How to approach the Ocean Etude Op. 25 No. 12 by Chopin

  Today we have an answer to a viewer question about how to practice Chopin’s Ocean Etude. Chopin wrote two books of etudes, brilliant works. Incidentally, there are two types of etudes in this world, those that are strictly exercises, and those that explore technical problems in great pieces of music. And the Chopin etudes are certainly in the latter … Continue reading How to approach the Ocean Etude Op. 25 No. 12 by Chopin

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What is Music Pollution? Part 2

 

This is a response to our first video about Music Pollution which got a great response from all of you!

 

To summarize our first video, I explained that music being played everywhere you go actually harms music appreciation more than it enhances it. Music is an art form that is meant to be listened to and treasured, not something that should be relegated to the background. In this entry I want to address some other issues with background music I’ve noticed and how it continues to degrade the artform form we all love.

 

The other day I was stuck on the phone listening to “hold music” which consisted of the same thirty second loop playing over and over. The quality of the music was terrible over the phone. The song itself was just repetitive noise and for some reason the music is about ten times louder than the voice of the caller. Who can possibly appreciate this?

 

If you were to go back to the Baroque era, you’d find that most musical instruments of the time were very quiet. The clavichord is an instrument that is so quiet that you can barely even hear it from across a small room! The harpsichord – which was the most robust keyboard instrument of the time, was also not nearly as loud as the modern piano. These instruments were meant to be enjoyed in close and intimate settings with quiet audiences.

 

As time went on, louder instruments developed and eventually electronic amplification came about and instruments could fill entire stadiums with sound! The original amplification methods were crude and distorted. But as technology has advanced, the sound quality has gotten better and better. But how engineers have dealt with amplification are troubling.

 

How many times have you gone to a club to listen to a group only to find that the amplification was so loud that the music was no longer enjoyable? You might even have to stick ear plugs in your ears in order to tolerate the sound at a level that doesn’t harm your hearing. Even in movie theaters the sound can be pumped up so high that it’s beyond a level of comfort. I often wonder if this could possibly be enjoyable for anyone.

 

When technology was more limited, louder was better. With technology today the range of volume is nearly unlimited and sound engineers now are faced with having to control the level of volume with their ears and not the indicators on their technology. Unfortunately, there are engineers who do sound more by eye (looking at gauges) than by ear!

 

Equalization curves allow you to make something loud but still enjoyable and not damaging to the ears. By emphasizing certain frequencies and de-emphasizing others you can achieve a pleasing level of sound even with very high volume. Some forward thinking restaurants will actually turn down the vocal spectrum of their audio which enables music to play in the background while facilitating conversation at the table.

 

We live in an age where the art of music goes far beyond the creation of the music itself. How music is played or presented has become an art form itself. Sound engineers are part of the musical performance and in many instances are integral to the experience.

 

I’m not sure how as individuals we can convey the idea that something doesn’t have to be deafeningly loud to be enjoyable. Some acoustic instruments require amplification in order to be heard. But often times it’s amplified beyond a comfortable level.

 

This is a very important topic to me and I would love to hear from all of you. If you have any questions about this topic or any others, please contact us at: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a response to our first video about Music Pollution which got a great response from all of you!   To summarize our first video, I explained that music being played everywhere you go actually harms music appreciation more than it enhances it. Music is an art form that is meant to be listened to and treasured, not … Continue reading What is Music Pollution? Part 2

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Why Were the White Keys and Black Keys on the Piano Reversed?

 

Anyone who is familiar with historical keyboards is aware that at one point the black and white keys were reversed from what we have today. What many people don’t know (including myself until recently) is the reason why they were changed.

 

On earlier instruments like harpsichords and fortepianos, the naturals are represented by black keys (often times rosewood or ebony) and the sharps were actually white keys (traditionally with a little bit of ivory). So, why did they eventually switch?

 

The reason is a lot simpler than you probably imagine. When you look at a picture of the keys on an earlier period instrument that has black keys you might notice that seeing between the keys is very difficult because the black space is camouflaged by the black keys.

 

 

They blend together. On the other hand those white keys sure stick out!

 

Now let’s look at modern keyboard:

 

 

You can easily see the dark lines between each of the keys giving excellent visual clarity.

 

Believe it or not, this is the reason that the key colors were switched. It’s easier to see the distance between the keys and separate them from one another. So if this was a problem, why were the natural keys ever black in the first place? The reason is most likely that ivory has always been more scarce than wood. So this solves this timeless mystery!

 

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

  Anyone who is familiar with historical keyboards is aware that at one point the black and white keys were reversed from what we have today. What many people don’t know (including myself until recently) is the reason why they were changed.   On earlier instruments like harpsichords and fortepianos, the naturals are represented by black keys (often times rosewood … Continue reading Why Were the White Keys and Black Keys on the Piano Reversed?

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The Importance of Playing Piano without the Pedal

 

This is a topic that is very important to anyone wanting to develop a refined technique on the piano. It is very important to practice the piano without using the pedal – the pedal should be something that enhances your music and not simply a crutch for making mediocre playing sound better.

 

Pedals on the piano are actually a modern development. When the piano was fist invented it didn’t have pedals, so connecting notes had to be accomplished with the fingers. Believe it or not, Johannes Brahms didn’t even have a sustain pedal on his practice piano!

