Does Playing Jazz Hurt Your Classical Music Skills?

 

This is an incredibly common question and there are a lot of opinions on the subject. I have to admit, I do have a viewpoint which I am happy to share with you.

 

I know a lot of teachers and I’ve known some over the years who worry when their students begin to branch out into jazz, rock or other styles. A common concern is that their students will lose the delicate touch needed to perform Classical music. An even bigger concern for many teachers is that jazz being an improvised style will effect the accurate representations of the great Classical repertoire.

 

Here is a parallel that may shed light on the subject. Imagine you’ve grown up in the United States and learned English your whole life. One day you decide to learn to speak French. Will this effect your abilities of speaking and comprehending English? I don’t believe so. I think it could present an opportunity to expand your horizons. However, it is necessary to be clear what style of music you’re playing.

 

The style of music you play extends far beyond the differences in jazz or Classical. If you are playing 19th century music of Chopin, you wouldn’t want to impart the Baroque style of Bach in your playing; it’s a completely different type of music and style. Each period of Classical music has its own set of demands and styles unique from one another.

 

When it comes down to it, as a pianist it’s best to have a multitude of different styles you can perform. Whether it’s jazz, Baroque, Classical, or whatever it might be, the more styles you can have in your musical arsenal the more marketable a musician you can become. Not only that, but different musical genres offer unique rewards.

 

I often encourage my students to explore different styles of music. If you want to have a career performing music it helps a lot to have many different talents and styles available. One of my students, Bijan Taghavi who just turned 16 has been studying piano with me for many years. He has performed incredibly complex pieces, has won competitions and even performed concertos with symphony orchestras. (Here is a performance he gave last year when he was 15 playing the Grieg Piano Concerto.) Recently he has gotten into learning and performing jazz – here is a performance of him playing Summertime as a Tribute to Oscar Peterson on KX 93.5 in Los Angeles, California. Has it hurt his classical playing? Not at all. The big challenge he faces is having enough time to keep learning both styles of music! On top of that he is also an accomplished guitarist and bass player! Good luck Bijan!

 

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

  This is an incredibly common question and there are a lot of opinions on the subject. I have to admit, I do have a viewpoint which I am happy to share with you.   I know a lot of teachers and I’ve known some over the years who worry when their students begin to branch out into jazz, rock … Continue reading Does Playing Jazz Hurt Your Classical Music Skills?

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What’s the Most Amount of Keys on a Piano?

 

The standard number of keys on a piano today is 88; but if you’re familiar with the history of the piano, you know that this standard developed over a long period of time.

 

The earliest pianos had far fewer keys. The earliest pianos had around 5 octave of keys (about 60 keys). Harpsichords (the predecessor to the piano) had different numbers of keys – sometimes even two keyboards! Near the end of the 19th century, 85 keys became the defacto standard for most pianos.

 

By the end of the 1800’s the piano had settled on 88 keys as a standard and the vast majority of pianos produced today feature 88 keys. However, there are pianos made today that have more than 88 keys!

 

The Imperial Concert Grand Bosendorfer piano has 97 keys! On this particular piano the extra keys have the colors reversed – the black keys are white and the white keys are black so you can distinguish the extra keys from the standard 88 keys.

 

There are some pieces composers have written that include those lower notes, but this is very rare. So why would you even want these other keys if they don’t really serve a purpose for 99% of the music you encounter?

 

The existence of these extra keys and strings enhances the sound of the piano. When you depress the sustain pedal, the extra bass strings resonate adding richness to the tone. And the extra notes are available if you are so inclined to add them to your music.

 

Is 97 the most number of keys on a piano? Not by a long shot! The Australian piano manufacturer Stuart and Sons manufactures a piano with 102 keys! I have not had a chance to play one of these pianos but I would love to have the opportunity.

 

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

  The standard number of keys on a piano today is 88; but if you’re familiar with the history of the piano, you know that this standard developed over a long period of time.   The earliest pianos had far fewer keys. The earliest pianos had around 5 octave of keys (about 60 keys). Harpsichords (the predecessor to the piano) … Continue reading What’s the Most Amount of Keys on a Piano?

