Robert Estrin - piano expert

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

A useful technique for piano players

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

Released on April 3, 2013

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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

Welcome to Robert Estrin here with a great technical tip for you today, which is the importance of practicing with raised fingers.

Now, I want to qualify this right out of the gate so you don't get scared that I'm telling you to do something that could injure you because indeed playing the piano with raised fingers is a completely different scenario from practicing the piano with raised fingers.

This is a technique used judiciously to help you solidify your technique, but certainly not something you do in performance. Now, why wouldn't you do something in your practice that you would never do in your performance? Well, there are very good reasons we're going to talk about here.

The first thing I'm going to mention to you is the physiology of the hands is such that it's much easier to push fingers down than to lift them up. If you want to prove this to yourself, just put your hands on a flat surface anywhere and then just try to lift only your fourth finger. Boy is that hard to do because the tendons and the nerves are shared among those fingers. So it makes it tough to get that independence.

Now in certainly with scale practices, slow practice, why are raising fingers a good idea? Well, there are actually two reasons for this. One is it helps to strengthen the independence of your fingers so you can practice the release of notes. If you've ever heard somebody play sloppy scales, one aspect, of course, is the evenness of the attack, but the other one is the evenness of the durations of notes, the space between notes.

So for example, if you want it to have your notes all legato, or if you wanted them all staccato, and whatever durations in between. Whereas even if I played the scale with all the notes hitting, firing right evenly, and I didn't release some the same length as others, you end up with this. It's a sloppy sound because the releases, some notes overlap and some don't, it's haphazard. And as I mentioned, the release, the strength of releasing fingers, lifting them up is so much more difficult than pushing them down. Also, it teaches your hands and your head which fingers are down and which fingers are up.

So in the slow scale, practicing by raising fingers, and I've talked about this before, you identify which notes are down and which fingers are up. So when you go faster, you can have the control of releases, not just attacks of notes. This is how it looks, and you can actually see this better from the side than from the top, but I can show you both of them.

The stretching you get is akin to the warm up of an athlete. Of course, stretching is so important, and this is a great way you can stretch your fingers and at the same time teach yourself the release of the notes in slow practice. Naturally, when you play up to tempo, you abandon this because it's not possible or recommended to raise fingers when trying to play up to tempo. It's not only impossible, but it would be not good for your hands to do such a thing.

But it's a tremendous way, not just in practicing scales. Anytime you want to identify which tilts are down and which don'ts are up so you don't get a sloppy playing where notes are overlapped and you get that muddy sound to identify exactly and to teach your hands like in the contrapuntal writing of Bach, here the second movement of his Toccata in E minor. To practice this, to be able to get the clarity of lines, you could practice with raised fingers.

Playing it in this manner, everything is exaggerated and whatever sloppiness you have, notes that shouldn't be held beyond their length and things of that nature, is eradicated because you really get to dig into the keys and feel every key that's down and keep other keys up and out of the way. And this is why practicing with raised fingers, slow practice, can be incredibly valuable for you.

Always be aware of how you feel and never do anything that causes you any pain, and this goals not just for high finger practice, but everything you do with the piano. How you sit at the piano, the relaxed nature of your shoulders. You must be aware of all these things because you want your hands to last your whole life, because it is the lifeblood for playing the piano.

I hope this is a helpful technique for you. Try it out and see how it works for you. And when practicing with raised fingers, you don't want to use a lot of arm weight. You want to just use the fingers and teach your fingers which notes are down and which notes are up and you will have a cleaner technique to show for it.

Thanks so much for joining me again. I'm Robert Estrin here, Your online piano resource. You're welcome to subscribe here on YouTube, as well as, and the select few who join my Patreon get extra exclusive content. Thanks again for joining me.
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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!
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?
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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