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#1274470 - 09/24/09 08:20 PM Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1  
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Pikarole Offline
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Hello everyone,

I have been practicing Chopin's Etude Op. 10 No. 1 and I get bad tension. I am not even at full speed yet, and I can barely finish the piece because of the tension in my right arm. I try to focus on the notes on the downbeats and that helps some.

Any advice would be more than welcome smile


Currently tackling:
- Bach, Chromatic fantasy and fugue
- Mozart, Sonata K. 284
- Ravel, Gaspard de la Nuit
- Rachmaninoff, Suite op. 17 n. 2
- 2 Scarlatti sonatas
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#1274476 - 09/24/09 08:31 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Pikarole]  
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It sounds to me as if you're not technically ready to tackle this piece. I would suggest that you treat it for what it is - a study - and practise small sections, carefully analysing what you are doing physically to cause the tension, over a period of months. If you continue to treat it as a mere addition to your repertoire you will pay the price. I don't mean to sound harsh, but tension in a case like this rings warning bells. Perhaps go off and do some preparatory exercises, preferably of your own devising, based on some of the figurations in the Etude which you find less difficult and less tension-inducing. Good luck!

Last edited by dogboy; 09/25/09 01:43 AM.
#1274514 - 09/24/09 09:31 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: zartist]  
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I thought this thread was going to be about the harmonic progression. Dang. frown

Steven

#1274629 - 09/25/09 01:27 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: sotto voce]  
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You need to learn how to use your arm weight. The arm is kind of a sixth finger.


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http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

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#1274709 - 09/25/09 06:28 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: keyboardklutz]  
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Monsieur Klutz is correct about your arm. I suspect you are reaching for the notes and therein is the cause of your tension. Take you fingers to the notes by laterally shifting your arm from the shoulder. Play slowly and moderately slowly and try to never extend your hand for notes; be directly above each note that you are going to play. You should feel quite a difference.


Steinway D, Pramberger 185, pianist-teacher
#1275160 - 09/25/09 08:17 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: CD131]  
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I think it's a rite of passage to open up the Chopin Etudes on page 1, thinking it's just another little step on the way - and six months later to be wondering what you have to do to get to page 2 - what does it want from me??

Whilst much of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart can be played adequately with only the hardest bits getting a bit blurred, much of Chopin (and much subsequent romantic repertoire) cannot be played at all with an imperfect technique, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Etudes, and nowhere more so than in the very first one.

I would limber up on Op.25 No.1 in Ab - it's not so hard and once you get it going the circular movement you need to do with your arms is very satisfying. You'll still need to loosen up every muscle, place your fingers exactly where they need to be before they play the note - the Chopin etudes ask a lot of questions of your technique, and even if you never manage to play them to tempo, you'll improve a lot trying.

#1275340 - 09/26/09 12:56 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Ebadlun]  
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I think op 25 no 12 is the easiest.


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http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1275517 - 09/26/09 10:49 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: keyboardklutz]  
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You aren't using your arm weight properly. There should be NO pain at any time, in whatever you're playing. Someone I know got injured by 10/1 and she had to quit piano, so you want to be careful.

Your arm muscles should not be flexed when you play, and the bridge of your hand (connecting your fingers) should be very strong and never collapse. Think about each individual finger and make sure every finger is strong - do not tense your arm.



"The eyes can mislead, the smile can lie, but the shoes always tell the truth."
#1275533 - 09/26/09 11:14 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Pogorelich.]  
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I found many ways to pain this past summer while trying to learn this etude. Here are just a couple (note, all physical descriptions are base on the hand/arm in a piano playing position):
- inside of wrist by base of thumb (carpal tunnel?): caused by rotating hand/wrist on the horizontal plane to the right when playing the larger intervals between fingers 1-2 and 1-3. The solution to avoid the pain was to jump the first interval instead, and to ensure I was always keeping my hand aligned with my forearm
- stiffness in outer forearm from the elbow to halfway to the hand: caused by not relaxing the 4th and 5th fingers so that they were lifted up from the first set of knuckles closest to the wrist. Solution, train myself to let go of those fingers. This allowed me to get much faster on the arpeggios
- fatigue on the underside of the forearm after playing ~16 measures at a fast tempo: caused by pulling hand down while playing and by gripping with the third finger.

I never did get anywhere close to finishing the etude after practicing only the first 16 measures all summer. One day I did manage to get the first arpeggio up to mm170. But then after I worked on the second arpeggio, the first one got all messed up and I had to rework it. I don't remember ever engaging in such a losing battle.

