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ETUDES

Etudes Op.10

Etudes Op.25

Etudes de la Mthode des Mthodes

The term tude has long been used to describe pieces of technical, sometimes virtuosic, difficulty, focused on
training and refining a specific aspect of a performers technique. Masters such as Czerny and Hanon wrote
notorious etudes that are legendary exercises in finger and hand dexterity and strength. Although invaluable in this
regard, these etudes are lacking in musical development, since most of them are merely repetitions of the same
general pattern of notes. They have no inherent musicality.
Chopins etudes are special in this regard. These etudes inspired many Chopin enthusiasts to seek a piano
teacher so that they can emulate the great composer. Chopin was the first to pioneer the etude into an actual art
form. Although all of his twenty-seven etudes for piano adhere to the basic principle of an etude to train and
refine a specific aspect of a performers technique there is another element present. Each of the etudes, rather
than being a dry repetitive exercise, has its own musical story to tell. Like virtually all of Chopins compositions,
there is an emotional aspect that transcends the mere playing of notes, and takes a true virtuoso to execute well.
This newly developed musical aspect of the etude persisted as a feature of Romantic repertoire; among the other
great Romantics, Liszt was particularly famous for his technically intense yet passionate concert etudes.
Chopin named very few of his own compositions, almost always preferring to refer to them by opus and number.
His etudes were no exception. However, due to their passionate, Chopin-esque nature, many of the etudes have
nicknames given either by enthusiastic editors or zealous fans. These programmatic titles have been noted where
they are present. Again, it is important to note that Chopin himself did not come up with any of these titles, and
most likely even disapproved of them.
One should also note that while each of the etudes focus on a specific aspect of the performers technique, all are
tied together by a common thread. Even though the Etude Op. 10 No. 1 is a difficult exercise in broad arpeggiated
chords and the Etude Op. 25 No. 10 is a taxing study for octave technique, they share something in common.
Every one of Chopins twenty-seven etudes, in addition to what each specifically focuses on, is an exercise designed
to develop a legato style of playing. Chopins severest criticism of his pupils was that S/he does not know how to
connect two notes; nowhere is this philosophy more evident than in his etudes.
Chopin has truly brought about a complete overhaul of the etude art form. He has transformed it from a dry,
technical exercise into a lively, emotional story that at the same time develops the pianists technique. In this, they
are truly Revolutionary.
Etudes Op. 10, 1829-1833: [No. 1-12]
The twelve Etudes Op. 10 were all written when Chopin was between the ages of nineteen and twenty-three
many of them before he had reached legal manhood. Despite this, many of them are tricky even for professionals,
and have vexed many a brave soul. They are dedicated to Son ami Franz Liszt (His friend Franz Liszt), whom he
met while performing in the salons of Paris.
Op.10 No. 1, C major (Waterfall)

The first etude of the Op. 10 set opens with a bright, broad arpeggiated theme that usually spans about three or
four octaves in a single measure. Many nave pianists (including, at one point, the author) have been fooled into
thinking that this is one of the simpler etudes, for which the extremely simplistic left hand cannot completely be
pardoned for. After all, what could possibly be tricky about simple arpeggios, especially for those with large hands?
Chopin could tell you. Upon closer examination, this pieces arpeggios are anything but simplistic. The stretches
often cover a tenth over three notes, and this span is inaccessible to all but the largest hands. Therefore, proper
fingering and wrist control is a necessity for executing this etude with the smooth legato that Chopin doubtless
intended. Even so, it is an enormously taxing piece that intimidated even the legendary Vladimir Horowitz; at some
parts, the suggested fingering is nearly impossible at full speed. The programmatic title Waterfall most likely
comes from the right hand arpeggios that cascade up and down the piano, as well as the firm and incessant
nature of the piece.
Op.10 No. 2, A minor (Chromatic)

Structurally, this etude is very similar to the one preceding it in that nearly all of the technical difficulty is in quick,
accurate, and legato right hand action. Unlike the first etude, however, the focus here is to achieve evenness and
strength in the third, fourth, and fifth fingers of the right hand. This is accomplished by using these fingers to play
a perpetual chromatic scale up and down the keyboard for the duration of the entire piece. At the same time, the
first and second fingers of the right hand play chords along with the left hand. No false impressions here; it is
laborious enough to play a clean, smooth chromatic scale using the normal fingering! This etude is also made
harder by the intended legato playing and the fact that the entire piece is to be played very softly. The difficulties
here, then, are multifarious: the pianist has to not only play chromatics using the weakest fingers of the hand, but
also play them smoothly, softly, and evenly! Overall, this makes for one of the more difficult etudes. The source of
the programmatic title is immediately obvious upon listening or looking at the score.
Op.10 No. 3, E major (Tristesse)

The popular Etude Op. 10 No. 3 is set apart from many of the other Op. 10 and Op. 25 etudes most noticeably by
its tempo. While many of the others in these two sets are whirlwinds of notes, this one is calmer and much slower.
It is also, however, incredibly emotional and musical. The primary technical focus here is playing in three voices.
The right hand plays the melody and the left hand plays accompanying notes. However, there is a third sixteenthnote accompaniment between the melody and bass, played by both hands. In the middle of the piece, the
difficulty shifts to fast playing of chromatic fourths, which could pose a challenge to pianists who could otherwise

handle this piece with ease.


