Piano Lesson – How to Breathe While Playing The Piano

 

No you didn’t click the wrong link today, even though this might sound like a topic for The Flute Show! Learning to breathe properly while you are playing the piano is an essential skill for any pianist. We can all understand that breathing is required to live but it has a great deal to do with performing music as well. Today we are going to discuss a couple of components of how breathing can positively and negatively affect your performances.

 

Let’s say you are playing a technically demanding piece like the Military Polonaise of Chopin. It’s going to take a lot of energy and you’re going to have to remind yourself to take some deep breaths. If you don’t plan for this you might end some sections out of breath and winded. During a musical performance you have so much on your mind that it’s common to forget something as essential as breathing! You don’t have to plan your breathing ahead of time but you should definitely remind yourself from time to time that you need to breathe. Before you enter a complicated section you should take the time to take a deep breath. This will enhance your performance and help to settle your nerves.

 

Beyond just breathing, you need to relax your mind and body enough so that it won’t be a problem in the first place. It’s difficult to tell someone to just get on stage and to be completely calm; of course most people will be at least somewhat nervous. Over time and with experience you will learn to calm your nerves and become more comfortable while playing. Learning to direct your energy into your playing as opposed to succumbing to your nerves will make a big difference.

 

Breathing can also be incredibly important while you’re playing with other musicians. In chamber music for example the breath of the pianist can actually guide the other musicians; it can help cue them as to where to play and where a phrase ends. If you pay close attention you might notice that all the musicians breathe in unison in a fine chamber group – even though some might be playing string instruments which don’t require the breath to produce tone.

 

Breathing is such an integral part of playing music that even on an instrument that doesn’t require breathing – like the piano – we as musicians still want to feel the breath in music. I cover this more in-depth in an earlier video about breath in music. I also have a topic that explains why singing your music is a great way to practice separate parts and get an idea for how the music should flow.

 

No matter what instrument you play you should definitely be aware of your breathing and how it affects your overall performance. Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  No you didn’t click the wrong link today, even though this might sound like a topic for The Flute Show! Learning to breathe properly while you are playing the piano is an essential skill for any pianist. We can all understand that breathing is required to live but it has a great deal to do with performing music as […]

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Learning Musical Notes on the Staff – Best Way to Memorize Notes

 

One of the most important parts of developing as a musician is being able to read music and being able to read it quickly. Memorizing the notes on the staff is an integral part of progressing musically and I’m going to share a few tips that will make this easier for you.

 

There are many ways people go about learning notes and the most popular seems to be the acronym approach. You’ve probably heard the one for the lines from the treble clef from bottom to top:

 

Fine
Does
Boy
Good
Every

 

The spaces are pretty easy, they spell the word FACE (again bottom to top):

 

E
C
A
F

 

The bass clef lines are::

 

Always
Fine
Do
Boys
Good

 

And the bass clef spaces are:

 

Grass
Eat
Cows
All
But what about the ledger lines once you go above or below the staff? You can see that this system breaks down very quickly. It gets incredibly complicated to refer to these acronyms on the spot; it’s just not practical.

 

Fortunately there is a much easier way to learn your notes without using acronyms. It involves simply learning the first seven letters of the alphabet:

 

G
F
E
D
C
B
A

 

If you can learn to say these letters frontwards and backwards quickly you are on your way to reading notes. That’s it! This applies to both the treble and the bass clef. You can start with middle C:

 

 

The reason for this is that middle C is in the middle between the treble and bass clefs. So, it’s easy to locate. From here you simply go either up or down through the alphabet. If you are counting up you simply go from C to D to E to F to G and when you reach G you simply go back to the first letter of the alphabet, A and start over again. The same applies for going down. Once you reach A you continue with the last letter of the musical alphabet, G and count down through the alphabet note by note. You only have to use seven letters and if you familiarize yourself with them you will no longer have any problems figuring out notes.

 

If you’re concerned about going backwards, memorize the low space A in the bass clef. That way it’s very easy to simply count up through the alphabet from there. If you keep practicing this and familiarize yourself with this technique you will find it much easier to read notes than using the acronym method.

 

Never resort to writing in your notes! I have a video explaining why you shouldn’t write your notes in the music and I suggest watching that if this is something you are tempted to do. If you keep with this method above you will have no need to write your notes in the score because soon enough you will be able to read music fluently.

 

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

  One of the most important parts of developing as a musician is being able to read music and being able to read it quickly. Memorizing the notes on the staff is an integral part of progressing musically and I’m going to share a few tips that will make this easier for you.   There are many ways people go […]

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What are the Best Piano Brands? 2015 Update

 

So much has transpired in the piano industry in the nearly 6 years since producing my, “Best Piano Brands” video, I thought it was due time to offer a fresh perspective on the industry.

 

In the first video I explained how countries of origin affect the quality of pianos. This is a simple truth – the longer period of time piano building is pursued in a country, the more mature the manufacturing and quality tends to be. But we are now living in a truly global marketplace. How has that affected the piano industry?

 

If you carry an iPhone in your pocket, you are enjoying a great product sold by the American company Apple. But the manufacturing is done in China. In fact, many of the components are sourced from other countries like Korea, Mongolia and even parts of Europe! This is not an outlier product – this is the way of the world in manufacturing today.

