Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major is one of three nocturnes in his Opus 9. It is arguably his most famous nocturne and one of the most famous pieces he ever composed. The elegant, evocative melody in this nocturne is familiar to all lovers of classical and romantic piano music. In this article we will cover some of the challenges presented in this piece, how long it might take to learn it, and what piano grade it is considered.
What Grade is Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in ABRSM and TCL?
This nocturne is not on a syllabus for either the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) or TCL (Trinity College London) but it is around an early grade 8 level of difficulty. While the notes themselves are not technically very difficult, it requires a greater marginal level of skill to play well. It is often this added level of musical maturity required to play Chopin’s pieces that make them harder than they initially seem. It is similar in difficulty to Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4, which is on the ABRSM grade 8 piano syllabus. This song is written in the key of A minor and 3/4 time. It is fairly slow in tempo and about 4 pages long. Another comparable piece on the TCL grade 8 piano syllabus is Nocturne No. 8 by Poulenc. It is written in the key of G major and 3/4 time. It is two pages long and is to be played at a moderate tempo.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in E-flat Major?
This nocturne is relatively one of the easier nocturnes Chopin composed, played at an andante tempo. It does not use any very fast techniques, aside from trills and occasional runs which are still only moderately fast in context of the tempo. However, the challenge in this nocturne is the musicality. It requires a high level of interpretive technique and musical maturity to play this nocturne. It is written in the key of E-flat major (which shares the same key signature as C minor) and in 12/8 time and is about 3 pages long.
The left hand largely plays a pattern of one bass note with two higher register chords. These single bass notes form their own line if you listen to them separately, while the higher chords act as an accompaniment to this line. The right-hand melody sings gracefully over this left-hand arrangement throughout the piece.
These left-hand leaps should be carefully practiced so that you can devote most of your focus to the melody in the right hand without breaking the fluidity of the accompaniment.
Some areas that may require extra attention are some of the more elaborate runs in the right hand.
For these passages, make sure to start slow and listen to a recording several times to understand how the left hand and right hand fit together. Figure out a fingering that feels comfortable and efficient in your hand with the most effortless sound. Play hands together very slowly at first to figure out where the right hand notes fall in relation to the left hand. When it feels more natural, slowly increase the tempo.
For the right hand, be sure to play it separately first. Singing the melody with your voice can help you internalize the expression of it, and help you ‘sing’ it with the piano.
The key in this piece is the range of expressions that you are able to draw out of the piano. Take careful note of the dynamics, tempo, and notes in the score. All these elements are important to interpreting this piece well and hopefully in a way Chopin would have approved of.
The entire piece only has 32 measures but because it is in 12/8, there are twelve eighth notes in a measure, so the volume of notes is still substantial enough to fill three pages. The melodic material is recurring, but when it repeats it is varied with added notes and rhythmic changes. However, the left hand remains largely the same when a section repeats, so there is less unique content to learn in the left hand.
If it is possible to learn 4-5 measures a week, an intermediate pianist could likely learn this piece in 6-8 weeks with consistent practice. But it may take up to three months or longer to finely tune it to performance level.
Can You Play Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 on a 54-Key Keyboard?
Typically, a 54-key keyboard starts on C2 and ends on F6. If you try to play this nocturne as written, you will quickly run into some issues in the bass in measure 5.
The left needs to play a very low B-flat, but this is the note right below B1, so it is not on a 54-key piano. There is also a low A1 later in the piece.
It may be possible to play these low notes an octave higher, but the bigger problem is that towards the end there is a section that is 8va, or played an octave higher than written.
Most of the top notes of these octaves are played in the seventh octave, which does not exist on a 54-key piano. And since the left hand plays so high into the treble register, it would be difficult to play the notes an octave lower. You could maybe play only one melody note from the octaves, but it would not have the same effect Chopin intended.
If a 54-key keyboard is all that you have access to, you might be able to rearrange certain parts so that they fit on the keyboard. But it will not have the same effect if certain things are played in the wrong octave, so it is always better to use a full-size keyboard when possible.
If You Can Play Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, are You Considered “Good” at Piano?
In short, one could say yes.
In reality however, “good” is a very subjective term that often depends on the context and who is listening. This is a beautiful piece that is certainly at least at an upper intermediate piano level and may seem advanced to people who have little or no piano experience. You definitely need to have an acute ear for the right tone and good technique in order to play this song well.
So if you want to learn a piece that makes you ‘good’ at piano (though somewhat superficial) this piece may fulfill that intent. In the grand scheme of piano repertoire though, this piece is rather low to moderate in difficulty. But what is most important is that if you don’t know this piece, learning it will expand your musical horizon and help you learn new skills as you work through the challenges of it.
Chopin’s nocturnes are well-known for their charming and moving melodic content. Today they are some of the most listened to pieces of romantic music. Learning a Chopin nocturne is a great way to expand your repertoire into the romantic period and challenge yourself expressively. In addition, because it is so popular, there are many resources available online that provide insight as to how to play this nocturne. If you are interested in learning this nocturne, find some recordings that you enjoy and listen to them often for reference, and you can begin your journey to playing this beautiful nocturne.