What makes this particular etude notable, however, is not its technical difficulty. It is the nostalgia, the wistfulness,
and the emotion that flow through the music. Chopin is rumored to have proclaimed about this etude that In all
my life I have never again been able to find such a beautiful melody. It is also reported that while Chopin was
playing this for a student, he suddenly began weeping and cried Oh, my homeland! This etude is one of the best
expressions of Chopins nationalism and the love he felt for his Poland.
While the piece is undoubtedly very emotional, many musicians believe that it is poorly nicknamed. Tristesse, which
translates to sadness, is a misnomer, to say the least. The etude is not simply sad; it is an expression of nostalgia
and Chopins love of his homeland. It has firmly established itself as one of Chopins most popular and best loved
compositions.
Op.10 No. 4, C# minor (Torrent)

In direct contrast to the slower and calmer etude before it, the Etude Op. 10 No. 4 opens with a sharp chord
followed immediately tumultuous sixteenth-note runs in both hands. There are several major difficulties associated
with this piece. The sixteenth-note runs make up the melody. The difficulty with this is that the piece switches
which hand does these runs every few measures. Therefore, the melody switches from the right hand to the left
hand and back, many times. There is also a certain amount of difficulty present in playing the sixteenth notes softly
but still very rapidly and fluidly. The pedaling of this etude may also pose a problem. The etudes nickname is the
Torrent. Just the right amount of pedal must be used to achieve this effect. If one uses too much, the piece
sounds like a sluggish river; on the other hand, if one uses too little, it sounds very choppy and detached. To top
things off, for its speed, this is one of the longest etudes of the 24. Fortunately, the piece is not as challenging
musically as some of the other etudes, but one might find that one has a great deal of trouble in transferring the
musical ideas from ones hands to the keyboard! The etymology of the nickname is immediately apparent upon
listening to the piece.
Op.10 No. 5, Gb major (Black keys)

One of the more popular Chopin works, this etude has the right hand playing rapid triplets while the left hand plays
the melody in chords. This would be easier to accomplish, however, if the right hand notes were not completely on
black keys! Chopin also included more dynamic indications in this etude than most others, though this can be

attributed to its relative brevity; at only four pages, the etude lasts about a minute and a half played at proper
tempo. The greatest technical difficulty of this etude is getting the right hand to flow. Without a firm yet fluid hand
motion, the right hand will either be missing some of the intended legato feeling or some of the
intended vivace feeling. (The tempo indication is written Vivace.) Due to the very fast right hand being played
entirely on black keys, it is quite easy to get notes wrong. Even though the piece is intended to be played legato,
there is a certain crispness to it that foils attempts at oversimplifying the pedaling. Too much pedal makes the right
hand sound very messy, while too little makes the left unnecessarily choppy.
There is actually one white key in the right hand. About three-quarters of the way through, the piece temporarily
slows down and the right hand plays the chord D-flat, F, and B-flat!
Op.10 No. 6, Eb minor

Like the Etude Op. 10 No. 3, this etude is not completely about speed and feats of superhuman virtuosity. It
proceeds at a rather slow pace the tempo indication is Andante. The melody is very plaintive and mournful and is
completely in the right hand. The left hand, however, has some practice in playing two different voices. The first
voice consists of one or two bass notes or chords per measure. This is not very difficult. The second voice,
however, consists of a thoughtful sixteenth-note progression that continues throughout the entire piece. Rather
than being an accompaniment, it is almost like a second melody. The progression is only slightly technically
challenging to play; the only major technical difficulties are the unusual positions that the left hand must
occasionally assume. The numerous accidentals make this portion of the piece extremely difficult and timeconsuming to learn, however! Chopins purpose with this etude was to develop a good sense of playing two melodic
lines at once with grace and musicality in both. For this etude to sound musically pleasing, one must also clearly
express the beautiful flowing main melody of the right hand. It is doing this above the sixteenth-note progression
that is the challenge.
Op.10 No. 7, C major (Toccata)

