Week 27 - Practice week

This week I finished the suites d’exercises by Hélène de Montgeroult. In total it took me 5 weeks to play all of her 972 exercises. What a great experience! While practicing Montgeroult’s etude No. 20 I recognized that my hands seem to change their shape while playing. They become rounder. It started with the left hand, where I made the discovery that my knuckles go up – which has for consequence that my wrist (which has always been to high!) is sinking down. After some days I realized that the same is slowly also happening to my right hand. Knuckles up, wrist down. Amazing! I know that my wrists have always been to high, especially when the hand span is an octave, but I actually was never able to really change it. (And I tried out a lot to do so!). It never came to my mind that when the knuckles get up and make the hand round, the result is automatically a lower wrist. Very interesting! So again this fantastic Montgeroult effect: Things just happen und her exercises & etudes just fixe wrong movements just by playing them. At the moment I can play the etude with lower wrists but only in a slower tempo. As soon as I play faster my wrists go up again… for this reason I chose to work one more week on this etude. If I could play with lower wrists this would be such a fundamental technique change for me!

After finishing the Montgeroult exercises now I was not completely sure whether I really improved or not. For some days I thought that maybe I didn’t improve at all… So just for checking and out of couriosity I played some of Liszt’s technical studies (No. 1-6 finger independence and No. 123 broken chords) – and wow! Even though I didn’t practice them, they work so much better and feel so much easier now! Especially concerning playing broken chords there really is a huge difference. I remember how hard it was for me to play those before the Montgeroult exercises time. So the Montgeroult exercises definitely work! In a very natural and organic way, more gentle than the Liszt, I would say. So it maybe takes a little bit more time but it’s completely worth it. I would call those exercises “healthy” – they don’t hurt, but find the weak points in your technique and correct them little by little. This “Montgeroult effect” is so incredibly fascinating! So let’s see whether I’ll be lucky to record either Montgeroult No. 20 or Farrenc op. 42/1 this week… I’ll try my best. Looking forward to week 28!

Week 26 - Practice Week

As I was so supertired from all those concerts and projects during the last weeks again no video this week – but still a practice week for me of course. And a quite fruitful one! I played Montgeroult’s suites d’exercices No. 6, 7, 8 and 9. Very interesting because she has similar topics to Liszt but a completely different order. Arpeggios were No. 6 (at the very end of Liszt), octaves No. 7 (similar to Liszt, who put it also in the middle), thirds No. 8 (Liszt at the beginning) and alternating hands No. 9 (in Liszt it’s always playing both hands at the same time. So this is a real Montgeroult special). Next with No. 10 will be finger independency – she already used this in No. 1. So I guess No. 10 will be a little bit harder? (Liszt puts finger independency and strength in his chapter 1, but not in an additional later chapter any more) My hands are a little bit tired, but they don’t hurt. I still practice Montgeroult’s etude No. 20. I can already play it in end tempo now. Still not without playing wrong notes sometimes, but it’s slowly coming. (It’s a quite long one – 3 pages! Her previous etudes were only 2 pages long in general). I still have a little thumb muscle ache, it didn’t change during this week. I also started to learn Farrenc’s etude op. 42/1. It seems to be not so hard in comparison to her late etudes of op. 50 – so I’m actually quite optimistic that I might record this one next week. We’ll see – looking forward to week 27!


Week 25 - Practice week

Due to a lot of concerts and projects at the moment this was the first week of the project without a video. But of course I continued to practice! This week I played Montgeroult’s suite d’exercises No. 5. It was quite hard – especially mentally because there is no mechanical system (where you can just relax and play along) but you really have to concentrate on what she has written (it’s changing all the time). This suite d’exercises were quite challenging for me – looks like the upcoming suites will be a little bit easier. I have also been practicing Montgeroult’s etude No. 20. This is such a hard one! In the beginning it gave me strong muscle aches in my thumbs, some days later in my wrists and then some days later in my complete underarms. It changed from day to day – now after one week of practice I feel a light muscle ache in my thumbs again, the muscle aches in wrists and underams have vanished. In the beginning I could not play through this etude. I could only play with rhythmical variations and small breaks between every new chord position. (4 notes – quarter note rest – 4 notes – quarter note rest – etc.) After one week of practice I’m now able to play the etude in a very slow tempo without any rests betweens the position changes… I still play this etude in 30 minutes time slots. It’s getting better, but I think I’ll definitely will need at least one more week before being able to record this. So next week I will continue with the next suites d’exercises by Montgeroult, continue her etude No. 20 and also start to work on Farrenc’s etude op. 42/1.
Looking forward to week 26!

Week 24 - Hélène de Montgeroult, Etude No. 18

This week I played Montgeroult’s Etude No. 18. It felt like medium difficulty for me – quite surprising because I thought it would be very hard, but it actually wasn’t. Amazing! When I started this project some weeks ago recording such an etude would have taken a lot of time (at least several recording days), now it actually was “normal” effort to play it (one recording day). A very interesting und unsuspected experience, especially after the fight I had with Farrenc’s etude op. 50/25 the previous week. I recognized that my hands didn’t become tired while recording Montgeroult and also that there didn’t seem to be any tensions in my hands, it really felt comfortable to play. Maybe Farrenc helped me to master Montgeroult easier now…? Or maybe the exercises by Montgeroult? This week I finished her Suite d’exercises No. 3 and 4. My hands feel like they have gained a lot more stability.
As I already played Montgeroult’s etude No.19 in a previous Coco (Coco 425, some longer time ago) the next etude for me will be Montgeroult’s No. 20. A very hard one for me! It reminds me a lot of her Etude No. 2 – I remember how much I had to work on that. When my hands have to play octaves and broken chords in this position this is always super-tough for me and is one of my major piano problems. Though I have the feeling that my hands don’t get tired so fast now and that the tension is less. And I can also practice this etude for a longer period (35 minutes without break maximum)! Quite a difference thinking of her No. 2 and 17 - I remember that I could only practice within 15 minutes time slots and then desperately needed a break. So a development seems to have taken place… let’s see how this will continue. Looking forward to week 25!

