Why is Bach’s Italian Concerto referred to as a concerto? This is a really good question. A concerto is generally a solo instrument or small group of soloists along with a larger ensemble and almost every concerto you encounter meets this definition. Yet, Bach’s Italian Concerto is a solo keyboard work! So, how can this possibly be considered a concerto? The reason for this is that it is written with the Italian style of a concerto grosso and the way Bach achieves this is by doing something he rarely did in any of his keyboard music which is, he wrote in dynamics in the entire three movements every single note; in the right hand and the left hand. Either they’re both forte or they’re both piano or one or the other is forte. This is what achieves the feeling of a concerto of the larger group and the smaller group.

The entire concerto was built upon the juxtaposition of the sound of a solo group against the entire group and it gives the feeling of an Italian concerto. It’s so fascinating to realize two things about Bach. One is that there is a tremendous amount of music that we’ll never know because he was undiscovered until years after his death. There’s an old wives tale that many of his scores ended up being used to wrap fish. I don’t know if this is true, but we do know that he wrote a lot of music that we have never gotten to hear and probably never will. The other thing about Bach is that he lived in Leipzig, Germany and did very little travelling, yet he wrote a magnificent Italian concerto, a set of beautiful English suites as well as French suites. How is it possible that he wrote all this music? After all, there was no recording back then. Being in a major city, any time any artists from other places would come to visit, he made a point of listening to many different styles of music. Being the genius that he was, he could assimilate those styles and could write some of the greatest Italian, French and English music as well as his native German music,

So that’s a bit of a lesson on Bach’s Italian Concerto for you. I hope this has been helpful! Again, this is Robert@LivingPianos.com

Why is Bach’s Italian Concerto Called a Concerto?

Why is Bach’s Italian Concerto referred to as a concerto? This is a really good question. A concerto is generally a solo instrument or small group of soloists along with a larger ensemble and almost every concerto you encounter meets this definitio

Today’s show is, “Secrets of Phrasing: How to Approach Two Note Slurs on the Piano”. There are two aspects of phrasing. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are two distinct meanings. One meaning of phrasing is how you approach music in terms of musical units, a phrase being a musical sentence. The other meaning is the way in which notes are connected or detached. Two notes slurs are a classic example of phrasing. Last time we talked a bit about staccatos and how they are approached from the wrist.

Two note slurs are essentially one note connecting to the next note. Even if the second is not written to be played staccato, it still is played staccato in most musical contexts. Since staccato is simply not connecting notes, and a slur is connecting notes, if you have a two note slur, you essentially play, long-short for the two notes. The slurred note is long, the staccato note is short.

How do you approach such a thing? Staccatos are created by using the wrists creating a crisp sound, particularly with fast music. Slower tempo staccato is a completely different subject which I’ll cover in a future video. When you have two note slurs, you go down for the first note and up for the second note with the wrist. That is what creates the two note slur. When approaching staccatos, sometimes it can be difficult to identify the wrists separate from the arms. It is very important that you understand when you’re using the wrists and when you’re using the arms since the sound is extremely different. There is certainly a place for arms in piano playing, but with quick, snappy staccatos or two note slurs, the arms are too heavy and cumbersome in order to execute the phrasing in a musically pleasing way.

To sum up, the secret to approaching two note slurs is utilizing the wrists in order to accommodate the staccato. You go down for the slurred note and up for the second note of the slur which by its very nature is detached which is synonymous with staccato. I hope this has been helpful! Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com

Secrets of Phrasing: How to Approach Two Note Slurs on the Piano

Today’s show is, “Secrets of Phrasing: How to Approach Two Note Slurs on the Piano”. There are two aspects of phrasing. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are two distinct meanings. One meaning of phrasing is how yo

We’ve touched on this topic a few times but we’ve never dedicated an entire video to the concept of relaxing while playing your musical instrument. There are a number of reasons why this is an important subject and we are going to cover a wide range of aspects as well as some tips in this article and accompanying video.

Above all, being relaxed and comfortable at your instrument will allow you to play better technically. Over time if you develop good habits while playing, you will be able to perform longer and at a higher level while avoiding injury. Playing with tension over a long period of time can eventually lead to damage. More than that, you will have a more beautiful tone when you approach your instrument in a relaxed manner.

Building strength over time by playing and practicing a great deal will allow you to be more relaxed at your instrument. For example, with weak fingers at the piano, it is a challenge to play for long periods of time and you will find yourself contorting your body to accommodate difficult passages. This idea holds true for other instruments as well.