This rather eccentric-sounding etude has some interesting right-hand difficulties; the left hand is rather simple,
playing single eighth notes throughout. However, the right hand is in perpetual motion, characterized by rapidly
changing intervals ranging from a minor third to an augmented sixth. No two intervals of comparable size are ever
next to each other, which make execution at proper tempo a special challenge; a third is almost always followed by
a fifth or a sixth. This is made difficult by the fact that the large interval is not on the same melodic line as the

smaller one. The two notes of the smaller interval are often completely below the two notes of the larger one.
Another difficulty lies in the treatment of the repeated notes in the intervals; occasionally, the top note of the third
is the bottom note of the larger interval immediately proceeding (or preceding) it. Interpretation is made
particularly tricky by the technical difficulty, and the programmatic title comes from the rapid progression of
intervals that can cause the piece to sound rather like a very detached toccata if not played with legato. Due to the
somewhat odd melody and the difficulty of getting a clean sound, it is unfortunately not one of the most popular
etudes.
Op.10 No. 8, F major (Sunshine)

The Etude Op. 10 No. 8 starts off with a brief right hand trill which gives way to rapid sixteenth-note runs soaring
up and down the keyboard during the entire piece in the right hand, with an ebullient melody in the left. The
obvious technical difficulty here is in the right hand, as the rapid sixteenth notes present quite a challenge. Even
though the melody is in the left hand, the right hand is designed to complement the melody in some parts, so
careful dynamic control is necessary for the piece to sound good. There is also the ever-present difficulty of playing
rapid sixteenths evenly, occasionally softly, and, of course, with legato. This etude is also somewhat of a test in
endurance, as Chopins right hand sixteenths are relentless and incessant until the very end. (It should be noted,
however, that the endurance required to play this is nowhere near the endurance required to play the Etude Op. 25
No. 11!) As with some of the other etudes in the Op. 10 set, the left hand is extremely simple compared to the
right.
The bright, uplifting melody makes this etude much more accessible than some of the others; one might picture a
singing bird, gliding freely in the open air, swooping gracefully a few times before gently landing on a tree. The
piece is not difficult to interpret, but the pianist will almost certainly run into trouble getting the piano especially
the right hand to sound the way he or she wants it to.
Op.10 No. 9, F minor

This etude is one of the most lyrical of all the etudes, with a beautiful, haunting melody reminiscent of one of
Chopins darker nocturnes. The right hand plays the melody in single notes and small chords, and then in much
stronger octaves, neither of which are tremendously difficult technically. Passage work for the left hand is more

difficult. It is similar to the left hand found in the Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1, though faster and more technically difficult.
The rapid arpeggiated stretches often reach a tenth or more. As the piece progresses, there are numerous jumps,
though these are not very difficult in comparison to those of some of the other etudes! The difficulty is that the left
hand must be handled extremely delicately and precisely in order to give the piece its haunting undertones. The
last few measures of the piece also require special attention, as they are very gentle and delicate in both hands,
and it is tricky to obtain the exact effect one wants.
Even though this is not among the hardest etudes, one must not forget that each of Chopins etudes has an
interpretational difficulty. This difficulty is prominent in this one. From the very beginning, a very dark melody rings
out. The melody is more reminiscent of silent despair and struggle than of any open conflict. Our hero does not
burden others with his fight; he chooses to weep to himself silently. As the piece progresses to the climax, his
struggle grows harsher and more violent. It threatens to consume him entirely. Eventually, the piece fades away to
nothing, and our hero ultimately falls.
Op.10 No. 10, Ab major

This piece is built on a very interesting structure. The left hand is not too difficult, playing eighth notes with two
longer, held notes every measure. This is all there is to the left hand. The right hand, however, reveals one aspect
of Chopins musical genius. Its structure is nearly unvarying; a single eighth note followed by an interval that is
almost always above this note. The structure is built on arpeggios, which make the right hand somewhat simpler
it is relatively easy for the fingers to find their place. Despite this simple structure, Chopin has managed to weave
in two not inconsiderable difficulties. Firstly, accents. Although the structure of the piece is very similar throughout,
the rhythm and phrasing vary greatly. The piece can be divided into three sections based on this: even though
each section has the same structure note-wise, they are phrased very differently; a different part of the rhythm is
accented in each section. The second difficulty is the wide range of tones that Chopin intended the pianist to use.
Notwithstanding that the right hand is structurally similar throughout, there is a wide variety of sounds and tones
that Chopin intended for it to express. The pianist must use the same structure to create an extremely wide range
of tones and sounds.
Therefore, despite its seemingly simple construction, the piece is very musically difficult. However, this difficulty is
more than compensated for by the lively, charming melody that results from a good performance!
Op.10 No. 11, Eb major (Arpeggio)

