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Should You Start Learning on an Inexpensive Instrument?

 

This is an incredibly common question for many people and especially parents with younger children who are thinking about getting them music lessons.

 

The short answer – no matter if it’s for you or your child – should be to get the best possible instrument you can (and afford) at the very beginning.

 

A lot of people might look at this as being counterintuitive. Why would you want to buy something expensive and then be burdened later on with trying to sell it? The truth is, sometimes if you don’t invest in a good instrument it could lead to frustration and eventually end up in your child giving up entirely.

 

It’s important to commit to music lessons. If you don’t feel entirely committed or sure about something then you should look elsewhere. Music is something that takes a lifetime to master and if you think that you or your child is ready to embark on that journey then you should go full steam ahead.

 

However, starting with a cheaper instrument and working your way up can be a great option. As long as the instrument you are starting with is good enough to be played and won’t impede your progress or learning you will be fine. With pianos it’s a good idea to start with a high quality upright and then eventually upgrade to a baby grand or full size grand when the time is right. Just remember that you will eventually have to progress past an upright piano because the action is not the same as a grand piano – it will never be as quick and won’t be able to perform more advanced selections of music.

 

If you get the best instrument you can afford you won’t be sorry. Not only will the person learning be happier and more successful but it will actually retain its value much more than a cheaper instrument. Search around and find the instrument that’s right for you or your child.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com

  This is an incredibly common question for many people and especially parents with younger children who are thinking about getting them music lessons.   The short answer – no matter if it’s for you or your child – should be to get the best possible instrument you can (and afford) at the very beginning.   A lot of people […]

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Should You Play Famous Pieces of Music?

 

This is an interesting question because a lot of times people get into studying instruments because they are enamored with certain pieces of music. It may drive them to a certain instrument and they wish to recreate the sound and music they’ve heard before. But is it a good idea to fill your repertoire with well-known pieces?

 

There are a few things to keep in mind when learning any new piece. One of the biggest is the familiarity of famous pieces versus lesser known works. When it comes to learning a piece you’ve heard dozens or hundreds of times before it can become a crutch – you know what it sounds like and you will naturally emulate what you’ve heard in the past.

 

When it comes to pieces you haven’t heard before it may be much harder to learn them on your own. It’s actually quite an accomplishment and something you should definitely undertake in your musical development to learn music you’ve never heard before. Don’t listen to it at all while you are learning it. Simply figure out the music as written and use your knowledge as your guide. Once you feel confident with the piece and can play it well, listen to some recordings of it. You might be pleasantly surprised at different interpretations of the same piece and you will certainly be taken with how much of a unique spin you have put on your own version of the piece!

 

When it comes to public performances, is it better to play pieces the audience will be familiar with? There is such a wealth of music available and much of it is unknown to a lot of people. After all, Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas and only a handful of them are really well known. On the one hand, you might be worried that by playing famous pieces you will be compared to other musicians and you will be expected to perform at a certain level. This is not always the case.

 

A lot of times choosing a famous piece can be a safe bet for a performer. Orchestras constantly play the same symphonies and concertos over and over again because people really want to continue to hear the music they known. The audiences will show up time and time again to hear these pieces because they are well known and loved – just the thought of hearing them again makes them happy.

 

One of the best things you can do for your programming is to use famous pieces as a hook to get people interested and generate an audience. Once you have them there, play the famous pieces you promised but also mix in some lesser known works – you will expose them to additional music and they will love you for it. It’s a great idea to pepper your repertoire with famous pieces and lesser known ones as well.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is an interesting question because a lot of times people get into studying instruments because they are enamored with certain pieces of music. It may drive them to a certain instrument and they wish to recreate the sound and music they’ve heard before. But is it a good idea to fill your repertoire with well-known pieces?   There […]

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How Long Do Piano Strings Last?

 

This is a great question but it does not have a simple answer. If you play guitar you know that the oils in your skin can degrade the strings quickly and you will need to replace them often to get a lively tone. The piano is certainly not this extreme but the strings are susceptible to the elements as well. However, there is no definitive answer when it comes to this question.

 

Right now we have two Steinway pianos in our inventory from the 1930s. Both of these pianos actually have the original strings and they sound incredible. The bass sounds robust and the tone is vibrant; there is simply no reason to change the strings. On the other hand, we have a Steinway piano from the 1980s that we actually replaced the strings. How can this be? How can a piano that is fifty years older than others not need to be restrung? It has everything to do with the environment the piano is in.

