How to Use the Pedal in Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd”

 

Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd” from his Children’s Corner Suite is one of my favorite pieces. It is simple but very poetic. This question comes from a viewer who wants to know the best way to use the pedal in this piece.

 

The challenge of the piano is that it doesn’t have the expressiveness on a single note that other instruments have. Or does it? Achieving expressiveness on single notes on the piano is certainly possible if you use the pedals correctly. In this article I’m going to share some secrets on how to achieve this.

 

The way that a pedal effects the note all depends on when you depress it.

 

If you depress the pedal before you play the note you will get an echoey sound with a boominess after the initial attack.

 

If you are striving for a more sustained tone you will want to depress the pedal after the initial attack. This will create a more linear sound which is rounder than pedaling before playing the note as described above.

 

You can complement this effect with the use of the una corda pedal (soft pedal) which offers a more sustained sound since only 2 of 3 strings are initially hit directly making the attach quieter.

 

The effects really are subtle and might be hard to hear over your computer unless you have good speakers or headphones. But it truly makes the difference in bringing expressiveness to the music. Try these techniques on your piano and let us know the differences you notice.

 

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

  Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd” from his Children’s Corner Suite is one of my favorite pieces. It is simple but very poetic. This question comes from a viewer who wants to know the best way to use the pedal in this piece.   The challenge of the piano is that it doesn’t have the expressiveness on a single note that […]

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Is it Ever Too Late to Switch Musical Instruments?

 

I have known many people who have started with one instrument and then for one reason or another decided to switch instruments. At some point these people came to the realisation that they were destined to play something else and they made the transition. The question is, is it ever too late to switch instruments?

 

This really depends upon your situation, your expectations and the nature of the switch. For example, I’ve known a number of fine violinists who switched to the Viola with great success. In some cases it was because there was a greater market for viola. Others might have simply fallen in love with the rich sound of the viola. This transition is not that radical as the foundations for the violin and viola are very similar.

 

If you are thinking about making a radical change from one instrument to the next – such as trombone to guitar – it could be a much harder switch and something you should consider carefully. Your fit with the instrument is important, but you should have realistic expectations about what is possible when making such a big change in the instrument you play.

 

I’ve seen cases where some musicians will have gone to conservatory for one instrument but always played another instrument as a secondary instrument. They may come to the realisation that their true love is their secondary instrument! Switching could be the best decision as long as they are realistic.

 

I have known people who have decided to switch instruments to something they are not familiar with at all and it has presented great challenges. For example, if you played the clarinet for most of your life and find that there aren’t bands or orchestras you want to play with, it could be incredibly difficult to switch to an instrument like the piano in your twenties and develop serious repertoire and fluid technique. But if that’s where your passions lie, you must follow your dream. You can certainly become an accomplished player but it is unlikely you would develop a career as a concert pianist.

 

As long you are realistic with your goals you should follow your heart and pursue whatever instrument you are interested in. The good news is that anything you learn in music translates to other things. If you have a background in singing you will have a foundation for music already in place so learning another instrument will not be nearly as difficult as it would be for someone who has had no music training.

 

Thanks again for the wonderful questions, please contact me if you have any ideas for future videos. Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  I have known many people who have started with one instrument and then for one reason or another decided to switch instruments. At some point these people came to the realisation that they were destined to play something else and they made the transition. The question is, is it ever too late to switch instruments?   This really depends […]

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How to Measure Your Piano – Part 2 – Upright Pianos

 

Welcome back to our series on How to Measure Your Piano. Last time we covered How to Measure Grand Pianos, this time we will be covering How to Measure Upright Pianos.

 

Measuring an upright piano is a bit different from measuring a grand. Upright pianos are classified by height. The length and depth don’t differ much when it comes to vertical pianos, but the small differences may be important to you.

 

To measure the height of your upright piano you simply place a tape measure on one end of the piano on the floor and the other at the highest point on the case of the piano.

 

Upright pianos come in many different heights. Spinet pianos are the smallest and start around 36 inches. Console pianos are slightly taller, studio pianos are taller than consoles and professional upright pianos can be 52 inches or taller.

