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Topic: Playing Chopin Etude Opus 10 no 1 after 6 months of piano lessons VIDEO :)  (Read 6488 times)

Offline mishamalchik

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I feel itís important to preface this post with a bit of context (video at the end of this monster of a post). I never had piano lessons as a child, and I never had the opportunity to learn how to play but Iíve always felt a strong connection to music and I learned through my studies that I am able to name pitches when I hear them. So itís possible that my results are, in part, a product of my natural inclination towards music but thereís certainly a lot of work that goes into this, no matter one's degree of ďnaturalĒ talent. While I am no genius, Iím fairly certain that the progress Iíve made is unusual. Maybe sharing my regiment could help other students who didnít get the opportunity to start from a young age. Here are some tips for playing opus 10 no 1 and piano playing in general from the perspective of a late-starter.

       First and foremost it is imperative that you get a very good teacher. I couldnít afford a teacher at all because I came from the foster care system but when I went to college I found that the lessons with faculty are free if you can audition into them, so I was able to get really amazing instruction! Be as pliable as you can be to a teacher you trust. Even with all the stubborn strength of will that I have, there's no way I would be able to play as I do now without my teacher. A good teacher likely has decades of experience on you, so really take their advice to heart. In my experience, Hanon, Czerny and other somewhat ďcontroversialĒ exercises were IMMENSELY helpful. I know itís unpopular and that many students, particularly adult students, try actively to avoid them. I canít advise that to students who are trying to jump ahead to something like a Chopin etude. Opus 10 no 1 requires a lot of hand strength and Hanon in particular builds that strength in a way that is very approachable for beginners. I begin every practice session with scales, arpeggios, and Hanon. In the beginning, I learned 2-3 scales at a time but currently I do the full circle of major scales, arpeggios and 3-5 Hanon exercises in EVERY practice session. Play your scales and exercises with absolute precision at whatever tempo ensures that each note is distinct and you really feel the connection you between each finger and key. If you rush through scales and exercises you may as well not bother with them!

     Speaking of practice, daily practice is non-negotiable if you really plan to play this or any other technically demanding piece. Not just half an hour will do, either. I practiced an hour and a half a day when I first began and I started working on opus 10 no 1 two months after starting lessons. This began over winter break where I was trapped on campus with nothing to do. During these 6 weeks I practiced a minimum of four hours daily and typically somewhere between 6-8 hours a day. There are students who tackle this piece with far less rehearsal time but these are students who are not starting from scratch at 19. When youíre starting from little to no experience, every practice session is critical! I played ONLY etudes, scales etc. during the winter break time, working through a good chunk of Czernyís book for Velocity and doing a couple from the Dexterity collection. It was very demanding and a bit monotonous but this was how I built the skill, hand strength, and flexibility to play the opus 10 no 1.

        Practice opus 10 no 1 very slowly and do not allow yourself to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, return to the beginning again. The arpeggios are intricate and the last thing you want to do is memorize it the wrong way. Memorize as you go and reference the score as necessary, playing at a literal snail's pace. I started at 50 BPM putting a lot of emphasis on the accented notes in the score. Donít bother trying to read and play at the same time because to be perfectly blunt, this is useless in the context of this piece and trust me, by the time youíve learned it even at half speed it will be burned into your brain. It also helps to try a ďcookie cutterĒ approach when coming down from the arpeggios, if you watch the video, on the most difficult arpeggios my fingers move very little from octave to octave, and I simply place and rotate my hand at a very quick, even speed. This, while effective for missing few notes has two caveats, 1. Itís more labor intensive and 2. It may be the reason why my playing is yet a bit under typical performance tempo. My greatest struggle with this piece was learning to balance individual finger movement with accuracy, and ultimately, the accuracy of the cookie cutter approach won out on some of the more heinous combinations.
 
