Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video

Posted by: Sam Rose

Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/08/13 05:47 AM

Hi guys!

So here's my lame attempt at the G minor ballade. Firstly, I realize it's not very good at all, but I've got a lifetime to improve it, and if you read the description you'll see why I made the recording.

Anyway, since I've already made the recording, I figured I would post it here and get whatever advice I can to bring it up a notch. Thank you all! laugh

Posted by: carey

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/09/13 01:27 PM

Folks -

This young man has only been playing the piano for 2.5 years. With the exception of 5 lessons (two different teachers) he's totally self taught. Last month he drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix (6 hours) to participate in a piano party hosted by another PW member. I was there and had the pleasure of hearing him perform this Ballade.

Sam - this recording shows excellent progress since last month. Congrats !!! thumb

PW Members - Sam is sincere in his request for "advice" to help him perform this piece to the best of his ability. I'm sure he'd appreciate any and all comments.


Here's the "description" that Sam refers to above:

"Two and a half years ago, at 21 years old and inspired by the heartbreaking and touching film "The Pianist," I set out to learn how to play the piano. I had no experience with music (outside of listening to it and always thinking how nice it would be to play the piano some day), so I bought Alfred's Adult Beginner book and began to learn.

Six months later, having learned just a tiny bit about how to play the piano, the sheet music on my roommate's music stand began to call my name. It was this piece, Chopin's G minor ballade, which I remembered hearing (an abridged version) and being absolutely floored by in "The Pianist." It starts out fairly "easy" (no Chopin is even remotely easy to play well, but I didn't know that then), so I thought I'd give it a try, and it became a dream and an obsession of mine to finish the entire piece and be able to play it decently (although the more I learned, the more stringent my definition of "decent" became; I still don't think I can play this piece decently).

I've been chipping away at it since then, and have learned an incredible amount from it about music notation, melody, rhythm (and polyrhythm), piano technique, and how much an average human being like myself can accomplish in a relatively short amount of time if aided by an inordinately high degree of passion, dedication, and even obsession.

It's now been two years since I took on this project, and it's slowly starting to come together. I've also had a little bit of instruction in the last year and a half (5 lessons with two different teachers), which has helped me tremendously (and if it wasn't so bleeding expensive, I'd take lessons all the time!), and although I know I can't do this piece justice (especially those scales at the end. I haven't quite figured them out yet, and some of the other really hard and fast runs are rough too), I decided to record a first draft anyway,....."
Posted by: RachelEDNC

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/10/13 12:02 AM

Great job! I can only imagine the time you have put into this having just started learning music 2 years ago. You seem very musically sensitive.

One thing- Your arms seem very stiff. I think if you could divide tricky technical sections into bits where you are playing the notes with one sweep of the arm, instead of playing note by note. This is somewhat hard to describe in words. I will use the example of a C major scale. Imagine an ellipse starting on one c and ending on the top c, with the widest points in the middle. Your arm should follow this ellipse to play the scale, using arm movement instead of finger dexterity to get to the notes. In music this will allow you to play faster, with a better sound, and less tension in your body.

Sorry, using words to describe movement is difficult. I hope this made sense.
Posted by: synergy543

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/10/13 12:03 AM

Sam, you're a real inspiration. Most impressive and I enjoyed listening.

I admire the challenge your taking upon yourself, keep at it! Obviously, you have a good ear which has allowed you to get this far in so little time. That, along with a piano, the will, and you've got everything you need. The only advice I could give (you're already far better than me), would be to listen to master classes on youtube by masters such as Barenboim, Horowitz, Rubinstein, and others. There are some great resources and these are good teachers. With your ear and your abilities, you're likely to pick up some useful tips and good ideas.
Posted by: Polyphonist

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/10/13 12:07 AM

Very impressive for 2.5 years. Try to let your wrists be more flexible, and don't tense up: this can cause injury if you aren't aware of it. smile
Posted by: Hakki

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/13/13 01:27 PM

Sam, this is really very impressive for a player who is playing the piano only for two and a half years. Bravo !

