Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. We now have over 1,300 videos here on Living Pianos and YouTube! After 1,300+ videos, what more is there to say? Well, quite a bit, really! Today’s subject is about how to develop more speed in your piano playing. I did a video about this years ago. It’s worth watching. You can see that video here. But today I’m going to share one particular secret which is the whole basis for developing speed at the piano. Before I get to that, I’m going to talk about the simple physics of the piano.
More motion equals greater volume – Less motion equals faster speed.
I’m going to break it down into finger technique and wrist technique. I’ll show you how both of them work. To demonstrate, I’m going to use the Ballade by Burgmuller. This is a great little piece to demonstrate both techniques. The right hand has chords which utilize wrist technique. While the left hand has fast 16th note finger work. So let’s first talk about the wrist technique first in the right hand. When you’re first learning this piece, you should articulate everything clearly by differentiating each finger and each wrist motion to achieve precision in your playing.
It’s just like if you want a lot of power doing anything. For example, let’s say you are hammering in some nails. You would naturally lift the hammer up high enough to gain momentum of the hammer. which provides more motion. You’re obviously going to get far greater power from the extra motion of your arm. Well, in piano, you don’t use your arms for this type of technique. But you do use your wrists. So in slow practice you want to articulate the chords with your wrist. Later, you can use less motion to achieve faster speed. When going slowly, you can play chords with quite a bit of power if desired. Now in this particular piece, it is written at a low dynamic level. But if you want to play them loud, more wrist motion will accomplish that. As you go faster, you use less motion and stay closer to the keys.
It isn’t just your wrists! It also is true of finger work. As you begin to learn a piece, use raised fingers and sink your fingers into the keys, much like you do when practicing exercises or scales and arpeggios at a slow speed, because it helps to delineate the release of notes. It’s actually far harder to lift up previously played fingers than to play new notes. What do I mean by this? Well, you can demonstrate this for yourself. Put your hand on a flat surface, and lift your fingers one at a time. You will notice the fourth and fifth fingers are particularly hard to lift up when your other fingers are down. However, pushing your fingers down is not so hard.
One of the most important finger techniques to develop on the piano is the release of previously played notes.
If you don’t practice releasing notes, you can get a blurry sound. Worse yet, imagine if your thumb didn’t release and couldn’t play again! The first three notes of this piece are C, B natural, and then C again. If the C doesn’t come up in time, it won’t replay after the B plays because it would still be down. That’s why in slow practice, practicing with an exaggerated motion of the fingers can really help your hand learn which fingers are down and which fingers are up. Try this and you’ll see the power you can get by using strong, raised fingers. Typically you don’t play this way in performance, but in practice it can be extremely valuable when you’re first learning a piece. You want to really articulate the notes to figure out your hand position, and to feel your fingers really dig into the keys. You want to start very slowly with a lot of motion and raised fingers. As the tempo increases, you’ll notice that the fingers stay closer and closer to the keys. Again, less motion equals more speed.
It’s simple physics really. When you need power, you use more motion. And when you need speed, you use less motion.
That’s the lesson for today! Try this in your playing. If you come to a passage you’re working on, and you can’t get fast enough speed, try lightening up. Stay closer to the keys, and you’ll be astounded at how much faster you can play by simply using less motion! I hope this lesson is helpful for you. I’m producing a lot more videos and it’s all for you! You can email me and let me know what you’d like to see in future videos. Tell me what topics you are interested in. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. We now have over 1,300 videos here on Living Pianos and YouTube! After 1,300+ videos, what more is there to say? Well, quite a bit, really! Today’s subject is about how to develop more speed
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin, and this is Piano Test-Drive! I have a gorgeous instrument to present to you! The first thing I did on this piano is the first thing I do on almost every piano I encounter, which is to improvise. I let the sounds take me where they will. Truth be known, I did record the Chopin G minor Ballade on this instrument. You can find that performance here. But what’s really fascinating is sitting down on an instrument with no preconceived notions and just letting the sound take you.
An instrument like this Steinway Concert Grand from 1952, which has been masterfully rebuilt, is almost like driving a sports car.
