What is an acceptable level of action noise on a piano? You might not have ever thought about this before, but the action indeed with almost a hundred parts to each note can have some noise to it, particularly older actions. There is a way I like to test pianos. First of all, having the lid opened or closed is going to make a dramatic difference in the amount of action noise you hear. When a piano is open on a grand piano or in an upright that has the possibility of lifting up the lid or some other way of getting the sound out, you’re going to hear the mechanical noise of the action.

One way you can test how much noise your action has is to push down on a bunch of keys with the palms of your hands and then let up very quickly. Pianos that are older and are located in dry environments can have dried out leather and felt parts. This can cause extraneous noise. There can be a lot of reasons for that. So, what do you do about such a thing? Well, if the parts are not too far gone, sometimes they can be treated with chemicals to soften them up or even brushed with metal brushes to get these parts to soften up to lessen the action noise. Other times, the parts are too far gone and parts do have to be replaced in order to get a high level of performance and to minimize the level of noise.

So what is an acceptable level of noise depends upon the kind of music you play as well as the situation. For example, if you like to play aggressive pop music or rock, action noise is really not going to be much of a problem because the sound of your music is always going to be above the level of the action noise. Perhaps for a new age pianist or anyone who plays delicate music, the noise could be more distracting. As I mentioned earlier, if the piano is opened or closed, it is going to determine how much noise you hear from the action.

In recording situations, it can be vital to have a dead quiet action, particularly if you use close miking techniques for certain types of sonorities. The miking of a piano has a dramatic effect upon its tone. A close microphone can capture a very intimate kind of compressed sound that can be very appealing for certain styles of music, but you must have a really quiet action or it can be very distracting to your recordings. So, you can determine if action noise is a problem for you on your piano. I hope this has been helpful for you – info@LivingPianos.com

What is an Acceptable Level of Action Noise on a Piano?

What is an acceptable level of action noise on a piano? You might not have ever thought about this before, but the action indeed with almost a hundred parts to each note can have some noise to it, particularly older actions. There is a way I like to

Is it okay to use the pedal when playing Bach? This is a great question and there are many different ideas about this. Why should there even be issues with using the pedal or not when it comes to playing Bach? Bach lived from 1685 to 1750 and the very earliest pianos were invented just around 1700. While Bach got a chance to try some of these early instruments, he really never wrote for the piano. He never wrote for any specific keyboard instrument other than the organ. All his other works are written for clavier, which means simply “keyboard”. It is up to the performer to decide which keyboard. No keyboards had pedals anytime during Bach’s life (other than the organ, but that’s a completely different matter).

There are many purists who feel that you shouldn’t use the pedal simply because Bach did not have one. Other people feel that if Bach was alive today, he would love to use the pedal! There are different schools of thought. There is some music that absolutely calls for the pedal. Why? Music is written sometimes where there are notes to be held, yet you run out of fingers since you have to move your hands to another part of the keyboard. So the only way to hold those notes that are written to be held is to sustain them by using the pedal.

You can certainly play Bach without the pedal and get very good results. When I studied with Ruth Slenczynska, she insisted upon using no pedal in Bach and it works great! I am going to offer an example, of the beginning of Bach’s 5th French Suite. Why would you use pedal and how would you use pedal in Bach? You don’t use it to connect notes that you can’t hold with your fingers because there is nothing that is written that necessitates the use of the of the pedal for this purpose. Instead you use the pedal to add color. You’ll notice that even in this fast music, there are little touches of pedal to enhance the tone of key notes.

The important thing is that you must practice Bach using no pedal at all. In fact, I recommend practicing all of your music without any pedal until you can play as connected as possible finding the best fingering that accomplishes this first. Then it becomes obvious where the pedal can be utilized.

I am going to play the first section of the Bach 5th French Suite with the repeat as written. The first time I will play it with no pedal. Then upon the repeat, I will utilize the pedal to add color. If you listen to the video, you can determine which performance you prefer. I would love to hear from all of you in the comments on LivingPianos.com and YouTube.

Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. info@LivingPianos.com

Should You Use the Piano Pedal In Bach?

Is it okay to use the pedal when playing Bach? This is a great question and there are many different ideas about this. Why should there even be issues with using the pedal or not when it comes to playing Bach? Bach lived from 1685 to 1750 and the ver

Is the music industry imploding? This sounds like a horrible topic to bring up, but it occurred to me because there are a couple of big bankruptcies going on right now that you may or may not be aware of. One of them is the venerable American guitar manufacturer Gibson. They have been around for over 100 years and they are one of the leading guitar makers in the world. Yet they are facing bankruptcy. Gibson owns many different brand names including drum companies, other guitar brands like Epiphone and Steinberger and more.

