Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about used pianos versus new pianos. There’s so much to think about with this subject. It’s really quite vast. When you buy something used, you’re going to save a lot of money. A car loses a lot of value as soon as it’s driven off the showroom parking lot. But there’s a comfort level of buying something brand new. There’s some truth to that with pianos as well. With a new instrument, you know that nothing is worn out. However, interestingly, with a new piano you’re not going to discover its strengths and weaknesses until down the line a bit as it gets broken in, gets acclimated to the environment of your home and other factors. So, sometimes a gently used instrument or one that has been restored can actually be a safer bet.

What is the quality of pianos that are being produced today compared to pianos that were produced decades ago?

The American piano industry was in its heyday 100 years ago, producing vast numbers of pianos. Whereas today, there are only about 1,500 pianos produced each year in this country. If you’re into an American piano, you’re going to have to spend a substantial amount of money to get a new one. A Steinway baby grand or grand piano is going to be in the high five figures. This is true of just about any American piano. European pianos are also extraordinarily expensive.

So, what about Asian pianos?

 

Most pianos are made in Asia. Have they improved? Well, there have been many new technologies that have come to bear. For example, the use of plastic and other composite materials in the action has been able to reduce costs while adding to the precision of all the parts. Wood is very difficult to work with. One could argue that newer materials like carbon fiber may have benefits. But the real quantum change in pianos has been in the manufacturing process itself. Because pianos used to be made in the old world way, by hand. Many things were done just with a team of skilled technicians. All pianos require a lot of handwork even today in the most mechanized factories. However, there are many parts of the piano that can be machined with precision using robotics, bringing the cost down and the precision up. So, in the very lowest price range, cheap pianos today are better than cheap pianos were decades ago. If you look at the bottom tier pianos from years ago made in this country, they really were not very good. It’s really hard to cut costs without cutting quality.

If you have your heart set on an American or European piano and you can’t afford a new one, finding the right used instrument can be challenging.

 

You have to know a lot about pianos to understand what you’re getting because pianos wear out. Also, the environment where a piano is kept affects the quality. The question is how great was the piano to begin with? If work has been done, what’s the quality of that work? If parts have been replaced, were they the correct specification of high level parts? So, you have to have some knowledge in order to buy used. But if you are knowledgeable enough, you can sometimes get phenomenal value in the used market. But you must have somebody you can trust, a friend who is an expert at pianos, perhaps a technician, someone who can guide you. Without the proper knowledge, you could end up getting a piano that looks and sounds fine and then you find out about a problem like a crack in the soundboard that you had no idea about! As soon as the weather changes, everything buzzes and you find out the only way to fix it is rebuilding the piano for tens of thousands of dollars. That’s what you want to avoid. But if you can find somebody you can trust, a used piano can be a great resource for you. But as I said, there are also great new pianos out there at lower price points. Pianos have gotten generally better over time in the lower price range and even the mid price range.

I hope this has been helpful for you. Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Used Pianos VS. New Pianos

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about used pianos versus new pianos. There’s so much to think about with this subject. It’s really quite vast. When you buy something used, you’re going to s

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how piano is a flawed instrument. Now, I love the piano. It’s incredibly expressive. It’s one of the greatest instruments of all time. So I’m not complaining about the piano in any way, shape, or form. But it’s important to understand the limitations of the piano. The piano is a tempered instrument, meaning it can play in all keys. So, every single interval on the piano, with the exception of the octaves, are out of tune.

There are no two notes you can play on the piano other than the octaves that are in tune with one another.

So when you play a perfect fifth, it is not perfectly in tune. How can this be? Well, years and years ago, keyboard instruments were tuned for the specific key they were playing. String players, singers, and other instrumentalists will naturally adjust their tuning to make every interval pure. It’s just not mathematically possible to do that on the piano to be able to play in all keys. Every interval is a little bit out of tune, but they’re all equally out of tune in all keys. That is what is meant by tempered tuning. And we’re so used to it now that it sounds in tune to us as long as the piano is in tune. It’s important to understand this fact.

