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Choosing Chopin Etudes (Read 2839 times)

Offline sashaco

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Choosing Chopin Etudes
« on: February 06, 2010, 10:18:07 AM »
I have been working on the Chopin Barcarolle for perhaps 12 weeks.  I have memorized the piece, can play it clearly at a slow tempo, and have some idea of what I'm trying to achieve, but I think I'm at a point where, without a teacher, I cannot progress, and may actually be spoiling the piece. It seems I don't have enough good ideas to sustain intensive practice, so that after a bit I catch myself just playing through the piece,  rather absurdly proud that I've come as far as I have with it. (That cost me something to admit, but in the anonymity of the web it's a bit easier to be honest.) Since I live in Zomba, Malawi, I am unlikely to find a teacher.  I think I should leave the Barcarolle alone for a while, and wonder if working on some of the Etudes would be the best way to proceed away from the piece.  On my computer it takes about 15 minutes to download the sheet music for each Etude, so rather than sift through them I hope someone might suggest 3 or 4 that would be particularly useful to someone hoping to play the Barcarrolle. I might then try to return to the Barcarolle in June, and try to find a teacher during a visit to the U.S. in July. Many thanks, Sasha

Sheet music to download and print: Etudes by Chopin



Offline stevebob

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #1 on: February 06, 2010, 12:38:05 PM »
Congratulations on your progress to date with the Barcarolle.

I'm curious about the respects in which you feel your advancement has stalled.  Does the piece seem resistant to further increase in tempo?  Is it a matter of specific technical issues?  Interpretative aspects?

I think that consideration of these questions could guide you to a choice of etude(s) that may benefit you, although I'm not certain this strategy (i.e., the correlation of technical problems in various pieces and the expectation that the solutions can be applied and transferred among them) is effective.

In my experience, it's not at all unusual to experience plateaus with challenging pieces; an ambitious project often benefits from being set aside temporarily.  Upon returning to it, the passages that were learned most securely (as well as those that were not) tend to reveal themselves naturally.  At that point it becomes clearer just where further work is needed, and you can focus your efforts on those areas.
What passes you ain't for you.

Offline sashaco

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #2 on: February 08, 2010, 06:42:42 PM »
Hi stevebob.  Congratulations are certainly not in order!  I'm not hoping to get one-to one solutions for teechnical or musical problems from studying some etudes- I thought I might come to know Chopin a hair better, and get a bit more insight into what I ought to be trying to do with the Barcarolle.
I am having technical difficulties with some bits.  For example I find some of the trills hard to resolve gracefully, and  the transition from Bar 83 to 84 still sounds awkward.  I'm finding it hard to make that final leggiero run truly leggiero, particularly while keeping the left hand legato and serene.  Nonetheless, I could probably continue to pick up the tempo, but I'm reluctant to do so without help in two areas.
1.  I doubt that I am really hearing clearly all that is going on in my own playing.  The last time I took some lessons I remember playing the fugue from Opus 110 (Beethoven), for a woman who said quite simply,"I'm not really hearing the suspensions."  A deadly flaw, of course, and yet I thought I was hearing them .  I'm a more careful and experienced listener now, but I still think it unwise to bring a piece of this quality and depth up to speed without some help on this sort of thing.
2.  While I have some ideas of what I want from various sections and phrases, these do not add up to a driving concept of the piece as a whole.  My larger ideas tend to be absurdly whimsical, and do not translate readily into clear directions for performance.  For example I have thought alot about the relationship between the themes as they first appear, and their various returns, with far denser harmonies.  For whatever reasons I have come to think of them as two representations of reality- pehaps one is the reality external to us, and one what we experience.  Think of the relationship between daffodils along a lake and Wordsworth's daffodils. That meandering interlude that brings us back to the home key seems almost like a wandering mind, and prompts that sort of thinking.  But even if that's so, which is the boat on the waves, and which is Chopin's reaction to it?   (Of course both are the latter, but ...) And even if I knew the answer, what would that indicate about how to perform the piece? Or is this sort of speculation assinine anyway?  How many times when I was first learning to play would I go in with what I thought was a profound problem, to have my teacher say something like, "Gee, don't we need to hear the melody more clearly here,"  or "If you want that sort of feeling you delay the downbeat a bit, " and I'd realize that it really WAS that simple.  Here there may be siple answers regarding changes in volume, voicing and tempo.  At the last piu mosso the temptation is simply to play as fast as the hands will go- (a fairly moderate speed in my case!)