 

The strings of a piano don’t actually age on their own; they age through outside forces and elements of their surroundings. A piano that is in a very humid environment – like near the beach – is highly susceptible to the elements. I have seen pianos in homes near the beach where the lid of the piano is left open with windows left open and the strings are rusting, breaking and just completely degraded within a decade.

 

However, here in Southern California if you go only ten miles from the beach and not too close to the desert you have an incredibly ideal environment for your piano. Just ten miles from the humidity of the beach there is an area where you can have a piano even left open in your home and not experience rust or serious problems with your strings possibly for decades. This is where I have seen 80 year old pianos still with the original strings; and they sound great!

 

There is a limit however to how long strings can last. I have seen pianos 50 to 100 years old lose some of the tone in the copper wound strings – which is where you will first see string problems. There is a simple way to check for this. Play a descending chromatic scale on the piano and notice where you transition from the steel strings to the copper wound strings. If you hear an abrupt change in tone in this transition to the copper wound strings, you know that it’s time to replace at least those strings. Sometimes you can twist the bass strings and get them back to life and sometimes you can simply replace the bass strings and be just fine.

 

The big red flag when it comes to strings is seeing rusty and broken strings – and this can be both the copper wound and steel strings. This is a sign that more strings are bound to break and it’s a good idea to restring the whole piano.

 

If you have any more questions about replacing the strings of your piano or if you have a piano in particular you would like advice with, please contact me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a great question but it does not have a simple answer. If you play guitar you know that the oils in your skin can degrade the strings quickly and you will need to replace them often to get a lively tone. The piano is certainly not this extreme but the strings are susceptible to the elements as […]

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How Many Musical Pieces Can you Practice at a Time?

 

This is a great question and it’s something people don’t often consider. Most of the time people are used to the lesson plan of learning a new piece during the week – if you’re just starting it will probably only take you a week to learn – and then starting another piece the next week. The question is, what should you do with those older pieces and when you advance further in your playing, is it possible to work on two pieces at the same time?

 

When it comes to learning new pieces, it’s always a good idea to continue to practice the pieces you’ve already learned. It’s not worth forgetting about them. If you’ve taken the time to learn them, you should continue to reinforce them and expand your repertoire as much as possible. It’s much better to have a few pieces of music in your repertoire that you can play extremely well and as you continue to practice your older pieces you will be able to play them easier and more effectively. As you continue to learn new music and continue to practice all of your pieces you, will expand your repertoire very quickly.

 

Once you get to a certain point you might have too much music, which means that you might have to start dropping older repertoire to have the time to learn new pieces. This is a good place to be. It’s always great to have a solid repertoire you can refer to and once you begin to learn and master new pieces you can simply replace older ones you no longer like as much or you don’t think showcase your talents as well. Later you may revisit these pieces.

 

Instead of playing exercises, try playing your older music It can be more beneficial than simply practicing just exercises and it will allow you to refine your playing even more. I highly recommend playing older music as warm up exercises. You will become intimately familiar and comfortable with the music.

 

Once you advance to a certain level of music, it’s going to take you a long time to learn and master a new piece. If you’re entering competitions or playing recitals you will have to learn a lot of music all at the same time. It’s beneficial to practice each of your pieces at least thirty minutes to an hour a day – and many times you will have to practice much more than that. Learning one piece at a time simply isn’t feasible for a schedule like this and you will have to learn more than one piece at a time in order to keep yourself current with your music and the goals you’ve set for yourself.

 

So the short answer is yes, you should always practice more than one piece at a time, especially your review pieces in your repertoire because it only expands your personal music library and enables you to have many pieces on a high level at the same time. I know some people who simply learn a new piece each week and drop the older ones they were learning – they never have a piece that is on a high level they can simply play at a moment’s notice. The bottom line is that if you are to perform concerts, you must have a substantial repertoire under your fingers even though you can’t keep everything you’ve learned on a high level all the time.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a great question and it’s something people don’t often consider. Most of the time people are used to the lesson plan of learning a new piece during the week – if you’re just starting it will probably only take you a week to learn – and then starting another piece the next week. The question is, what […]

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What is Prepared Piano?

 

Today’s question is something you might or might not have heard of. You’ve undoubtedly heard a prepared piano on film scores but you might not even realize what you were hearing. Today we’re going to discuss what it is as well as how you can experiment with these sounds yourself.