I recently listened to a piano roll of Gustav Mahler playing his Fifth Symphony, the first movement. If you’re familiar with any Mahler symphonies you know that these are incredibly complex orchestrations. Piano rolls are actual performances of the great composers and pianists from years ago before audio recording existed. A lot of times they don’t sound quite right, because the playback instrument has to be regulated exactly the same as the instrument that it was recorded on for it to work properly. Well, this is an amazing recreation of Mahler’s piano playing, which is astounding! This is an orchestral work with lush strings and brass with a huge orchestration. So, in order to achieve the sustain of these rich sonorities, there are tremolos all over the place. Because if you’re trying to get the sound of sustained strings and you just play the notes, they will quickly fade away. And you certainly won’t be able to create a crescendo.

Gustav Mahler plays his Symphony no.5

A crescendo of one note on the piano is virtually impossible.

There are nuances of tonal shading you can impart using the pedals. A crescendo is a little bit of a stretch, but there is a small amount of crescendo you can achieve by judicious use of the pedals. Starting with the una corda pedal, and then putting the sustain pedal on just as the note begins to fade out will give a little extra swell, but that’s all you’ve got to work with.

So yes, the piano is a flawed instrument. But what a wonderful instrument it is anyway, because of all the things it can do! You have this huge range of keys from the very highest notes to the lowest notes. And you’ve got the ability literally at your fingertips to play complex orchestrations that are all but impossible on just about any other single instrument. So, as flawed as it is, I love the piano! How do you feel about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and other subjects. Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Piano is a Flawed Instrument!

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how piano is a flawed instrument. Now, I love the piano. It’s incredibly expressive. It’s one of the greatest instruments of all time. So I’m not compl

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about the challenge of playing the piano while wearing glasses. I was lucky enough to be born with perfect vision. To this day my distance vision is 20/20. But for close vision I need reading glasses, like almost everybody at a certain age. One of the problems with wearing glasses while playing piano is you can see your score fine, but the bottom of the frames oftentimes forms a line right where the keys are and it blurs everything out.

Find glasses that are the right size for your needs.

With larger reading glasses, you can see everything through the lenses. But it’s really not necessary. I’ve found smaller glasses allow me to see the music just fine, but they don’t go very low. I can see the score well, and I don’t need glasses to see the keys. They’re big. It’s not a problem, whatsoever. But you have to find something that works for you.

Bifocals can be really distracting while trying to play the piano.

My wife is a flutist. She has specific glasses for reading music while still being able to see a conductor. The possibilities and the combinations of what you need to see when playing the piano will dictate what sort of eyewear you need. Contact lenses could make a great choice. But even people with contact lenses eventually need reading glasses. So, I wonder how many of you have found little tricks, like the smaller glasses I have found which allow me to see the keys without going through the lenses, but still see the music through the glasses. It’s an unusual pair of reading glasses that I just happened to notice worked really well for this purpose.

So that’s a little tip for reading your music and playing the piano with glasses. I’d love to hear from you! Tell me about any challenges you’ve faced or solutions that might help other people. Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Glasses Made for Reading Music at the Piano

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about the challenge of playing the piano while wearing glasses. I was lucky enough to be born with perfect vision. To this day my distance vision is 20/20. But for close v

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The topic today is about how computers and pianos require completely opposite approaches to problem solving. For example, in a recent video I talked about how when you make a mistake in your practice, it’s actually a great opportunity to stop and to find where you are on the score so you can cement the correction. The worst thing is when people make a mistake and they go back to the beginning to try again. Maybe they will get it and maybe they won’t, but it doesn’t solve the basic insecurity that’s there. It’s a real shame because you want to cement the correction by finding what it is and approaching the score. You don’t want to just hope that your tactile memory will just happen to get it right next time. Computers are the exact opposite! I’m going to tell you a story about how I discovered this years ago.

In the early 2000s, I was engaged by a music software company called G-Vox in Huntington Beach, California to be the head of the music content development team.

When I arrived the first day there were brand new Dell computers in boxes. I was a Mac guy all the way. I’d never even worked with Windows computers, and then I was the head of the department with Windows computers! It was my job to set them up, so I was a little bit scared. But everything kind of worked. I was very lucky and started getting productive. It was great! The team there was wonderful. It was a lot of fun. I was working in a high-rise right near the beach. I was very happy.