Anyway, I thought working on some other Chopin would be a practical way to improve technique and ear, while avoiding the kind of silliness I'm prone to.  The simple answer, of course, is< "Hey pal, you're nowhere near ready for the Barcarolle."  I'm almost fifty though, and in the future may not have as much time to practice as I do at the moment. 

Offline ghostgeezer

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #3 on: February 09, 2010, 02:44:11 AM »
Hi, Sasha.  Have faith in a little magic.  Working very intensely on a piece, then leaving
it "fallow" for awhile, even for a year or more, leads to this great discovery: learning
continues even when you are not playing, and some of that learning is occurring, because
it is no longer blocked by the boredom that sets in with repetition, the issues attendant
to flawed technique.

We all have flawed technique, no matter what our level.  Instrumental music, observed at
a very high level, is the art of singing without one's mouth.  This means that eventually--
and with courageous practicing sooner than later--the hand will respond to the dream of
the piece that is the core of what you should be practicing, not the "doing" of it.

I have a reading knowledge of your piece, of virtually all of Chopin.  It is notorious in part
because of its double trills.  Here, more than anything else, a fine piano is your best
ally, since really learning how to trill with precision involves a committed engagement with
how the action works.  If you are doing it right, you get the sensation that the keyboard
is doing most of the work, that you are riding its surf or waveform.

We all learn a lot by taking on works "beyond" us technically.  But be sure to balance that
against works that are within your "range of comfort.  The B Minor Prelude of J.S. Bach's WTCI
is a piece that cannot insult your intelligence.  You can pray with it, to whatever beyond you
choose, but get to the dream of the piece as soon as possible.

Finally, as an auto-didact, you take risks, but in the final analysis, we all wind up that way,
and our best teachers are the ones who prepare us to replace them by assimilating their
attitudes.  Trust that somewhere in you already are the right answers, but here's a huge hint.
Most of what we think is a "technical" problem is really a composite of two errors.  The first
is that the "difficulty" imagined or real has distracted us from the dream of the sound.  There
alone we are lost.  The twin of this error is simply not knowing exactly where we are.  Put your
hand right over the problem, and relax from the belly out, just like a singer.  Dream the sound.
See what happens.

Finally, if you were asking, there is no Chopin Etude that addresses the problems of this work.
But get on the boat, row into the current.  Barcarolles are not horse races.  Take all the time
in the world.

You said that you were not in the USA.  If by any chance you are near Hamburg, see if Robert
Henry is still taking students.  You will be in safe hands with this incomparably great teacher and
artist.

John Dinwiddie
Santa Rosa, CA
U.S.A.

Offline sashaco

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #4 on: February 09, 2010, 08:41:48 AM »
Hi John,  Wow, what a thoughtful response.  I am in Zomba, Malawi, and unfortunately I appear to be almost the only player in town, and even in Blantyre, a nearby city, I haven't been able to track down a pianist who might listen to the things I've been working on.  I am starting to attract a few interested students (very young) some in Blantyre, although  I haven't arranged to go down there yet. 
I have the WTC 1, and have been working on two fugues.  I will certainly look at the B minor prelude.  It does seem sometimes that everything you could ever need is somewhere in Bach.
I have always been more of a singer than a player, and I enjoy playing one voice of the Inventions and singing the other.  I'm working on playing 3 voices of a fugue and singing the fourth, then changing voices.  I find this really helps bring out each line when I return to playing all the voices, and gives some insight into how to articulate the lines. It's not an easy drill, though.
There's supposed to be a terrific piano at the college here in town, donated just a few years ago.  Unfortunately I'm told it hasn't been tuned for 5 years.  This is Malawi! 
What I think is the difficulty with the double trills, for me, is getting them to land smoothly on the downbeat.  If I play either the upper or the lower by itself, I can do this, I think by slightly accelerating the trill if neccessary just before the beat, and maybe delaying the beat a hair.  It seems that i just don't yet have that facility with the two notes at once.  This is probably the kind of overly technical thinking I need to get beyond though.  Again, thanks for your thoughts.  Sasha

stevebob, I didnt thank you properly- the electricity was going on and off and I was rushing to post the message before I lost it again.  Cheers.

