What is Ragtime Music?

 

We are very happy to welcome our guest Jonny May www.PianoWithJonny.com on this video. Jonny is an expert at Ragtime music who will share his music and knowledge with us.

 

An early form of jazz music, created just before the turn of the 20th century, ragtime is a popular form of music that you’ve undoubtedly heard many times. Some ragtime music is completely written out (like Classical concert music) and other times it is more of an improvised style of music. You might be familiar with the rags of Scott Joplin who is probably the most famous Ragtime pianist known for The Entertainer as well as other music.

 

Ragtime is typically associated with a fast and upbeat style of music. However, Scott Joplin himself was quoted as saying, “Ragtime should never be played fast”. Is there a right or wrong speed or tempo of this music? Like most things from different eras, it’s open to interpretation. Some people prefer ragtime slower, while some prefer a faster tempo. The bottom line is enjoying the music and making it your own.

 

Another common misconception about ragtime is that it should be played with a “swing” feel to the music in which the notes are played with a long-short emphasis on each 2 note group. This style became popular decades later. What does differentiate ragtime music from other genres is the syncopated rhythms which are played off the beat of the music. When you listen to ragtime you’ll find it almost impossible not to move because of the bouncy quality of the syncopation. It makes you want to dance!

 

What’s fun about ragtime is that you can take nearly any song or piece – old, contemporary, Classical, whatever you can imagine – syncopate the rhythms and play it in a ragtime style. If you have a chance to watch the video provided with this article you’ll see Jonny play some amazing examples of taking popular music from different eras and turning them into ragtime.

 

The alternating octaves and chords in the left hand in ragtime are one of the biggest technical challenges for most people approaching this style of music. This is a technique rarely used in Classical music with some notable exceptions, such as the end of the 6th Hungarian Rhapsodie of Franz Liszt. So, what advice did Jonny give us? Simplifying the music is a great way to get yourself acclimated to playing ragtime. Jonny recommends using shorter jumps between octaves and chords and possibly leaving out some notes until you get comfortable with the style. Jonny also recommends watching your left hand as opposed to the right hand since the left hand will be jumping from octave to chord back and forth while the right hand stays relatively in the same position.

 

Another thing that’s so fascinating about ragtime music is that almost every piece contains a melancholy section. No matter how happy the piece is, there always seems to be a section that changes the mood. It’s a great compositional technique that adds depth of emotion to the music.

 

Ragtime was developed in the late 1800s through the early 20th century and really hit it’s stride around 1898 with the release of Maple Leaf Rag. It was a very popular form of music in it’s day and contemporary composers from that time would sometimes write rags or rag-style music into their pieces – such as Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk and some music of Gershwin.

 

For more information about ragtime piano you can visit Jonny’s website www.PianoWithJonny.com or subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

 

Thanks again for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions about this topic or any topic at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  We are very happy to welcome our guest Jonny May www.PianoWithJonny.com on this video. Jonny is an expert at Ragtime music who will share his music and knowledge with us.   An early form of jazz music, created just before the turn of the 20th century, ragtime is a popular form of music that you’ve undoubtedly heard many times. … Continue reading What is Ragtime Music?

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How are Piano Plates Made? Piano Parts

 

The cast-iron plate of a piano is one of the most impressive structures of the instrument. It’s a large and complex part of the piano which weighs more than the rest of the piano – and you might wonder how they are made. There are actually two methods to making piano plates and we are going to talk about both of them and whether one technique is better than the other.

 

The traditional method of making piano plates is something that goes back to the 19th century. This is called a “wet sand cast plate”. In this method the plate takes a long time for the metal to cure; it can take months. This might not be the most time-effective strategy but this is still how most handmade pianos – such as Steinway and Mason & Hamlin plates are made today.

 

The Asian manufacturers found a much quicker way to produce plates for pianos – and comprises the vast majority of plates manufactured in Asia. By producing a plate with a vacuum mold process, it can be completed in just a few minutes. It’s a lot like how plastics are made – by filling a mold and letting it set.

 

Vacuum mold plates are structurally sound yet some people discern a different sound from wet sand cast plates. What is the truth? Wet sand cast plates have a higher density of metal and therefore don’t impart a metallic “ring” that you may hear from vacuum mold type plates.

 

So which one is better?

 

It’s more of a personal choice than anything else. Some people prefer the sound brighter sound of Asian pianos and some prefer the sound of American or European pianos. It doesn’t mean that one method is necessarily better than the other, but there are some sonic differences between the two.

 

I would love to hear your opinions about this topic. Have you played pianos with both types of plates? What are your impressions?

 

Thanks again for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions or comments about this subject or any subject at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

  The cast-iron plate of a piano is one of the most impressive structures of the instrument. It’s a large and complex part of the piano which weighs more than the rest of the piano – and you might wonder how they are made. There are actually two methods to making piano plates and we are going to talk about … Continue reading How are Piano Plates Made? Piano Parts

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What Makes Great Music “Great”?