Every now and then something would go wrong with the computer system, not just for me but for the whole team. Something would screw up and we would ask the head of the program, “Isn’t there somebody who can help us?” So, he sent in an IT specialist. We were all looking forward to that because every time something went wrong we couldn’t figure out how to fix it. When this gentleman came in, I was actually looking forward to the first time I had a problem so that I could see how he solved it. I wanted to learn from him. Finally, I had a problem. I went to him and showed him what the issue was. He asked if I had tried restarting, I told him I had. He asked if I had tried reinstalling the program, I told him I had done that, too. Then he told me to reinstall Windows. I was shocked! I thought he was going to go in there with his magic fingers. I wanted to see the codes he would find, the underlying programming where he would get to the nuts and the bolts of what was wrong. But that’s not the way it’s done. This is diametrically opposed to piano where you want to zero in on the correction when there’s a problem. You want to figure it out so you can find out how it’s supposed to be.

When there is an issue with computers, the best thing you can do is just restart your computer or reinstall the program.

You want to start with a clean slate. It’s really counter-intuitive for me. I’ve owned recording studios for years. I had an analog studio many years ago. When there was a problem, you would simplify, but you wouldn’t tear everything apart and start over. You would want to try to identify where the problem was and correct it so you wouldn’t have that issue again. With modern digital technology, that just isn’t the case. When data is corrupted in one way or another, the best thing you can do is start over.

So many of us now are spending so much time online with virtual piano lessons and virtual visits with friends and family. As great as this technology is, it isn’t perfect. Sometimes for no reason, the audio drops out or something gets distorted. Of course, the best way to solve these problems is to logoff, close the program, and start over.

That’s the lesson for today. There is a huge difference in approach to computer technology, where you just want to start with a clean slate when you have a problem. Because you can spend far more time trying to identify the problem than just starting over again. Whereas, on the piano, that’s the worst thing you can do, because you’ll never really develop security. Isn’t that interesting? They are diametrically opposed! I’d love to hear from any of you who have different ideas about this subject. There are plenty of people who know more about computers than I do. Maybe there are secret tools that I don’t know about. Let me know in the comments! Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Problem Solving: Piano VS Computers

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The topic today is about how computers and pianos require completely opposite approaches to problem solving. For example, in a recent video I talked about how when you make a mistake in your pract

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how playing the piano is like learning how to walk. Obviously playing the piano seems much more complicated than walking. But have you ever seen a toddler taking their first steps? Each step is very careful and deliberate. They are trying not to fall down as they figure out all of the mechanisations of walking. And yet, we can walk and talk, and you don’t even have to think about walking! If there’s something in your path, you could possibly trip, That’s when you become cognizant of walking. But most of the time, you don’t need to think about it. How does this relate to piano playing? Let’s say you’re playing a 90 minute solo recital from memory. Obviously, no matter how skilled you are, there are going to be moments when you’re going to lose your concentration.

There’s a certain amount of motor memory or tactile memory that we depend upon.

Now, this isn’t something desirable. But it is a fact of life that you’re not going to be able to concentrate fully every single moment in your performance. I’m going to show you how this is true for piano playing, just like you can talk while walking. You don’t really have to think much about it. But I’m going to show you something in the accompanying video which proves how this same fact of life is present in your piano playing. We all depend upon this automatic pilot that we have. I’ll talk about the benefits and the dangers of that.

Learning to play the piano is similar to learning how to walk.

If you watch a toddler learning to walk, particularly the first time they are unaided, each step is a milestone. You can see the concentration it takes. The same is true in piano playing. When you’re learning something, at first it’s very complex. It’s a slow arduous process. But eventually, it becomes automatic! Your fingers just go where they’ve gone before, because you’ve done it so many times. Chances are, you’re going to remember where your hands go. Or your hands will remember where they go, because they’ve done it the same way hundreds of times before. This is sometimes described as, muscle memory.

There will be moments during a performance where you will lose your concentration.

Maybe there’s a noise in the audience or a key trips up on the keyboard, and yet you can manage to keep on going. Well, this is extremely dangerous, because your hands have no idea whether you’ve taken a repeat, whether you’re in an exposition, or a recapitulation. You could take wrong turns anywhere, because your hands are just doing what they’ve done before. But your hands don’t have intelligence. Your hands just have motor memory. So, how do you overcome this limitation? How do you get your memory so it’s not just motor memory? Rather than practice a piece over and over for months and then memorize it, you flip it.

