Last time we discussed the differences between Fixed Do and Movable Do Solfeggio. Today we are going to go a little bit more in-depth and discuss how to handle minor keys in movable do solfege.

There are different schools of thought about how to approach the relative minor in solfeggio. We know that “Do” is always the tonic of any major key in movable Do solfege – so with no sharps or flats, C is “Do”, if you add one flat, F would be “Do”, and so on. But what about the minor? If you have no sharps or flats you could be in the relative minor of C major, which is A minor. So what syllables do you use then?

Some people will say that “Do” is always the tonic, so in the case of A minor, A would be called “Do”. I personally don’t like this approach and will explain why using “La” as the tonic of the minor makes perfect sense.

The great thing about using “La” as the tonic of the minor is that you don’t have to use accidental syllables where there are no accidentals found in the music. For example, if you were in A minor and there are no accidentals, if you started the tonic on “La” it would be: La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La. However, if you tried the same thing starting on “Do” it would be: Do, Re, Me, (accidental syllable), Fa, So, Le, (accidental syllable) Te, (accidental syllable) Do. This makes no sense; Having accidental syllables where none exists in the music is confusing.

Just think about dealing with pieces based on modes. The tonic can start on any of the tone degrees. Imagine figuring out all the modes starting on Do. This would be an arduous task! Instead, all the modes are simply like starting the major scale on different tone degrees. A dorian mode would be Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do, Re. So, all the modes are that simple to figure out!

Needless to say, I am a big proponent of starting the solfege on “La” when it comes to relative minor keys. It is particularly helpful in pieces that go back and forth between the major and relative minor. I would love to hear your opinions on this subject.

I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.

Solfeggio Part 2: What Does the Minor Start on?

Last time we discussed the differences between Fixed Do and Movable Do Solfeggio. Today we are going to go a little bit more in-depth and discuss how to handle minor keys in movable do solfege. There are different schools of thought about how to appr

Last week we talked about how long piano strings last, today we are going to discuss whether or not it’s possible to replace only a single string. This is something I deal with on a regular basis. I have very intense practice sessions and I regularly break strings on my Baldwin SD-10 concert grand piano.

When it comes to piano, you should always have an experienced tuner or technician replace the string for you – unless you are well versed in servicing pianos. You must install the correct gauge string properly so it matches the other strings – you will want to make sure it’s wound tightly and that the becket (the part of the string that points out from the hole) is flush, among other issues that must be addressed when replacing a string. It’s not a job for an amateur.

If you’re familiar with other string instruments, like guitar for example, you know that replacing a single string can be a bit problematic. In the case of a guitar, replacing one string will cause that string to stand out from the older ones on the instrument. It will have a brighter sound and it will go out of tune much more easily than the strings you already have on there until it stabilizes. When it comes to piano, you will find similar problems.

Replacing a single string on a piano will cause that string to go out tune quite regularly. It will need to be touched up regularly – possibly eight to ten times before it holds a tuning. What a lot of piano tuners will do is to stretch the string a little sharp and insert a small rubber wedge to avoid hearing the out of tune string. The next time they come to tune the piano the string will probably hold pitch better and they can hopefully get the piano back to normal.

What I suggest for serious players is to become somewhat competent in touching up the tuning of your piano. I own a tuning hammer and a set of wedges and I constantly touch up the tuning of my piano. This enables you to enjoy your piano without having to constantly have a technician or tuner come over to tune your new strings. It’s worth learning if you find yourself breaking strings regularly. Not only that, but you can keep your piano in tune longer by touching up the tuning between piano technician visits.

When it comes to copper wound bass strings, there is a bit more involved. These strings are very specific and it may require you to send in the string to the manufacturer and have them send you a replication. Mapes is a great string manufacturer that provides this service. If the piano is very old and the bass strings are a bit tarnished, a new bass string could be significantly brighter than the others. At this point you might consider replacing the whole set of bass strings which could really brighten up the sound giving new life to your piano.

It’s not the end of the world breaking piano strings, but it requires some work and the help of an experienced tuner to remedy the situation. If you find yourself breaking strings regularly, you should consider learning how to touch up the tuning on your piano. You may also consult with your piano technician to see if there are issues with your piano that are causing strings to break.

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

Can You Replace Just one Piano String?

Last week we talked about how long piano strings last, today we are going to discuss whether or not it’s possible to replace only a single string. This is something I deal with on a regular basis. I have very intense practice sessions and I regular

If you’re a musician, you are probably familiar with solfeggio (or solfege). But, if you are unfamiliar with the term or need a quick refresher course, please check out our full video on What is Solfeggio?

So, what do we mean by movable-do or fixed-do solfeggio? These are two distinct types of solfege and there are a number of variations on those styles as well.

