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I've been learning Chopin's Nocturne in E Minor, and I'm having too much trouble getting through some of the runs on page two.

Specifically, I'm an adult hobbyist, and I don't practice daily. My problem is that I don't know what volume, rate, and nature of practice will be necessary for me to be able to play this, or whether it's attainable. 20 minutes of scales a day? Sure, I can do that, if I know that within, say, 2 months, I'll be measurably better at playing these passages. I also don't know if these passages just really are too hard for me without genuinely improving my ability through many hundreds of hours of practice, and if the best strategy is to replace them with something easier.

One advantage to being a child with a disciplinarian parent is you will practice and practice and practice when you have no idea how you will possibly get better. I don't have this peculiar fearless focus as an adult hobbyist, who must, you know, enjoy it, to keep doing it. Plus, the rest of my life experiences tell me that patience is one thing, but patience must be accompanied by reasonable assurance of progress and expectation of eventual success, and that is what I am missing.

The passages are this arpeggio (actually this is more within my ability):

enter image description here

and these two runs:

enter image description here

Probably both general "theory of practice" answers and specific technical knowledge would help.

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If I understand correctly, you are in essence asking, "How do I practice?" as applied to a specific piece and a specific challenge. I looked at a couple questions that I would have expected to have more relevant answers.

Assuming that your goal is to perform this specific piece, you have already achieved a lot by determining that you are having problems with about three different spots. So: practice them! Don't worry about twenty-minutes-of-scales-a-day or the like in order to solve these specific problems.

For actually practicing these specific spots, isolate them, and practice them as slowly as you need in order to make them accurate. Then, come back the next day and do it again, etc. You are likely to retain more by playing the passages slowly and correctly for a little bit each day rather than cramming more practice into a day.

If you cannot practice daily, don't beat yourself up. Just do what you can. If you can get the passages "into your head," so to speak, and if no one will look at you funny, you can practice away from the instrument at times you might not otherwise be able to practice. What I mean by "practice away from the instrument" is that you can actually "play" the passages on a desk or table when you are not at your instrument, and perhaps even when you are concentrating on other things. The purpose is to retain the memory of how to play these passages.

Once you can play slowly and accurately, you can gradually speed up (both with and without the left hand). If you are having trouble either with speeding up or with keeping the passages even, see my answer about "practicing in rhythms." My answer was in response to a saxophonist's question, but the technique applies to piano as well.

As you are practicing, make sure to "back up," starting a bit earlier than the troublesome passage, to ensure that you are still able to play the difficult passage when you get to it within the broader context of the piece. Otherwise, you may have difficulty playing the entire piece without error when you wish to do so.

  • Would you mind if I restructured this answer to be in a more skimmable list/bullet point form? I feel this works well for SE and quickly getting info on the fly, but this is just my opinion so I want to ask. – djechlin Feb 23 '15 at 4:30
  • @djechlin Be my guest. – Andrew Feb 23 '15 at 5:29
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Try to memorize each difficult passage in a way you can "play" in your head (with your eyes closed and slowly, very slowly at the very begin) as you would playing on a keyboard, with the right fingering.

Then try to really play them (very) slowly. Finally try to speed up to a comfortable tempo.

And try to make those passages being a sort of technique study.

Of course, frequently check those passage in the context: two bars before and after, exactely as Andrew suggests.

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First, I think you should practice each part in right tempo that you can play, then bring it up about for ex 10bpm and play that part. Sure it doesn't sound good, after a little practice, bring the tempo down about 5bmp. As you can see, you can play that part so clear but with more speed. Thats the way that I practice lead parts of guitar techniques. Then I will practice two parts together and ... Good luck.

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If you are having difficulty with runs, break them down into sections that you can play as chords (i.e. without changing hand position) and practice it once through as block chords and then once through as the actual run (starting from a slow tempo and working your way up.

Example: the first measure of the runs (the second part you posted) you have a run of: A# G# A# B C# D E F# G# A#

Play G#, A# and B together (fingered as 2, 3 and 4); then B, C# and D together (1, 2, 3); then E, F#, G#, A# (1, 2, 3, 4).

In addition to what @Andrew suggested, when you are away from the piano, you can work on the rhythms, for example playing 10 32nd notes in your right hand against 3 8th notes in your left.

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