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Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
#2862755 06/25/19 09:06 PM
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None of Chopin's Etudes are easy. For easy Etudes, look at Czerny's Studies. For easy Chopin, look at his Preludes, Nocturnes, and Mazurkas. If you're not confident that you are ready for Chopin, than stick with Mozart and Beethoven for a while(I learned that the hard way, trying to learn Grande Valse Brilliante 2 years into my piano playing) But some Chopin etudes are easier than others. I will go in compositional order here in my assessment of each of the Op. 10 etudes.

Waterfall Etude, Op. 10 no. 1

The bass line in the left hand is very easy, just simple octaves. The right hand is also relatively easy because it is basically scales but embellished. What makes this even easier is the key being C major.

Chromatic Etude, Op. 10 no. 2

This is another relatively easy etude. The bass is very simple. Again the right hand is mostly scales but you also have to play part of the bass line with the right hand which makes it a bit harder than the Waterfall Etude. Key is in A minor. This Chopin Etude reminds me a bit of Flight of the Bumblebee because of the constant chromatic motion by sixteenth notes and the tonic of A.

Tristesse Etude, Op. 10 no. 3

This is arguably easier than the previous two etudes. In fact, I would say that it is about as easy as a Chopin Nocturne. Hardest part is the wide leaps in the left hand.

Torrent Etude, Op. 10 no. 4

After 3 relatively easy etudes comes one that is very difficult. All those fast notes and octaves makes the entire piece difficult.

Black Keys Etude, Op. 10 no. 5

This is another difficult etude, once again due to fast notes and octaves. As you can probably tell from the name, it uses mostly the black keys.

Etude in Eb Minor, Op. 10 no. 6

This is one of few etudes by Chopin that don't have nicknames. This is I would say is an intermediate in Chopin etude difficulty. It is definitely easier than the previous two etudes. The bass and melody switch hands in the B section of this Etude.

Toccata Etude, Op. 10 no. 7

Yet another difficult etude. I can see how it got its nickname the Toccata Etude. A toccata is a piece composed basically to show off the player's talent on a given instrument, typically a keyboard instrument. And this Etude definitely fits with the definition of toccata.

Sunshine Etude, Op. 10 no. 8

The bass is relatively simple with this etude. But the mainly scalar melody is hard because of the speed. So overall, I would say this is Intermediate.

Etude in F minor, Op. 10 no. 9

Here it is basically switched. The bass is now difficult and the melody is relatively simple, especially compared to the bass. This I would again say is intermediate.

Etude in Ab major, Op. 10 no. 10

Both the bass and the melody are hard here. Everything is based around triplets. There are a few 3:2 polyrhythm sections which makes it more difficult than just triplets alone. That and the tempo is quite fast. I would say this is difficult.

Arpeggio Etude, Op. 10 no. 11

While both the bass and the melody are difficult, the fact that both are just arpeggios makes things easier. I would rate this as an Intermediate.

Revolutionary Etude, Op. 10 no. 12

This is another fast etude. This is very comparable to Beethoven in more ways than one. It is dramatic and is in the key of C minor. It is very octave heavy. Even places where it is written to be quiet still have just as much intensity as the loud sections. And there is sudden dynamic contrast as well. Dramatic, octave heavy, intense in quiet sections, sudden dynamic contrast, there is only 1 composer that I think of like immediately when I think of these 4 characteristics together. That is, Beethoven of course. This Etude really draws out the Beethovenian side of Chopin. I mean, just listen to it for a moment.



What composer comes to mind when you hear this? Chances are that Beethoven was your first guess. I find it odd for Chopin's pieces to be in such a Beethovenian mood. Here is an actual Beethoven piece of similar tempo and length to the Etude for comparison:



It just so happens that this Beethoven Bagatelle is of a similar difficulty to the Chopin Etude. But the Bagatelle in C minor and the Revolutionary Etude sound similar in mood and speed, don't they?

I would put this Chopin Etude in the Very Difficult category. Not just difficult but very difficult.

