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#2154297 - 09/20/13 09:18 AM Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence?
Psychonaut Offline
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Registered: 08/21/13
Posts: 233
My ultimate goal is to learn to play Chopin's Polonaise in Ab Major (Op. 53) technically without flaw.

How realistic is this? Are there very many people on these forums who can play this piece? In the world? I guess I'm asking about the general lay of the land in terms of average classically trained pianists: Is a piece like this something that only a relative handful of people can play? Or is this level of competence standard in, say, collegiate musical environments? I have no sense of this...

... All I know for sure is that I'm a very long way away from being able to play it now. That much I do know, LOL.

I hope this question makes sense. A metaphor might be if I decided to play basketball. Learning the game so I could play with the athletes at a local rec center would be a realistic goal, whereas aiming my sights at playing in the NBA or becoming the "next Michael Jordan" would be clearly delusional. For me, becoming the next Horowitz is absurd, but are pieces such as the Chopin Polonaise being played reasonably well on the musical equivalent of the local rec center level?


Edited by Psychonaut (09/20/13 09:25 AM)
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#2154301 - 09/20/13 09:29 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
sinophilia Offline

Gold Supporter until Sept. 05 2014


Registered: 06/26/12
Posts: 944
Loc: Italy
I don't know much about this specific piece - although I have a Marta Argerich's rendition of it that I love - but you might want to have a look at the book Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible by Alan Rusbridger, who managed to learn Chopin's Ballade no. 1.
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#2154332 - 09/20/13 10:22 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
Morodiene Online   content
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What do you mean by "technically without flaw"? Do you mean with no mistakes, or just no technical issues, or do you mean technically perfect, but you don't care much about musical expression? Just trying to clarify before I give any definitive answer (if such a thing exists).

This is a very difficult piece to play well. Henle's rating system puts it at Level 8, which is one step below their highest rating of 9 (with pieces like Beethoven's OP 106 Hammerklavier). So, while not one of the most difficult pieces out there, it's pretty darn close. Not to be discouraging, but have you tried playing through it? I did once several years ago, as I love it too, but I realized very quickly that it was too much of a reach for me then. I still think it's too much for me now, personally.

What are you playing right now that you feel you can do well?
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#2154354 - 09/20/13 11:13 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Morodiene]
Psychonaut Offline
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Registered: 08/21/13
Posts: 233
Originally Posted By: Morodiene
What do you mean by "technically without flaw"? Do you mean with no mistakes, or just no technical issues, or do you mean technically perfect, but you don't care much about musical expression?


I mean technically perfect, but that I don't care at all about musical expression.

Not that I think musical expression is unimportant (it's the most important aspect in my view), but I'm approaching this classical training study mechanically, as a means to an end. I'm currently a sloppy blues, cocktail lounge and pop-rock hack, and decided to undertake classical study about three weeks ago as a way of getting grounded in fundamentals and improve my overall playing. I figure that at whatever level I am technically competent, the musical expression side of things (for good or ill) will take care of itself, as I already have a solid rapport with the instrument. I'm just not technically very good.

So far, I can play the Bach Invention #1, sort of. I've now played it at a little faster than Glenn Gould speed mistake free, except the next time I'm likely to stutter, so it's not "mastered" yet... I'm trying to plot out a syllabus for myself. I can't afford a teacher, though I'm beginning to rethink this, and may try to find a creative way to budget some extra money.

With the above question I'm really just trying to get a grasp of how hard this pursuit is going to be, based on some sort of mean, or bell curve of what percentage of aspiring pianists attain what level in what amount of time.

Ideally, I'd like to create a syllabus of material, of music that progresses, incrementally, to the attainment of the mechanical skill sets required to knock out Op. 53. And I want to do it fast, if this is possible.
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#2154368 - 09/20/13 11:35 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
Morodiene Online   content
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Registered: 04/06/07
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Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Psychonaut
Originally Posted By: Morodiene
What do you mean by "technically without flaw"? Do you mean with no mistakes, or just no technical issues, or do you mean technically perfect, but you don't care much about musical expression?


I mean technically perfect, but that I don't care at all about musical expression.

Not that I think musical expression is unimportant (it's the most important aspect in my view), but I'm approaching this classical training study mechanically, as a means to an end. I'm currently a sloppy blues, cocktail lounge and pop-rock hack, and decided to undertake classical study about three weeks ago as a way of getting grounded in fundamentals and improve my overall playing. I figure that at whatever level I am technically competent, the musical expression side of things (for good or ill) will take care of itself, as I already have a solid rapport with the instrument. I'm just not technically very good.

