Is Your Piano Fake? Fake Steinway Pianos

 

It’s a scary proposition to think that something you’ve spent thousands of dollars on could not be what it appears to be. Believe it or not, this actually happens in today’s piano market all the time and it’s something everyone should be aware of. Thankfully, figuring out if a piano is genuine is actually quite easy if you know what to look for.

 

Here in the local Los Angeles market there are a lot of auctions that contain pianos. I’ve heard from some people that there have been pianos there that have the Steinway name on them that aren’t actually Steinway pianos at all. Unsuspecting buyers might be bidding up a particular piano with no idea what they are actually getting. This is clearly a fraudulent practice preyed upon unsophisticated buyers.

 

Many times in auction houses you will not be allowed to fully inspect a piano; you will only be able to look at it from a distance. Luckily, even from a distance you can spot a few things that signal a genuine piano.

 

The easiest thing to replace on a piano is the decal on the fallboard. You can order pretty much any piano company decal imaginable online. This is done so that refinishers can order decals when they must remove the original. Just because it has a particular name on the fallboard doesn’t mean that it’s the actual brand of piano. You can put any piano decal on any piano if you want to.

 

Luckily, there is an incredibly easy way to tell if a piano is genuine. A piano will almost always have the name of the company cast into the plate of the piano. If it is a genuine Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Baldwin, Yamaha, or other major company they will nearly always cast the name of the piano into the plate.

 

There are a few exceptions I’ve seen in some European pianos that have small plates screwed into the cast iron plate after it’s cast. Grotrian in particular had to remove their name from the plates of their pianos when they were successfully sued by Steinway. They had been Grotrian-Steinweg since the 19th century. But after losing to Steinway, they had to remove the “Steinweg” part of their name off all of their pianos in stock at the time.

 

There are many times you will see plastic name plates attached to a plate. These are typically stencil brand pianos. Stencil brands are pianos that are created by a different company (mostly in Asia) and bought by a retailer who then places a different name on the instrument. Most of the time, the original manufacturer will simply create a blank plate that the retailer can then add their specialized name to. These pianos are not fake; they are pianos that are manufactured and repurposed for another company.

 

The name in the plate is pretty much the only easily identifiable way to tell if a piano is genuine. Almost all the major high-end piano companies will cast the name directly into the plate – with a few exceptions.

 

If you have any more piano questions please contact me directly: Robert@LivingPianos.com

  It’s a scary proposition to think that something you’ve spent thousands of dollars on could not be what it appears to be. Believe it or not, this actually happens in today’s piano market all the time and it’s something everyone should be aware of. Thankfully, figuring out if a piano is genuine is actually quite easy if you know […]

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What is Solfeggio?

 

Solfeggio, sometimes called sight-singing, is the ability to read and sing music at sight. This is an incredibly important skill for all musicians. So how do you develop these skills?

 

There are a couple of different systems and each one has different values. I’m going to explore these and you can decide what the best course of action is for you.

 

I grew up with a method called “movable do solfege”. You’ve probably heard it before: “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do”. “Do” is the tonic, the first note of the major scale, and you simply progress up through the scale degrees. In movable do solfege, no matter what major key you are in, the tonic of that key is always do. For example, if you are in C major, C is “do”. This is important to remember because this is not the case when it comes to “fixed do” solfege.

 

In “fixed do” solfege C is always “do” (and “re” is d and so on). The notes never change syllables.

 

While these two methods are completely different, they are both important in their own ways.

 

The strength of “fixed do” comes from naming notes. No matter what iteration the note takes it will always correlate to the particular syllable in the “fixed do” system. C will always be “do”, D will always be “re” and so on. This can be incredibly useful – especially if you’re a conductor – because you will be able to determine the absolute pitch of each of the notes. Scores are transposed and there are different clefs so being able to determine the absolute pitch is a very powerful tool.

