21/4/2003 It's been a recent ambition of mine to learn and master the piece "Fantasie-Impromptu" by Chopin. Around half a year ago, I passed grade 7 in piano, but my sight reading is still quite poor (maybe even grade 2, 3 or 4 standard!). The main reason for this venture though is to see how well I can eventually play the piece, and to divulge the techniques and methods I used to most quickly learn. But to be honest, I have my doubts about whether I can truly master it, due to the inherent difficulties as I'll explain later. Anyway, I've just collected the book from the shop for 4.50 - titled "SCHIRMER's LIBRARY OF MUSICAL CLASSICS - CHOPIN - Impromptus For the Piano". It contains not just the one I asked for, but three others too! (Erm... I'll leave those maybe for another time ;) So, I've just opened the book, and turned to page 24. Aha, here it is - "Fantasie-Impromptu IV". Arghhh, four sharps! (C# minor). Why, oh why can't everything be in C Major? ;) Undeterred, I attempt to play a couple of bars on the piano (well, actually it's a keyboard - maybe getting a piano soon). The first two bars are wonderful, just two sustained breves in the bass! I skilfully navigate past these, and get to the third bar. Here we have 2 bars of fairly simple bass arpegios. Well they should be. Painfully slowly, I trundle through them - forgetting the odd sharp or two. But then something catches my eye, something scary and daunting - something that begins on the fifth bar and lasts practically throughout the whole piece..... 22/4/2003 You may have guessed what I saw. Yes, it's the horrible way you have to play 8 notes in the treble to every 6 notes in the bass - causing timing problems for people like me. Apparently, not many people can get the timing /spot on/. I'll give it my best shot, but I'm already beginning to think that I'll never be able to get this quite right. But pessimism never got anyone anywhere... :) So, with a gusto, I attempt to play the fifth bar, but just the right hand melody line: [rest], G#, A, G#, G, G#, C#, E, D#, C#, D#, C#, C, C#, E, upper G# Perfect! Well, actually no; those notes above are correct, but it's far from what I /actually/ played. I get it sort of right after numerous attempts though, and then dare myself to play the bass along with it. Bad idea. Almost as expected, I failed miserably. Before I can even attempt to play both hands together, I need to get each hand as fluent as possible before hand. I've heard it is possible to practise both hands together, but for a piece of this complexity, I think hands seperately is best. Hints and tips I picked up so far: Sometimes, the fingering in a piece can seem stupid, but it's generally always there to help you out. Big help huh? Sorry, that's the best I can do for now ;) Hmm... ignoring the timing of the piece, I'm also worried that I'll even be able to get the music up to speed. They're semi-quavers in the treble, and everything's at Allegro Agitato!! But then, that is why I chose this piece in the first place. I wanted to see if I could play one of the hardest and most daunting pieces of music I could find. Determination and enthusiasm, if nothing else could get me through this, and after /mucho/ practise, maybe I will. I actually like the piece too, but that's a secondary consideration ;) 22/4/2003 Just woke up - back to the grind stone for some practise. Actually, it's kinda boring /and/ fun at the same time, and from experience, I know it will become more and more fun the further I progress into the piece. Hmmm... :) They say practise makes perfect. Is there a limit though? How hard can a piece get before it's out of reach? Not long ago, I created a classical/jazz style piece for the piano for a college project. It was meant to be playable, but since I create most of my music on computer, I love to add immense complexity, and stop at nothing to add tons of notes, chords, aswell as near impossible finger 'jumping' and arpegios. In fact, it probably was /impossible/ to play perfectly - even by the best pianist in the world. Cue - my devious scheme to get my adept college music teachers to play the piece >;-) I wonder what went through their mind after first glimpsing the tune. As expected, they did have problems, and trundled throuh the piece with all the grace of a certain computer operating system. One commented after that I should have made it playable for a human. What, and limit the music's potential? Oh well ;P Anyway, I'm digressing. I'm getting quite good at a few bars now. In particular, the 5th, 6th and 7th bars. The timing is still iffy, but I'm speeding up, and unbelievably, my success ratio for hitting the right notes is actually starting to improve. OK, the first real hint now; when playing both hands together, it's a good idea to play the bass-line as seperate chords. For example, take the first set of 6 quavers in the 5th bar (the number after each note signifies the relative octave by the way): C#.1 - G#.1 - C#.2 - E.2 - C#.2 - G#.1 .....would be played initially as a /single chord/. This will help to familiarise your fingers to the right notes