Prokofiev's Toccata in D minor Op.11 has long been one of my favourite short piano works.
I own over 10 recordings of it and have seen it performed live twice. Nikolai Demidenko signed my copy of the score after his performance.
Back in the late '90s, a piano-playing Linux guy called Stuart Trusty encouraged me via an email that, with the right practice, I could learn the piece in a year.
I had a couple of false starts and didn't go back to it for a decade.
But with my 39th birthday coming up, I've decided that one of my goals for my 40th birthday will be to finally learn to play the Toccata.
Based on many of the suggestions Stuart Trusty gave me all those years ago, I'm taking a very systematic approach to learning the piece.
I'm currently re-typesetting the piece in Lilypond so I can produce individual fragments for analysis and daily practice.
The products of the year-long project will not just be (hopefully) the ability to play the piece but a detailed practice diary, analysis, recordings, etc.
It's really stretching my Lilypond abilities (even before it's stretched my piano-playing abilities :-)
Got back a test print/bind from Lulu of an early draft of my fragment breakdown.
Very impressed by how it turned out although I'm glad I did the test as there's a lot I want to change with margins, etc.
I've finished typesetting the complete right-hand and am now just deconstructing the fragments in the second half.
Kicked off the "year" with right hand fragments 1, 12 and 25, the most basic stuff in the whole piece.
Yesterday was introducing the right hand to fragments 2, 4, 13, 16 and 18.
Today I did right hand fragments 3 and 15.
Fragment 3 is pretty straightforward if you're comfortable with chromatic scales.
Fragment 15 (especially 15.2) is the most challenging fragment so far (although a lot worse is coming).
So far I've pretty consistently done 3 sessions a day each involving playing the fragments (including ones from previous days) 3 times each without a metronome as slow as needed to play well.
I'm finding it addictive and want to play more but limiting myself to 3 x 3 because I know it's going to get much harder very soon.
So far have introduced my right hand to fragments 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 25.
Here's a PDF of the current version of my typesetting of the right hand with fragments marked so it's clearer what I'm talking about when I reference fragment numbers.
I think today, I'll just stick with practicing what I've already been doing.
Introducing right hand to fragments 5 and 14 which means I'll have 1-5, 12-16, 18 and 25 started.
Fragment 15.2 continues to be the most problematic for me. I tried playing everything else with a metronome at half speed: no problems. But I get "metronome anxiety" with 15.2.
Introduced a simplified Fragment 17 to my right hand and am now playing 1-5 and 13-18 (with that simplification) all the way through with half speed metronome. I seem mostly over my metronome anxiety in 15.2
Started playing the proper Fragment 17 yesterday. I can just make the stretch. Definitely the hardest part of the piece for me so far.
Today I learnt fragments 6, 8 and 19. No major problems although it remains to be seen how I go at faster speeds.
Seeing how I'm going so far, I think my year-end goal is to be able to play the entire right hand at 50+ bpm.
Pretty amazing YouTube performance of the Toccata by a 12-year-old and I love this in the description:
Any poorly chosen fingering leads to treachery, and this is one of the most mangled pieces on YouTube, in terms of sloppiness and missed notes.
Anna's performance, while not perfect, is actually one of the better ones I've seen. I would be delighted if I can eventually play it like her at over 3 times her age :-)
Continuing to practice 1-6, 8 and 13-19 three times a day.
Fragment 17 is still the weakest part. I can take it up from quarter speed to over half speed but still stumble playing it in context at half speed.
No plans to introduce new fragments this week although 7 and 20 would be the obvious choice.
That would allow me to focus on starting 9, 11, 22 and 24 next week.
I think I will go ahead and start 7 and 20 this week.
Haven't yet decided when I'll start the left hand. I guess I need to start typesetting it soon :-)
Introduced my right hand to fragment 9 tonight.
Still not great with 7 and 20 but 17 is getting better and 15.2 is fine if I don't lose my concentration.
Haven't been great with my practice the last week: missed a couple of days and haven't done 3 sessions in a single day since last Wednesday.
I'm now playing fragment 9 at quarter-speed
After a couple of days of playing fragment 9 at quarter-speed then taking a day off yesterday, I went to play it today and can fairly easily manage 40 bpm.
Started on fragment 22 which is the same as 9 a tone higher.
Not much left to go now. I still think it's possible to hit my goal of entire right hand at 50 bpm by end of 2012.
I can already do that for 1-8, 12-20 (and in some cases can play much faster than 50 bpm).
I can play 9 at 40 bpm.
Just starting 22 without metronome.
Haven't yet started 10, 11, 21, 24, 26 or 27.
It's been a while since I've posted, partly because my practice was minimal last week :-( but yesterday I introduced my right hand to the remaining fragments and today can play through the entire right hand (albeit painfully slowly in the new sections).
I think I'm going to try for the entire right hand at 30 bpm by Wednesday, 40 bpm by Christmas and 50 bpm by New Years.
Started typesetting the left hand this morning so I can start on it tomorrow (the start of month two) while working on the right hand with metronome.
I haven't actually started the left hand yet (and am behind typesetting it) but I can play the entire right hand at 40+ bpm so I'm on track there.
It's been a dismal year so far for practice. Illness got me out of the habit.
I've only played the right hand a couple of times and I haven't finished typesetting the left hand yet.
Will be at the two-month mark in two days so need to get my act together. I'll try to at least have the typesetting done so I can start on the left hand for the third month while continuing the right hand at a minimum of 50 bpm.
Finished typesetting the left hand (although without analysis) ready to start learning it tomorrow.
It's been six months since I've given an update. To be honest, I probably stopped playing for 4-5 months in the middle there.
I feel like I've lost an opportunity to have a few months extra practice under my belt at this stage but a couple of weeks ago I decided I just needed to get back on the horse.
(how's that for mixing metaphors?)
I did spent probably a month learning the left hand by itself at free tempo (i.e. without a metronome, as slowly as I needed to familiarize my fingers with the piece). It wasn't too bad but I never really spent much time with a metronome doing gradual speed up.
When I resumed my practice a couple of weeks ago, I decided to combine hands. If I'm going to get this done by November 19th (which is still a possibility if I keep with it and am happy with not hitting full speed by that date) then I need to deal with the coordination issues.
It's amazing how much day-to-day improvement I've been seeing the last couple of days. Passages I struggled with last night come almost naturally to me this afternoon.
I'm still playing at free tempo but can pretty much play the first three pages, combined hands.
I think to hit November 19th, I need to be able to play the entire piece at free tempo by August 19th then I can start with a metronome.