Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today the subject is about learning the hardest part of a piece first. I’ve talked before about learning a new piece from the beginning and working in sequence. You should read through a piece a couple of times to familiarize yourself with it, then get to work bit by bit learning each phrase hands separately, then put the hands together and connect the phrases. So what’s this business about learning the hardest part first? I talked about starting from the end of a piece also, as one pianist once suggested to me.

I find that learning a piece sequentially generally makes much more sense.

It helps you to understand the whole evolution of thought and the mathematical materials and motifs of a piece of music. Sometimes, though, there’s a piece that has such a monstrously difficult section later on that if you don’t tackle it early, it will hold you up later. Something like a coda to a Chopin Ballade is going to take you a long time to really get polished and solid. If you just start with the coda first, by the time you get there, you’ll have the whole piece together! Because that coda is going to take you so much longer to be able to get up to the level of the rest of the piece.

In certain instances, you want to zero in on the hardest part of a piece first.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t start at the beginning? No. Quite the contrary. You take two approaches at once. You start the piece from the beginning in the manner I described earlier, while dividing part of your practice for working on the hardest section. Just working on the hardest part the whole time when you’re starting a new piece can be very discouraging. After all, you have a piece that you love the sound of, for example the Chopin G minor Ballade. The coda is hard. It will require special attention. But you might want to play that beautiful first theme. That’s something that you can get on a high level much sooner than the coda. So it keeps you engaged, working from two fronts. By the time you get to the coda, you’ve already learned it! You don’t have to learn the whole coda before you even start the piece. But you can work concurrently on the beginning, as well as the coda, and perhaps a couple of other key sections. So when you get to them, they’re not in their infancy. They’re already starting to gel. It is a tremendous benefit in your practice to zero in on some of the hardest sections while going through sequentially from the beginning. That way when you get to these hard sections, they’re already mature. They’ve started to coalesce for you. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

Should You Learn the Hardest Part of a Piece First?

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today the subject is about learning the hardest part of a piece first. I’ve talked before about learning a new piece from the beginning and working in sequence. You should read through a pie

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how you can make fast playing feel slow. There’s nothing worse than feeling rushed, whether it’s in your music or even in life! When you’re going through your day and you can’t quite get caught up with things, it can drive you nuts! You’re supposed to be able to relax with your music. So many people say classical music is relaxing. Music is more than just relaxing, there’s a whole range of emotions. But when you sit down to play the piano, you want to feel that you’re in the zone. You don’t want to feel like you’re constantly rushing.

When you play in a hurried manner, it’s just not good piano playing.

The problem with playing in a hurried manner is that the notes are compressed. Even playing at the same tempo, but playing all the notes as long as possible within the beat, it provides a more relaxed feeling for the listener and for the player. How do you achieve such a thing? You want to work at a very slow tempo, filling up all the notes for their full value. I recommend working with the metronome doing this. You’ll find that if you’re not really in the zone, even at the slowest tempo, you’ll be rushing no matter what tempo you play.

It’s a matter of filling up all the notes for their fullest possible value.

Wind players understand this in an intrinsic way. I’ve played the French horn almost as long as I’ve played the piano. I haven’t done much with it in the last few years because I’m so immersed in Living Pianos. But the point is, a wind player knows that you must fill up each note with air in order to produce a good tone. This allows for the playing to be fluid, and to create a musical line. Well, the piano is no different! It’s not air that is producing the sound on the piano. The analog of the air is the continuous weight of the arm transferring from finger to finger in slower playing. And in faster playing, filling up all the notes for their full value.

So, practice slowly at first. If you find that you’re not quite with the metronome, find a tempo at which you can play precisely with the metronome and work from there progressively speeding up. This way you can achieve comfort in your playing where you don’t feel hurried, and the audience will be rewarded with a performance that feels more relaxed.

I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

How You Make Fast Piano Playing Feel Slow

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how you can make fast playing feel slow. There’s nothing worse than feeling rushed, whether it’s in your music or even in life! When you’re going t

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. I’m here today with a comment and question from a viewer. They said, “Your enthusiasm is amazing. How do you stay so passionate and enthusiastic? You should make a video on that.” At first when I read that, I was flattered and all. But then I started thinking about it and I thought you might be interested in the backstory as to why I always seem to be upbeat in my videos. I have over 1,200 videos and I don’t think I’m really depressed in any of them. Does that mean I’m never depressed? Well, no. Everybody has their ups and downs.