Offline stevebob

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #5 on: February 09, 2010, 12:13:00 PM »
Quote from: sashaco
[...] stevebob, I didnt thank you properly- the electricity was going on and off and I was rushing to post the message before I lost it again.  Cheers.

Sasha, you are very welcome.

In my experience, it's common for thoughtful amateur musicians to be unsparing—harsh, even—in our judgment of ourselves and our avocation.  Validation for the practice of our art comes from within, and we don't grant it to ourselves easily.

Of course, an important part of meaningful self-assessment is the cultivation of a critical ear for listening.  Some don't have it, and distorted perception can lead to extremes: misplaced pride and hubris that's dramatically out of sync with reality—or to insecurity and such a dearth of self-confidence that one avoids challenges altogether and potential goes unfulfilled.

I think that artistry is evinced by concern for skillfulness, details, informed choices and approaching our craft with sincerity and seriousness.  Literal perfection is unearthly and unachievable, but striving for excellence is worthy goal.  Allow yourself to be content with the process, even if there's room for improvement in the results.  (There always is!)  You really do deserve congratulations for following your muse, doing your best and caring about doing better.
What passes you ain't for you.

Offline nanabush

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #6 on: February 09, 2010, 01:36:33 PM »
Ahh lucky!  I'm seriously thinking of studying the Barcarolle soon  :)

I'm sure there is material in his thirds and sixths etudes (Op 25 #6 and Op 25 #8 respectively).  There seems to be a ton of voicing/legato issues in this one aside from the double notes, so maybe one of his slower ones (Op 10#3, Op 10#6, Op 25#7).

Such a unique piece, it would be difficult to cover everything in it without playing a lot of small parts from many etudes, but there is stuff in those I mentioned that I think you may have seen in the Barcarolle.
Interested in discussing:

-Prokofiev Toccata
-Scriabin Sonata 2

Offline smj9195

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #7 on: February 10, 2010, 05:56:21 AM »
I Think This Will Help You:                                                                                    (stevebob)
Slower Group:
10/3, 10/6, 25/7

Easier Group:
10/5, 10/9, 10/12, 25/1, 25/2, 25/9

Harder Group:
10/1, 10/2, 10/4, 10/7, 10/8, 25/3, 25/4, 25/8, 25/12

Hardest Group:
10/10, 10/11, 25/5, 25/6, 25/10, 25/11

Offline stevebob

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #8 on: February 10, 2010, 06:11:38 AM »
I Think This Will Help You:
Slower Group:
10/3, 10/6, 25/7

Easier Group:
10/5, 10/9, 10/12, 25/1, 25/2, 25/9

Harder Group:
10/1, 10/2, 10/4, 10/7, 10/8, 25/3, 25/4, 25/8, 25/12

Hardest Group:
10/10, 10/11, 25/5, 25/6, 25/10, 25/11

Whoa.  A couple days ago you started a thread asking that the Chopin etudes be ranked by difficulty, and that's the very list that I provided in response:

Difficulty can refer to interpretive demands as well as technical challenges.  The degree of technical challenge can depend, among other things, on whether you aspire to the speed of a professional performance (or even the original metronome markings) or to your own conception of the verbal tempo indication (usually some variation of Allegro rather than Presto).

I think it's most useful to classify Chopin's etudes in categories.  Even if such categories overlap or blur, a general consensus is more likely to be achieved than by proposing a strictly linear ranking from easiest to hardest.

Slower Group:
10/3, 10/6, 25/7

Easier Group:
10/5, 10/9, 10/12, 25/1, 25/2, 25/9

Harder Group:
10/1, 10/2, 10/4, 10/7, 10/8, 25/3, 25/4, 25/8, 25/12

Hardest Group:
10/10, 10/11, 25/5, 25/6, 25/10, 25/11
 
This isn't meant to be anything more than my opinion; the case could definitely be made that some of the "Harder" etudes belong in the "Hardest" group and vice versa.

FWIW, I would put each of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes in the "Slower" group (though the one in D-flat major is faster and harder than the other two).

