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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
None of Chopin's Etudes are easy. For easy Etudes, look at Czerny's Studies. For easy Chopin, look at his Preludes, Nocturnes, and Mazurkas. If you're not confident that you are ready for Chopin, than stick with Mozart and Beethoven for a while(I learned that the hard way, trying to learn Grande Valse Brilliante 2 years into my piano playing) But some Chopin etudes are easier than others. I will go in compositional order here.

Waterfall Etude, Op. 10 no. 1

The bass line in the left hand is very easy, just simple octaves. The right hand is also relatively easy because it is basically scales but embellished. What makes this even easier is the key being C major.

Chromatic Etude, Op. 10 no. 2

This is another relatively easy etude. The bass is very simple. Again the right hand is mostly scales but you also have to play part of the bass line with the right hand which makes it a bit harder than the Waterfall Etude. Key is in A minor. This Chopin Etude reminds me a bit of Flight of the Bumblebee because of the constant chromatic motion by sixteenth notes and the tonic of A.

Tristesse Etude, Op. 10 no. 3

This is arguably easier than the previous two etudes. In fact, I would say that it is about as easy as a Chopin Nocturne. Hardest part is the wide leaps in the left hand.

Torrent Etude, Op. 10 no. 4

After 3 relatively easy etudes comes one that is very difficult. All those fast notes and octaves makes the entire piece difficult.

Black Keys Etude, Op. 10 no. 5

This is another difficult etude, once again due to fast notes and octaves. As you can probably tell from the name, it uses mostly the black keys.

Etude in Eb Minor, Op. 10 no. 6

This is one of few etudes by Chopin that don't have nicknames. This is I would say is an intermediate in Chopin etude difficulty. It is definitely easier than the previous two etudes. The bass and melody switch hands in the B section of this Etude.

Toccata Etude, Op. 10 no. 7

Yet another difficult etude. I can see how it got its nickname the Toccata Etude. A toccata is a piece composed basically to show off the player's talent on a given instrument, typically a keyboard instrument. And this Etude definitely fits with the definition of toccata.

Sunshine Etude, Op. 10 no. 8

The bass is relatively simple with this etude. But the mainly scalar melody is hard because of the speed. So overall, I would say this is Intermediate.

Etude in F minor, Op. 10 no. 9

Here it is basically switched. The bass is now difficult and the melody is relatively simple, especially compared to the bass. This I would again say is intermediate.

Etude in Ab major, Op. 10 no. 10

Both the bass and the melody are hard here. Everything is based around triplets. There are a few 3:2 polyrhythm sections which makes it more difficult than just triplets alone. That and the tempo is quite fast. I would say this is difficult.

Arpeggio Etude, Op. 10 no. 11

While both the bass and the melody are difficult, the fact that both are just arpeggios makes things easier. I would rate this as an Intermediate.

Revolutionary Etude, Op. 10 no. 12

This is another fast etude. This is very comparable to Beethoven in more ways than one. It is dramatic and is in the key of C minor. It is very octave heavy. Even places where it is written to be quiet still have just as much intensity as the loud sections. And there is sudden dynamic contrast as well. Dramatic, octave heavy, intense in quiet sections, sudden dynamic contrast, there is only 1 composer that I think of like immediately when I think of these 4 characteristics together. That is, Beethoven of course. This Etude really draws out the Beethovenian side of Chopin. I mean, just listen to it for a moment.


What composer comes to mind when you hear this? Chances are that Beethoven was your first guess. I find it odd for Chopin's pieces to be in such a Beethovenian mood. Here is an actual Beethoven piece of similar tempo and length to the Etude for comparison:


It just so happens that this Beethoven Bagatelle is of a similar difficulty to the Chopin Etude. But the Bagatelle in C minor and the Revolutionary Etude sound similar in mood and speed, don't they?

I would put this Chopin Etude in the Very Difficult category. Not just difficult but very difficult.

So, so far with the Chopin etudes, we have this:

  • Easy: Op. 10 no. 1, Op. 10 no. 2, Op. 10 no. 3
  • Intermediate: Op. 10 no. 6, Op. 10 no. 8, Op. 10 no. 9, Op. 10 no. 11
  • Difficult: Op. 10 no. 4, Op. 10 no. 5, Op. 10 no. 7, Op. 10 no. 10
  • Very Difficult: Op. 10 no. 12

Here is a link to a PDF of all of Chopin's Op. 10 etudes:

Chopin Op. 10 Etudes

How well do you think I assessed the difficulty of the etudes? I just listened to each etude a few times. I didn't actually try to play them. I didn't take time signature into account but I did take tempo into account. That is because, as far as I know, Chopin never used odd meters like 5/4 in his life. And he certainly didn't use Irrational meter. Compound time signatures can sort of be thought of as triplet equivalents to simple time signatures. This becomes more true the more beats there are. While 6/8 can be thought of as a triplet 2/4, it doesn't really have a 2/4 feel to it. It has its own unique feel. 9/8 can be thought of as a triplet 3/4 and 12/8 essentially is a triplet 4/4. Thus, I treated all time signatures equally and just didn't take them into account in my assessment of the Op. 10 etudes.
 