Growing up, my friends didn’t have a strong appreciation for classical music.

I grew up in a musical household. My father, Morton Estrin, was a concert pianist. Although he was a Professor of Music at Hofstra University, he did most of his teaching right at home. There was a big addition totally separate from the rest of the house where my father taught. So, I did connect with many of his students. But truth be known, my friends couldn’t have cared less about Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. That stuff wasn’t cool. I would play a few popular songs, but it wasn’t really my thing. I didn’t listen to very much rock music. There were some songs that I really enjoyed, but my whole life was centered around classical music!

After all these years, to find an audience of people who are enthusiastic about the piano and classical music, the way I am, is actually thrilling!

I look forward to these moments. It’s not easy to find them! I manage to make videos every week. I’ve been doing them on YouTube since 2009 and first started making piano videos in the late 1990’s! That’s a long time. But even right now, I’m here in the showroom. Everything looks great. I’m having a good time. But at the same time, our water heater went out. Our basement is flooded and I’m waiting for a plumber to arrive. So, it’s not all as rosy as you may think! But I take life at face value to a great extent.

You live. You die. So you want to make something happen in between!

I make these videos to share the things that are important to me. It really is thrilling to have people watch and care about classical music and the piano in the 21st century. It’s not irrelevant! I’d love to hear your experiences with classical music as a child and growing up. Did people respect you for it, or did they mock you? I wonder what experiences all of you have had being immersed in classical music, assuming you are. You can comment on LivingPianos.com and YouTube. Thanks so much for the question. And I appreciate the support from all of you subscribers out there! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

Can You Be Upbeat in 1,200 Videos? Why I’m So Upbeat in my Videos

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. I’m here today with a comment and question from a viewer. They said, “Your enthusiasm is amazing. How do you stay so passionate and enthusiastic? You should make a video on that.”

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to negotiate when you’re buying a piano. This doesn’t just apply to pianos. You’ve probably experienced this if you’ve bought a car or anything where the price isn’t set. With large ticket items there’s often negotiation in the pricing. How do you approach such a thing? A lot of people are very uncomfortable with this. That’s why cars are being sold at Costco, so people don’t have to negotiate. There are also things like college sales where the prices are pretty much set so you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of having to negotiate down to the lowest price.

How do you approach negotiating a price?

Well, there are all different personality types in this world. You have to go with what’s comfortable for you. But what I recommend is to just be honest with people. If you tell the salesperson what you’re looking for, what your budget is, and what you have seen, you give them the opportunity to help you. After all, they’re there to make a living. You want to let them know what they’re up against. They might be able to give you special treatment if you let them know the truth!

Be honest and respectful.

Blowing a bunch of smoke and pretending things, that’s really not going to help you. You want to deal with people in a respectful manner and, hopefully, most people are going to be respectful back. There’s no science to this. It’s just a matter of being forthright with people. You should be able to find out what the situation is and work something out if you find the right piano for yourself. Keep in mind that there isn’t always room in the price of pianos or cars. Right now there is scarcity of both due to shipping industry problems.

So some prices are actually being negotiated up from list price!

I hope this is helpful for you! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

How to Negotiate When Buying a Piano

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to negotiate when you’re buying a piano. This doesn’t just apply to pianos. You’ve probably experienced this if you’ve bought a car or an

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about what to do with a piece you have learned. There are so many things you can do with it! The first thing is the most obvious thing in the world: Play it! You’d be surprised how many people learn pieces but never play them and they forget them. There are so many benefits to playing the pieces you have learned. One, it’s fun! What’s all the work for anyway if not to be able to play music? Secondly, it keeps the pieces fresh. If you play your pieces every day it gets to the point where you can just whip them off without any problems. So if you ever have a performance opportunity, you’re so used to playing it that it’s almost automatic.

Playing your pieces keeps you physically and mentally in shape on the piano.

A lot of people spend hours a day on exercises to keep their fingers in shape and their muscles moving. You know what? There are many pieces of music that can accomplish the same thing. Now this isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for exercises. There certainly is. Scales, arpeggios, octaves and other exercises are a vital part of piano practice. But in regards to just keeping your fingers limber and the muscles in good shape, playing through your music can accomplish that. You also have the ancillary benefits of developing fluidity and reliability in performance. But like anything else, if you play them over and over and over again, there could be minute changes along the way.

