I have started to make instruction videos for piano playing in general, and I am also starting to go through the Beethoven Sonatas in longer videos where I go through the music in terms of background, interpretation and technique. The first one is on the first movement of the sonata Op. 2 No. 1, and it is 114 minutes. For the more advanced ones, I have used three HD cameras plus camera people in a nice concert hall, and I also record the sound separately to make it good.
As it is a lot of work, these videos cost a few dollars but I think it’s not too bad since you would spend many times that amount on one single piano lesson, as opposed to less than ten bucks on these videos. The shorter videos are free, as well as the performance videos.
Here is the trailer for first one, on the Sonata Op. 2 No. 1
First movement on the Pastoral Sonata:
On how to use the wrist appropriately in piano playing:
Instruction on how to sit at the piano and positioning of the hand:
Second part of piano instruction videos: In this video, I go through how to use your arm weight properly:
Third part of piano instruction videos: In this video, I go through how the fingers should move properly.
It was suggested to me that I write something about how I learned the 32 sonatas, and Christina asked if there are exercises needed to play such different pieces as the sonatas are. It’s a good question. I’ll try to start to write about learning the sonatas, and as long as comments, opinions and questions keep coming, I’ll write more and more.
Someone commented on the question of which sonata to learn when, and it’s a good one. I will quote it here:
For non-professionals, which sonata should one tackle first, technique permitting? Schirmer’s Bülow-Lebert edition of the sonatas offers a suggested list in order of difficulty or at least ‘a succession in which their study may profitably be taken up’. For those who haven’t seen it, it goes like this:
1st grade – Op. 49, 2; Op. 49, 1; Op. 79; Op. 14, 1 & 2; Op. 2, 1.
2nd grade – Op. 10, 1; Op. 13; Op. 10, 3; Op.10, 2; Op. 28; Op. 2, 3; Op. 26; Op. 31, 3; Op. 22; Op. 7.
3rd grade – Op. 27, 2; Op. 27, 1; Op. 31, 2; Op. 2, 2; Op. 54; Op. 78; Op. 90; Op. 81a; Op. 31, 1; Op. 53; Op. 57; Op. 101; Op. 111; Op. 110; Op. 109; Op. 106.
I wonder how some in the list depend for their positioning critically on the metronome markings adopted? For instance students often start with Op 2, 1 (they want a taste of the impassioned Beethoven) but how many can play those trills in the 1st movement at half-note = 112? Lighter keyboards in Beethoven’s day notwithstanding, the piece doesn’t sound right to me if played at much less than that. Anyway thank you for having highlighted this issue in your notes on learning the piece! Most reassuring for some of us!
Some of those choices I don’t understand. I think, for example, op. 2:1 is WAY more difficult than op. 10:1. In the second grade, I think op. 7 and op. 2:3 are just so much more difficult techically than many of the pieces in the third group.
And yes, many students or amateurs like the passion and drama of the first sonata, but it is a difficult one. The last movement, played in tempo, is very awkward to play.
What I would say is “to have patience means you get somewhere faster” in the learning of the sonatas, and start with the op. 49, then perhaps play some movements of the more dramatic ones.
To play something that is much too hard can develop tensions and actually injure the hands as well as creating troubles with the neck etc.
The parameters which decides learning something well or…less good, I guess, are quite simple and practical. We want to use the minimum of time to learn a maximum amount of music. Right?
The learning process of the musical content is quite hard to define, and you can’t really use a “method” to get to understand the music as much as possible. However, since learning any piece requires a certain amount of physical, and therefore also mental, automation, one has to see to that the learning process is such that the automation does a minimum of damage (though sometimes automation can be a good thing) to the imagination.
My way of learning was in many ways a result of the fact that I had to play a full Beethoven-recital in Lund (Sweden) once a year. The normal program consisted of four new sonatas. As I was busy doing other things during the year, I normally had quite a short time to bring them all to life at the same time.
This happened to be a blessing. I would say to students, and their teachers: instead of playing one Beethoven sonata per semester, take two month and work with at least three different ones at the same time instead. They feed off each other, both musically and technically, and you will learn the sonatas faster this way.
The first thing to do is to asses if the pieces are too difficult technically. You’ll have to take away the extreme sonatas such as Hammarklavier and Appassionata from this thinking, though.
I would say that if more than 40% of the piece would be something that you would have to put an extra amount of practicing into…then play more scales and other pieces because 1) it’s going to take too long to learn the sonata 2) the constant drilling of passages will probably have a negative effect on your musical imagination for the piece.
Sorry to sound boring, but this is why we practice technique. To not have to think about it later.
Now, by being able to play 60% “right away” I mean that: as soon as the brain knows what notes there are and tells the fingers, that means you can play it. Naturally, it takes a while for the signal system to work up reflexes for the passages, but that should be enough. One can instantly start to work on things such as touch and articulation.
Once opening the score, start memorizing immediately. It is not fun, it’s actually very tedious, but it will force you to analyze the material, it will make you memorize it without using any muscle memory (and that possibility will not come back!) which in turn will be your real, so-called “back-up memory” when the stress in a performance might make your brain’s signals to the fingers go haywire.
I use a personal way of memorizing, trying to find as many patterns as possible. I always try to learn the exposition and recapitulation side by side, to take note of the differences and memorize them right away.
I would say this is the longest and most boring work to do, but it will pay off in the future, both for the learning process and in performance.