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On a separate but somehow related topic, here is Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan performing his figure skating short program on this very piece by Chopin. This program has the honour of earning Yuzuru the highest short program score ever in Japan NHK trophy 2015 last year. Then he broke his own record 2 weeks later in Barcelona Grand Prix final. Now in World Championship in Boston, he has repeated this stunning performance pristine clean again!
In certain ways, figure skating is like piano the playing. There are so many difficult elements but you have overcome them and to somehow turn it into art. Don't be fooled by the ease in which Yuzuru skated. This is an extremely difficult program!
As a skater, when you can rise above all these difficult elements, link them together, make them look effortless, make the audience forget about scores and just enjoy the masterpiece performance, well, isn't that the same for pianists? Yuzuru inspires me!
Back to progress report. I attempted to play the piece from beginning until the end for the first time, and I made it! Sure it's terrible and for most part it sounded like a terrible attempt at sight-reading, but from start to finish... I wouldn't be able to do it 12 years ago.
My teacher resumes lessons next Sunday. So I better get back to the Ballade. I plan to concentrate on bars 1-138 for a week and hopefully get to play somewhat fluently (but slow) during lesson. I doubt I will get that far during lesson. I bet I will be stopped somewhere before bar 138 and we will be going though techniques, phrasings, fingerings, dynamics, etc.
Lesson is on tomorrow so I've been spending quite a lot of time to prepare my first "presentation" of the Ballade. Today I've made the 3rd video learning journal, playing most of all the other parts not appear in the first 2 videos. The Presto section is really a killer!
Compared to the first 2 videos I have got more fluency now. Now that I know all the notes, I notice that I haven't been practising the difficult parts slowly (it's slow but it needs to go slower) and in isolation as much as I should. This is a timely reminder for myself to resist "playing" the piece. I am still at the very early stage where I'm still in the "learning"phase.
Now I need to attend to another recent obsession of mine: play Ooqway Ascend (from King Fu Panda) on the violin. This tune is so addictive!
Thank you so much for posting this. You are very inspiring. Every time I watch your progress, I run to my piano and continue to practice, even though its not my scheduled time. I admire your openness in showing the rest of us your progress.
On a side note, can you tell my what kind of video camera/program you are using? I eventually want to do the same - maybe not brave enough to post here, but for my own education.
I use the Logitech HD Pro webcam C930e. You can see the quality is rather good for a webcam. It can record 1080p up to 30fps. This webcam is rather pricy at about A$140, but it makes recording so convenient for me because I record it directly into my computer. The sound is recorded using Zoom H4N. This is also a pricy recorder at about A$300, but it was a birthday gift :-) It also connects directly into my computer.
On the computer side, I use an iMac and I use QuickTime Player software that came with the computer. In the settings, rather than using the built-in webcam and microphone, I select to use the Logitech and Zoom connected to the iMac. All I do now is open QuickTime, select "New Movie Recording" and click the red button :-)
For editing (mostly trimming the videos), I use Final Cut Pro, a very popular video editing software developed by Apple. This software used to cost over A$1000, but the latest version was about A$300. They removed several modules so you can get the basic version at a cheaper price and buy additional modules if you need them. I wanted a good editing software because the one that came with the computer, iMovie, has too limited functions. Final Cut Pro allows you you make multiple videos that iMovie doesn't, like this one:
The first lesson covered up to bar 105. Nothing was said about techniques but my teacher spent the entire lesson on the musicality aspect of the piece. Let me write these down before I forget:
Largo (opening phrases): It's like struggling the steps up to a hill. When you get up there, it is not as you've hoped for. You feel disappointed, then come to accept the reality.
Moderato: Don't play it mechanical. Bar 26-32, the phrases should sing a bit more in the top voice but not so much as to feel "too trying". Bar 36, take as much time to get "the sound". Forget about counting. Bring out the middle voice. Bar 67-93: slower. The lefthand is not just arpeggios. The pattern is built from one of the initial motives. Bar 101-105, extreme physical struggles, like Chopin struggling with tuberculosis.
In General: Chopin's music needs to play with a specific sound. It may be different between pianists but there is a specific sound that each pianist strives to achieve, the sound that draws the audience into the pain and struggle in the music. I have to find that sound. But the important thing for now is that I realise this and start looking for it as I learn the piece.
The sound is so important in Chopin's music that you have to stretch and compress the tempo throughout the piece to accommodate the sound you want to achieve. That sound depends a lot on the harmony. Rubato in Chopin's music is not really about the stretching or compressing the tempo. It is about maintaining the tension. Sometimes a phrase need to move forward to keep the tension going. Other times a phrase needs more time to maintain that tension. Don't loose that tension.
The first lesson got quite deep. I now realise that while the technical aspect will take a lot of time to master, the musicality aspect will take much longer. So it is important to start learning and exploring this aspect at the very beginning, not after all the notes have be mastered.
Now I've got some good directions on how to shape the first half of music and will start to explore it for the next 2 weeks before Lesson 2. In the meantime, there are still lots of notes to get more fluency. Plenty of homework!
Thanks for sharing this journal. It makes a nice example for the rest of us to follow.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks Newer Player. I tried to search for blogs and forums to read about the journey of someone learning a piece or preparing for an exam but there aren't a lot of it on the internet. So I started to do this and hopefully start a trend, so that and more people will do the same.
This is an exciting project. If you have time, definitely read Alan Rusbridger's book, Play It Again (if you haven't already). I would love to tackle this piece, but I need to work on my technique before I dare touch it. Best of luck to you!
