Blog

Dealing with a Bad Smelling Piano

April 16th, 2014

This might sound like a silly topic – and it kind of is – but this is a surprisingly common problem a lot of people encounter. Maybe there is a smell that develops over time but in most cases this is a problem with used pianos bought from a private seller.

Many things can contribute to a bad smelling piano. The most common occurrence is with cigarette smoke but there are many different things that can cause a piano to carry an unwanted odor. Situations vary, but you should be aware that smells can be very tricky to get rid of.

There really is no easy answer when it comes to smelly pianos. In all cases you will want to have the piano thoroughly cleaned – and this means removing the action. You will absolutely want to have a professional do this; you should never attempt to pull the action or touch fragile parts of the piano without the help of a technician.

Any piano you buy that has sat around for years could probably use a thorough cleaning – there is an incredible amount of dust that can accumulate over the years as well as some other interesting items. The next time you have your piano tuned you should ask your tuner what the strangest thing they ever found in a piano; you will probably be surprised with the answer!

Sometimes you might be able to mask a smell more than you can eradicate it. For example, when it comes to cigarette smoke, there is almost no way to completely get rid of the smell – it’s next to impossible! After thorough cleaning, one thing you can do to alleviate the problem – and this comes recommend from technicians – is to mask the smell with a perfume or something similar (many times it will be able to cancel out any lingering smells).

Thanks again for joining me Robert@LivingPianos.com

Should You Start Teaching Music?

April 16th, 2014

I get many questions from music teachers and people looking into becoming a private teachers about where to begin or how to improve their business. No matter if you’ve been teaching for years or just considering getting into it, here are some great tips and advice I can impart from spending a large portion of my life teaching private lessons.

The best thing you can do is find your niche. This isn’t just the type of instrument or music you can teach, it’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses beyond your own repertoire. For example, I know a couple of teachers who specifically advertise their ability to work with young children. This can be a very valuable asset because not all teachers are good with young children and advertising this specifically can be of great benefit to you.

The best thing you can do – for almost any occupation in this world – is find a way to set yourself apart from the competition. Whether it’s working with children, specializing in jazz or rock, or something that sets yourself apart from the label of just “music teacher”, finding your niche in this world can be an extremely valuable asset. You just must remember to play to your strengths – don’t advertise you can do something you can’t; stick with what you know.

There are also a number of private organizations you can join to help you get started or expand your business. In California we have the Music Teacher Association of California (MTAC) which is an incredibly valuable resource for many private teachers in California. They hold conventions and special events to help teachers meet and share ideas with one-another. There are others all around the country – there may be some in your area.

If you are currently taking lessons from a teacher and are considering offering lessons, you should consult them and ask for help. Many times they will be very helpful and in some cases could even refer clients to you if they don’t have the time to take on any more students.

The most important thing when it comes to teaching is the relationship you have between the student and the relationship you have with their parents. If you are comfortable relating to people and talking to them it can be an invaluable skill in growing your teaching career. The majority of the work a student puts in from a music lesson is actually the time they spend practicing at home. The hour or so you have every week is just a small amount of time and if they hope to improve they will need to practice on a regular basis. Getting a student to become interested in learning and progress on their own is the mark of a successful teacher.

The learning process for anything never really stops; it’s a constant process and the same goes for teaching. Talking to other teachers, relatives, friends, family, anyone you can spread the word of your career with is a great way to get your name out there and also attain some valuable information. You might be surprised how much you learn just from interacting with other music teachers.

Thanks again for joining me Robert@Livingpianos.com

Secrets of Voice Leadings

April 9th, 2014

This is a great topic because it applies to so many different types of music. Voice Leadings refer to how each note of a chord resolves to the next chord. This is something found in every type of music you could imagine, from jazz to classical and to the early days of choral writing. While this all might sound confusing now, voice leadings are actually a very simple subject.

If you take the notes of a scale and number them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (being the octave), which in C major would be C, D, E, F, G, A B, C, the formula is this:

2 goes down to 1
4 goes down to 3
6 goes down to 5 and
7 goes up to 8 (or down to 5 for better resolution in some cases)

This is true for both major and minor keys.

As for accidentals, raised notes go up, and lowered tones resolve down. So in C major, sharps resolve up and flats resolve down. In keys with sharps or flats, naturals may alter tones up or down depending upon context. But it works exactly the same way. So for example in F major which has a B-flat in the key signature, if you had a B natural, it would resolve up to C!

