So many of the great composers of all time from Mozart to Chopin dazzled audiences with improvised music. Because of the reverence for the legacy of scores the great composers left us, it creates the incorrect impression that everything they did was written down. It’s actually quite the contrary!

Most of the music of the great composers was played spontaneously!

We only have the written scores they thankfully took the time to write out since audio recording hadn’t been developed yet. We can only imagine what masterpieces came out on the spot from the great composers and pianists of the past!

Naturally these informal performances planted seeds for works they would craft later on. Imagine being in a salon hearing Liszt take off with flights of fancy with no predetermined musical destination!

Today, jazz artists carry on improvised music improvised music.

While most jazz is based upon previously composed music, there are some artists who delve into freeform improvisation which can be quite fascinating.

I have always enjoyed making up music spontaneously. What’s funny is that going in, often times I have no predetermined game plan whatsoever as in the accompanying video. The sound of the piano as well as my deep, inner mood (which I may be unaware of at the time!) guides the music.

It’s a little bit like being naked – being open to revealing the most intimate feelings with disregard for what they may be.

The challenge is to not judge what is being played – keeping the expression honest. Every piano inspires different music. Each day brings fresh melodies. I hope you enjoy these videos. Robert@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729

The Lost Art of Classical Improvisation

So many of the great composers of all time from Mozart to Chopin dazzled audiences with improvised music. Because of the reverence for the legacy of scores the great composers left us, it creates the incorrect impression that everything they did was

Today we’re going to explore a potentially controversial subject which is the shortcomings of class piano. First, there is some value to class piano which should be acknowledged. It’s a way to get people acquainted with the piano which can motivate people to undertake more serious study.

What else is good about class piano?

You get camaraderie with other people which mitigates the isolation of piano studies. There is an aspect of enjoyment to a class setting. One excellent possibility for class piano involving intermediate or advanced students is exploring collaborative 4-hand and 2-piano music. There is also the potential of delving into improvisation becoming comfortable with a wide range of piano styles.

However, class piano provides a poor substitute for private instruction for formative study.

Here is what I discovered years ago when I was engaged to develop a class piano program for an arts school. While I would begin each class with subjects of relevancy for all students, it would devolve into giving a bunch of mini private lessons. You may wonder why this is the case. The reason is very simple.

Piano involves so many independent skills where everybody has unique strengths and weaknesses to such a drastic extent that individual attention is essential in piano studies.

Each piano lesson one to the next, is a completely different experience. Other fields of study can be taught successfully in a class setting. For example, a biology teacher can develop a lesson plan which is refined over the years. The subject can be taught essentially the same way to different classes year after year.

Learning the piano doesn’t work this way.

For example, there are some people who easily pick up note reading while others slave over trying to recognize notes for weeks or months in order to become fluent at note reading. Rhythm requires other skills that vary from student to student. I’ve seen people struggle with clapping even the simplest rhythms. There is also the coordination of the two hands. Combining the hands is one of the most difficult aspects of playing the piano which comes more naturally to some students than others.

Memorizing music is also as skill that varies tremendously from student to student. While everyone can learn to read music as long as it is taught in a systematic way, teaching in a class setting can reduce the progression of studies to the lowest common denominator avoiding leaving people behind yet impeding the progress of other students.

So it’s not that class piano can’t work at all, but it’s not an efficient way of learning the piano.

Class piano can be fun and can provide a way to get your feet wet with the piano, but ultimately having private instruction provides an invaluable resource in order to maximize the progress of your piano studies. Ideally, you have the combination of private instruction and master classes where the you get together with fellow students on a periodic basis playing for each other, discussing theory and analysis of your music, as well as possibly playing piano duets and improvising. Combining classes with private instruction offers the benefits of both. I would love to hear your comments and experiences. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. Please feel free to contact us at info@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729

Why Class Piano Doesn’t Work

Today we’re going to explore a potentially controversial subject which is the shortcomings of class piano. First, there is some value to class piano which should be acknowledged. It’s a way to get people acquainted with the piano which can mo

This is another freeform improvisation in which I let this gorgeous Steinway concert grand guide the exploration of tonal colors. It turned out to be based on the pentatonic scale which is a fancy way of saying, “black keys”. You can learn more about pentatonic scales here.