Last edited by Arghhh; 09/26/09 11:18 AM.
#1275535 - 09/26/09 11:15 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Pogorelich.]  
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This is such a difficult situation, as none of us can diagnose the OP's exact problem in this medium (nor can we who don't experience a problem with tension demonstrate a differing technique that works for us and may remediate the situation).

Originally Posted by AngelinaPogorelich
Your arm muscles should not be flexed when you play, and the bridge of your hand (connecting your fingers) should be very strong and never collapse. Think about each individual finger and make sure every finger is strong - do not tense your arm.

I worry in particular that such well-meaning advice can cause tension. I'm not saying it's unsound, but someone who's not using the proper technique is going to have a problem reconciling these suggestions with the idea that one should simultaneously be as relaxed as possible.

I'm surprised that no one has yet asked the OP what his teacher thinks (or suggested that he needs one if he doesn't have one). Self-instruction works just fine for many of us, but it's not suitable for all people learning all repertoire.

FWIW, I'm also surprised that someone with the technique to be learning Gaspard is experiencing this problem at all.

Steven

#1276334 - 09/27/09 10:31 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: sotto voce]  
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Thanks to all of you for the advice. I do think the weight and positioning of the arm is my problem and what needs to be the focus of my practice. I just finished my Master's last Spring and do not have a teacher right now, which is why I am looking for pointers from you guys, but the weight of the arm was definitely was my teacher emphasized to me in my Master's program.

Sotto Voce, to answer your remark about Gaspard, I experienced some tension in Scarbo, but nothing that couldn't be worked through in the end.


Currently tackling:
- Bach, Chromatic fantasy and fugue
- Mozart, Sonata K. 284
- Ravel, Gaspard de la Nuit
- Rachmaninoff, Suite op. 17 n. 2
- 2 Scarlatti sonatas
#1276337 - 09/27/09 10:34 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: sotto voce]  
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You might consider re-fingering the passage entirely. Although it is written in groups of four 16th notes, you have to realize that Chopin's piano had slightly narrower keys than the modern piano, at at the interval of a 10th, that does make a difference. Try imagining if they were in groups of 3 instead of 4 and finger accordingly, then once you get the fingering down you can work on putting the proper beat emphasis back in.

#1276359 - 09/27/09 11:43 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: LadyPianist]  
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Chopin's fingering is straightforward, and perfectly fits the figuration—i.e., groups of four notes. They're not in groups of three, and a fingering that attempts to treat them as such will be convoluted to say the least.

Perhaps more important, there would be little reason or purpose for studying this etude with a modification that dispenses with the intended technique. The pedagogical benefit would be lost, and one wouldn't be able to use the piece in any setting in which playing it "correctly" is de rigueur.

I think the music would be compromised, too. Even if one completely suppressed unwanted accents and shifted them to the primary beats on which they would otherwise fall, I am very doubtful that any tempo approaching the target of 144 to 176 bpm could be achieved.

Even if keys were marginally narrower in Chopin's time, it's not really relevant. This etude isn't about one's handspan.

Originally Posted by Pikarole
Sotto Voce, to answer your remark about Gaspard, I experienced some tension in Scarbo, but nothing that couldn't be worked through in the end.

If by "worked through" you mean addressed and remedied, that's great. If you mean playing through pain, discomfort or unresolved tension, it's not.

Steven

#1276404 - 09/28/09 01:42 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: LadyPianist]  
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Originally Posted by LadyPianist
you have to realize that Chopin's piano had slightly narrower keys than the modern piano,
Where does that come from? I play on a piano made in 1800, a Broadwood (Chopin also played on one in London). I haven't noticed any difference in the width keys. Besides, you are totally wrong to say 'at the interval of a tenth, that does make a difference'. It is about opening and closing the hand. There is no stretching involved at all..


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#1276420 - 09/28/09 02:39 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Pikarole]  
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Build up strength doing humble old Hanon- no 60. Work on the etude at a very slow pace, conciously depressing the key with great strength, then relaxing all muscles... another thing to do is alternate accents. After a while, play the etude without pedal at crotchet=132, then incrementally increase tempo to full speed, thinking Debussy, not Chopin; a generally light, clear cascade and swelling, not too intense and romantic (or at least not during the development of strength).
After you have mastered this, I think you should find that your technique has improved terrifically; you may be disgruntled that l.h is not as good as r.h anymore, in which case play the etude with the l.h playing a transposition for the bass of the original treble line.
Good Luck.


Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.
- Leo Tolstoy
#1276823 - 09/28/09 07:21 PM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: LadyPianist]  
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Originally Posted by LadyPianist
You might consider re-fingering the passage entirely. Although it is written in groups of four 16th notes, you have to realize that Chopin's piano had slightly narrower keys than the modern piano, at at the interval of a 10th, that does make a difference. Try imagining if they were in groups of 3 instead of 4 and finger accordingly, then once you get the fingering down you can work on putting the proper beat emphasis back in.