 

The piano has been around and advancements have been made over hundreds of years. Despite where the instruments are today, some composers still want to get even more out of the instrument. Composers like John Cage and others have experimented with altering the piano by adding different tools and other objects to the inside of the piano.

 

The video included with this article gives you an example of how a prepared piano can look and sound, although there are endless possibilities. We used just a few household objects placed on top of and between the strings. You are certainly not limited to just these types of enhancements; sometimes players will pluck strings or make changes to the keys as well – the only limit is your imagination and the capabilities of your piano.

 

If you feel brave enough to try and prepare your piano and experiment with different sounds, go for it!

 

This is a musical instrument after all and anything you want to do to illicit new sounds is fair game – there are no strict rules for what you can and can’t do. Just be careful not to harm the piano and certainly be wary of doing anything that involves pulling the action of the piano – this is something only a technician should be doing for you.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  Today’s question is something you might or might not have heard of. You’ve undoubtedly heard a prepared piano on film scores but you might not even realize what you were hearing. Today we’re going to discuss what it is as well as how you can experiment with these sounds yourself.   The piano has been around and advancements have […]

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How to Develop a Sense of Beat

 

While there are people who are supposedly tone deaf and have difficulty trying to match pitch, there are people who have an innate problem with even keeping a beat and clapping along with a song. So, is there any way to develop this? Or is it something you are born with?

 

There is a certain amount of talent that is simply “born” into some people and they are able to keep a beat well on their own, but it’s not a skill that can’t be learned. If you find yourself rhythmically challenged, here are a few exercises that can help you develop a sense of beat.

 

Traditional methods include clapping along with a beat or a metronome but sometimes these methods simply don’t work. You might encounter students that even with this type of practice still can’t keep a beat. Don’t give up on them, there is hope!

 

Simply listening to music will help develop a sense of beat a great deal. All sorts of music, rhythmic music, jazz, classical, rock, anything you can listen to will help develop a sense of beat. Beyond listening you should try moving with the music.

 

Dance is a natural way to learn to keep a beat by following the beat of the music but something as simple as even walking around a room and singing to your music or even walking around the room and timing your steps with the beat can help you develop a better sense of rhythm. Incorporating movement into your music will greatly improve your ability to keep a beat; there is actually a whole discipline called Dalcroze Eurhythmics that explores the relationship between motion and the beat of music. When you walk down the street you will most likely be keeping a steady step. Try adding in some music and you will probably find yourself naturally stepping with the beat of the music.

 

If you find yourself unable to keep a beat don’t give up. Anyone can learn this skill but like many other things in life, some people will naturally be better. Don’t get discouraged and keep trying. If you have any more questions about this or any other topic please contact me directly Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  While there are people who are supposedly tone deaf and have difficulty trying to match pitch, there are people who have an innate problem with even keeping a beat and clapping along with a song. So, is there any way to develop this? Or is it something you are born with?   There is a certain amount of talent […]

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The Art of Pedaling Part 3 – Special Uses for the Pedal

 

Welcome back to the third part in our series on The Art of Pedaling on the Piano. In our first lessons we discussed the essential techniques of pedaling and in our second lessons we talked about using the pedal to color your music. This week we will be discussing specialty uses of the pedal.

 

For our video example we used a selection in the 1st movement of the Pathetique Sonata of Beethoven. The movement starts off with forte pianos for certain chords. I’ve seen pianists approach these chords in a number of different ways. One I recommend is to push the pedal down before you play the notes – creating a booming sound before you let go of the pedal and let the chord sound forte. Another technique involves quickly letting go of the pedal on the point of attack and then quickly putting it back down. Either one of these techniques will work just fine but you don’t have to limit yourself to only these two.

 

You can feel free to experiment with your pedaling in situations like this to see what type of sounds you can create. If you listen to a number of different artist recordings of the same piece you will notice striking differences between them. Each pianist has their own unique style and take on their music; as you should have one of your own. Keep experimenting and having fun with your music.

 

Thanks again, I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  Welcome back to the third part in our series on The Art of Pedaling on the Piano. In our first lessons we discussed the essential techniques of pedaling and in our second lessons we talked about using the pedal to color your music. This week we will be discussing specialty uses of the pedal.   For our video example […]

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Should You Take Two Music Lessons a Week?

 

In the past we’ve discussed whether or not thirty minute lessons are ok, today we are going to discuss whether or not two lessons a week are beneficial. There are a number of things that affect the answer to this question.

