Next on my Chopin list…

… here’s the Fantaisie-Impromptu, which I’ve been learning for the past few months:

This was one of the pieces on the first piano compilation CD I ever got hold of, at age 15. It had 18 tracks and I think I can play 10 of them now (or at least could at one time, I’m out of practise at some of them now)… I had thoughts of trying to learn all 18, but that would probably be a bit of a pointless exercise. Not to mention strictly speaking impossible, since one of the pieces needs two pianos and two pianists!

The Fantaisie-Impromptu is a good demonstration of something that I’m very bad at remembering and applying – not a piano-specific thing in fact, but a general life thing. Thing is, I avoided trying to learn the Fantaisie-Impromptu for years because it looked too hard – for most of it, the right hand plays quadruplets and the left hand plays triplets, and I thought that getting them to synchronise properly was going to be a nightmare.

But when I finally decided to tackle it back in January this year, I found the key: it’s not hard as long as you don’t think about it too much. The last thing you want is to be trying to count your way through every bar, working out in detail where each note falls in relation to the other hand’s part. That way quickly leads to insanity because the piece is way too fast for that. All you need to do is learn each part on its own, then once you have a reasonable grasp of them separately, try playing them at the same time without really thinking about what’s going on… just let it flow and let the music take over. I am not good at this at all… usually I will over-analyse everything to death rather than just going with the flow and letting it happen. But I’m starting to see that in certain cases it’s the only approach that won’t drive you mad… if it applies to the Fantaisie-Impromptu, maybe it applies to other things in life too…

(I’m not very happy with the audio quality in this one – something weird is definitely happening. Will look into alternative recording methods for my next video).

I achieved one of my life goals…

… with hopefully a good 40 or 50 years to spare.

Namely, I learned to play a Chopin Etude:

(OK, I know it’s a fair bit slower than it’s meant to be and there are a few mistakes, but I’m very happy to have even got it to this point. Bars 79-82, the bit near the end with ascending triplets in both hands, especially had me almost tearing my hair out for a while. In the end I had to devise my own set of exercises just for those few bars and beaver away at them for slow and painstaking hours to stop the ending from falling apart completely. Probably a good indication that I should have picked an easier piece, but by that time I was determined to complete it).

Chopin wrote 27 etudes (studies) in three sets. This is the no. 5 etude from the first set, imaginatively nicknamed the “Black Keys” Etude due to the fact that the right hand plays entirely on the black keys. That might sound like a bit of a limitation, but in fact it’s not that bad – using only the black keys you can play a major pentatonic scale starting on G flat. A lot of music of various genres uses pentatonic scales… the Skye Boat Song is another well-known example. It’s my favourite etude out of the handful of popular ones that always make it onto Chopin compilation CDs.

Obviously this is a very different style to my previous piano project, but I think it shares at least one similarity. Both Chopin and Bach imposed on themselves what seem like quite severe technical restrictions (using only the black keys in Chopin’s case, conforming exactly to all the rules of a fugue in Bach’s), yet within those constraints they both produced wonderful music that doesn’t sound restricted or stilted in the slightest.

Right. Now that’s out of the way, I’m off to go learn something that doesn’t take me literally years to finish!