The first thing one notices about this etude is that nearly every note is in a rolled chord! The main focus, then, is
immediately apparent. In both the right and left hands, rolled chords of three or four notes abound. As often as
not, these rolled chords are enormous, up to a twelfth in both hands! Since these (sometimes huge) chords are in
extremely rapid progression, the etude develops wrist control and finger dexterity. It is literally impossible to roll
such large chords with such speed without proper wrist technique. Another difficulty is that even though the
melody is usually the top note of each chord, it is sometimes in the middle. Chopin does not mark when this is the
case; the pianist is left to determine this for him/herself. This presents a twofold difficulty: One must understand
the piece well to know when this is the case, and without considerable skill in rolling chords, expressing a melody
as a middle note is all but impossible. Finally, it is of interest and importance to note that the tempo indication is
Allegretto, not Agitato. A playing of the piece should not be the product of an extremely taxing effort and lots of
pain. The melody is gentle, not brutal; one should picture a serenely flowing river, not ocean waves crashing onto
rocks.
Op.10 No. 12, C minor (Revolutionary)

The Revolutionary Etude holds its place as one of the most eminent and well recognized of all of Chopins
compositions. Beginning with the first dramatic chord all the way to the impassioned conclusion, this piece is an
outpouring of emotion. It is immediately apparent that most of the technical difficulty is in the left hand, with rapid
runs and frequent turns. However, this difficulty is perhaps easier to resolve than those in many other etudes, as
finding a comfortable fingering wins half the battle with this piece. (If, by any chance, one wishes to seek a greater
challenge with this etude, perhaps one could do what Alexander Dreyschock did learn to play the left hand in
octaves, without losing any tempo!) Other difficulties include polyrhythms and cross-rhythms that are used more
and more to convey a sense of conflict and struggle towards the end of the piece. After the problem of knowing the
notes is resolved, one must inevitably move on to the problem of interpretation, which is always important but
especially so in such a famous piece. At a young age, Chopins first music teacher taught him to respect the works
of the old artists namely, Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, among others. Chopin had a particular distaste for most of
Beethovens work, yet it is impossible to imagine that he was not familiar with it. Many of Beethovens stormiest
compositions, such as his Pathtique sonata, are written in C minor. Surely Chopin knew that C minor was the
stormiest key of them all in Beethoven, and perhaps unconsciously he expressed this in the Revolutionary
Etude. The piece reportedly emerged after Chopin heard of Polands failure in its rebellion against Russia. Chopin
was unable to participate due to his poor health, and when he heard that the rebellion failed, he cried, All this has
caused me so much pain. Who could have foreseen it! During this time period, he produced some of his darkest

and most passionate works, such as the Scherzo No. 2 and this etude.
In the beginning, after a strong chord rings out, the left hand runs relentlessly and the melody is further developed
in the right hand. Given the context of the piece, one could liken the opening chord to a gunshot. The ensuing
tumultuous left hand and impassioned right hand could then be interpreted as a hero fighting a battle in a war.
After a hard struggle, the piece ends quite as chaotically and dramatically as it began, yet in C major, leaving us
with a sense of ambiguity we are not sure if our hero prevailed or perished, but we do know that he fought
bravely with both body and spirit.
Etudes Op. 25, 1835-1837: [No. 13-24]
The second set of Etudes, Op. 25, was published in 1837, only four years after the original set. For reasons that are
unclear, they are dedicated to Franz Liszts mistress, Marie dAgoult.
Op. 25 No. 1, Ab major (Aeolian harp)

The first etude of the Op. 25 set begins with a soft, A flat major theme. The right hand plays the main melody a
beautiful, simple, one note theme. However, both the right and left hands play grace notes under the theme, as
seen above. As the notes are not incredibly difficult, the aim here is to play every note with the utmost legato. At
the beginning, this is simple; the grace notes simply make up an inverted A flat major chord. Later in the piece, the
distances between notes get wider and jumps become numerous, making it difficult to both carry out the melody
and play the arpeggiated grace notes smoothly. After undergoing numerous variations and modulations, the
original melody returns and the piece seems to conclude with a series of upward arpeggios. However, surprising the
listener, there is a final trill and chord in the bass that slowly fades out and finishes the piece. The programmatic
title is based on two aspects of this piece. Firstly, the melody notes are often jumps from where the grace notes
are, and even if they are not, they are often emphasized. This gives the melody a plucking nature, rather
reminiscent of a harp. The grace notes also evoke the mental image of a harp being strummed. These two features
are likely the source of the nickname Aeolian Harp.
Op. 25 No. 2, F minor (Bees)