You can explore the sound of a piano by playing the keys like a percussion instrument creating abstract sounds if you haven’t developed any kind of harmonic language yet. This is how I started my exploration into improvisation as a young child. Over time, you will find chords and patterns you can utilize in future improvisations making them less abstract. That’s how my improvisations have evolved over the years. However, I still love to play atonal improvisations!

Anyone Can Improvise on the Piano

This is another freeform improvisation in which I let this gorgeous Steinway concert grand guide the exploration of tonal colors. It turned out to be based on the pentatonic scale which is a fancy way of saying, “black keys”. You can lear

In this video, I’m going to demonstrate why every pianist will eventually outgrow any upright piano. If you are serious about playing the piano, you will eventually need a grand piano or at least a baby grand. How can this be?

There are many differences between upright and grand pianos but there is one issue that limits upright pianos;

Speed of Repetition

In the video provided with this article, I play a selection of a Scarlatti Sonata that requires fast repetition on both a Yamaha U3 – a 52” tall upright piano – and a Steinway concert grand. You will see how the repetition capable on the upright is not nearly as fast as what is possible on a fine grand piano. You might be wondering,

What if you can’t play that fast anyway?

Does repetition really matter? Here’s a fun exercise for you to try. If you have an upright piano in your home, try playing the same chord twice in quick succession. You will notice that no matter how much force you apply to the keys, the second chord will never have the same amount of energy as the first one played.

The second chord will be quieter than the first chord on an upright piano.

It doesn’t matter how high the build quality is of the upright. It’s a case of physics. The vertical action on upright pianos have hammers which travel sideways rather than up and down as in grand piano actions,

Upright action design doesn’t take advantage of gravity the way grand piano actions do in allowing hammers to fall back into place as quickly.

Let’s take a look at a grand piano action:

As you can see, actions on grand pianos are laid out horizontally. The hammers fall down vertically when the keys are depressed. This design allows the hammers to fall back to their original position much quicker than any upright piano could ever allow. This is why, no matter how hard you try:

Upright pianos can never have the same speed of repetition as grand pianos.

Thanks for joining me, I hope this has been helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for future topics or any questions about this one! Robert Estrin Info@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729.

How Fast Can a Piano Play?

In this video, I’m going to demonstrate why every pianist will eventually outgrow any upright piano. If you are serious about playing the piano, you will eventually need a grand piano or at least a baby grand. How can this be? There are many differ

Why can’t more pianos be made in the United States? At first, you may think it’s because they are too expensive. Of course, Steinway, Mason & Hamlin and Charles Walter are top-tier pianos with premium prices. But couldn’t a mid-range piano be made in the United States which doesn’t have such a high price? You’d think that would be possible. Charles Walter may be the closest thing to that at this point, but with incredibly limited production. There are some simple answers as to why more pianos cannot be made in the United States at a lower cost.

To give you a parallel, I’m going to bring up Tesla. Tesla is in the news all the time because they’re trying to change the whole model of the automobile industry with electric cars and newer technologies. It’s been a huge challenge for the company and it’s kind of like a catch-22 because companies like General Motors and Toyota have a scale of production that enables them to offer each car at a much lower price instead of having to spend seventy or a hundred thousand dollars to get a Tesla. As great as they are, few people can afford that price point. Of course, Elon Musk has been working hard ramping up production so he can get a $35,000 car out there. He’s facing the challenge of the scale of production.

