout the day. So, while I may spend an hour a day on three different etudes, I am never pushing myself to where I feel fatigue or discomfort.

Quote
- legato
- staccato
- Rhythm alterations suggested by Cortot (exercises no. 12-15) - rhythm alterations are a widely useful exercise that many of us are doing all the time anyway. These four here are the four basic hand positions by starting at the first, 2nd, 3rd or 4th note of the arpeggio.
Some notes:
- keep in mind when practicing slowly that at full speed not all hand transitions should be played with a full finger legato, because it would cost a lot in terms of fluency. Also practice this exact movement at slow speed (one can still benefit from full legato practice even though it's not the final motion)
- no pedal
- practice loudly (but not harshly), from f to ff and back to f for each phrase
- don't forget the accents at the top of each phrase
- when practicing in small units, always include the hand transition either by playing the next note, or by at least ending with a hand that would be fully prepared for going on (I hope it's clear what I mean)
- always, even at very slow tempo, keep thinking in quarter notes
- also do practice with metronome, gradually working up the speed (leave quite some time for slow practice also)

Seems like you have a good plan. I would add a couple of ideas...

To opus 10/1 specifically:

Outlining. Essentially, instead of playing the entire arpeggios, just play the thumb and fifth finger, ascending and descending. (This is assuming, and I have no clue how other people finger this etude, so I may be out on a limb, that you are fingering it similarly to myself. Either way, you get the idea.

Slow practice focusing in excruciating detail to make sure that you hit exactly the center of each key.

Overall:

I would try to find pieces that shadow the difficulties in the etudes that you are tackling and learn these concurrently. Heller and Mendelsohhn are great for this.

Record yourself playing! It's been a real struggle for me to cultivate the ability to hear myself play. I have, however, improved drastically since I've put it in my top priority. Ear and theory training aside, I've found that the most useful thing to do is to record myself. Even better, if you have a digital piano, record yourself at 1/4 speed and speed it up to see how it sounds. Sometimes this is a real eye opener. Sometimes it sounds terrible at 1/4 speed, jerky or what-not, yet at full speed it actually sounds quite good - how motivating! Conversely, if you play at full speed and then slow the recording down you may be horrified at how uneven it sounds - again, motivating if it inspires you to practice more! So, this is a nice tool both as ear-training, motivation and feedback on your technique. 
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Offline m

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #12 on: September 24, 2008, 07:14:27 AM »
I have decided with my teacher to devote about 30-40 minutes of daily practice time (from an average of around 3 to 3.5 hours on weekdays and usually at least 5 hours on weekends) to studying in detail a fixed selection of representative fragments from all op.10&25 etudes...

I have no idea what a "fixed selection of representative fragments" means. Sorry, I don't see the point, or any value of doing that. 
For example, when you go on the stage I highly doubt the audience will be somehow interested in listening to any of that.
Besides, it is not a big deal to play an excerpt from any etude, but it is a great challenge to play any of them from the beginning to the end.
What are you trying to accomplish and why would you do those fragments, to start with?

Best, M

Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #13 on: September 24, 2008, 08:53:31 AM »
I have no idea what a "fixed selection of representative fragments" means. Sorry, I don't see the point, or any value of doing that. 
For example, when you go on the stage I highly doubt the audience will be somehow interested in listening to any of that.
Besides, it is not a big deal to play an excerpt from any etude, but it is a great challenge to play any of them from the beginning to the end.
What are you trying to accomplish and why would you do those fragments, to start with?

Hi Marik - I take your scepticism very seriously as I know your wonderful piano playing from the recordings you have been sharing. My answer is not to try to argue against that scepticism, but just to clarify why I think it may be promising.

In a nutshell, the idea was to have two phases towards studying all the etudes:
1. practice fragments by devoting about 20% (or a little less) of daily practice time to prepare the mind and coordination for the challenges until one has reached a kind of "steady state" on all fragments. This may take several months. During that time, the remaining 80% (or so) is spent on completely different repertoire.
2. only after this preparation start to work on all the full etudes (spending much more daily practice time [I was thinking 80-100%] with them).


To make things concrete, I have listed the fragments I chose for four etudes in the 2nd post. For 10/1 these are the following bars: 7-8, 21-22, 29-30, 31-32, 35-36, 59-60, 63-64.

