Posted by: Michael | April 24, 2013

Haydn Sonata in a Month Day 1

Measures memorized so far (1st mvnt): 32/143

Hello, my name is Teodor. I study in the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine arts in the ancient city of Plovdiv (Bulgaria). I’ve been playing piano for a bout 4 years now (maybe less than that) and so far it’s been an incredible journey of personal drive, searching for motivation, meeting new and interesting people, love and despair, all the good and bad things you would normally expect on a long journey. In this case it is a life-long journey. I am generally very badly organized as a person and this particular project will be a challenge to overcome my flaws.

As you can imagine I am always behind on my assigned pieces but so far I have passed all my exams. For the final exam this year, however, we have to play an entire sonata. I chose Haydn – Sonata hob xvi 27 G Major.

While it’s not particularly difficult to read through, the tempo is challenging and the articulation and little details involved make it a difficult piece to perform.

I have never completed any piece to a decent degree in such a short time. My last Haydn sonata of which I played only the first movement took me 6 months and even then it was nowhere near good but it was flowing nicely and it was fun to play. I learned a lot from it which I am going to use here.

This is not really day one because I took time to read through it on more than one occasion. This initial study, does not help me much as I can not even play movement one from beginning to end without stopping and making some mistakes.

First order of business is to get the first movement in shape. Being able to play it slowly with no mistakes is crucial.

So far I have the first page down but I still do not play it well, so I am thinking that even this slow tempo I took should become slower to ensure proper playing:

The only thing I can think of is to learn it by heart, starting today so that I can remove the technical difficulties more easily. Being able to look at my hands makes things twice as easy. It will also allow to begin gradually increasing the tempo once I can play it with no mistakes.

To ensure proper memorization I will separate in sections and learn each hand, then put them together. I can pretty much handle it hands together but I have come to realize with some experience that being able to play each hand from memory before attempting hands together is much more safe than doing it all at once from the beginning.

In the event that this turns out to be impossible and I fail the exam, I will have to repeat it which will maybe give me the whole summer to work on it. So I am not worried about the exam. What I want to do, however, is push myself to my limit and discover just how much I can do in a month of concentrated practice on one piece. I feel that this stressful situation can be overturned in my favor and benefit my practice regime in the long run.



  1. Good luck Teodor. I will be following up your progress. I am a beginner piano student, 18 months. I I can not provide constructive feedback. I am keen to learn how you go about it. As one day, I would like to be able to do what you are doing. I have some questions at this stage:
    How many measures is your sonata ?
    Do you plan to memorise all or some sections only ?
    How often do you plan to practice daily ?
    Will you be practicing anything else ?
    Have you already sight read the sonata ? How many times ?
    Will you getting the support of any music teacher ?

    I am sure you can do it. Good luck.

    • Hello thank you for your comment. I will try to describe my process in future posts, it’s a mix of techniques taught by me over the last 2 years. For example, I am constantly switching from playing the notes as chords, you group up the notes in the left hand for example in the chords they make, this way your fingers learn the positions much much faster. You can also memorize in chords first and then break them up. Articulations are different to perform, here you have to contantly switch from legato to staccato in places and there are different kinds of staccato. There are many modulations in the left hand that are difficult to pull off without stopping unless you learn the left hand perfectly alone.

      I plan to memorize as much as possible. If at the exam I am ,left with a couple of pages that I do not know by heart, I might use the sheet music for them. It’s very unlikely that the jury will want to listen to a beginner perform a whole sonata. So I am almost certain they will stop me somewhere in each movement and tell me to start the next one, Especially if they do not like the tempo.

      For this exam I will rely on slower tempos but polished expression and articulation, no rhythmic problems should occur and movements should all flow with no problem even if I do take it slower.

      As for how many measures, you can see how many is the first movement. It’s the biggest, the rest are about half as much and there are 3 movements and a Trio. The trio is less than a page long.

      I have sight read the first movement about 15 times, the rest 2-3 times. The last movement I have played from the end to the beginning in sections. However I cannot reliably sight read it when under pressure. So I have to memorize it.

      Daily I practice in the morning from 7:30 till 10 at the academy. I have lunch at about 12. I then go back home and practice 3-4 more hours. The second time I practice I space them out during the whole day. I do not sit and play 3 hours straight.

      I have weekly lessons with my piano professor.

      As for other pieces I also have an exam in chamber music. I am simultaneously working on:

      – Mozart Violin and Piano Sonata ( 2 movements, first one is “ready”, second one is a mess by the end of the movement the tempo is fast there and I haven’t been practicing it properly)
      – Bartok Romanian Folk Dances (3 of them), I only started on those yesterday, I have 1 month
      – Grieg – Solveig’s Song (violin and piano), I got this going well. It’s a matter of learning to follow my partner better as his is the soloist in this one unlike in the piano and violin sonata where the piano dominates most of the time.

      Also I have to maintain and improve Debussy – Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum but that one I can leave for now as I already passed my exam with it last week.

      That’s about it. Some days I can’t concentrate well, but I have to keep going. I need to learn discipline if I ever want to be good at piano.

      I have 2 more years in the music academy after this. I imagine that when I graduate I will have reached a general level of understanding and ability which I can then improve on. I plan to take 2 years masters degree in piano if I somehow manage to become better in those 2 years.

      I have many problems with my playing, it’s not so easy to learn as an adult. Kids would adjust much faster, I think. In addition I have a part-time job and I travel each week. But I try to put music first, there is no other way to be good. So I am famous in college for turning down various party invites because when I go out at night I feel terrible the next day and I don’t like being unable to practice efficiently.

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