It’s exactly the same problem when it comes to starting a piano company in the United States and enabling a mid-range price point. That’s a huge stumbling block right there. The second part of this equation is, unless you created an export company; it’s tough in the United States where piano sales went from over 90,000 new pianos sold a little over ten years ago to a little over 30,000 in 2016. So, exporting could really help sales. Yet, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome with that these days. If you’re a new company, how do you get the brand recognition to do that? There are a lot of challenges and I applaud anyone who gives it a go because the piano industry could benefit from innovation. People like Elon Musk prove that if you do things in a new way, there’s a possibility that you can grow market share. So, perhaps there is a way for a new piano company to produce pianos in the United States utilizing innovative technologies and business strategies. Hope you have enjoyed this. You can contact us anytime at info@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729.

Why Don’t They Make More Pianos in the USA?

Why can’t more pianos be made in the United States? At first, you may think it’s because they are too expensive. Of course, Steinway, Mason & Hamlin and Charles Walter are top-tier pianos with premium prices. But couldn’t a mid-range p

Today I’m going to tell you how to make your piano stay in tune. There is nothing like a freshly tuned piano! This adds richness, beauty and purity to the sound. Once your piano tuner leaves and you get a chance to play it, it’s so refreshing. But before you know it, it’s going out of tune again. In a perfect world, we’d have live in tuners who would tune our pianos daily. If I were a billionaire, I would definitely have one! Getting back to reality for a minute, are there things you can do to get your piano to stay in tune? Fortunately, there are quite a few things! I am going to touch bases on some of them for you.

First of all, as I’ve talked about many times before; the stability of the environment where the piano is located is crucial. If you have a place where the temperature or humidity fluctuate drastically, the piano is not going to be stable. Afterall, the soundboard is made out of wood and the wood will expand and contract with the changes in the environment. The strings arc over the bridges which are attached to the soundboard. So any changes in the soundboard will affect the tuning.

This brings us to another factor which is how often your piano is tuned. Sometimes people go years without tuning their pianos not realizing that it will take several tunings to get them back to where they need to be. Usually a tuner will do two tunings right in a row just to get the piano up to pitch first, then do a fine tuning. Sadly, even that second tuning won’t hold very long. People who tune their pianos as many as four times a year or even monthly, may be rewarded with much more stability in the tuning of their pianos. But not if they play a great deal since this can knock pianos out.

In the recital hall at Indiana University, there were two Steinway concert grands on stage; an old Steinway and a newer Steinway. People would choose one or the other. The interesting and wonderful thing was that they were always perfectly in tune. How can this be? I touched on this a moment ago. I was friends with one of the tuners and learned that those pianos were tuned every single day! Apparently, it was rare for even one unison to go out on those pianos because they had been tuned daily for so many years that they just didn’t go out of tune anymore.

I recently had a similar experience. I inherited my father’s 7 foot Baldwin SF-10 that he bought new in 1972 and as I mentioned, he had his pianos tuned piano monthly. He also touched up unisons that would go out of tune between tunings. I have never owned a piano which is so stable. If you really want to get your piano to hold tuning well, tune it as often as you can and keep the environment as stable as possible.

There is another aspect to this. There is something referred to as “concert tuning”. What is concert tuning? Well, they’re all kinds of techniques for getting a piano to hold better than just a regular tuning. You might wonder what that entails. There is even one technique I’ve been sworn to secrecy about, so I won’t reveal that one. But I’m going to tell you one that is really fascinating. At one of my father’s recording sessions, there was a tuner who had a really interesting technique you may have never have seen before. Some tuners play very lightly which is nice because it doesn’t blow you out of the room. Other tuners are more aggressive. This particular concert tuner had a block of wood with felt on it and he would bang every key on the concert grand while tuning. You would wonder if he was going to destroy the instrument! The whole idea was that after he was done tuning, my father could do anything on that piano and it would be very unlikely to go out of tune since it withstood the intense blows the tuner inflicted upon the piano. The technician sat there through the session and indeed, unisons would go out of tune in the course of the session with massive Rachmaninoff, Liszt and other pieces he was recording. But at least it had a fighting chance of staying in tune. At my father’s recitals, since he was such a powerful player with a huge dynamic range, the pianos would have to be touched up during intermission. So, at least at these recording sessions the pianos would hold their tuning longer.