Week 23 - Louise Farrenc, Etude op. 50/25

This week I finally played Louise Farrenc’s Etude op. 50/25 – which means that I worked through all 25 etudes of op. 50! What a joy! This last etude was incredibly hard for me to play and I tried for so many days to finally record it. In my opinion this etude is very complex: Scales (in both hands), arpeggios, jumps at the end, the tonality (E major) with a lot modulations inbetween and also the length (2 pages). It was superhard to get evenness in playing those fast notes and somehow it really felt for me like Farrenc wanted to make a big finale of her etude cycle here… but hey, I did it!
Concerning the Montgeroult exercises I played the 2nd Suite d’exercices and began to play the 3rd Suite. The topic of both is mostly scales – Montgeroult writes that in her opinion playing scales is the key to evenness, because you have to manage so many difficulties (finger independency, thumb control, flexibility etc.). Very interesting point and sounds quite logical to me. So far it’s really a completely different approach to technique than Liszt: For Montgeroult the most important is the singing tone and also above all a natural position and playing without any tension. It seems like the hand strenght und building up muscle strength comes like a "side-effect" and somehow effortless. It just happens while you play but without forcing it.
Interesting personal observation:
While I practiced Liszt techniqual studies there was one week where I couldn’t practice for 3 days. When I returned to the piano after that I had the feeling that my hands weren’t trained at all and I played very very bad. (no strength, a lot of mistakes. I haven't played this badly for quite a long time, I think)
I started Montgeroult 2 weeks ago and this week I was separated from the piano and couldn’t practice even longer: 5 days. As you can imagine I was quite worried – but this time my first contact with the instrument was very comfortable. (hands in a good condition, no wrong notes). Quite surprising! Montgeroult writes that playing wrong notes is the result of not really knowing the “landscape” of your instrument, and maybe her exercises really help to build up that landscape?
Liszt and Montgeroult definitely both have an immediate impact on my technique but it seems that Montgeroult works better for my hands and has a long-time-effect. The Liszt effect seems to stop immediately for me as soon as I stop playing the exercises. (Maybe this is why he himself practiced 4-5 hours finger exercises every day?) I’ll keep an eye on that and will see how things will develop for me with the Montgeroult exercises.
As I finished Farrenc’s op. 50 now, her “easy etudes” (which fot me actually weren’t easy at all), I will play her ”etudes of medium difficulty” op. 42 next. As so far the combination of Montgeroult and Farrenc etudes was perfect for me, I want to continue like this. So my plan for next week: Montgeroult exercises and Montgeroult Etude No. 18. Let’s go and looking forward to week 24!

Week 22 - Louise Farrenc, Etude op. 50/24

As it was a little stressful to make a weekly Vlog video about my Female Composers Etudes Project lately I decided to switch the documentary form to short written blog articles. I'll continue to make them in English because I know that a lot of you don't speak German and of course I'll continue to tell you my experiences to keep you all updated.
In Week 22 I played Louise Farrenc's Etude op. 50/24. I also played Liszt's books 11 and 12 - so I finished the Technical Studies by Liszt now and started with Montgeroult's 972 exercices now.
Farrenc op. 50/24 was quite comfortable to play which delighted me a lot!
I actually also wanted to finish Farrenc's op. 50 because there is actually only 1 etude left, but somehow this one is so incredibly difficult for me. I tried to record it the whole weekend but completely failed. So only one etude this week - I hope that next week I'll be more lucky :)
Playing Liszt was a great experience. When I first saw his "opus magnum" I wasn't completely sure whether I would really be able to play all of this. But yes! I played through everything very slowly and used it as training tool. A very powerful exercise collection! Now that I've played his over 400 pages I'm not afraid to do the same with Montgeroult's 972 exercises. The combination of female composers etudes and Liszt is really working for me. Playing the etudes by Farrenc and Montgeroult during 4 months strengthened my hands so that I was able to play through Liszt. And Liszt had very good effects on my female composers etudes during the last month. The Liszt exercises are very logical and you train almost every technical problem in all different possible combinations. From all the technical studies that I have ever played this was actually the only one that had a real impact on my piano technique and the only one where I improved immediately. The pieces I played where all easier to play after the Liszt studies - even without practicing them. So with the Liszt exercises there is a real transfer effect, something very unique und actually the reason why you practice piano exercises. I especially recommend the exercises from his first book - incredibly powerful exercises for finger control, independency and strength of the fingers.
Now I'm very eager to know what will happen with the Montgeroult exercises! She has a completely different access to piano technique - so let's see! I played her suite d'exercises No. 1 so far and it was very comfortable to play for my hands. No pains, no tensions, no problems :)
Looking forward to week 23!

Week 1 - 21

Weekly Vlog on YouTube
Vlog Playlist

Played works in week 1 - 21:

- Mrs Crosby Adams, 4 Little Wrist Studies op. 6
- Marie Jaell, On rêve au beau temps (from her piano school "Le Toucher")
- Louise Farrenc, op. 50 (etudes No. 1 - 24)
- Hélène de Montgeroult (etudes No. 1 - 17)
- Liszt, technical studies (for direct comparison with Montgeroult's 972 finger exercises)