That’s basically the essence of how voices resolve! Active tones resolve to restive tones. 1, 3, 5, and 8 are the restive tones and the active tones must resolve according to the simple guidelines described above in order to sound fluid. You will find these truths evident in music of all periods to be rather pervasive.

So, check out your music and see how the masters deal with voice leadings! Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. Robert@LivingPianos.com

Picking the Right Musical Repertoire for Your Skill Level

April 9th, 2014

This is a very important decision and it’s something you should take very seriously. Having a teacher help you pick your repertoire is a great option, but there are a few tips I’ll share to help you pick the right piece for your skill level.

Sometimes teachers will make the mistake of having their students learn pieces above their skill level. Having a student playing a complex piece of music can be very gratifying and offers bragging rights for a teacher, but sometimes it comes at the detriment to the student. Learning a piece of music above your skill level will take you much longer to learn and it will be an arduous process. It is incredibly gratifying studying a piece on your level which you can refine to a high level of performance in a reasonable amount of time.

When you are a beginning or even intermediate student, you shouldn’t be playing pieces that take months to learn. Instead, you should try to focus on learning many pieces gradually building up your skill level. You will achieve two things by doing this: adding more work to your repertoire right away and gradually increasing the difficulty of the pieces you learn. In the same amount of time you would spend learning a complex piece, you could have much more music learned and have progressed much further in your playing.

You should also try and learn pieces that you can master playing up to tempo. Learning something and barely being able to get through it will not help you progress as a musician. The piece will not only sound bad but you will probably end up feeling frustrated.

As you progress as a pianist, it’s a great idea to push yourself with each new piece of music you add to your repertoire. You should find enjoyment in a new challenge but always be assured that it’s something you can achieve and master within a reasonable amount of time. As you advance to very complex music you will mature to the point of spending months learning an extended work, but you must be sure you have the skills to handle it.

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

How to Go From Loud to Soft on the Piano

April 2nd, 2014

Controlling the tone and volume of your playing is something that every great pianist must master. Being able to bring out the quietest notes adjacent to the loudest chords will bring out the true color of the music. This can be challenging to achieve but I have some great tips I would like to share with you today.

For this example I’m going to use Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata as it has massive chords followed by extremely quiet sections. If you watch the video above or listen to the piece on your own you will notice the incredible dynamic range this piece exemplifies.

Beethoven was one of the first composers to explore the capabilities of dynamic range in the piano. During his lifetime the piano had developed to a point where it could handle drastic changes in dynamics. This is a later work of Beethoven and you might notice that his earlier works don’t explore extreme dynamic range in this way.

So what’s the secret to getting the sound you want? One important point in achieving a beautiful sound when playing fortissimo is making sure you play close to the keys and use the weight of your arms. You never want to slap down on the keys with large hand motions – it will create a very unpleasant sound. You want to learn to play with great force while caressing the keys – this is shown in the video great arm techniques. Much like a great masseuse, who will apply a lot of pressure from the contact point – they don’t need an exaggerated motion to produce a tremendous amount of force, unlike a painful slap or punch.

When transitioning from loud to the soft it’s very important for you to give time to allow the loud sound to dissipate through the air. Especially if you are playing in a large hall, the sound will carry for much longer than in your living room. You will also want to make sure that you delineate the top notes from the rest of the chords in your soft playing so that you get a distinct and clear presence from them. If you don’t accentuate the top notes they might get lost in the reverberation from the loud chords.

You will always have to take into account the size and acoustics of the room and the instrument you are playing on – it makes a huge difference. Make sure to play close to the keys with great force when it’s needed, always delineate the top notes of the quiet phrases and make sure you give yourself time to let the loud chords dissipate into the air before playing the next line.

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com

Diminished 7th Chord – Part 2 - The Deceptive Dimished 7th

April 2nd, 2014

Welcome back to my two part series on Diminished 7th Chords. Last week we talked about What a Diminshed 7th Chord is and today we’re going to get a bit more in depth about how and why the diminished 7th chord can be deceptive.

Last week we talked about how you can’t really invert a diminished 7thchord because it’s all minor thirds. There are however three ways to resolve these chords.

The first way to resolve a diminished 7th chord is to resolve it upward by a half step. So a B diminished 7th chord would resolve to C major or minor.

The next way to resolve diminished 7th chords is rather fascinating. If you lower any note in a diminished 7th chord by a half step and you will get a dominant 7th chord which can resolve in its usual manner from V7 to I. In C major, a G7 would resolve to a C major triad.