Any maneuver you want to undertake, the instrument can handle it. You can go anywhere you like, and it can take you there at lightning speed! For example, the opening chords of the improvisation you’re about to hear, which I recorded last night. They’re massive chords. They blend from one to the next and it’s a glorious big sound. Yet in the middle, I come down and play with delicacy, just like if you’re in that sports car and you decide to take a scenic drive by the ocean to enjoy a little bit of the scenery. There are repeated notes, there’s everything I could throw at this piano! I’m wondering how you’ll like this. Listen for the end, because you’ll hear the massively strong, lowest B-flat octave on the piano at the end of this improvisation. I hope you like it!
The Steinway model D is the Concert Grand you see on stages throughout the world!
If you go to the symphony to see a concerto, 97% of the time it’s a Steinway model D Concert Grand on stage. It’s the de facto standard. To have a glorious instrument like this is such a treat. I just want to record as much as I can on this piano for the time I have it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this! I would love to hear your impressions of this instrument in the comments here at LivingPianos.com and YouTube. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Welcome to LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin, and this is Piano Test-Drive! I have a gorgeous instrument to present to you! The first thing I did on this piano is the first thing I do on almost every piano I encounter, which is to improvise.
It is a great challenge to find enough time to practice! Even piano performance majors in conservatories have to deal with course loads to satisfy degree requirements. In my recent interview with Madame Ruth Slencyznska, I asked her how she managed t
Hi, I’m Robert Estrin, and this is LivingPianos.com! Today’s subject is about how to achieve smoothly connected chords on the piano. This can be extremely difficult, particularly when you’re playing repeated chords. The whole mechanical nature of the piano is such that for a note to replay, the damper comes in contact with the strings. So it’s virtually impossible to completely connect a repeated note on the piano. You can use the pedal, but even then, because of the percussive nature of the piano’s tone, it never really sounds connected.
The more connected you can play with your hands, the smoother the sound will come out of the instrument.
This is true regardless of whether you’re using the pedal or not. Practicing without the pedal while trying to get repeated chords connected is essential. I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, how do you achieve such a thing? The secret is to keep your fingers in contact with the keys the entire time. Keep your fingers right on the keys. And be sure the keys come all the way up before they go back down again. If the key is down even a fraction of an inch before you play it, it may or may not play. A piano is not meant to have keys play when they don’t return all the way to the top. It’s not a technique you can always rely upon. So keep your fingers right on the surface of the keys, but be sure to let the keys fully return.
The first chord of each group has to be captured on the pedal, but you don’t want to capture the previous harmonies.
If you pedal too early, you’ll capture extra notes. You have a very brief amount of time to capture the chord on the pedal. It has to be after it is played, but also after the previous notes are gone. So by playing chords as long as possible, it gives you the maximum amount of time to grab the chord on the pedal. You want to work to have all the chords played while staying very close to the keys.
In places where you have repeated notes, you can change fingers.
When you change fingers on repeated notes, it’s much easier to make them sound smoothly connected. As one finger is going down, another finger is coming up. Whereas if you use the same finger, it doesn’t sound as smooth. It’s really hard to play with one finger and make the notes sound connected. When you change fingers on repeated notes, you get a smooth sound. You don’t have that luxury when you’re playing chords. You only have so many fingers on your hand! If you’re playing three notes, you have to use the same fingers.
So remember the secret to playing repeated chords is to keep your fingers in contact with the keys. But be sure to come up completely before depressing the chords down again. That should help you achieve smoothness in your repeated chords in any music you’re playing! Thanks again for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
Hi, I’m Robert Estrin, and this is LivingPianos.com! Today’s subject is about how to achieve smoothly connected chords on the piano. This can be extremely difficult, particularly when you’re playing repeated chords. The whole mechan
This is LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is: Should you buy a Steinway or other fine piano? It’s tough when you’re going to buy a piano. You will see digital pianos for a few hundred dollars. Then there are pianos for hundreds of thousands of dollars! So what should you get? Obviously not everybody has the resources to buy pianos that cost a hundred thousand dollars or more. But there is definitely a choice of how far to go.
How much should you spend on a piano?