As others have pointed it, having relaxed wrists, using arm weight, body balance, etc. is very important for romantic repertoire.

Luckily, we are on the internet era and there some online sources.

One of them is www.pianocareer.com, where you can watch videos on; posture, tone producing, scales, and many more aspects of piano technique that will be very useful for you.

Finally, I am in awe of your inspiration and dedication. With these at hand, I have no doubt that you will eventually master this piece in a few years.

Keep up the good work and please post another recording in a few months.

Thank you for sharing.
Posted by: kapelli

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/13/13 02:01 PM

for 2,5 year of playing it's very good and impressive.
but I think that pieces like this you maybe should skip for one or two years more of playing, when you will have better technique, just to play them softly

And you should sit closer to the piano, maybe some few cm wink
Posted by: FarmGirl

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/16/13 06:35 PM

I also had pleasure to listen to Sam in Arizona. As everyone here pointed out this is an impressive performance. I know several piano students tackle through this piece with significant difficulty. You are incredibly talented. Look forward to seeing you again next year!
Posted by: Valencia

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/19/13 09:32 PM

sam, this is brilliant! thanks for sharing...you've got me wanting to learn this piece! Is it possible? How did you approach it? did you memorize as you were learning it? what were the hardest bits?

sorry i can't offer any advice regarding the playing of it. smile
Posted by: Sam Rose

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/20/13 02:52 AM

A huge thank you to everyone who has commented so far!!

Regarding tension / stiffness, you are all correct. It's something I've been working on, but it's just going to take a bit more time I think. During the hard sections it is sometimes a struggle for me to think of the music before playing it, and this problem is only exacerbated by having the camera rolling, which leads to greater tension. I hope this will work itself out with time.

Originally Posted By: kapelli
for 2,5 year of playing it's very good and impressive.
but I think that pieces like this you maybe should skip for one or two years more of playing, when you will have better technique, just to play them softly

And you should sit closer to the piano, maybe some few cm wink


Thanks for the advice, but I will kindly reject it smile
I don't think there's anything wrong with working on repertoire that is above your head, as long as you work on other things at the same time. I would never have gotten this far with the piano if I took the normal route, because I wouldn't have had the motivation to practice. To put it Frostily, "I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Originally Posted By: Valencia
sam, this is brilliant! thanks for sharing...you've got me wanting to learn this piece! Is it possible? How did you approach it? did you memorize as you were learning it? what were the hardest bits?

sorry i can't offer any advice regarding the playing of it. smile


Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it laugh

Is it possible? Almost anything is possible. I approached it like a huge pile of bricks I needed to move from the backyard to the front yard. I moved a couple of bricks at a time over a long period of time. Eventually, most of the bricks were in the front yard! There are still a few really heavy bricks in the backyard that I'm just not strong enough to move yet. But hopefully soon I will be!

Now that I have the analogy out of the way, here's what I actually did. I started at the beginning and moved through the piece, memorizing each section. When I was about halfway done, I skipped to the coda and learned that, the thought being that since it's harder, I'd want to give it more practice time (if I waited until I got there linearly, everything before it in the piece would end up being practiced more, and the hardest part less). The hardest bits were, in order of difficulty, the coda mad , the scherzando cursing (still haven't mastered it at all), the glorious middle section wow , and then all the fine details that make a good performance great (I haven't figured that part out yet, but hopefully I will within a couple of years).

Of course, all of that time I was working on other things concurrently. But that should give you the basic gist of it.
bah
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/20/13 11:53 AM

Good for you! Incredible that you can play this after only 2.5 years of playing. Really, that is great! Couple of questions:

How are you practicing the fast passages?

What did you learn from those 2 teachers?
Posted by: Sam Rose

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/20/13 05:19 PM

Thanks! I love your playing by the way.