So far, I can play the Bach Invention #1, sort of. I've now played it at a little faster than Glenn Gould speed mistake free, except the next time I'm likely to stutter, so it's not "mastered" yet... I'm trying to plot out a syllabus for myself. I can't afford a teacher, though I'm beginning to rethink this, and may try to find a creative way to budget some extra money.

With the above question I'm really just trying to get a grasp of how hard this pursuit is going to be, based on some sort of mean, or bell curve of what percentage of aspiring pianists attain what level in what amount of time.

Ideally, I'd like to create a syllabus of material, of music that progresses, incrementally, to the attainment of the mechanical skill sets required to knock out Op. 53. And I want to do it fast, if this is possible.

Just to give you some perspective, the same Henle rating system puts the Bach Invention #1 at level 3. Again, this isn't to discourage you - we all need to dreams! - but just to give you some perspective.

To plan a syllabus to get you from where you are to where you want to be will not be a direct line, if you will. There are skills needed in Op 53 that build upon other skills already (hopefully) attained. So this means learning a lot of literature in a sequential manner that will reinforce what you can do well and then challenge you on to the next step.

Such an involved syllabus is what teachers do (or should do). To get to where you want to be the fastest way possible is to get lessons with a good teacher. If you can't afford weekly lessons, then do every other week, or once in a while as you are able. Obviously, the more frequency the better, but this also will depend upon your diligence, how much time you are able to spend in practicing, and how smart you are with your time.

I can't really give you a time line or anything like that, even if would be nice to know. I haven't heard you play, I haven't observed your progress over a period of months to be able to gauge anything like that. Even if I did, I wouldn't be able to put a date on it because it's so far in the distance. But what I would do is set goals for that year, and then work it down to individual tasks you need to be able to do each week to get there at the end of a year.
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#2154393 - 09/20/13 12:07 PM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
krzyzowski Offline
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Registered: 11/01/10
Posts: 108
Many are drawn to the piano for the love of piano music; certainly Chopin. Realistic? You must love it so work on it. You'll get it.
I used to hide Opus 10 #3 in my notebook, so my first PT didn't throw it in the trash..

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#2154410 - 09/20/13 12:24 PM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: krzyzowski]
Morodiene Online   content
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Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11426
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Originally Posted By: krzyzowski
Many are drawn to the piano for the love of piano music; certainly Chopin. Realistic? You must love it so work on it. You'll get it.
I used to hide Opus 10 #3 in my notebook, so my first PT didn't throw it in the trash..
LOL! Nothing wrong with those dreams. I have them too, and have even tried playing those pieces despite knowing they were beyond my reach. No harm in that, except you'll end up putting it away once you realize you're nowhere near it. Still, it's a good way to gauge your progress, too, pulling out those warhorses every few years to see how much closer you are to doing it justice. smile
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#2154439 - 09/20/13 12:59 PM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Morodiene]
Psychonaut Offline
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Registered: 08/21/13
Posts: 233
Originally Posted By: Morodiene

To plan a syllabus to get you from where you are to where you want to be will not be a direct line, if you will. There are skills needed in Op 53 that build upon other skills already (hopefully) attained. So this means learning a lot of literature in a sequential manner that will reinforce what you can do well and then challenge you on to the next step.


Appreciate the thoughtful and intelligent response. This is exactly what I want to do. Put together a sequence precisely as you describe. I realize it's a long way from pt. a to pt. b, but I at least want to map a course...
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#2154440 - 09/20/13 12:59 PM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: krzyzowski]
Psychonaut Offline
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Registered: 08/21/13
Posts: 233
Originally Posted By: krzyzowski

I used to hide Opus 10 #3 in my notebook, so my first PT didn't throw it in the trash..


Funny!
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#2154511 - 09/20/13 02:31 PM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Originally Posted By: Psychonaut
I mean technically perfect, but that I don't care at all about musical expression.

Not that I think musical expression is unimportant (it's the most important aspect in my view), but I'm approaching this classical training study mechanically, as a means to an end. I'm currently a sloppy blues, cocktail lounge and pop-rock hack, and decided to undertake classical study about three weeks ago as a way of getting grounded in fundamentals and improve my overall playing. I figure that at whatever level I am technically competent, the musical expression side of things (for good or ill) will take care of itself, as I already have a solid rapport with the instrument. I'm just not technically very good.