Even though marked Presto, this is one of the softer, more lyrical Chopin etudes, with the right hand playing quiet
eighth note triplets throughout. Like the Revolutionary Etude, the notes are not difficult as long as the proper
fingering is learned; the primary difficulty here is the polyrhythm. The right hand, being in triplets, will naturally
have its accents on every third or every sixth note. The left hand, however, does not play one note for every three

the right hand plays. Rather, it is in quarter note triplets it plays one note for every two notes in the right hand.
This is similar to the situation found before the G minor arpeggios and introduction of the second theme in Chopins
Ballade No. 1. Thus, a polyrhythm is established, and it is precisely this polyrhythm that makes this piece so
difficult. Perfecting the right hand by itself is easy, and perfecting the left hand by itself is even easier. The problem
lies in putting the two hands together!
When Alexander Dreyschock and Franz Liszt first met, Dreyschock tried to show off by playing the left hand of the
Revolutionary Etude in octaves at normal speed. It is said that Liszt responded by sitting at the piano, hesitantly
plucking out the first few bars of the right hand of this etude in octaves once or twice, then launching into a
complete performance of it with the right hand in octaves at proper speed! Needless to say, Dreyschock was left
rather shocked and speechless!
Op. 25 No. 3, F major (Cartwheel/Horseman)

This etude is more a study in rhythm than anything else. Interestingly, different editions of the score can be quite
different for this etude. The author has in front of him two versions. One directs the pianist to play a sixteenth, an
eighth, and another eighth in rapid succession, with a sixteenth-note rest, while the other directs the pianist to play
a sixteenth, a dotted eighth, and then a normal eighth. These two versions end up producing completely different
rhythmic nuances when played, and it is to the second one that I shall refer. So, the rhythm is as follows: there is a
short note, followed by a long note, followed by a crisp staccato note. This has some interesting implications. The
top note of each group of three is the main note, the one that carries the melody. However, it is not the longest
note! There is also a second voice in the right hand, a note that is to be held while the first two are being played.
(If this sounds very confusing, look at the score excerpt provided.) Towards the end, that note makes up the
melody. Therefore, one must fully master the rhythm of this piece in order to clearly bring out the melodic line.
There are also some challenges to this etude in addition to the rhythmic difficulty. The last note of every three-note
group is to be played staccato, with a slight bounce. This introduces two difficulties. Firstly, the staccato manner of
playing means that the piece is not continuous; it is impossible to execute one continuous melodic line as can be
done in nearly all the other Chopin etudes. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to bring out the melody in this
etude. Secondly, the piece itself forces the pianist to rotate his right hand first to the left, then to the right, then
land on the staccato note. This makes expressing the melody even more difficult; the hand has to turn twice for
each melody note! The galloping effect created by this is the source of the nickname.
Op. 25 No. 4, A minor

It is immediately apparent upon looking at the score or listening that the main difficulty is in the left hand jumps,
which can span up to two octaves at times! Jumps as large as these abound towards the end of the piece. This
etude is nearly the only exception to Chopins legato style of writing these etudes; essentially every note is directed
to be played staccato. This makes the left hand seem a bit like the right hand of Liszts La Campanella! The right

hand is rather difficult, though for a different reason. The right hand carries the melody, often in chords of three or
four notes, where only the top note is to be heard as the melody and held. The other notes at the bottom are often
to be played staccato while the top note is held for another eighth notes duration. Occasionally, the top note is
held even longer than this while the other fingers of the right hand are still playing staccato chords! Finally, when
these two difficulties are both dealt with and one is ready to play with both hands together, one sees that the
melody is actually syncopated, with the off-beat right hand set to the on-beat left! The constant staccato feel
makes this piece different from the rest of Chopins etudes, and naturally makes it more musically difficult as well.
Op. 25 No. 5, E minor (Wrong notes)

Upon hearing the piece, it is easy to tell why it is nicknamed the Wrong Note etude. The main theme abounds
with minor second intervals, leading to a feeling that the notes are wrong. The melody is carried on like this for a
while, with difficulties being large rolls and ornaments in the left hand that can get quite intricate at times. A less
substantial challenge is the dotted rhythm, somewhat similar to the one found in the Etude Op. 25 No. 3. The
original theme repeats once before progressing to a middle section written in E major. The new theme is made of
left hand chords and octaves while the right hand swoops up and down the keyboard in an accompaniment that can
span several octaves at a time. This portion is structurally very similar to the middle section of Liszts
Transcendental Etude No. 4. This new theme also repeats once before returning to the original theme. The ending
is completely different either theme: it is much stronger and very heroic, with a strong dominant seventh arpeggio
upwards and ending powerfully on a G sharp. Musically, it is tricky due to the presence of wrong notes.
Op. 25 No. 6, G# minor (Thirds)

