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How to Hide Mistakes in Your Musical Performance

August 27th, 2014

Everyone practices a great deal to avoid mistakes but we are all human and sometimes mistakes just happen. I don’t care who you are or how accomplished a musician you are, there are a myriad of reasons that could create a mistake. There could be a problem with the instrument, there could be a distraction in the audience, a finger could slip, your memory could fail for a moment; the list goes on and on of potential problems that could lead to a mistake.

The best thing you can do as a musician is to play with continuity. Let’s just say there is a really big train with a lot of cars. If the train derails, there would be utter chaos – the cars would go everywhere and you would have a huge mess. But if instead of the train derailing, it simply slipped back onto the track and kept its course, while the event might be scary, it would not lead to disaster; instead the train would simply chug along almost as if nothing ever happened. This is how you need to think about a musical performance. It must keep moving along!

The worst thing you can do as a performer is to stop and dwell on a mistake. It’s absolutely crucial that in the event of a mistake you continue to maintain the proper time of the piece and make sure that you don’t stop playing. If you make a mistake that is jarring for the audience, everyone will notice no matter what level of musical sophistication they have. Just like if you are watching a movie and the frame skips even a few seconds forward or back, it is much more jarring than if there is a moment of blurriness or garbled audio.

The most important thing is to keep the music moving. This is essential when you are playing with other musicians because you will not be playing together if you lose or gain time! Even if you miss a note or crack a note you must keep moving; don’t let a mistake slow you down or stop you mentally. If you pull this off correctly nobody in the audience will be offended by the mistake. You just have to keep the flow and the time of the music intact and everyone will enjoy the performance even if it’s not perfect.

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

What is the Largest Piano in the World?

August 27th, 2014

In past videos we have covered the different sizes of Upright Pianos and Grand Pianos. Today we will be covering something a little different; the biggest piano in the world!

The largest production piano in the world is the Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand which is nine and a half feet long. Is that the world’s largest piano? Not by a long shot.

The biggest piano that I’ve actually played is a twelve foot piano that was made by David Rubinstein. He has built two pianos – an eight foot piano and a twelve foot piano. Both of these are remarkably good pianos – especially considering these are the only pianos he has ever built. Both instruments were custom built – he did not use any parts from existing manufacturers. However, even the twelve foot piano is not the largest piano in the world.

An architect from Poland named Daniel Czapiewski created a piano that is 6 meters long – almost 20 feet - and weighs over two tons. Now is a piano this big going to be any better than a piano of only 9 feet long? Not necessarily. There is a lot of physics involved in creating sound with the piano and there is only so much energy your fingers can impart to a hammer. You could easily pass a point of diminishing returns and create something that is more of a novelty than an actual instrument. Now I have not had the opportunity to play this piano so I will have to reserve judgment for now but I am very interested to try it out one day.

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

Getting Back Into Piano after a Long Absence

August 15th, 2014

I talk with people about this subject often. Any time you take a leave of absence from a musical instrument there is going to be some extra work involved in getting back into top playing form. I’m going to provide a few tips here to help you get back into good shape to play.

Luckily, the piano is one of the easier instruments to pick up after a long absence. I also play the French horn and I can tell you from experience that picking up a wind instrument after even a short absence is a big challenge. In the case of a wind instrument, your lips will become fragile after being away from your instrument, and playing too hard right away can blow them out – making it so you can’t play again for a while. It’s a very delicate process and you must build up slowly.

When it comes to the piano, your hands and arms matter most. If you’ve battled with tendentious, arthritis, or any other types of ailments you should definitely ease yourself into playing a bit slower. Even if you haven’t experienced any of these problems, you should still be careful. Jumping right in with some advanced repertoire could lead to injury.

The best thing you can do is simply play. Start with easier pieces you know and work your way back up. More important that just picking the right repertoire is simply playing again. Practicing will help you develop strength and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get back into shape. Specifically pick some pieces that allow you to stretch the fingers and stay away from pieces that are percussive and hard at first.

You can play exercises – like scales and arpeggios or some of the one’s I’ve mentioned in previous videos – but the best thing you can do is simply start playing music again. Starting with something slow is your best bet and simply work your way up to faster and more complex music.

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

5 Tips for Improving Stage Presence - #2 Take Time Between Bows

August 15th, 2014

Welcome back to our ongoing series of Improving Your Stage Presence. So far we’ve covered: Taking Your Time, Making Eye Contact, and Not Showing Your Mistakes. Today we are going to talk about something you don’t even do until after your performance - taking time between bows.

Now this is definitely related to the first subject (Taking Your Time) but it’s equally important. I have seen countless performances where the performer will simply pop up and down very quickly bowing – almost like a machine. It’s an awkward gesture when it is performed this way and makes the performer look robotic.

