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How to approach the Ocean Etude by Chopin

An useful answer from an interesting user question

Released on April 3, 2013

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Video Transcription

Hello, and welcome to I'm Robert Estrin, your host, with a viewer question. The question is, "How do you play the left hand softly in the Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata,' the last movement around measure 21?" This is such a good question, and the answer to this question will help you with many pieces of music.

Okay, for those of you who might not be familiar, or even those of you who are, I'll play the section so you can understand what we're talking about here.

It goes on from there. The left hand has very fast notes and you don't want it to get too cumbersome, because it will completely cover the right hand part. How do you practice this?

Of course, there are obvious ways of practicing, practicing slowly, and working it up with the metronome speeds, which is always a great technique, by the way. Let's say you've done all that, and you're trying to get it, and still it's not happening. It's still cumbersome and too heavy. Well, of course, lightening the arm weight, keeping your fingers very close to the keys, just thinking about that might help you enormously.

Now, to take it to that next level, watch this. The left hand has these broken chords.

Now, the way to practice it is the first two notes. You can play those together first, so you get an equal volume with the pinky and the first finger. Then, break it just ever so slightly. Notice when I do that, if I played it the way my hand naturally plays it, it would come out like this. The thumb is a much bigger, heavier, stronger finger than the pinky, so you must therefore get the balance. That's why I suggest playing the notes together first to get the balance equal between these two notes. Then, break them slightly.

That is the first step. Now, add another note. Those are the three notes, and you notice . . . so instead of playing all four notes, because if you play too many notes at once, your hand can become kind of cramped, and you might get tension, and that tension will cause more volume so you feel as if you're starting over each group with the pinky.

Again, you start just by playing the two notes, get the balance with the pinky equal in volume to the thumb, then break them, then add the B. Then, finally, you can add the last D sharp. Here, of course, you're just going back and forth.

What can you do here? You could just play the Bs, and you could just add a D sharp, and maybe add another D sharp, then, eventually, play all the Bs and D sharps.

You get the sense that you're starting over each time you have the new note group. Instead of thinking of a fluid line of 32 notes or 64 notes, you think of just the 4 notes, and each one is a new experience so you get a chance to relax between every single beat.

The other secret is playing with lots of weight in the melody in the right hand. Part of the perception of volume is relative, so if you play the right hand with a lot of strength, you will be able to make the left hand appear softer but to get that speed and fluency, practice in small groups this way, and you'll find that you can solve a lot of technical problems by breaking it down to hand positions and finger patterns, which is another video of mine that relates to this as well.

Thanks so much for joining me. Thanks for these great viewer questions, by the way. We're going to bring lots more videos to you, and I'll see you again here at I'm Robert Estrin. Thanks for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Iretnal on August 11, 2014 @11:52 pm PST
Thank you, that was very instructive!
robertfields * VSM MEMBER * on April 14, 2013 @8:21 am PST
This was very informative
Thank you very much
henry morris * VSM MEMBER * on April 6, 2013 @6:23 am PST
thanks for this, Robert! appreciated.
J. Shaw on April 5, 2013 @6:39 am PST
Thank you. Nice to see someone else who uses the same approach in teaching. My students will have another reference.
Judith Stijnis on April 4, 2013 @12:52 pm PST
Thank you . It is very interesting
Ross * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2013 @9:32 am PST
Exquisite! Before watching your video I regarded this Etude as the Mount Everest never to be tackled by me; now it looks more like a piece that I may actually dare attempt!! Your simple explanation and analysis of the Etude makes all the difference. Thank you Robert.
BJ on April 4, 2013 @8:27 am PST
Have been playing and teaching for years and always avoided the etudes as I have small hands. However you've prompted me to get my book open and have a go. Thanks
Jean-Marc Fabri on April 4, 2013 @7:05 am PST
Nice! Thanks!
phil * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2013 @6:17 am PST
That was a very helpful video for a novice piano player like myself. It changed a string of endless notes to a logical progression of chords. It's still too hard to put my hands together the way you play but I now understand what's going on. Thanks.
Helena boggia on April 4, 2013 @4:54 am PST
Hi Robert, just love your videos explaining and showing how to play a very very helpful...more please.
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