So, so far with the Chopin etudes, we have this:

  • Easy: Op. 10 no. 1, Op. 10 no. 2, Op. 10 no. 3
  • Intermediate: Op. 10 no. 6, Op. 10 no. 8, Op. 10 no. 9, Op. 10 no. 11
  • Difficult: Op. 10 no. 4, Op. 10 no. 5, Op. 10 no. 7, Op. 10 no. 10
  • Very Difficult: Op. 10 no. 12


Here is a link to a PDF of all of Chopin's Op. 10 etudes:

Chopin Etudes Op. 10

How well do you think I assessed the difficulty of the etudes? I just listened to each etude a few times. I didn't actually try to play them. I didn't take time signature into account but I did take tempo into account. That is because, as far as I know, Chopin never used odd meters like 5/4 in his life. And he certainly didn't use Irrational meter. Compound time signatures can sort of be thought of as triplet equivalents to simple time signatures. This becomes more true the more beats there are. While 6/8 can be thought of as a triplet 2/4, it doesn't really have a 2/4 feel to it. It has its own unique feel. 9/8 can be thought of as a triplet 3/4 and 12/8 essentially is a triplet 4/4. Thus, I treated all time signatures equally and just didn't take them into account in my assessment of the Op. 10 etudes.

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862760 06/25/19 09:27 PM
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I'm afraid you basically have no real idea about these pieces, what makes them difficult, or their relative difficulty.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 06/25/19 09:29 PM.
Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862765 06/25/19 09:49 PM
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... and then you notice the tempo marking on no. 1...

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862769 06/25/19 10:09 PM
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I've played all of the etudes and you've got a lot of it backwards- the Waterfall is one of the most difficult while the Revolutionary is an easier etude. "Embellished scales" is a very misguided attempt to describe Op.10 No.1. Some people do find the Waterfall easier than others but nobody thinks it's easy; in fact, Horowitz flat out refused to play in public because he couldn't get it up to his standard. I'm not very good at it either and I personally think it's the hardest in the set.

Black Keys is also relatively easy while 10/2 I find extremely difficult, mostly because there's a lot of 4/5 fingerwork in 10/2. 10/3 is not easy just because it is slower, it takes a lot of touch to play it convincingly.

My personal ranking from difficult to less difficult:
10/1, 10/4, 10/2, 10/8, 10/10, 10/7, 10/5, 10/12, 10/3, 10/11, 10/9, 10/6

It's going to be different for everybody and you'll just have to play them yourself to see.

Last edited by achoo42; 06/25/19 10:18 PM.

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Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862772 06/25/19 10:24 PM
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" I just listened to each etude a few times. I didn't actually try to play them"

I think this shows in your assesments. Having tried (not learned) to play some of them, it seems obvious this is the reason your assesments are pretty much wrong, even considering individual differences...Chopin sounds easy and even the scores may look rather simple, but actually playing the music is another matter.

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862775 06/25/19 10:43 PM
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I think this video should put the validity of the OP's initial post in this thread to rest:

[video:youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=y1n1h5IqwW4[/video]



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Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
BruceD #2862788 06/25/19 11:38 PM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
I think this video should put the validity of the OP's initial post in this thread to rest:

[video:youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=y1n1h5IqwW4[/video]


...which shows the importance of knowing/questioning your source. Certainly diffused things for me.

Caters - it's admirable you took the initiative to (sort of) have a look at all these pieces, but be careful making claims about them before you back them up with technique and/or really study them. Especially here. A lot of these guys know these Etudes really well.

Last edited by PianoYos; 06/25/19 11:40 PM.
Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862793 06/25/19 11:55 PM
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Originally Posted by caters
"That is because, as far as I know, Chopin never used odd meters like 5/4 in his life. And he certainly didn't use Irrational meter.


Not that it matters, but Chopin did use 5/4, one example being the third movement of his first sonata.

Last edited by achoo42; 06/25/19 11:56 PM.

Schumann is the mann.
Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2862794 06/26/19 12:00 AM
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Lets just call any of Chopin's work advanced. There is really no easy level pieces

Playing Sheet music is easy, making music like Chopin intended...…………………………………………………..


I feel so inadequate.


When you play, never mind who listens to you. R.Schumann.

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Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
Learux #2862891 06/26/19 07:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Learux
Lets just call any of Chopin's work advanced. There is really no easy level pieces

Playing Sheet music is easy, making music like Chopin intended...…………………………………………………..


I feel so inadequate.


Agree, no really easy level pieces.



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Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2863302 06/27/19 02:16 PM
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One of the absolute strangest threads I've ever seen on this forum, or any forum for that matter.