       I would also advise that you try not to be intimidated by the piece. When I began playing it, I didnít realize the piece was considered so difficult and that ignorance was a degree of bliss. In fact, I assumed that the etudes were organized from easiest to most difficult, so I thought of it as the most approachable of the set! One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how surprised people are to hear me play this piece, they then assume I am some kind of conservatory student to even attempt it. At the end of the day, it is very difficult, but I personally think itís been made more difficult by the mental barrier that is put up around it. So you want to play opus 10 no 1? Youíve got the urge to play opus 10 no 1? Youíve got the nerve to play opus 10  no 1? Then just play it! If you got this Glenn Gould reference, kudos to you :)

   Personally, the Etude comes very naturally to me because it plays to my greatest strengths. Opus 10 no 1 has no polyrhythms, itís relatively monotonic and it has running arpeggios, which are my strong suit. The Bach prelude and fugue I am working on is much more difficult for me to grasp, to the point that my teacher chuckles at the lunacy that I am able to play Chopin Etudes with relative ease, yet stumble my way through a fugue. The most important takeaway from this is the fact that what is easy for you, as a non-traditional student, could be very different from what is easy to a more traditional student. Recognize where your strengths and weaknesses are and leverage that to best improve your playing. Should you decide to play something far above your level, pick something that plays heavily to your strengths!

      Donít attempt this piece in front of your teacher until you can play it cleanly and clearly at a slow tempo with accents and next to no mistakes. If any sane, reasonable and well intending teacher hears a beginner trying this piece they will chase you away from it and for the most part, theyíre right to do that. All risk of injury aside, a student who takes on such a monumental task will not likely get anywhere with it and they may get frustrated with piano and quit all together. You really have to prove yourself to your teacher and show them that you can do it! The skills you pick up along the way will be invaluable but until youíve reached a point where you can do 80 BPM with no mistakes, your teacher will likely only discourage you from an already discouraging task. Even then they may not want to continue on the piece, particularly if they have never played it. Once your teacher allows you to play it, take their advice as best you can but be aware that teachers who have never performed the piece may not always offer the best advice, though they can still be helpful. My teacher was very honest in telling me he had never performed it, yet he offered advice about hand position and technique that I would never have thought of!

         Know your physical limits! When you are practicing 4 hours a day the fatigue is very real but when youíre pushing 6-8 hours itís a constant companion. Learn to work with it instead of against it. Pushing against the physical boundaries with something like op 10 no 1 for 2 hours a day is going to break you eventually. This is where the joys of Hanon and scales comes in. Iíve never heard of anyone hurting themselves on Hanon! And playing other, less intensive exercises will break up the monotony as well as allow you to develop your skills! Be sure to take breaks in your practice session every hour and eat right to allow your muscles to rebuild, because believe me, an 8 hour practice session is a workout!

        The most important thing I think is being genuinely stubborn and bullheaded with your work ethic. Have discipline and be committed! Donít make excuses and donít let any missed note go until youíve nailed it. Piano is my deepest joy, itís a desire that burns somewhere deep inside me such that I feel like Iím missing something without it. Yet the kind of methodical practice that is necessary to tame this instrument goes against my every instinct. It feels most natural to play for beauty at all times and I must literally force myself to practice broken, ugly 4 measure increments of a piece until itís perfect. This kind of analytical practicing, I think, goes against every semblance of musical instinct that we have and yet it is absolutely necessary to mastering these technically demanding works. This is the war you must wage with all demanding pieces, inclusive of opus 10 no 1; A war with your weak, often inarticulate, fingers, a war with your ailing muscles, a war with your mind and ultimately a war with your very musical instinct to practice the way you know you need to in order to really lay claim to this piece!

Having said all that, my performance is under tempo and still to be shaped. There are places Iíd like to be more expressive, places Iíd like my hand to be less tense in and places that I plain missed a note or two (or 5  :) ). Yet it is an accomplishment I am very pleased with, regardless of whether Iíve been playing for 6 months or 6 years, because I know that I have grown immensely in this endeavor!