No set of etudes is complete without a good exercise in thirds! This etude is an exercise in executing thirds of all
sorts in the right hand. While initially just a trill of two chromatic thirds, the right hand quickly progresses to turns,
rapid scales up and down, and intervals of a sixth or more all in thirds! Another major difficulty is the softness
with which the right hand is to be played. An interesting difficulty is the intervals in thirds. What happens there is
that the right hand plays a third using either 3-5 or 4-5 fingering, and then plays another immediately after, about
a sixth down from the first and usually using the fingering 1-2. There are a few times when this happens very
rapidly going down the piano in a scale; this is extremely difficult even for experienced pianists! The left hand does
not pose much of a challenge to an experienced pianist, so the main difficulty is dexterously executing the right
hand thirds so that they are soft yet perfectly legato. Smoothness is key here; the thirds cannot sound choppy or
else the etude will not sound very good!
At this point, the etude may start to sound like a dry, technical exercise. However, Chopin is an expert at turning a
dry, technical exercise into something interesting this is why his etudes are so popular! The right hand actually
serves to complement the left hand, and together, they create a beautiful, flowing melodic line. While this has the
benefit of making the exercise interesting (and actually bearable), it also adds elements of musical and
interpretational difficulties to the study and ultimately makes it more difficult!

Op. 25 No. 7, C# minor (Cello)

At first glance, this etude seems quite simple. There is a beautiful and slightly mournful melody, and the
accompaniment consists mainly of slow chords in both hands. There are some sections with left hand sixteenth
notes, but once the notes are sufficiently learned and the hand motions become natural, they are not difficult at all.
Two or three left hand runs constitute the only fast parts in the entire piece, and learning the fingering makes them
substantially easier; they are nothing compared to the runs found in some of Chopins other works. So what, then,
makes this piece an etude?
One must not forget that Chopin is nicknamed the poet of the piano. This etude is actually much more difficult to
play well than people claim. (The author knows, since he tried to learn it!) The first difficulty one will come across
while trying to put the hands together is that while the melody at first seems to be in the left hand only, it is
actually in both hands. In fact, at some points, the melody is rather ambiguous and one cannot be certain whether
the right or left hand has the melody note. (Towards the middle and end, this becomes less of a problem.)
Therefore, one must have a very good idea of what is happening musically in order to play the piece well. This
etude is also an exercise in how singing and delicate one can make the tone. In this respect, it is like the other
slow etudes, Etude Op. 10 No. 3 and Etude Op. 10 No. 9. This etude requires an intimate familiarity with the music,
which is difficult since it is the longest of the twenty-four. A certain mastery in phrasing is also necessary for a
satisfactory performance. Thus, one might call it not an etude for technique, but an etude for musicality and
interpretation! It is certainly among Chopins most emotional compositions.
The programmatic title likely derives its source from the left hand introduction to the piece, as well as the
importance of the left hand in expressing the theme.
Op. 25 No. 8, Db major (Sixths)

Think back to the Etude Op. 25 No. 6 and its crazy thirds. Then, take a look at this piece and see that it is
composed entirely of sixths in both hands this time! The study is parallel sixths in both hands all the way
through, with no reprieve until the very end. Depending on ones playing style, this can be either easier or harder
than playing thirds all the way through. On the one hand, sixths are more predictable than thirds, and our hands
naturally enjoy playing the fingerings 1-4 and 2-5. However, on the other hand (no pun intended), sixths are much
more difficult to play smoothly due to the severely limited range of fingering, and occasionally, Chopin introduces
some odd fingerings that need to be carefully studied. The main difficulty of this piece is playing scales, arpeggios,
and those sorts of things in sixths while keeping the music smooth. Without proper use of the pedal, this is
essentially impossible.
Chopin also managed to work an interesting melody into this piece that is more jocular than beautiful. Even so, the
piece is much less musically difficult than many of the other etudes. Like almost all Chopin, dynamics and proper
phrasing are still of the utmost importance.