You must take your time to set yourself comfortably at your instrument. Sitting in exactly the right position, having the instrument in the right place, or adjusting your embouchure on a wind instrument appropriately before you play a note is vital.

When you first approach your instrument there are a few things you can do to mentally and physically relax yourself. I personally like to just take a moment and relax my body, take a deep breath and put myself in a very comfortable state. If there is a large audience in front of you, you will probably be a bit tense and nervous. Sitting down and relaxing for a moment and putting yourself into the right mindset will help you immensely.

While you’re actually performing you will want to take every opportunity you can to consciously relax. You can’t shift your focus from the performance, but taking a small breather whenever you can will keep you fresh during the performance. Athletes constantly find moments during games when they relax their minds and bodies or else they would never make it through an entire game. The same is true for musicians.

During a recent trip to New York to celebrate the 90th birthday of my piano teacher from years ago, Madam Ruth Slenczynska, we spoke about how she often makes her hands go limp between phrases as time allows during a performance. This is a way for her to relax and prepare herself for the next passage. At 90 years of age, she is still performing all around the world; so I believe she is on to something!

If you’re playing a violin you can let the instrument rest on your chest during rests as opposed to keeping it in position on your shoulder through the entire performance. When playing a wind instrument, you can let the air out of your lungs and relax your diaphragm for a moment. These “mini-vacations” during a performance can go a long way to keeping you healthy and relaxed in your musical life.

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

How to Relax While Playing a Musical Instrument

We’ve touched on this topic a few times but we’ve never dedicated an entire video to the concept of relaxing while playing your musical instrument. There are a number of reasons why this is an important subject and we are going to cover a wide ra

Buying a piano can be a difficult decision. Budget, size, preference, there are dozens of factors that will influence your decision and the brand of the piano is undoubtedly going to be an important factor for many people. So, let’s say you found a piano you really love but you’ve never heard of the brand before. Is this a bad thing?

Everyone has probably heard of the names Yamaha and Steinway and they probably know a brand of a piano they grew up with. But most other brands might be a mystery to them. Maybe you’ve heard of Kawai, Baldwin or Mason & Hamlin. But there are literally hundreds of brands that have existed over the years and sometimes it’s not so easy to get information about them. It’s OK to be confused about this. We still get pianos in the store with brands I’ve never heard of or seen in person before; you’re not alone!

If you’re looking at new pianos you will probably see a lot of different names and some of them are probably ones you haven’t heard of before. Many of these are fictitious names or names of piano manufacturers that have gone out of business years ago and the rights to the names have been sold. These pianos are referred to as Stencil Pianos.

There are hundreds of companies manufacturing pianos in China and many exporters put different names on the pianos to expand their marketing. As a result you are going to have lots of names nobody has ever heard of. Does this mean these are bad pianos? Not necessarily; but they probably aren’t going to be high level instruments on the level of handmade pianos.

To make things even more complex there a number of boutique European piano brands that manufacture only a few dozen pianos a year. Yet many are of very high quality. The fact that you haven’t heard of these doesn’t make them bad instruments.

The great news is that today we can simply pull out our smart phones and look up any piano brand within seconds. If you are looking at a piano and you want to know a little bit about the history of the company don’t be afraid to do some research.

Another thing to keep in mind is that pianos were in their heyday about a hundred years ago in the this country. At one time there were over 1,800 piano manufacturers in the US (compared to only 3 today) and it’s impossible to know all of them. Many of these are great pianos and there are some hidden gems out there. So, just because you haven’t heard of a brand doesn’t make it a good or bad piano. Try to research as much as you can about the specific instrument you are looking at. Ultimately condition is of paramount importance.

There might be a time though where your research will be very limited. If you’ve fallen in love with an old piano from a manufacturer you’ve never heard of and you can only find a limited amount of information about it, you should not be afraid to purchase it if it’s something you are really drawn to. Finding replacement parts is not as hard as you might think as most pianos use uniform parts and any skilled technician should be able to repair or replace them for you unless the piano is extremely old.

If you find something out there you haven’t heard of and are still worried about the purchase, you are welcome to contact us directly and we will be more than happy to research it for you and give you information. info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Should You Buy a Piano from a Brand You’ve Never Heard of?

Buying a piano can be a difficult decision. Budget, size, preference, there are dozens of factors that will influence your decision and the brand of the piano is undoubtedly going to be an important factor for many people. So, let’s say you found a

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

Getting Back Into Piano after a Long Absence

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 ba

This is a very common question which has a somewhat complex answer. If I had to give a one-line answer to the question I would say the average is around $15,000 to restore a piano. In reality, restoring and rebuilding a piano can be a substantial project that varies tremendously based on each individual instrument. As we’ve discussed previously, there are literally thousands of parts on a piano and finding out what is needed on a particular piano to bring it back to a high level requires time and expertise.