I've practiced the fast sections at different tempos, with different rhythms, and I have some other techniques I learned about which I haven't really used (staccato vs legato, etc)

I'm not sure whether I'm hitting a wall because I'm using the wrong practice techniques, wrong fingerings, or if it's just the tension which needs to be relieved, but I'm aware I can't play this fluidly enough yet.

What did I learn from my teachers?
That's a hard question to answer. We've talked about phrasing and counting and using the entire arm from the shoulder to the fingers as one unit. That's the part I haven't quite figured out yet.

If you've got any recommendations for how to practice the fast sections, or any other comments, criticisms, or suggestions, I'm all ears. There are many children who can play this piece better than me frown
Posted by: Kuanpiano

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 12:36 AM

I loved this!! Wonderfully sensitive, and that's what counts, not having a big technique.

The only real advice I can give you is to try to bring out the melodic line more - the melody should sing above the rest of the textures. It'll help with the expression and the clarity of your playing.

Best of luck!
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 11:19 AM

Originally Posted By: Sam Rose
Thanks! I love your playing by the way.

I've practiced the fast sections at different tempos, with different rhythms, and I have some other techniques I learned about which I haven't really used (staccato vs legato, etc)

I'm not sure whether I'm hitting a wall because I'm using the wrong practice techniques, wrong fingerings, or if it's just the tension which needs to be relieved, but I'm aware I can't play this fluidly enough yet.

What did I learn from my teachers?
That's a hard question to answer. We've talked about phrasing and counting and using the entire arm from the shoulder to the fingers as one unit. That's the part I haven't quite figured out yet.

If you've got any recommendations for how to practice the fast sections, or any other comments, criticisms, or suggestions, I'm all ears. There are many children who can play this piece better than me frown


Yeah yeah, there are plenty of kids who play better than me too - haha - it's all good!

Did those teachers talk about transferring weight between each finger? Ah, it would be so much easier to talk about this stuff in person with a piano....

Also, slow practice lots but keep the original pulse going - so when you practice slow, make sure you don't subdivide into smaller values, but keep the original large beats. I don't know if that makes sense.

I really need to work on my "explaining" skills.......
Posted by: Sam Rose

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 12:36 PM

Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.

Yeah yeah, there are plenty of kids who play better than me too - haha - it's all good!

Did those teachers talk about transferring weight between each finger? Ah, it would be so much easier to talk about this stuff in person with a piano....

Also, slow practice lots but keep the original pulse going - so when you practice slow, make sure you don't subdivide into smaller values, but keep the original large beats. I don't know if that makes sense.

I really need to work on my "explaining" skills.......


When I said there are kids who play better than me, I meant musically better. I'm not much impressed by brilliant technique if it doesn't sound all that good, and that's the case with most children who have great technique. But there are still plenty of exceptions, and those exceptions can play way better than me. Better than you? I'm not as convinced.

They did talk about transferring weight from arm to finger, but I'm not sure what you mean by between each finger. I really need more lessons to figure this stuff out, but they are EXPENSIVE!

As far as keeping the pulse during slow practice, this was not something I did until recently, when I had an epiphany and started doing it properly. It's much harder to keep a pulse going at a slow tempo, and it just wasn't something I paid attention to for a long time.

Your explaining skills are just fine, but if I ever find myself in the past, I'll stop by and visit you so you can demonstrate in person on a piano. Or if you're ever in LA send me a message smile
I currently own four grands (Baldwin R, Yamaha C3, Mason and Hamlin B, and a Kawai RX-2) so you can probably find one you like well enough.
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 12:41 PM

I will be in LA smile

But not quite yet......

Sounds like you are on the right track. Think about transferring weight between each finger - it's like having a center point which goes from one finger to the next as you are playing.
Posted by: Sam Rose

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 12:59 PM

Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
Think about transferring weight between each finger - it's like having a center point which goes from one finger to the next as you are playing.