Op. 25 No. 9, Gb major (Butterfly)

A famous pianist once said of the Chopin etudes that most of the programmatic titles are overblown and
unnecessary, but this one is inadequate. It is not difficult to see (or, rather, hear) why. No metaphor better
describes the light, bouncy nature of the right hand than a butterfly. The butterfly takes flight gracefully, is
buffeted by wind, but eventually makes a safe landing.
This etude is the shortest of the twenty-four, and lasts under a minute played at proper tempo. However, the
challenge lies in getting to the proper tempo! The left hand features nearly incessant jumps, reminiscent of the
Etude Op. 25 No. 4 in structure (but definitely not sound). The right hand has a few difficulties. The melody is
created by playing a detached octave, then two non-detached octaves. This makes a four-note group, the structure
of which is used during the whole piece to convey the melody. This structure also has the pianist playing rapid
octaves, which can pose a challenge to the less technically experienced. Another difficulty is in the constant
switching of solid octaves to detached octaves. It is much more straightforward to simply play one or the other for
the whole piece! Finally, the four-note groups are intended to have an echoing effect and sound bouncy. The
bounce of this etude is perhaps best emphasized by the fact that it does not sound bad when you swing the
melody instead of playing it straight! However, Chopin did not write it swing, so one has to be careful to both
convey a sense of the bounce and not let it go overboard. One can simply picture the way a butterfly flies, with
its wings flapping up and down perhaps a little ungraceful, but beautiful nonetheless.
Op. 25 No. 10, B minor (Octaves)

For the sake of discussion, I shall divide this piece into three sections, since this is one of the longest etudes. The
A1 section starts at the beginning and ends with the four strong chords and transition into a slower melody. This
slower melody progresses for a while and makes up the B section. Finally, the original melody in A1 repeats and
rises to a dramatic conclusion, making the A2 section.
The A1 and A2 sections feature rapid chromatic octaves, ascending and descending, in both hands. Anyone who
has tried to play rapid chromatic octaves for any appreciable length of time knows that it is tiring, to say the least!
However, many pianists assume that this is the only difficulty of these two sections. Not quite.
After the first few bars of both the A1 and A2 sections, one begins to have middle notes that are usually to be
held for one or two measures. These middle notes are what make the piece so difficult. The octaves are to be
played around the middle note while it is being held. Indeed, this makes the piece so difficult that Horowitz once
said that the piece is nearly impossible to play as written! Many pianists either assume that those middle notes last
for a very short time or that they should be sustained using the pedal. Both should be considered as cheating, as
both make the exercise much simpler than it is, and, in fact, miss the point of the exercise completely.
Even though the B section is a reprieve of sorts from the furious octaves of the A1 section, it contains two

difficulties that make it less innocuous. Firstly, although the octaves are slower, they can be much farther apart.
The octaves in the A1 and A2 sections are nearly all chromatic, with a few exceptions after large chords. Here,
although they can be chromatic, there are also intervals of major seconds, thirds, etc. Secondly, this section is
quite repetitive. It is easy to forget what has already been played and what has not. During practice, this is not a
problem; however, when playing in a concert, it is inadvisable at the very least to play a repeat of a something
that is not meant to be repeated! These two difficulties, though minor, are certainly not inconsiderable.
Op. 25 No. 11, A minor (Winter wind)

Upon hearing the first four measures of this piece, one might be inclined to believe that the piece stays this simple.
Not so! Originally, the etude did not have those four bars; Chopin was persuaded to add that introduction later by a
friend. Once those four bars are over, the piece becomes infinitely more difficult. Fingering work for the right hand
can take weeks of solid work, as the fifth bars right hand is representative of the right hand of the entire 10+ page
etude. The right hand is also made difficult by the fact that there are two melodies the top melody is the one
that creates a chromatic scale in the fifth bar (the first, third, fifth, etc. notes), and the bottom melody acts as an
accompaniment. This would not be difficult except that every other note switches melodies! The left hand is not
technically challenging, but quite exhausting to play due to the constant enormous jumps that can reach three or
four octaves.
Even though the right and left hands could be etudes in themselves, this etude combines both hands into an epic
study of endurance and the ability of the right hand to emphasize the upper melody. Playing either hand for thirty
seconds at proper tempo is not very difficult, provided one knows the notes. Playing the either hand of the entire
piece at proper tempo, however, is another story! However, in spite of this, one must not forget that there is a
musical element to this piece as well. It takes a true virtuoso to brave the trials of learning the piece and the
technical difficulty involved in playing it whilst playing with the impassioned emotion Chopin intended.
Op. 25 No. 12, C minor (Ocean)

The last of the twenty-four etudes bring the set full circle. In the Etude No. 1 in C major, the right hand consists of
extremely fast ascending and descending arpeggios with frequent modulation. In this etude, both hands consist of
extremely fast ascending and descending arpeggios with frequent modulation! However, there are numerous
differences between the two, as we shall soon see.
One does not actually play an arpeggio in the regular sense. Nearly the entire piece is built on a rather fixed but
interesting structure. It is easier to look at the excerpt of music above than to explain it in words! In this respect,
the etude is a little like the Etude Op. 10 No. 10; it explores the use of a single structure to produce a variety of

different sounds. This is one of Chopins stormiest and most impassioned compositions, and the rigid structure
should not prevent one from playing it so.

