Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Burgmuller's Studies - Part 2

Learn how to approach Etude No. 2 - Arabesque

In this second video of a multi-part series, Robert teaches you how to approach the Etude No. 2, titled "L' Arabesque", from the 25 Easy and Progressive Studies Op. 100 by Friedrich Johann Franz Burgmuller.

Released on June 1, 2016

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Video Transcription

Welcome to I am Robert Estrin with a second in a series of tutorials on Burgmuller studies. These wonderful little gems which are appropriate for piano students at a more elementary level of study, yet with gorgeous music. Last time, I explored the very first Frankness, and you noticed that it has beautiful lyricism. Now, we're going to go move on to Arabesque, completely different piece of music, no less great. Instead of lyricism, now we have some excitement, and I'm going to go ahead and play this piece for you first, and then break it down section by section to give you some pointers on how to approach this piece.

A great little piece, isn't it? Not too long, yet it explores a lot of different textures and technical challenges, which we are going to delve into right now. Now, this is a great piece for being able to work on your phrasing, mainly staccatos and slurs, as well as accents. This is what gives it life. If you were to play this piece ignoring those parts of the music, and you played all the notes correctly and all of the rhythms correctly, you'd end up with a very lifeless performance like this.

It doesn't have any snap, or sparkle, or excitement. It's a limp, isn't it? So how do you get that bounce, that snappiness? Well, it comes down to the wrist, and I do have other videos on how to approach utilizing the wrist in the piano. Essentially, the wrist must be identified separate from the arm, because the arm is very big and heavy. It can't give you the same snap. It's much more powerful, but it doesn''s not as quick.

So if you get over the very first chord in the left hand, and then just raise your hand slightly, your wrist, so you may be less than an inch above the keys, then drop, and right back. That's it. The secret is not moving the arm when you do this, just the wrist. And if you can do two of them, checking to make sure your arm isn't doing it, because this will not help you. It's not the right sound, and you'll not be able to get enough speed using the arm. It must be the wrist. Now, the left hand, simple, because it's just simple chords, and you can practice those until you can execute them faithfully utilizing the wrist.

Now, the right hand also has phrasing, and it's incredibly important to negotiate the phrasing accurately. Take a look at the first five notes on the right hand, and there's a one big slur over it, and the last note should end staccato. It's not always written in additions to end staccato on that final A 8th note. However, because it's the end of a slur, a staccato is implied. Why? Because a staccato simply means "not connected," and the end of a slur also means "not connected."

And in this context, the lack of connection and the staccato are short and decisive, because it's a crisp tempo. So you will want to go down for the first note and up for the last note on this five-note group. So it's almost like the staccato chord that we played earlier, except now it goes down on first note and up for the last note. Each note group does that. Down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up. Watch how it looks on the piano.

All the while, there is a crescendo, but you notice how the wrist delineates the five-note group by going down in the first note, and up on the last note. And when you go up to speed, you get real clarity. And eventually, of course, you put the hands together. The left hand continues with its chords, but the right hand now has 8th notes, and here again, the phrasing is critical. Watch the staccatos and legatos so that you can make something of this music. Without paying any attention to the phrasing, it would sound like this.

But if you play the phrasing meticulously, utilizing the wrist for the release of all staccatos, you'll end up with this sound. I was also going down with the wrist for the accents. So when you put that together...

Continuing the next section, now the hands are kind of reversed. The right hand is all legato, but it's the left hand that has the down-up. So you see how each group is down-up? And et cetera on through.

So that's how this section is approached. I want to now flash-forward to the end, because you end up way up there, and the secret is moving instantly, so you get over the second to last measure. So let me go back just a little bit before the end so I can show you what I'm talking about. Did you see how as soon as I hit that high A, instantly I got over...because if you go gradually, if you give yourself time, you're likely to miss, or at the very least you won't be in an ideal position to negotiate the last five notes there.

So watch again how quickly I get over these notes. From all the way up here, instantly, and this time, I'm going to play it, but you'll notice that I will be over that before I have to play it, and you should work to achieve that as well by practicing up two, but not playing those last notes, so that you can make sure you're over them before you play them.

You might have caught, also, after those five notes, I didn't hang around. I was instantly over the last chord. That's the way you want to practice it. You want to practice getting over the chords before you have to play them, so you could practice in this manner for these last couple of chords. You'll never miss it that way as long as you're over them beforehand, instead of doing something like this, which is treacherous and dangerous.

Okay, I made it. I was lucky. But I didn't have the control, I couldn't get the sound I really wanted because there's no preparation. This way, you have total security. So, the key lessons for today on approaching this piece, Arabesque, is pay close attention to the phrasing, utilize the wrist for staccatos with a down-up motion. When you have four or five-note phrases, or any phrases that are slurred ending with staccato, go down for the first note of the group, and up for the staccato notes.

And lastly, when you have big leaps from one section of the keyboard to the other, practice getting there before you play the notes after the leap, so you gain security in your playing. I hope this has been helpful for you. There will be other Burgmuller etudes coming your way. Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Maggie * VSM MEMBER * on January 7, 2020 @1:30 am PST
Thank you, Robert, for this excellent lesson.
Robert - host, on January 7, 2020 @11:14 am PST
So glad the lesson is helpful for you. There are many more tutorials in the works!
Anne Iams * VSM MEMBER * on January 2, 2020 @8:03 am PST
You explain how to use the wrist without using the arm to play Arabesque so well. Thank you so much. I always enjoy your videos and easy instructions on the piano.
Richard P. Blocher on January 2, 2020 @6:48 am PST
I just Love how you took this apart and broke it down.You have made it much more interesting for us to find the precise sound for this Arabesque piece.Thank you for sharing, Robert.I am grateful. DickB
Milla on January 1, 2020 @6:27 pm PST
I'm just working on this piece with my student. What do you think about adding a little lateral movements in scale-like passages in the direction of the passage? She sounds somewhat uneven there, and I was trying to explain that it's hard for fingers to drag the wrist, the wrist should help the fingers. How else to remedy this situation?
Robert - host, on January 2, 2020 @3:33 pm PST
In order to facilitate speed in playing scales requires a "quiet hand". That is, you want to avoid excessive or jerky motions. So, the wrists should do no more than guide the hands over the keys in a fluid manner.
Rodrigo on November 26, 2016 @9:40 am PST
Thanks for sharing it. Excellent video! Could you please recommend some exercises for avoid moving the arm and practice the whirst? Thanks in advance.
Robert Estrin - host, on November 26, 2016 @5:15 pm PST
You can't beat Hanon for focusing on how your hands are working. The early exercises are simple repeated patterns. Here is an article and video which describes the process:

Once you gain fluency, you can work on scales - slowly at first and continue developing the independence of your fingers:

You can also practice your music slowly utilizing these techniques:

So, the lesson is to utilize Hanon as an adjunct in your practice as articulated here:
Meera Thadani on June 1, 2016 @9:49 pm PST
You are an excellent teacher. Thanks for a wonderful lesson.
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