There are essentially three components to a piano:

The Belly – is comprised of the soundboard, bridges, pinblock, strings, plate and other components.

The Furniture – This is the case and finish of the piano.

The Action – can be removed as a unit to work on separately. It is comprised of the keys, hammers, and thousands of other parts which must be adjusted to very stringent tolerances.

Any one, two or all of these components could require substantial work when restoring or rebuilding a piano. Just refinishing the case will cost thousands of dollars and require specialized work.

When it comes to rebuilding pianos, generally it concerns high end instruments. There is not much purpose in restoring cheap Asian production pianos because the cost of the restoration could exceed the value of the piano (unless it only needed minor work). A good candidate for restoring a piano is a classic American or European piano such as a: Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Baldwin, Bluthner, Bosendorfer, Bechstein or other pianos which cost a substantial amount to replace. These pianos new can cost upwards of $80,000. So, it can be worth the cost to bring them back to life if the essential structure has not been compromised.

Obviously, restoring different parts of the piano will cost different amounts of money. Replacing the hammers or key tops will cost a lot less than replacing the soundboard on a piano. It really is a matter of what is required to get the piano to a desired level. Many times the soundboard on a piano can be restored to a high level with expert repair. However, if you need to replace a soundboard, you could be looking at a project in the tens of thousands of dollars with everything else that is entailed.

If you’re thinking about restoring a piano, you should contact someone reputable in your area to get an idea what the cost would be. The quality of the work is very important and varies widely. So, contacting someone with a good reputation is incredibly important.

Piano restoration is a very complicated process and it’s something that you shouldn’t embark upon alone. If you want advice on restoring a piano, please feel free to contact us at: Info@LivingPianos.com or call (949) 244-3729.

How Much Does it Cost to Restore a Piano?

This is a very common question which has a somewhat complex answer. If I had to give a one-line answer to the question I would say the average is around $15,000 to restore a piano. In reality, restoring and rebuilding a piano can be a substantial pro

If you ask anyone who has played music for most of their lives they will surely have at least one experience that was a complete disaster. You must remember that we are only human and sometimes mistakes can and will happen. This blog is designed to keep you in a good mindset with a persistently positive attitude even in the face of failure.

The whole draw of a live performance is to see the randomness of it all. People don’t go to Nascar races in hopes of NOT seeing a crash. Watching a trapeze artist at the circus is something we watch for both the entertainment and the thrill of the prospect of something going wrong. With any live performance there is the element of chance, and it’s something that draws us all in; you never know what will happen next – both good and bad!

The problem is that even though the performers might be confident in their abilities, they can still succumb to random events which end up in failure. There is nothing worse than practicing for a performance and putting in a ton of work only to go onstage and bomb. In a situation like this, ask yourself whether or not you really bombed or you just think you bombed?

Remember this, when it comes to a performance; the things you perceive as wrong aren’t always problems for the audience. Most of the time they won’t know any better – even if you failed in your own mind the audience might have thought you did perfectly well. Even though you might be upset about it, it’s not something you should share with the audience. You must keep these emotions to yourself and put on a happy face when the show is over. You certainly don’t want to point out mistakes and flaws when nobody else noticed them. It is an insult to the audience to tell them they are wrong about their perceptions of the performance. They came out of their house, traveled to where you were playing, sat there for a length of time, they enjoyed the show and they are going to leave happy. The worst thing you could do is put them in a bad mindset once they are about to leave – it is a mistake to let them know what they just dedicated time (and possibly money) to was something you weren’t pleased with yourself; why would they ever come back?

Sometimes failing can be an excellent thing overall. Sure, in the moment it’s going to feel horrible but it’s something you can look back on later and strengthen weak points. It’s a great learning experience. After all, it’s only music – nobody is going to die (unlike a trapeze artist!).

Another thing you will want to avoid is letting mistakes overcome the entire performance. Mistakes happen and the worst thing is to get into a negative mindset which can precipitate more problems – it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy! If something happens during a performance, move on – don’t dwell on it. Focus on where you are in the piece and perform as you know you can. Mental attitude is half the performance and you must maintain your sanity and control.

If you have a performance that ended up badly, the next performance should be low stress. You should put yourself in a comfortable atmosphere and play like you know you can. Maybe an in-home concert, maybe just play for friends to remind yourself how talented you really are. Nothing will build your confidence more than playing in situations where you know you will succeed.