Does that apply regardless of the tempo you are playing at?
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 01:17 PM

Oh yeah!
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 01:18 PM

With a free forearm at all times.
Posted by: Sam Rose

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 02:00 PM

Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
With a free forearm at all times.


Well there you have it. My first teacher tried to free my forearm, and although we made some progress in the short time we had together (I only had three lessons with him before I moved back home from New York), I still tend to tense my forearm, especially when nervous or anxious (which always happens when recording) and playing very fast sections. I think I have the potential for musical playing, but the fast sections are still too much of a technical struggle for me to really be able to make music out of them. frown
Posted by: Pogorelich.

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 03:46 PM

It takes a lot of time - don't give up but form these new habits.
Posted by: Orange Soda King

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/21/13 09:10 PM

Meet up with Pogo whenever she comes to L.A. She is good.
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/25/13 11:44 PM

Sam,
This is extraordinary!

I want to start off by saying that I found this so moving that it literally brought tears to my eyes. In fact, it is doubly moving. It is so moving that someone such as yourself, with so little experience and training, could have advanced so far; and besides that, much of the playing was simply moving, period. I heard you play this for me in New York last year and it was so impressive what you had been able to achieve so soon, and the gains that you have made since then are very great. Sure, there are flaws: rushing here and there, struggling or playing too cautiously in some of the "hard parts," etc. But what is remarkable is how much you DO handle, including many of the other "hard parts" (and heck, you 'got through' everything!) and the sheer beauty, sensitivity, and sophistication of expression that we hear again and again, things that would be impressive for someone of any level. So many wonderful details, so many nice touches. You have a great talent and a real feel for this kind of music. BRAVO!!! smile
Posted by: carey

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/26/13 12:43 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Sam,
This is extraordinary!

I want to start off by saying that I found this so moving that it literally brought tears to my eyes. In fact, it is doubly moving. It is so moving that someone such as yourself, with so little experience and training, could have advanced so far; and besides that, much of the playing was simply moving, period. I heard you play this for me in New York last year and it was so impressive what you had been able to achieve so soon, and the gains that you have made since then are very great. Sure, there are flaws: rushing here and there, struggling or playing too cautiously in some of the "hard parts," etc. But what is remarkable is how much you DO handle, including many of the other "hard parts" (and heck, you 'got through' everything!) and the sheer beauty, sensitivity, and sophistication of expression that we hear again and again, things that would be impressive for someone of any level. So many wonderful details, so many nice touches. You have a great talent and a real feel for this kind of music. BRAVO!!! smile

So we BOTH know Sam - small world !!!! grin
Posted by: Sam Rose

Re: Chopin Ballade no. 1 in G-minor work-in-progress video - 03/29/13 04:02 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Sam,
This is extraordinary!

I want to start off by saying that I found this so moving that it literally brought tears to my eyes. In fact, it is doubly moving. It is so moving that someone such as yourself, with so little experience and training, could have advanced so far; and besides that, much of the playing was simply moving, period. I heard you play this for me in New York last year and it was so impressive what you had been able to achieve so soon, and the gains that you have made since then are very great. Sure, there are flaws: rushing here and there, struggling or playing too cautiously in some of the "hard parts," etc. But what is remarkable is how much you DO handle, including many of the other "hard parts" (and heck, you 'got through' everything!) and the sheer beauty, sensitivity, and sophistication of expression that we hear again and again, things that would be impressive for someone of any level. So many wonderful details, so many nice touches. You have a great talent and a real feel for this kind of music. BRAVO!!! smile


Thanks so much for taking the time to listen and comment Mark!
It is comments like these that push me to continue to improve.
For every nuance that I was able to execute, there must be at least 100 that I'm missing, but such is life eek
I promise you Mark that one day I'll make a recording of this piece that you'll want in your collection laugh
It may take twenty years or more, but I'm determined to get there, and I hope you'll still be interested in listening then (and heck, throw in the other ballades too while we're at it). ha