This might seem overwhelming but this is what makes the diminished 7thchord so deceptive yet so intriguing. It’s a wonderful chord and tool to use for improvisation and it’s one indicator of where a piece is going and the structure behind it.

The last way to resolve a diminished 7th chord is truly deceptive. You can take any note of a diminished 7th chord and make it the root of a major or minor triad. Try this out and you will be amazed a the unexpected sound!

This is a complex lesson and it would be a good idea to watch this video and try out the different resolutions so you can hear them. To recap: You can’t invert a diminished 7th chord because it’s all minor thirds even when inverting. There are three ways to resolve a diminished 7th chord. These chords are incredibly useful tools for many musical applications and it’s a great idea to get familiar with them and how they work. Once you understand the concepts behind them you will find it easier to understand them when you encounter them in your music.

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com. If you have any further questions please feel free to ask and I look forward to bringing you more of these videos.

What is a Diminished 7th Chord? – Part 1

March 26th, 2014

You’ve no doubt heard diminished 7th chords before. Anytime you hear spooky chords in an old horror movie or a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, works of Richard Wagner, as well many other pieces of music, they are pervasive. They serve very important functions. But what are diminished 7th chords?

If you aren’t familiar with music theory or if you haven’t watched my past other video: Explaining Musical Intervals - Whole Steps and Half Steps, I would suggest starting there. As a refresher, a half step is two keys together with no keys between and a whole step is two keys together with one key between. If this sounds confusing it would be a good idea to watch the video linked above.

A diminished 7th chord is built on minor thirds, so it’s one half step bigger than a whole step (a step and a half, or 3 half-steps). Just as there is only one Chromatic scale and two Whole Tone scales, there are only three possible diminished 7th chords. After that they are all just inversions - starting on different notes of the same chord.

When you build a diminished 7th chord you start with a note and count 3 half-steps to each successive note. After building 4 notes this way, if you build one more you will be back to your starting note! You will soon discover that unlike all other 7th chords, you can’t really invert a diminished 7th chord – it would still be a diminished 7th chord - all minor 3rds. So there are only three possible diminished 7th chords.

The great thing is that diminished 7th chords can go almost anywhere. They are incredibly useful in modulating to other keys and they can be used in improvisation as well. Next week we will be going much more in-depth with these chords and explaining practical uses for them.

Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com.

The Myth of the $1,000 Piano

March 26th, 2014

It’s always a challenge for someone when they first start looking for a piano. Maybe you want one for yourself, maybe you are thinking about getting your child piano lessons - whatever the reasons might be, getting into the piano market is a challenge for anyone.

The first thing you will notice is a huge range of prices. There are pianos that cost tens of thousands of dollars and there are pianos that cost hundreds of dollars. Sometimes the pianos are the same models yet there is a huge difference in price. So where do you begin?

Buying a used piano is a lot like buying a used car. If you go online you can see cars for under $3,000 but the reality is you will probably need to put some additional work for them to run efficiently. The same is true for pianos - you can buy something very cheap, or even find a free piano, but the amount of work you might have to put into them can vary greatly. Sometimes you can get lucky and find something that after a few hundred dollars of work can be a serviceable instrument. Other times it can cost you more than the piano is worth – sometimes a lot more.

If price is the ultimate premium for you, it might be better to get a good digital piano or keyboard. Decent ones can start at about $800 and could be more reliable than a used upright you might find on Craigslist at that price point. Keep in mind that a piano requires constant work and that it will have to be tuned and require more maintenance later on so that $1,000 can really be just a starting point when it comes to investing into a piano.

The thing you can’t find for under $1,000 is a high quality instrument. Many people believe if they keep looking they will find that diamond in the rough where someone is listing a high-quality grand for way below what it is worth. It simply does not happen (or rarely happens like winning the lottery). Any of the pianos you find online for $1,000 or below will not be up to the standards necessary for an advanced player.

It is possible that you might find a high-quality grand for only a few thousand dollars but you should be very suspicious of any of these instruments. If you are looking for a higher quality piano you should almost always have a technician check out the instrument for you. Much like buying a car, you can get stuck with a lemon and simply will have wasted your money on something that will never work as intended.

Buying a piano on your own from private sellers is something that takes time and effort. If you go to a reliable source you will find something that is ready to play as soon as you buy it, if you buy from an individual you might be stuck with a large amount of additional work.

I help people with questions about specific pianos just about every day. If you have any questions about what piano to buy or one you are looking at, please contact me for free information: Robert@LivingPianos.com. I am more than happy to assist you.