The first thing you should do with a piece, after reading it through a couple of times, is to begin memorizing it.

Take small chunks at a time, putting the hands together and connecting phrases as you go. I’ve described this process many times before. Eventually, you will get to the point where you really know the score well. But how can you know if you’re just depending upon tactile or motor memory? How much is intentional? To better understand, take the motor memory completely out of the equation! The way to do that is to:

Practice the score away from the piano.

If you try to play the score without the benefit of your fingers moving, it’s really difficult. At first when you try this, you may need to move your fingers, even if it’s just in your lap. Eventually, you can get to the point where you’re not moving your fingers. Then you’re just thinking it all through with every nuance of sound and touch, knowing every finger and imagining the music in great detail. If you can get through your music like that, it’s almost impossible to have memory problems. It’s like singing a song that you’ve sung countless times before, or telling a story that you know so well. It’s part of you. So, that’s the way to overcome this limitation of what your motor memory can do. At the same time, you’ve got to be thankful that you have motor memory to rely upon for those times when you become distracted in your performance. But you want to do everything you can to not have to rely upon it.

I hope this has been interesting for you. I’d love to hear perspectives from all of you. Have you had this kind of experience? If you think that you’re playing just by feel without an intellect behind it, you can try this idea of playing away from the piano and let me know how it works for you. Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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How Playing the Piano is Like Learning to Walk

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how playing the piano is like learning how to walk. Obviously playing the piano seems much more complicated than walking. But have you ever seen a toddler taking their f

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is how Mozart can sound like Beethoven when the music is in a minor key. You might be thinking that Beethoven and Mozart have completely different musical personalities. That’s true. Even though they lived around the same time, you hear the fire and the passion of Beethoven and the elegance and sweetness of Mozart. So, what are the similarities between these two brilliant and unique composers?

Mozart wrote very few pieces in minor keys.

Mozart mostly wrote works in major keys. But the few pieces that he wrote in minor keys are among his greatest works! For example his 40th Symphony, in G Minor Symphony, or his Piano Concerto K 466 in D minor are masterworks. The few works Mozart composed in minor keys sounds a lot more like Beethoven. I have a way of proving it to you today. First, I’m going to share a brief theory lesson with you, so you can understand the significance of what I’m about to show you which is something truly extraordinary!

Major intervals become minor intervals when inverted.

This is an interesting subject and I’m going to demonstrate this. Major intervals include 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths. They are major only when the top note is found in the major scale of the bottom note. For example, in C major if you play C and D, that’s a major second because D is the second note of the C major scale. If you invert the 2nd so the D is on the bottom and C is on top, you have a minor 7th because C is not the 7th note of the D major scale. The 7th note of the D major scale is C-sharp. So, the interval has become smaller by a half-step and is now minor. You can do the same thing with a 3rd in C major. Playing C and E, you have a major 3rd because E is the 3rd note of the C major scale. Invert the 3rd and you have E on the bottom and C on the top which is a minor 6th because C is not the 6th note of an E major scale. The 6th note of an E major scale is C-sharp. So, again, the interval has become smaller by a half-step and becomes minor. All major intervals when inverted become minor.

I’m going to play just the exposition of the famous Mozart C major Sonata, K 545. With the help of my computer, I’m going to invert it. So, every note that goes up goes down, and visa versa. What that’s going to effectively do is take this piece in the major and turn it into a whole other piece in the minor! With the keyboard switched around you wouldn’t even believe it’s the same piece! It’s all exactly the same notes and rhythms, except reversed. You can hear the minor characteristic. It sounds angry. And it sounds a little bit more like Beethoven than Mozart. Check out the video to hear this for yourself! You will be amazed. You will also hear the beginning of two sonatas both in C minor, one by Mozart, one by Beethoven. I’m not going to tell you which one is which. I want you to listen to these two sonatas and see if you can guess which one is Mozart and which one is Beethoven.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

It’s remarkable how Mozart takes on a very different character when played in a minor key! I’m very interested to see how all you did out there with your guesses. If you didn’t know either of these works before, I wonder how many of you got it right. Let me know in the comments! Thanks again for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Can You Tell the Difference Between Mozart & Beethoven?

