Czerny Study Tutorial: Beautiful Phrasing and Alberti Bass (Grade 3)
In today’s video, we’re going to do a Czerny study tutorial: Specifically his study in E flat major, op. 139 no. 49.
As we do with all tutorials, I’m going to play through the piece so you can get it in your head an follow along. Then we’ll talk about key learning points for this study, including phrasing, Alberti bass, form, and ornaments.
Why learn studies?
It’s a great idea to learn studies and etudes on the piano – they teach you really specific skills, in a way that’s more fun than just learning scales and stuff. Some composers, like Chopin, believed that it was better to learn etudes instead of mechanical exercises (Liszt, however, would have disagreed).
We’ve done beginner-level Czerny play-throughs on this channel before, but he’s a great composer to re-approach as we advance into the early intermediate stages. Czerny wrote massive amounts of studies for people of all levels and ages, and they’re generally quite lovely.
Before we play through this piece, let’s spend a moment discussing the backstory of it. As you may know, Czerny was a student of Beethoven’s, and was himself a highly successful music teacher in the 1800s.
The study we’re looking at today is from his collection called “100 Progressive Studies, op. 139”, and is exactly what it sounds like – a collection of 100 short studies that start at a beginner level and work their way up in difficulty. It was published in 1827, right around the end of the Classical era and the start of the Romantic one.
If you’re into developing your piano technique and you tend to get bored with scales, this collection is really worth checking out.
Czerny — 100 Progressive Studies without Octaves, Op. 139
Composed by Carl Czerny (1791-1857). Edited by Maurice Hinson. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Classical; Masterwork; Romantic. Book. 72 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.4839).
Czerny study tutorial: Basics
As always, I like to start by going over basic concepts in this piece. Firstly, what key is it in? We’ve got three flats. The key of F has 1 flat, and if we move down a fifth we hit the note Bb, which has 2 flats. If we move down a fifth one more time we reach Eb, which is the key of our piece (and the title of it).
Eb major scale
If you’ve never played an Eb major scale, now might be the time to give it a try! I like reviewing the key of whatever piece I’m learning by going through its scale. Scales that start on flats have a slightly more unusual finger pattern:
- RH) 2 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3
The goal with any scale is to keep your thumb and pinkie off the black keys.
Czerny study tutorial: form
Next, let’s take a look at the form. I always like reviewing the structure of a piece, because it gives me an idea of how to practice, and what I’m working with.
This form is incredibly easy to pinpoint because of how it’s divided by double bar lines. This is clearly binary (2-part) form. You have the first half, and then the second half is a little different (but not wildly different).
Czerny study tutorial: finger pedaling and alberti bass
So now let’s take a look at the Alberti bass. Alberti is a broken chord pattern where you alternate from the lowest note to the highest note, to the middle note, and then to the highest note again.
In this piece there’s a variety of different chords used. We have our standard Eb chord, and then the second most common chord in a piece – the dominant – Bb in this case. Then we’ve got a couple F7 chords thrown in the mix, and so on.
As if the alternating Alberti bass pattern wasn’t enough, the left hand also involves finger pedaling. Finger pedaling is where you hold one note down with your finger while other notes play over top of it (in the same hand).
The finger pedaling is going to be done almost exclusively with your left hand pinkie finger (finger #5). Get used to anchoring that finger on the bass note – your finger is going to want to come up when you play the other 3 notes in the set, but you want to really discipline your hand.
Finger pedaling gives us a nice sustained sound, something that isn’t quite accomplished with the pedal (which I also use lightly in this piece, in the standard syncopated style). It gives those bass notes a sense of weight, and they ring through more clearly.
Luckily the Alberti bass pattern is just to be played at a moderate speed in this piece. In many classical pieces, you’ll run into speedy allegro Alberti bass, which takes some getting used to if you’ve never done it before. A moderate speed is a great place to start!
Czerny study tutorial: beautiful phrasing
Now let’s have a look at the phrasing. Surprise: There is none! But just because Czerny didn’t manually draw in phrases doesn’t mean he wanted to play the notes choppy, or without expression. In fact, the playing instructions, “dolce cantabile”, tell us to play “sweetly and in a singing style”.
The best way to figure out how to play in a singing style is to literally sing the tune. Where are you naturally wanting to draw breath? These are your phrase breaks.
For me, the melody seems to work in 2-bar phrases. So not only do we want to create a lifting sound at the end of this invented phrase, but we want to give the phrase shape, too. Where’s the high point of the phrase?
I tend to imagine the notes following the shape of the phrase – rising and swelling, and then falling. I keep that in mind when I’m playing the melody on the piano. I really try to vary how I hit the keys so they’re not all the same volume, and so they sound lifelike – “in a singing style”.
A note on the ending
Finally we’ve got this tricky little ending with a bunch of descending 8th notes and ornamentation. You can probably already tell this part is going to need special attention – so don’t leave it to the very end and neglect it. You’d hate to be able to perform this piece beautifully and then butcher the ending.
The best way to start learning this part is without the ornaments. The finger pattern needs some work and getting used to, and it’s easier to do that when you’re not distracted by a bunch of extra notes.
Once you’ve got the hang of this section sans-ornaments, and you’re comfortable with the finger patterns, it’s time to add in those ornaments. There are three little trills all in a row, and they mean the same thing: instead of playing a single note, you play three notes.
You play the note that’s written, then the note just above it, and end with the original note again.
(We did a whole video on ornaments if this is confusing to you).
The sheet music for this piece can be found in this collection:
Czerny: 100 Progressive Studies. You might want to check out some of the other studies (beyond #49 from this video) – they’re great little exercises.