 

Upright pianos take up a certain amount of wallspace unlike grand pianos which can be placed at any angle and can even be tucked into a corner of a room. Typically you will want to place the piano with it’s back to the wall because it is unattractive since it is unfinished. This means that the length of the piano is important to many people. Like a grand piano, the width of all pianos are around 5 feet because of the 88 keys. You can measure the lid of the piano to get a good idea of it’s width and find the right place in your home to place it.

 

The depth of an upright piano might be important to you as well because it will be the distance that the piano sticks out from the wall. This measurement is not typically standard as some upright pianos have legs that protrude past the keys while others won’t extend much past the keys. To get this measurement you will want to measure from the back of the piano to the furthest point that the piano sticks out from the wall which is typically around 2 feet.

 

So, remember that the standard measurement of upright pianos is the height. If the depth and length are of concern to you, bring a tape measure to make sure that it will fit comfortably in your home. Upright pianos are designed to be placed in smaller rooms so you should be able to fit one in nearly any home.

 

Thanks for joining us for our ongoing series on measuring your piano. If you have any more questions please contact us directly: Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

  Welcome back to our series on How to Measure Your Piano. Last time we covered How to Measure Grand Pianos, this time we will be covering How to Measure Upright Pianos.   Measuring an upright piano is a bit different from measuring a grand. Upright pianos are classified by height. The length and depth don’t differ much when it […]

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How to use the pedal in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

 

Today we have a question from Umberto, who asks, “How do you approach pedaling in the Moonlight Sonata? Do you pedal throughout all of it?”

 

These are excellent questions. In fact, yes, you use pedal in some parts rather sparingly, other parts very generously, but you use it throughout the whole piece in different ways. Of course the different movements have different requirements, but we’re going to focus today on the first movement, the famous melodic first movement.

 

So first of all, just a little primer. Whenever you’re using the pedals on the piano you want to keep your your heels firmly on the floor. You never want to put your pedal like this because it’s noisy. So you keep the heel on the floor, and then the ball of the foot is how you control best. Always keep it in contact, because if you go from above, once again you get noise. All pedals are very different on pianos. You have to experiment to find how you could play it quietly and effectively, because they all release the dampers at different points. One of the first things you want to try out when you’re playing over a concert is how the pedal responds on the instrument.

 

So getting to the Moonlight Sonata. As with any music, the pedal changes wherever the harmonies change. So if you were to play this piece in chords, each time the chord changes . . . and notice the pedal always comes up exactly on the beat but goes down right after the beat. So that’s the secret of pedaling. The pedal always comes up exactly on the change of harmony and goes right back down again. So if I play it now not in chords, but as it’s written, and with the soft pedal, the una corda pedal, depressed the entire time, you get this.

 

The reason for changing the pedal, coming up on the pedal exactly on the beat, is otherwise harmonies blur. If you were to play the pedal and put it down on the beat instead of up on the beat, you’d end up with this.

 

I can’t even do it. It’s so hard. I’m so trained. I’m gonna try it again. I’m gonna try to play the pedal wrong for you.

 

Yeah, that’s also not connected. I haven’t experimented with playing pedal wrong. It’s a hard thing to do. Any of you who are a pianist accustomed to using the pedal, try it how hard it is to play it wrong. So get in the habit of always coming up at the change of harmonies and right back down again so you get that smooth transition, and if you’re not sure where the harmonies change, break the music down to chords and it becomes very obvious for you.

 

Thanks for the wonderful question Umberto, and all the questions coming in and the great comments. Thank you everyone at virtualsheetmusic.com I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com. Thanks for joining me.

  Today we have a question from Umberto, who asks, “How do you approach pedaling in the Moonlight Sonata? Do you pedal throughout all of it?”   These are excellent questions. In fact, yes, you use pedal in some parts rather sparingly, other parts very generously, but you use it throughout the whole piece in different ways. Of course the […]

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3 Reasons You Should Use a Metronome When You Practice Music

 

The metronome is much maligned by many musicians for its incessant ticking which can be like a form of Chinese water torture! Many teachers are insistent upon using the metronome and students have questioned whether or not they need this ticking box.