Technical difficulties aside, this etude contains a score of interpretational difficulties. One part in particular,
reproduced above, is of particular controversy in the musical community. Notice that Chopin decided to accent the
notes circled in red. However, most pianists play the piece accenting the notes circled in blue, since this flows more
naturally with what the melody has already been and will be. To this day, musicians disagree on the correct way
to play this and similar passages, and what Chopin really intended them to sound like. Carrying out the melody
the first note in most measures is not difficult once one knows the notes, but the interesting interpretational
difficulty is how does the pianist treat the rest of the measure? Some prefer to have it fade out slightly ascending
and grow stronger descending; others prefer to have a mini-climax at the very top note. Either interpretation
demonstrates why the programmatic title of this piece is The Ocean. With both tremendous technical demands
and difficulties in interpretation, this is one of the more difficult etudes.
Etudes de la Mthode des Mthodes, 1839-1840 (Trois nouvelles tudes): [No. 25-27]
No. 1, F minor

No. 2, A flat major

No. 3, D flat major

Op.10 No.1- This etude is great for keeping a legato motion while doing arpeggios up and down the piano. It
is extremely difficult, but with care and patience one can easily get through the piece at half speedremember- youre not playing them in order to impress people with your speed, youre playing them to
develop your technique.
Op.10 No.2- This is a great yet fiendishly difficult etude. The premise here is basically a chromatic scale in
fingers three, four and five. Why must one play a simple chromatic scale with these fingers? The answer is
that the fingers you would normally use to play a chromatic scale are being used to play chords. The result is
that you will strengthen you fourth and fifth fingers. The easiest way to do this is as soon as you have played
the chord, immediately relax your first two fingers; this will seem almost impossible to do in the beginning,
but you must stick with it. I suggest playing the chromatic scale only first, slowly, and making sure it is
meticulously legato. You can then add in the chords slowly. It wont work at first, but youll get there. This is
one on my favourite etudes and, coupled with octave exercises from Hanon, and playing scales in octaves,
you will soon find that you have a steadfast hand ready to cope with anything.
Op.10 No.4- Number four is a great exercise for both hands. As with all these etudes, things like phrasing
and dynamics are obviously of paramount importance. One must strive here to observe the slurs in each
hand respectively while the exercise is being practiced in the other. This is also great for changing fingers for
the same note; this happens frequently here, in order to maintain legato semi-quavers or 16 th notes.
Op.10 No.5- Often known as The Black Keys Etude, merely because it is in G Flat Major and rarely uses any
white keys, save for the occasional C flat. Despite its difficulty, there are many things to be learned from this
etude- firstly, it expands on the chordal idea first presented in the first etude, it also forces one to maintain
independence of the hands. In the third last bar it also works on octaves, you should strive to bring out the
top note. A great etude, but not one for the light-hearted!
Op.10 No.11- Number 11 focuses exclusively on spread chords. It may look quite easy, but dont be fooled!
One must bring out the top note at the same time as maintaining an extremely even spread on the chord.
Practise very slowly to begin with, and make sure each note gets the exact same amount of time. This is a
difficult etude, but time spent on this is very well spent indeed, especially for players who arent as confident
with chords.
Op.10 No.12- Arguably the most famous of Chopins etudes, the Revolutionary is fiendish. It is an extreme
and high-octane workout for the left hand. Pay careful attention to the phrase markings and accents in the
left hand. One must play it legato, there must be no break in the line else the exercise is redundant. You
must pay careful attention to fingering otherwise it will simply fall apart. There is absolutely no room for
messing up fingering here. Bring out the top line of the melody in the right hand; this will build upon what
you have worked on with octaves previously. The left hand is a bed for the melody but is the most important
part of the etude. Have fun with this. It is not impossible, but to play it properly takes a lot of work.
Opus 25 is also great, and expands upon the techniques already learned from Opus 10. I suggest playing
through number 12, the Ocean etude, it is great for keeping legato 16 th notes in both hands.

Although Ive stated that as a student, these are more exercises than anything else; if youre feeling
confident then perhaps you could perform a selection to a small audience. But be warned! These are very
dangerous and can be disastrous if one does not know them inside out. Youre no Horowitz yet, so please be
careful if youre ever performing these.
I hope this is of use to you. Please remember that everyone learns differently and so your experience may be
different. But I promise you, if you go through these etudes, couple them with Hanon exercises, really listen
to what you are playing, pay close attention to phrasing and have a fervent enthusiasm for bettering your
technique, you will find these etudes useful throughout you entire life. They enable you to play a wide range
of pieces and are the building blocks for resolute technique and good playing.