The third thing here aside from providing a stable environment and tuning your piano often, is to find the best tuner you can. Ask for a concert tuning because different players require varying levels of tuning. Let your tuner know what you are after. You may pay a bit more to get top notch work, but the tuning should hold longer. So, there are several techniques for keeping your piano in tune longer! Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com Your Online Piano Store 949-244-3729 info@LivingPianos.com

How to Keep Your Piano in Tune

Today I’m going to tell you how to make your piano stay in tune. There is nothing like a freshly tuned piano! This adds richness, beauty and purity to the sound. Once your piano tuner leaves and you get a chance to play it, it’s so refreshing. Bu

Today we are going to discover what is the most difficult scale to play on the piano. By the end of this article and video, you will be surprised at the answer!

When you are first learning scales, just figuring out the notes can be a daunting task. You look at a scale like B major with 5 sharps, and it’s tough to figure out. But when you start to play it, you discover something really interesting:

The thumbs in both hands play white keys at the same time.

Not only that, but the black keys are played with the other fingers in both hands. This is referred to as mirror fingering where both hands anchor on white keys with thumbs on the same notes, in this case B and E and the other fingers play the black keys. This makes it easier to play.

So, what about scales with a lot of flats – are they harder? Let’s take G-flat major which has 6 flats. There is certainly a lot of black ink on the page! You will discover that while there are 6 flats, there are only 5 black keys in a G-flat major scale. This is due to the fact that C-flat is a white key (the B key). Here again there is mirror fingering. However, in the B scale, the white keys in both hands occurred a half-step above (the very next key) the notes played with the thumb. The G-flat scale is slightly more challenging in that the first white key in the scale (C-flat) is a half step above the previous black key (B-flat), but the next white key (F) is a whole-step (2 keys) above the previous black key (E-flat). But at least you have the benefit of anchoring both thumbs at the same time whenever they play.

Next, we are going to look at a scale that you would think would be easier since it only has 2 sharps – D major. Here you have the challenge of having the thumbs both anchor together on D, but as you go up the scale, the right hand plays the thumb on G, but the left hand plays the thumb on A. So, you don’t have the benefit of mirror fingering where both thumbs play at the same time. This is somewhat more challenging to play.

So, what is the most difficult scale to play? Once you know all your scales, they are about equal in difficulty. However, there is one scale that presents challenges no other scales have, and that is the C major scale!

How can this be? It’s the first scale most people learn and it’s simple to learn because it’s all white keys. That’s exactly what makes it more challenging to master. You don’t have the benefit of having black keys to guide you.

You are faced with a sea of white keys!

There are no black keys to differentiate where you are in the scale. On top of that, you don’t have the benefit of mirror fingering where you anchor the thumbs on the same notes in both hands. I bet some of you are surprised, but it’s a fact that C major is the most difficult scale to play even though it may be easier to learn than other scales.

Incidentally, the resource for fingering of all the major and minor scales and arpeggios on the piano that the vast majority of pianists rely upon is:

Another Thought:

There are two major scales that don’t have any mirror fingering whatsoever. That is, the thumbs never play the same notes at all. Those scales are B-flat and E-flat. For that reason, it is arguable that those scales may be the most difficult.

Hanon: Sixty Studies for the Virtuoso Pianist

There is another school of thought that a small number of pianists adhere to which has mirror fingerings for all the scales. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who plays all scales with mirror fingering. Having learned all my scales and arpeggios as a young child, I couldn’t imagine relearning the fingering to them at this point any more than I could imagine typing on a more ergonomic keyboard where letters used most often were in the middle of the keyboard instead of the one we are all used to.

I hope this has been interesting for you and I look forward to comments on this presentation. This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729 Robert@LivingPianos.com

What is the Most Difficult Scale on the Piano? What is Mirror Fingering?