 

This is a very complex and deep subject and discussing this in the limited amount of time we have for this video won’t do this topic justice. However there are some universal truths I would like to share with you. Music speaks to all of us in different ways and sometimes you may encounter a particular piece that you find to be stunning and unforgettable. What is it about certain artists that separates them from their contemporaries? Why is Mozart so much more highly regarded than his contemporaries?

 

Whether it’s listening to music, reading a novel, looking at a painting or watching a film, any piece of art sets up expectations. If you are reading a book or watching a motion picture and every time you think you know what’s going to happen next in the story it unfolds exactly as you predicted, you’ll find yourself disengaged and bored. The same thing is true for other pieces of art. A piece of music that is extremely predictable is not likely to hold your attention either.

 

The flipside to this is creating a work that is completely random and unpredictable. There are schools of music dedicated to this type of work such as expressionism and serialized music which aims to randomize elements. There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of approach – just as there is nothing wrong with making something predictable. But you might find that your audience becomes disengaged. It’s just like a movie with random images and no discernible plot – or a painting with a series of nonsensical images, complete randomness is impossible to comprehend and it can lose most of its audience just as quickly as something that is predictable yet for opposite reasons!

 

So how do you avoid these pitfalls? How can you create something that straddles the line between predictability and randomness?

 

The best pieces of art will tend to set up expectations and then surprise its audience in either big or subtle ways. The films which everyone tends to remember often have some of the most surprising elements in them. Just when the audience thinks things are going in one direction they are immediately thrown into another. If it’s done convincingly it can become something that people will remember. The same principal applies to music, setting up your audience and then surprising them in creative and significant ways will make your piece engaging and memorable.

 

Mozart was a master of Classical structure which seems deceptively simple. Yet, just when you are lulled into a sense of complacency, a turn of phrase will pleasantly surprise you with its subtle genius. It’s not shocking, but it’s a way to subvert expectations and create something captivating. Beethoven offers a different form of the same principal. His pieces are known to radically surprise listeners and keep them engaged by going down a certain path only to shock you with something completely different from what you expect. It’s can be intense in some moments and it’s never dull.

 

The balance between randomness and order is the ultimate foundation of art. You don’t want to bore your audience as much as you don’t want to confuse them. You want them to be surprised, engaged and remember your work. It’s what makes great art “great”. This holds true for musical performances as well.

 

Thanks again for joining me. I would love to hear your opinions on this subject as well. If you have any questions or comments about this subject or any subject at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

  This is a very complex and deep subject and discussing this in the limited amount of time we have for this video won’t do this topic justice. However there are some universal truths I would like to share with you. Music speaks to all of us in different ways and sometimes you may encounter a particular piece that you … Continue reading What Makes Great Music “Great”?

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Piano Lessons – The Burgmüller Studies – Part 3

 

Welcome back to our multi-part series on the Burgmüller Studies. These pieces are really great for piano students at a fairly elementary level yet provide some gorgeous music. In the first lesson we covered La Candeur (Frankness) and last time we covered L’Arabesque. Today we are going to talk about how to approach La Pastorale – which is a great piece to introduce using the pedal to students.

 

If you followed my past lessons on Burgmüller you might notice how different each of these pieces sound. It’s a great way to introduce students to many different types of music that are both easily accessible and unique from one another.

 

The key to mastering this particular piece is a lot like the first lesson we covered which is to use the weight of your arms to maintain a smooth legato with rises and falls of dynamics in each phrase. This piece has the added challenge of a degree of complexity in the left hand. As opposed to the whole notes in La Candeur, you have a pattern of repeated chords:

 

 

I always recommend practicing your music without the pedal first in order to achieve a smooth legato. The same principle remains true here. Once you feel confident, you should add the pedal to add to the smoothness.

 

After you’ve practiced both hands independently try putting them together but still practicing without the pedal. You want to achieve a smooth legato in both hands without using the pedal as a crutch. Once you can play smoothly with confidence, go back and add the pedal.

 

Why is it so important to play notes legato if you’re going to add the pedal anyway?

 

This is a likely question you hear from intelligent students. Wouldn’t the pedal make everything smooth anyway? Not necessarily. You must capture all the notes of the first chord in each group whenever engaging the pedal. If you miss any of the notes on the pedal, you will lose the legato. By playing the chords long, you will ensure that all the notes are down when you press the pedal.

 

In the next section you will not need to use the pedal but you will face a different set of challenges. You have repeated notes in the left hand and a different rhythm to deal with in the right hand:

 

 

Make sure you play these notes legato. Not just in the right hand but the left hand as well. Repeated notes present a unique challenge. How can you play these notes legato? The secret is changing the fingers you use for each note. This way you can have one finger coming going up while another finger is going down. This technique will create a sense of connectivity in the notes and create a beautiful line. Try this section with this technique and see if you can tell the difference:

 

 

Notice 4-3-2 on these B flats. You’ll notice the right hand has the same technique:

 

 

Notice the 2-3-4 listed on those notes.

