Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Can you hear the difference between an upright and a grand piano? Today I have another listening test for you! Last time we tested a Steinway versus a Chinese piano. People really enjoyed that little listening test. So today we will listen to an upright piano versus a grand piano! Can you really tell the difference? What are the preconceived notions about these pianos?
I dug through the archives of Living Pianos recordings and found an upright piano and a grand piano playing the same Chiarina movement of Schumann’s Carnaval. I took the second repeat in one of the recordings but not the other, but other than that they are the same. Both pianos were recorded in the same place with the same microphones, which is really great for this test. I’m going to reveal what those instruments are after you get a chance to listen.
Write down your answer!
As I said before on the Steinway versus Chinese piano video, I want you to write down your answer so that you don’t fool yourself. Because of course, we all want to be right and think we can tell the difference. So, write it down and commit to which one you think is the upright and which one you think is the grand. Here we go. Happy listening!
Eleven years ago I made a video about uprights versus grands and you can check that out at LivingPianos.com and YouTube. I discussed the differences. There are some substantial differences, primarily in the actions. But what about these two pianos? What are they? I chose a large grand. As a matter of fact, the grand piano is a seven-foot 1998 Baldwin SF-10. It’s a semi-concert grand. The upright is also a Baldwin, to make it fair. It’s a 1987 Baldwin Hamilton, which is just a 45-inch piano. 45 inches compared to seven feet, you would think there’d be an astounding difference in sound! Yet they both sound quite beautiful, don’t they? So which one was which?
The first one was the seven-foot Baldwin SF-10! The second one was the studio Baldwin Hamilton upright.
How many of you got that right? I’m really interested! My perspective is playing these instruments and making the allowances to get the best sound out of each piano, which is the job of a pianist. Because after all, almost all instrumentalists take their instruments with them. As pianists we have to play whatever instrument is available, and instantly adjust. I’ve had the good fortune of being around many pianos. I’ve learned how to make those adjustments. So the question is, how did you feel about the sound of these two pianos? Did you choose correctly? I would love to hear from all of you! Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Can you hear the difference between an upright and a grand piano? Today I have another listening test for you! Last time we tested a Steinway versus a Chinese piano. People really enjoyed that lit
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Do you think you can hear the difference between a Steinway and a Chinese piano? Many of you probably think it would be no problem. But it may be surprising to you what you hear. There have been studies on wines. When people think a bottle of wine is expensive, they’re always going to choose that as being a better wine. There’s a subjective nature to the taste and the bouquet of wines. Well, the same is true of pianos! Now, I’m not suggesting one is better than the other. I’m going to leave it up to you to decide. I’m going to provide you with a blind listening test!
We will be comparing a Steinway to a Chinese piano in our blind listening test!
I went through the archives of Living Pianos, because we have hundreds of piano videos, and I found two grand pianos of about the same size, both in brand new condition. One is a Steinway and one is a Chinese piano. The Chinese brand shall remain nameless for right now. At the end I will reveal which is which. But don’t cheat! Don’t go forward on this because I want you to really critically listen. If you’ve got good speakers or headphones, use them so you can really hear the instruments. Then I want you to write down your answer. Write it down on a piece of paper. I’m serious about this! Because it’s easy to change your mind once you know the answer. But if you commit it to paper, then you can’t argue that you thought something different. It’s harder to tell than you might think!
I found recordings of the beginning of the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10, No. 3. It’s the same exact piece of music you’re going to hear on both of these instruments. Remember, don’t cheat! I want you to really write down which one you think is the Steinway and which one is the Chinese piano so you get the most out of this. Here we go!
That was an interesting listening experience. I bet many of you have very definite ideas and some of you may be wondering which one is which. Well first of all let me tell you what these pianos are and then I’ll tell you which one was first and which one was second. The Steinway is a 2010 Model O which is right around 5′ 10″ in brand new condition. The Chinese piano is the 2017 Hailun Model 178, also 5′ 10″.
So which one was which? Have you written it down on paper? I’m serious about this because it’s easy to cheat yourself. You don’t want to be wrong here, do you? Because there’s a drastic price difference. You could buy several of those Hailuns for the price of a Steinway. So which one is which?
The first performance you heard was the Steinway and the second performance was the Hailun.
