Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to play the Ocean Etude Op. 25 No. 12 by Chopin

Very useful tips for all pianists

In this video, Robert shows you how to play the famous Ocean Etude by Chopin.

Released on April 3, 2013

    
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Video Transcription

Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com, your online piano store with a question, what is the right fingering on the piano? Fingering is such a deep subject on the piano that I could give courses on it and have guest artists to share their ideas because, truth be known, fingering is not an all or one proposition. First, let's start with some basics.

Are there some fundamental fingerings that all pianists follow? Well, in a word, yes, there are some essential fingerings that all pianos must learn. For example, unlike the violin and the cello and other string instruments which do not have standard fingering for scales and arpeggios, thank goodness, on the piano there is standard fingering.

I should mention a little aside here. There is a whole other school of a tiny percentage of people, and I'd love to hear from any of you who have mastered what is called mirror fingering on the piano, which is a subject for another video in which the thumbs always play the same notes in both hands and scales and arpeggios, but that is a very small percentage of pianists.

Most pianists learn the fingering right out of Hanon 60 Selected Studies for the Virtuoso Pianist, which you can get the Hanon book on Amazon or any sheet music store. It is kind of the Bible of fingering for scales and arpeggios. Yes, all pianists must learn the correct fingering but what about your music? If you've ever had sheet music to a piece of music that has fingering in it, and then you take another edition of the same piece, you might be shocked to discover that the fingerings are different. Matter of fact, fingerings are different in all different additions so how do you know what's right?

Well, fingering is as much art as science. Not only that, consider this. My father, Morton Estrin, was a concert pianist with enormous hands. I have relatively small hands so just think of that alone, something that might lay right under somebody with big hands would be impossible for somebody with smaller hands so we must accommodate our hand size, even the thickness of the fingers and the stretch between the thumb and the other fingers, all of these things affects us.

Here's the key. You must practice and find the fingering that works for you. Now, does that mean that anything goes with fingering? Far from it. It takes many years to learn how to discover good fingering and there is no substitute for a good teacher as well as having authoritative, well-edited, fingered editions. I use that in the plural because there's nothing better than having another resource of fingering suggestions. When you're running through a problem with a passage, one of the first things to look for are new fingering solutions because sometimes the fingering, even though it seems like it should be perfectly good and maybe it's right in the score, might not work for you, do you have to discover what fingerings work for you.

There are a certain amount of standard fingerings, certain things that definitely are a must. For example, rapid repeated notes with one hand. If you try to do that with one finger, you're never going to be able to get the speed. Watch. I'll go as fast as I can using one finger on one note. That's about as fast as I can go but by using three, two, one, listen how much faster you can go. There is one thing that is certainly a rule of thumb or a rule of fingers and thumb, which is you must change fingers when playing rapid repeated notes with one hand.

In fact, I like changing fingers and repeated notes even when they're slow because of the legato quality you can get. Listen to a repeated note without changing fingers, trying to get a smoothness with no pedal. It's pretty good but, by changing fingers, one finger is going to go down while the next finger comes up so you can actually get smoother, more connected, repeated notes as you'll hear here.

There are some hard and fast rules in fingering. As I mentioned, scales and arpeggios, certainly thirds there are different fingerings but certain fingerings that are definitely better than others. If you have technical problems in a passage and you've worked and worked and you never can get it, try experimenting with new fingering, get another addition that has fingering in it and try it out and you will be rewarded.

It is one of the things that will come to you after you've studied piano for a long time. You'll start to understand fingering in a way that allows for solutions to technical and musical challenges on the piano. Thanks for all the great questions, keep them coming in here at livingpianos.com, your online piano store, with lots of videos to come. Thanks again. I'm Robert Estrin.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tony Finch on April 5, 2018 @8:33 pm PST
Dear Mr Estrin, The penultimate semiquavers in bars 16 and 72 of the etude op 25 no 12 appear in some editions as G and in others as F. Which is authentic? I find F easier to play!
reply
Robert Estrin - host, on April 7, 2018 @12:12 pm PST
If you are referring to the second to last notes of the measures in the right hand, the Henle Urtext edition has "G's" in both places. That is the way I have always played it.
Tony Finch on April 9, 2018 @8:39 am PST
Thank you. Some versions on YouTube have F in both cases so I was puzzled.
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @1:54 pm PST
if you want to eat an elephant, you have to cut him in small pieces. Just the right approach.
Denis Gogin on June 24, 2015 @2:34 am PST
Hello, Robert,
I have a question about transitions from one octave to another in this etude , could you suggest some preparatory exercises to improve this skill?
reply
Robert - host, on June 24, 2015 @2:50 pm PST
As I show in the video, practice going to the repeated note that changes fingers in each hand without going further. Practice arriving on that note with the other fingers of the hand over the octave (and middle note). You should practice very slowly at first until you can make the change to the higher octave instantaneously.
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 * VSM MEMBER * 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
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