I’m on a piano teacher’s forum at LinkedIn. Once in a while a guy named Joe posts a link to a piece he’s learned and kindly asks for constructive criticism. With his last posting he did Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor. My comments focused on how his ornaments should have been more crisp, his phrasing needed work — shape the phrase with your hands drawing an arc, and he needs to be more at the bottom of the keys. The biggest compliment I could give was that Joe inspired me to learn this piece myself simply because I like it.
What follows immediately below is my audio performance of this early-advanced level masterpiece.
I will discuss this piece in a little more detail.
I decided to try a little experiment based on a theory of mine. This theory has to do with biology and how it takes time for the connections in your brain to form and there is no hurrying along this process. What you can do to keep from slowing it down is to not practice mistakes and take things slowly and patiently.
To this end, I memorized the piece in very short chunks from beginning to end. Sure this is a four-minute work, but there is a lot of repetition. The real difficulty was in not just being able to sight read any of it and it is in a non-intuitive key for me, and lots of tied notes and accidentals. So a slow and methodical approach did indeed serve well.
As I learned well each little musical bit in its time, I also focused on pressing into each key on the piano. Sureness and confident playing comes from being comfortably rooted in the bottom of the keys. Control and eventual speed also comes from the absolute certainty that you are playing at the bottom of the keys. One generally presses instead of strikes, particularly in faster passages. Or one makes frequent mistakes. And if one repeatedly plays over mistakes then one gets very good and consistent at making those errors.
So it takes time and care. And patience. And love. I want to enjoy doing this! I never practiced more than 1-4 minutes in a single sitting. I might have done 10 or so sessions in a single day but I’m out to prove that it is not necessary to force yourself to sit there for hours at a stretch to get satisfactory results and I think I’ve done that here.
Memorize from the beginning. Take it slow. Brief sessions (repeated impressions for memory). Press the keys comfortably and surely. The music emerges over time.
There is a lot of repetition in this waltz. The opening theme repeats twice. The faster second theme repeats three times. And the middle section does not repeat. Each of these three sections itself plays twice, albeit with a different ending on the repeats. Of the six pages of music, there are about two actual pages of unique material.
An unexpected difficulty was going from one section to the next without it sounding jarring. I had to practice the end of one section and the beginning of the next trying to make it flow. And once I thought I had it all right I recorded myself and realized that it wasn’t right at all. It can be hard to take assembling a performance to what seems to be perfect and then record it and dispassionately evaluate it. I spent two days repeatedly recording, listening, swearing, and trying it again until it did not sound like I was just stitching three disjoint pieces together.
That’s it, really. I’m not completely satisfied with the end result but I am settling on a recording where I did not blatantly mishit any notes and there is, to me at least, a nice flow throughout. I do wish I could adjust some individual notes which banged out too loudly but that is not the nature of a live audio recording. One accepts the overall best take and moves on to the next thing.