And now why I thought it could be worth a try:

From non-piano life experience (especially my 'normal' work), I always found it good not only to think from one short-term goal (e.g. my current set of pieces) to the next, but to also look ahead a bit further and to see if you can already do something to prepare for the 'next step', but without distracting from the immediate step ahead of you and taking too much energy from that.

Most pieces I studied so far, I could get them to a level I'm at least temporarily happy with in the first run (i.e. without much revisiting). In contrast, there is not a single Chopin etude I studied with which I was satisfied after the first round. For example, I played op. 10/2 cleanly and musically (I hope...), but much below a speed I'd be satisfied with (and I'm not keen on speed records). This would not change if I'd spend 1 hour a day over a continued time with it, I think. Rather, I fear it would be a waste of time, since the learning processes (in mind and muscle coordination) happen gradually over a longer time. If this is true, then indeed it should be more efficient to spend less practice time per day (I was planning for 30-40 min.) with the etudes for an extended period, but to re-visit very often in that time. And by focusing on fragments, I can study in much detail the motion and the musicality (although obviously not the big lines, but for example things like shaping a beautiful crescendo and decrescendo in each 10/1 phrase). Since most of the etudes have a lot of re-occurring patterns, once the general ideas are understood on a number of fragments it should be more straightforward to transfer to the rest when learning the full etudes. For many etudes, stamina is an issue, and the idea is to also practice stamina by repeating fragments (or repeating in slight alterations).

Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #14 on: September 24, 2008, 12:16:02 PM »
it is kind of interesting idea though,but I would do something different I would rather spend like 2 hours on 6 of chopin etudes until they are done and move on to the different sets until 4 cycles are done. The rest you can just relearn all of them again and trust me they will much better and easier to play than the first time you learned (as a cycle of 6 etudes) and you can still have time to practise anything else (don't need to put 100% of practising time only for the etudes).
I did myself a little bit different. I did only op.25 (and doing op.10/1,2 now) I just started like 4 of them (1-4) and once I have them quite ok (doesnt need to be everything perfect in tempo) I gradually added the next 4 (which i picked 6,8,9,10) and go on with (5,7,11,12). They took me like 10 months or so to complete all op.25 (along with other pieces).
I am thinking of doing op.10 right after,but after the process of learning those etudes I think I would rather play something else before I go back to complete op.10

That is a possible alternative. So you also cycled and repeatedly revisited the etudes, but you did it for the entire pieces from the beginning on. At this time, spending 2h of my daily practice time is too much for me. And with 30-40 minutes, I fear working on full etudes (especially if it's more than one at a time). is not really feasible. This is why I thought of using the fragments so that I can still get very familiar with the intricacies of all etudes, while still having enough time for other repertoire which I have for the next couple of months.

I tend to gravitate more to the OP's plan, which is what I have implemented for myself.

This is mainly because I physically couldn't take two hours of technical work on Chopin etudes every day, I would injure myself. I've found that, for myself, this sort of painstakingly technical work (as opposed to polishing and working on interpretation) has to be done in small, 5-10 minute little bursts scattered throughout the day. So, while I may spend an hour a day on three different etudes, I am never pushing myself to where I feel fatigue or discomfort.

That's interesting to hear (and I agree about the prevention of injury, because you can gradually build up the coordination over a longer time). For how long have you been practicing this way already? How about the results so far?

Thanks also for the other tipps. The "outlining" exercise is also suggested by Cortot to practice the basic hand adjustment (and to prevent too much tilting of the hand). And I'm also frequently recording for self-control, although I don't have access to the tricks you describe on the digital (since I have a grand piano, I have almost never touched my digital....).

Offline franzliszt2

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #15 on: September 24, 2008, 10:25:46 PM »
When I was playing op10 as a set, I was spending about 5 hours a day on them. I would have spent longer, but had to play other things as well.

I played a few of them when I was younger, and then decided to learn them as a set becasue it is great music. I started doing 2 per week, one hard one, for example op10no7, and pait it with op10no6. I would spend a week on them 2, and learn the notes, and practice the technique, then after 1 week change to another 2, but maintain the previous 2 at a slower tempo. Then keep doing that.