I don’t know how many of you are shocked and how many of you got it right. But there’s no right or wrong answer because every piano has something to offer. Every piano is unique. If you play several brand new Steinway model O’s in the showroom, each one will have a unique character of sound, as do the Hailuns. All pianos are made of wood and other organic materials and are highly crafted.
Now, I should tell you that there was a slight difference in these two performances. The first one was made later in my studio where I had much higher end microphones. I had a pair of Neumanns recording the Steinway and I only had a pair of Audio-Technica 4033s, which are relatively inexpensive large diaphragm condensers on the Hailun. So they were recorded in different rooms with different microphones. So this wasn’t totally scientific. The Hailun didn’t have the benefit of expensive, high-end microphones. But nevertheless you can get some idea of the different characteristics of the sound of these pianos. It was an interesting playing experience. I can hear what I went for and what came out on these performances. But I’m more interested in what you heard! Be honest in the comments. I’m very interested in how everybody responds to this! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Do you think you can hear the difference between a Steinway and a Chinese piano? Many of you probably think it would be no problem. But it may be surprising to you what you hear. There have been s
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about avoiding injury in your piano playing. Is pain ever OK? You know they say, “No pain, no gain,” but I’m going to come right out and say no, pain is not okay in piano playing. There are some exceptions, but I want to make it very clear that pain is always a warning sign that something is wrong. I’m going to bring up the exceptions, but first I want to show you ways you can mitigate pain in your piano playing. Of course if you’re having any kind of serious issues, particularly anything recurring, you should see a doctor to find out what is going on, because pain is not good.
How can you avoid pain in your piano playing?
First of all, it’s incredibly important how you sit at the piano. Take the time to make sure you’re sitting at the appropriate distance from the keyboard. Use a seat that you can adjust to exactly the right height as well. You can use an adjustable artist bench, or put books or a pillow on the bench to raise the height if necessary. Being at the right height is really critical. Generally speaking, you want your hands straight with your arms parallel to the floor. This is very comfortable because your wrists are straight. You don’t want your wrists to be bent. Imagine sitting at the piano so low that your wrists are lower than your fingers the whole time you’re practicing. That stresses the nerves and the tendons and your wrists can become swollen and sore just from being in that position. So take the time to make sure you are sitting at the right height.
How far should your bench be from the keyboard?
Sometimes you see people sitting too close to the piano. This is extraordinarily tension-inducing, particularly when playing in the extreme high and low registers of the keyboard. You want to be far enough away so there’s a wide angle to your arms. You don’t want your arms right at your sides. You also don’t want the bench to be right up against the back of your knees because you have no flexibility for getting from one end of the keyboard to the other quickly, as you have to do in a lot of different music. So sitting in the right place and having the right angle of your wrists is vitally important.
Your piano and environment also play a role.
If you feel pain and you wonder why, there’s the possibility that your piano action might need work. Maybe you’re playing on a piano that has 65 – 70 grams of down-weight and it just takes too much effort to push the keys down. Regulation, lubrication and easing of key bushings can possibly get things moving better. Another problem is if your piano has a really dead sound and you’re trying to fill a room that is too large for the instrument. You may overcompensate in your playing. There may be ambient sounds of air conditioning or some other sounds you’re constantly trying to overcome. You may be playing way harder than you think even if your action isn’t heavy. That could really be taxing to your hands. So that’s another thing to be aware of.
Is pain ever OK?
I talked in the beginning about the exceptions, about no pain, no gain. Is there any truth to that? Well, there is a little bit. Any of you who exercise know that if you’re weightlifting or running, the lactic acid naturally builds up in your muscles and you feel a soreness that can possibly be described as pain. But it’s a pain that goes away as soon as you stop. It’s a normal part of the growth of muscles. In fact, the only way muscles grow is by tearing down and rebuilding. This is the physiology of exercise. A little bit of that happens in piano playing. If you’ve ever done wrist exercises or even scales, when you finish you will feel tired. You’ll feel a certain soreness, at least temporarily, in your fingers. Now, if that persists after a few minutes of rest, then there’s something wrong. But to feel a little bit of fatigue bordering on pain in your hands after a workout on the piano, as long as it’s akin to what you feel when you’re exercising, is a normal part of building strength. Knowing that distinction is important so you make sure you don’t cross the line!
