Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Burgmuller's Studies - Part 4

Learn how to approach Etude No. 15 - Ballade

In this new video, part of the previous 3-part series on Burgmuller's 25 Studies (Op. 100) for piano, Robert teaches you how to approach Etude No. 15, titled "Ballade."

Released on May 3, 2017

  
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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, this is virtualsheetmusic.com. I'm Robert Estrin with a continuing series on the wonderful Burgmuller Studies, Opus 100. There are two or three of them already out there, videos, tutorials, for you to check out. Today we're going to cover Ballade. This is such a wonderful piece for students. People who haven't played a long time on the piano can enjoy a piece that's emotional and musical, and very impressive as well.

Now, the first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to do something rather surprising. I'm going to play it with all the right notes, the right fingering, the right rhythms, and yet something that's going to be drastically missing. I want you to hear this, and see if you can figure out what I'm not doing.

[music]

I could play the rest of it, but I don't want to bore you. Okay, so, can you identify what I was not doing, why it sounds so limp and lifeless? I played all the right notes, the right fingering, the right rhythm. What else is there? Well, quite a bit, really, and the secret to making this music really sparkle is following meticulously the dynamics, the expression, and the phrasing, by incorporating the ways in which notes are played, not just which notes are played and when they're played, but how they're played in regards to volume, nuance, the touch, whether it's staccato, legato. It's a completely different sound, and it makes the piece really come to life. I'm going to go ahead and play it again now, and I'm going to play it correctly with the right dynamics and the right phrasing, for you.

[music]

It makes a world of difference, doesn't it? So let's talk about how to approach this piece. Well, you basically have an A-B-A form, which is to say you have a section at the beginning that repeats at the end, with a middle contrasting section. So I'm going to start at the beginning, and talk about how to get this sound out of the staccatos in the right hand while maintaining the legato in the left hand. And it comes down to basic principles that we've talked about before, which is utilizing the wrist for staccatos and keeping the fingers right over the keys for the legatos, so that you don't have to have undue motion in your legato, keeping things smooth, yet, get the nice power and balance out of the staccato, all from the wrist. The mistake I made when I first played it for you was playing laboriously from the arms. So the notes in the right hand sounded like this before, if you recall.

[music]

All coming up and down from the arm. The arm just isn't quick enough to get those quick staccatos. Notice, when played from the wrist, you can get this sound.

[music]

Such a nice contrast to the left hand legato. And, again, keep your fingers over all the keys so there's a minimal amount of motion, and that will make it smooth and effortless for you.

[music]

Of course, when you get to the eighth note staccatos there in the third measure, yes, you use the wrist on those, and the sforzando on the A natural. All these little details are what brings the music to life. Without those, you have that lifeless performance you heard at the very beginning. So, this is the secret to this whole section. Watch for staccatos. Use the wrist, not only for staccatos but to come down to make your sforzandos and your accents strong.

[music]

And that's the key for the whole first section, work hands separately, perfecting your technique, and then practice very slowly at first, using the metronome to keep your rhythm precise. As you go faster, after you perfect it at a slow speed, work metronome speeds little by little, and you'll notice something. As you get faster, you will get lighter as well to accommodate more speed. So at the beginning, you might be playing it more like this.

[music]

You get the idea. As you play faster, you will play lighter and stay closer to the keys. Your wrist motion becomes less pronounced, and your fingers in the finger work, the legato in the left hand, you'll keep closer to the keys, the faster you go.

Then, we get to the beautiful middle section. Here you have a lyrical line, a slow lyrical line in the right hand, and just accompaniment eighth-note chords in the left hand that are played lightly from the wrist. So, let me start with the left hand, because we've been talking about staccatos and I want to continue with that trajectory, and then return to the right-hand melody. So the left hand stays right over the keys that you're going to play, so you just use a minimal amount of wrist effort. If you're too far away, you won't be able to get precision or lightness. Watch, I'll play too far away first to show you how it's impossible to control it.

[music]

With that kind of motion, it's too heavy. It's going to be close to the keys, just maybe less than an inch over the keys, with a slight, little wrist bounce.

[music]

Notice how I'm right over the next chord each time. As soon as one chord finishes, I'm over the next chord, and that's what you want to do.

[music]

You see how the preparation for the next chord is the release of the previous chord. Now, the right hand, you must use the weight of the arm to project a melody and a smoothness, a line of a rise and a fall, because if you don't use any arm weight, you're going to end up hearing this.

[music]

Where's the melody? The melody will not come out nearly as much as the chords will, for several reasons. First of all, the chords have three notes in them, so it's going to be three times as loud even if you play them at the same volume, and because they're punctuated with staccato, they're naturally going to come out more. So you have to use a tremendous amount of arm weight, even to project a piano dynamic.

Ask any wind player, and they will let you know that playing quietly, a quiet line, takes as much, sometimes more, energy than playing loudly, because when you play loud you just put the air through the horn. When playing quietly, you take a big breath and have the support of the diaphragm, so you can get the projected tone with control. It's the same thing on the piano. So, the right hand, you must use a lot of the natural weight of the arm. You let it sink into the bottom of the key, and get this sound.

[music]

Notice the two Gs there. As I've talked about before, it's necessary to change fingers when you have repeated notes to get more legato sound, so you don't end up with this.

[music]

Instead, you get this lyrical sound of changing the fingers.

[music]

And then, you go and you have sforzandos again.

[music]

Notice there, that last sforzando, A-flats in both hands, with a nice diminuendo. All these little touches, that's what makes this piece. Of course, the hardest part of this piece is actually the very end, and there is no shortcut for this, other than practicing slowly at first and working up one notch at a time with a metronome. What part am I talking about? Any of you who have played this piece, you know that until your fingers develop strength and fluidity, this part is going to be hard for you at first.

[music]

Practice slowly with the metronome, first playing with definite raised fingers, as you would practice scales slowly, not using the arm, just using the fingers.

[music]

Yes, there is a decrescendo there as well. Once you can play it perfectly with precision together, increase the metronome one or two notches at a time. Every time it's perfect and comfortable, raise the metronome a notch. And, something else you can try. If you're still not sure if the hands are precisely together, you work it up and you get to a stumbling block, try separating your hands by two octaves. It enables you to hear each hand separately from one another more easily.

[music]

You hear that? So these are little tricks and tips you can use for Burgmuller's Ballade, such a wonderful piece for students who are graduated from the beginning level, getting into this really substantial work of music. So glad you joined me. Once again, this is Robert Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com. Thanks so much for joining me.
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Frawn * VSM MEMBER * on May 25, 2017 @3:14 am PST
I felt as if I was on a learning plateau with my music but this helpful and quite delightful series has really motivated me to get moving again. Thank you so much
reply
Robert - host, on May 25, 2017 @12:04 pm PST
Glad these videos are helpful for you. There are hundreds of them searchable by keywords here: http://livingpianos.com/blog/ - Robert Estrin
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