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Etudes–Frederic Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23

Etudes are musical lessons. Composers write them to help musicians build skills, practice technique and master their instruments.

Music has lessons for writers, too. Experiencing it can help us to master skills we need in our art form—things like sensory awareness, observation, focus and how to transfer all of that into words.

Here’s a chance to use great music to tune up our writing. Let’s try it.

Read FIRST TIME THROUGH and no further. Then bring up this YouTube video of Tiffany Poon playing Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Opus 23 by Frederic Chopin.


If you’ve never heard this piece before, remember, you can only hear it for the first time once. So I suggest 1) that you find a place where you can listen without interruption and 2) that you JUST LISTEN this time and don’t watch the performance. Save that for another completely different writing opportunity.

The video plays for just short of ten minutes, so find your space, clear your calendar and listen to the music. DO NOT WATCH THE PERFORMANCE. DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS BENEATH THE VIDEO. DO NOT READ THE OTHER PROMPTS. Let this first time just be about the music.

When it’s over, write. Write for as long as you want about anywhere that the music has taken you.


Again, make sure that you have uninterrupted time for ten minutes of music and then perhaps thirty minutes of writing.  This time, watch the video while you listen to the music. Write about not only what you hear, but also about what you see. React to the performer and her performance. What does her body language express? How does watching this pianist affect your appreciation of the music?


Before you watch and listen this time, read the comments beneath the video. Understand that this performance is a world-class competition. Listen carefully and watch the video right to the very end. Then write about the performance as if you were the performer.

So there you have it. Three writing opportunities with a single Ballade. Decide whether you have three separate pieces or whether they are all aspects of a single piece and revise to reflect your decision.