Looks like LP is also getting some nice feedback in this forum too smile

#1277031 - 09/29/09 02:18 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: koiloco]  
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No, the advice above is poor. Here is one of Chopin's pupils - "I am quite aware that it is a generally prevalent error, even in our day, that one can only play this study well when one possesses a very large hand. But this is not the case, only a supple hand is required."


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1277034 - 09/29/09 02:27 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: keyboardklutz]  
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I'd just re-finger the awkward passages. Don't do the 2-4 stretch. It's very bad for your hand. And I wouldn't legato everything. It's a death wish at 176 if you try to legato every single note in the R.H.


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#1277036 - 09/29/09 02:32 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Chopin insisted, even in scales, that preserving the natural resting shape of the hand comes before playing legato. This etude, it's all done with the pedal. Chopin was its first and supreme master!


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http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/

#1277077 - 09/29/09 04:52 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: keyboardklutz]  
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With all the kind advice on fingering to the Chopin C Major Etude 10/1 ... especially like klutz’s reference to the boss (Chopin) to follow-me-leader ... this is a bit like asking Tiger Woods how one can emulate him hitting his approach shots so close to the pin in making so many eagles and birdies (bet he even wrapped up an albatross!!) ... just thought I’d pop in a MIDI diagram of the first 16 measures to help provide a visual picture of the highly repetitive nature of the arpeggio climbs and descents while the LH is banging out the broad chordal Theme (if it is a theme).

What is poetic genius about Chopin is the follow-up variation in ascent/descent once having set up a symmetrical Manhattan outline in measures 1-2, 3-4 and 9-10 ... can anybody shape up to the Allegro legato tempo ... wish I could?
[Linked Image]

PS I take a stiff Whiskey to get over my tension ... not necessarily playing a Chopin Etude.

#1277092 - 09/29/09 05:53 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: btb]  
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btb, you missed out the accents!


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#1277135 - 09/29/09 07:57 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: keyboardklutz]  
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I'm sorry if this doesn't help much with arm tension, but when I studied this etude, I noticed that you never had to stretch the (right) hand more than an octave, and rarely an octave at all.

If you let your arm glide your hand over the keys, you should still maintain a good legato and keep all of the accents, without stretching the hand to any discomforting level.

#1277138 - 09/29/09 08:10 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I'd just re-finger the awkward passages. Don't do the 2-4 stretch. It's very bad for your hand. And I wouldn't legato everything. It's a death wish at 176 if you try to legato every single note in the R.H.

With respect, I think it's as obvious that R.H. legato has as little relevance to this piece as handspan: none. You "wouldn't legato everything" because you can't.

There's no reason to think that anything in this piece is "very bad" for the hand when played with the correct mechanism. I'm convinced that here, as elsewhere in Chopin, persistent trouble of the sort found by the OP is evidence that the proper technique hasn't been found and isn't being employed.

With the etudes especially, one can (and must) acquire the technique to play them successfully—i.e., at a reasonably finished tempo with no adverse physical effect whatsoever—through the study of the music itself, or it just won't be possible.

Steven

#1277144 - 09/29/09 08:25 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: btb]  
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Originally Posted by btb
...ascent/descent once having set up a symmetrical Manhattan outline... [Linked Image]



Looks more like the Rockies to me.

#1277145 - 09/29/09 08:27 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Phlebas]  
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I thought it looked like a stand of Christmas trees.

Steven

#1277150 - 09/29/09 08:43 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: sotto voce]  
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Originally Posted by sotto voce

With respect, I think it's as obvious that R.H. legato has as little relevance to this piece as handspan: none. You "wouldn't legato everything" because you can't.


Can't I? Why not? I think you should rephrase that as being "as much relevance". You seem to have forgotten two things:

1. a larger hand is better equipped to reach wider intervals in a short space of time, whether they are played legato or not. The more jumps are undertaken in a rapid passage, the more a large hand reduces the difficulty of covering everything.

2. Non legato playing is far more tiring than legato playing. I don't think many people would deny that. The more jumps are made, the harder it is to maintain a smooth flow. Unless there is an absolute need to make such jumps, they are better avoided. For my own hand, the only interval where I would consider jumping is on a particularly wide E major arpeggiation. Stretching it is a little risky (unless I'm very warmed up) but having to jump makes it the hardest part in the piece. It's much more effort than simply breezing from finger to finger. Provided that my hands are warmed up enough to cover the stretch (while still maintaing the necessary grip, rather than contorting with a drooping knuckle) I couldn't stress too highly how much easier it is to stretch and angle the hand out, rather than to jump. Such movements also lead to improvement in the hand's capacity, rather than restricting its range to what it can already do.