 

The first concern is the age of the student. Sometimes younger students might not be able to sit still for a full hour so two thirty minute lessons a week can be really beneficial. It can also help the students to refresh their memory and keep a consistent flow of learning and practice. I can’t tell you how many times students have come back to me after a week and not practiced any of their material in the proper ways.

 

For adult students, two lessons a week can actually be a big challenge. The biggest issue with adults is time management. Just scheduling two lessons can be challenge enough. But having the practice time necessary to be prepared after only three or four days can be impossible for many people. If you find yourself with unlimited time then maybe two lessons a week could be beneficial for you.

 

It really comes down the individual and the amount of time they have to devote to practicing music. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to taking multiple lessons in a week. It’s a matter of what you can and want to achieve with your free time.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  In the past we’ve discussed whether or not thirty minute lessons are ok, today we are going to discuss whether or not two lessons a week are beneficial. There are a number of things that affect the answer to this question.   The first concern is the age of the student. Sometimes younger students might not be able to […]

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Should You Look at Your Hands When You Play Piano?

 

This topic will certainly have varying degrees of opinions. Some teachers will tell you that you should never look at your hands and others will say you must always look at your hands. I think there is an ideal situation for looking at your hands or not looking at your hands depending upon what type of music you are performing.

 

There are two distinctly different types of piano playing when it comes to classical music. There is solo music and chamber music. When it comes to solo music, generally you play from memory. With chamber music you will typically be reading a score since there are other musical parts of the other musicians you must be aware of.

 

When it comes to solo music, there can be leaps that will require you to memorize your scores so you can watch your hands as they make those leaps around the keyboard. It’s extremely difficult to do this without looking at your hands. There are also page turns to deal with which can be a real pain!

 

Chamber music is a little different because it involves more instruments then just the piano. The piano score actually contains the parts of the other instruments so when you’re playing it’s very important to see what is going on. If you are playing chamber music with other musicians you really should never have to take your eyes off the score except for quick glances – you should be following along the whole time. There might be sections you want to memorize because they have large leaps but typically you don’t want to take your focus off of the score in front of you.

 

With enough training you can learn how to play piano without having to look at your hands. It might seem impossible but it can be done and there are many fine blind pianists out there who prove it’s possible. You can learn to negotiate large leaps in your music through your peripheral vision as well.

 

When it comes to solo music, if you have your music memorized I don’t really see any reason why you wouldn’t want to look at your hands. It gives you the opportunity to keep your eyes on the keyboard and make sure that you are hitting the correct notes and have your hands in the right positions.

 

Generally if you have sheet music you will want to keep your eyes on the music and when you are performing solo piano music you will want to focus on your hands. Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This topic will certainly have varying degrees of opinions. Some teachers will tell you that you should never look at your hands and others will say you must always look at your hands. I think there is an ideal situation for looking at your hands or not looking at your hands depending upon what type of music you are […]

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What is Minimalism in Music?

 

You may not have heard the term Minimalism but you have certainly heard the music. This is a recent evolution in music and it is featured in countless film scores. Today we are going to discuss aspects of minimalism and what separates it from different musical styles.

 

There have been a number of cycles throughout music history. Over time, musical forms become more complex and eventually reach a point where they collapse upon themselves. By the end of Johann Sebastian Bach’s lifetime, Baroque music had become so complex that it literally broke down and ushered in the Classical era of music with its well structured forms. This is not the only time this has occurred in history and sure enough this similar pattern is found throughout musical eras.

 

The Romantic period following the Classical period shared many forms. However, the structures were expanded as was the orchestra and the length of works. Harmonies and modulation of keys in the music of Wagner, Richard Strauss and others led to the breakdown of tonality with composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern abandoning tonality completely and ushering in the 12 tone system of composition which is not based upon major and minor scales at all!

 

Eventually in the 20th century we had another breakdown in music which ushered in minimalism. This form of music took incredibly complex music and broke it down into simple patterns and textures that interweave in new and complex ways. In the video provided with this article I play an excerpt from Orphee Suite for Piano by Phillip Glass to give you an idea of what minimalist music can sound like.

 

Many works in this period evolve very slowly with very small changes throughout and some will have overlapping textures with different length looping phrases on different instruments. It’s a fascinating style of music and it’s well worth exploring other works of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams and others. Thanks again for watching I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  You may not have heard the term Minimalism but you have certainly heard the music. This is a recent evolution in music and it is featured in countless film scores. Today we are going to discuss aspects of minimalism and what separates it from different musical styles.   There have been a number of cycles throughout music history. Over […]

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