They carry a whole range of products, even pianos! Gibson has been involved in the piano business and owns names like Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Chickering and Hamilton. So, they are an important segment of the piano industry. What got Gibson in trouble more than anything was expanding their business into consumer audio. They own Teac and Phillips. Perhaps they should have just stayed with their core mission of musical instruments because they were doing just fine with that for a long time. Hopefully they will be rescued from bankruptcy and will emerge stronger once they let go of some of their ancillary businesses.

The other bankruptcy is one that’s extremely troubling and may be related in some way which I’ll explain in a moment. The other company trying to stave off bankruptcy is the huge retailer, Guitar Center. Any of you who follow Guitar Center may not be shocked by this because although they’re the biggest music retailer in the United States, they have been very leveraged for a long time. Purchased by private equity firm Bain Capital in 2007, they’ve amassed major debt having suffered through the economic downturn caused by the housing crises. All the while they have been opening up new stores at a furious rate. In fact, they’re so big that Guitar Center by themselves is bigger than the next 27 American music retail companies combined! So it is a big deal when a major force in the music industry like this is facing bankruptcy.

Part of it I think has more to do with guitars than anything else because people were buying guitars at a voracious rate not that long ago and things have stabilized somewhat which could explain both the Gibson and Guitar Center bankruptcies. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it and I believe that some of this may be coincidental. It just seems shocking that two major companies are facing bankruptcies at the same time. Music will always be with us. I am an eternal optimist in this regard. But we all have to do our parts to support music wherever we can and in any way as educators, performers and as audiences. So let’s keep music alive and hope these companies emerge stronger and fresh companies grow in the music industry so future generations can enjoy music.

Is the Music Industry Imploding?

Is the music industry imploding? This sounds like a horrible topic to bring up, but it occurred to me because there are a couple of big bankruptcies going on right now that you may or may not be aware of. One of them is the venerable American guitar

This is a really good topic, as many people – especially children – really don’t always enjoy practicing. I have a confession to make – when I was a kid, although I loved to play the piano, I didn’t always like to practice! So if you find yourself dreading practicing and trying to avoid it, don’t worry, you’re not alone! However, practicing is something that is essential on every musical instrument – if you want to improve you will have to practice; and practice a lot.

So how do you make practicing enjoyable? Well sadly there is no turnkey solution to creating a more enjoyable experience; however I have a few tips that may help you out.

The problem for younger people is that they have a harder time understanding the benefits of hard work leading to bigger rewards. We live in a society of instant gratification and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s a cycle that is hard to break. As you mature into adulthood the reality of work versus reward is more apparent and there are certain things you know will take time and effort in order to achieve – playing music is one of them.

There is nothing worse than seeing a young student forced to practice; having them stare at the clock in anticipation of it being over. It is absolutely essential that you are fully engaged in your practice sessions. While practicing certainly has a physiological component, practicing is ultimately a thought process. If you are not engaged in your practice session, you might be moving your fingers and playing notes but you certainly aren’t practicing. Conversely, you could be thinking about practicing your instrument even when you aren’t playing it and actually achieve a high level of practice (Please check out my video on How to Play Piano with your Mind for more information on this.)

How do you become mentally engaged in your practice sessions? If you have the opportunity to choose your own repertoire, choose something you are really excited about. There will be times when you need to learn music that you are required to or you need to in order to develop essential skills. Just remember that every piece you learn is just another step in the right direction and will prepare you to learn the music you are really passionate about.

Another motivation is having musical performances you are looking forward to. This is what got me really excited about practicing and learning music. As a teenager I started to perform more often and I found my love for music grew more and more. Having an opportunity to perform – even if it’s only for family or friends at first– will boost your excitement level and will help you become much more engaged in practice sessions.

A great thing to do with practice sessions is to organize them as you would a fine meal. You can start with an appetizer of scales and arpeggios, then move on to a main course of something like memorization, then maybe have a dessert with refinement or sight reading. The basic idea is to mix up your practice sessions and include a lot of different aspects of musical development. This will really help to excite your sessions as you won’t be doing the same thing over and over again.

One big problem people face is accepting their own limitations. If you can’t do something, find another way! Build yourself up by conquering many smaller tasks again and again. Many people have a very difficult time accepting their own musical limitations and become frustrated at themselves. If you learn to accept your own personal limitations and work towards overcoming them you will be surprised at how quickly you will develop into a better musician.

You also must keep into account the point of diminishing returns. If you are practicing and you are achieving less and less or you are remaining stagnant with a certain discipline, move on and try something else. If you keep forcing something that can’t be refined at the moment if won’t help you. Sometimes it’s best to move on to something completely different and return to the problem later when you have a fresh outlook.

Overall, the most important thing is to keep yourself engaged and remember that you are not perfect – we are all human! Forgive yourself and keep your practice interesting so you remain engaged.

