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Chopin and Bach piano lesson excerpts

Frederic ChopinJ.S. Bach

Most students welcome recorded recaps of their lessons for practicing reminders and direction. While the editing time is significant, the overall effort results in a fine-tuned clarification of fingering, phrasing, dynamics etc. with a space margin for reconsideration of interpretation. After all, no reading within an artistic frame is set in stone.


Yesterday, I met a new student over Skype who served up one of my favorite Chopin Preludes: the E minor, Op. 28 No. 4, and a few hours later, I was immersed in the Baroque. The contrast in PERIOD, certainly elicited a different vocabulary, but on closer examination, both composers were undoubtedly kindred spirits in sharing an acute awareness of structure and harmonic rhythm.

The Chopin E Minor Prelude, for example, is not about counterpoint, but its conspicuous feature is harmonic flow and how a procession of supple wrist driven chords impinge upon phrasing the mellifluous treble line. It’s easy to poke the sonorities with a vertical approach, distorting the overall feel of two impulses per measure.

So rather than count out redundant bass note 8th notes, it makes more musical sense to group the bass chords and respond to their poignant harmonic shifts as they impact the treble.

Using the sustain pedal tastefully, without blurring sonorities fleshes out the composition’s poignant emotional dimension and requires keenly attentive listening.


J.S. Bach Invention 1 in C, BWV 772

In a 200 year retro-journey, the music explored has a Baroque vocabulary, but the singing tone rings through the ages.

In this instruction, counterpoint is the most prominent feature of an interactive piano lesson. (Giving equal attention to an overlapping conversation of TWO voices)

Analyzing the SUBJECT and its threads (complete or partial segments in various forms: inverted, framed by augmentation, etc.) are therefore vital study ingredients of the two-part Invention form.

Certainly shaping lines, and being phrase sensitive are part and parcel of all playing, though performance practice re: historical periods always factors into decision making about articulation, ornamentation etc. As for use of the sustain pedal, such applies to the Chopin E Minor Prelude but not to Bach Invention 1 where I specifically choose NOT to use pedal. (The composition is laden with step-wise movement that must be crystal clear not and not muddied by sustain) Yet I am not one of those purists who NEVER uses pedal re: Bach’s variety of works.

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Piano Lesson: Chopin Prelude in B minor, Op. 28 (Video) and playing through

This is a very funereal composition, with a sighing if not sobbing right hand motif that permeates the musical mosaic.

The left hand has a cello line that provides the solo melodic thread in the course of the Prelude, though a few brief measures in the right hand should be fleshed out. I highlight these in the video.

Separate hand practice is recommended, and shaping of the arpeggiated melody in the bass is a significant challenge against the sobbing treble.

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Piano Instruction: Chopin Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28, Teacher, Shirley Kirsten

Chopin composed 24 Preludes in Op. 28 exploring 24 different keys (Major and minor) with each Prelude having its own mood and character.

In my step-by-step practicing of the E minor Prelude, I start with the Left Hand with its chordal mosaic, and listen attentively for descending chromatic movement between chords. In the foundational learning process, I want to be aware of common tones and those voice or voices within the sonorities that move. (Note that there are some progressions that are not chromatic)

I also need to use a supple wrist so I don’t enter the chords too fast, or with unnecessary impact. Listening across the chords helps to avoid a vertical rendering.

Next, I shape the right hand, which is especially challenging with its long notes in Largo tempo. The Alla breve indication of cut time, or a feeling in two helps move the melody along.

Finally, I play hands together trying to keep a nice balance between chords and melody, listening for how the passing, chromatic and other harmonies nourish the expressive line above.