Robert Estrin - piano expert

Tutorial on Prelude No.4 in E minor - Advanced Approach

earn how to improve your musical approach to this beautiful Prelude by Chopin

In this video, Robert gives you an advanced approach to interpreting one of the most beautiful Preludes by Frederic Chopin.

Released on September 7, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, welcome to I'm Robert Estrin. Today we have a tutorial on such a great short piece of music by Frederic Chopin. This is his Prelude in E-minor. Truth be known, this is the very first piece of Chopin I ever studied and I remember when I first learned it. I thought to myself, "There's never gonna be any other piece as wonderful as the Chopin E-minor prelude." And it indeed is a gorgeous piece I love as much today as I did when I was 12 years old first studying this piece.

Now, it has an incredibly rich harmonic structure, but what's interesting about this piece is that the melody is incredibly simple. In fact, if I were to play for you the beginning of just the right hand it sounds like what piece? And so it goes. It's the genius of Chopin's writing in the harmonic structure that brings this melody to life. But what I'm gonna talk about today is how to approach the piece because if you were just to simply sit down and play this piece without regard for balancing of the hands or any of that, it would sound something like this. I'm purposely playing it badly for you. What I'm doing isn't intentionally trying to play it badly, I'm simply not giving the attention to the melody versus the chords in the left hand. I'm playing everything the same volume. Interestingly, it doesn't sound like the same volume. In fact, the left hand sounds much louder than the right hand even though I'm playing them the same. Now, how could this be?

There are several reasons for this. The most significant is the fact that the chords in the left hand, the eighth note chords, keep reinforcing themselves while the single line melody notes in the right hand fade away. Top that off with the fact that higher notes on the piano don't last as long as lower notes anyway and it compounds the problem. So if you just wanted to get an equal voice in between the two hands, you would already have to play the right hand with much more energy than the left hand.

Now, there's another component to this. Of course, this piece is played with pedal, but all too often students will practice the piece incessantly with the paddle, never developing a true legato from the hand. Now you might wonder if the pedal's gonna hold it anyway, why is it important to play legato? Well, there is a substantial difference to the tone you're going to get by playing the left-hand chords as legato as possible. More than that it enables you to have enough time for clean pedal changes. If the left hand doesn't hold long enough, it's almost impossible to grab it on the pedal so that you'll lose notes and have a very awkward sound.

So I'm going to play now from the beginning playing with the proper balance. How is this achieved? Number one, keep the hands, both hands, right on the surface of the keys because any extra motion will result in more sound by staying right on the surface of the keys, but always allowing the keys to go up all the way up before returning and playing the chords again. Because if a key is only slightly down when you play it, it may or may not play, but so long as the key comes all the way up after its travel and you push it all the way down in one motion no matter how delicately you play, you will always get a beautiful pianissimo sound.

So I'm going to play the left hand extremely legato along with the right hand. This is how it can sound with no pedal if you work very hard at creating a legato as well as using the weight of the arm in the right hand, not just poking at the notes, but letting the whole weight of the arm rest into the hand as it plays note to note getting a smooth transition.

That's without the pedal. To contrast that with the way many of you, if you've never played this piece without pedal, the first time you try it without pedal it will sound more like this. I can't stress enough how important it is on the piano to connect everything you possibly can connect with your hands and use the pedal for color instead of using the pedal as a crutch to connect what you actually can connect with your hands.

So now if I play it with the legato as I did previously to this incarnation and use the pedal not to connect the left hand so much, but to enhance the tone and sustain of the melody notes in the right hand, you can get this amazing expressiveness out of this. A magnificent gem of a piece, isn't it?

I'll mention one more thing, at the climax you see the word stretto. Stretto in this context means to rush ahead. It's where the climax comes and it just can't contain itself. And if you allow yourself to rush there and then hold back, it creates tremendous emotion.

So remember, when approaching the E-minor Prelude of Chopin, practice without the pedal, hands close to the keys, striving for the utmost in legato, utilizing the full weight of the right hand where the weight gets heavier and lighter depending upon whether you're making it crescendo or a decrescendo with the melody. There's tremendous freedom of expression in this piece. Very little dynamics are written in, there are some, but you can actually do much more with it. Experiment wildly, see what you come up with in the Chopin Prelude in E-minor. And thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Lucky Lucy * VSM MEMBER * on May 8, 2020 @4:12 pm PST
Once a player has over time built up a wildly diverse repertoire over decades of study, how do you target pieces to prepare for a 2 hour program so the audience will have a good experience? There must be techniques, or does each person just figure it out for themselves? What are your considerations?
Robert - host, on May 9, 2020 @4:38 pm PST
Someone else recently asked a similar question. I plan on addressing how to put a program together in a future video.
Lucky Lucy * VSM MEMBER * on May 7, 2020 @6:02 pm PST
Thank you! I did enjoy and Yes, some super suggestions. Well prepared makes all the difference, especially timing. Good points about not getting too rattled by the live audience ambience. Can't wait to see what your approach is for deciding which material to in the first place.
Robert - host, on May 8, 2020 @12:44 pm PST
How to choose pieces to study is an interesting subject I discuss in this video:
Lucky Lucy * VSM MEMBER * on May 6, 2020 @5:34 pm PST
The same subject pertains to making a CD, or even doing a Facebook or Twitch live stream concert. A lot to consider. Will be wonderful to have your guidance on that. Looking forward (as always) to your presentation(s)!
Robert - host, on May 7, 2020 @11:23 am PST
You may enjoy this article and video which pertains to this subject:
Lucky Lucy * VSM MEMBER * on May 6, 2020 @8:59 am PST
As much as I also love this Chopin, whenever I revisit study of this piece, after a while there are tears streaming down my face--just from emoting all that sadness. There are plenty of times to be sad so that's ok but I don't want to be left there. I have to walk away from the piano. Listeners are left stunned and silent. Can you please in one of your future presentations a tremendously upbeat work to lift spirits immediately following this one--a sadness antidote? Might I suggest a future topic - putting together sequential pieces for a concert (1 hour, break, 1 hour or similar).
Robert - host, on May 6, 2020 @12:09 pm PST
You have touched on a very important subject, "How to put together a program". To my surprise, I have not covered this subject in any of my 1,000+ videos! This is an great subject for a future video.
Moises on January 2, 2019 @2:22 pm PST
Do you hold sustain pedal troughout the whole piece or do you let it go at some points?
Robert Estrin - host, on January 2, 2019 @2:46 pm PST
LIke the accelerator pedal in a car, you must depress the damper pedal on a piano with great care! Seriously, there is an art to pedaling. Here are 2 videos and articles that go into some depth about this subject: Here is part 2 of the series:
Ross Parsai * VSM MEMBER * on September 7, 2016 @2:29 pm PST
Thank you for this beautiful performance..You are an amazing teacher!
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