NPR logo Annihilating The Ivories: A Solo Piano Workout Mix

Annihilating The Ivories: A Solo Piano Workout Mix

A man gets in touch with his inner piano diva. Note how he is standing up in an effort to burn more calories. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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A man gets in touch with his inner piano diva. Note how he is standing up in an effort to burn more calories.

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Every day, pianists hear sob stories from people who took lessons as a kid and then stopped. These former students almost invariably wish they'd continued. Some wish they could impress potential paramours with their mad skills, while others simply want to casually pinpoint piano music on television in front of friends. But they can't.

Then there are those who never learned piano at all. But don't fall apart if you suffer from this sad affliction: Even if the simple mechanics of "Chopsticks" elude you, it's still possible to lead a normal life. And one way to experience the rush of playing a concerto without actually touching the keys is to combine the music with other physical activites, such as working out. (Of course, for pianists, playing can be a workout in and of itself.)

A word of caution: If you think exercise consists of sitting on the couch squeezing a stress ball, then this workout mix isn't for you. If you have high blood pressure, then you should listen with care. In fact, if you have any history of coronary disease in your family, you probably shouldn't listen at all.

Annihilating The Ivories: A Solo Piano Workout Mix

Cover for Schumann by Nissman

Toccata for piano in C major, Op. 7

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Schumann: Toccata in C major, Op. 7

  • Song: Toccata for piano in C major, Op. 7
  • from Schumann by Nissman
  • by Barbara Nissman

Do you feel that gym membership isn't in the stars for you? Learn and play this toccata instead. The word "toccata" comes from the Italian for "touch" -- and the athletic challenge here is to touch every note as fast and accurately as you can. Do it right and you're guaranteed to break a sweat. Performing the opening passages alone have caused many a right hand to shrivel and die. Schumann never wrote actual exercises for the piano, but he probably figured this piece made up for that.

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Song
Schumann by Nissman
Album
Schumann by Nissman
Artist
Barbara Nissman
Label
Pierian
Released
2005

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Cover for Bartók: Works For Piano Solo

Suite, Op. 14: III. Allegro Molto

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Bartok: Suite, Op. 14: Allegro Molto

  • Song: Suite, Op. 14: III. Allegro Molto
  • from Bartók: Works For Piano Solo
  • by Zoltán Kocsis

This piece is, for lack of a better word, insane. Before you even know what's happening, the left hand comes growling out of the lower register like a demon freight train from hell. Add the percussive melody in the right hand and the blistering tempo, and this is guaranteed to get you pumped. Not recommended while lifting hand weights -- you need to be sprinting uphill with 40 pounds on your back to truly appreciate this piece.

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Song
Bartók: Works For Piano Solo
Album
Bartók: Works For Piano Solo
Artist
Zoltán Kocsis
Label
Philips
Released
1995

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Cover for Martha Argerich Plays Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording

Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, CT. 203

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Chopin: Sonata in B Minor, Op.58: Finale

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, CT. 203
  • from Martha Argerich Plays Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording
  • by Martha Argerich

Chopin's 200th-birthday celebrations this year are getting old, but the B minor sonata never will. Something about the rollicking 6/8 meter of the finale leaves us all breathless -- which naturally burns calories that much faster. Besides, the Tolkien-esque aura of darkness and peril is bound to boost heart rates. This is the piece they should have played when Aragorn is running across the plains of Rohan after the orcs who stole the innocent hobbits. But I digress.

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Song
Martha Argerich Plays Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording
Album
Martha Argerich Plays Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording
Artist
Martha Argerich
Label
EMI
Released
1999

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Cover for Alkan: 12 Études, Op. 39

Études dans tous les tons mineurs (12), collection of etudes for piano, Op. 39 [No. 3, Scherzo diabolico]

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Alkan: Scherzo Diabolico

  • Song: Études dans tous les tons mineurs (12), collection of etudes for piano, Op. 39 [No. 3, Scherzo diabolico]
  • from Alkan: 12 Études, Op. 39
  • by Jack Gibbons

Yes, Diabolico means "devilish." It's unclear whether Charles-Valentin Alkan was referring to speed or straight-up difficulty when he named this piece. Scholars are just starting to rediscover his works, so the jury might be out for a while. However, the best way to rediscover a composer is to get physically involved with the music. So load this piece on your player and make your feet match the beat while you're puffing down your neighborhood running path.

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Song
Alkan: 12 Études, Op. 39
Album
Alkan: 12 Études, Op. 39
Artist
Jack Gibbons
Label
ASV
Released
1995

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Lugansky

Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54 [II Allegretto]

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Beethoven: Sonata in F major, Op. 54: Allegretto

  • Song: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54 [II Allegretto]
  • from Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major Op. 54
  • by Nikolai Lugansky

The words "perpetuum mobile" are frequently used to describe the finale of this sonata. That's because, as the phrase implies, it keeps on moving -- just like you on the Stairmaster. Put this piece on repeat to enhance your endurance. About halfway through, you'll become aware of the fact that the same pattern of straight-up eighth notes has been hammering into your head the whole time. Happily, that can only make you run faster.

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Song
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major Op. 54
Album
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major Op. 54
Artist
Nikolai Lugansky
Label
Warner Music

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