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Why You Must be Engaged in Your Musical Performance

 

This seems obvious enough. What would you be doing on stage if you weren’t engaged enough to give a performance? This topic has profound implications.

 

I remember when I was going to the Manhattan School of Music and I attended many concerts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. I would hear many emerging pianists and while most played brilliantly, sometimes I would find my mind wandering during some performances. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me until I noticed that often times, there would be a memory slip by the artist just at the point that I would lose my attention. I began to understand what the real problem was.

 

The performer would become disengaged from their performance and it would cause them to have a momentary memory lapse. Beyond their mistake, the audience would become less involved in their performance and their brief slip indicated a loss of concentration. I began to understand the importance of staying engaged in your performance and staying focused.

 

It might be difficult to find enthusiasm for a piece you have practiced countless hours and played on numerous occasions. Sometimes a piece of music may become stale and your excitement for it has waned. So how do you keep yourself engaged and your audience excited?

 

When I perform a piece I have played hundreds of times before I try to find a new expression and find something in the music I haven’t discovered before. I bring new life to something so that it isn’t a routine run through but a fresh experience. This is something that gets me excited and raises my energy and focus during a performance. In doing this I am bringing a new level of excitement to my performance and engaging the audience in the process.

 

Keeping your audience engaged and entertained throughout your performance is something you must master; it’s one of the most important aspects of becoming a great performer and not just a great pianist.

 

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

  This seems obvious enough. What would you be doing on stage if you weren’t engaged enough to give a performance? This topic has profound implications.   I remember when I was going to the Manhattan School of Music and I attended many concerts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. I would hear many emerging pianists and while most played […]

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How to Play Bach’s French Suites – (Part 1) Allemande

 

Johann Sebastian Bach did very little traveling in his life. Despite him having a wide range of music that spans many cultures, he never actually traveled to France or very much outside of Germany.

 

The Bach French Suites are based upon music Bach heard in concerts of musicians traveling from France. Bach was known for being able to imitate nearly any style of music and compose music that would be considered some of the best for each particular style.

 

The French Suites are based upon dance forms and while people might not have been dancing to his performances at the time, they do have a certain flavor and style that imitates popular dance music from the time.

 

In this series we are going to cover the 5th French Suite in its entirety. Today we will be dealing with the first movement, Allemande. I want you to notice that I don’t use the sustain pedal – I’m playing everything with only the fingers. Why is this? There is a good case for this since Bach played mostly on the clavichord, harpsichord and organ and had very limited experience with early pianos which had no sustain pedals anyway. As a result, it’s not necessary to utilize the sustain pedal while playing Bach’s music.

 

Pay special attention to the counterpoint (VIDEO: What is Counterpoint?) and how the lines intertwine with one-another. Also intrinsic to the style is the ornamentation which is indicated with various markings in the score. (VIDEO: How to Play Ornamentation).

 

You may notice that in all the French Suites the music is in A – A, B – B form. Meaning that you have a section that repeats and then a second section that also repeats. All the movements in the French Suites have a similar structure. The second section tends to be a bit longer than the first section but sometimes they are about the same length.

 

There is no phrasing or dynamics written into the music. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include any dynamics or phrasing, it means that it’s up to you how to approach the music. You must decide how to delineate the notes deciding how the notes are attached or detached and how to bring out the separate lines of music dynamically.

 

For example, in this particular piece I play the 8th notes staccato, which allows for delineating the lines. Without doing this it’s hard to tell which line is which – they all blend together! You should also embellish the music with the free use of ornamentation. For example, in the beginning of the piece I include some trills to liven up the music; without it the lines sound a little dull. Everything about the Baroque era has ornamentation. It’s a product of the time and is evident in the music, art, architecture and even the clothing style.

Thanks again for joining me and make sure to be on the lookout for the other parts in this series on Bach’s 5th French Suite.

  Johann Sebastian Bach did very little traveling in his life. Despite him having a wide range of music that spans many cultures, he never actually traveled to France or very much outside of Germany.   The Bach French Suites are based upon music Bach heard in concerts of musicians traveling from France. Bach was known for being able to […]

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What is the Russian School of Music?

 

Maybe you’ve heard of this before. It is sometimes referred to as the Russian School of Piano Playing, Violin Playing or just the Russian School of Music. Each culture has different aspects and the Russian’s are no exception. The Russian culture is known for their intense emotionalism which certainly reflects in their music. They often perform with a great intensity and emotion and this is sometimes referred to as the Russian School.

 

But is it really a school? Not so much. It’s certainly not a formally organized institution; the Russian school is no different from something like the French school. These are movements started by composers at certain periods. They brought about certain types of music and performances that distinguish an era of music.

 

Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff are two composers that defined the Russian school. They both had a large amount of intensity and emotion in their music. However, just because two pianists are from the same school doesn’t mean they play the same way. Rachmaninoff and Horowitz were incredibly different musicians; yet both were Russian pianists.