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is how Mozart can sound like Beethoven when the music is in a minor key. You might be thinking that Beethoven and Mozart have completely different musical personalities. ThatR

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to share with you a personal story about the first Chopin piece I ever learned. It’s a funny thing. I was in my office going through music, because we just moved a few months ago and I’m still sorting through things. And what did I uncover but a book of Chopin music. It looks just like any old Schirmer edition of Chopin Preludes. But if you open it up you can see that this is the book I used to learn my first piece of Chopin, the E minor Prelude. You can even see where my father assigned the piece to me. It’s really something after all these years to uncover this. And it brings up a few really important points.

Chopin had an incredible output for the piano.

Chopin was incredibly prolific. He wrote ballades, scherzos, polonaises, etudes, mazurkas, and many waltzes, as well as monumental concert pieces, sonatas and concertos. Yet he wrote pieces that can be approached by relatively intermediate pianists. This isn’t to suggest that these preludes are in any way lacking or aren’t profoundly deep pieces of music, because they are. That’s what made me so unbelievably enthralled. I remember when I first played this piece, I couldn’t even imagine any other piece of music, much less another piece of Chopin, being as enthralling. I was just completely in love with this piece! The funny thing is in revisiting it, I still have that same passion for it! Truth be known, I’ve played this piece many times over the years and I never play it the same way twice. I want to just talk a little bit about this unique piece which I’m sure many of you know.

The interesting thing is how simple the melody of this piece is.

If you just listen to the melody of this piece out of context, without the accompaniment, it’s one of the most boring melodies you could ever imagine. How can this possibly be a beautiful piece of music? Well, it’s the lush, rich, ever-changing harmonies undulating underneath in eighth notes that brings this piece to life. Why did Chopin write eighth notes in the left hand with a slow melody on top? It’s because of the physics of the sound of the piano itself. If you just had sustained chords in the left hand it wouldn’t really work, because when you play a chord on the piano it just dies away.

Imagine what this would sound like with a string orchestra.

So much of Chopin’s music is evocative of the human voice or sustained strings, and yet it’s all done with a percussion instrument. Did you know that the piano is technically a percussion instrument? You’re not hitting it with sticks or mallets, but indeed there are hammers that are hitting the strings! To create a singing line out of the piano is really the art and magic of illusion. And when you have a score written by Chopin, it’s amazing how he brings it to life! That’s the mood you can create on the piano. How is it possible? By listening to the ever-changing harmonies while keeping them subtle enough to draw the attention to this incredibly simple melody. Each and every note of that melody takes on profound implications because of the ever shifting harmonies. In the accompanying video I play a performance of this for you so you can hear what I’m talking about. To revisit this prelude after all these years, and to share it with you, is a great pleasure. I hope you enjoy this performance of Chopin’s prelude in E minor.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this! I will be sharing more personal stories about my childhood and my life in music that I hope you enjoy! Again, I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. This is your piano resource! Thanks again for joining me. See you next time!

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My First Chopin – Prelude in E Minor

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to share with you a personal story about the first Chopin piece I ever learned. It’s a funny thing. I was in my office going through music, because we just moved a few

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about the ultimate musical form: The fugue. Even if you don’t know what a fugue is, you’ve heard them many times, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to Handel’s Messiah. The fugue is actually a technical type of form that can be utilized within compositions. There are also whole movements that are fugal. The master of writing counterpoint and fugues is Johann Sebastian Bach. He could craft such unbelievable compositions of counterpoint, of interweaving lines, that it’s a mathematical wonder that he could create such intricate music. But it’s the joy of the music and the emotional content that is most important!

What is the structure of a fugue?

A fugue is an amazing type of composition that is based upon counterpoint, the interweaving of separate lines. Rather than just having melody and harmony, imagine having more than one melody at the same time. Is this possible? Well, we all are familiar with a round. A fugue is a bit more complex than a simple round or canon. First let’s talk about a simpler form than a fugue, which is called an invention. Then you’ll understand and appreciate what goes into writing a fugue. An invention is simply two different lines or voices. One line played by one instrument and another line played with another instrument. One isn’t melody, one isn’t harmony. They’re both melodies that interweave with one another.

