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Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
#1479832 07/23/10 10:53 AM
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I was just thinking today about perceived difficulty and actual difficulty of various pieces for the piano.

I'm sure we've all sat down at the piano and played something relatively straight-forward for some non-pianist, only to find that they are mightily impressed. And conversely I bet a lot of us have played something generally considered quite challenging, only to get a reaction from the person that the piece was not so tough.

1. So if I would ask for some pieces which have a particularly large discrepancy between perceived difficulty and actual difficulty, which ones come to mind?

Either solo or concerto is fine for the list. Could be either "sounds hard, but is actually not that hard" or "sounds fairly simple but is actually quite tough".

2. Second level of this question would be whether there are certain demographic groups who might tend (on average with a large sample) to have a difficulty perception skewed toward or against certain types of classical music (baroque vs romantic, for example) or certain composers. It's difficult to research this conclusively, but I'd be interested to hear people's hypotheses, speculations and conjectures.

I have some ideas in mind for both 1 and 2, but thought I'd leave these questions neutral and get a few comments here before adding my .02.

***Note for nitpickers! Before calling this thread out for the sweeping generalization fallacy, please bear in mind that it is obvious that generalizing the music tastes of large groups is very difficult; however I invite people to try anyway. Obviously there are always exceptions, and I doubt anybody actually believes all people with demographic characteristic x consider music category y more complex/challenging/enjoyable. I'm simply asking for guesses as to the locations of probability distributions for different groups.***

Last edited by nauru; 07/23/10 10:55 AM.
Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
nauru #1479843 07/23/10 11:13 AM
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As for question 1, when I have played Bach Prelude in B flat major (from WTC book I) for some non-pianist friends, they have been very impressed and thought it must be really hard. But in reality, it is quite easy.

And then of course whenever I play anything, hard or easy, my little brother always scoffs and says he could do it easily :P

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
WinsomeAllegretto #1479862 07/23/10 11:35 AM
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So can he?

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
moscheles001 #1479869 07/23/10 11:41 AM
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haha, not him! I taught him lessons for like 2 months and then he gave up.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
WinsomeAllegretto #1479881 07/23/10 12:00 PM
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Grieg Concerto...1st movement. I looked at the cadenza and the runs, was terrified, and I played them...I sightread a lot of it XD


Working On-

Deux Arabesques, Debussy


On Queue-

Danse Russe from Petroushka, Stravinsky
Toccata, Ravel




Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
WinsomeAllegretto #1479882 07/23/10 12:01 PM
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Bach c sharp minor from book I. So difficult, like all Bach, of course doesn't sound hard because it's a slower one. But the 5 voices are not easy!

And then everybody hears rach 2 and gives it a title of insane difficulty. I'll just say, it easier than any Bach..



"The eyes can mislead, the smile can lie, but the shoes always tell the truth."
Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Pogorelich. #1479889 07/23/10 12:18 PM
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This thread reminds me of when I played the Brahms D minor concerto. It was my first concerto, my teacher said to me, I will not teach you the Grieg or Schumann I am sick of them. Then he said, you should play Brahms First. It is not difficult at all, except for a horrendous octave passage.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
JdhPiano924 #1479924 07/23/10 01:09 PM
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I think a lot of Bach fugues would fall into the "harder than they appear" category due to the the immense difficulty of voicing the (2)3-5 parts correctly.

Fugue 8 from WTC 1 comes to mind, its extreme slowness makes it seem even easier (it's probably one of the most difficult and frustrating pieces I have ever played, though I'm not really a Bach person).

In general I think fast pieces always seem harder and slow pieces easier to the untrained ear. Beyond that, I'm not sure I can think of a more specific generalization, though the Bach fugues seems right to me.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Quickster94 #1479931 07/23/10 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Quickster94

In general I think fast pieces always seem harder and slow pieces easier to the untrained ear. .


Yep, I think you've hit the nail right on the head. For example, I used to think that the tarantella by Pieczonka sounded really hard, though my teacher told me it wasn't as hard as it sounds. Then when I saw the actual score I realized that, though it isn't the easiest piece ever, it really isn't that horribly difficult either.

PS, I'll admit that I've never learned a 5 part fugue, but Bach has never seemed very hard to play...

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
WinsomeAllegretto #1479933 07/23/10 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
Originally Posted by Quickster94

In general I think fast pieces always seem harder and slow pieces easier to the untrained ear. .


Yep, I think you've hit the nail right on the head. For example, I used to think that the tarantella by Pieczonka sounded really hard, though my teacher told me it wasn't as hard as it sounds. Then when I saw the actual score I realized that, though it isn't the easiest piece ever, it really isn't that horribly difficult either.

PS, I'll admit that I've never learned a 5 part fugue, but Bach has never seemed very hard to me...