At times I’ve practiced some really treacherous sections of Liszt. I alternate between doing the really virtuosic sections and the more poetic parts of the piece, going back and forth to make sure I don’t put too much strain on my hands. This is what you must do in your practice. If you feel pain or major fatigue, that achy feeling you get when your muscles are being worked out, give it a little break and come back to it a bit later. And make sure that it’s nothing that persists!
Be sure to stretch and take rest when you need it!
Generally, you never want to experience pain in your piano playing. But when you’re doing a major workout, you may feel a sense of relief when you stop for a little bit. So give yourself rest! I like to do stretching throughout the day. It’s really helpful. Because your neck, your shoulders, all need to function properly. Your nerves are part of a system that goes all the way to your brain. If at any point the nerves become infringed upon it can cause problems in your hands, neck, or back. So you must be limber. Doing yoga or other stretching is vitally important. I highly recommend it! I don’t know what I would do without my stretching. I may make a video about the stretching I do because it’s stuff that I’ve come up with that’s based upon yoga, but it’s my own personal routine that I can do anywhere. You might enjoy that as well. Let me know in the comments! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about avoiding injury in your piano playing. Is pain ever OK? You know they say, “No pain, no gain,” but I’m going to come right out and say no, pain is not
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the difference between performing and practicing. These are two entirely different experiences and all too often students will confuse which one they’re doing! You want to know whether you are performing or practicing. There is a drastic difference! They are polar opposites in regards to approaches. So what is the fundamental difference between performing and practicing?
If you’re practicing, don’t you want to play through your music?
Well, sure you do. But when you’re practicing you want to fix any mistakes. So if you’re playing through a piece and something goes wrong or it just feels insecure, that’s a signal to stop, take out the score, figure out what’s wrong and spend time securing the music in your head and your hands. So the lesson for practicing is, whenever there’s a problem, you must stop and take the time to fix it. It’s vitally important to do that. You don’t want to gloss over mistakes.
With performing it’s exactly the opposite!
It doesn’t matter how devastating a mistake you make during a performance, the show must go on! You have to just keep moving forward. Nobody wants to hear you practice during a performance. You might think that you want to show the audience that you know you made a mistake. So you want to go back and correct it to show them you can play it accurately. They don’t want to hear it! Believe me. They’d rather you let mistakes go by the wayside. They’re already anticipating the next part of the piece. They don’t want to hear a repeat of what they just heard. Losing the continuity of the performance is actually the worst thing you can do. Keep moving forward no matter what. That’s the lesson. Do not stop. Do not correct mistakes in performance. Why is it so difficult to continue a performance after a mistake?
In your practice, you must always stop when you have a problem and correct it. So how do you alleviate that tendency in your performance?
You must practice performing!
You can practice performing in a number of ways. In the earliest stages before you’re comfortable playing for anyone, you can just sit down at the piano and say, “Okay, this is a practice performance and I’m not going to stop no matter what.” You just want to see what level you’re at and if you can get through the piece without stopping. No matter what happens, go through it without stopping, and you’ll learn a lot from the experience. First of all, you’re going to know where to zero in on your practice. It will be very obvious the parts that need work. It’s better to discover that in your practice than when you’re in an actual performance. Secondly, you’ll get in the habit of moving forward no matter what, even if things do inevitably go wrong, which they do for everyone at some point or another no matter what level you’re on. Later, you can practice performing by setting up a device and recording yourself. Then go through your performance and even if the beginning is a disaster, just keep going. This gives you an opportunity to try out recovering when you don’t have an audience in front of you. Then you can always record a second time to have the gratification of doing a better performance.
You can also play for friends or family.
Playing for friends or family is a great way to practice performing. And even though they’re going to be a forgiving audience, don’t start over! Even if you start off and something messes up right away, just keep going. Use them as guinea pigs and explain to them what you’re doing. They’ll forgive your mistakes! Explain that you are going to play through the entire performance for better or worse, and then stick to it. Don’t miss the opportunity to utilize them as a resource to practice your performing. Eventually, you can play for other groups of people. If you’re at a party and there’s a piano there, you can ask if anyone wants to hear the music you’ve been working on. And a lot of times people will be more than happy to hear you play! Once again, even though they might be a supportive, wonderful crowd, keep going so you get comfortable playing from the beginning to the end of a piece without stopping. So eventually when you’re playing a public performance, you will feel more comfortable. You’ll know you can get through it for better or for worse and have a performance, not just somebody watching you practice.
