I'd like to learn to play Hungarian Rhapsody 2 by Liszt. To that end, I procured myself some sheet music, which luckily has fingering markings.

Is there any sheet music for this piece that is annotated with the note names (as in "C#", or "Do#" -- I can deal with either), or even the chords? Or even deeper levels of analysis (like "here, the bass consists of a sequence of broken chords Foo and Bar that add to the suspense and whatever") that can help one learn the music in a more logical manner?

I've annotated a couple of pages myself, but it's a rather slow process that I'd rather skip:

Annotated page

An analysis of only the Lassan is also good.

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    I think you are trying to run before you have even learned how to crawl (not to walk). This isn't music for a beginner who can't read notation fluently yet. I'm not trying to "discourage you" - just being realistic. – user19146 May 29 '16 at 17:59
  • I'm with you. :) My piano time being limited, I prefer to mix my very few lessons with a bit of fun. Since I'm also learning how to walk alongside this, I'll ask my teacher if this is harmful (other than eating up large amounts of time). In the meantime, an annotated version would be very helpful. :) – Mihai Danila May 29 '16 at 18:09
  • I've gotten as far as the first two pages. Here is one attempt: youtu.be/r_NDGiSL_hQ; I missed a couple of notes. :/ – Mihai Danila Jul 10 '16 at 20:34
  • And another attempt (a better one, IMO) here: youtu.be/wD4dD2HReMU. – Mihai Danila Jul 10 '16 at 21:24
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    Whether or not we are "professionals," (and that assumption isn't necessarily correct) everybody who posts here was a beginner once. There is no reason at all to be apologetic about being a beginner, but most people want to learn how to stop being a beginner, and some learning strategies work better than others. – user19146 Jul 10 '16 at 23:51

I have to agree with @alephzero here. You need to have a very good technique to be able to play this piece. If you want to attempt it regardlessly, you should definitely do it together with your teacher (who I am pretty sure is going to try to talk you out of this idea). Otherwise you might end up "teaching" yourself the wrong technique of playing which would be essentially worse than just not being able to play this piece (for now).

Also, to answer your question: I don't think there is any sheet for Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody (or any other demanding piece by Liszt) that has annotations with all of the note names, since this is not a piece intended for people who can't read notation yet.

As a sidenote: You say

I've annotated a couple of pages myself, but it's a rather slow process that I'd rather skip

However, I think that doing this might be the best use you can actually get out of this piece for now. This is not meant to be a discouragement at all. You just simply need to your improve your ability to read sheet music and this only comes from doing it a lot. So if you were to skip this part completely you would not be able to appreciate the piece - while practising - as much as you could if you at least knew which notes to play just by looking at the sheet and intuitively seeing and recognizing the patterns.

Edit: Note that I am not against the idea of trying to play pieces that seem to be way harder than your current abilities allow, because you can learn and improve a lot by doing this (speaking out of experience). That being said, I believe that at least being able to read notation should be the basis of doing this. The fact that you seem to really enjoy this piece sounds like you could learn a lot from it, if you attempted it correctly. If you really want to play this piece already, my advice would be the following:

  • Don't annotate all of the notes before playing (except for maybe those very high or low notes that require you to count the lines to figure out what they are)
  • Sight read and play very slowly. (Yes, if you forget what the notes were, figure them out again and again every time you play)
  • Only pick short sections and practice them extensively instead of trying to play a lot at once.

It has already been stated multiple times why annotating the notes the way you are doing it is actually counterproductive: By doing this you start to get used to reading notes from annotations instead of from actual notation, which is not what you should be striving for. This only creates a distance between you as a player and the music.

Obviously my suggested method of practicing the piece is going to be very slow, but you can't expect anything else at the level that you are at right now. Everything in music (and not just music) requires lots of practice - and practice is time-consuming. (Especially more time-consuming in the long run if you do it wrong)

  • My teacher has not yet discouraged me from playing with this. She thinks I learn fast, and she said I played the first part with feeling when she heard it. More likely, I will get bored of it naturally and revisit it much later. But okay, I agree that this exercise is useful and I've noticed speedup in my ability to read notes, but a high level analysis would still be useful, if that is even a thing. Too bad they don't have those OCR programs that can annotate with the note names on the fly. :/ – Mihai Danila May 29 '16 at 19:40
  • Do you think that painstakingly annotating these by hand is going to help me learn to read the notes faster? I would think that skipping the extra dead weight of doing the annotations (drag/drop, typing) and already having the note names as a guide post would help me find the notes faster. – Mihai Danila May 29 '16 at 19:43
  • I think the quickest way to learn would be to sight-read lots of music that you can play with your current technical ability, not spend a lot of time annotating the music "as a guide post" before you attempt to learn how to play it. The only music that is printed with that sort of "guide post" is meant for absolute beginners who haven't yet learned to read the notes without guide posts. – user19146 May 29 '16 at 20:45
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    Excellent insights -- thank you! I am certainly taking it slowly and trying to learn it from left to right (one exception is the last few measures of the Lassan, which I couldn't help from jumping at, because it's so awesome). Thank you for pointing out the counter-productiveness of annotating. I'll try to stay away from it. I'm already seeing some patterns, like octave intervals, or the occasional chord inversion – Mihai Danila May 30 '16 at 17:09
  • @MihaiDanila Regarding your last comment ("Excellent insights ..."), what a great attitude and response! You'll get where you are wanting to go much faster with that approach. I promise! Good luck! – Max Finis May 30 '16 at 18:32

Can I ask what your intentions are with doing this exercise?