Now I play fragments of them, like awkward parts in op10no1, middle section op op10no4, and other bits. I can still get through most of them now, and  havn't practiced them for over a year. It is important to do these pieces properly,and in depth with a teacher. My teacher told me to do them, and worked on them with me. I don't think working in fragments would work. Just learn one of them in a lot of detail, then learn another one....you will learn more that way.

Offline franzliszt2

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #16 on: September 24, 2008, 10:35:47 PM »
Quote
Outlining. Essentially, instead of playing the entire arpeggios, just play the thumb and fifth finger, ascending and descending. (This is assuming, and I have no clue how other people finger this etude, so I may be out on a limb, that you are fingering it similarly to myself. Either way, you get the idea

The most important thing to remember with this method is that it must be perfectly legato in terms of sound. Nothing can bump. That is very hard to do. I found this give me a tense wrist. I also found many of the Cortot excercises giv me a tense wrist in this etude. I just practice it very slowly, with no pedal, focusing on the legato, and movements. Also on the feeling of relaxation and total freedom of the shoulder so the arm can move freely up and down the keyboard.

I'm sure the 1-5 method works for  lot of people though, why else would Cortot sugges it?

Offline thierry13

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #17 on: September 25, 2008, 02:03:11 AM »
Cortot's exercise are weird and focus on the immobility of technique most of the time, wich is not good, and wich is why you tense up. Cortot was a great musician but I wouldn't practice technique under his methods. A bit hanon-ish.

Offline 0range

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #18 on: September 25, 2008, 05:21:49 AM »
I have no idea what a "fixed selection of representative fragments" means. Sorry, I don't see the point, or any value of doing that.

To be sure, he could have worded it better. (As michel dvorsky so helpfully and graciously pointed out, writing may not be his strong point.) I think what he means, and correct me if I'm wrong, pianovirus, is, "a selection of difficult bits".

That's interesting to hear (and I agree about the prevention of injury, because you can gradually build up the coordination over a longer time). For how long have you been practicing this way already? How about the results so far?

I started my first etude about six months ago, and the second about two. The third, I began a few days ago. The first has been memorized at speed for a month or so now, and I've been working on the important stuff with it since. The second is near memorized and at speed, aside from a few bars that I am still working on. The third is, predictably, not resembling anything that could be called a piece of music yet.

Quote from: pianovirus
Thanks also for the other tipps. The "outlining" exercise is also suggested by Cortot to practice the basic hand adjustment (and to prevent too much tilting of the hand).

I did not know this... I'll have to give old Cortot a read.

Quote from: pianovirus
And I'm also frequently recording for self-control, although I don't have access to the tricks you describe on the digital (since I have a grand piano, I have almost never touched my digital....).

Lucky you! ;D
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Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #20 on: September 25, 2008, 04:20:25 PM »
Cortot's exercise are weird and focus on the immobility of technique most of the time, wich is not good, and wich is why you tense up. Cortot was a great musician but I wouldn't practice technique under his methods. A bit hanon-ish.

Thanks for that warning (the tension issue was also mentioned by franzlist2 above). I haven't looked at the exercises for all etudes yet. I didn't think of using all his exercises (no time for that, anyway). But some of them are generally useful (and certainly not invented by Cortot), like practicing practicing the 10/1 arpeggios in altered rhythm from different starting points (these are his exercises 12-15 I think). Or for 10/2, playing 16ths staccato in 10/2 while leaving the chords for a full quarter, etc. To avoid tension I would never think of doing this for long (Cortot often suggests groups of 4 or 8 bars).

http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,16476.0.html

lostinindlewonder, respect for that massive 3x3 h/day program. 8) But given my time constraints mentioned above, it's not applicable, I'm afraid :-)  I'm sure it would be an interesting mental experience though.
Moreover, apart from the time constraints, my immediate goal with the fragment practice is essentially one step before what you did, in the sense that I want to exercise the technique in much depth over a long time for each etude using relatively small fragments and to practice them intensively over a longer period of time before going to work on the full etudes. In other words, spending much time on learning notes and memorizing (which is what you described in the thread you linked to) is exactly what I want to avoid at the moment, in order to focus on the technique only.

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #21 on: September 25, 2008, 04:55:40 PM »
In general I disagree.  I posted comments paragraph by paragraph, hopefully not losing the big picture!