I hope this has been helpful! Also sorry for the camera/audio issues, it was filmed from the ledge on the side of the keyboard and I really underestimated how shaky things would be! (Not to mention that I was playing for a couple friends so my hands were shaking too!!! lol)  
  
 The audio also sort of goes in and out I think because my phone would move slightly, causing the microphone to get exposed or covered periodically.

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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Interesting journey and you have good results so far in your video. I read you practiced 6 weeks at fours hours a day dedicated mostly just to is piece was it? This kind of activity is quite common but something I detest as a piano teacher as the opportunity cost is far too great. There is nothing wrong studying a tough piece but you shouldn't focus all your attention on it, almost always it is better to study many smaller pieces. I first tried Chopin etudes when I was a young kid and it took months to learn a single one, when I was more ready for it in my late teens it took on average 9 hours to absorb the gist of a single one. My teacher Roger Woodward instructed me to study all 24 etudes in just over 3 weeks which was an incredible task and an experience I shared here: https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=16476.0

Time is precious and if you are an able pianist you have a more important duty to ensure you learn efficiently at a good rate the opportunity cost is so great.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
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Offline mishamalchik

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Over the 6 weeks I focused mainly on *shudder* Czerny etudes and getting familiar with the notes of opus 10 no 1. I really spent this time on scales, studies and arpeggios because my teacher's other students are all quite advanced so I felt the need to kind of build a foundation for myself. I didn't realize when I started playing it that it was considered so difficult, though I found it to be far more musical than the dexterity and velocity studies!

I'm currently suffering through a Bach prelude and fugue, and working on Beethoven opus 31 no 2 and Chopin's G Minor Ballade.

Offline mishamalchik

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On the note of learning one each day, I can't imagine that in 30 years I would be at a level to do that! Maybe it's because I still can't read to save my life :)

Offline lostinidlewonder

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First and foremost it is imperative that you get a very good teacher.
I agree this is important for any pianists development, we all need some kind of direction and be revealed ideas we didn't think about. It is much more difficult than it seems to get a good teacher and sometimes can take several attempts, not everyone works well with the same teacher. It is very important for the student to know if a teacher is helping them or not which often requires that they do study on their own inefficiently for a while so when shown a better path it makes natural sense.

Donít bother trying to read and play at the same time because to be perfectly blunt, this is useless in the context of this piece and trust me, by the time youíve learned it even at half speed it will be burned into your brain.
This to me is underestimating the use of good sight reading skills to absorb a piece and the inability of advanced pianists to play in slow tempo but conserve movements relating to a faster tempo. At high level reading skills everything is learned by reading multiple times, then go back and work on issues that are holding you back, it is a highly efficient method of studying your pieces although requires years of good reading training.


I would also advise that you try not to be intimidated by the piece. When I began playing it, I didnít realize the piece was considered so difficult and that ignorance was a degree of bliss.
I agree that you shouldn't put obstacles in your way but at the same time you have to be careful not to "bite off more than you can chew" as this can use up a lot of your time and we have limited time on this earth.

At the end of the day, it is very difficult, but I personally think itís been made more difficult by the mental barrier that is put up around it. So you want to play opus 10 no 1? Youíve got the urge to play opus 10 no 1? Youíve got the nerve to play opus 10  no 1? Then just play it! If you got this Glenn Gould reference, kudos to you :)
Yes go out and play whatever piece excites you but make sure you are also building your skills with pieces that you can effectively learn too.

Recognize where your strengths and weaknesses are and leverage that to best improve your playing. Should you decide to play something far above your level, pick something that plays heavily to your strengths!
This is a highly loaded question to ask yourself what are your strengths and weaknesses in your playing overall. A very difficult question since there are tonns of issues that one "does not know that they do no know". If you choose a piece which falls completely into what you are comfortable doing then the piece will not be difficult. A difficult piece by definition is something which provides you with problems that take an extended time to understand and has a slow learning curve and gives you problems which make you slowly improve. Just because you can play through a difficult piece successfully doesn't mean that you are at that level. I always ask my new students how much time it took to learn a piece they show me, that to me reveals a great deal about their skill as a musician.