Bach wrote a whole bunch of inventions for the keyboard. To understand what an invention is and what counterpoint is about, listen to the beginning of Bach’s 1st Invention in C major. It starts off with what’s called the subject, which provides the seed for the whole composition! It starts off rather simply. Then the subject is repeated an octave lower, while the other hand plays the countersubject. The entire composition is built upon both the subject and the countersubject. Even though they’re independent lines that could be sung by different people or played on different instruments (or in the context of the keyboard, played with different hands), the way they intersect creates harmonies that are lush and beautiful.

Bach lived from 1685 to 1750, or dates around that. (Nobody is 100% sure.) He wrote Preludes and Fugues in every one of the major and minor keys. But that wasn’t enough for Bach! He wrote two complete books. So, you have all 12 major keys, all 12 minor keys – times two, for 48 preludes and fugues! It’s one of the milestones of musical literature.

What kind of things can be done with the subject and the countersubject of a fugue?

There is so much that can be done! Naturally, the subject and countersubject can be transposed. They can also be played slower or faster. This is referred to as augmentation and diminution. They can also be played backwards. This is called, retrograde. They can be played upside down as well which is called inversion. These can be combined, for example, retrograde/inversion. For a demonstration of this, listen to Bach’s fugue in C-sharp minor from book one. This is an example of a five-voice fugue. This means there are 5 separate lines of music interweaving with one another. Can you believe this? There are at least three voices in a fugue. The initial statements of the subject and countersubject are called the exposition which is followed by the development where the subject and countersubject are presented in many ways.

For example there is Bach’s fugue from his Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor from Book I. The subject of this fugue is incredibly simple. It has only 4 notes! As in all fugues, it is restated a fifth higher. This is the way fugues work. As in inventions, you have a counter subject. And once again, it can be altered in many ways. It can be played backwards, upside down, faster, slower, or it can be altered in combinations of techniques. But the entire work is built upon the seeds of the subject and countersubject. Listen to the first section of this fugue to get a feel for what a fugue sounds like. And listen for how this simple subject keeps coming back again and again along with the countersubject. It’s remarkable how 5 voices keep interweaving with one another! There are five separate lines going on. The writing requires mastery in order for a piece of music constructed this way to hold together.

Fugues are rarely pieces all by themselves.

Fugues are usually just parts of pieces. Even Bach wrote preludes and fugues which are two movement works. The only way to really appreciate a fugue is in context. Just like if you really wanted to appreciate a great motion picture, you wouldn’t watch just one or two scenes of it. You’d watch the whole movie! Because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

So what I’m going to do for you is play a complete work of Bach that ends with an absolutely stupendous fugue. I’m going to perform on my grand piano so you can really get the full experience. Bach wrote several toccatas and they’re emotionally charged works. And his E Minor Toccata is one of my favorites. I’m going to play you the whole toccata. It’s not that long, and it ends with a brilliant fugue. Be sure to listen to the fugue subject. This is a three voice fugue, meaning there are three separate lines going on at the same time. The emotional content and how this affects you is unbelievable.

I’m a firm believer in listening to music to really understand it.

I could go deep into the weeds and show you the subject, countersubject and all of the permutations. At a certain point later on in fugues, there is often a section called a stretto, where the statement of the subject is interrupted before it can finish again and again. It creates a chaotic madness of emotional tension. We could go through and analyze it very methodically. But I learned a lot from my father, Morton Estrin. I’ve talked about him so much because he was my piano teacher, my theory teacher, my harmony teacher, sight-singing, everything! Aside from his private piano teaching, he gave many classes. He was a professor at Hofstra University. He also gave classes in our home where he had a big studio. One of the things I used to love was attending his classes. Whenever he would have a class about music, he would play recordings of music, and people coming from other teachers would ask, “What should I listen for?” If you go to a music conservatory, you understand where this question comes from. I remember in music conservatory, whenever we had any kind of theory, harmony or dictation, if we would listen to music it would be to listen for specific techniques, such as where the development starts or where the stretto is. We were told to listen for this, listen for that. But if somebody asked my father what to listen for he always said, “You listen to enjoy!” Because you will understand in an intuitive way what makes a fugue great by listening to a masterfully composed composition. So I hope you enjoy the performance of Bach’s Toccata in E Minor which accompanies this article.

So, that is just one example of how a fugue at the end of a toccata can build such tremendous emotion. It’s not all just about mathematics. You have to have a certain awe that someone could craft a composition that has such intricacy. These lines all coming together and forming this magnificent piece of music out of all these separate voices that somehow weave in and out of one another in ways that you can’t even imagine. It’s hard to believe what’s actually going on!