 

While there are some small, independent companies producing pianos in the old world tradition mostly in Europe, these tend to be manufacturers with very low output catering to a niche market. Most piano companies are not independent. Japanese piano maker Yamaha owns the Austrian piano company Bösendorfer. The Korean piano giant Samick owns Bechstein, Seiler and a sizeable chunk of Steinway!

 

Making matters even more complex, large piano companies often have operations in different countries. For example, a Yamaha and Kawai (both Japanese companies) have pianos manufactured in Indonesia.

 

Another factor is the plethora of “stencil pianos”. These are pianos marketed with familiar names of out of business companies or fictitious names stenciled on the fallboard. Many of these piano companies source the instruments from more than one manufacture. So, often times it’s all but impossible to figure out what company made the piano.

 

So, in today’s world, the vast number of pianos being produced are made in Asia. Last year there were only about 1400 pianos made in the United States mostly from Steinway. If money is no object, there are many fine piano companies out there from Fazioli in Italy to Mason & Hamlin outside of Boston. But for the vast majority of piano buyers, the short list of major piano companies includes 4 companies which include the two Japanese giants:

 

  • Yamaha
  • Kawai

Korean companies have been around since the mid 20th century. They come with different scale designs and price points just like Yamaha and Kawai and have very mature design and manufacturing:

 

  • Young Chang
  • Samick

The elephant in the room is the emergence of the Chinese piano industry. The largest Chinese piano manufacturer is Pearl River. But there are hundreds of companies now producing pianos in China.

 

The good news is that there are very few bad pianos sold in the United States. The secret is matching the right instrument for your needs. Ikea isn’t a bad furniture maker so long as your expectations are in alignment with what you are getting. Their products could serve the perfect purpose for you. So it is with pianos. Not everyone needs a piano that can play on a concert level to keep for generations.

 

Below is a list of hand-made pianos. All of these companies make a limited number of high end pianos. There is a range of quality to some of these manufacturers. However, the specific instrument as well as personal preference will determine which one is best for you:

 

  • Blüthner
  • Grotrian
  • Sauter
  • Steingraeber & Söhne
  • August Förster
  • Bechstein
  • Mason & Hamlin
  • Haessler
  • Schimmel
  • Steinway
  • Albert Weber
  • Shigeru Kawai
  • Fazioli
  • Petrof
  • Rönisch
  • S Series Yamaha
  • Schulze Pollmann
  • Wilh. Steinberg
  • Charles Walter
  • Stuart & Sons
  • Ravenscroft
  • Weinbach

  So much has transpired in the piano industry in the nearly 6 years since producing my, “Best Piano Brands” video, I thought it was due time to offer a fresh perspective on the industry.   In the first video I explained how countries of origin affect the quality of pianos. This is a simple truth – the longer period […]

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Does Atonality Go Against Nature? The Overtone Series – Atonality Part 2

 

This week we are presenting Part 2 in our series on Atonality. In Part 1, we gave a Brief Overview of Atonality. Today we are going to go into a bit more depth. The question of whether or not atonality goes against nature is a difficult one which may elicit a strong response in many viewers – both negative and positive. I would love all of your input on this subject and really appreciate any comments or suggestions you have.

 

Western music is built upon the Overtone Series – which is a fact of nature: all vibrating objects contain color tones. So when you hear a fundamental pitch it actually contains other notes above it. Any vibrating object that produces a pitched sound elicits these overtones – so a string instrument will produce the same series of notes as blowing through a French horn or even a garden hose! It is all the same series of tones. Here is the overtone series:

 

 

The intervals start out very large and then get smaller. These intervals are based upon simple relationships. For example, an octave (the first overtone) is just a 2 to 1 relationship. All sound is based upon vibrations so if you play A above middle C on a piano it has 440 vibrations per second. (This is why people speak of tuning to A 440.). Technically your eardrum is vibrating back and forth 440 times per second and it produces the sound of the note A. If you play A an octave higher you produce 880 vibrations per second, exactly twice the number of vibrations per second. That’s why it sounds like the same note. A perfect 5th (the second overtone) forms a 3 to 2 relationship.

 

A minor second is a very dissonant interval with a 16 to 15 relationship. The more distant the mathematical relationship of notes, the more dissonant they sound. Why is this? Because the human brain has trouble making mathematical sense out of more distant relationships of tones. So this is why some intervals of notes are harder to figure out than others. Clashing notes are referred to as sounding dissonant. Here is a chart of the mathematical relationship of musical intervals:

 

Unison (2 of the same note) 1/1
Octave 2/1
Perfect 5th 3/2
Perfect 4th 4/3
Major 3rd 5/4
Major 6th 5/3
Major 7th 15/8
Minor 7th 9/5
Major 2nd 9/8
Minor 2nd 16/15
Tri-tone 135/128

So, to some extent atonality going against nature and and is hard for the brain to digest. If you consider that the universe is constructed in an orderly manner – that there are inherent relationships between everything living and nonliving that can be organized down to a molecular level – than atonality goes against nature as it does not have tight formal relationships the way tonal music does. On the other hand, if you believe that the universe is chaotic and that many things are related only by random chance encounters which we seek to find order in, then atonality is simply an expression of the universe.