Generally in your piano practice you stop when there’s something that is not accurate or something that doesn’t feel comfortable. You check the score and you work things out using innumerable practice techniques until you can pass that point with assurance. But in performance, you keep going no matter what. And that is the answer. They require completely different approaches! Make sure you’re clear as to which one you’re doing in your practice so you don’t fall into the trap of doing something that’s kind of in between performing and practicing, sort of a performance, sort of practicing. When you do that, you’re actually not developing good performance habits or practice habits. So you want to eliminate that ambiguity entirely. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the difference between performing and practicing. These are two entirely different experiences and all too often students will confuse which one they’re doing! You
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the importance of practicing with raised fingers. Playing the piano with raised fingers is a completely different scenario from practicing the piano with raised fingers. I want to qualify this right out of the gate so you don’t get scared that I’m telling you to do something that could lead to injury. This is a technique used judiciously to help you solidify your technique, but certainly not something you do in performance. You may wonder why you would do something in practice that you would never do in your performance? Well, there are very good reasons for this which I will explain now.
The physiology of the hands is such that it’s much easier to push fingers down than to lift them up.
If you want to prove this to yourself, just put your hands on a flat surface anywhere, and then just try to lift only your fourth finger. It’s hard to do because the tendons and the nerves are shared among those fingers. So it makes it tough to gain independence.
Why is it a good idea to practice with raised fingers?
Well, there are actually two reasons for this. One is that it helps to strengthen the independence of your fingers so you can practice the release of notes. If you’ve ever heard somebody play sloppy scales, one aspect is the evenness of the attack. But the other aspect is the evenness of the durations of notes, the space between notes. If I played a scale with all the notes hitting evenly, but don’t release some of the notes the same length as others, it would sound sloppy because some notes overlap and some don’t. It’s haphazard. And as I mentioned, lifting fingers up is so much more difficult than pushing them down. Also, it teaches your hands and your head which fingers are down and which fingers are up. So in slow scale practice, by raising fingers, you identify which notes are down and which fingers are up. So when you go faster you have the control of releases, not just attacks of notes.
The stretch you get is akin to the warm up of an athlete.
Stretching is so important! This is a great way you can stretch your fingers while at the same time teach yourself the release of the notes in slow practice. Naturally, when you play up to tempo, you abandon this because it’s not possible or recommended to raise fingers when trying to play up to tempo. It’s not only impossible, but it would not be good for your hands to do such a thing. But it’s a tremendous technique, not just for practicing scales. You can use this technique anytime you want to identify which notes are down and which notes are up so you can achieve a clean sound. With this kind of practice everything is exaggerated. So whatever sloppiness you have is eradicated because you really get to dig into the keys and feel every key that’s down and keep other fingers up and out of the way. And this is why slow practicing with raised fingers can be incredibly valuable for you!
Always be aware of how you feel and never do anything that causes you pain!
This applies not just for raised finger practice, but everything you do on the piano. How you sit at the piano, the relaxed nature of your shoulders. You must be aware of all these things because you want your hands to last your whole life because it is the lifeblood for playing the piano!
I hope you find this practice technique to be helpful for you. Try it out and see how it works for you! And when practicing with raised fingers, you don’t want to use a lot of arm weight. You want to just use the fingers. Teach your fingers which notes are down and which notes are up and you will have a cleaner technique to show for it! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the importance of practicing with raised fingers. Playing the piano with raised fingers is a completely different scenario from practicing the piano with raised fingers.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’ll be addressing a question from a viewer. Raymond asks, “On an 88 key piano, the lowest note is A and the highest is C. Why aren’t keyboards divided into an even number of octaves starting and ending on C or A?” This is actually a very good question because it seems so logical. In fact, if you ever look at five octave synthesizers and other portable keyboards, they almost always have an even number of octaves. From C to C, typically four or five octaves. So why aren’t pianos built that way?
Before the piano was invented, there were harpsichords.
