A musical repertoire is one of the most important things a musician has. A repertoire is a demonstration of your accomplishments and provides the foundation for you as a musician, so it’s important to have music that you can play at any time which defines you. It’s important that you select pieces to add to your permanent repertoire, think of it like a resume for a job.

You can study an instrument for many years and if you only work on the pieces you’re currently studying you will eventually forget your old pieces you have learned and have a limited amount of music you can play. Let’s be realistic though, if you tried to keep every piece you’ve ever played fresh in your mind it would be an insurmountable task – just imagine trying to practice every piece you’ve ever learned every day; it’s impossible!

So how do you build a good repertoire and maintain it over the course of your lifetime?

Practice the pieces you want to maintain in your repertoire. Play through these pieces on a periodic basis. (It doesn’t require practicing at every session.) Try to keep these pieces fresh in your mind and never too far away from performance level.

Refer back to the original score. This is something that many people might not consider but it’s essential. Over time, no matter how often you revisit your pieces, mistakes and inaccuracies will creep in. By going back and referring to the score you can ensure that you are playing the pieces correctly and as originally intended. You might be surprised when you go back and revisit the score and play slowly with the score that you will see things you never noticed before. This helps you not only to maintain your repertoire but to master it.

Re-study pieces you really enjoy. It’s always personally rewarding to go back over a piece you particularly love and re-learn it by studying the score carefully and getting everything you can out of it. The pieces you re-learn and study again and again will become a part of your permanent memory and form a very strong part of your repertoire.

Thanks so much for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions or comments about this subject or any other subject please contact us directly: (949) 244-3729 or email: Info@LivingPianos.com

How Do You Maintain a Musical Repertoire?

A musical repertoire is one of the most important things a musician has. A repertoire is a demonstration of your accomplishments and provides the foundation for you as a musician, so it’s important to have music that you can play at any time which

Welcome to the first in our series on The Burgmüller Studies. Burgmüller was a wonderful composer who wrote pieces that are accessible to less advanced students, yet offer absolutely wonderful musical content. I always encourage students who have progressed beyond the most basic level to explore these pieces because they are beautiful compositions that can help you further your development as a pianist.

Today we are going to discuss the first piece in this series: La Candeur (or as it translates to English, “Frankness”).

What are the challenges in this piece? You might notice by listening to it that it has a very lyrical, sustained melody. This piece doesn’t require using the pedal but the challenge is getting a smooth line throughout which requires learning to play legato. This is a great skill for any pianist and particularly good for young students just getting into more advanced music. You’ll also want to support the line with the weight of your arms – VIDEO: Arms Equal Power and Depth.

The secret to getting a sustained and beautiful tone is to have the weight of your arms supported by the fingers. You’ll want to transfer the weight from finger to finger to create a long and beautiful legato. You don’t want to apply pressure just at the start of a note but during the entire phrase. If you were to play on someone else’s arm they would feel a constant pressure from the weight of your fingers and arms pressing down, not just at the start of the notes.

If you were to calculate the volume of each note louder and louder to the top of the phrase, then quieter and quieter, you would end up with calculated playing, not a smooth line. Using the weight of your arm – almost as if it were the breath in music – to get louder during the middle of a phrase and softer towards the end of a phrase, you will create a very dramatic and pleasing tone throughout. You want the piano to mimic a wind instrument or a singing voice in it’s tone.

In another part of the piece you have a section which almost sounds like it could be written for two different instruments in the right hand:

On the top you have these half notes:

And on the bottom you have a completely different voice:

It’s important to leave the top (half notes) down while you play the other notes. How can you achieve this? By practicing the long notes legato and the short notes staccato from the fingers. This creates independence of the fingers to assure delineation of the two lines. Without doing this you might end up holding down all the notes or not holding the half notes for their full value – which would be incorrect.

Thanks again for joining me, I look forward to our next lesson on Burgmuller. If you have any comments or questions for this topic or any topic at all please contact me directly: info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Piano Lessons – The Burgmüller Studies – Part 1

Welcome to the first in our series on The Burgmüller Studies. Burgmüller was a wonderful composer who wrote pieces that are accessible to less advanced students, yet offer absolutely wonderful musical content. I always encourage students who have p

This is a very complex and deep subject and discussing this in the limited amount of time we have for this video won’t do this topic justice. However there are some universal truths I would like to share with you. Music speaks to all of us in different ways and sometimes you may encounter a particular piece that you find to be stunning and unforgettable. What is it about certain artists that separates them from their contemporaries? Why is Mozart so much more highly regarded than his contemporaries?