The approach will not be sequential (i.e. to work on some fragments for three weeks and then move on to the next set), but rather as simultaneous as possible (in practice: sample about 8-10 fragments, keep them for some successive days, then re-sample from the set of fragments [some fragments could also be kept], and to frequently re-visit fragments over time).

Neuhaus described Godowksy's method of practicing, and keeping a lot of repertoire.  He would practice passages only, taking out this book, then that book, and often the passages would be mechanically related.  In this way he was able to look at a lot of music in a short amount of time.

This seems to be similar to your proposal: to sample these little bits and maintain a technical level on all of them.  I disagree, because Godowsky had already mastered the music he was sampling.  In order to achieve mechanical mastery, I don't think you can work a little bit of time on a little bit of something every day.  At some point, a difficult thing requires your full, undivided attention.  Personally, when I encounter problems, I know that they have to be worked at until they are solved.  Not a little bit here, then there; they have to be solved then and there.

But that is only my method.  My main point is, little bits don't cut it.  The only way to improve is undivided attention. 

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My questions are:
1. do you also consider this a promising approach of working towards the goal of playing all etudes at a very high level at a single point of time? If not, please share the reasons why you disagree, because I might reconsider the plan if the reasons are convincing.

I don't, partly because of the reason I mentioned above, and also because one of the challenges of each etude is the stamina issue.  I get the impression that your approach is based on, once you understand the inherent problem the rest of the etude will come easily.  There's a certain truth in that, but I think it is better expressed like this: once you understand the inherent problem, the practicing will come easily.  Each etude still demands an amazing amount of work.

Lots of people play all 12 or 24 or whatever at once, and I am sure if you are attempting it that means you can do it.  But I find this "bits and pieces" approach to be too unfocussed.

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1.) Here is why I think this approach might be better than just working on full etudes sequentially:
-- With only 30-40 minutes daily time (as I said, the rest goes into the transcriptions for the next months), it is not feasible to expect intensive work on all etudes and to keep them all alive and in steady progress for a long time.

It's definitely not feasible!  I don't think it is feasible to expect to master 10 "fragments" in 30 minutes either.  I think there's a weird contradiction of overly organized (practicing with distinct time limits) and also unfocussed (always moving on to the next thing because of time limits).  I think one is better taking an entire etude, and learning it with undivided attention.  For fun, one sight-reads the others, examines them here and there, but ultimately what is required is undivided attention.

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-- By working on selected, representative fragments, we can work in very much depth on every little detail of motion and musicality (because in the end the fragments should be played as musical as possible, as they would appear in the full etude). Once the details are understood for the fragment, it will be much easier (at least this is the hypothesis    :p   ) to transfer this to the full rest of the etude.

Another thought I had is that in each etude, with each problem Chopin presents, he always presents it, in addition to in the clearest way possible, in a very problematic, almost awkward way.  For instance, the opening bars of op.10 no.1 could not be clearer.  But later on, there are some bars which are almost impossible to play without readjusting the fingering in some way (or some people even readjust hand divisions).  A similar passage occurs to me in op.10 no.2, and op.25 no.12 (I can cite bar #'s later if you are interested).

I mention this to reinforce my thesis of undivided attention.  Becoming mechanically acquainted with a problem won't be enough to learn the etudes.

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-- In this approach, very little time is spent on "learning the notes". I quickly know all fragments by heart and we can focus entirely on the real stuff.

I've always found the notes to Chopin etudes, among the easiest in all the repertoire to learn, and the hardest to forget.

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-- Most importantly, I will have practised all fragments for a very long time, and crucially with many and frequent revisits. This is also not feasible when working on the full etudes with the time that I want to devote to this.

I think you're better off using your attention to learn an entire etude, because let's say you practice this or that fragment over and over again, then have to learn the piece, and only the bars you have been practicing for 6 months or whatever sound good, and the rest sounds bad?

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-- By working on other repertoire during this "preparation phase", I have enough diversity of styles and pieces to also cover other aspects of piano playing.

Well why don't you learn all your repertoire in this way?  Why not, play all the first themes of Beethoven sonatas for so much time in a day, because if you learn the first themes to Beethoven sonatas, they are almost always building blocks for the whole movement, if not piece.  I don't think anyone would do it, because they would recognize the way to be to focus on one Beethoven sonata, and learn it thoroughly!