I'm not sure why you would copy and paste something somebody else wrote without any attribution, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't do it again.
What passes you ain't for you.

Offline nanabush

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #9 on: February 10, 2010, 06:35:27 AM »
Lol splitting them into groups like that is pretty standard; I'm sure grouping like that have come up a hundred times in previous threads.

The only GOOD grouping is slow/fast.  Easy/hard is pointless.  For example, in what way is the Op10#2 easier than the Octave etude, and how is the Op 25#5 more difficult than the majority of the 'harder' group?  There are probably several people who agree with your grouping, and a crap load that disagree.

Anyways, studying a whole etude would really side track you, especially because the etudes you'd need for those techniques are beasts!!  Do thirds scales, practice trills with different fingerings, practice staccato sixths (those come up a lot).  I couldn't help but get the sheets, and I will beg my teacher to let me play it next semester.  I found the voicing/ties way more difficult.  Double notes are technical, but the first phrase in the entire piece has so much in it that you need to watch out for.

Actually, I just thought of the Rachmaninoff Op 39 #8.  It's got double notes similar to the ones in this with a leaping left hand.  Might want to check that out.
Interested in discussing:

-Prokofiev Toccata
-Scriabin Sonata 2

Offline stevebob

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #10 on: February 10, 2010, 06:50:37 AM »
Lol splitting them into groups like that is pretty standard; I'm sure grouping like that have come up a hundred times in previous threads.

The only GOOD grouping is slow/fast.  Easy/hard is pointless....

It's not important whether such groupings are standard, have come up hundreds of times or are pointless.  The issue is that the very one I posted was pasted verbatim as though it came from some other source.

I didn't think there would be anything hard to understand about the impropriety of doing that.  Of course, I'm a newcomer here so I concede that maybe there are some peculiar things about this board's netiquette that defy common sense or established practice.  8)
What passes you ain't for you.

Offline jesc

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #11 on: February 10, 2010, 08:16:39 AM »
I understand where stevebob is coming from. I myself am careful to attribute things to their proper authors/posters --- this is not just netiquette but the same essence is practiced in the academe at higher discourses.

Some people spend time and effort to dish out an answer and it will be quite detrimental to the community if that is compromised by something as simple as proper due credit.

Offline mike_in_nyc

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #12 on: February 10, 2010, 02:25:14 PM »
Hi, this is my first post here.
I would have to agree with SteveBob as well. All you have to say is "Here is one grouping of the etudes. Hat tip to SteveBob." I dont quite agree with his grouping, though. For example, I would put 10-2 in the "hardest " group, but hey it can be very subjective, and individual.

Offline sjeon

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #13 on: February 11, 2010, 01:16:44 AM »
True I think the 10/2 is hard to.

Offline slow_concert_pianist

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #14 on: February 11, 2010, 01:44:28 AM »
I have been working on the Chopin Barcarolle for perhaps 12 weeks.  I have memorized the piece, can play it clearly at a slow tempo, and have some idea of what I'm trying to achieve, but I think I'm at a point where, without a teacher, I cannot progress, and may actually be spoiling the piece. It seems I don't have enough good ideas to sustain intensive practice, so that after a bit I catch myself just playing through the piece,  rather absurdly proud that I've come as far as I have with it. (That cost me something to admit, but in the anonymity of the web it's a bit easier to be honest.) Since I live in Zomba, Malawi, I am unlikely to find a teacher.  I think I should leave the Barcarolle alone for a while, and wonder if working on some of the Etudes would be the best way to proceed away from the piece.  On my computer it takes about 15 minutes to download the sheet music for each Etude, so rather than sift through them I hope someone might suggest 3 or 4 that would be particularly useful to someone hoping to play the Barcarrolle. I might then try to return to the Barcarolle in June, and try to find a teacher during a visit to the U.S. in July. Many thanks, Sasha

You have your answer in what you have said. Without proper instruction, the Chopin Etudes will not solve your problems, but make them. Be clear that all the etudes are performance exercises so any improvement to technique would be “incidental” (although they are all so wonderfully written, that one’s technique can’t help but improve with the right approach). The barcarolle is a huge work and, without guidance, unless you have an exceptionally well developed technique performance problems will likely emerge.
Currently rehearsing:

Chopin Ballades (all)
Rachmaninov prelude in Bb Op 23 No 2
Mozart A minor sonata K310
Prokofiev 2nd sonata
Bach WTCII no 6
Busoni tr Bach toccata in D minor

Offline stevebob

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #15 on: February 11, 2010, 03:59:40 AM »
I'm not sure what performance exercises and performance problems mean, especially for a typical amateur autodidact whose practice is private and personal—who doesn't really "perform" at all except for a party of one.

