The piano etudes (studies) by Frederic Chopin
, a Polish composer
born in 1801
, are amongst the most well-known and, unfortunately, feared piano pieces around.
I say unfortunately because, although they may take a lifetime to master, some of the etudes do take little more than a minute to learn. My advice if you'd like to do this, and as long as you're... maybe Grade V or whatever, is to buy the complete set of 24 Etudes and perhaps consult the list below to find ones to start on. Alternatively, you could follow my path: buy a cheap CD containing all the etudes, and get hooked on some of the songs (inevitably the ones you can't play). Once you decide you'd like to be able to play any of them, you've begun a learning experience that will probably never end.
This piece consists entirely of simple octave semibreves in the LH, and so is practically entirely RH work. The main problem is the continual 10th stretches. Perhaps not one to attempt too early if your hands are small.
Again, the LH is quite simple here and could be disregarded until you have the RH fully learnt. The technical problem is ascending and descending chromatic scales using only fingers 3,4,5 of the RH. The frequent modulations make it a piece that's difficult to sightread, and although it sounds wonderful, it may take some time to complete.
Chopin once said this was the most beautiful melody he'd ever composed; the obstacle to be overcome, if you haven't been introduced to it before, is essentially playing three continuous voices with the two hands. The piece is slow; however it becomes more animated (and chromatic and discordant) towards the middle, and more careful fingering is called for. Playing the middle at full speed is quite difficult to get right.
A fast piece with frequent alterations between RH melody LH bass, and LH melody RH bass. Also quite lengthy and therefore probably not a good piece for anyone beginning the etudes.
The infamous "Black Key Etude" has just one white key in the whole RH, which of course lends a pentatonic feel to the piece. Quite short, and with a relatively simple LH accompaniment, the piece is however also very difficult to play satisfactorily at anywhere near full speed!
This lamenting piece has many interesting harmonic and melodic progressions, and is more about showing expression both in the melody and the ever-unrestful LH than pure technical brilliance.
In contrast to No.6, this piece is fast and boisterous, with a thin LH meaning that the vast majority of work has to be done on the repeated notes of the RH. Again, quite difficult to appreciably speed up the piece until it has been thoroughly learnt.
Another piece with simple chords in the LH, but this time the RH is soaring up & down through 4-octave arpeggiated chords in every bar. Towards the middle of the piece, modulation occurs and the LH joins in the frenzied melody. Quite a long piece and again probably not one to begin with.
This haunting piece with rapid arpeggiated stretches of a 10th or more in the LH is nevertheless exciting and rewarding to play. The tone varies between weeping softly and screaming into the night. Once you've mastered the LH the only difficulty lies at the end, where RH octaves must be played in rapid sucession as part of the melody. The end is soft and beautiful, but it can be very hard to achieve the exact tone you might be thinking of.
This piece is charming to play, and with various forms of arpeggiated chords in both hands, is not too difficult - you can just let your fingers fall on the right notes. However it is quite long, and the frequent modulations mean that sightreading is made more difficult: it might be better to master each hand seperately before putting them together.
This piece is lovely to listen to, but playing its arpeggiated chords, often stretching over 2.5 octaves in both hands, is troublesome for all but those with the largest stretches. Nevertheless it is fairly short and manageably repetitive, and although it may not be suited to the beginner, if you like it enough, it will be rewarding to learn.
This stormy piece, often called the "Revolutionary Etude", has tumulous minor chord arpeggios in the LH, coupled with a forbidding melody in octaves. Getting the correct fingering in the LH is key, after which you'll find that the piece will tease out itself. On a effort/reward scale, this piece, although it requires a little more effort than some others, will more than reward you and others you play it for.
Continue to The Chopin Etudes, Opus 25