So far, I can play the Bach Invention #1, sort of. I've now played it at a little faster than Glenn Gould speed mistake free, except the next time I'm likely to stutter, so it's not "mastered" yet... I'm trying to plot out a syllabus for myself. I can't afford a teacher, though I'm beginning to rethink this, and may try to find a creative way to budget some extra money.

With the above question I'm really just trying to get a grasp of how hard this pursuit is going to be, based on some sort of mean, or bell curve of what percentage of aspiring pianists attain what level in what amount of time.

Ideally, I'd like to create a syllabus of material, of music that progresses, incrementally, to the attainment of the mechanical skill sets required to knock out Op. 53. And I want to do it fast, if this is possible.



What is your technical background (i.e. what are some other classical pieces you can play)? If you're asking from the perspective of a complete beginner, it could take anywhere from several years to ten years to never depending on the instruction, quality, and amount of practicing that's done. The piece is on the level of undergraduate student (approx. 10 years of prior study) at most conservatories, not that that necessarily indicates or means anything.

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#2154833 - 09/21/13 01:05 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Philadelphia
I love this piece, and have performed it before. I would, however, like to use a similar pursuit to highlight the futility of your goal. You wish to play the piece technically perfect, but I argue this is not possible.

Consider the game of golf, which all things told, can be played but not mastered. Some play better than others. Some break par one day, but not on other days (even on the same course). It is a game of ups and downs, where you may be master one day and grasshopper the next.

The same goes for piano (and most endeavors of an artistic nature).

I don't believe I have ever heard a perfectly flawless performance of this (or any) piece. Not Horowitz. Not Kissin. Not Argerich. Not Volodos. Nobody. But then, that's why it's "art". The true beauty lies in the flaws. wink
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#2154847 - 09/21/13 01:31 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
peekay Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/13
Posts: 184
Originally Posted By: Psychonaut
Is a piece like this something that only a relative handful of people can play? Or is this level of competence standard in, say, collegiate musical environments?

Hi Psychonaut,

First, I don't know if I personally will ever be able to play this piece.

However, it is a piece that many students play. Here in Canada, Op. 53 is included in the standard RCM syllabus at the Diploma (ARCT) level -- many kids still in high school have played this piece as part of their ARCT recitals.

So while it takes a tremendous amount of talent & study to play, it is not a piece only few in the world are capable of playing well.
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#2154930 - 09/21/13 09:16 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Derulux]
Polyphonist Offline
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Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 7512
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Derulux
I don't believe I have ever heard a perfectly flawless performance of this (or any) piece. Not Horowitz. Not Kissin. Not Argerich. Not Volodos. Nobody.

What about LANG LANG? He's amazing. grin
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#2154957 - 09/21/13 10:43 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Derulux]
Psychonaut Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/21/13
Posts: 233
Originally Posted By: Derulux
I love this piece, and have performed it before. I would, however, like to use a similar pursuit to highlight the futility of your goal. You wish to play the piece technically perfect, but I argue this is not possible.

Consider the game of golf, which all things told, can be played but not mastered. Some play better than others. Some break par one day, but not on other days (even on the same course). It is a game of ups and downs, where you may be master one day and grasshopper the next.

The same goes for piano (and most endeavors of an artistic nature).

I don't believe I have ever heard a perfectly flawless performance of this (or any) piece. Not Horowitz. Not Kissin. Not Argerich. Not Volodos. Nobody. But then, that's why it's "art". The true beauty lies in the flaws. wink


This gets into a more generally philosophical realm, Platonic ideas about forms etc.... And yes, I agree with you, in the same way that while there may be an abstract, universal straight line in a mathematical sense, none of our material, mechanically drawn lines are ever 100% straight... But practically, to use your metaphor, I would like to be able to more or less hang around par. Or when a carpenter measures and cuts a piece of wood for a joint, it's considered "accurate" if it fits the space and gets the job done...

... I've never participated in any of those level exams I've been watching on YouTube of late, and know nothing about them, but I imagine they have expectations of technical competency for any given piece that the student, ultimately, either passes or fails. So I guess "technical competency" is the goal, with "technical flawlessness" remaining as an abstract, unattainable yardstick.
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#2155332 - 09/22/13 01:59 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
Originally Posted By: Derulux
I don't believe I have ever heard a perfectly flawless performance of this (or any) piece. Not Horowitz. Not Kissin. Not Argerich. Not Volodos. Nobody.

