“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Chopin's Ocean Etude

A student writes: "Many of [Chopin's] etudes seem to require what feels like an impossible speed to sound even like a slow version of themselves. Short of just working on other things until my technique gets closer to what is needed, is there anything that can be done with the etudes themselves? The Op.25, #12, for instance, is more meaningfully expressive than the combination of groans, sighs and screams that suggest themselves as alternatives. Is there a general strategy to learning “impossible” pieces that is neither a waste of time nor harmful?"

Chopin's Ocean Etude
     The simple answer to the question is yes, there is a strategy for learning the impossible, which, of course, renders such passages possible. In this example the main technical issue—its "etudeness"–has to do with how the hand moves from one octave position to the next. 
     First, a word or two about the Chopin Etudes. These are concert pieces designed to show off different aspects of skilled pianism. They are not a pedagogical tool, at least not in the sense of so-called progressive studies such as Czerny, Hanon or method books. They require an advanced insight into piano technique. Having said that, any piece of music we study is at least in some sense an etude, especially if it contains passages that require special attention to mechanics.
     If this student enjoys the sound of the "Ocean" Etude, then by all means he should work on it. This means that he should first decide on the required movements and work them in gradually, short sections at a time. As always, we use the last note of one group to propel us to the first note of the next group. In this case, the right-hand fifth finger takes the hand rotationally to the thumb. (The left hand is the same movement, thumb to five.) For a succinct demonstration click here:

     Even if he doesn't get the tempo up right away, he will develop important technical concepts and in the process have a head start on a piece he enjoys. 

1 comment:

Justin Hendrickson said...

“The note of the last group propels us to the first note of the next group.” I love this. A universal message that is so simple, but dreadfully overlooked by so many pianists, myself included, for years. I’m sure I looked like a hand contortionist at the keyboard, trying to physically connect every note. As if I’d fall off the ‘piano cliff’ if I dared allow myself to use one note as a spring board, to propel me to the next.

Shame on me. It feels wonderful, and it is so liberating both physically and mentally! Thank you very much.