 

The sustain pedal does just as its name implies – it holds (sustains) all the notes. When you hold the pedal down, the dampers stay hovering over the strings, when you release the pedal the dampers fall back onto the strings and dampen the sound.

 

The pedal is not just a tool for connecting notes; it’s capable of adding expressive elements to your music. The real challenge of the pedal is knowing when and how to use it. The only way to accomplish this is to practice your music without the pedal.

 

In the video included with this article I demonstrate how depending upon the pedal to connect notes instead of using your fingers can lead to sloppy playing and bad technique. But how can you avoid this?

 

The secret to connecting notes without the pedal is to develop a legato technique with both hands – not just with the melody but even repeated chords in the left hand. But why is this important?

 

If you can learn how to connect your notes just using your hands, you will be able to use the pedal to enhance your music tonally and make your melodies sing – you will find the best fingerings for passages, and rely on the pedal not as a crutch, and most of all, you will improve as a pianist.

 

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

  This is a topic that is very important to anyone wanting to develop a refined technique on the piano. It is very important to practice the piano without using the pedal – the pedal should be something that enhances your music and not simply a crutch for making mediocre playing sound better.   Pedals on the piano are actually … Continue reading The Importance of Playing Piano without the Pedal

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How to Play Glissando on the Piano

 

While you might not be familiar with the term glissando, you have no doubt heard it countless times before. It’s when the player slides their hands across the keys – it’s heard all the time in blues and rock. Believe it or not, it’s not as easy to pull off as it might look. You can actually injure yourself playing this incorrectly – which I have actually done as a child.

 

Glissando basically means a slide over all the keys. String players can perform this very smoothly by just moving their finger down the string; it’s not this easy on the piano. There is a simple secret however for playing this correctly.

 

The wrong way to play a glissando is to put your fingers down on the keys and simply slide them with the back of your hand. You can end up tearing off the skin on the back of fingers and causing tremendous pain!

 

The right way to perform a glissando is to place your hand at almost a right angle to the keys – so that mostly the nails hit the keys instead of skin. The video above provides an excellent demonstration of this. Believe it or not, that is it!

 

Now there are many different types of glissandos that can be performed in a few different ways. For example you might want to play a descending glissando that would be played with the thumb on the right hand. The same principle applies; keep the angle straight up (at nearly a right angle) and slide the nail across the keys. If you stick to this technique you can even perform black key glissandos. Be careful though as this requires the angle to be precise in order to avoid injury.

 

If you are playing a glissando that ends on a certain note, try and use the second finger on the final note. This will give you a much better chance of actually hitting the correct note. There is a famous Mark’s brothers routine on playing glissandos where they actually employ this technique. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbUrsot6oeY Even if you don’t hit the last couple of notes before the last note, don’t worry, as long as you hit the correct note at the end you will create the same effect.

 

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

  While you might not be familiar with the term glissando, you have no doubt heard it countless times before. It’s when the player slides their hands across the keys – it’s heard all the time in blues and rock. Believe it or not, it’s not as easy to pull off as it might look. You can actually injure yourself … Continue reading How to Play Glissando on the Piano

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The Periods of Classical Music Part 4: Impressionist

 

Welcome to the final part in our four part series – the eras of Classical music. First we covered the Baroque Era with its beautiful counterpoint and ornamentation. Then we moved on to the Classical Era with its wonderful structure. Last time we covered the Romantic Era and its freedom of expression and larger orchestration.

 

So what separates impressionist music from the other eras? If you’ve ever seen any of the impressionist artwork – such as Monet – you immediately notice the creative use of colors, dots, blurs and other techniques that form these dream like images that often have a sense of motion to them. This amazing effect is recreated in the music of the era as well.

 

A lot of the great Impressionist composers (Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Messiaen, etc.) were from France – which is really the epicenter of Impressionism. There is a real beauty and complexity to the music of this era that almost conjures up images in the mind with its textures.

 

In the video provided with this article I perform some of the different movements in the Children’s Corner Suite of Debussy. It’s remarkable to hear the complexity and depth of sound in each movement – the variety of compositional techniques is awe inspiring. Each of the movements evokes completely different images and thoughts in the listener. But how is this possible? It’s the writing.

 

If you look at the scores of Impressionist piano music you will notice that some of them even have three different staves to fit all the notes in! Hands are divided in creative ways, the middle pedal is used extensively to hold notes you can’t hold with just two hands. There is a great level of complexity and depth to this music that goes beyond Romantic era music. Impressionist music also has different tonalities and modes. It’s not just major and minor – there are whole tone scales that cover different clusters of sounds as well as a great variety of modes. All of these amazing sounds which color the music are attributes of Impressionist music.

 

Thanks so much for joining me on this four part series of the Periods of Classical Music. I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  Welcome to the final part in our four part series – the eras of Classical music. First we covered the Baroque Era with its beautiful counterpoint and ornamentation. Then we moved on to the Classical Era with its wonderful structure. Last time we covered the Romantic Era and its freedom of expression and larger orchestration.   So what separates … Continue reading The Periods of Classical Music Part 4: Impressionist

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