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How to Count Rhythms in Music

 

Timing is not only one of the most critical aspects in music; it’s one of the most significant aspects of life itself. Imagine you are going to a party: you know where the party is, you know what it’s celebrating, and you know everything you could except one thing; when it starts. If you don’t know the time, you have no party. I explain this concept to my younger students with this example. If you apply this same concept to music you can see that without timing and rhythm, you would have a mixture of notes with no meaning.

 

But how do you translate what’s written on the page into the rhythm the composer intended? You have to count! But how do you count correctly?

 

There is a popular way in which many people count that isn’t the best technique. However, because it’s so popular, I will mention it here and explain why it is flawed. This method is to count whenever there is a note. This might sound like a good idea but you’ll soon find that it’s very difficult to keep the counting consistent – after all, you will constantly have to change the speed of your counting. This is extremely difficult!

 

Instead, count all the beats consistently instead of just where there are notes. So you count all the beats the same – the counting never changes! This is a precise method and you will develop a fine sense of rhythm instead of trying to just count the notes. In this method, the notes will simply fall into place.

 

You can use this method on any level of music – no matter how fast or complex. If you have a hard time counting intricate rhythms, simply write down lines where the beats fall and the rest will fall into place.

 

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

  Timing is not only one of the most critical aspects in music; it’s one of the most significant aspects of life itself. Imagine you are going to a party: you know where the party is, you know what it’s celebrating, and you know everything you could except one thing; when it starts. If you don’t know the time, you … Continue reading How to Count Rhythms in Music

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Explaining Musical Intervals – Whole Steps and Half Steps

 

Welcome to the first in my multi part series on music theory. Today we will be covering intervals, specifically half-steps and whole-step. Many people consider music theory to be a complex subject – and while it can be – it is built upon simple principles. Much like mathematics, if you understand the foundational principles, you can build your knowledge from there. In explaining the simple fundamentals of music theory, it will make it much easier in the future to grasp the more complex subjects.

 

Intervals are simply the distance between notes (or more accurately, the distance between tones). The piano is a wonderful tool for demonstrating theory because it’s a very visual instrument; all the keys and notes are simply laid out right in front of you!

 

Let’s start with half steps, what are they? Simply put:

 

A half step is two keys together with no keys between.

 

If you look at a keyboard, any two keys that are together – with no keys between – is a half step. Now it’s important to remember that when it comes to intervals, you must consider the black keys. So, half-steps can contain both black and white keys. Look at the keys close to the fallboard so you are aware of the black keys.

 

A whole step is essentially 2 half-steps, or more simply:

 


A whole-step is two keys together with one key between.

 

So you could have a whole step that is two white keys with a black key between them, a pair of black keys with a white key separating them, or even a black and white key with a key between them. As long as there is one key between the notes, you will always have a whole step.

 

But why is this important? Virtually all Western music is based upon these essential building blocks. More than that, all major scales are simply a series of half-steps and whole-steps – which we will cover in a future video.

 

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

  Welcome to the first in my multi part series on music theory. Today we will be covering intervals, specifically half-steps and whole-step. Many people consider music theory to be a complex subject – and while it can be – it is built upon simple principles. Much like mathematics, if you understand the foundational principles, you can build your knowledge … Continue reading Explaining Musical Intervals – Whole Steps and Half Steps

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Should You Close the Fallboard on Your Piano?

 

Nearly every piano has a fallboard and you might assume that if it’s there it should be used. Should you close the fallboard on your piano when you’re not playing it?

 

There are certain instances when the fallboard can be useful to keep people from playing the instrument. If you have a piano in a restaurant or hotel that you don’t want random people playing, you can close the fallboard and the lid and lock the piano (if your piano has a lock). If you have a piano in your home that you don’t want children playing around with this can also be useful.

