Thanks for joining me in the third part of my series on the Psychology of Musical Performances. In the first part we talked about How to Balance Your Emotions and last time we talked about Learning to Forgive Yourself. Today we are going to talk about How to Avoid Stress.

There are actually ways to incorporate relaxation into your practice routine. And this doesn’t involve putting down your instrument but actually relaxing while playing.

I like to find a few small sections of the piece I am working on that I am completely comfortable playing and continually go back to them to keep my playing relaxed. Hearing and feeling yourself get through passages you have mastered can help you relax.

If you hit a trouble spot in your practicing take a quick breath and examine yourself. Take a minute to mentally and physically reset yourself. Examine your posture; make sure you are sitting at your instrument correctly and comfortably. I’ve had students in the past who would tense up in times of difficult practice. Sometimes simply putting a hand on their shoulders and reminding them to relax can really help; it’s only practice and there is no need to stress yourself out!

The other component to relaxing yourself is not something you can learn in an instant. As you progress in your playing you will develop more and more strength and proficiency on your instrument. With this strength will come comfort – especially when you start tackling virtuoso music; the more you have played your instrument, the more relaxed you will become while playing.

Relaxation is key to developing yourself as a musician. You must become comfortable with your instrument and be able to relax while playing and practicing. So, in your daily practicing and playing, be aware of how you feel and take the time to adjust yourself to a comfortable playing position and consciously relax. As you develop more strength, over time relaxation will become second nature.

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

The Psychology of Musical Performances – Part 3: How to Avoid Stress

Thanks for joining me in the third part of my series on the Psychology of Musical Performances. In the first part we talked about How to Balance Your Emotions and last time we talked about Learning to Forgive Yourself. Today we are going to talk abou

What is “Subito Piano” in Beethoven?

If you’ve played Beethoven you might be familiar with this term. It permeates throughout his music and it’s a very important but sometimes misunderstood term. Many people might overlook its importance but we are going to discuss this today and I

Welcome back to our multi-part series on the psychology of performance. Last week we covered How to Balance your Emotions, this week we will be covering something that a lot of performers struggle with; forgiving yourself.

If you’ve ever performed you know that the element of chance always permeates a live performance. You can practice developing consistency, but sometimes things happen and circumstances can immediately change. You could walk into the performance hall and realize the piano is completely different than you anticipated, the room could be filled with people changing the acoustics. Any number of things can present themselves and completely alter your performance.

The worst thing you can do to yourself is starting to think in a cyclical pattern. If you make a mistake and you dwell on it during your performance you are more likely to make another mistake. Once you take your mind off the performance and start thinking about yourself performing your mind will start to play tricks on you. The best thing you can do is simply move on with the performance and never look back (until after the performance when you can reflect in practice).

This might seem easier said than done but it’s possible to achieve. If you put yourself into the right state of mind you can avoid these negative thoughts from creeping in. You have to remember, this is a musical performance, it’s not a life or death situation!

You must train yourself to stay in the moment. You can’t think ahead or behind when it comes to playing, just stay in the moment and get through it like you know you can. You can’t let doubt creep into your performances – that is when things can go wrong. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and enjoy the music!

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

The Psychology of Performing Music – Part 2: Forgive Yourself

Welcome back to our multi-part series on the psychology of performance. Last week we covered How to Balance your Emotions, this week we will be covering something that a lot of performers struggle with; forgiving yourself. If you’ve ever perfor

You might be familiar with The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. It really is an amazing body of work. These works are definitely worth exploring.

To understand The Well-Tempered Clavier we must understand what Bach means by “Well-Tempered”. A long time ago keyboard instruments were actually tuned to sound pure in different keys depending upon the key of the piece you played. If you were playing a piece in G major, the instrument would be tuned to sound in tune in G major. The piece would sound great but if you tried to play in some other keys it could sound horrendous! As time went on tuning became more flexible so that it was possible to play in a great variety of keys with the same tuning. While the system of tuning available at Bach’s time favored some keys more than others, it was a vast improvement in offering the flexibility to play in all keys without the need for returning.

Today we have what is referred to as “Equal Tempered Tuning”. All keys are equally in tune, or more accurately equally out of tune. I have another blog; Why a Piano is Never in Tune that deals with this subject in more depth.

The Well-Tempered Clavier is a series of Preludes and Fugues in all the major and minor keys, 12 major keys, and 12 minor keys for a total of 24 Prelude and Fugues. However, there is not just one book but two books of Preludes and Fugues for a grand total of 48 Preludes and Fugues! These are incredible works worth getting to know.