without worrying about the timing. And then a little later, you can attempt to play it properly as a real arpegio. In other words, you are playing 2 single chords in the bass to every 16 notes in the treble. This is certainly easier than 12 notes in the bass to every 16 notes in the treble. (Except in the case above, there's no way anyone's hand could stretch that far to play as a single chord, but at least play the first few notes as a single chord). And it does seem to work. Certain bars I had big problems with (like the seventh bar) seem to benefit from this way of practising. After a little while, I find I can place my fingers on the correct notes, and can even get the nightmarish triplet style timing to a semi-reasonable level when playing for proper. Having said that, maybe I'm just getting better anyway... ;-) Arpegios and what not... 24/4/2003 Progress seems to be slow but steady. At the moment, the second page is only a glimpse in my eye, and I still haven't reached anywhere near perfection on the first 10 bars. My timing is still iffy, and worse, a new nightmare has cropped up - the 13th bar. I struggle to play just the right hand up to speed, and fail miserbaly. If there was ever such a thing as a tongue twister in music, this would be it. I'll try to explain why: A 'normal' arpegio would go something like: C, F, G, upper C. But the equivalent here would be C, upper C, F, G. I think it's because I'm so used to playing 'normal' arpegios, that the fingering is currently a bit difficult. Anyway, it's: G-1, G-2, B#-1, C#-2, F#-1, F#-2, B#-1, C#-2, E#-1, E#-2, B#-1, C#-2, F#-1, F#-2, B#-1, C#-2. (that's for one bar's worth) Now, that's easy to master if you're playing simple crotchets, but it's when you're pummeling allegro semiquavers - that things start to get difficult. Which by the way is an understatement. Progress is super-slow here. I use the metronome and play the same 16 notes over and over and over again. First off, I use a slow enough timing, so I can manage the bar at a speed which doesn't get my fingers in a twist. Then I speed up the metronome fractionally. Then a little bit more... then a bit more... (80bpm, 85bpm, 90bpm, 95bpm, 100bpm). Hey, I think it's working! 20 minutes later, I find that I can play the bar at a speed that I could have only dreamt of before! It's occasions like this when you just /know/ that you're getting better :-) 28/4/2003 That 13th bar I can play better than ever now - something like 110bpm - even 115bpm. This isn't quite fast enough if I want to play for real (which needs to be around 130bpm I imagine?), but hopefully, that'll come with practise. I'm beginning to surprise myself. Just occasionally, I can play the fifth bar at a great speed, and very accurately timed too. It's like - "Woah, was that me who just played that?". That's a good sign I think ;-) On the downside, I'm still having massive trouble getting the 7th bar up to speed (the one with the rising treble line: A-1, C#-2, D#-2, F#-2, A#-2, C#-3, D#-3, B-3, A-3, G#-3, F#-3, E-3, D#-3 F#-3, C#-3 ...). Will I ever get it up to speed? 29/4/2003 I'm jumping ahead of myself, and trying to play the bass along with the treble in the 13th, 14th and 15th bars. It's slow. I also attempt the second page with the 'saddening' descending of notes (it's the part just before where the main tune repeats). Again, slow... 16:44 14/09/2004 For the past two to three weeks, I've been practising around 2-3 hours a days on it - longer than I ever have done before. I've also managed to play the second (slower C# major) part of the piece reasonably well too. Anyway, I have actually been improving - less wrong notes in all the 'awkward' parts (bar 7, 8, 11/12, 14, 16, and all of 30-40) and slightly smoother timing overall. You'll find that mastering the last 10% of a difficult piece of music requires 90% of your time and perseverance. In other words, getting noticably better is a slower and slower process towards the end. And the reason for all this? I have to play in front of the my tutor/s at university so they can assess my piano skills! Of course, this wasn't the original reason why I started out playing the piece, but I might as well use it this opportunity. I've also been practising Scott Joplin's 'Maple Leaf rag', and have got quite good at that too. The only problem is; I don't know how well I'm going to play on a proper piano, since I've been using an electronic keyboard! (the keys are slightly easier to press down and there are no loud/quiet dynamics). I'll have to see if I can put in a bit of last minute practise on a real piano. Wish me luck! I'll try and put a recording online if they have the equipment at uni. 21:09 24/09/2004 Okay, well I later found out that the performance was only for non-pianists. That doesn't mean I'll escape though - just that I'll probably have to play it in front of the class later in the month! Piano is definitely harder though. I'm used to the key weighting of a keyboard... Oh yes, I'm at uni! Life is hectic as you might guess. The fire alarm went off on the first night I was here! (thankfully not since)