Piano Lessons – Bach Italian Concerto – Part 2

March 17th, 2014

As we discussed in Part 1 of this lesson, Bach wrote this “concerto” as a solo piece and it’s not what you would typically think of as a concerto (one instrument or a group of instruments with orchestra). To replicate the sound of a traditional concerto, Bach wrote dynamics for both hands throughout the piece. Last week we talked briefly about the first movement of the piece, today you will get some tips on the second movement.

In the right hand you have a beautiful and luscious melody while the left hand is to be played very quietly. The right hand has an almost improvisational quality. Classical composers improvised quite a bit in their days, however, since recording technology wasn’t invented yet we really have no examples of what it sounded like. One could imagine that the right hand in the second movement of the Italian Concerto is a glimpse into the styling of Bach’s improvisational work.

The left hand in this piece has a repeated regular pattern of 8th notes and is a great place to focus as you begin learning the second movement. If you listen to the piece, you’ll notice that there is a nice steady beat to these notes. Think of it almost like a heartbeat that holds up the structure of the music.

When I play this piece, sometimes I use a little bit of pedal, sometimes I use no pedal at all. It’s always a great idea to practice without the pedal so it doesn’t act as a crutch. One way to approach without the pedal is to play the top notes of the thirds legato and the bottom notes more detached. This will help to bring out the clarity of the lines. The secret to this is utilizing good fingering. If done correctly, this will give the illusion that it’s two instruments playing together. Baroque music is personified by counterpoint and this is one example of that.

When it comes to the right hand, you should always remind yourself that the ornamentation should not affect the rhythm. You should play very expressively but don’t get that confused with changing tempo. Many times people will see trills and turns and think it means playing fast, which is not the case. Here you will want to play the lines very expressively, letting them stand out and playing them as beautifully as possible.

I’ve had numerous videos talking about the importance of the arms when playing piano; here is no different. You can use the weight of the arms – both left and right to create a nice balance and tone between the two hands. Use more weight in the right hand to bring out the melody.

Thanks again for joining me. I will be producing some much more thorough lessons in the near future on specific repertoire like this. If you would like to be notified when these become available please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com

How to Get Jobs Playing Music

March 17th, 2014

When it comes to making money as a musician there is no one-size-fits-all solution but there are some general tips that can help you find work actually playing music.

It’s always important to remember that the music business is a business. A lot of times people will feel complacent towards the business end of it and that can be a recipe for disaster. Many times students will practice in conservatories for hours every single day hoping that if they are good enough someone might “discover” them. Sadly, this is not the case.

There are always more musicians available then job positions out there. Without proper networking nobody will ever know you even exist. You have to get yourself out there, you should find other musicians to play with and talk with. This is not just a suggestion; it is really something that all musicians should do.

When you are around other musicians you will quickly realize that most of them are looking for that person who has the jobs. Don’t be afraid to be that person. It’s actually easier to start your own musical group then to go find others to hire you. Jobs are scarce in this world and many people who are becoming successful are the entrepreneurial types who create opportunities and unique business models on their own.

If you’re starting out on your own with a group of musicians you have to make sure you do your part in advertising yourselves. Definitely utilize social media but beyond that you need to network within the field you are interested in. For example, if you want to have a group of musicians who plays weddings you should not only have your social media presence but you should network with fellow professionals. Go to wedding planners, floral shops, dress shops, photographers, videographers, caterers and any other businesses you can think of that are involved with weddings. Make a point to meet with them and ask if they have anyone they recommend for music. Maybe they do but maybe they don’t. Give them your business card and tell them you would be happy to recommend them to any potential clients you come across. You will find that many people are very receptive to this idea and if you actually get them any referrals they may very well try to return the favor.

You have to remember that separating yourself from the crowd is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to business and networking. People love working with or recommending someone who can benefit them as well. If you are offering someone the opportunity for more business, you will most likely have their attention right away.

Another great thing to do is to find networking groups of musicians and meet with them. You can find these online or sometimes through schools; a great place to start looking is meetup.com and seeing if there is a local group in your area.

You should also see if there is an opportunity to perform at charity events. Donate your time and talent to something worthwhile and people will see you as someone who is important in the community. This can also be a great opportunity for networking as well because you will place yourself in front of a new group of people and get to perform for them. Every opportunity there is to get your name out there and in front of potential clients should be seized upon.

And remember, this is an ongoing process. You absolutely have to work at this every day of your life. You should be on the phone, sending emails, and doing whatever you can to further your business and name throughout the community. And don’t be afraid to try something new!