In my last post, I wrote about Angela Duckworth’s fascinating new book, Grit, and how it made me want to be a grittier person. In particular, I wrote about how I wanted to be gritty in my practicing, for myself and as a model for my students. So, I figured, why don’t I take up the kind of practice routine that I want my student’s to follow? Part of this routine/regimen always includes both a review piece and an etude. My last post had a video of my review piece, Brahms’ Intermezzo in b-flat minor, Op. 117, No. 2. Above is the video of the etude I’ve been working on since June, Chopin’s Op. 25, No.1 (often called the Aeolian Harp).
As I mentioned in my previous post, the rationale for always working on a review piece and an etude is that they require different kinds of deliberate practice. A review piece should be technically easy (at least easier than when it was first learned); this allows you to practice musicality, interpretation, memory, and other aspects of the piece other than just getting the notes and rhythms correct. Etudes also require a different type of practice and it’s kind of like the mirror image of the practice for review pieces. Etudes usually focus on one aspect of technique and learning them requires a laser-like focus on that specific technique.
Chopin’s etudes (Op. 10 and 25) are infamous for their difficulty and are, to me, some of the greatest works ever written for the piano. Weirdly, this particular Chopin etude is probably one of the easiest (although it certainly doesn’t sound easy). There are two or three slow ones plus the Ocean, and perhaps Black Keys, that might be easier, but they are all pretty close. I’ve been working on it for about four months and I think it’s time to move on to a new etude. It’s not perfect and it could still be a bit better but eventually you get to a point of diminishing returns and I think I’m there. I’m hoping that I can keep up this pace and learn a new etude every three to four months and post new videos of my performances.
This means it’s time to pick a new etude to start on for October. Because I’ve learned so many of Chopin’s etudes, I decided my next one will be by a different composer. There are a few composers other than Chopin that are known for their etudes: Liszt, Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and more recently Ligeti and Bolcom. I narrowed down my selection to one etude by Liszt, Debussy, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff and I listened to them all last night with Sarah. Sarah liked the Scriabin the best so I’m going to give it a shot (I liked the Debussy the best). We’ll see how it goes. Until then, keep practicing deliberately!