It’s important to periodically reference the score of pieces you have memorized.

In the olden days of analog tape recording, if you ever made a tape of a tape of a tape, the sound gets pretty awful. Each successive generation has a little bit of loss of quality, unlike digital recording today. Another example of this is the old game of telephone that we all played in school, where you whisper a message to the person next to you who then whispers it to the person next to them going all the way around the room. At the end, you have a completely different message! Well, you can end up with a completely different piece of music if you just play it over and over and over again without ever referring back to the original score!

How do you approach reviewing your pieces with the score?

The best way is to take your score out and find a tempo at which you can read it. Now that tempo is going to be far slower than the speed you’re probably playing it. If it’s a piece you have played hundreds of times, you have a tempo that’s much faster than the tempo at which you can actually read all the details of the score. Slow way down, find the appropriate speed on the metronome, and take your foot off the pedal so you can clearly hear everything you’re doing. Then exaggerate everything as you play, delineating all the notes, phrasing, fingering and expression. For example, let’s say you learned the Moonlight Sonata and you want to refresh it. You’ve been playing it and playing and playing it and you want to make sure you’re playing it accurately. And you want to solidify the performance. You want to know exactly where all the rests are, whether chords have two notes or three notes, where the crescendos start and end. There are so many little details. It’s not just the notes and the rhythm and the fingering, it’s every single detail you want to cement and re-cement.

I guarantee this will help you with any piece, no matter how well you play it and how well you’ve learned it.

If you slow it down and play with the score, with no pedal, and with a metronome, you will find little things you had forgotten. You’ll cement your performance and make it much stronger. So the lesson for today, what do you do with pieces you’ve played before that you’ve learned? Keep playing them so you don’t forget them, number one. Number two, review with a score, playing slowly with no pedal, with a metronome to make sure you keep an honest performance. There are other practice techniques you can also employ in strategic parts that need the work, but these are the basics for what to do with pieces you already know. I hope this is helpful for you! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

What Can You Do With a Piece You Have Learned?

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about what to do with a piece you have learned. There are so many things you can do with it! The first thing is the most obvious thing in the world: Play it! You’d b

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to finger octaves. Octaves have a very simple fingering solution the vast majority of the time. Unless you have very large hands, the simple solution is to use your first and fifth fingers on white keys and your first and fourth fingers on black keys. Now, this is great for legato octaves, but it also divides the load of the hand when playing rapid octaves from the wrist. Using the fourth finger on the black keys divides the load a bit on the hands.

Move your arms in to reach the black keys.

There’s another technique I want to show you that is really vital. The wrists accomplish octaves, but the arms have an essential role in getting over the keys. You want to think of going in and out of the keyboard for black keys to accomplish those octaves without having to reach with your fingers. Move your arms in for black keys and out for white keys. It makes it so much easier. By moving your arms in you don’t have to use so much finger strength to hit the black keys. This is a great technique for you in conjunction with using the fourth finger on black keys. Remember to get over the keys by moving your hands closer to the fallboard for black keys, and closer to you for white keys.

Those are the tips for octaves today!

I’ve made a lot of videos about octaves. You can enjoy all of them here at LivingPianos.com and on YouTube as well. We welcome your comments! Thank you for subscribing. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

Supplemental Content:

How to Play Legato Octaves

The BEST Piano Exercises pt 4

How to Develop Brilliant Octaves in Your Piano Playing

How to Finger Octaves

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to finger octaves. Octaves have a very simple fingering solution the vast majority of the time. Unless you have very large hands, the simple solution is to use your

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Are there different pianos made for different types of music? Are there rock pianos, classical pianos, jazz pianos, new age pianos, or ragtime pianos? Some people say a Yamaha piano is best for rock to be able to get that bright sound that cuts through. Can you play rock music on a Steinway? It can be done!

Let me give you a parallel: Computers.

Are there computers made for business, computers made for photography, computers made for music, computers made for video? To some degree, yes. However, any high powered computer can accomplish any of those tasks. A gaming computer might have a beefier graphics card, but any computer can do any job. Some might be a little bit better suited to certain tasks, and some types of applications require more processing power of one sort or another. To a certain degree, the same is true with pianos.

A great deal depends upon the voicing and regulation of the instrument.

