Levels

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby 69-1080625173 » Thu Apr 22, 2004 11:51 pm

How difficult are these on a scale of 1 to 10. Btw, i'm not saying that they are all difficult.

moonlight sonata 3rd mvmt
für elise
tocatta and fugue in d minor
polonaise

It would be good if we could give more songs a rating as well so that people can come here to decide what to learn.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Apr 23, 2004 10:51 am

Contrary to what several posts have said, there have indeed been a number of rating systems in the United States. I think the National Guild of Piano Teachers has a grade of difficulty for everything. But there's no universal acceptance of any one system that I know of.

So on an arbitrary 1 to 10 scale--if 1 is, say, the first piece in an elementary method by Jane Bastien, and 10 is Liszt's "Mazeppa" Etude or the Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto, you might say this:

"Moonlight", 3rd mvt.: about 6 or 7.
"Fuer Elise": 4, or maybe higher if you play the 32nd notes in the same tempo as the rest of it.
"Toccata and Fugue in D Minor": This is an organ piece, so it depends on whose piano arrangement you use. If it's Busoni's, about 7.
Polonaise: Which one and by whom?

And my ratings are just as arbitrary as any other. Incidentally (and I hope this doesn't sound too much like a professor), Beethoven never gave that wonderful and often tragic sonata the awful name "Moonlight". That was dreamed up by a dumb music critic who thought the first movement reminded him of moonlight on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland (which Ludwig never saw in his life), and it doesn't fit the music at all. It's real title--by Beethoven--is "Sonata quasi una Fantasia": "Sonata like a Fantasy"--and it's applied to the other Opus 27 sonata as well.

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Postby 81-1074658942 » Sat Apr 24, 2004 12:32 am

Yes I've heard that story about the naming of the sonata. YAY for playing the third movement EternalDragon!! :D *applause!!* It's by FAR my favorite. Way too many people play the first movement and most people just murder it anyway. The second movment is really lovely too.
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Postby Chris X » Sun Apr 25, 2004 1:06 am

Quidam, a couple of suggestions.

When, I worked on that nocturne, op. 48, no.1 my teacher broke it down in to sections. She said that there was a prayer section, and a military section.

I personally thought that the piece was not hard until I got to the Doppio Movimento section. After spending time working with that piece, there is no easy section. My teacher spent a lot of time with me on the first page. While it was technically not hard for me to play, musically I was not pulling it off.

If I were you, I would spend time away from the piano studying that piece. You may want to go to the library, the internet, or a bookstore (i.e. Barnes and Noble, Borders). Think of what Chopin thought when he wrote this piece. Think of what it represents. My teacher mentioned that this piece can act as a life story. Also think of how this piece relates to your life in general.

I am giving this advice, because this is a hard piece(both technically and emotional) that I have been struggling with for the past few years.

Quidam, Nocturne, op. 48 no.1 is not the type of piece that you will perform in a studio recital and get a grade and move on. It is a piece that will become a part of you, and you will always remember the beauty of it as time goes by.
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Sun Apr 25, 2004 5:46 pm

Yes, Chris, after working on this piece I think you're right. I'm going to have it with me for a looooooong time.

I learned it in sections also. REALLY helpful. Funny how pieces come together differently for different people, because the doppio movimento section is my strongest. My weakest is probably the part with the fast chromatic octaves. I've got those two difficult measures at the end of that section down now. It's the rest of the section that I'll have to keep plugging away at. I find it difficult to hit the chords accurately and on time.

I have been studying and thinking about this piece a LOT, and really really looking at the dynamics and tempo and pedal markings. The best way to develop a good interpretation for a piece is to find out exactly what the composer wrote, and then do it. Amazingly enough, composers really seem to know what they're doing with details! :)

There are a few other things that seem to help when trying to figure out some sort of cohesive [and accurate] interpretation. I once heard someone say "If you're going to really make it, music has to be your primary form of communication." Sometimes it helps to just block out words, and think in music.




Edited By Quidam on 1082937100
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Postby 69-1080625173 » Mon Apr 26, 2004 1:05 am

I can't actually play the 3rd mvmt yet, but I will hopefully be able to by the end of the year. I can do the first page at a medium tempo and i'll have a look at the rest some time soon. Oh yeah, and the polonaise one I mentioned was Chopin's one that was in Shine.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Apr 26, 2004 10:28 am

E. D.

I didn't see "Shine", but it had to be the A-flat, Opus 53. This work is probably an 8 or more on your scale, and whatever you do don't listen to the Horowitz recording of the middle section octaves or you'll break your arm trying to match it.

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Postby 109-1082165152 » Tue Apr 27, 2004 4:20 am

I like this topic. Suggestions on the following please? College level/Advance.

1. Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata (all mvts)
2. Chopin's Revolutionary Etude

These are the ones I'm attempting to learn by myself. Any suggestion on recording I should listen to? Or is there a really good complete recording of all Beethoven's Sonata's?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Apr 27, 2004 1:52 pm

E. D.:

Technically (mechanically, that is) I would rate the Beethoven about 6 or 7, the Etude about 7 or 8. But I can tell you why a lot of teachers and performers don't like ratings. It's because one single number doesn't mean anything. A piece could be easy fingerwise but very difficult musically (1st mvt. of Moonlight is like this--few people project the tragedy in it). Or it could be mostly easy but have a single stumbling block somewhere (Debussy E major Arabesque: the ascending triplet chord sequence that ends the first section). The first page of the Pathetique sonata is hard rhythmically--you have to get past counting subdivisions and begin to feel the long, slow whole beats, like the tolling of a great bell, in order to give it the true 'Grave' character Beethoven aks for; and the RESTS in this movement are among the most forceful notes! (Yes, notes--a rest is a silent note, not just a hole in the music.) Another problem with the rhythm is the meter--both first and last movements are in 2/2 time--two beats, not four, in the bar--but most students feel them in 4/4.

The "Revolutionary" Etude, of course, needs a great left hand with plenty of flexibility and good stamina--but also a real sense of drama.

We could go on and on, I guess, but you can see the point.
I personally feel that grading pieces for difficulty may in some cases betray a habit of tending to learn stuff by thinking only of mechanics for weeks and months, and finally thinking you can tack on all the musical expression at the last minute. The paradox is that doing it the other way around--first getting a musical idea of the piece and establishing a sound in your head--is a far more efficient way of solving the technical problems!

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Postby 66-1080699566 » Sat May 01, 2004 12:50 pm

My piano teacher has a book, which i don't remember the title of, that says levels of different songs. Claire de Lune is level 10 but isn't that hard to play. What makes it level 10?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat May 01, 2004 1:01 pm

B.Q., the piece is a level 10 because whoever made up that particular scale of difficulty decided it was a 10. These scales are sometimes very arbitrary and can mean next to nothing, and nobody ever knows who made the decisions. Please read my last post about this under the topib "How Difficult Are These?"

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat May 01, 2004 1:10 pm

!!!UPDATE!!!

I just merged the topic "How Difficult...?" into "Levels"--so the post I referred to is on this same page, just above.

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Postby Mins Music » Sat May 01, 2004 6:22 pm

Students from Uk, Canada and Australia (and other parts of the world who use their exam systems) are very familiar with gradings. They are meant as a ball park idea of difficulty, and the boards who decide what goes where consider all sorts of things.

Below, I have given a list of what is expected from level one: preliminary through to grade four, from the AMEB:

* Accurate and fluent performance of pieces
* An underlying sense of rhythmic stability and vitality
* Understanding the details of rhythmic complexities
* Ability to articulate legato
* Consistant understanding of phrasing
* Development of increasing awareness of the dynamic range of the piano
* Expressive realisation of dynamics
* Control of variations in the tonal balance between the hands
* Understanding of the style and character appropriate to each work and the projection of these in the performances
* Understanding of the articulation of ornaments appropriate to each style

For Level 2 (5 -8 grades) , these requirements are added:
* Demonstration of a wide dynamic range
* An increasing refinement and subtlety of style, textrue and tone quality and colour
* Expressive realisation of dynamics
*Control of variations in tempo, tone and touch
* Control of variations in balance between the hands and clarity of part playing
* A reliable legato pedalling technique
* Understanding of the period, performance practise, style and character and the projection of these in each work
* An increasing awareness of he effective use of the sustaining pedal to create specific colour and textures
* Use of the una corda pedal

The works they have graded supply the opportunity to do all of the above to a certain degree. As you can see, many things are taken into consideration when grading a piece, and is usually decided by a board (their names and qualifications are given in the syllabus).

I like graded systems, the same as I like to know if a curry is mild, medium or hot. Everything is relative and a person who likes to have their nose bleed while eating curry could be very disappointed with a restaurant claiming their curry is hot - but it IS hotter than their mild version.

Grades give you a general idea, and like all guides are there to help you, not decide for you. And because grading is a product of human beings, it will be imperfect. I like them as a general reference point.
"I forget what I was taught, I only remember what I've learnt." - Patrick White, Australian novelist.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon May 03, 2004 7:26 am

It sounds like the grading system in Australia makes a lot of sense because it's apparently a universally accepted standard that everybody agrees on, and the educators are all in the same ballpark and speaking the same language (why can't we be like that?). So I didn't mean to imply that, given that sensible situation, it wouldn't be very helpful and workable as long as long as it's understood that the levels have to be rather loosely defined.

The problem here is that--as with so much else in the U.S.--the whole thing is kind of a free-for-all, with no commonly accepted system that can be really helpful. One system's 6 is another's 10, and trying to grade the students themselves is even harder than grading the compositions.

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Postby Chris X » Thu May 06, 2004 8:42 pm

^ Dr. Bill, I agree on your earlier comment regarding levels. I have had students that ask me what level is this piece that they are working on. I can never be too specific. It appears to me that many of the pieces that I see in level books are classified based upon an opinion.
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