What is a Plagal Cadence? Music Theory Lessons

  This is a term you may or may not be familiar with. The plagal cadence is a IV chord resolving to a I chord at the end of a piece. Why is this significant? Typically the end of a piece has a V – I or V7 – I cadence.   So why is the plagal cadence important and … Continue reading What is a Plagal Cadence? Music Theory Lessons

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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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Why is C Not A? Music Theory Questions

 

Somebody asked me this question the other day and I was very confused – I wondered what they could be talking about. But once he explained the questions I began to understand that it actually made a lot of sense.

 

C is the starting note for most pieces you start with on the piano and a C major scale is played by playing all the white keys consecutively on the piano. You’d think that because this is the basic foundation of music that the note would be called A and you would then name the other notes accordingly.

 

Upon thinking about this I began to understand why things evolved this way and why C is the way it is. To understand this concept you’ll have to go way back into time before minor and major tonality was entrenched into Western music.

 

Originally, music was built on modes. Modes can be started on any of the white keys (and can be transposed to other keys with sharps or flats). For example, the notes from D to D diatonically is the Dorian mode and the Aeolian Mode is from A to A.

 

The ionian mode, which is the major scale, was not very popular at the time. If you listen to Renaissance music, you will rarely hear something written in the major. At the same time, the minor modes were very popular and the aeolian mode was one of the most popular. This might explain why A is the starting note!

 

If anybody has different information about this or another explanation I would be glad to hear it. These are my personal thoughts and conjecture based on my knowledge of music and it’s history. I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on why C is not called A.

 

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

  Somebody asked me this question the other day and I was very confused – I wondered what they could be talking about. But once he explained the questions I began to understand that it actually made a lot of sense.   C is the starting note for most pieces you start with on the piano and a C major … Continue reading Why is C Not A? Music Theory Questions

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Can You Teach Your Kids How to Play Music?

 

For me this is a loaded question. My sister and I were taught piano by our father Morton Estrin, so you might assume that I would simply say, “Yes.”, and move on. The answer though is not that simple.

 

It certainly worked in my family but there are lots of other cases where this simply doesn’t work. When I was growing up my father had a very busy career recording, performing and teaching. He would have no time during the week to give us lessons. Instead, every Sunday after we would eat brunch he would give us our lessons. My sister and I would always fight for who got their lesson first but no matter what we would always have our lessons for an hour each.

 

When I was growing up I would think about this method with a little bit of jealousy. After all, this was my father, why would he treat me like every one of his other students? In hindsight I realize that this is the secret to success; treating your children like every other student!

 

It might sound contradictory but if you treat your children differently and special in any way it becomes very difficult to maintain. There could be exceptions like homeschooling your children which is a circumstance in which you have complete control over their learning and schedule. If you are proficient in music then this could potentially be beneficial. For most parents however, a single lesson once a week for an hour should do just fine.

 

I’m sad to say that I didn’t actually follow this advice with my own children. I did not schedule out a time every week to give them lessons. Instead, we simply had lessons when we had time and that would often mean cancellations and random scheduling that would result in fewer lessons than if we had simply scheduled it out beforehand. As a result of this, my children are accomplished on other instruments – they are both very proficient on piano but it’s not their primary instrument.

 

Another aspect to my father’s teachings that was unique was the way he handled time between lessons. My mother would always be the one to make sure we practiced and to watch over our musical routines. My father would be completely uninvolved after the lesson – again treating us like we were his students and nothing more when it came to music. This is smart because if he was listening to us all the time and watching over us it could create a conflict in our development; it would also take up a lot of his time. I highly recommend this method for teaching your own children and if I had to do it all over again with my kids I would follow a similar format. I welcome your input on this topic and thanks again for watching – I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com

  For me this is a loaded question. My sister and I were taught piano by our father Morton Estrin, so you might assume that I would simply say, “Yes.”, and move on. The answer though is not that simple.   It certainly worked in my family but there are lots of other cases where this simply doesn’t work. When … Continue reading Can You Teach Your Kids How to Play Music?

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Why You Must be Engaged in Your Musical Performance

 

This seems obvious enough. What would you be doing on stage if you weren’t engaged enough to give a performance? This topic has profound implications.

 

I remember when I was going to the Manhattan School of Music and I attended many concerts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. I would hear many emerging pianists and while most played brilliantly, sometimes I would find my mind wandering during some performances. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me until I noticed that often times, there would be a memory slip by the artist just at the point that I would lose my attention. I began to understand what the real problem was.

 

The performer would become disengaged from their performance and it would cause them to have a momentary memory lapse. Beyond their mistake, the audience would become less involved in their performance and their brief slip indicated a loss of concentration. I began to understand the importance of staying engaged in your performance and staying focused.

 

It might be difficult to find enthusiasm for a piece you have practiced countless hours and played on numerous occasions. Sometimes a piece of music may become stale and your excitement for it has waned. So how do you keep yourself engaged and your audience excited?

 

When I perform a piece I have played hundreds of times before I try to find a new expression and find something in the music I haven’t discovered before. I bring new life to something so that it isn’t a routine run through but a fresh experience. This is something that gets me excited and raises my energy and focus during a performance. In doing this I am bringing a new level of excitement to my performance and engaging the audience in the process.

 

Keeping your audience engaged and entertained throughout your performance is something you must master; it’s one of the most important aspects of becoming a great performer and not just a great pianist.

 

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

  This seems obvious enough. What would you be doing on stage if you weren’t engaged enough to give a performance? This topic has profound implications.   I remember when I was going to the Manhattan School of Music and I attended many concerts at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. I would hear many emerging pianists and while most played … Continue reading Why You Must be Engaged in Your Musical Performance

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Is it Harder to Play the Piano Left Handed?

  This is an excellent question and it’s something that many people wonder about but might be afraid to ask.   You might think that so much is dependent on the right hand that there might be some truth to this. Although, I have people ask me all the time about whether or not it would be easier to play … Continue reading Is it Harder to Play the Piano Left Handed?

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