Whether it’s listening to music, reading a novel, looking at a painting or watching a film, any piece of art sets up expectations. If you are reading a book or watching a motion picture and every time you think you know what’s going to happen next in the story it unfolds exactly as you predicted, you’ll find yourself disengaged and bored. The same thing is true for other pieces of art. A piece of music that is extremely predictable is not likely to hold your attention either.

The flipside to this is creating a work that is completely random and unpredictable. There are schools of music dedicated to this type of work such as expressionism and serialized music which aims to randomize elements. There is nothing inherently wrong with this type of approach – just as there is nothing wrong with making something predictable. But you might find that your audience becomes disengaged. It’s just like a movie with random images and no discernible plot – or a painting with a series of nonsensical images, complete randomness is impossible to comprehend and it can lose most of its audience just as quickly as something that is predictable yet for opposite reasons!

So how do you avoid these pitfalls? How can you create something that straddles the line between predictability and randomness?

The best pieces of art will tend to set up expectations and then surprise its audience in either big or subtle ways. The films which everyone tends to remember often have some of the most surprising elements in them. Just when the audience thinks things are going in one direction they are immediately thrown into another. If it’s done convincingly it can become something that people will remember. The same principal applies to music, setting up your audience and then surprising them in creative and significant ways will make your piece engaging and memorable.

Mozart was a master of Classical structure which seems deceptively simple. Yet, just when you are lulled into a sense of complacency, a turn of phrase will pleasantly surprise you with its subtle genius. It’s not shocking, but it’s a way to subvert expectations and create something captivating. Beethoven offers a different form of the same principal. His pieces are known to radically surprise listeners and keep them engaged by going down a certain path only to shock you with something completely different from what you expect. It’s can be intense in some moments and it’s never dull.

The balance between randomness and order is the ultimate foundation of art. You don’t want to bore your audience as much as you don’t want to confuse them. You want them to be surprised, engaged and remember your work. It’s what makes great art “great”. This holds true for musical performances as well.

Thanks again for joining me. I would love to hear your opinions on this subject as well. If you have any questions or comments about this subject or any subject at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

What Makes Great Music “Great”?

This is a very complex and deep subject and discussing this in the limited amount of time we have for this video won’t do this topic justice. However there are some universal truths I would like to share with you. Music speaks to all of us in diffe

The cast-iron plate of a piano is one of the most impressive structures of the instrument. It’s a large and complex part of the piano which weighs more than the rest of the piano – and you might wonder how they are made. There are actually two methods to making piano plates and we are going to talk about both of them and whether one technique is better than the other.

The traditional method of making piano plates is something that goes back to the 19th century. This is called a “wet sand cast plate”. In this method the plate takes a long time for the metal to cure; it can take months. This might not be the most time-effective strategy but this is still how most handmade pianos – such as Steinway and Mason & Hamlin plates are made today.

The Asian manufacturers found a much quicker way to produce plates for pianos – and comprises the vast majority of plates manufactured in Asia. By producing a plate with a vacuum mold process, it can be completed in just a few minutes. It’s a lot like how plastics are made – by filling a mold and letting it set.

Vacuum mold plates are structurally sound yet some people discern a different sound from wet sand cast plates. What is the truth? Wet sand cast plates have a higher density of metal and therefore don’t impart a metallic “ring” that you may hear from vacuum mold type plates.

So which one is better?

It’s more of a personal choice than anything else. Some people prefer the sound brighter sound of Asian pianos and some prefer the sound of American or European pianos. It doesn’t mean that one method is necessarily better than the other, but there are some sonic differences between the two.

I would love to hear your opinions about this topic. Have you played pianos with both types of plates? What are your impressions?

Thanks again for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions or comments about this subject or any subject at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

How are Piano Plates Made? Piano Parts

The cast-iron plate of a piano is one of the most impressive structures of the instrument. It’s a large and complex part of the piano which weighs more than the rest of the piano – and you might wonder how they are made. There are actually tw

We are very happy to welcome our guest Jonny May www.PianoWithJonny.com on this video. Jonny is an expert at Ragtime music who will share his music and knowledge with us.

An early form of jazz music, created just before the turn of the 20th century, ragtime is a popular form of music that you’ve undoubtedly heard many times. Some ragtime music is completely written out (like Classical concert music) and other times it is more of an improvised style of music. You might be familiar with the rags of Scott Joplin who is probably the most famous Ragtime pianist known for The Entertainer as well as other music.

Ragtime is typically associated with a fast and upbeat style of music. However, Scott Joplin himself was quoted as saying, “Ragtime should never be played fast”. Is there a right or wrong speed or tempo of this music? Like most things from different eras, it’s open to interpretation. Some people prefer ragtime slower, while some prefer a faster tempo. The bottom line is enjoying the music and making it your own.