Based on the picture you present, I'm not sure it's worth the time it takes, and here's why: essentially, all you've done is labeled every pitch name. In doing so, you just 'translated' one written system (the musical score) into another written system with which you're more familiar (solfége). If you've ever learned a foreign language, you know how unhelpful this really is: imagine reading 1984 in another language by looking up every single word and writing it into the book, then going through afterwards and trying to understand it. (This is, more or less, what you've done here.) Those fluent in multiple languages know that this constant one-to-one translation is not how another language is learned.

I recommend, at the very least, that you channel some of your enthusiasm into good, old-fashioned, note learning using something like flashcards.

(As an aside, how funny that the first three pitches that site just gave me were F-flat, B-sharp, and E-sharp...)

  • My time with a piano is limited, and I found that I spend much of it decoding these notes. If I decode them ahead of time into something easier to read, then I can make better progress when I'm at the piano. I do learn to read notes with my teacher from a piano book as well. :) Is this something to put into the chat? – Mihai Danila May 29 '16 at 23:34

The fact that you are a beginner--at music reading--is obvious, or you wouldn't be attempting this. By all means, give it a go; for all I know you have the technique of an Art Tatum, who couldn't read music either. (Blindness kind of gets in the way of that.)

However, if you were only able to read words at the level of an older child, you could more easily improve your reading skills by reading newspapers than by reading Sartre. If I were your teacher, I would say by all means continue on your exercise if you are inspired to do so, but also pick up some easier things like Bartok's Mikrokosmos (if you find yourself liking them), Beethoven's Op. 49 Sonatas and some of his Op. 119 Bagatelles, Chopin's easier Preludes, Bach's Two Part Inventions, and Mozart's Sonatinas. Work on those in the same way, if that's what works for you, and you will see more results in less time.

But in the end, what matters is that your hands go to the right places, not that you can name the notes. So, don't let your exercise substitute for actual reading. Your hands read the music, not your tongue or your pencil. If you could play all the music that you read, without being able to name the notes, you would be a much better pianist than I am. And I can name all those notes without thinking. (Except the bottom C# on the second line; I had to stop and count the ledger lines. It doesn't come up very often like that.)

  • I decidedly don't have a technique worth noting. :) I'm just having fun. For Christ's sakes, I don't even own a piano! I practice on the one at work (so my time with a piano is limited...). Thanks for the pointers to all these other pieces. I like some of Beethoven's symphonies; it would be cool if they had some piano-only version, but that doesn't sound plausible; they're rather more fluid than a piano can handle. – Mihai Danila May 30 '16 at 18:48
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    Actually there are brilliant transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies for piano by .. guess who .. Liszt :) (Not any easier than this piece though) – Keiwan May 30 '16 at 19:17
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    Liszt transcribed ALL of his symphonies, even the last movement of the ninth. He was actually one of the major promoters of Beethoven's music in the late 19th century, one of the few pianists to perform his "Hammerklavier" sonata (his longest and probably most difficult sonata) regularly. – BobRodes May 30 '16 at 22:52
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    Here's a youtube of Glenn Gould playing the second movement of the seventh symphony. – BobRodes May 30 '16 at 22:59
  • @MihaiDanila You have a lot of talent. I can see that you have been teaching yourself from some of the unorthodox fingerings you use. (This isn't a bad thing unless it gets in the way of making the music you're trying to make.) But if I might say so, you need to work on your pedaling. Especially in passages with a lot of notes, you have the habit of holding down the pedal and forgetting about it. ... – BobRodes Jul 11 '16 at 1:03

I read through the comments that you are a mid-beginner, getting to intermediate level.

I would not discourage you to learn this (hard) piece. This is the part of craziness that I have encountered too when I started. Go on and take pleasure.

Now to answer the questions, you'll certainly find very logical that, this piece being intended for advanced level players, which are supposedly able to read fluently, it is quite unprobable you'll find a version with each note annotated. Instead, you'll commonly find fingering or "Ossia", which are variations of some parts (generally a more difficult but sounding similarly version).

Seeing how much effort you put in learning, I have no doubt you will certainly not need to write up all of this anymore in some time (4-8 months is my guess).

Bravo for your implication though !