Really to understand why bowing is so important we must discuss why we bow in the first place. Sometimes when you teach youngsters how to bow they feel really uncomfortable – almost like it’s showing off. In reality, bowing is the exact opposite of showing off. Bowing is a way of thanking the audience for the applause. A bow is a humbling gesture to the audience that allows you to demonstrate your appreciation for them. It should never be considered an egotistical type of gesture.

It’s equally important to look at your audience between bows. Look into the eyes of the crowd, let them see you, and let you thank them for the applause and their attention. If you take your time it can be a great way to connect with your audience and leave a lasting impression. Remember, this is the last thing the audience will see when you are onstage – it’s after the performance – you should always leave them with a good impression of yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t continue to bow up and down repeatedly. It looks awkward and machine-like and it looks much better to simply take your time and make that personal connection with the audience between bows.

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

How to Adapt to Room Acoustics in a Musical Performance

August 12th, 2014

This is a very common problem for many performers and it can be a challenge to overcome. Learning the correct playing methods for different room acoustics can be tough but I’m going to give you a few tips to help you out.

I performed a concert recently at the Laguna Beach Art Musuem. The room was incredibly loud – it was in a museum gallery with wood floors and a tall ceiling. The sound reverberates incredibly well in that room and with too much volume it can be overwhelming to the audience. So how do you cope with something like this?

The general key to adapting to room acoustics is that the more “live” (echo and reverberation) a room is, the more clean and detached you’ll have play. For example, if you are performing the Schumann Sonata in G minor in a loud room, you will want to limit the use of the pedal and delineate the notes to make things clear. You don’t want to play too legato in a loud room, it will muddle the notes. If you are in a quieter room with carpet and dry acoustics you will want to use more pedal and play legato; it will produce a better sound for the environment.

The ultimate way to test this is by playing in the environment in which you will perform. If you have the opportunity you should get to play and test out the piano in the room before performing. A big challenge is that once people are in the room the acoustics change because the bodies absorb sound! If you are unable to get into your performance space early and get intimately familiar with the room, just follow the general guidelines listed above.

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

Is Tefllon on Steinway Pianos Bad?

August 12th, 2014

This is probably one of the most fiercely debated topics regarding Steinway pianos. There is a ton of misinformation online as well as varying degrees of opinions. Not everyone is going to agree on this topic, but I will share my perspective from a lifetime with Steinway pianos. So let’s dive right into this hotly contested debate, is Teflon on Steinway Pianos bad?

In 1972 Steinway & Sons was sold to CBS and they owned the company until 1985. At some time during this period in Steinway’s history the felt parts of the action were replaced with Teflon. Eventually they abandoned this practice and went back to felt – not without some public outcry. Today, some people will see older Steinway pianos with Teflon and become adamant about replacing it, but is it really such a big problem?

There is no simple yes or no answer to this question. Teflon has many different characteristics then felt and one of the reasons Steinway decided to use it was that it is much more durable and robust then felt. One of the big problems Steinway ran into with Teflon is that many technicians didn’t know how to work with it. The vast majority of the world’s actions were built with felt and replacing it with a new material created some confusion. Unless a technician is familiar with Steinway Teflon actions, they might not be able to adjust it properly.

If you have a Steinway piano with Teflon in it and it’s in good shape, all you need is a good technician who can maintain it. There is really no reason to replace the Teflon if you have no problems. Now, there are cases where you will have to replace Teflon.

Teflon does cause some unwanted problems and if you are experiencing any of these you will need to get it replaced. Telfon is rigid but wood is susceptible to expanding and contracting with the weather. If you put a Steinway piano with Teflon in an extreme environment with wild swings in temperature – from dry to humid and from hot to cold – you it’s possible the wood could crack. This can cause unwanted noises that could be created by the spaces between the Teflon bushings and the wood. This is what gave Teflon a very bad reputation; it’s not made for extreme environments.

If you live in a stable environment, you probably won’t have any negative issues with Teflon You will probably be fine as long as you have a properly trained technician.

If you feel that you want to replace the Teflon in your action, you can. If you have any concerns or qualms about it and you have the money, you should simply do what makes you happy. Does it need to be replaced? Unless you live in an extreme environment, the Teflon is old, or you can’t find the right technician, probably not. I personally don’t have any problems with Teflon parts but that’s my opinion and I’m sure there are plenty of varying viewpoints.

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

5 Tips for Improving Stage Presence - #3 Don’t Show Your Mistakes

August 6th, 2014

Welcome back to our ongoing series of how to improve your stage presence. We’ve covered: #5 Take Your Time and #4 Make Eye Contact so far. This week we will be discussing why you should never show your mistakes.

This is such a common problem. While you’re practicing you probably reprimand yourself in some way for making a mistake and display it maybe both verbally and physically. This is something you never want to do during a performance.

The truth is the vast majority of the audience will never know you made a mistake. They are most likely not intimately familiar with your music and they will not know if a wrong note is played or you messed up on a certain passage. The moment you make any sort of acknowledgment of a mistake, they will automatically know what has transpired.