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Here are Henle edition's marks on the level of difficulty of op. 10 (Scale from 1 to 9):

Etude C major op. 10,1 Piano 9 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude a minor op. 10,2 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude E major op. 10,3 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude c sharp minor op. 10,4 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude G flat major op. 10,5 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude e flat minor op. 10,6 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude C major op. 10,7 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude F major op. 10,8 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude f minor op. 10,9 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude A flat major op. 10,10 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude E flat major op. 10,11 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etüde (Revolution) c minor op. 10,12 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

...aha! They are all difficult :)
 

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As someone who has attempted to play / played most of those in some fashion, I can tell you that Op.10 no.2 is by far the hardest (even considering Op.25). It's very deceiving - looks easy, but is extremely challenging not only for its awkward fingering but for its test of one's stamina. Getting a proper light and fluttering tone on no.2 is almost as hard as getting the technique down.

In general something to keep in mind is not only how fast the piece is, but how naturally it conforms to your hand shape as well as how much it tires you out (a problem with leaps). I can say Op.10 no.1 is challenging simply for clarity, especially once your hands start getting stiff and tired (I'd rank as difficult/very difficult). You're certainly right about no.4 being hard, but no.12 and no.5 are actually surprisingly easy - they are not nearly as awkward to play as some others, regardless of their tempo. In fact I'd say no.12 and no.5 are both intermediate bordering on easy.
 

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That is because, as far as I know, Chopin never used odd meters like 5/4 in his life..
Chopin was actually somewhat revolutionary for being one of the first to use a meter of 5/4, in the 3rd movement of his first piano sonata.
I'll also have to disagree with you greatly on the difficulty of the etudes themselves as well. The first two are actually regarded by many as being the most difficult of the set, and no. 5 and no. 12 for me at least are the easiest out of both Op. 10 and Op. 25, save for 25/1 and possible 10/3.
 

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Here are Henle edition's marks on the level of difficulty of op. 10 (Scale from 1 to 9):

Etude C major op. 10,1 Piano 9 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude a minor op. 10,2 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude E major op. 10,3 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude c sharp minor op. 10,4 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude G flat major op. 10,5 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude e flat minor op. 10,6 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude C major op. 10,7 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude F major op. 10,8 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude f minor op. 10,9 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude A flat major op. 10,10 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etude E flat major op. 10,11 Piano 7 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

Etüde (Revolution) c minor op. 10,12 Piano 8 difficult
ABRSM: Piano LRSM

...aha! They are all difficult :)
I'd also like to note in response to this that Henle levels are generally highly inaccurate. The Grieg concerto is only level 7, and until very recently the pathetique sonata was an entire level higher, though it is now the same level. Also, Henle rates much easier pieces such as the first and final movements of the Holberg suite at the same level.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I'd also like to note in response to this that Henle levels are generally highly inaccurate. The Grieg concerto is only level 7, and until very recently the pathetique sonata was an entire level higher, though it is now the same level. Also, Henle rates much easier pieces such as the first and final movements of the Holberg suite at the same level.
Yeah, I think they are only accurate for beginner and intermediate level pieces and even more specifically Bach and Mozart.
 

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You have the difficulty backwards, I'm afraid. 10/1, 10/2, and 10/4 are the most difficult while 10-5 and 10-12 are not as difficult.

Having played them, this is my personal ranking: 10/1
Yes, Op. 10, no. 1 is a brute -- all that stretching and re-positioning at such a rapid tempo. When I hear some pianists rattle through it unperturbed I just cry.
 

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At some point Chopin's difficulty is very subjective, it's much easier to learn a piece that you really enjoy to listen to, (even though most of his pieces I feel this way). For this reason my second ever piece was Beethoven's Moonlight sonata simply because I really liked it. My point being I disagree that all Nocturnes are easier than the Etudes. Tristesse for instance I find a little awkward but the legato (smooth) like flow (minus the mid section which is a little fast) is far easier than the wide common awkwardness of the left hand in many of the Nocturnes.
 

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I figure if I have a difficult time playing the "Revolutionary Etude" on the keyboard, then I might try it with my feet ala Cameron Carpenter. He plays a couple of chords on, I believe, either the Great or Choir manual and the entire piece mostly on the pedalboard. Remarkable, one should take a look at it on YouTube.
 
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