Donít attempt this piece in front of your teacher until you can play it cleanly and clearly at a slow tempo with accents and next to no mistakes.
A wise teacher will of course look for this predominantly good command of technique but they will also question the time issue, how long did it take you? If they don't ask they probably will determine it through how long it takes you to make changes or improvements when analyzing what you should be doing to improve in the piece. I am always a bit wary when students show me pieces I haven't set them, how much time are they dedicating to this and ignoring the works I have set them? They pay me to provide a good repertoire for them to learn from, if they go off and do their own thing it's limiting what I can do with them.

You really have to prove yourself to your teacher and show them that you can do it! The skills you pick up along the way will be invaluable but until youíve reached a point where you can do 80 BPM with no mistakes, your teacher will likely only discourage you from an already discouraging task.
I feel that a teacher should give you vision as to what you improve upon rather than you needing to prove you can play a difficult piece for them no matter how long it took you to get there. It is an efficiency of your learning that is of utmost importance and a good teacher should direct your thinking towards that. If Chopin etudes excite you pay respect to it by not studying them seriously now until your practice craft is much higher. Then you can learn the entire set in no time at all instead of dragging yourself through each one and thinking that is the normal way to learn.

If you have a very sharp practice craft and your technical capability is naturally strong you can eat up difficult pieces in no time, it is extremely empowering. It is very difficult to humble ones self if they are capable of playing technically challenging pieces but try your best you wont regret it.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
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Offline keypeg

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I think one extremely important thing is that everybody is different, with different strong and weak points, and so approaches may have to differ from person to person.  When a good teacher teaches "the same thing" to two different students, he may use radically different approaches.  The same, then for what we do as a student.

Our backgrounds are similar in some respects, and I worked on this same etude last year.  Here are some differences beyond the similar backgrounds:

I was without a teacher for other reasons, there was a piano in my home when I was young, and I did teach myself things with no idea how they should sound or how one plays.  That stopped when I was 18 and I did not touch a piano again for 35 years.  When I got a piano again, I knew that learning to move properly physically was important, because of what had just happened during some years of violin lessons.  What I carried with me were poor playing habits from the self-taught past, and poor body use.   I also carried strengths in how I heard music.  When I started I had round hammering fingers with everything else frozen as though I were encased in a plaster cast, and each joint had to be chipped away and learn how it can move.  I learned to move the hands by rotation and such, and during that time kept the fingers loose and passive, to prevent them from reverting to the stiff hammers freezing everything else.  The fingers have been gradually brought in again with their independent but normalized movement.  It took time.

Your path would not have worked for me, because I was in a much different starting place.  Beginning with Hanon, which emphasizes the fingers, would have perpetuated what was too strong and in the wrong way.  I worked on other things.   At the time that Op. 10 no. 1 came along, my teacher assigned it as a way of relearning to move.  You are going from one end of the keyboard to the other, and so moving and leaning the body.  The hands move at the wrist in a fluid manner, and there is a movement of the elbows working together with everything else.  This was part of my unlocking - of casting off that plaster cast.  There are videos as I'm learning, and you can see the degree of movement building remarkably.

When you say not to involve your teacher until you can do it well - my teacher was an integral part, and a problem-solver of physical things.  I am not "at a level" of this piece; that is, I am not an advanced student.  I haven't studied piano for years and years, and here we are the same.  But my issues, strengths, and weaknesses are different, and therefore the approach has to be different.  What is perfect for you, or perfect for me, will not be the best solution for still another person.

That said, I have taken note of the things you have described, and think I will adopt a few of them.

The part about a good teacher - absolutely!