I hope this has enlightened you enough that you’ll take an active interest in listening to more fugues! Beethoven, Brahms and other composers also wrote magnificent fugues. If you are interested in part two where I get really deep into analyzing a fugue, telling you all the statements of the subject and countersubject, the retrograde, inversion, diminution, augmentation, and how it’s all crafted, I’m happy to do that for you. Just let me know in the comments or send me an email. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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What is a Fugue: Bach Toccata in E minor

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about the ultimate musical form: The fugue. Even if you don’t know what a fugue is, you’ve heard them many times, from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to Hand

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to tune your own piano. Can you tune your own piano? That is the real question. I’m going to provide you with the information so you will know if you can tune your piano, and if you want to tune your own piano. But more than that, I’m going to show you an incredibly valuable skill that you can all take to heart: how to touch up the tuning on your piano! That is something I think every pianist should learn how to do. I’ve been doing it for years. You’re going to love it once you learn how to do this!

What tools do you need to tune a piano?

You will need a tuning wrench, sometimes referred to as a tuning hammer. Make sure it has a removable head. You should look for a star head, not a square head. Because with a square head, you only have four positions that you can put the tuning wrench. That is really cumbersome because as you’re going to discover, it’s really hard to move a tuning hammer! So, you want a star head that can be in many different positions. That’s going to be a lifesaver for you! Don’t skimp on your tools either. It’s not that expensive. There are tons of them on Amazon starting at less than $40. Then you just need a couple of wedges so you can mute out some of the strings. As you know, through most of the piano, there are three strings to each note. You need to be able to hear just two of the strings at a time when you’re tuning one string to another. For tuning grand pianos, this is really all you need. To tune a whole piano you can use software for the pitches, but these few tools are all you need to touch up your tuning.

Why is it so important to touch up the tuning of your piano?

It can take hundreds of tunings before you have the skills to get a piano not just to be in tune, but to hold its tuning any length of time at all. Any competent tuner can get a piano in tune. But the first time you play it, notes can go out of tune. It’s really hard to set the strings and pins in such a way that the pitches will hold. Touching up is a totally different ballgame. Let’s say you get your piano tuned. A few days later you’re playing it and notice notes drastically out of tune right in the middle of the piano. It can drive you crazy! You scheduled this tuning, you paid good money for it, and now your piano is just not fun to play at all. What do you do? Hire them back for another tuning a couple weeks later?

If you have the tools and the knowledge – You can touch up the tuning on select notes yourself!

 

Armed with these tools and the knowledge I’m going to show you, you can alleviate the problem of stubborn out of tune notes on your piano. And you can actually extend the tuning of your piano to last much longer just by going through and touching it up on a periodic basis. Let’s get right to work on this. Now, my piano is pretty well in tune. There are some notes in the very high register that are not perfect. But those high notes are really very difficult to tune. The slightest motion of the tuning wrench knocks the pitch way off. To get it just right is very difficult. The lowest notes on the piano are also difficult, for a different reason. Particularly on smaller pianos, there’s so little fundamental pitch it’s hard to tell what pitch you’re even hearing. But If a note in the very high or low register is out of tune, it’s not going to affect you that much. You’re not going to encounter those notes nearly as often as you will with notes in the middle register of the piano. So, that’s what I’m going to focus on here today, because it’s the most value with the least work.

Let’s start with middle C. Does it sound in tune to you? How do you know if a note is in tune or not? Do you look at a tuner to see if it’s in pitch? No, because the important thing is for a piano to be in tune with itself. If your piano is tuned to 442 and then you play A and you want it to be at 440, that A is going to be out of tune with the rest of the piano. When you’re touching up the tuning, it’s usually only one or two strings of a certain note that will be out of tune. A unison goes out to make it sound funny. It’s not the whole note that is going to go out. That rarely happens in any kind of uniform fashion.

You don’t need a chromatic tuner for what I’m showing you. You do need to listen.

When one of the three strings is out of tune on middle C on your piano, instead of the pure sound, you’ll hear waves. If it’s slightly out, the waves will cause a slow undulation. As it gets more out of tune, they become quicker and quicker. So, the first thing you do is find the three strings for middle C. By pushing down the key, you release the damper so that you can pluck them. Then you’re going to follow the string all the way back to find the pin that associates with the right string. When one string is low you can hear that slow wave. Listen for it. If it’s even further out of tune, that wave will get faster.

