Robert Estrin - piano expert

What's the Difference Between a Waltz and a Mazurka?

Learn the distinctive tracts of these two music styles

In this video, Robert shows you what makes a waltz different from a mazurka.

Released on May 1, 2019

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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 Robert Estrin at with a really interesting question: what's the difference between a waltz and a mazurka? You know, when I first thought of this question, I wanted to look on the internet and YouTube to see what others have said about it.

And, surprisingly, there's almost no information on this. It's a really important question to any of you who've studied Chopin waltzes and mazurkas or others. Chopin wrote a whole thick book of mazurkas, and a whole book of waltzes, and these are staples of the piano repertoire and absolutely stupendous pieces of music.

Well, first let's talk about what's the same about waltzes and mazurkas, because there's a lot similar. The mazurka and the waltz were both dance forms of the 19th century, and they're also both in 3/4 time. One, two, three, one, two three, et cetera, et cetera.

So what the heck makes them different? Well, what I'm going to do for you today is I'm going to play you just the beginning of the B-minor Waltz and the beginning of the B-flat major Mazurka. Just a taste of each first, so you can hear them for yourself, and see if you can figure out what's different about them. So there's not a spoiler alert I'll give you after that, see if you can figure it out. Then, of course, I'm going to tell you. I'll also play the whole pieces for you at the end just for fun, so you can really follow along and think about what I'm about to tell you after these snippets. Once again, this is first the waltz.

You could hear the one, two, three in there, I'm sure. And now a little bit of this mazurka, it's also in three, as you'll hear.

All right, so there are two different dance forms from the 19th century. There's a whole book of waltzes, a whole book of mazurkas, and they're all in 3/4 time. What the heck is the difference?

Well, in a nutshell, it's where the accented beats are. I don't know how many of you picked up on that. We're going to start with the waltz, and the waltz typically has one as the strongest beat, and the secondary strong beat is three. So you have one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two.

You hear how that goes? Three, one, two, three, one, two. One. All right.

Whereas the mazurka, the strong beat is the second beat. One, two, three, one, two, three.

So that's it, in a nutshell. And so you can hear these complete pieces, with all their different sections and changes of mood, I'm going to now play the complete ... First the waltz, and then after that I'm going to play the complete mazurka for you, so you can hear and you can follow in your mind and notice the rhythm of the waltz where you have the strong first beat and the secondary strength is on the third beat. One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three. So here for you now is the waltz.

So I hope you were able to feel the sense of the strong first beat. And in this waltz in particular, the third beat, that pickup, is rather prominent throughout. But the first beat still is the downbeat that is strong.

Now contrast that with the mazurka I'm going to play, and now you're going to hear one, two, three, one, two, three, that strong second beat throughout.

Could you hear that? The difference between the waltz and the mazurka. Now, I chose these particular selections for you because they're similar tempos and similar energy levels. There are some waltzes that are very solemn and slower, and mazurkas, some of the mazurkas are incredibly introspective and really deep little pieces of music. They're worth listening to, and I may present some of those in a future video, but I just want you to get a sense of the fundamental difference between waltzes and mazurkas.

I hope this has been enlightening for you. Again, this is Robert Estrin at Thanks so much for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Frank Badowski * VSM MEMBER * on May 1, 2019 @9:22 pm PST
I'm glad you played the complete Waltz and Mazurka. You should play more with the lesson.
Robert Estrin - host, on May 2, 2019 @11:49 am PST
I am outfitting my studio to be able to produce more music for you!
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