With Fixed-do, C is always “do”, D is always “re”, E is always “mi” and so on through the scale. You don’t account for flats or sharps. So, it is basically note naming. The notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C are called: do, re, mi fa so, la, ti, do.

Movable-do is different from fixed-do except for the syllables. The notes in movable-do are based on pitch relationships so that “do” is the tonic of the major key you are in. So, in a piece with no sharps or flats, C is “do”. In a piece that has one sharp, G becomes “do” because you may be in G major. In a piece in G major (with F-sharp in the key signature) with movable-do, the notes: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G would be: do, re, mi fa so, la, ti, do! This is true for all keys. “Do” is the tonic (first note) of whatever key you are in. So, for example, if you had 5 flats in the key signature, D-flat would be “do”! You might wonder what the purpose of this is.

You also account for accidental syllables:

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 can be extremely valuable for developing your ear. It enables you to hear all intervals since all scales have the same pitch relationships. For example, a perfect fifth will always be a perfect fifth whether it’s a C to a G, or a G to a D, or anywhere else. Utilizing movable-do can help you learn the pitch relationship between notes. It is a great tool for comprehending the music you hear.

Movable-Do

A great tool for hearing music

As a young child I was taught solfege and it is an extremely valuable skillset I utilize whenever I hear or play music. In fact, whenever I hear a piece of music, I automatically translate it into the syllables which helps me know the notes of music just from hearing it. It makes it possible to play by ear and to transcribe music I hear into written notation.

The problem with Atonal music

The whole idea of movable-do solfege is based on tonal music – having a tonic – that is having a starting note of the scale and all the pitch relationships between. Without this context, movable-do is meaningless and doesn’t work with atonal music.

Fixed-Do Solfege

Note naming is more important than you might think.

If you play the piano or the flute, it is probably not a big deal naming notes. Once you know how to read music, the notes are the notes and translating them to syllables may seem pointless.

But if you are a conductor, things are quite different. You have a many instruments in different keys and different clefs. It can be a great challenge knowing what notes you’re looking at. Note naming becomes an essential tool in this case for having a baseline for all the notes and naming them appropriately. It is also essential to communicate pitches with members of the orchestra.

Which One is Better?

This really depends on the situation and what your goal is.

If you want to be able to hear music and develop the ability to sight-sing music, transpose at sight, and transcribe music, learning movable-do solfege is an extremely valuable tool in achieving this. You will learn the relationship between notes to a very advanced degree that will make reading, transposing, and dictating music much easier.

Fixed-do solfege is a valuable tool in learning how to read a conductor score filled with various transpositions and a variety of clefs and being able to know what the absolute pitches are. If you’ve ever seen a conductor go through a score and digest it on the fly (realizing the music at the piano) it’s awe inspiring.

I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.

Which is Better: Movable or Fixed Do Solfeggio?

If you’re a musician, you are probably familiar with solfeggio (or solfege). But, if you are unfamiliar with the term or need a quick refresher course, please check out our full video on What is Solfeggio? So, what do we mean by movable-do or fixed

If you have played piano for any length of time you may have come across this situation. Sometimes your music will have the same note written for both hands and they are meant to be played at the same time. You might wonder how to approach this and why a composer would do this. We are going to cover both of these questions today.

For an example we are using the first of the two part Inventions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

This is a good example that shows why composers would use this method. In the case of Bach, the counterpoint illustrates this clearly. Two part inventions are simply two musical lines; there are never more than two notes played at the same time. If you look at the music you will notice that each hand plays a different melody but it comes together brilliantly with Bach’s writing.

Today we will be dealing with bar 13, the eighth note in the measure. This is where the first instance of this double note occurs. I suggest getting a copy of the music and following along with the video.

So what do you do when this occurs? Do you have to play the note with both hands? Actually, you only have to play the note with one hand! The reason that composers do this is to show the sensibility so you hear the connection that occurs with each voice. You will know that this note is a part of both lines and while it doesn’t require any special attention, it is important in understanding the music.

As you progress into later period music you will notice a lot of these double notes and while the music might be much more complex it still retains the same function as it does here. It’s a way to illustrate where the music is going and how the lines are moving. So don’t worry, you won’t have to play the same note with both hands – although you can if you want – it’s just merely a way to further illustrate where the composer is going with the music.

Thanks again for joining me, if you have any more questions please send them our way. I’m Robert Estrin, Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Piano Lessons – Playing the Same Note with Both Hands

If you have played piano for any length of time you may have come across this situation. Sometimes your music will have the same note written for both hands and they are meant to be played at the same time. You might wonder how to approach this and w

This is a really good question and one that comes up quite often. You might think when you first start out that writing the letters of the notes above your music will help you because you won’t have to count through all the lines and spaces so you can easily identify what notes to play. What harm could possibly come from making your music a little bit easier to read?