 

So what does this mean? Much like Romantic and Classical music terms are very general, Russian School is also a general term to describe a certain style and era of music. It’s something that’s done after the fact to categorize a movement of composers and style of performance.

 

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

  Maybe you’ve heard of this before. It is sometimes referred to as the Russian School of Piano Playing, Violin Playing or just the Russian School of Music. Each culture has different aspects and the Russian’s are no exception. The Russian culture is known for their intense emotionalism which certainly reflects in their music. They often perform with a great […]

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The Last Living Student of Sergei Rachmaninoff

Here is a performance of the spectacular Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodie #6. I just performed this at the 90th birthday celebration for the great pianist, Madam Ruth Slenczynska, the last living student of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

 

 

Read more about Madam Slenczynska

 

Here is a performance of the spectacular Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodie #6. I just performed this at the 90th birthday celebration for the great pianist, Madam Ruth Slenczynska, the last living student of Sergei Rachmaninoff.     Read more about Madam Slenczynska  

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Can You Ruin a Piano Finish by Touching It?

 

This might sound like a crazy question but it’s surprisingly important and if you own a piano there are a quite a few things you should know about the various types of finishes. Refinishing a piano is an enormous expense and something that can be avoided with proper care and maintenance.

 

The classic American finish of a piano is a satin hand-rubbed lacquer finish. It’s an extremely popular type of finish but it’s also very important to know how to maintain properly. You might notice that when you place your hands on your piano you may leave fingerprints. If you use light cleaning products you can wipe these off but you’re leaving yourself open to a larger problem down the road. These types of finishes are porous and if you use cleaning products, they will eventually soak into the finish and will have to be professionally removed later on.

 

So how do you clean a classic satin finish to avoid additional costs later on? The best thing to do is to use a soft cotton cloth rubbing in the direction of the hand-rubbed lines. If you have fingerprints that have gotten deeply ingrained into the finish, then you should use a slightly damp (not wet) cotton cloth and again, rub in the direction of the hand-rubbed lines. This is the best way to clean a finish like this to avoid damage. And it’s all you need to do to maintain the finish in most cases.

 

The newer type of finish popularized a few decades ago is the high-gloss polyester finish. When these finishes were first introduced, people thought they would be fragile. To demonstrate their stability, companies at trade shows years ago lit them on fire to show their strength! So, can you destroy this type of finish with your hands? While they might show more fingerprints than a satin type of finish, you can’t easily damage this type of finish with your hands because they are plastic! They are sealed so they aren’t porous so the oils in your hands don’t seep in.

 

That’s not to say that high gloss finishes aren’t without their problems. If you were to take a music book and toss it onto a high gloss lid of a piano when it’s closed, it can cause scratches and lines in the finish that are impossible to remove except by an expert refinisher. So each of these two types of finishes can be damaged in different ways.

 

Cleaning a high-gloss finish is rather simple. You can actually use a damp cloth or even Windex to clean any fingerprints or dirt off the piano.

 

There is another way in which you can damage the finish of a piano and that is by simply playing it! Any serious pianist who plays a good deal will eventually scratch their fall boards and a lot of the times it can go all the way down to the grain of the wood. My father Morton Estrin (mortonestrin.com) had a Steinway his father gave him years ago which my sister now owns, and you can see the deep indentations in the fall board exposing the wood as a result of years of practice. You may think that you don’t scratch the fall board of your piano, but if you look closely, you will see at least gentle lines if you play a good deal. The good news is that the fall board is fairly inexpensive to refinish when the time comes. I have had the fall board on my piano refinished a couple of times!

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729. If you have any other questions please contact me directly.

  This might sound like a crazy question but it’s surprisingly important and if you own a piano there are a quite a few things you should know about the various types of finishes. Refinishing a piano is an enormous expense and something that can be avoided with proper care and maintenance.   The classic American finish of a piano […]

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What is a Chord?

 

If you’ve followed my videos you might be familiar with some of my more advanced videos on this subject: How to Play Chords on the Piano Part 1 and Part 2; Diminished 7th Chords Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and What are Parallel Chords? as well as some videos that cover the basics of scales: Relative Minor Scales, Major Scales, Whole Tone Scales, and Chromatic Scales. A lot of these videos go very well with this topic and they all relate to one-another.

 

So what is a chord? It might seem simple when you think about it but trying to put it into words can be challenging.

 

A chord is 3 or more notes arranged in thirds.

 

A scale is built upon whole-steps and half-steps (seconds) and a chord is built on the interval of a third. What is a third? It is essentially every other note of a scale. So if you were to play a C major scale (or any other major scale) and leave out every other note you would have a chord! It really is that simple; you can make a chord by simply playing every other note of a scale.

 

There are two types of thirds that are used in chords: major thirds with a total of four half-steps and minor thirds which contain three half-steps. Different combinations of major thirds and minor thirds are the fundamentals of Western harmony. There are expanded chords we can get into in another video but this is the basic information on what exactly a chords is.