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

Dealing with Failure in a Musical Performance

If you ask anyone who has played music for most of their lives they will surely have at least one experience that was a complete disaster. You must remember that we are only human and sometimes mistakes can and will happen. This blog is designed to k

If you have looked for used Yamaha pianos – you may have have run into this term before. If you have ever searched for the term “gray market Yamaha pianos” online you will find a ton of different opinions about what it means. It’s my goal to simply provide some information from my experience to anyone who is curious about buying or learning about what this means.

The simple answer is that Yamaha pianos imported directly from Japan are sometimes referred to as gray market pianos. Yamaha pianos sold through retailers in the United States are actually imported into this country by a company called Yamaha North America. Yamaha North America is actually a separate company from Yamaha. They are the sole importer of Yamaha pianos into the United States, and because of this, their interest is to protect their market as much as possible. In fact they, they are undoubtedly the ones who initially coined the term “gray market pianos”. You can read their take on what grey market pianos are on their website:

http://www.yamaha.com/ussub/piano/serialnumberlookup.html

In other words: If you buy a piano from a private seller and the piano was not sold through Yamaha North America, it could be termed a gray market piano. Indeed there is a cottage industry of people importing old Yamaha pianos from Japan, refurbishing them and selling them in the United States.

Yamaha North America warns customers about these pianos.

The biggest concern is the age of the piano. Yamaha has continually improved design, manufacturing, and materials of their pianos over the decades. Some of the old pianos they produced were not of the high standard people expect of the largest piano manufacturer in the world. Since Yamaha North America has no control over these instruments, they caution people about them to avoid being associated with sub-standard pianos being sold by some independent importers.

Another issue that is raised is the climitization of the pianos for the North American market. What is the climate of North America? I know that where I live in Southern California has a dramatically different climate than 10 miles away at the beach, or 10 miles inland in the high desert. Indeed, early on before Yamaha became a global music company their pianos were not produced with the seasoned woods to withstand a wide range of climates. However, Yamaha pianos have been produced on a high level for export certainly since the late 1970’s at least. So, this is only a concern with older Yamaha pianos.

Yamaha North America also warns about availability of parts for “gray market pianos”. They say they will not provide parts for these pianos and require the serial number to acquire parts. The truth is, piano parts are standard and there are countless companies making high quality parts for almost any modern piano.

So what is the deal with gray market piano? If you are looking at a relatively recently built Yamaha piano, you should be just fine. Most of the Yamaha pianos sold in Japan are pretty much the same as the ones sold in America. Any skilled technician who can handle a Yamaha American piano will have no problems servicing a later model Japanese market Yamaha piano; the parts and labor are the same.

So while you should be aware of what are termed, “Yamaha gray market pianos”, if you are looking at a later model Yamaha within the time frame of Yamaha North America, there is probably nothing to worry about.

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

What is a Gray Market Yamaha Piano? Gray Market Pianos

If you have looked for used Yamaha pianos – you may have have run into this term before. If you have ever searched for the term “gray market Yamaha pianos” online you will find a ton of different opinions about what it means. It’s my goal to

This is an incredibly common question for many people and especially parents with younger children who are thinking about getting them music lessons.

The short answer – no matter if it’s for you or your child – should be to get the best possible instrument you can (and afford) at the very beginning.

A lot of people might look at this as being counterintuitive. Why would you want to buy something expensive and then be burdened later on with trying to sell it? The truth is, sometimes if you don’t invest in a good instrument it could lead to frustration and eventually end up in your child giving up entirely.

It’s important to commit to music lessons. If you don’t feel entirely committed or sure about something then you should look elsewhere. Music is something that takes a lifetime to master and if you think that you or your child is ready to embark on that journey then you should go full steam ahead.

However, starting with a cheaper instrument and working your way up can be a great option. As long as the instrument you are starting with is good enough to be played and won’t impede your progress or learning you will be fine. With pianos it’s a good idea to start with a high quality upright and then eventually upgrade to a baby grand or full size grand when the time is right. Just remember that you will eventually have to progress past an upright piano because the action is not the same as a grand piano – it will never be as quick and won’t be able to perform more advanced selections of music.

If you get the best instrument you can afford you won’t be sorry. Not only will the person learning be happier and more successful but it will actually retain its value much more than a cheaper instrument. Search around and find the instrument that’s right for you or your child.

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

Should You Start Learning on an Inexpensive Instrument?

This is an incredibly common question for many people and especially parents with younger children who are thinking about getting them music lessons. The short answer – no matter if it’s for you or your child – should be to get the best possibl