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

How to Make Practicing Music More Enjoyable

This is a really good topic, as many people – especially children – really don’t always enjoy practicing. I have a confession to make – when I was a kid, although I loved to play the piano, I didn’t always like to practice! So if you fi

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.

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 tw

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.

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 diffe

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

Advanced Memorization Techniques for Piano

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 memori

Do pianists hit the fallboard when they play the piano? Whenever I bring this up, almost anyone I know who plays the piano says they don’t hit the fallboard when playing. Yet, if you go to a music conservatory or look at a serious pianist’s piano, the fallboard will be compromised and have scratch marks. My father’s pianos were both gouged out to the wood across almost the entire fallboard! You might wonder how this happens.

My father had large hands. So, it’s somewhat expected that his hands would hit the fallboard from time to time. I have rather small hands. Yet, every piano I practice on shows signs of wear on the fallboard and we have to constantly refresh the finish on our fallboards to remove scratch marks.

What happens when you’re playing is that although you are not thinking about hitting the fallboard, it’s right there and even though you may not realize it, you’re actually hitting it all the time! If you were to put a slow motion camera right by the fallboard, you would indeed see that you are hitting the fallboard!

If you have a piano with a satin finish in particular, take a close look and you’ll see lines where your fingers are indeed coming in contact with the fallboard surface. If you practice a great deal over many years, you eventually will get down to the raw wood which I’ve seen many times from concert pianist’s pianos.

So the answer to this question is a resounding, “Yes”, you do hit the fallboard when you play. Hope you have enjoyed this – Robert@LivingPianos.com.

Do You Hit the Fallboard on Your Piano?

Do pianists hit the fallboard when they play the piano? Whenever I bring this up, almost anyone I know who plays the piano says they don’t hit the fallboard when playing. Yet, if you go to a music conservatory or look at a serious pianist’s p

Is it necessary for pianists to sing? This sounds like a crazy question at first, but there is a lot of validity to this. Consider this: piano majors at conservatories and universities around the country, almost all of them sing in the chorus. (Sometimes they play an instrument in the orchestra if they play a second instrument.) In studying music theory, sight-singing is an intrinsic skill for pianists. I’ve had several videos on sight-singing because I consider it to be a beneficial skill for pianists.

Think about this: the piano and singing are about as diametrically opposed instruments that exist in the world. How so? The human voice is the most natural instrument. It’s the only instrument that everyone has and everybody has tried out. It was the first instrument, and for millenia was the only musical instrument. Eventually, people started banging on things and blowing through things. Even then, most music is evocative of the human voice.

What’s so unique about the human voice more than any other instrument is that you absolutely have to hear the notes you’re singing in order to produce the pitches. With the piano, you may have no idea of what a note is going to sound like. Yet, the pitch comes out anyway! However, it’s really important to hear what you’re playing. How do you quantify what you’re hearing? After all, a teacher can make corrections and you can do all the right fingering. You might play a note perfect performance but not really hear what you’re doing. Many pianists rely upon tactile memory.

This is not only dangerous but it is also not very gratifying. You must hear what you’re playing. This is really important in performance when inevitably you get off-track. It will happen. It doesn’t matter who you are and how experienced you are. At some point you will get off track and find your fingers over the wrong keys. You must make it sound right in order to get back on track. If you can’t hear it you’re pretty much done for if you’re doing it only by feel. That’s where singing comes in because if you can sing your music, you can play by ear until you get back on on track.

If you never sing, how do you know that you’re actually hearing what you’re playing? Singing is a tremendous tool. Likewise, singers need to study the piano. It’s a really important to play an instrument that can play more than one note at a time. An organ or guitar can also aid in this. Something where you can hear the underlying harmonic structure because after all, you can’t sing more than one note at a time! So singers must study the piano and pianists must sing. Does this mean you have to be a professional singer? Of course not. If you’ve heard me sing on some of my videos, you can attest to that! The fact of the matter is, I sing constantly as a way of hearing music. For me I love sight-singing with syllables because I can figure out the notes I’m hearing. It quantifies pitches.

I strongly recommend singing your music. One technique if you have music that has counterpoint where you have interweaving lines is to try singing one of the lines while you’re playing. Then try singing a different line. You will learn immeasurable amounts about your music. By singing, you’ll understand in a way you never will from only playing your music on the piano. So the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes”, singing is necessary to develop as a pianist.

Hope this helps! Again, this is Robert@LivingPianos.com.

Do Pianists Need to Sing?

Is it necessary for pianists to sing? This sounds like a crazy question at first, but there is a lot of validity to this. Consider this: piano majors at conservatories and universities around the country, almost all of them sing in the chorus. (Somet