We have a very nice grand piano in New York; we got it when I was fourteen or so and at the height of my piano enthusiasm. It cost some large amount of money but, I feel, was very worth it. It’s fun to spend the weekend trying to relearn some music I used to know, in this case Chopin’s “Revolutionary” étude.
I remember it being one of the most pleasant ones we tried; the only one I thought was definitely better was some ridiculous Steinway D (a concert grand like ten feet long) and we were not about to get that. Just about the best praise you can heap on a complex instrument like that is that it’s no big deal to play it. There’s a lot of stuff that can get in your way and it doesn’t. Some pianos have heavy keys, or the halfway stop (whatever it’s called when the key sticks a bit halfway down so you can play lightly) is a little too sticky. Some have sharp tones. This one does not.
I never actually learned the Revolutionary étude; my score seems to have my piano teacher’s markings in it, but I know I never finished it. And thus it is today: I can only play the first three or four pages (roughly half). Practicing every six months is not an effective way to learn something so complex, and yes, I know that the music building at Harvard is right behind the math department. Since the beginning of my third year I didn’t spend very much time in the department and when I want to practice, it’s nice to just sit down and do it. I once tried to learn the violin to have a practical, portable instrument, but it didn’t last.
Why am I drawn to Chopin, who writes the most complicated, difficult music? The middle section of this étude is more or less random notes in the left hand and changes every few measures on top of that; I spent about a day relearning the first two and a half pages and two more days trying to be able to reproduce the rest of the third consistently. Though it should be remembered that when I was in high school and learned my first étude, it took me one week per page and I practiced every day.
The last piece I ever really learned was Chopin’s Ballade #1, and that took me four years in college and grad school and I could never really deal with the end, which is crazy. The last piece I learned that was not Chopin was Mozart’s A major sonata (the one whose third movement is that tune from Lemmings) right before college. Until I achieve satisfaction with this guy I have no motivation to try another composer, but until I can practice regularly that will never happen. I was going to ask for a digital piano for graduation but all I got was a lot of cash, and I am like a dragon when it comes to piles of cash.
Contrary to appearances, a computer keyboard is not an adequate substitute.