The Rite of Passage: Fur Elise

When my first student came to me and said she had learned the first part of Fur Elise,I was pleasantly surprised.

When a second student student did the same thing... I was a little less surprised. Apparently it is one of those pieces people hear pre-recorded on their keyboard and pick up by ear. Well at least the first part. This part: will help you learn it with easy to read notes...

 In fact, so many people want to learn it, there are tons of tutorials online. Like this one too:

And most people only learn that first melody. Such a tragedy!

Here's the thing: I remember wanting to play it too.

When I was in 8th grade, I went to my piano teacher and told her I wanted to play Fur Elise. I think she was a little baffled because I usually didn't want to play what everyone else was playing. I guess it is like a right of passage though, and I wanted in. So she bought me the music and we worked on it together.

I would say I'm a bit of a purist. When my younger students come and tell me that they want to play Fur Elise, we have the conversation about how long the piece actually is, and if they want to work on it with me, we are both committing to learning the whole piece.  And yes, we are both committing, because it is usually quite the undertaking for these young students and it takes determination on both our parts to get through something this long (especially when I have other students doing the exact same thing). I guess I could just say, no, you're not there yet, but so far the ones who have asked me are not that terribly far away. And if they don't get scared off by the talk, then they have some nerve and will likely make it.

After this talk, my student was still determined to learn this classic. We start in, and the student has really been doing great work.

However, after some extreme-note-learning, that lovely beginning starts to get banged out on autopilot getting faster and faster, and then phrasing, dynamics, mood, tempo...come up, over and over again. All those things that make a difference between playing black notes on a page and making music. I turn to recordings and analogies and stories and try to shift the focus from extreme-note-learning to lovely-music-making.

I wanted to share with you a recording that I've shared with my students.

You may or may not agree with the interpretation, but that is the beauty of making music- there are lots of different ways to play one piece.

And I think this recording helps turn those hardworking-student-minds back to the beauty and simplicity of the piece.


Fur Elise, played by Valentina Lisitsa

What do you do when your students tell you they want to learn a rite-of-passage piece like Fur Elise?