Student wants to play challenging classical piece
Found in: Playing-Based Methodology
Maureen K., California
I have a 12-year-old student in Foundation 8 who is especially interested in classical music. He recently brought in a crazy complicated Chopin piece (Revolutionary Etude) he wants to learn. I have the skills to help him dissect the piece and learn to play it, but not to play it well and beautifully. I am thinking of finding a nearby teacher to partner with who specializes in technique for playing classical music. The student doesn’t want to leave me because he still likes the things I am good at–music basics, blues, pop, accompaniment, ensemble playing–so I am thinking of proposing extra lessons with a classical expert, but still under the umbrella of my studio, sort of a subcontracting situation. Has anyone tried anything like this?
Robin T., China
I would be reminding the student about the pyramid of learning and how its use in the Simply Music method has produced such great results for that student, i.e. building block by block towards more difficult pieces. Suggest to the student that he first elects to work through a few of the easier and exquisite Chopin Preludes and Waltzes to gain experience in the style before tackling a more difficult work. With a bit of luck he will realize there is a wealth of less challenging and equally satisfying music of Chopin available to explore.
Bernadette A., California
I haven’t tried this. I don’t play well, so when a student comes in and wants to play a piece that I don’t know, I let them know that I can’t play it but I can coach them to play it. I love that through SM you have all the tools to break down a piece and learn it. I think if you bring in another teacher, it would bring in other dynamics that could be interesting depending on the teacher. If I can’t play it, I use YouTube to help me.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
I’ve applied a strategy like Bernie’s effectively quite a few times, and I think that you could too, at least with this student as you describe him. Especially if you do as I imagine you would – make the piece a very long-term project, unfolded in very small doses. Regardless of who teaches him, with his level of experience, a first attempt at a very advanced piece is likely to be a compromise. Like anything else, good technique is a skill developed over many projects.
Looking at it that way, I think Robin’s view makes a lot of sense. Starting with a simpler Chopin piece is another kind of compromise, but is less likely to result in frustration for the student – sometimes when I’ve taken the Bernie approach, the student has ended up deciding the hard piece is too much for now. That’s not a problem either – they will still have learned heaps from the process, and can pick it up again later.
So I think the best solution would be to try out one or two other simpler classical pieces and then go on to his chosen one, in all cases taking plenty of time. If you really wanted to be thorough, go to a classical teacher yourself with the student’s Chopin piece for tips and coaching. You still wouldn’t need to be able to play it well, but you’d be better resourced. And you’d have learned heaps for yourself.
Lyndel K., Australia
I believe you can give this student what he needs. When this happens to me (I have 2 advanced students who want to play things way beyond them…and me), I let them begin the piece, breaking it down, and then at some point, either they astound me with their tenacity and musical interpretation, in which case no problem, or they figure out that it is a little beyond them and we find a nice cadence point to add to the piece and finish early. They already understand that with big pieces you can start a section that sounds finished and come back to it down the track (Fur Elise, Ballade, etc).
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
That’s a robust project! I might be inclined not to ‘contract’ with a different teacher, but rather to encourage related, but more ‘doable’ projects for your student that will help him work up to the Revolutionary Etude.
For example, did (or would) your student cross-pollinate the LH of the Chopin to the 3rd Night Storm arrangement? The only difference is that it continues up another octave. Maybe there could be C&I projects involving that LH, or a portion of the LH (C-G-C-D-Eb and back down at first, then adding the second octave) while the RH does a simple improv in Cm position?
Another huge component in that etude is LOTS of RH octaves. So perhaps have some projects including RH octaves. He will need to be super comfortable with the octave ‘feel’ without looking at his hand in order to pull off that etude.
If he’s comfortable with RH octaves, come up with projects where he “octavates” (Neil’s term!) triads – adding an octave above the lowest note or an octave below the highest note of the triad. Lots of that going on in Revolutionary as well.
In short, identify recurring elements in the etude, and create projects that work on them individually before tackling the etude itself. That might be a long process in and of itself.