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These two pieces are currently part of my repertoire:

  • Etude Op. 25 No. 11 "Winter Wind" (Chopin)

  • Transcendental Étude No. 10 "Appassionata" (Liszt)

These are both very technical pieces. What's somewhat frustrating is that "Winter Wind" requires a lot of stamina in the right hand, while "Appassionata" requires a lot of stamina in the left hand.

I can play these pieces a little under tempo with reasonable accuracy. For "Winter Wind", though, after about one and a half pages my right-hand muscles tire out and it becomes much more difficult to bring out the dynamic contrast in the rest of the piece. In "Appassionata", it's hard for me to make the left-hand jumps in the middle section because I have already played so many notes.

The problem is, I spend most of my practice time on sections of these pieces, so I am able to play these runs/arpeggios/jumps "better" than if I were to play the whole piece since my hands aren't worn out from previous sections. I'm not sure if playing a whole piece a bunch of times will help me either. Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my stamina in both my hands when playing long, technical pieces such as these?

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    In any case you should make sure (with the help a a teacher), that your hands are in the optimum position and the perceived tiring is not a consequence of doing something wrong. Otherwise there is the danger of establishing or even enforcing that. – guidot Mar 4 at 9:15
  • Consider joining a gym (I am not kidding) or at least get yourself a resistance band. I play saxophone and regularly do that + cardio + pull-ups and weight-lifting. – Pyromonk Mar 12 at 11:20
  • Whilst I agree these pieces are technically challenging they could hardly be described as "Long" could they. About 4 perhaps 4.5 minutes for the Chopin and maybe 5 for the Liszt. If you genuinely have a problem with stamina then you need to improve it by playing more, but it doesn't have to be these pieces does it? – JimM Mar 12 at 21:28
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This is why you were suppose to practice scales and arpeggios!

If you want to build up stamina for these pieces, don't "wear out" the pieces themselves. When you can play scales and arpeggios continuously at the same tempo and dynamics for the same duration as the pieces, you will have the stamina you need.

Don't just stick to "standard" scales in octaves - also include thirds and sixths (both diatonic and chromatic scales), scales in double octaves, all the above in contrary motion, etc. Devise your own daily work-out program!

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I can only provide advice based on my experience as a guitarist, not a pianist. But I do play pieces that are several pages long and require stamina in both hands.

This first thing I'd say is to check if these pieces introduce new techniques or patterns that you are unfamiliar with. That can put a strain on you. If so, I'd isolate those and drill them very slowly until they are in the muscle memory.

Second, are you playing from memory or sight reading? I always commit a piece to memory before building up the speed to performance tempo. In my experience the need to read as you play can cause stress which eventually leads to fatigue. Obviously professional musicians sight read so there is a way to develop this skill. But on the other hand many "sight reading gigs" are not as challenging as solo pieces, and have breaks in the sections (for the soloist ;-)).

Third, you pretty much summed up your problem and a possible solution by saying you spend most time on difficult parts but cannot get into them from the section before. Then you need to practice merging the hard part with the entrance and exit!

I do this for guitar pieces that are very long. If the piece has a definite structure and repeats (e.g. a Jazz tune with Blues, Rhythm changes or something else) I will learn one complete cycle at a time. Play repetitively with a metronome at a very slow, relaxed, speed. Continue to drill until memorized. Then move one to the next section. While learning section 2 I push the speed up on section 1 until tempo is reached. Continue moving on to section 3, 4, etc. Pushing or maintaining speed on the other sections, reinforcing memory in the process. Only after a I have a few sections will I start merging, 1+2, 2+3, etc. Then the piece as a whole. By this time I can play the whole piece through at tempo the first try with only a few glitches. Then I isolate those glitches, work them, and put them back in. Rather than having small impressive pieces I cannot connect, I have a solid foundation with one or two weak spots that clean up fast. Those are not necessarily the hardest sections.

As another example, I worked up several Wieniawski violin pieces on the guitar and that was an extreme challenge. They were very short, but technically challenging. Being in a similar position as you describe, I could play 8 measure sections (non overlapping) up at 150-160 bpm but could not go from one to another. For me the issue was very simply that I had trained myself to "relax" right at the end of the section by stopping. Simple fix, practice each 8 measure section again but playing a few notes past the end. It takes putting the metronome back several bpm (10s perhaps) but it will clean up very quickly, even just one practice session. Another way to do the same this is to bracket the "transition" from one section to another by playing the last half of the first and the first half of the last. Basically you created these breaks and they are arbitrary. You can fix this by making a different choice and starting over. Good news is that you do not need to start over in the sense that you are at square one, cleaning transitions should take as long if you are systematic about it.