What about LANG LANG? He's amazing. grin

I don't think I've ever heard LL play it all the way through. He may have my favorite performance of Mozart K330, and possibly K333 (B-flat?). But I've heard much less of his Chopin.

Originally Posted By: Psychonaut
Originally Posted By: Derulux
I love this piece, and have performed it before. I would, however, like to use a similar pursuit to highlight the futility of your goal. You wish to play the piece technically perfect, but I argue this is not possible.

Consider the game of golf, which all things told, can be played but not mastered. Some play better than others. Some break par one day, but not on other days (even on the same course). It is a game of ups and downs, where you may be master one day and grasshopper the next.

The same goes for piano (and most endeavors of an artistic nature).

I don't believe I have ever heard a perfectly flawless performance of this (or any) piece. Not Horowitz. Not Kissin. Not Argerich. Not Volodos. Nobody. But then, that's why it's "art". The true beauty lies in the flaws. wink


This gets into a more generally philosophical realm, Platonic ideas about forms etc.... And yes, I agree with you, in the same way that while there may be an abstract, universal straight line in a mathematical sense, none of our material, mechanically drawn lines are ever 100% straight... But practically, to use your metaphor, I would like to be able to more or less hang around par. Or when a carpenter measures and cuts a piece of wood for a joint, it's considered "accurate" if it fits the space and gets the job done...

... I've never participated in any of those level exams I've been watching on YouTube of late, and know nothing about them, but I imagine they have expectations of technical competency for any given piece that the student, ultimately, either passes or fails. So I guess "technical competency" is the goal, with "technical flawlessness" remaining as an abstract, unattainable yardstick.

I'll answer twice. First, in metaphor, then in practicality.

If you consider all the golfers in the world, and apply all the rules of golf to each of those golfers, less than 10% of all golfers can break 100. Less than 5% can break 90. Less than 1% can break 80. And less than .1% consistently shoot par. On a championship course at tournament specs, probably less than .001% can shoot par. And, if you consider last year's US Open, the best golfers in the world couldn't break par. wink

So, the more practical answer is: if you want to play it well, and technically proficient, I think that would be akin to breaking 90. It's still a tough crowd to join, but not such a surmounting feat that it requires endless hours of training to get there. Lots of hours, yes. But not "all of your available hours". wink
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#2155422 - 09/22/13 08:43 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Derulux]
Morodiene Online   content
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Registered: 04/06/07
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Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Derulux

I'll answer twice. First, in metaphor, then in practicality.

If you consider all the golfers in the world, and apply all the rules of golf to each of those golfers, less than 10% of all golfers can break 100. Less than 5% can break 90. Less than 1% can break 80. And less than .1% consistently shoot par. On a championship course at tournament specs, probably less than .001% can shoot par. And, if you consider last year's US Open, the best golfers in the world couldn't break par. wink

So, the more practical answer is: if you want to play it well, and technically proficient, I think that would be akin to breaking 90. It's still a tough crowd to join, but not such a surmounting feat that it requires endless hours of training to get there. Lots of hours, yes. But not "all of your available hours". wink
I appreciate what Derulux is saying here and previously in this thread. Technical perfection is not really attainable, even by the most talented pianists out there. Not only that, but technique is the means by which you can express yourself and what the composer wrote. It is not an end in itself. I suppose this is where sports and art separate: they are both physical actions that require one to be at their top, but where the sportsman stops (his technique allows him to win) the artist continues, because our technique means very little, IMO, if you have nothing to say with it. I dare say if I ever heard a performance of Op.53 that was technically perfect but lacked musicality, then I'd fall asleep, start daydreaming and stop listening, or just get up and leave.

Having said all that, I do believe that if you wish to be able to play this piece, you will need a good teacher and lots of patience. Enjoy the music you can play at whatever level you happen to be.
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#2156061 - 09/23/13 09:54 AM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Psychonaut]
Doritos Flavoured Offline
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Registered: 10/10/12
Posts: 98
Loc: Brazil
it's the imperfections that make it worthwhile. Like, no one enjoys pure sequenced midi music.

of course, there're levels of imperfection to be attained
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#2156204 - 09/23/13 02:16 PM Re: Chopin Op. 53 "Average" Degrees of Attained Competence? [Re: Doritos Flavoured]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: Doritos Flavoured
it's the imperfections that make it worthwhile. Like, no one enjoys pure sequenced midi music.

of course, there're levels of imperfection to be attained

Exactly. It takes years to perform the pieces as imperfectly as I do... grin
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