  • I've been able to get through the first two pages; slow, and probably not chiseled, but I can play that much. I will post a video when I'm back to where I don't have to burn through my data plan to do it. – Mihai Danila Jul 7 '16 at 22:54
  • @MihaiDanila I am impressed by your tenacity ! As for your playing, just as some other people said, you should use your thumb a bit more, especially in scales and chords. Another things, open your hand when you need and uncrisp your fingers. Let the flow come in you, and breathe. – Blue_Elephant Jul 11 '16 at 7:36

Your enthusiasm and ambition are admirable, and these traits will be invaluable, and even necessary, as you progress. Great and unimaginable things are accomplished this way.

However, this isn't one of those times. It may seem contradictory to you now, but the best and fastest way to "learn to play" this piece is to not play it at all at this point in your development. Something else that may not make sense to you now is the fact that even if you were to fully annotate this piece and learn to actually play the notes, what you will have achieved is something far short of learning to play this piece. Similar to Sam's analogy, your accomplishment then will be the equivalent of someone who doesn't read or write English learning to act the role of Hamlet by annotating each letter of the alphabet by writing the phonetic equivalents into the part, and then "reading" from those annotations. You won't have the vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, much less the meaning of all of that or the oratorical mechanics of being an actor. At best, after a very long ordeal, you will learn to play the actual notes, at a fraction of the required speed, and without awareness of the musical meaning behind the notes. You will not have learned to play this piece any more than you will have learned to play or understand Hamlet in the other example, and this process will not have helped you to learn the mechanics of either.

Furthermore, the notes and chords you're trying to analyze have meaning in the same way words have meaning. There is more to understanding and performing music than playing the notes, similar to how playing Hamlet requires far more than learning 26 letters and correctly labeling the play's words with those phonetic annotations. I wonder if your thought process went something like this: I want to learn how to read music better, and I also like this Liszt, so why can't I learn to do both by starting at the end and working backwards? Or something like that? I still remember thinking like that, and it made perfect sense to me at the time. I learned the hard way, and the long way, that that is the longest path imaginable to achieve both. Also, something that isn't obvious to a beginner is that playing music is not so much about playing individual notes. Just as when you read English you read by entire words and phrases, you don't read music note by note. You recognize the patterns (chords, arpeggios, scales, harmonic progressions, etc.) that you've already practiced and ingrained into your fingers (muscle memory), and then you play them as logical groupings.

My best advice is to simply shed wood. There is no shortcut here. Flash cards are great. There are even digital flash cards (Anki) that you can use on a computer or phone. Then practice reading and playing very simple pieces on the piano. This is the equivalent of learning to ride a bike. Once you get past this initial phase, everything else just gets easier. Good luck!

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    I agree with some of your remarks. I don't agree necessarily with the assertion that I wouldn't understand the piece. I've heard it a long time ago and loved it. To turn to your Hamlet example, it's like having heard Hamlet and felt a connection to it; the fact that I can't read Hamlet doesn't mean I'm not connected to it. The fact that I don't know the name of a technique or a chord doesn't mean that either. Then, I'm from Romania, so I know Gypsy music well; and Gypsy music was a heavy influence in this piece. So it's not like I'd play it without feeling. I'd just play it like a beginner. – Mihai Danila May 30 '16 at 18:36
  • @MihaiDanila The difference between you hearing Hamlet and hearing the Liszt is that you knew how the words in Hamlet were pronounced and what they meant even if you couldn't read it, but hearing the Liszt and reacting to the sounds isn't the same thing. A more equivalent example would be if you didn't know English, and you were just reacting positively to the pure sounds and syllables that the actor was producing without understanding what the words, scenes, and plot meant. Again, things like chords have meaning in the same way words have meaning. How they sound is just the beginning. – Max Finis May 30 '16 at 19:28
  • It sounds like you're saying that, to feel a musical piece, you need to understand some of the theory behind it. Doesn't understanding a piece of art in detail sometimes actually take away from its magic? I know a poem about that. :) If you're just saying that I should learn how to decode the sounds encoded on the staff to be able to play Liszt, then it still sounds to me like a good equivalent to the Hamlet-can-listen-but-not-read example. – Mihai Danila May 31 '16 at 2:53
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    @MihaiDanila Regarding "magic," let's not get carried away. There is plenty of magic beyond being able to read notes and chords. In fact, the more advanced you get, the more you realize how little you know. Once you get past the pure mechanics of creating and performing music, that's where the real magic begins. – Max Finis May 31 '16 at 11:24
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    @MihaiDanila Lastly, understand that I'm not trying to discourage you from anything, but that, to achieve what you're trying to achieve in the most effective way, learning to read notes proficiently comes above all else. And although you should never let anything dampen your enthusiasm, sometimes there are no shortcuts to doing the mundane and academic things required for something as complex as playing music at the level of the Liszt. – Max Finis May 31 '16 at 11:29

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