In the process of doing this your hands will acclimate to the time strain required to complete the song. Posture is important. Relaxation is also important. When we are slightly stressed we are not even aware of the fact that we are tensing our hands, pulling the fingers in, squeezing a little too hard, etc. All this is wasted energy. In my opinion I'd recommend memorization as a step to defeating this. Even if you only have 1 page memorized you can test your stamina by playing that page 10 or 20 times without a break. If you can do that without a break then you have stamina. Working the other parts out and memorizing them will help.

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I have not yet played the Liszt-etude, but have succeeded with the Chopin-etude in the past. Below are my personal tips.


Good technique

Before you think about stamina, make sure that your technique is efficient. With a non-ideal technique, the etude becomes significantly harder to play. I've both seen people struggle with it, who seemed really tense, and others who play it really well and seem to almost enjoy it.

In many cases, it is about minimizing unnecessary tension. And note well the word unnecessary, because obviously when we play, not all muscles are going to be relaxed. If they were, you would not be able to move your hand. However, certain muscles may become tense even though they shouldn't have to be, which does contribute to your hand getting tired. Therefore, it is important to make sure to eliminate these things before you start thinking about stamina. Think about where in your hand that you get tired, and try to figure out why.

As a specific example, consider the right hand. Something which might seem obvious is to use a rotating motion for the right hand. Doing this can significantly reduce the tension in the part of the hand below. So rather than working really hard on trying to get strong, enduring hand muscles in that part of the hand, a simple change in technique can greatly reduce the endurance needed. Maybe you already have a great technique, but if you haven't thought about it that much, it is worth looking into (surprisingly many don't).

enter image description here


Improving stamina

If you have a good base technique and you are still experiencing endurance issues, I would suggest playing it through more, at the limit tempo. Others are saying that you shouldn't wear it out, which is true of course (I don't mean that you need to play it over and over again), but still, getting into the habit of "just getting through it" is a good thing. However, be careful with this. You do not want to hurt your hand, so be very cautious of pain. Whatever you do, do not let your frustration or impatience lead you into hurting your hand (let's be honest - we all experience this when struggling with technical issues). The progress you lose by seriously injuring it is way, way bigger than the progress you lose by resting for a while.

I have two suggestions for improving the endurance. The first is to play it at the limit tempo or slightly under it. If you cannot play it faster without your hand becoming tired, practice getting through it at a lower but still somewhat challenging tempo, until you can do that well. Successively increase the tempo over time.

The other suggestion is to do something similar to what you have tried - playing sections. Make the size of the sections large enough for it to be challenging. Play through it until you can play each section well and then increase the size.

But always remind yourself that you do not want to hurt your hand more than necessary. You have to have trust in yourself and the fact that you will eventually reach your goal, even though it's not happening the same day.


Being strategic

Lastly, you can get a significantly better result by being strategic. This essentially means knowing where to "use your power" in the etude. Sadly, there aren't many opportunities for rest in op 25 no 11, as I'm sure you are aware of. Therefore, you have to rest dynamically and "technically".

For me personally, I choose sections where I don't have to use full power and try to play these in a really relaxed and somewhat "quiet" manner. Below are some examples of how I relaxed (I used sheet music from imslp, so I'm not sure if it's the best edition. This is just to illustrate, however.)

enter image description here

In this part, you can of course relax a bit more, even though I wouldn't exactly play it more quietly. Subtle difference, but can actually help quite a bit. Similarly for the second time it comes, starting in C-major instead of E-major, and so on.

enter image description here

I would aim to not use much power at all here. It adds a nice contrast to the rest of the piece and also helps you technically.

enter image description here

Really use this part to fully rest your right hand. Even though there is a lot happening in the left hand, make sure that the right hand is not affected by this, so that it can "recharge its batteries".

enter image description here

This section is a great place to rest before the recapitulation, as I'm sure you know. I'm guessing you're already using this as a place to rest, but I do have to bring it up here, since it's such an obvious one.

Those are just some key examples of how to be strategic. Maybe you are already doing these things, but they are worth thinking about. Some people I have heard playing this seem to go in with the impression that you have to "give everything". Moreover, when they play in front of a crowd, the nervousness and pressure just makes it worse. In my opinion, it is really about distribution in the end - knowing where to use your stamina. This shouldn't have to make the interpretation worse; in fact, it enriches it.


Didn't expect this response to be this long. I got a bit carried away. But of course, the same principles hold for the Liszt etude, or any technically demanding piece.

Hope everything goes well! Best of luck!

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