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Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
achoo42 #2863339 06/27/19 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by achoo42
My personal ranking from difficult to less difficult:
10/1, 10/4, 10/2, 10/8, 10/10, 10/7, 10/5, 10/12, 10/3, 10/11, 10/9, 10/6

I don't play these yet (way too hard for me smile ), but they are on my bucket list smile so like some of the music on my bucket list, I already went and "aspirationally" purchased both the Henle edition and the Wiener Urtext edition of all of his études. grin

I note that the only difference in difficulty between what Henle thinks and your ranking above is that the Henle ranking has 10/12 as harder than 10/10, 10/7, and 10/5. Other than that, your ranking is consistent with Henle although yours is obviously more fine-grained thumb


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Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
SiFi #2863354 06/27/19 05:12 PM
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Originally Posted by SiFi
One of the absolute strangest threads I've ever seen on this forum, or any forum for that matter.

I would have to agree. As for difficulties, the thread opening has everything backwards, and the descriptions of the difficulties in the Etudes are quite...peculiar...but maybe I'll add my ideas on performing these in a moment.

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
fnork #2863357 06/27/19 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by fnork
Originally Posted by SiFi
One of the absolute strangest threads I've ever seen on this forum, or any forum for that matter.

I would have to agree. As for difficulties, the thread opening has everything backwards, and the descriptions of the difficulties in the Etudes are quite...peculiar...but maybe I'll add my ideas on performing these in a moment.


If you'd care to, I'd like to hear. I'll likely never know otherwise.

Last edited by MikeN; 06/27/19 05:24 PM.
Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2863358 06/27/19 05:24 PM
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So, it's nice that a thread on these Etudes came up, because I'm in the middle of re-working the whole opus, and it remains to be seen if I dare to perform the set in its entirety. I've done the second half (7-12) in concert previously, and have performed nr 1 and 4 individually, as well. The only Etude I haven't studied is nr 3.


The one thing that scares most pianists from doing the entire set is nr 2, and more specifically, performing it right after nr 1. This is typically mentioned as the major challenge anyone that does the entire opus has to deal with. While op 25 is musically more intricate and presents new difficulties, many I have spoken to agree that pulling off op 10 in performance is more challenging than op 25.

As masochistic as it may sound, I strongly advice trying to transpose some of the Etudes in the practicing room, in sections, at slow tempos. Being able to do them in various keys will make it easier little by little in the original key, and will also force you to slow down to a comfortable tempo. Professional pianists sometimes make the mistake of practicing the Etudes faster than they can play them, simply because they were once, at some point many years earlier, able to play them at higher speeds. Transposing helps you to slow things down and get to the core difficulties of the Etudes with renewed focus. Have just been doing this with nr 5, 7, 8, 10 and 12. The left hand patterns in nr 12 get incredibly awkward in certain keys...

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2863359 06/27/19 05:26 PM
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I'll come back to this thread with specific comments on each Etude whenever I have time and energy.

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
fnork #2863366 06/27/19 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by fnork


As masochistic as it may sound, I strongly advice trying to transpose some of the Etudes in the practicing room, in sections, at slow tempos.




Computerpro3: "Yeah! I feel pretty good right now, practicing the Etudes is going pretty well!"

fnork: "Playing the etudes is cool, but try transposing them on the fly! It's fun!"

Computerpro3: "quits piano"

Last edited by computerpro3; 06/27/19 05:38 PM.
Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
computerpro3 #2863367 06/27/19 05:46 PM
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Originally Posted by computerpro3
Originally Posted by fnork


As masochistic as it may sound, I strongly advice trying to transpose some of the Etudes in the practicing room, in sections, at slow tempos.




Computerpro3: "Yeah! I feel pretty good right now, practicing the Etudes is going pretty well!"

fnork: "Playing the etudes is cool, but try transposing them on the fly! It's fun!"

Computerpro3: "quits piano"

Noooooo Computeroro3, come baaaaaack!!!!! Right back to the piano bench, transposing, and eventually turning you into Pianopro3...

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2863368 06/27/19 05:50 PM
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If it maksaa you feel better, I still struggle with this a lot, and it's really draining for the brain. Takes plenty of effort. But I've managed large chunks of nr 7 in B and B flat maj, nr 5 in G major (that's fairly easy comparing to some other Etudes), 10 in A maj, etc. As you can see, I'm staying close to the original key, which in some ways is easier. Should try the opposite...

Re: Chopin etudes by difficulty, Op. 10
caters #2863371 06/27/19 05:54 PM
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I really love that idea Fnork! It reminds me of my habit of learning the notes to a nasty passage backwards. It solidifys in the memory for me and helps refine the movements. That's also mentally draining though.

Last edited by MikeN; 06/27/19 05:57 PM.
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