 

The metronome really is one of the two most important tools at your disposal (the other being an audio recorder) and you should be practicing with it regularly – whatever your skill level. Today we are going to discuss three reasons why the metronome is so important as well as some great applications on how to use it.

 

The first reason why you need the metronome is that nobody has a perfect clock in their brain. When you start to learn a piece of music and you encounter tough sections, you will naturally slow down a bit to compensate for the difficulty. You might think that once you work them out and get things up to speed, there should be no problem. But you may overcompensate and actually play these sections even faster! The only way to be sure is to play with the metronome.

 

Don’t make the mistake my mother used to make by putting the metronome too fast and trying to keep up with it. She would drive herself crazy with frustration trying to match an impossibly fast speed of the metronome. Find a speed you are comfortable with and work your way up to an appropriate tempo.

 

The second reason you want to use a metronome is that it provides an essential practice tool for difficult sections of music. Start by playing at a slow speed accurately with comfort. Then, incrementally increase the speed notch by notch gaining confidence at each new tempo until you get the passage mastered up to tempo. This is an indispensable tool for developing a refined technique on your instrument.

 

The key is to use this technique by zeroing in on specific sections of your music – not the whole piece. It will not take as much time as you think and you will master tough sections of your music much more quickly.

 

The third reason you want to use a metronome is because it will help you improve as a musician. The pulse is one of the most important aspects of music and developing a consistent beat will make you a better musician. This aids in playing with other musicians with a tight ensemble.

 

These are three great reasons to use the metronome and I’m sure many of you have more suggestions as well. Please leave us some comments or email me directly Robert@LivingPianos.com

  The metronome is much maligned by many musicians for its incessant ticking which can be like a form of Chinese water torture! Many teachers are insistent upon using the metronome and students have questioned whether or not they need this ticking box.   The metronome really is one of the two most important tools at your disposal (the other […]

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How to Measure Your Piano – Part 1 – Grand Pianos

 

Welcome to our two part series on how to measure your piano. Today we are going to cover grand pianos and next time we will cover upright pianos. This might sound like an easy thing to do yourself but finding out the exact length of a piano is a little bit trickier than you might think.

 

The most common question I get from people when measuring their pianos is exactly what measurement to look for. Is it the length, the width of the keys, the height, what are you supposed to be looking for?

 

The width of grand pianos is pretty standard. The width of the keyboard is right around 5 feet. This may differ slightly with the size of the cheek blocks on either end of the keyboard, but it is roughly the same for all pianos. If you can’t fit something at least 5 feet in width, you will not be able to fit a piano in your home unless it’s a highly unusual piano with less than 88 keys.

 

When talking about the measurement of pianos we are referring to the distance between the very end of the tail to the edge of the key slip in front of the keys – the total length. For a detailed example please watch the video included with this article.

 

To get the exact length of the piano you will want to close the lid of the piano. This is much easier with two people but if you are alone you can still measure the piano with the lid open. If you measure with the lid open, you will need to add about an inch to your measurement since the lid hangs over the edge of the rim of the piano.

 

To measure the length of the piano place one end of your tape measure at the longest point of the tail. Place the other end of the tape measure at the end of the key slip (the absolute longest point of the piano). You will have to make sure that you stand right above the tape measure since the angle at which you look at the tape measure will alter the perceived measurement of the piano. Try to be as exact as you can but if you’re within an inch or so you will have a good idea of the length of the piano.

 

Something that is interesting with Asian and European pianos is that they use the metric system for their measurements and they actually name the models based upon the length of the piano. So for example, a model 152 would be one hundred and fifty-two centimeters. You can easily calculate that into feet which is just about 5’.

 

Stay tuned for our next part in this series on how to measure your upright piano. I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  Welcome to our two part series on how to measure your piano. Today we are going to cover grand pianos and next time we will cover upright pianos. This might sound like an easy thing to do yourself but finding out the exact length of a piano is a little bit trickier than you might think.   The most […]

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