If an audience is clued in to a mistake they will not think less of you, instead it becomes an uncomfortable experience. There is nothing worse than going to a concert and seeing that a performer is unhappy with their performance. The audience is there to enjoy themselves and by letting them know you aren’t happy with something it will ruin their pleasure of the event.

The best thing to do is to go out there and do your best. You can’t let yourself get down over a mistake, you have to press on and think positively. Your performance will be that much better if you simply enjoy yourself and not worry about what you did wrong. Even if you make a mistake that was noticeable, playing with a good amount of energy and enthusiasm through the rest of the performance will cover it up. By the end of the performance nobody will remember the mistake.

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

The Art of Pedaling on the Piano Part 1 – The Damper Pedal (Right Pedal)

August 6th, 2014

Welcome to an ongoing series about how to use the pedals on the piano. Today we are going to be covering the right pedal, commonly referred to as the damper or sustain pedal. This is the pedal you will be using most of the time while playing the piano and it’s a great place to start.

The question I get asked the most is when to use the pedal. While there are no absolutes, there are some general guidelines that you can follow. A basic rule that applies to nearly any type of music is that when the harmonies change, you must clear the pedal. If you don’t do this you will get clashing dissonance.

While the pedal shouldn’t be overused, it is a great way to enhance the tone of your music. We know that you should clear the pedal when there are new harmonies, but there is a wrong way and a right way to do this. When the harmonies change, you should release the pedal upwards – don’t push it down. This is very counterintuitive because you are probably used to tapping your foot and tapping down on the downbeat. The opposite is true for the damper pedal, you will want to bring your foot up and clear the pedal on the downbeats when harmonies change and put it right back down.

Another technique you should practice is to not push the pedal down before you begin. Pushing the pedal down before playing a note will result in an echoing sound. You should push the pedal down right after you play the note, but before your fingers are released. If you push the pedal down after you release your fingers it will not hold the notes.

These are the basic principles of pedaling and how you should be using the damper pedal. Practice these techniques and make sure that you are releasing the pedal on the downbeat of changing harmonies and push it down immediately after but before you release your fingers.

Thanks again for joining me and be on the lookout for future videos about the art of pedaling on the piano. Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

How to Improve Your Stage Presence #4 Make Eye Contact

July 30th, 2014

Welcome back to our five part series on improving your stage presence. Last time we talked about Taking Your Time for the benefit of both your audience and yourself.

Today’s topic is about making eye contact. This can be provide a huge benefit for connecting with your audience. When it comes to live performance it’s absolutely crucial that you make eye contact with your audience at some point. Just imagine what these videos I produce would be like if I never made eye contact with the camera. These videos are designed to be like a live performance or classroom setting. I make eye contact with my audience to engage the viewer.

When you’re standing in front of a large group of people it would be impossible to make eye contact with everyone but you will want to look at as many audience members as you can – try not to focus on only one person. Have you ever had the experience of being at a performance and having the sensation that the performer is looking directly at you? It gives you a sensation of awe and intimacy that wouldn’t be created otherwise. One of the best ways to connect with your audience is simply to look at them!

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

How to Deal with Applause Between Movements

July 30th, 2014

If you’ve been to classical concerts with multiple movements you might have heard people applauding in the wrong places. For the uninitiated it can be a challenge. You have just heard a performance of a piece with a heroic ending and then there is silence from the audience! As a musician – especially when it comes to solo performances – you want to avoid these random bouts of applause since they can disrupt the flow of the music. This article provides some tips on how to avoid applause in the wrong places and how to deal with them when it inevitably happens.

As a performer you will want to give your audience clues where to clap. I recently performed the Schumann G minor Sonata (a 4 movement work) and the 1st movement ends with such a ferocious finale that you might think it’s the end of the piece. If you finish the first movement in a dramatic fashion and put your arms in your lap, you will probably garner applause. While you don’t want to temper your performance diminishing the energy, when you finish, keep your hands over the keys ready to play the next movement. This will signal to the audience that there is more to come. While there is no way to definitively stop an audience from clapping, this will certainly help cue them to the structure of the work.

So what do you do if the audience begins to clap anyway? Well there are a number of ways to handle this and some are better than others. Some people might actually stand up and take a bow in the middle of the piece. I wouldn’t suggest doing this because it disrupts the flow of the piece, however you should acknowledge the audience in some way. You can look at them and thank them by nodding your head and smiling. They will eventually stop and everyone will realize in a few moments that there is more to come. You can handle this in different ways. I have seen performers put their hands in the air and signal the audience to stop! While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this, it certainly will help to quiet the audience. No matter what you do, it’s best to acknowledge the audience in some way so they don’t feel embarrassed.

A successful performance is not just about how you play, it comprises the entire presentation. If you find yourself in a situation where the audience has reacted before they should, you should simply thank them and move on. After all, they are there to see you and if they are applauding before they should it’s simply a sign that they have enjoyed the performance so far.

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