You are shortchanging yourself if you do this. If you write the names of the notes in your music, you’ll never have to figure them out – and so you won’t learn to read them! You will be creating a crutch that will hinder your music reading development. Think how difficult sightreading would be if you depended upon having the names of the notes written in your music.

Sometimes you might have some notes that go far above the staff into ledger lines and you might be tempted to write the names of the notes in these circumstances. This creates the same problem. If you take the time to make yourself figure them out every single time you encounter them, you will eventually learn to recognize the notes and you will become fluent at reading them. If you depend upon writing the names of the notes in your score, you will come to rely on that as your solution and will not become a facile reader.

Now there might be occasions when you are missing notes – in this case it’s fine to circle them. Sometimes you might want to write lines in the music to know where the beats in the rhythm are as well. Making notes to help you understand your music is fine. But writing the notes in your music will hinder your progress. So, figure them out whenever you read and your facility with reading music will continue growing.

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

Is it OK to Write the Names of the Notes in Your Scores?

This is a really good question and one that comes up quite often. You might think when you first start out that writing the letters of the notes above your music will help you because you won’t have to count through all the lines and spaces so you

This is a very interesting topic and one that is relevant to the reality of modern day piano building. There was a time when piano actions were made entirely of wood parts but with advances in technology come newer and cheaper alternatives. Today we are going to discuss whether or not plastic actions are as good – or better – than their wooden counterparts.

If you’ve ever looked at a piano action you notice the sheer complexity of it – there are literally thousands of parts. For centuries, piano actions were made out of wood. As time went on and plastics became better, some piano companies began experimenting with putting plastic into their actions in order to cut down on costs.

Early attempts at incorporating plastic parts in actions in the 1950s and 1960s – were wrought with problems because the plastic would become brittle and break over time. These piano actions can be a nightmare to work on and generally should be avoided.

In recent years plastics have come a long way. In fact, Wessel, Nickel & Gross have invented a carbon fiber action that has no wooden parts at all! These actions play differently from traditional actions and are very high quality and can be found in new Mason & Hamlin pianos.

Generally, companies started to rely on plastic parts in their actions because they are easier and cheaper to mass produce. This is not technically a bad thing but most of the companies that are cutting costs are using plastic for some parts of their actions and not all of them. This can cause problems because wood will expand and contract with changes in the weather and room climate – yet plastic will not. This can create problems in some situations with notes hanging up. If you live in a place with widely different temperatures sometimes an all wood or all synthetic action will be a better choice for you.

Another issue with plastic actions are new designs and technologies that require new skill sets to work with. A wood action has been the standard for so long that any reputable piano technician should be able to work with them. When it comes to plastic actions or carbon fiber actions, you might have to search for someone who is familiar with those particular actions and possibly have access to spare parts if necessary.

There are many great companies like Kawai and Mason & Hamlin that utilize plastic and synthetics in their piano actions and they have had great results. However, the vast majority of great pianos in the world still utilize wooden actions – such as Hamburg Steinway and Bösendorfer (which both use Renner Actions made entirely out of wood).

More than anything, it’s finding the right piano and action for you. You should certainly be wary of actions that mix wood and plastic in more extreme climates but overall there are new technologies available that are worth your consideration.

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

Wood Piano Actions Vs. Plastic Piano Actions

This is a very interesting topic and one that is relevant to the reality of modern day piano building. There was a time when piano actions were made entirely of wood parts but with advances in technology come newer and cheaper alternatives. Today we

This is an incredibly tough question and to be honest there is no definitive answer but I’m going to provide some insights for you. You would think that because there are twelve different notes there might be twelve different scales; but things are a bit more complicated.

While it’s true that there are twelve different notes and twelve different major scales, you also have to consider minor scales. With minor scales you have two forms of each scale, the harmonic and the melodic, so you now have 36 scales. Are we done yet? Not even close.

The the next thing you have to consider are modes. This becomes a little tricky because modes are scales that simply start on different notes. For example, if you have no sharps or flats you could be in C major. And while you can play a C major scale using no sharps or flats you could just as easily start on D and play no sharps or flats and have a completely new scale – called the Dorian mode. You could also start on E and play the Phrygian mode also with no sharps or flats. This can be applied to all seven notes which gives you seven more scales (or more accurately, modes) to consider. Then you can start adding sharps or flats and the numbers quickly become overwhelming as the possibilities for scales are immense.