 

And when it comes to chords, you don’t have to start on the first note of a scale, you can start on the second, the third and so on as long as you skip every other note of the scale.

 

Thanks so much for joining me here. We will be bringing you more videos on this topic very soon. If you have any questions please contact me directly Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

  If you’ve followed my videos you might be familiar with some of my more advanced videos on this subject: How to Play Chords on the Piano Part 1 and Part 2; Diminished 7th Chords Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and What are Parallel Chords? as well as some videos that cover the basics of scales: Relative Minor […]

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Free Piano Lessons – Tips for Bach’s Musette

 

You have probably heard this piece and you may have played it yourself at some point. Musette comes from a group of pieces dedicated to Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena and they offer a great selection of music accessible to pianists on almost all levels. This is a great piece for students as it allows them to showcase their skills in very colorful and fun music without taking a long time to learn and master.

 

It is important to note that Bach did not write any phrasing or dynamics into these pieces, so nearly every copy you will come across will be slightly different. For this lesson I will be using Bach’s Musette from Virtual Sheet Music.

 

Personally I like to emulate the sound of a Harpsichord (which is one instrument Bach would possibly have played the piece on) by emphasizing the fortes and the pianos going from louder sounds to quieter sounds abruptly. The harpsichord could not go from loud to soft with touch alone, so you would have to alternate the keyboards or adjust stops like on an organ in order to adjust volume. Interestingly, you can reverse the dynamics and discover other satisfying performance possibilities!

 

There really are countless ways you can approach this music and that’s why they are such great pieces for students. It allows them to see dynamics and experiment on their own to produce a great performance. You have a lot of creative license on what you can do with this piece.

 

Before you can experiment with phrasing however you really should be able to play this piece cleanly and precisely. The very beginning features two completely different techniques in each hand: the left hand has staccatos which should be played with the wrist and the right hand has legato notes which are played with a steady hand. It is vital that the hands are played precisely together which can be challenging with the sixteenth notes. I recommend breaking down these sixteenth notes and getting your hand and fingers over exactly the right keys in advance of playing them. You can start and stop methodically in your practice making sure the hands play exactly together. It should sound very clean and precise. Without precision the music can end up sounded sloppy and lose the sparkle of the sound.

 

It can be very challenging to jump from one section to another. So practicing getting over the exact positions will help you achieve a satisfying performance. Practice playing the first section and then placing your hands over the next section without playing it. Instead, just place your hands in the next position and get ready to play the notes. When your hands are in the exact position, play the next small section. Take your time and keep going back and forth shortening the break you take between sections. Keep going until you can play in a fluid manner. It’s good to imagine a break between sections even when there is no rhythmically perceptible space allowing you to prepare for each section in advance of playing them. Even if they are incredibly small pauses, they allow you to mentally and physically prepare yourself for each section.

 

Thanks again for joining me and if you have any questions about this piece or any others please contact me directly: Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  You have probably heard this piece and you may have played it yourself at some point. Musette comes from a group of pieces dedicated to Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena and they offer a great selection of music accessible to pianists on almost all levels. This is a great piece for students as it allows them to showcase their […]

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How to End a Piece of Music

 

This is a very overlooked topic for many pianists. Ending a piece correctly is extremely important and is crucial to a great performance. While there is no one solution to the challenge, I will provide some tips on how to make your endings memorable.

 

For the example in the video above I use the Chopin Prelude in E Minor. The ending of this piece has three chords. It’s a simple ending but it can be a very powerful one with the right technique. You’ll want the music to linger in the air even after the sound has stopped.

 

The trick is to release the hands and pedals very slowly at the same time. This way if you have any issues with damper regulation on the piano the effects are minimized. You don’t want certain notes sticking out and being louder than others and you certainly don’t want an abrupt ending.

 

Many students will end a piece very abruptly and then take their hands and slap them down on their lap and act like it’s a relief to be done playing! Nothing sucks the mood out a room more than someone displaying negative emotions onstage.

 

When you hear great performances in concert halls there might be a few seconds of absolute silence after a piece. It’s a powerful tool to let the music and the emotion seep into your music. Sometimes music will actually end with fermata on the double bar even when there is no music. What is the composer telling you in a situation like this? They are visually representing what we have discussed here – letting you know that even though the music has stopped, the mood should linger in the air for a few moments. In this case it’s an actual part of the piece.

 

Another mistake that some people make is to rely completely on the pedal at the end of a piece. On a well regulated piano it might sound OK but taking your hands off the keyboard early will make the audience think the piece has ended – even if it technically hasn’t. This is true for changing movements as well. If you keep your hands on the keyboard it will let the audience know that there is more to come.

 

Thanks again for joining me, If you have any questions about this topic or any others please contact me directly: Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a very overlooked topic for many pianists. Ending a piece correctly is extremely important and is crucial to a great performance. While there is no one solution to the challenge, I will provide some tips on how to make your endings memorable.   For the example in the video above I use the Chopin Prelude in E […]

Read More