You could take a piano like a Steinway, which you think of as having a rich warm sound that maybe gets a little bit of growl when you really lay into it. But if you harden the hammers you’re going to have a really aggressive sounding piano. That might be appropriate for some classical pieces, but it also could be great for ragtime or rock. So there aren’t necessarily pianos that are built for different styles of music. However, the voicing of a piano has a lot to do with how appropriate a piano may be for certain styles or certain players. For example, Vladimir Horowitz played on a super bright piano. Of course, he was a classical pianist. You might wonder why he wanted a bright piano. With his unique technique of sitting low and playing very delicately, he could control that very bright piano and get all different colors from warm to bright, just from the amazing control he had. On the other hand, my father, Morton Estrin, always liked to have his piano voiced on the warm side. He liked that he could play powerfully and never overdrive the piano into a harsh sound. Yet he could still get that beautiful, warm tone when he was playing delicate pianissimo. So any piano can be voiced one way or another.

There could be some pianos that are more appropriate for certain styles.

For example, sometimes European pianos with their bell-like, clear tone can be just wonderful for Mozart. They have a nice, clear, crisp sound. Where an American piano like a Mason & Hamlin, or even a Steinway, may be a bit thick for that sort of music. If you’ve ever heard the original forte pianos from Mozart’s era, it’s a dramatically different sound from a modern piano, particularly the fat sound of a Steinway. So there is some validity to choosing pianos for certain styles of music. But the voicing, and more importantly the playing, will determine which pianos will be appropriate for your music. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

Are There Different Pianos Made for Different Types of Music?

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Are there different pianos made for different types of music? Are there rock pianos, classical pianos, jazz pianos, new age pianos, or ragtime pianos? Some people say a Yamaha piano is best for ro

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is why looping sections of music doesn’t work in piano practice. It seems counterintuitive since you want to repeat things over and over to solidify them. Many times, I see students struggling, looping something over and over again, and not getting anywhere. Why doesn’t this work? Well, it comes down to the simple fact that practicing has some physiological component to it, but primarily:

Practicing is a thought process.

Take the time to stop and listen. Let’s say you’re working on a piece of music. Everything’s going fine, but then you get to a section that you can’t play up to speed, or it’s sloppy, or uneven. So you start practicing it. You just keep looping that section hoping to make it better. The problem with this is you’ve turned yourself into a robot! You’re just a machine playing it over and over again, without giving yourself the time to listen to what you’re doing. You’re not stopping long enough to make a judgment. Listen closely, then stop and ask yourself if that’s the way you want to play it. If the answer is yes, great! See if you can do it that way again. If the answer is no, decide specifically what you want to do differently next time.

Looping a phrase doesn’t give you time to listen.

When you loop a phrase, your mind can be anywhere. It’s not a thought process anymore. It’s just a mechanical motion. You might get a little exercise for your hands, but are you going to get any real value? Are you going to clean up your playing? Are you going to make it more even? No, you’re just repeating the same thing again and again. So if it happens to be exactly the way you want to play it, great! But if it isn’t, you’re cementing a poor performance. Your hands now know how to play it the way you don’t want because you never stopped to listen. You have to listen each and every time you repeat the phrase so you can determine whether it is what you want. And if it’s not what you want, you need to know exactly what to listen for the next time and find a solution.

Give yourself the time to listen to each repetition of a phrase rather than mindlessly looping it over and over again, because that accomplishes very little.

You’re not really refining your music when you’re just repeating things over and over in a loop fashion. So avoid those loop situations, unless it’s so perfect that you want to loop it again and again, perfectly. At that stage, there’s nothing wrong with looping. But make sure it’s the sound you’re after, because you’re going to cement it into your hands and your ears. If it isn’t exactly what you want, it’s going to be 10 times harder to undo what you have learned. Motor memory is very strong! It takes great intentional work to undo motor memory that’s ingrained in your hand. So looping can be dangerous! Be sure you are mindful taking time between repetitions when you’re practicing sections of music. That’s the lesson for today! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

The Danger of Looping Music in Practice

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is why looping sections of music doesn’t work in piano practice. It seems counterintuitive since you want to repeat things over and over to solidify them. Many times, I see

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about improvising using diatonic seventh chords. I’ve been to many conservatories and master classes. Improvisation is almost never taught unless you’re a jazz major. It’s really shameful. As a matter of fact, I remember once meeting a pianist who was doing master’s work at Julliard in piano performance who couldn’t play Happy Birthday by ear! Isn’t that a sad fact? I’m here to show you some very simple improvisation techniques you can use in your playing. If you’re a sophisticated jazz player, this might not be of great value to you, although you might get something out of it. But for those of you who think you can’t improvise, you can! A great deal just comes down to having a command of some basic theory.