Here is a quick chart for reference. It’s not 100% complete as there are scales that can be made by using modes of melodic minors and much more but this is a good reference point for you:

– 36 Major and Minor Scales
– 72 Additional Modes
– 12 Blues Scales
– 12 Diminished Scales
– 12 Pentatonic Scales
– 12 Whole Tone Scales
– 12 Chromatic Scales

We welcome your comments of additional scales not considered in this list!

Thanks again for joining me and I welcome your comments on this subject and any other. Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

How Many Musical Scales Are There?

This is an incredibly tough question and to be honest there is no definitive answer but I’m going to provide some insights for you. You would think that because there are twelve different notes there might be twelve different scales; but things are

This topic will certainly have varying degrees of opinions. Some teachers will tell you that you should never look at your hands and others will say you must always look at your hands. I think there is an ideal situation for looking at your hands or not looking at your hands depending upon what type of music you are performing.

There are two distinctly different types of piano playing when it comes to classical music. There is solo music and chamber music. When it comes to solo music, generally you play from memory. With chamber music you will typically be reading a score since there are other musical parts of the other musicians you must be aware of.

When it comes to solo music, there can be leaps that will require you to memorize your scores so you can watch your hands as they make those leaps around the keyboard. It’s extremely difficult to do this without looking at your hands. There are also page turns to deal with which can be a real pain!

Chamber music is a little different because it involves more instruments then just the piano. The piano score actually contains the parts of the other instruments so when you’re playing it’s very important to see what is going on. If you are playing chamber music with other musicians you really should never have to take your eyes off the score except for quick glances – you should be following along the whole time. There might be sections you want to memorize because they have large leaps but typically you don’t want to take your focus off of the score in front of you.

With enough training you can learn how to play piano without having to look at your hands. It might seem impossible but it can be done and there are many fine blind pianists out there who prove it’s possible. You can learn to negotiate large leaps in your music through your peripheral vision as well.

When it comes to solo music, if you have your music memorized I don’t really see any reason why you wouldn’t want to look at your hands. It gives you the opportunity to keep your eyes on the keyboard and make sure that you are hitting the correct notes and have your hands in the right positions.

Generally if you have sheet music you will want to keep your eyes on the music and when you are performing solo piano music you will want to focus on your hands. Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Should You Look at Your Hands When You Play Piano?

This topic will certainly have varying degrees of opinions. Some teachers will tell you that you should never look at your hands and others will say you must always look at your hands. I think there is an ideal situation for looking at your hands or

This is a loaded question and it’s a topic that may cause controversy – especially among some piano teachers. There are different perspectives on this important subject. As always, I welcome everyone’s comments and suggestions when it comes to every topic we cover so please feel free to voice your opinion.

I also understand that some students can become frustrated by having to practice tedious exercises for hours and hours when they would much rather be playing music. But are these exercises in vain or is there a purpose to them?

Exercises are an important part of developing as a pianist. In many cases utilizing Hanon and Czerny can be a great way to develop strength in your playing. These exercises can help you develop pure technique without having to deal with nuanced expression, complex rhythms, melodies and countermelodies. By using Hanon or Czerny, you can learn exercises with lots of notes much much quicker than many piano pieces which can have additional elements of complexity not found in these exercises.

What about the relative value of learning exercises instead of learning music? A lot of times musical etudes – advanced ones such as Chopin or Moszkowski or student level etudes of Heller or Burgmuller – can provide the same benefit of strength building you get from Czerny or Hanon with the added benefit of providing pieces of music you can add to your repertoire.

There really is a balance you must reach when it comes to learning exercises versus learning music. In the early levels of studying the piano learning exercises provides a great way to develop strength. Hanon exercises can help you develop finger strength very quickly. The early exercises in the book are great for beginning pianist because you don’t have to deal with finger crossings or cumbersome musical challenges. It’s an easy and simple way to start playing the piano immediately developing strength in your fingers. Younger students can quickly master these exercises and prepare themselves for learning music.

Once you master all of your scales and arpeggios you can continue building strength simply by playing music. You will challenge yourself much more and develop your technique along with continuing to work on scales and arpeggios.

So yes, there are benefits to exercises, but you shouldn’t be relying on them as your only source of technical development. They provide a great foundation for building your technique but they are something you should augment with scales and arpeggios and substantial musical repertoire.

Many times you can actually create your own exercises by taking sections of music you have great difficulty with. Take these sections and generate patterns, bring out different voices, or create rhythmic variations to challenge yourself. Exercises come in all forms and sizes and you shouldn’t be afraid to create your own!

We would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Please leave us comments or contact me directly: Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Are Czerny and Hanon a Waste of Time?

This is a loaded question and it’s a topic that may cause controversy – especially among some piano teachers. There are different perspectives on this important subject. As always, I welcome everyone’s comments and suggestions when it comes