Practicing Chopin

The typical amateur phenomena recently occurred: I got a sudden heavy workload and therefore piano playing must be restricted. Being a freelance translator, I cannot afford to decline jobs when they show up.

Sometimes I see posters on different discussion boards who talk about “work discipline” and brag about practicing 12 hours a day and so on. As a first reaction, I always want to shout “AND WHO IS DOING YOUR HOUSEWORK THEN?”  Or who is paying the bills? Obviously all “good” piano students are either millionaires with an employed household staff, or they are letting their mommies wait upon them, or let someone else take care of their children or they live on delivery pizza or something. I don’t know. I am probably just jealous because my own life is so different from this.

Anyway, this is about practice. Chopin is in the pipe today. I recently picked up the old and abandoned project with the b-minor walz, op 69:2. Lovely, dreamy melody and mood. It seemed rather easy at first. Maybe it is too, but … after a long struggle I realized that the fingering in my copy is not optimal for me. I had to change it, from something that did not work to something that felt better … but … as most pianists know, it is harder to change something that got wrong from the beginning, than to do it right from the beginning. So now I need to both un-learn and to learn something new.

What I need to do now is to practice all the different semiquaver figures – or whatever you call these combinations – separately until I do not miss half of them and end up somewhere out in the marshlands. A terrible way to ruin such a nice piece of music, I am ashamed every time it happens. As it happens far too often (read: all the time), I suppose I must do a lot of slow playing here. I have also identified an issue with my wrist – the movements in these sections require a very precise pre-positioning of the wrist, or else I will stretch my fingers in several awkward angles and the result is nearly always that I miss the right keys. At least I think this is what I need to do – I will try this approach and see if it works.

Another issue is the walz beat in my left hand. How heavy should the first beat really be? This is not a ragtime stomp tune, but on the other hand a bit of “push” will make it more interesting, I think.  I cannot make up my mind about this. My teacher suggested me to play just the first beat in every bar until I have got my right hand better – poor woman, my “version” of this walz was rather horrendous when I was there, but I hope to have improved a bit to next lesson. Anyway, I really have practiced a lot of HS playing in this piece. She also added more emphasis on the ritardandos, I think she wants more dynamics in general. She politely remarks that I play neither p nor f, rather mf all the time … um. Probably because I felt to unsecure with the notes and with the piano. That is what I keep telling myself, but I cannot use that excuse much longer … so more dynamics then. The solution is usually to exaggerate for a while. Insanely exaggerate.

Well, main thing is to get those semiquavers right. I think I will fix the rest once I have stopped dabbling around on the keys with those. So they are first priority. Probably I would do much, much better if I was able to memorize them so that I can look at the keys … but problem is that I really suck at memorizing. Don’t know why, really. My memory is excellent otherwise, but not when I sit at the piano.

Then the “real” Chopin project – the 10:6 etude in e flat minor. I bought the whole collection with the etudes this summer and I really wanted to learn them – I mean, I wanted to learn one, to begin with. After a lot of pondering and discussion we decided I should try the 10:6 etude. Said and done … it is a slow one, so you don’t have to stumble over the keys. Actually the biggest problem seemed to be to decrypt the note jungle. Lots of flats … double flats … restores … suddenly a double sharp … I am working my way through this, bar by bar, it takes forever but sooner or later I will know where to go. I’m sure, aaah.

Second little problem was the theme itself. It is built by slow harmonies, beautiful and tranquil, but in the middle there is a steady accompaniment of sixteenth notes in a very special pattern. I won’t tell you how long it took before I had learned the first bar, because this certain pattern was strange to me. But after a very long struggle I got it, and the rest is … well, the same. Or seemingly the same. My teacher warns me that it may look the same, but it should be played with a different feeling here and there. Um. Then there is the question about the balance – this ongoing accompaniment should be just in the background of course, with the long harmonies making the lead voices. Finally I got it right on my own piano, but on my teacher’s piano it sort of collapsed into a undefined murmuring so I guess I have to work a lot more with this. I can play the whole piece now if I skip those sixteenths and practice them separately instead. The fingering is also very difficult in some bars – but at least I approve this suggested fingering, I just need to learn it. Just need to be patient and stubborn … So, more separate practice for the different voices here. That is the major attack strategy.

Whenever I get the time to go to the piano again.


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