Another common misconception about ragtime is that it should be played with a “swing” feel to the music in which the notes are played with a long-short emphasis on each 2 note group. This style became popular decades later. What does differentiate ragtime music from other genres is the syncopated rhythms which are played off the beat of the music. When you listen to ragtime you’ll find it almost impossible not to move because of the bouncy quality of the syncopation. It makes you want to dance!

What’s fun about ragtime is that you can take nearly any song or piece – old, contemporary, Classical, whatever you can imagine – syncopate the rhythms and play it in a ragtime style. If you have a chance to watch the video provided with this article you’ll see Jonny play some amazing examples of taking popular music from different eras and turning them into ragtime.

The alternating octaves and chords in the left hand in ragtime are one of the biggest technical challenges for most people approaching this style of music. This is a technique rarely used in Classical music with some notable exceptions, such as the end of the 6th Hungarian Rhapsodie of Franz Liszt. So, what advice did Jonny give us? Simplifying the music is a great way to get yourself acclimated to playing ragtime. Jonny recommends using shorter jumps between octaves and chords and possibly leaving out some notes until you get comfortable with the style. Jonny also recommends watching your left hand as opposed to the right hand since the left hand will be jumping from octave to chord back and forth while the right hand stays relatively in the same position.

Another thing that’s so fascinating about ragtime music is that almost every piece contains a melancholy section. No matter how happy the piece is, there always seems to be a section that changes the mood. It’s a great compositional technique that adds depth of emotion to the music.

Ragtime was developed in the late 1800s through the early 20th century and really hit it’s stride around 1898 with the release of Maple Leaf Rag. It was a very popular form of music in it’s day and contemporary composers from that time would sometimes write rags or rag-style music into their pieces – such as Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk and some music of Gershwin.

For more information about ragtime piano you can visit Jonny’s website www.PianoWithJonny.com or subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

Thanks again for joining us here at Living Pianos. If you have any questions about this topic or any topic at all please contact us directly: Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

What is Ragtime Music?

We are very happy to welcome our guest Jonny May www.PianoWithJonny.com on this video. Jonny is an expert at Ragtime music who will share his music and knowledge with us. An early form of jazz music, created just before the turn of the 20th century,

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

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 ma

That Iron String is available on Amazon.

Jack Kohl is a pianist/author from Long Island. His book, “That Iron String” explores the nightmarish realities of the life of aspiring concert pianists in American in the 21st century. While the book is part of a trilogy and is fictional, it highlights the plight facing so many talented, young pianists today.

Robert Estrin and Jack Kohl are both pianists from Long Island. So, even though they just met recently, there is a natural camaraderie being fellow pianists from the same area. They provide insights for pianists at a time when there are far more accomplished artists than there are possible careers available. They discuss how people like themselves find creative solutions to remaining relevant having highly accomplished 19th century skills in the modern world.

Robert Estrins Interviews Jack Kohl (Pianist/Author)

That Iron String is available on Amazon. Jack Kohl is a pianist/author from Long Island. His book, “That Iron String” explores the nightmarish realities of the life of aspiring concert pianists in American in the 21st century. While the b

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

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 requ

We received this question from Luis. He wondered if it would be best to find a piano that has never been played. This is really a interesting question which we will explore today.

Does a piano benefit from being played? To some extent, yes. If a piano is neglected, some of the parts can get jammed up with dirt and dust, key bushings may harden and other action parts may eventually begin to have problems functioning smoothly. There is also the element of discovery. A piano that is played and serviced regularly will receive the attention required to keep it playing on a high level.

On the other hand, if you play the piano frequently, some parts will eventually wear out with use and will need to be replaced. So, there is no absolute in regards to how much a piano should be played.

The ideal situation would be moderate, regular use like having a car you only drive once a month. You might take it around the block every once in awhile, change the oil every three months, fill it with gas, and keep it in the garage. This may not be the most fulfilling way to enjoy your car. But it will age very slowly! Likewise, if you barely play your piano and have it serviced regularly,(assuming a stable environment) it is going to stay in ideal condition but your enjoyment of the instrument will be limited.

If a piano is in your home you should play it as much as you want. Understand that using your piano a great deal is going to require more maintenance (such as more frequent tunings and eventually replacing some action parts). However, the fear of having to invest money in your piano over time shouldn’t prevent your enjoyment of the instrument. Even with intensive practice, you should get many years of service out of a new or newly rebuilt piano before any major work is required.

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

Is it Better for a Piano to be Left Alone?

We received this question from Luis. He wondered if it would be best to find a piano that has never been played. This is really a interesting question which we will explore today. Does a piano benefit from being played? To some extent, yes. If a pian