 

So why would you want to use movable do? Why should you constantly be changing the pitch of “do” and why would you want it in different places? The value is that you can hear music in the context of the key, so you can figure out the notes you are hearing. In other words, if you hear a pattern of notes (for example: do, mi, so ) you can determine that it’s a major triad chord; no matter what the key. This makes it possible to quantify the pitches relative to one-another and determine these patterns of notes much easier. This can really help for people who don’t have perfect pitch – it’s a much easier way to know the notes you are hearing.

 

But what about the relative minor? There are actually two schools of thought for this. The way I was trained is that the key signature determines where “do” is, so the relative minor begins on “la”. This makes perfect sense and is still easy to grasp even if the piece switches between major and minor. This works out the same for all of the modes which share key signatures with major and minor scales but start on different scale degrees (like all the white keys from D-D would be a D dorian mode which shares the key signature of C major which has no sharps or flats).

 

The last thing we need to address is how to deal with accidentals (sharps, flats and naturals). These are simply ignored in fixed do solfege but in movable do we add extra syllables to account for these accidentals.

 

An ascending chromatic scale would be:

 

Do-Di-Re-Ri-Mi-Fa-Fi-So-Si-La-Li-Ti-Do

 

Descending chromatic scale is:

 

Do-Ti-Te-La-Le-So-Se-Fa-Mi-Me-Re-Ra- Do

 

Movable do solfege is how I grew up with music and it’s how I hear music. I use it for every aspect of music, whether it’s reading music or even performing. All music is essentially playing by ear so even if you read it’s important to have a system in place that allows you to understand what you are hearing.

 

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

  Solfeggio, sometimes called sight-singing, is the ability to read and sing music at sight. This is an incredibly important skill for all musicians. So how do you develop these skills?   There are a couple of different systems and each one has different values. I’m going to explore these and you can decide what the best course of action […]

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How to Memorize a Piece of Music You Can Already Play

 

This might sound like a silly question but sometimes you have a piece you can play with the music in front of you but you haven’t memorized it yet. You might be able to play the whole piece by barely glancing at the music but you still need it in parts. This can be cumbersome and is something you want to avoid. So how do you fix this?

 

I have produced a video in the past on How to Memorize Music. If you haven’t watched it yet I highly recommend it as a companion piece to this article. My very first lesson as a child when I studied with my father Morton Estrin was how to memorize music. It’s a crucial skill that every musician should learn.

 

Taking small sections of music and memorizing each hand separately, then putting them together helps you memorize even the most difficult passages of music. This is a great system to use but how do you account for a piece you almost have memorized? How can you push yourself over the edge and get the whole piece down?

 

I actually have two methods for you. The first is the band-aid approach to practicing music. This technique is simple but very effective. Play through the piece as far as you can from memory. When you encounter a spot that you can’t go past without looking at the music, you stop. Then take this small section and study it intensely. Use the method I detailed above and learn each hand separately first to get the section memorized securely.

 

If the band-aid approach doesn’t work for you don’t worry; you have other options. Rather than starting all over again and learning small chunks at a time, expand the amount of music you learn for each section. So where you might have been memorizing 3-4 measures at a time, try and work with 8-10 measures at a time. Make sure you learn the hands separately and then combine them together.

 

I highly recommend that in the future you start by memorizing your piece as the first step and not the last step. Start by progressing through your music in small chunks and learn each hand separately; then combine them when you’re ready. Ultimately this is a much more efficient way to learn your music.

 

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

  This might sound like a silly question but sometimes you have a piece you can play with the music in front of you but you haven’t memorized it yet. You might be able to play the whole piece by barely glancing at the music but you still need it in parts. This can be cumbersome and is something you […]

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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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Is it Harder to Play the Piano Left Handed?

  This is an excellent question and it’s something that many people wonder about but might be afraid to ask.   You might think that so much is dependent on the right hand that there might be some truth to this. Although, I have people ask me all the time about whether or not it would be easier to play […]

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