I wouldn't recommend that anyone in this situation (which happens to be mine as well) attempt to learn pieces far beyond his or her present capability, but neither would I want anybody to infer that advanced repertoire must be categorically avoided by those "without guidance" or without "an exceptionally well developed technique."

Even if no self-teaching amateur had such technical prowess (in the estimation of professionals and conservatory students), we're motivated to learn the music we love nonetheless.  If a target piece seems realistic—i.e., if it seems reasonable to expect to learn it to an artistic standard that we take seriously, and we're not injuring ourselves in the process—then I don't think we should be discouraged from pursuing an endeavor we consider worthwhile.

I just can't imagine that "performance problems" are restricted to certain echelons of music, particular categories of musicians or specific modes of learning.  Ultimately, whether a project warrants the time, effort and energy we choose to give it—and whether addressing formidable challenges is offset by our satisfaction—is for each individual to decide.
What passes you ain't for you.

Offline slow_concert_pianist

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #16 on: February 12, 2010, 01:50:14 AM »
I'm not sure what performance exercises and performance problems mean, especially for a typical amateur autodidact whose practice is private and personal—who doesn't really "perform" at all except for a party of one.


Your point seems to dwindle into irrelevance, but I will explain. Many confuse the properties of an "etude". They seem to feel the etude is the same as a technical exercise. Though some etudes do have aspects that might be geared to improving technique, these are "incidental" as they are primarily focused on performance. Those with outstanding technique often need guidance with performance and etudes are method of "paving the way".
Currently rehearsing:

Chopin Ballades (all)
Rachmaninov prelude in Bb Op 23 No 2
Mozart A minor sonata K310
Prokofiev 2nd sonata
Bach WTCII no 6
Busoni tr Bach toccata in D minor

Offline stevebob

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #17 on: February 12, 2010, 02:29:52 AM »
Your point seems to dwindle into irrelevance, but I will explain. Many confuse the properties of an "etude". They seem to feel the etude is the same as a technical exercise. Though some etudes do have aspects that might be geared to improving technique, these are "incidental" as they are primarily focused on performance. Those with outstanding technique often need guidance with performance and etudes are method of "paving the way".

I'm at a loss as to how my point "seems to dwindle into irrelevance," but I don't understand your explanation either.  Language is a terrible medium for communication.    :-*
What passes you ain't for you.

Offline sashaco

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #18 on: February 12, 2010, 05:26:34 PM »
Hi,  Im not sure where this whole discussion is headed.  I do hope to perform the Barcarolle, maybe with a few short Brahms pieces, and possibly some Gershwin to close.  It would not be in any magnificent setting, but I was hoping to offer something to the small group of people in my community who have an interest in classical music.
 I had thought some of the Etudes might give me some ideas on performing Chopin, not solve my weakness in sustaining a smooth trill above eighth notes in the same hand!  I know how to practice that, even if I've left it till I'm too old to achieve it.  I have found that ideas about music, and passion for it, sustain more intense, and therefore technically useful practice- if I (Iwon't speak for others) have no fresh thoughts I'm trying to achieve expression for, progress gets stalled.  One teacher told me 30 years ago that the essential thing is to hear what you're trying to do internally- eventually your fingers will follow. Nobody can be inspired all the time, but for me the music drives technical improvement, rather than the other way around.  (That all sounds very exalted for a guy of my ability- but there it is!)
 I'm grateful to everyone who's offered their thoughts or support.  

Sasha Cooke
Zomba, Malawi

Offline liordavid

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Re: Choosing Chopin Etudes
«Reply #19 on: March 07, 2010, 02:42:59 AM »
In order to find a good chopin etude, u have to find one that expresses a certain technique that u want to study.