 

You’ll see these numbers over repeated notes quite a bit in this piece. The secret is to change fingers for repeated notes so you can achieve a smooth sound.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin here at Living Pianos. I hope this has been helpful for you and make sure to stay tuned to our future episodes in the Burgmüller studies on piano. If you have any questions about this topic or any topic at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

  Welcome back to our multi-part series on the Burgmüller Studies. These pieces are really great for piano students at a fairly elementary level yet provide some gorgeous music. In the first lesson we covered La Candeur (Frankness) and last time we covered L’Arabesque. Today we are going to talk about how to approach La Pastorale – which is a … Continue reading Piano Lessons – The Burgmüller Studies – Part 3

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How Do You Maintain a Musical Repertoire?

 

A musical repertoire is one of the most important things a musician has. A repertoire is a demonstration of your accomplishments and provides the foundation for you as a musician, so it’s important to have music that you can play at any time which defines you. It’s important that you select pieces to add to your permanent repertoire, think of it like a resume for a job.

 

You can study an instrument for many years and if you only work on the pieces you’re currently studying you will eventually forget your old pieces you have learned and have a limited amount of music you can play. Let’s be realistic though, if you tried to keep every piece you’ve ever played fresh in your mind it would be an insurmountable task – just imagine trying to practice every piece you’ve ever learned every day; it’s impossible!

 

So how do you build a good repertoire and maintain it over the course of your lifetime?

 

Practice the pieces you want to maintain in your repertoire. Play through these pieces on a periodic basis. (It doesn’t require practicing at every session.) Try to keep these pieces fresh in your mind and never too far away from performance level.

 

Refer back to the original score. This is something that many people might not consider but it’s essential. Over time, no matter how often you revisit your pieces, mistakes and inaccuracies will creep in. By going back and referring to the score you can ensure that you are playing the pieces correctly and as originally intended. You might be surprised when you go back and revisit the score and play slowly with the score that you will see things you never noticed before. This helps you not only to maintain your repertoire but to master it.

 

Re-study pieces you really enjoy. It’s always personally rewarding to go back over a piece you particularly love and re-learn it by studying the score carefully and getting everything you can out of it. The pieces you re-learn and study again and again will become a part of your permanent memory and form a very strong part of your repertoire.

 

Thanks so much for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions or comments about this subject or any other subject please contact us directly: (949) 244-3729 or email: Info@LivingPianos.com

  A musical repertoire is one of the most important things a musician has. A repertoire is a demonstration of your accomplishments and provides the foundation for you as a musician, so it’s important to have music that you can play at any time which defines you. It’s important that you select pieces to add to your permanent repertoire, think … Continue reading How Do You Maintain a Musical Repertoire?

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Advanced Memorization Techniques

 

I have a video I made quite a while ago about How to Memorize Music which describes a technique I learned from my father Morton Estrin. www.MortonEstrin.com One of the first things I ever learned as a child sitting down at the piano was how to memorize.

 

My original technique includes a very simple process of taking one hand at a time with very small phrases. You practice each hand until memorized and then combine the two hands until it’s smooth and memorized. Once you have completed that, you move on to the next phrase connecting phrases as you learn them until you complete the piece. This is a system that has worked phenomenally not just for me, my father, and my sister, but all of our piano students and their students over many years!

 

This technique holds up for nearly any style or type of music but in some cases the music can become so complex that it can become incredibly difficult to memorize. The system may be inadequate when you have music that presents a middle voice that is distributed between the two hands such as in a Bach Fugue or a Scriabin Etude. It becomes very difficult to learn only one hand at a time in this situation. Luckily, there are some techniques you can use to work through these challenges.

 

In the case of the middle voice, try practicing only the middle voice (using both hands). The important thing is to get through each individual phrase and do your best to combine them. It may be incredibly difficult to combine the phrases and you might find yourself struggling to do this. The best thing is to keep working: learn a phrase, learn the next phrase, and then try your best to power through them. Even if you can’t combine them in a fluid way, don’t stop; just keep advancing through the phrases of music. This might sound counterintuitive to the process I described earlier, but if you wait until the phrases are smoothly connected, you limit how much you can learn in one sitting. Then when you practice the next day you can combine phrases to get a more fluid connection. You still may not be able to connect all the phrases, but you can break it down in the following manner (or something similar depending upon the context):

 

Day one: Learn 2 measure phrases and connect each 2 measure phrase to the adjacent phrase.

 

Day two: Learn 4 measure phrases.

 


Day three:
Connect all the phrases!

 

You can continue working in this manner in each successive section of the piece.

 

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

  I have a video I made quite a while ago about How to Memorize Music which describes a technique I learned from my father Morton Estrin. www.MortonEstrin.com One of the first things I ever learned as a child sitting down at the piano was how to memorize.   My original technique includes a very simple process of taking one … Continue reading Advanced Memorization Techniques

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