You have to know what notes to choose among when you’re improvising.

I’ve talked about simple things like improvising utilizing the dorian mode, but today is a little bit different. I’m going to talk about diatonic seventh chords. Now, that’s a mouthful! What am I talking about? First of all, what are seventh chords? I’ll just give a very quick theory primer, because it’s not that complex. It’s only complex if you don’t know your key signatures and your major scales. You have to learn those first before you can do much of anything with improvisation. It also is unbelievably helpful for your sight reading and learning music. So any of you who haven’t learned your key signatures, I highly recommend it. I’m going to assume you know your key signatures for this lesson, because it’s all based upon that. If you would like a video tutorial on key signatures, just let me know in the comments.

What are diatonic chords?

Well, first of all, what are chords? Chords are notes arranged in the interval of thirds. What are thirds? Thirds are notes of the scale that are three notes apart counting the first and last note. The notes in a scale are all seconds apart. If you skip one note between each scale degree, you have thirds. 7th chords consist of 4 notes: a root, third, fifth and seventh. That’s why they’re called seventh chords! The interesting thing is that you can do this in any major key. If you are in C major, you play every other white key going up from C to form a 4 note chord, C – E – G – B. If you are in D major, you can leave out every other note of the D major scale. You’re left with a D major 7th chord: D – F-sharp – A – C-sharp. You can do this in any key. But that’s just the one-seven chord. That’s a seventh chord built on the first scale degree. What about a two-seven chord? You can start on the second scale degree and have a two-seven. So in C-major, a two-seven will be D – F – A – C. You can start on the third scale degree and have a three-seven chord, and so on.

How does this apply to improvisation?

If you just want to play something really simple, you can go from a one-seven chord to a two-seven chord, back and forth. You can use any note of the scale to make up a tune in your right hand. If you find that easy, you can continue going up to three-seven, then to four-seven, then back down to three-seven, two-seven and finally one-seven. It’s a lot less complicated than it sounds. Here’s the beauty of it: you don’t have to play fast. A lot of times, people see great artists playing a mile a minute and think you have to play fast to improvise. You don’t have to play fast! You just have to make melodies. Strive for something that you would want to sing. It doesn’t have to be fast. It doesn’t have to be technical.

If you find that you’re having difficulty, the difficulty is most likely going to be with your left hand, believe it or not.

It can be challenging keeping the left hand rhythmically coherent, where you’re not changing the chords in random fashion, but holding each of them the same amount of time. You can use a metronome for that. Or better yet, find a drum beat on your keyboard or on YouTube to play along with. The best way is to play with other musicians where there’s give and take. But you can get your feet wet just by finding a drum beat to play along with. YouTube is loaded with drum beats. Just come up with any kind of drum beat you can imagine, like lounge drums, swing, or a shuffle drum beat, and you’ll find them at different speeds (BPM, Beats Per Minute). People have posted just about every kind of beat you can imagine on there! Find one that’s a speed you like, and then experiment!

Try it out for yourself!

Start off in C major. If you’ve never improvised before, just go from a one-seven to a two-seven in C major – back and forth holding each chord for 4 beats. Make sure you maintain the integrity of the comping. In your right hand, just play any white keys. Try to vary how long you hold notes. And play some notes at the same time you play the chords, and sometimes play chords without playing notes at the same time in your right hand. If you have friends who play music, comp for them and let them solo, and then let them comp for you while you solo. Comping is playing the chords behind the solo. Improvising by yourself, where you’re doing both the comping and the soloing is hard at first. If you have musical friends, this can be so much fun for you! When you get into things like blues, and if you learn how to read a lead sheet, which has just the chord symbols and the melody line, it opens up vast possibilities of music for you in a myriad of styles from folk to rock to new age, jazz, blues, country, you name it! This is a great way to get your feet wet. Let me know what you think! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel! www.Patreon.com/RobertEstrin

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you! Robert@LivingPianos.com

Secrets of Improvisation: Improvisation Made Easy

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about improvising using diatonic seventh chords. I’ve been to many conservatories and master classes. Improvisation is almost never taught unless you’re a jazz maj