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

Learning Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier on The Piano

You might be familiar with The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. It really is an amazing body of work. These works are definitely worth exploring. To understand The Well-Tempered Clavier we must understand what Bach means by “Well

Welcome to Part 1 in our ongoing series of the Psychology of Musical Performance. This is a very important and in-depth subject so today we are only going to scratch the surface. Today we’re going to discuss the mental stability necessary for performing and how to create a balanced state of mind for yourself.

Performing music is something that utilizes both sides of your brain. Before a performance you spend so much time practicing and making sure you’re playing technically correct. At the same time, you must let yourself go and be able to be creative with each performance. The trick is finding the right balance so that your performance is not too dry yet not self indulgent in your expression.

Sometimes emotions can completely control your performance in unexpected ways. Allowing yourself to delve into free expression can make you lose sight of where you’re going. For example, if you’re not careful you might take a tempo to a speed you can’t possibly handle! You have to be able to control your performance and reign yourself in.

While you definitely have to control your expressive side, you can’t let the technical side of you overwhelm your performance either. The last thing you want to present is a sterile performance. Musical expression is a completely different form of art from painting or photography in that it involves performance and there is a random element to that. No matter how hard you try, you can never replicate a performance again; each one is inherently unique.

We all have these conflicting aspects of our personalities and they collide with each other when it comes to musical performances. Finding this balance isn’t something you can teach easily; it’s something you must find within yourself through the experience of many performances finding the balance of emotion and reason.

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

The Psychology of Musical Performances – Part 1: Balancing Your Emotions

Welcome to Part 1 in our ongoing series of the Psychology of Musical Performance. This is a very important and in-depth subject so today we are only going to scratch the surface. Today we’re going to discuss the mental stability necessary for perfo

You’ve probably seen this in a lot of Chopin and Liszt compositions. Instead of having measured notes, there are a ton of very tiny notes that on the surface might not make much sense at first. You’ll have ridiculous combinations like 11 notes against 6 – which simply can’t be divisible in any precise way. So how do you play these passages and what do they mean?

In the video example above I use the beginning of the B-flat minor Nocturne of Chopin. Right at the start of the piece (the second statement of the theme) has a section just like I’ve described above. There are a whole bunch of notes (11 against 6) that are not divisible. So how do you play these passages?

The best way to practice these sections is to try to find the closest measured way you can play it. The first thing you should do is divide it out as close as it mathematically can work. If you play it as measured as possible – trying to find places where you can put in the extra notes – you will start to get a better feel for the passage. You might notice that playing these passages measured will result in a passable sound but it’s not exactly accurate and it may not sound very fluid. When played correctly, these unmeasured cadenzas are almost like improvisations and that’s the feel and sound you want to achieve.

The next step after you’ve broken these passages into a measured approach is to loosen it up a bit. Get used to playing these cadenzas measured and from there you can start to break them up and make the sound a bit more fluid. The final product doesn’t have to be mathematically perfect; the goal is to create a musical feel. The left hand should maintain the pulse and the right hand should be able to play with freedom – like an improvisation. Keep working on this until you get a result that sounds natural.

If you have any more questions about this topic or any topic at all, please contact me directly. Thanks again for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

How to Play Unmeasured Cadenzas on The Piano (Chopin, Liszt)

You’ve probably seen this in a lot of Chopin and Liszt compositions. Instead of having measured notes, there are a ton of very tiny notes that on the surface might not make much sense at first. You’ll have ridiculous combinations like 11 notes ag

This is an incredibly involved and complex subject that we will continue to reflect upon. The short answer to this question is no, you can’t buy new pianos with ivory keys anymore. They have been outlawed on new pianos since the 1970s in the United States although some European manufacturers continued to offer ivory keys on select pianos into the 1980’s.

Now if you have a piano with ivory keys manufactured before the ban of ivory there are still issues. Selling a piano within the same country will most likely not be a problem for you yet (depending on your local laws). However, if you decide to move out of the country and you want to bring your piano with you it’s a risky proposition. If customs officials find that you are trying to ship a piano out of the country with ivory keys, they can impound the piano and you may have great difficulty rectifying the situation. Generally, you can’t ship a piano to another country with ivory keys unless you can prove the piano to be over 100 years.

Now in the United States, we are facing some legislation that may further limit the selling of ivory. The department of fish and wildlife is proposing new laws that would ban the transporting of ivory from state to state on pianos or anything else! So, if you own a piano with ivory keys, or a guitar with ivory inlays, a violin bow containing some ivory or anything else containing ivory, it will become illegal to transport it across state lines. There have actually been cases of orchestras going overseas where their bows have been confiscated by customs officials for containing ivory (and these can be some extremely expensive bows).