Offline visitor

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not here to nitpick necessarily at op, as the amount of effort and work put in is commendable, but since others reading this may elect that this is an effective approach, i would offer a counterpoint and a few things that pop out to me while listening and reading all that was said
....
just wondering if you had or ever have plans to actually learn to properly play the left hand part with the phrasing and relaxed natural hand position and wrist w arm follow through motion required to properly execute the etude?
I don't get the idea from your recording that you understanding the harmonic planning and tension-build up and relaxing/resolution it creates. This is the drama of the work and the bass should be your anchor before you launch up the keyboard into the higher registers w RH....  Many times I get the feeling you don't really understand where the bass notes are headed and what they should do. It's fundamental to the piece and should be/have been the first thing you learned and addressed before the countless hours of right hand work. 

not having a teacher or the amount of time you have played is/should not be an issue given that it's pretty basic/fundamental work really would only have taken a handful of minutes of score study and writing out the chords/harmony for each beat/chord change in the score. a mere 10 minutes of work per day with careful left hand only work would have sorted this out in a few days to a week or two max.
You said reading would have been pointless however I have a hard time believing if you were stopped at any one place in the music while playing you would know exactly what chord you are on and what the next is, and that knowledge is key in knowing where the progression is headed which helps with dynamic planning on a larger scale. also, i get the impression that if you were to crash and have to stop, could you immediately begin at the start of the next phrase, that is not have to go back to the begging  or a repeated material section or replay where the crash occurred. you should be able to just jump forward in the score to a preset anchor measure or 'memory station'. would you be able to just stop playing the right hand and continue the left hand then pop the right hand back in at the next beat, etc.
if you are not able to , then you skipped important work in your learning process and I would advise going back and addressing those before spending a whole lot of time on tempo work-speeding up etc.

either way kudos to you on this but yeah, i think to missed some big 'easy' stuff early on and anyone with the impression they would like to emulate your approach should try to at least consider a few of the points i brought up, i would be surprised if others that have read this series of posts and replies didn't have a few similar ideas or qualms about your recording and how you went about accomplishing it.

good luck with the rest of your development and continued progress on this piece.

Offline mishamalchik

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At this point I am working more on the expression of things and how I want the left hand to sound. I actually have to understand the chord structure and I don't have to start from the beginning when I make a mistake. When I am playing, I am actively thinking about the chord progressions because if you have performed this piece I think you would find it necessary to think in this way to keep from being tripped up over similar sections that diverge to different harmonic areas. Not understanding where the piece is going harmonically makes it impossible to play in my mind because the patterns are only slightly different and will trick your muscle memory if you're not actively thinking about it. I only returned to the beginning after a  mistake during the learning the notes phase to keep myself from internalizing or brushing over missed notes.

I say reading is pointless here because the piece is very short, and by the time it's even remotely close to performance tempo you will certainly have it memorized.

Keypeg: I agree 110%. One of the most frustrating things about starting late is being confronted with people who have a very one-size fits all mindset about piano because late starters rarely fit into those methods.

Offline dcstudio

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OK so we have another obsessive pianist...good job...you are a promising student. Your hands are way ahead of your head which is how it is at first when the desire to accomplish this becomes overwhelming. You may find as you progress that certain things aren't as you thought they were at first. 

Anyway, nice job, and impressive first post.

Offline adodd81802

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OK so we have another obsessive pianist...good job...you are a promising student. Your hands are way ahead of your head which is how it is at first when the desire to accomplish this becomes overwhelming. You may find as you progress that certain things aren't as you thought they were at first. 

Anyway, nice job, and impressive first post.

Pretty accurate. And exactly how I started off. Now my head has over taken my hands, and my lacking of time has resulted in me being a lot better pianist in my head than I am in practice now days! How unfortunate
"England is a country of pianos, they are everywhere."

Offline dcstudio

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Pretty accurate. And exactly how I started off. Now my head has over taken my hands, and my lacking of time has resulted in me being a lot better pianist in my head than I am in practice now days! How unfortunate

Don't worry adodd that will change...frustrating as it is right now.  One day out of the blue you will wake up and your hands will have caught up with your brain. That's how it happens...I have sooo been there   ;D
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