Harpsichords had different numbers of keys and even different starting and ending points on the two keyboards, which is a whole story unto itself. The earliest pianos had a limited range of keys, typically around five octaves. You might wonder why. Well, it’s because those are the sounds those early instruments were capable of producing.
If you look at all the works of Mozart and Haydn, for example, they never really exceed that approximate range. It’s remarkable to think that all of the music they wrote was confined to this number of keys, because the piano just didn’t have more keys than that!
Beethoven worked closely with instrument builders expanding the range of the piano.
Expanding the range of the piano was no easy task! As you get higher, the tension of the strings becomes cumulatively enormous. So they started reinforcing the frame of the piano with metal, which eventually led to the full cast iron plate like we have today. Beethoven never reached the full 88 keys in his lifetime. But it’s interesting to see how the evolution of his music was affected by the capabilities of the instruments. Early Beethoven compositions had a much narrower range of keys than later Beethoven works.
How did the piano end up with 88 keys?
Late in the 19th century, most pianos ended at the highest A, and yet they went down to the lowest A. So there was a symmetrical keyboard in terms of the number of octaves! Eventually the high C became more and more common until it became the standard. So why doesn’t it go higher or lower? Well, to answer that question, there are a couple of instruments out there that do explore lower notes. The famous Bosendorfer Imperial Concert Grand, for example, goes all the way to C below the low A! It’s hard to discern pitch there, which is one of the reasons most pianos don’t venture below that low A. The lowest notes on the Bosendorfer Imperial Concert Grand sound a bit unearthly because the vibrations are so slow. You start hearing the separate vibrations instead of the pitch. Our brains almost don’t perceive it as pitch anymore! There is another instrument that also goes down to that low C and that is the Stuart and Sons from Australia.
Those instruments have those low notes, not just for those rare times when you want to take advantage of a lower octave. I know there are a couple of places in the literature where it would be really nice at least to have that low G or F. But it’s also because whenever you depress the sustain pedal all the dampers are released allowing those strings to sympathetically vibrate, giving more richness to the overtones of the sound.
What about the other end of the spectrum, going higher than the highest note of the piano?
Well, Stuart and Sons actually has a piano that goes higher than the high C. It goes all the way up to the high B, almost an octave above the highest C! Naturally the big hindrance with those really high notes, even the highest notes on any piano, is that they just don’t last that long. The notes die out in a matter of a second or two. Even the second to highest C on a piano doesn’t last very long. That’s why pianos don’t even have dampers for all those high notes. Dampers end on pianos somewhere in the D sharp to G range. Yamaha’s have dampers up to G. On Baldwins and Steinways, typically the last note that has a damper is D sharp. Do you need dampers on those high notes? Well, it does ring quite a bit. And you’ll find on different pianos, the dampers end in different places. But those extremely high notes have limited value because they don’t last long enough to use them melodically. They’re really just percussive little pecks of sound.
You can hear for yourself why they’ve settled in on A to C.
It’s a musically useful range of tones for the technology brought to bear. That’s the simple answer to your question, Raymond! Thanks for that very insightful question, I hope you’ve enjoyed this! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’ll be addressing a question from a viewer. Raymond asks, “On an 88 key piano, the lowest note is A and the highest is C. Why aren’t keyboards divided into an even number
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about why you should be playing the piano with your hands crossed. Now what do I mean by that? There are a lot of places in music where the hands cross in order to accomplish a certain sound or texture in the playing. But what I’m talking about today is entirely different. The physiology of our hands is just wrong for piano playing in one fundamental way. Your strongest fingers are in the middle and the weakest fingers are on the ends. Yet you want to bring out the treble, you want to bring out the bass. But you have these big, heavy, strong fingers, right in the middle obscuring everything!
If you were to play the piano without compensating for this weakness, you’d end up with a pretty awful sound.
Imagine just letting your thumbs be and letting the balance come out the way it naturally would with the hands. It wouldn’t sound right because the thumbs are just really strong and your pinkies and fourth fingers are weak. So you have to learn how to lessen the thumbs and bring out top notes and bottom notes. This is one of the most difficult aspects of playing the piano! It’s not easy to balance notes because your hands are designed exactly the wrong way to accomplish it! Crossing your hands corrects that imbalance, but obviously presents a whole other set of problems. So I’m not actually recommending you do that. But in a perfect world, there would be some way of achieving this.