Also, I forgot to ask- why do you have sheets or a blanket on the piano? Is that to muffle or lower the sound?
The bedsheets is there to cover the piano from dust. I would have prefered a custom made leather piano cover but I spent that money on a new piano bench instead. Plus, a cheap bedsheets from Ikea is more than sufficient to do the job :-)
If I were to muffle the sound, I would have stuff some cushions between the "ribs" under the soundboard and/or place some sound absorbing panels on the wall. After 3 years of playing piano in this tiny room, I'm already used to it.
This is an exciting project. If you have time, definitely read Alan Rusbridger's book, Play It Again (if you haven't already).
My teacher mentioned that book on Sunday during my lesson. I was tempted to read the book, but I prefer not to. If I do, I risk copying what he did or compare myself to him. I rather figure things out myself with my teacher and make my own journey. This is just too special to be spoilt!
He spent 1 year learning this piece within limited piano skills. I've studied music for the last 12 years to get to here (6 years on the violin and 6 years on the piano). Moreover, I don't have a 1-year time limit to learn it. I have the rest of my life. So my journey will be very different.
Hi Tubbie. I keep my piano covered with two separate blankets in order to prevent dust AND keep two cats away from the case! It is a pain when I have to remove the blankets each day, along with the key cover and the bench covers, but it is the price I pay for a well-maintained piano. :-)
I see your point about not reading Play It Again just yet. On a side note, I think Rusbridger underestimates his skill to make studying and performing the Ballade even more striking. In the book, he talks about being an amateur who kind of wandered back into playing after many years of not doing so. However, when you read about how he routinely plays piano with different groups and is really into piano for four hands or even piano for eight hands, I began to think he was perhaps not so limited in skills as he would have you believe. He seems to be very comfortable playing piano for four hands with professional musicians and goes to piano summer camp in France where other very serious amateurs congregate. He also already had a nice Fazioli in his house, so I am quite skeptical that he just kind of stumbled into the piano (and the Ballade!) after a decades-long hiatus. That's my take! Again, good luck- what a great adventure to study a piece like this.
Yesterday I tried to play some passages close to tempo and realised that:
1) I have the capacity to do it with more work 2) I have to use proper techniques 3) Sometimes practising slow is not good for the hands, especially places where I have to stretch. To play them slow, I have to stretch for longer. That means that when I practise slow, I should not bother so much with legato. Otherwise, I would strain my fingers, hands or wrists.
I think it is a good thing to try playing faster so I know how I should be practising and what techniques to use (or not use, or use more, or use less). With just slow practise, I can get away with sloppier techniques. To play it fast, there is no room for any of that. So the next aim is to practise in a way that enables me to play in tempo.
Perhaps this long weekend I will make another video of playing short passages (or small sections of passages) faster, and compare that to the earlier videos when I was playing them very slow when I was learning the notes.
Thanks for creating and keeping this journal active Tubbie. I'm just a beginner that is 1 year into learning this wonderful instrument but I do know that it will take many years to become proficient. I'm thoroughly enjoying my little journey and this thread is a wonderful example of how commitment, practice and perseverance can take one far into creating beautiful music!
Started Learning: March 2015 | Current Level: Adult Beginner | Instrument: Yamaha U1
Welcome to the piano world and it's my pleasure to share my journey of this piece here.
My teacher always says, "3 steps forward, 1 step backward". When you feel like you are going backward with your progress at times, don't get discouraged. It's normal. Sometimes it's necessary to go backward in order to go forward. Just keep at it no matter what :-)
I've spent so much time on this Ballade I think I can start to play those difficult bits from memory. I think it makes sense to memorise them because there's no time for the eyes to switch between the sheet music and the keyboard.
Recorded video clips on same passages just to find out that the camera weren't set up properly. Argh! Anyway, did a retake and made a video to compare my progress between week 1 and week 5. Even though it's still slow, at the very least, I've memorised the Presto passage at the end of the piece. Some other parts, while not memorised, has got a lot more fluent and I can play longer passages without stopping.
The next stepping stone is to memorise the passages in bars 106-137. I am struggling to memorise bars 110-113, the octave scales in bars 119-123, and the chromatic ascending passage in bars 130-137. After that, it will be memorising bars 148-151 and 168-170. Thats a total of 24 bars.
Once those are memorised, I should be able to play the whole piece somewhat fluently for my 2nd lesson.
It looks like I may not need a whole year for this piece. If I keep up the practising, maybe I can play the entire piece in another 3-4 months? Things are looking rather hopeful :-)
Played through the entire piece 3-4 times this morning (with lots of slips and mistakes). The 15-page piece no long seem so long. Now I can spend more time experimenting with sound, phrasings, tempo, dynamics, pedals, and less time worrying about notes and fingerings.
Had a rather long discussion with teacher about performing and body movements, in my case, lack of. There are pianists that moves a lot and those that hardly do. In my case, it's important that my non-movement doesn't result to "freezing" inside.
Got some compliments and got some criticisms. Got some tips on how to practise some of the difficult passages. Got some better fingerings than those suggested in the book.
2 weeks to work on them before the next lesson. I think in the next lesson, I'll split it with one of my exam pieces to go over with my teacher.
I just wanted to comment to let you know that I'll be watching your progress on this beautiful piece. Your deliberate practice is genuinely inspiring. I wouldn't have created an account JUST to post a reply if I wasn't motivated by you.