I think another nail in the coffin for Bach difficulty is the simple fact they were not written as piano pieces, the piano only came into existence towards the end of Bach's life.

Last edited by jdhampton924; 07/23/10 01:23 PM.
Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
JdhPiano924 #1479936 07/23/10 01:27 PM
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Chopin 10/2. I've told a number of non-pianists that this is one of the hardest etudes - without explaining why - and they think it sounds easy compared to - say - the Revolutionary.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Phlebas #1479940 07/23/10 01:36 PM
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Sounds hard but isn't quite as difficult as people make it out to be: Most of Alkan's music.

Sounds easy but is actually hard: Middle movements of Beethoven's Sonata in B Flat Major Op. 22.

I'm learning Ravel's Concerto in G (all 3 movements), and I don't know how much harder or easier it is than it sounds. This one may be even. I wonder what its difficulty is compared to, oh I don't know, maybe Schumann's, Rachmaninoff's 2nd, or Tchaikovsky's 1st?

Last edited by Orange Soda King; 07/23/10 01:42 PM.
Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
JdhPiano924 #1479960 07/23/10 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by jdhampton924
Originally Posted by WinsomeAllegretto
Originally Posted by Quickster94

In general I think fast pieces always seem harder and slow pieces easier to the untrained ear. .


Yep, I think you've hit the nail right on the head. For example, I used to think that the tarantella by Pieczonka sounded really hard, though my teacher told me it wasn't as hard as it sounds. Then when I saw the actual score I realized that, though it isn't the easiest piece ever, it really isn't that horribly difficult either.

PS, I'll admit that I've never learned a 5 part fugue, but Bach has never seemed very hard to me...

I think another nail in the coffin for Bach difficulty is the simple fact they were not written as piano pieces, the piano only came into existence towards the end of Bach's life.



What I'm saying is that Bach is NOT as hard as it seems. I mean it seems like it would be hard to play all the different lines, but once you work out a method of practicing it, it just takes time. It doesn't have a lot of big leaps or other difficult technical things, and the melody is mostly stepwise or skips close together. The only hard thing is bringing out whichever line you want to bring out.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
WinsomeAllegretto #1479998 07/23/10 03:14 PM
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To me, Bach sounds simple. Of course, I realize that a five-part fugue is far from easy, but to the untrained ear, his works sound simple. Since there is not much texture, people automatically assume it's easier, when in reality, it just brings out your flaws when playing.

Poulenc's Concerto for piano and orchestra is a lot more difficult than you'd think. (I'm not talking about the more well-known one for two pianos, but the lesser-known one.) The first few months I worked on it, I didn't find it particularly difficult. Sure, there were some technical difficulties, but it wasn't that bad. But now that I've known it for about a year now, I've started realizing that there are many hidden melodies that Poulenc throws in. The accompaniment has the melody most of the time, so I thought, but then I found seemingly random notes that added to the melody. It was like he took the melody, put it threw a paper shredder, scattered it amongst the piano solo, and put in a fake melody for the orchestra to throw you off. A lot more difficult.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Afterthought #1480191 07/23/10 09:02 PM
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I've had the experience of getting "wow that's amazing" from a Bach Invention in only 2 parts. The untrained ear may be able to hear the 2 lines, realise the "impossibility" of the player's brain being able to follow both at once, and delight in the complexity. I've been surprised a few times by this positive reaction (I had assumed that listener wouldn't especially like this music). It was no 8 and 13 btw.

A fugue in 4 voices on the other hand is perhaps too complex for a new listener, so they miss the "wow" and it just sounds like a generally busy piece.


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Composers manufacture a product that is universally deemed superfluous—at least until their music enters public consciousness, at which point people begin to say that they could not live without it.
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Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Canonie #1480209 07/23/10 09:35 PM
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Kreisler's Easy Piece is not as hard as it sounds.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
pianoloverus #1480213 07/23/10 09:38 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Kreisler's Easy Piece is not as hard as it sounds.


um well just let me say something YEAH it is its a harder song then you think.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Orange Soda King #1480221 07/23/10 09:51 PM
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Scriabin's 42 no.5 comes across as less difficult than it really is. I think also the etude op.65 no.1? If you just listen, you don't realize how impossible it is, with all of those ninths flying everywhere.

With Liszt, the opposite is true, where the "hard" parts are easier than what they sound like. Like how in Chasse-Neige, once the theme comes back Fortissimo after the chromatic section in alternating octaves, it's actually easier than before.


Working on:
Chopin - Nocturne op. 48 no.1
Debussy - Images Book II

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
nauru #1480245 07/23/10 10:53 PM
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Any Mozart sonata.

Re: Difficulty, perceived vs actual. Largest discrepancy pieces?
Ferdinand #1480250 07/23/10 10:58 PM
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Fantasie Impromptu is so much easier than it sounds.

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