So how do you learn to balance?
One terrific way to learn how to balance is to play with different articulations. Underplay the notes that are accompaniment and play legato for melody notes. Playing inner voices with a gentle finger staccato teaches your hand which notes to bring out and which ones are less important. You can do this with virtually any music you play. Interestingly, you don’t have to restrict it to just the top line and the bottom line. When you’re playing counterpoint, for example, you can bring out whatever line you choose. And not just in counterpoint. This is a phenomenal technique for developing the ability to bring out whatever you want within a polyphonic texture. Until we have some way of compensating for the fact that our hands are built backwards for the piano, this is a technique I recommend for you! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about why you should be playing the piano with your hands crossed. Now what do I mean by that? There are a lot of places in music where the hands cross in order to accomplish
This is LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin asking, “What do you hear? – Is music subjective?” How much of our listening experience is cultural and how much is innately human? This is such a tough question to answer. I thought I’d elicit your help in this! I’ve got some original music that no one has ever heard before, which is a perfect vehicle for exploring this subject. But first, let’s talk a little bit about how much of the perception of music is just cultural. For example, we’re all used to hearing scary music, like a diminished seventh chord. It’s classic. It reminds us of old silent movies with a woman tied to the railroad tracks as a train is coming. We assume those emotions just from hearing the music. Is that just because we’ve been conditioned? Yes, that is certainly part of it. But there’s more to it than that!
In a way, tonality goes against nature.
What do I mean by that? Tonal music is based upon the naturally occurring overtone series that’s contained in all pitched sounds. That’s why a C-major chord sounds very natural to us, because indeed every single pitched tone you hear contains those basic pitches in it anyway. Whereas when you listen to harmonies that clash, it’s grading. One of the reasons for this is that some intervals are easy to digest because they are based upon simple math. An octave is a two to one relationship. It sounds very soothing, very easy to calculate. You’re essentially calculating intervals in your head. I bet you didn’t even realize that, but that’s exactly what you’re doing! When you’re hearing an interval, you’re counting vibrations per second. And when they double, that’s an octave. It’s easy to hear, it’s easy to calculate. Your mind can figure that one out. A fifth is a one to three relationship which sounds pure. But when you get to dissonances, they’re very distantly related mathematically, and they’re hard to hear as a result. So some of it really is biological, yet some of it is influenced by our cultural upbringing.
Is major or minor inherently happy or sad?
When you hear a major chord it seems cheerful compared to a minor chord. How much of that is innate in our biology and how much is cultural? A major 3rd is more closely related to the fundamental tone in the overtone series than a minor third. So the simpler relationship may have something to do with why a major 3rd in a major chord is more cheerful sounding to us. I’m going to share with you some original music and you’re going to get the opportunity to comment on LivingPianos.com as well as YouTube to get a discussion going to see how this music makes you feel. I hope you enjoy it!
This is music that no one has heard before. You get the chance to comment and get a conversation going! Talk to each other on the blog at LivingPianos.com as well as YouTube, and see what this music makes you feel. Together we can discover how much is innate and how much is cultural in how we hear music. We have people from all around the world hearing this music, people with different cultural biases. We want to hear from all of you. This will be a fun experiment for you to take part in! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
This is LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin asking, “What do you hear? – Is music subjective?” How much of our listening experience is cultural and how much is innately human? This is such a tough question to answer. I thought
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the most important musical form, the sonata form. You would not believe how much music is based upon this form. You might wonder why the sonata is so important. What’s the deal about this?
I’ll start with a little bit of background on the sonata.
The sonata form has been around since the Baroque era. But it really came into its own during the Classical era. During the Baroque, composers like Scarlatti wrote sonatas. These were one movement works that had two sections, each of which repeated. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about the classical sonata form, which has endured to this day. Not only are sonatas prevalent from composers from Mozart to Prokofiev and beyond, but concertos, string quartets, symphonies, every kind of musical form you could imagine contains the sonata form within them!
What is a sonata?