I think I can understand your attitude towards the Etudes, and I have encountered it before, heard it before.  Chopin organized them so highly and with such purity of purpose, that it often inspires us to try and do the same.  But time is not as short as one thinks, and the hour spent in solid, undivided concentration is worth months spent on fragmented, time-conscious practicing.

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2.) A caveat I have not mentioned above: In several etudes, stamina is a substantial problem for most people (10/2 being a particularly notorious example for many, including me). This means we also need to add some stamina exercises for these etudes, but they should also be derived from the same fragments (by repetitions or very simple alterations of a fragment) for the reasons listed above.   

I have a better idea than inventing stamina exercises - play the whole etude!
:)

Walter Ramsey



Offline pianovirus

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #22 on: September 25, 2008, 11:47:26 PM »
Many thanks for that thoughtful reply, Walter.

I realize that the advice against my idea have been accumulating. Moreover, in the last days (when trying my idea a bit) I also found myself not to stick with the self-imposed time limits (also because it's fun to sample bits and pieces), and as a consequence have been neglecting my current main pieces a bit. I am most inclined to consider the advice /opinions received here and to first finish with my current work without 'multi-tasking' too much. When I'm done with that I would probably want to work on the set (maybe only either op. 10 or 25 to begin with) in the way suggested by etudes in an earlier post.

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Another thought I had is that in each etude, with each problem Chopin presents, he always presents it, in addition to in the clearest way possible, in a very problematic, almost awkward way.  For instance, the opening bars of op.10 no.1 could not be clearer.  But later on, there are some bars which are almost impossible to play without readjusting the fingering in some way

I think this observation by itself does not immediately imply that practicing bits is not feasible. For example, my selection of fragments from 10/1 (bar numbers given in the 2nd post in this thread) is a mix with a bias towards the hardest arpeggios (for me at least). I'd say if you have managed the motion for the hard ones, the other ones (e.g. the opening) should be much easier.

P.S. I didn't know that Godowsky used to sample little bits from pieces for practice (but as you mention it's something different to practice something which is already mastered, as compared to practicing something new... moreover, there is a certain gap in abilities between my humble self and G. which is another reason why I won't take that case as an analogy).


Offline m

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #23 on: September 26, 2008, 07:24:24 AM »
There is not much I'd add to excellent post from Walter. The only thing I could recommend is to go for "selective practice" only after a certain etude has been learned and mastered.

Best, M

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Chopin etudes - intensive practice of representative fragments
«Reply #24 on: September 29, 2008, 02:32:47 AM »
I really find no problems with study any piece, in whatever way you like. However you should make a note of what you are studying as a minor or major part of your piano study. If you make these sporadic attempts at learning the Chopin Etudes your main study then there is a problem. You could be learning easier pieces which have more of an effect on your technical ability. However if you make the CE's a minor part of your study and only something you are curious about every day, that is fine. So long you are not pinning the majority of your piano learning on pieces that are too hard for you.

I have always studied some pieces that are too hard for me. I use it to motivate me, also it almost feels like you are swinging 3 baseball bats at one time. Then when you go back to your normal music swinging one bat doesn't seem so hard. But difficult pieces have always been put on the minor study pile, never focus on it every day for hours. The danger is that sometimes these pieces can tempt you to spend a lot of time on them. You need good discipline to be able to put it down and practice what you should be. Perhaps practice your hard pieces at the end of your major practice routine.

Playing random samples of an etude is fine but do you know how to connect them to each other? If you can only play say a single fragment but find it very difficult just to play that fragment, you will have little chance in being able to connect parts together. So being able to play small parts is fine but useless if you do not know how to connect them. One can fool themselves in thinking they can play parts of an Etude if they isolate parts, but as soon as the whole picture comes into the game, they are lost. So in the end what are we really trying to achieve? It is hard to tell pianovirus exactly what is right and wrong, if we inspect how you play your framgments, how much control you have over them, how long it takes you to learn a fragment, what is your potential to fill in what connects two fragments like? Many variables which can only be known if we sit with you.

I have always treated Chopin Etudes NOT as a technique acquiring study but rather something to solidify technique. That is when you play them the technical movement you play must have been experienced elsewhere. If you are experiencing the technical movement for the first time in the Chopin Etudes then you are setting yourself up for problems especially regarding the efficiency of your study.
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