 

So the question of whether or not atonality goes against nature is related to how you see the universe itself. Is the universe ordered or chaotic? This is something that man has been grappling with since we first appeared on this earth and no definitive answer is possible. Ultimately we must find order out of chaos to survive in this world and that’s why tonality is so refreshing and easy to digest. Atonality is something that is hard to digest and challenging, yet some people find order within the chaos. The challenge of finding structure amidst the randomness that surrounds our everyday lives is what keeps us engaged in both art and life itself.

 

So the appreciation of atonal music ultimately comes down to your intellectual capacity of making order out of chaos. Some people prefer things to be more coherent while others enjoy the challenge of dealing with more randomness. What type of person you are will determine whether or not you enjoy or abhor atonal music. It also comes down to the level of sophistication of the listener because music is a language that must be learned.

 

Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com. I would love to hear from all of you and get your thoughts on this subject.

  This week we are presenting Part 2 in our series on Atonality. In Part 1, we gave a Brief Overview of Atonality. Today we are going to go into a bit more depth. The question of whether or not atonality goes against nature is a difficult one which may elicit a strong response in many viewers – both negative […]

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Should You Major in Piano if You Want to Play in an Orchestra?

 

The question today is whether you should major in piano if you want to play in an orchestra. This is an interesting question because while you might see piano in an orchestra every now and then, it’s actually not that common. So would studying piano help your chances to play in an orchestra?

 

Most of the time when you see a pianist performing with an orchestra they are actually not part of the orchestra. They are typically a guest artist who is touring through and soloing with the orchestra. Very rarely does orchestral repertoire call for a piano part. There is typically one keyboard position – and it’s not always full-time – where they might cover piano, harpsichord, synthesizer, organ and even celeste. Many orchestras without full time seasons will often times utilize subs for these parts.

 

If it is your absolute passion to play in an orchestra, piano might not be the best choice for you. The great thing about the piano is that its solo repertoire is unmatched. It is larger than all other instruments combined! More than that, nearly all the solo pieces for other instruments such as violin, flute, clarinet, or nearly any other instrument have accompanying piano parts; so the piano is an intrinsic part of playing with other instruments. From piano trio to piano quintet, the piano is an important part of many types of music and it has an immense repertoire.

 

If you want to play in an orchestra what is the best instrument to study? Orchestras are mostly composed of string players, so that is a great choice. However, with any instrument, the work involved in becoming an accomplished player, much less a professional, is so formidable that you should really choose an instrument you genuinely prefer. You want to play something you love and if you have a passion for it you will be driven to practice more and as such you will be more successful and fulfilled.

 

Getting a position in an orchestra is incredibly difficult and picking an instrument with more potential job openings is never a safe bet. Landing a position with any orchestra will require massive amounts of practice and some luck.. You are best off finding an instrument that makes you happy and something you love playing.

 

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

  The question today is whether you should major in piano if you want to play in an orchestra. This is an interesting question because while you might see piano in an orchestra every now and then, it’s actually not that common. So would studying piano help your chances to play in an orchestra?   Most of the time when […]

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How to approach Octave-Tremolos on the piano

 

If you play the piano you have probably heard octave tremolos and were taken with how they sound. Today we are going to talk about how to approach these with the “Alla Turca” movement of the Mozart K331 Piano Sonata in A Major.

 

The secret to playing broken octaves – or octave tremolos – is first learning how to play octaves properly. One of the biggest secrets is using the correct fingering. You’ll want to use the first finger (thumb) and the fifth finger on all white key octaves – and thumb and fourth finger on black key octaves. This might seem like a small thing but it’s incredibly important to developing your octave playing by dividing the load between the fourth and fifth fingers which makes it much easier to play them quickly.

 

When you play octaves you will notice that the first finger (thumb) is much heavier than your fifth and fourth fingers. This is because your thumb is much stronger than your other fingers and you will have to learn to balance the weight of your hands. A great way to practice this technique is to play the top notes (fourth and fifth fingers) legato while playing your first finger (thumb) staccato. This might be tricky at first but keep practicing it because you will produce much more power on the top notes and your thumb will do it’s job with minimal weight.

 

The other thing that is essential is avoiding tension. One way to alleviate that problem is to practice in note groups. In this particular piece you can practice the first three notes of the broken octaves and relax your wrist and arm. If you feel yourself getting fatigued you should rest your hands and come back to it a bit later in your practice. Never put unnecessary strain on yourself and make sure you are keeping your hands, arms and body relaxed. As you develop more strength in your hands you will be able to practice for much longer periods of time. Your best bet is practicing octave tremolos for short periods of time throughout the day. That way you will develop strength and avoid injury.

 

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

  If you play the piano you have probably heard octave tremolos and were taken with how they sound. Today we are going to talk about how to approach these with the “Alla Turca” movement of the Mozart K331 Piano Sonata in A Major.   The secret to playing broken octaves – or octave tremolos – is first learning how […]

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