If this law comes to fruition it would mean that you won’t even be able to move your piano to a different state if it contains ivory keys. This is a huge problem for a lot of people and it can be a very expensive proposition to have to replace your piano keys simply because they contain ivory. There have been raids of antique auctions and stores where officials have taken massive quantities of old jewelry, artwork, and other objects that contain old ivory. In China, they have even destroyed a large number of irreplaceable pieces of art in their quest to stop the trade of ivory. This is a case of good intentions gone awry. The illegal trade of ivory is a booming industry and the attempt to stop this is by confiscating all ivory and making it illegal to transport at all. The slaying of elephants for new ivory is barbaric and it really is a problem – specifically in the domestic Chinese market. The American market is not as big in illegal ivory but it has not stopped officials from creating new laws to tightly enforce the trade and transport of ivory – no matter how old it is.

The sentiment of these proposed laws is in the right place but the practice is illogical. To ban the sale or transport of a piano with ivory keys – where the elephant died almost 100 years ago – seems pointless. If you feel strongly about this the only way to stop it is to write to your local officials and voice your concerns. There are many people who deal in vintage instruments, art and jewelry containing ivory watching the progress of legislation very closely.

Is it possible to remove the ivory from pianos and replace them with plastic? Yes; but not without some significant work. Ivory keys are typically thinner than plastic so the wood on the keys might need to be filed down in order to fit properly and you may be forced to do some key leveling and other work as well. Beyond that, the ivory keys are irreplaceable and it would be a shame to have to remove them long after the elephants died. Hopefully, there is an effective way to stop the slaughter of elephants without impacting the sale, trade, and transport of old objects containing ivory.

If you have any questions or comments about ivory keys on pianos please contact me directly Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

Can You Still Buy Pianos with Real Ivory Keys?

This is an incredibly involved and complex subject that we will continue to reflect upon. The short answer to this question is no, you can’t buy new pianos with ivory keys anymore. They have been outlawed on new pianos since the 1970s in the United

Welcome back to the third part in our series on The Art of Pedaling on the Piano. In our first lessons we discussed the essential techniques of pedaling and in our second lessons we talked about using the pedal to color your music. This week we will be discussing specialty uses of the pedal.

For our video example we used a selection in the 1st movement of the Pathetique Sonata of Beethoven. The movement starts off with forte pianos for certain chords. I’ve seen pianists approach these chords in a number of different ways. One I recommend is to push the pedal down before you play the notes – creating a booming sound before you let go of the pedal and let the chord sound forte. Another technique involves quickly letting go of the pedal on the point of attack and then quickly putting it back down. Either one of these techniques will work just fine but you don’t have to limit yourself to only these two.

You can feel free to experiment with your pedaling in situations like this to see what type of sounds you can create. If you listen to a number of different artist recordings of the same piece you will notice striking differences between them. Each pianist has their own unique style and take on their music; as you should have one of your own. Keep experimenting and having fun with your music.

Thanks again, I’m Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

The Art of Pedaling Part 3 – Special Uses for the Pedal

Welcome back to the third part in our series on The Art of Pedaling on the Piano. In our first lessons we discussed the essential techniques of pedaling and in our second lessons we talked about using the pedal to color your music. This week we will

Welcome back to our multi part series on the art of pedaling on the piano. Last time in part one we talked about the damper pedal and clearing the pedal on the downbeat of new harmonies. This week we are going to be covering some nuances of pedaling.

For this example, I use the Beethoven Pathetique Sonata. In the example, I demonstrate playing the piece without the pedal. When it comes to performing the piece you will want to use the pedal, but you should learn all your music without the use of the pedal first so you can hear the connection of notes that good fingering provides. This helps you to understand where to apply the pedal in your music as well as avoiding the bad habit of using the pedal as a crutch to connect notes in difficult passages.

Another way to enhance your music with the pedal is like what we talked about in the first video. This is achieved by putting the pedal down as soon as the harmonies change. Sometimes you might want the clarity of the notes to shine through in certain passages,. In these instances it’s a good idea to not hold down the pedal for the entire beat like we did in the first video. Instead, we will be using touches on the melody and for the passages that you can’t connect with my fingers alone.

This might give you an idea as to why pedal markings are not written into the score most of the time. If you tried to write down everything I was doing in the example video above it would create chaos on the page! Many other factors from the acoustics of the room, to the quality of the piano, to the size of pianist’s hands all factor into when to use the pedal.

The best thing you can do is to practice without the pedal and learn your music completely that way. After you feel confident playing the piece without the pedal, slowly go through and add the pedal where you think you need it – either to connect difficult passages or to enhance the harmonies or melodies of your music.

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

The Art of Pedaling on the Piano – Part 2

Welcome back to our multi part series on the art of pedaling on the piano. Last time in part one we talked about the damper pedal and clearing the pedal on the downbeat of new harmonies. This week we are going to be covering some nuances of pedaling.