This is what I’m talking about. You’re playing your piano just after it’s been tuned and a note goes out for no particular reason. It can happen. The weather or just playing hard can knock a string out of tune. If it’s right in the middle of the piano like this, you won’t even want to play your piano. And you don’t want to spend a bunch of money getting the whole piano tuned again. Even just getting your tuner there, they have to charge you for their time, right? So what do you do? Well, the first thing you do is you identify which string is low. You want to listen for it, so listen to the separate strings. Go ahead, pluck them and listen. See if you can notice which one is lower. One thing you want to do is check to make sure the other two strings are in tune with one another. You can do this by muting the string that is low. Now you’re listening to the other two strings. Let’s say those two strings are absolutely in tune with one another. To be able to compare the out of tune string with an in tune string, having just one string sound with the out of tune string is better. So, you want to mute one of the two in tune strings so that you’re left with one string that’s in tune and the one that is low.

Once again, you pluck the strings to be sure you got it right. Push down the key to release the damper so you can pluck them. Now you’re ready to adjust the pitch. When you try this the first time you will develop a deep respect for your piano technician, because it’s really hard to get even one string in tune! Now, you might just luck out and get it right on the first pull. It can happen. But you might go back and forth for five or ten minutes trying to get it locked in. It’s hard to believe how much effect the minuscule motion on your tuning hammer has on the string.

I’ve seen my piano technician, who’s a master concert technician, struggling to get the string locked to the right position. This is because there’s huge amounts of tension on the strings.

Tension builds up at all the points of termination. Right near where the felt is, there’s tremendous tension. As soon as you hit a note hard, that tension is released on the other side where there is termination at the bridge. You can get a note in tune, but with the first loud strike of the note, the string tension equalizes across the points of termination. That’s why it’s so important once you get your piano tuned to give a couple of hard blows to the key so that the first time you play it loud, it doesn’t go out of tune.

Now you want to pull the low string up to pitch very gently. As you do this you will want to check to make sure you didn’t pull it too far. Listen to the strings again. First the string that is in tune, and then the one that was low before to see if it’s still low. If it’s still low you are going to pull a little bit more. When it’s really close it’s tough to hear which one’s higher and which one’s lower. Once again, push the key down and pluck them. Now if it’s extremely close, you can listen to the difference between the slow undulation of the out of tune string played with the in tune string, compared to the purity of the two strings that are in tune with one another. Once you’ve gotten the two strings sounding in tune, listen to all three strings. Now that note sounds good!

What you’ve just done is tune one string on a piano that has somewhere between 220 to 240 strings!

It gets more complicated if your piano is really out of tune. The pitch of the whole piano could be slightly low. As you start tuning one section of the piano, the pressure that is exerted on the bridge in one area pushes the soundboard down affecting the previously tuned area of your piano. So, you have to go through the tuning at least a couple of times to get anything to hold. Tuning a whole piano is very complicated. You also have the factor that smaller pianos don’t have such pure sounds. They have a lot of what are called overtones, which are color tones that are higher notes contained within the lower notes. Sometimes those can conflict with the fundamental pitch of other notes. So, skilled tuners know how to finesse the tuning to get a sweet sound out of all different pianos.

There is good news for you if you want to learn how to tune a piano like a pro!

 

There are software programs that can take the tunings from great tuners and take into account the size of the piano and the pitch you’re starting with. By sampling all the A’s on the piano, for example, it knows how much stretch you need. It’s still an arduous task to tune a whole piano. So, I recommend all of you get your feet wet by touching up your piano. This is something that will really prolong the tuning of your piano and save you when you have one or two notes that are out of tune driving you nuts! Touch up tuning is a great skill to develop! I hope this is enjoyable for you! If you’re interested in learning more about piano tuning I’m happy to share with you a bit more about it. Today I’ve given you a valuable skill that any of you should be able to take to heart and make your piano sound better, longer, by touching up the tuning. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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How to Tune Your Own Piano: Part I

 Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to tune your own piano. Can you tune your own piano? That is the real question. I’m going to provide you with the information so you will know if you c