I think you've missed the point here in a variety of ways.

Last edited by Nyiregyhazi; 09/29/09 09:59 AM.
#1277185 - 09/29/09 09:52 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Nyiregyhazi]  
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Non-legato has nothing to do with jumps. You don't seem to understand that.

I think you're just looking for an argument, as is your wont.

Steven

#1277188 - 09/29/09 10:02 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: sotto voce]  
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
Non-legato has nothing to do with jumps. You don't seem to understand that.

I think you're just looking for an argument, as is your wont.


If it has nothing to do with jumps, why are you saying the hand size makes no difference to how easily the study can be played? If it's not about jumping between any notes, obviously the hand size WOULD make a substantial difference- legato or not. How do you propose that a small hand will avoid any such jumps, if the size matters so little? You are contradicting yourself most directly.

What I understand perfectly well is that I improved my playing of the study drastically by working on a true legato, instead of leaving gaps. I'm not looking to argue for the sake of it. Perhaps you would like to believe that's the only reason why somebody might possibly argue with your point, but I simply happen to think that you are overwhelmingly mistaken. Quite what might possess somebody to make the blanket claim that you can't play it legato, is quite beyond me. So, if you aren't talking about jumping to avoid stretches (despite claiming that the size of the hand doesn't matter), are you going to follow through and explain WHY you feel it can't be played legato?

Last edited by Nyiregyhazi; 09/29/09 10:15 AM.
#1277194 - 09/29/09 10:13 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: Nyiregyhazi]  
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I'm not contradicting myself at all, and think your understanding is far from perfect. Perhaps you should accept that there are some things that are "beyond" you.

Legato means "bound" or "connected." Notes that are too far apart to be physically connected except at the slowest speeds cannot be connected. If you believe they can, perhaps the laws of physics just don't apply to you.

If you choose to characterize the movement from key to key, and from one four-note figuration to another, as "jumping," then that's your choice of words. I would call it gliding; with pedal, there's a perception of legato. The notes themselves are not legato in any way that the word is commonly understood.

Whatever works! I'm glad you've found the mechanism that works successfully for you.

Steven

p.s. I don't believe you have any interest here other than exercising your one-upmanship in a prolonged, tedious and escalating back-and-forth (i.e., your consistent pattern of "discussion"). I don't share that interest, so go ahead and have the last word.

Last edited by sotto voce; 09/29/09 10:20 AM. Reason: p.s.
#1277202 - 09/29/09 10:26 AM Re: Tension in Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 [Re: sotto voce]  
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
I'm not contradicting myself at all, and think your understanding is far from perfect. Perhaps you should accept that there are some things that are "beyond" you.


I will readily accept that the idea that the size of the hand does not matter is considerably beyond me. Call it gliding or jumping or whatever. A smaller hand obviously has further to glide. So it is substantially more difficult than with a larger one. There is no reason to approach it this way, if your hand can comfortably connect. Perhaps you have a smaller hand, but my hand can connect every interval in the piece without strain. Looking to improve such connections has made it more comfortable than every before. I'm not sure why you wish to tell everyone that they "can't" play legato. It's simply not true. For those who cannot reach gliding may be a necessity. For those who can, it isn't. Legato is inherently easier, if you can reach far enough. That's precisely why the size of the hand indeed matters.



Legato means "bound" or "connected." Notes that are too far apart to be physically connected except at the slowest speeds cannot be connected. If you believe they can, perhaps the laws of physics just don't apply to you.

Would you care to quote which particular law it is that dictates that my hand might be incapable of covering distances which ALL fall below an octave? Newton? Einstein? The hardest stretches are a sixth from 3 to 5 and a seventh from 1 to 2. You really don't need to be Rachmaninoff to pull that off.

If you choose to characterize the movement from key to key, and from one four-note figuration to another, as "jumping," then that's your choice of words. I would call it gliding; with pedal, there's a perception of legato. The notes themselves are not legato in any way that the word is commonly understood.

Perhaps when you play it. If that offers you a decent speed and continuity, obviously you've found something that can work for you. However, I'm not sure why that would lead you to tell others that it is hence impossible to play it legato. Obviously you don't have a large enough hand, or you have not experimented with your full range of flexibility. That doesn't prevent anyone else from approaching it with a true legato.

Last edited by Nyiregyhazi; 09/29/09 10:29 AM.
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