Robert Estrin - piano expert

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

An answer to a very common question

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

Hi, and welcome to Robert Estrin here with a viewer question that I want your response to, which is, is pedal necessary in playing Bach? Most of you probably know the piano wasn't invented during Bach's lifetime.

However, the very earliest incarnation of what was ostensibly a piano, Bach did try, but he never wrote any music specifically for the piano. In fact, his favorite keyboard instrument was the clavichord because of how expressively it could play. In fact, because there wasn't an escapement, you could actually impart vibrato on notes after you played them. Of course, the piano, with escapement, hammers escaping the strings allowed for expression, a wide range of dynamics.

But the pedal, the sustained pedal was certainly not a thing at all. So what I'm going to do for you today is a really interesting experiment, and I'm counting on you to help me with this. I'm going to play the first section of the Bach 5th French Suite, the first movement, which has a repeat. The first time I'm going to play it with no pedal at all. Then I'm going to play it with lots of pedal, but there are going to be little tiny bursts of pedal just to enhance the tone. And the question is, number one, can you hear the difference? And number two, do you have a preference one or the other? Leave them in the comments here at LivingPianos .com and on YouTube. So here we go, the beginning of Bach 5th French Suite.

I'm going to play it with no pedal. I'm going to play it with no pedal. I'm going to play it with no pedal.

So, there are two examples of the same exact section. You probably wonder what I was doing with my foot there, fluttering up and down so quickly.

Well, the fact of the matter is in this piece, as in so much Bach, there's so much counterpoint going on that it's really difficult to really pedal. If you're playing Chopin, for example, there is obviously so much you can do with pedaling, and in fact you need to. If I were to play, for example, a little brief excerpt of the Chopin G minor blob without pedal, it would sound pretty thin.

Now with a pedal.

So, you can hear in the Chopin, it's absolutely essential to hold out notes for harmonies to blend together.

But the music of Bach wasn't written with the sustain or damper pedal in mind. So, it works just fine without the pedal. Why those little flutters of pedal? Because to use any kind of substantial pedal like you heard in the Chopin where the pedal stays down for any length of time would blur all the counterpoint together, and that's not what you want. So, all I was doing was enhancing longer notes to make them sustain longer, because as you know when you play a note on the piano, it's always dying away. We're fighting that as pianists, trying to create a singing sustained line for the illusion of continuity like in the human voice or the bow of a violin.

So, the pedal helps to enrich the sound of keynotes so that you get a sense of line and more sustain to the tone. I'm really interested in your comments on this one. Which one you liked better, and if you can hear a difference at all, let me know. Once again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is livingpianos .com. Your online piano resource. Thanks so much 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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