5

Now, this Nocturne in Eb is the very first Chopin piece I ever learned. I have gotten to rhythmic precision with this, even in the sections with polyrhythms just by playing it frequently. Piano Concerto no. 21 by Mozart prepared me for pieces such as this by getting myself familiar with triplets. To this day, I think of the 12/8 in this nocturne as really being a 4/4 with triplets because, let's be honest, it is compound quadruple meter.

I recorded myself playing this nocturne and uploaded it to youtube. There are a few mistakes and hesitations in there but nothing majorly wrong. Then I got a few suggestions. First one was to increase the tempo so that I'm at full tempo. Now this, I haven't done for 1 major reason. That one being that I simply find it to be more expressive when I go slow and you want to be expressive when playing a Chopin piece.

The other thing that was suggested to me was to make the left hand as legato as possible. My reaction to that was like:

But how can I get the left hand to sound all smooth and legato when I am leaping all over the place with a lot of leaps going an octave or more? Those 2 things seem impossible to have happen at the same time.

So here is my recording of the Nocturne:

Past 10:55, it is simply commentary about how I didn't have enough room to record anything longer than this on my phone. You don't need to listen to that part of it.

You can clearly see that my left hand is leaping wide intervals. A lot of those are by an octave or more. You can also hear that the whole piece is pedaled. This, I thought would be enough to get a smooth legato sound out of wide leaps. Evidently not in the case of this nocturne.

So if pedaling isn't enough, how am I supposed to get the leaps in the left hand to be as legato as possible?

5

The hesitations (and the speed) are related to the "legato". It will take time and practice, but eventually you will need to make the left hand "flow" a lot more, there has to be a kind of constant ebb and flow feeling to the left hand. At the moment, each time you play a chord in the left hand, it sounds sort of isolated, like individual stabs coming one after the other, there isn't a connected constant rhythm to your left hand yet, it's still quite disjointed.

The "hesitations" are a big part of this, little pauses and breaks here and there, because you're still at the stage where you often need a microsecond to find all the notes with your left hand. It still sounds like you're just stabbing at each chord one at a time because, well, for the most part, that's exactly what you're doing. And that's not a bad thing, it just means that it's going to take some practice before you're able to put all of the expression you want to in the piece, because right now you're still having to work hard just to play the piece as it is. Once the piece is easier for you, and you have it "under your fingers" so to speak, then you'll be able to put more "lyricism", "legato", "expression", "rubato", "flow", "musicality" etc. into it. These are all related concepts that overlap with each other to varying degrees, and you'll be able to give them more care an attention to them once the technical side of things has progressed a little further.

As a side note, legato is sometimes used more strictly to mean "no silence in between the notes", but also used more loosely to describe playing with a smooth, connected, "lyrical" quality. Obviously when talking about pedalled playing, only the second part of that equation is relevant, as the pedal takes care of the silence aspect for you.

Playing pieces like these isn't easy, and it takes time. The important thing is to keep playing (not just this one piece, but lots of pieces), keep practicing, keep loving the music, and the more you'll play, the more you'll be able to play more challenging pieces "expressively". Also, maybe you want to also occasionally play something that's technically less of a challenge for you so that you can practice that expressiveness on its own without juggling it alongside technical challenges. But maybe not, it's up to you, the important thing is just to keep playing!!

  • The hesitations are the main issue. Flow cannot be achieved with the tempo broken. Well said about legato as a quality versus the literal meaning of no silence. – Michael Curtis Jun 18 at 22:16
3

Neither hand "sounds" legato, because each melody note (R.H.) or chord (L.H.) fades away before the next one starts. Either play faster, or play on a piano that sustains notes longer.

The L.H. accompaniment should be heard as a pulse on each low note, filled in by the next two chords. But the video has twelve pulses per bar. That's why it doesn't "sound" legato, despite the sustain pedal.

Similarly, by the time a melody note sounds, sometimes we've forgotten what the previous note was. So it sounds like a singer who's constantly gasping for breath, instead of soaring through a long line.

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The basic problem is dynamics. Everything is a uniform forte.

The trick to making piano music sound legato is to match up the loudness at the end of each note, not at the start. The bass notes and chords die away much slower than the melody notes. Also, each chord contains several notes, compared with single notes in the right hand. Therefore the left hand must be played much softer than the right. Play the right hand f and left hand ppp, and the whole piece will sound p.

You also need to control the dynamics of each note in a chord. Major thirds stick out compared with the root and fifths unless they are played softer, for example.

This piano also needs tuning.

Pieces like this look deceptively easy, since there are not many notes and the tempo is slow. But bashing your way through a Tchaikowsky piano concerto is much easier.

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None of the answers have properly addressed the "legato" part of your question. Your left hand doesn't sound legato because it isn't legato at all. As simple as that. You are completely releasing one chord before playing the other.

Legato doesn't mean holding the pedal between notes. It helps, yes, but the most important is to connect the notes with your hand. Between the bass note and the first chord, pedal is all you have (but if I remember well, there is a staccato sign on every bass note), but the other two should be connected by your hand, not only the pedal.

The chords of the first beat are G Eb / Bb G. The proper fingering to do legato is 5 2 / 4 1. You must release finger 5 to reach the next chord, but 2 must not be released until you have played the next chord. That's what legato is, the pedal can't do all by itself.

Of course the tempo and dynamics have also to do with the final result. They all could help it sound more legato, but the best way is to do legato. By the way, you should work the legato thing before speeding up the tempo.


Note: the fingering could be 5 1 / 3 1 too. Or any other, as long as you can hold at least one of the fingers until the next note.

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