I have a video on this which will be in the description below. But briefly, a sonata is a multi-movement work generally, except for those Baroque sonatas that I referenced earlier. Sonatas usually have at least two movements, typically three and oftentimes four movements. These are separate sections that are almost like separate pieces all unto their own. When a performer plays a piece and it seems like it’s over, then they start something that sounds like a whole other piece. Well, that’s a sonata! You’ll see the same thing in trios, quartets, duos, multi-movement works. Almost all multi-movement works contain at least one movement in what’s referenced as the Sonata Allegro form. Allegro means fast. Typically the first movement of a sonata is fast, so it became known as the Sonata Allegro form because the first movement is usually in that form, although other movements can be also.
What is so special about the sonata form that has inspired so many composers to use it over hundreds of years?
I could simplify it first and say, it’s kind of like an ABA. You have a statement, you have something different, and then you have the statement again. It’s a little bit more complex than that. So what I want to do is first of all, is to outline the form for you. And what I’m going to do is make it easy and digestible by picking not a sonata, but a sonatina, which is essentially a short sonata. I’m going to use the famous Clementi Opus 36 number 1 in C Major. I’m going to show you what the form is intrinsically. Then I’m going to talk about how composers have used this form and why it’s so effective and pervasive in all of music.
Sonatas and sonatinas start with a theme called the exposition.
The exposition exposes two themes. This sonatina is in C major. So the first theme, of course, is in C major. It starts off with a catchy little theme. Since it’s a sonatina, it’s short, so it makes it very easy to digest. From there, a second contrasting theme is introduced. There’s a little transition using a G major scale there. That is the introduction into theme two, which always goes to another key. This is a trademark of the sonata form. It generally goes into the theme of the dominant, that is the five. Since this was in C major, it goes into G major. And from that point on, you’re going to see a lot of F sharps since it’s in G major. That is the exposition of this sonatina. You’ll notice when you get to the end of the exposition, there is a repeat sign. The exposition always repeats. Why does it repeat? The idea is to cement these two themes into your head, because after the exposition comes the development section. This is where the music gets really interesting. Composers will take these two themes and go wild with them!
The development section is really interesting.
Mozart and Haydn had development sections that were very compelling. Beethoven exploded the development section making them much longer and going much further afield. Now before I explain the reason why this works so well, I’ve got to tell you the last section. You started with the exposition exposing two themes, the theme in the tonic, and then the theme in the dominant. Then that whole section repeats. Then you have the development section. So what’s next? The recapitulation!
The recapitulation brings back both themes.
At the end of the development section, it comes back like the beginning. Now there are always little deviations that composers make in their writing, because there wasn’t a guide of how to write a sonata. This is just something that happens to work. In the case of the Clementi Opus 36 no.1 in C Major, the recapitulation comes back an octave lower. So we get the theme once again in the tonic, just like it was at the beginning, except an octave lower. But now instead of going to G major, the dominant, it stays in the tonic key of C major starting with the C major scale. So that is basically the form of a sonata. You have two themes in the exposition, tonic and dominant, repeat, development section, then a recapitulation in which the two themes are both in the tonic key of the piece. So, it ends in the key it began.
Why does this form work so well?
The sonata form works because the first themes are so strong in your head. You’ve heard the whole exposition twice through. Look at all the sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schuman, and Chopin. And it isn’t just the Classical era. It goes through the 20th century with Poulenc, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. And it’s not just sonatas, it’s also in their chamber music. Symphonies almost all use this form too, because it is so effective! After going far afield in the development, it’s so refreshing to have those themes back again. And of course you want your piece to end in the key in which it began, which is why theme two in the recapitulation stays in the tonic.
So that’s why the sonata is the most substantial form of music of all time!
It’s not just because sonatas are so pervasive in music. It’s because the sonata form has been used in countless compositions other than just sonatas again and again. Even popular music is loosely based upon the sonata form oftentimes, because the idea of what is familiar and what is unfamiliar, and the interplay of those elements, is universal to human nature. And it really works! It establishes these themes for you so you can really grasp the music and where you are. You go far afield, then you get that great feeling of coming back home. The sonata form just fits human nature!
I’m interested in your opinion about this. You can leave comments on LivingPianos.com. I’m here to answer your questions. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about the most important musical form, the sonata form. You would not believe how much music is based upon this form. You might wonder why the sonata is so important. WhatR