Today we are going to discover what is the most difficult scale to play on the piano. By the end of this article and video, you will be surprised at the answer! When you are first learning scales, just figuring out the notes can be a daunting task. Y

Arpeggios are simply broken chords. Scales and arpeggios form the foundation of technique, not just for the piano, but for virtually all musical instruments. I’ve talked about how to practice scales and arpeggios in the past. Today, I’m going to give you three ways of practicing arpeggios specifically. If you like this, I could probably give you 10 more ways of practicing them because there are many ways of practicing arpeggios.

Here are three good starters for you:

Let’s start with a basic C major chord which forms the foundation of a C major arpeggio. Since you’re going all the way up and down the keyboard with both hands, you have to deal with finger crossings. I suggest you reference Hanon60 Selected Studies for the Virtuoso Pianist. This is a resource for all the fingerings of all major and minor scales and arpeggios as well as exercises and additional materials. The first way to practice arpeggios is perhaps the most fundamental. I’ve talked about this before in videos and I’m going to recap this because it’s essential.

You must practice slowly first to develop independence of the fingers.

As you get faster, place the fingers closer to the keys to get speed and lightness. You want to use the metronome when practicing arpeggios and scales because the whole idea is to measure your playing because you want to achieve precision. You must strive for evenness in tone, touch and timing.

Of course you can practice arpeggios with different phrasing and dynamics. For now, I’m going to suggest you play them at a strong level always from the fingers. It won’t do any good to practice arpeggios or scales using your arms or wrists because as you go faster, they’re not going to be able to keep up. The whole idea is to develop the strength of your fingers. So, watch how you can approach arpeggios slowly. If you’re a beginner studying arpeggios, I recommend putting the metronome at 60 and going one note to the beat, then two notes to the beat, and finally playing at four notes to the beat. You can even do gradual metronome speeds raising a notch or two at a time if you run into difficulties going faster. There is a brief demonstration on the accompanying video on how to practice this way with the metronome.

Notice a couple of things. First of all, you want to avoid any up and down motion with the arms. Use only your fingers. Notice how you raise your fingers to achieve independence and strength. You get the feel of exactly where each key is. It provides an opportunity to dig into each note gaining security. Once you’re comfortable, you should do that at least four times before moving on any faster. Then you can go to two notes to the beat. Notice, as you get faster, the fingers must be closer to the keys. When transitioning to four notes to the beat, you want to have your arms almost floating in air just above the keys because they don’t have the strength to support the arms at great speed. At four notes to the beat there’s less motion of your fingers as well. They are kept very close to the keys. You must spend sufficient time at each speed. At one note to the beat, you might spend around five minutes mastering it. If you’re playing only an arpeggio at one note to the beat at 60, five minutes is a pretty long time! This helps you gain great strength and independence of the fingers.

So we’ve covered one way of practicing arpeggios which is essential. It think it’s probably one of the best ways to practice arpeggios. You may get to a stumbling block and get to a point where you know you can do one note, but getting to two notes or four notes to the beat proves to be very difficult. You’re wondering how you can get it any faster. Are there any shortcuts? I’m going to show you a couple!

One shortcut is to practice in chords. Here is how to do this: Delineate where the thumb crossings are and play two notes together, then play the thumbs. You can watch how to achieve this on the accompanying video. Once you are comfortable, you can do that at two notes to the beat. Doing four notes is probably too fast for this practice technique depending upon the tempo you choose You want to get it fluent so you get the sense of the thumb crossings which are essential for smooth transition of registers. Instead, of trying to go faster, try breaking up the inner notes quickly and land on the thumbs securely holding them longer so that you gain security of the thumb crossings in both hands. This helps you get the sense of how the thumbs anchor you versus the finger which hover over the other two notes of the chord. You must strive for evenness playing the inner notes cleanly.

So, those are three ways to practice arpeggios. You may be able to invent other ways of practicing them as well. There are always more piano lessons and videos coming from LivingPianos.com Your Online Piano Store info@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729 Robert Estrin

3 Ways to Practice Arpeggios on the Piano

Arpeggios are simply broken chords. Scales and arpeggios form the foundation of technique, not just for the piano, but for virtually all musical instruments. I’ve talked about how to practice scales and arpeggios in the past. Today, I’m going to