 

When it comes to institutional use, the locks on pianos do very little to protect them because they can be easily pried open. That’s why there are much more secure locks available to prevent people from getting inside pianos

 

The practical use of fallboards is to prevent dust from collecting on the keys of pianos. Playing a piano with dirty keys feels awful! However, dust will still collect on the fallboard and you will have to dust the fallboard. With delicate satin finishes, this can be more challenging than dusting the keys.

 

The biggest issue when it comes to closing the fallboard is whether or not you have ivory or plastic key tops.

 

When I was a child growing up, my father Morton Estrin would always leave his fallboards open on his pianos and I once asked him about this. He explained to me that the ivory keys on pianos will yellow if not exposed to sunlight on a regular basis. So, closing the fallboard will turn ivory keys yellow over time. In this case, you are better off leaving your fallboard open.

 

When it comes to plastic keys there are no other benefits to keeping fallboards open unless there is direct sunlight on the keys. Plastic can sometimes react to sunlight and degrade over time. If you want to prevent people from playing your piano or prevent dust from getting on the keys, than closing the fallboard is a good choice. However, it doesn’t prolonging the life of your piano or aid its stability.

 

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

  Nearly every piano has a fallboard and you might assume that if it’s there it should be used. Should you close the fallboard on your piano when you’re not playing it?   There are certain instances when the fallboard can be useful to keep people from playing the instrument. If you have a piano in a restaurant or hotel … Continue reading Should You Close the Fallboard on Your Piano?

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Is There One Right Way to Play a Piece of Classical Music?

 

When it comes to classical music, there are typically countless details written directly into the score including dynamics, phrasing and more. Some musicians see this as a challenge in creating their own interpretation of the work. On one hand, you want to remain faithful to the composer’s intention. Yet, you want to put your individual mark on each piece you perform. So, how can you interpret classical scores to be your own and not have them sound like everyone else without deviating from the score?

 

Think about Beethoven playing one of his sonatas. Do you think he would play them the same way every time? I have performed certain pieces for decades – sometimes thousands of times – and yet every time I play them they are unique experiences. If the notes, the rhythm, phrasing and expression are already written in, what can you possibly do to make it different?

 

Some works of art like paintings or films are works of art that are complete expressions. You can do certain things like change the lighting or setting to influence the work slightly, but generally they are finished works which don’t allow for interpretation. On the other hand, you have literary works of someone like Shakespeare, plays that have been around for centuries and have every line of dialogue and stage direction written directly into the text. Yet every performance can be dramatically different and unique in substantial ways. Even the inflection of every word is left up to the individual actors!

 

A musical piece is a lot like a play or a screenplay in that it’s written down as a blueprint but it’s up to the performer to interpret and bring it to life. Just as no line of dialogue would be read the same way by two different actors, a section of music could be performed dramatically differently from musician to musician. Even the balance of a single chord on the piano can be dramatically different from pianist to pianist and from performance to performance. Even though there are some dynamics written in, how you play each note from phrase to phrase is impossible to indicate with notation alone. If you’ve ever played a score on a computer with MIDI, the results sound like a machine is playing it – there is no life to the music! This is because the score is merely a skeleton for the performer to flesh out the music and bring it to life.

 

As a musician who uses a reed with their instrument, the particular reed they are using, how it feels that day, and many other aspects can alter a performance dramatically. As a pianist the sound of the piano you are performing on – even if it’s the same piano you always use – can differ from day to day. The acoustics of the room, the mood of the audience, the ambient noise, all these things factor into the sound and end result of the performance. Even your own mood can inspire different realizations of the score.

 

As you continue to play and perform music you will see how each piece can be interpreted differently and how each performance can differ dramatically from one another.

 

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

  When it comes to classical music, there are typically countless details written directly into the score including dynamics, phrasing and more. Some musicians see this as a challenge in creating their own interpretation of the work. On one hand, you want to remain faithful to the composer’s intention. Yet, you want to put your individual mark on each piece … Continue reading Is There One Right Way to Play a Piece of Classical Music?

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