Let’s say you have the option of buying a Steinway, Bechstein, Mason and Hamlin, or some other top-tier, hand-built piano. But you could buy a perfectly good Chinese or Indonesian piano, brand new, for less money than a used Steinway or Bechstein, or something of that nature. Which one would be better for you? Is one going to hold up better? Is one going to be more satisfying to play? Is it really worth spending tens of thousands of dollars, or over a hundred thousand dollars on a piano?
There’s a lot to consider. From an investment standpoint, it actually makes more sense to buy a fine piano than to buy a cheap piano. For example, let’s say you buy a no-name stencil piano, a piano that comes from some unknown factory in Asia with a familiar name on the front of some piano company that went out of business years ago. And it’s from a reputable company and from a good store. Nobody’s trying to pull wool over your eyes. They’re telling you like it is, “This piano is made in China and imported.” It looks just as nice as the $80,000 piano sitting next to it. Why should you even consider getting an $80,000 piano, or even a used, top-tier grand piano for $30,000? Is there any reason for this? Well, think about this: a $30,000 fine used piano or $80,000 fine new piano are instruments that, because of their intrinsic value, are worth rebuilding when the time comes. That’s why you see a lot of rebuilt Steinways, Mason and Hamlins, Blüthners, and other really fine pianos. Because the cost of new ones is so great, they are worth rebuilding.
What if you buy a brand new baby grand for $10,000. (I believe there are some in that price range, although things have gotten a little bit more expensive lately.) Well guess what? When that piano wears out, it’s not worth rebuilding! The cost of restoration exceeds what the piano could eventually be worth after being rebuilt.
So I hate to say it, but they’re essentially disposable pianos!
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to pull the plug. Do you put new hammers on a piano you bought for $10,000? Should you spend $3,000 on action work? Or do you just get another piano at that point? Do you restring a piano you only spent $10,000 on? Do you spend thousands to restring it? You don’t have to ask that question if you have a Blüthner or a Steinway, do you? Of course it’s worth it, because new ones cost $80,000 – $100,000!
Of course, you’re not buying a piano as an investment, you’re buying a piano as an instrument to play.
So, what is the difference then? It depends upon how important piano is to you. If you’re an advanced player, obviously you want a piano that’s on a high level, with proper preparation. Any piano requires maintenance, but a higher quality piano will be more stable over time. It can maintain a higher level of regulation and voicing and even tuning, so you can enjoy a higher level of playing. And it won’t nickel and dime you trying to keep it that way. A lesser piano could involve more work to keep it playing okay. This isn’t always the case. There are some relatively inexpensive pianos that offer moderately good performance that can remain somewhat stable for you. So, I’m not saying every cheap piano is going to cost more to maintain. But many of them will. That’s one thing to consider. The other thing is what it will do for your playing experience. If every time you sit down at a piano you get a beautiful tone, you’re going to want to play more. Not only that, but you can do more with the music.
One of the benefits of having a really high-quality piano is the expressive potential of the instrument.
There are more gradations of loud and soft as well as colors of tone that are possible on a high level piano. On lesser pianos, the notes will start dropping out when playing very softly because the action isn’t refined enough to achieve a true pianissimo compared to a well regulated, hand-built instrument. On the other level, on a fine piano, you can play louder and louder without it ever getting harsh. With a piano like a Baldwin SF10, which is one of the great American pianos of all time, you can put tremendous energy without ever over driving the sound into distortion. It’s like a really high-quality sound system where you can turn the volume up, and it doesn’t hurt your ears. It just fills the room with sound. You can even feel the sound. On a lesser system, you wouldn’t want to turn it up that loud because the audio gets harsh and distorted. When you are playing a really fine piano, it will never get harsh, no matter how much energy you put into it. You never introduce distortion into the sound. It just opens up with beautiful, rich sonorities.
So, what level piano should you buy?
The right piano for you to buy depends upon your resources. You certainly don’t want to stress yourself by getting a piano and then not being able to pay your bills! However, if you look at the long term, you only buy a piano once if you buy a piano like a Steinway, Bosendorfer, or something of that nature. Whereas when you buy a lesser quality instrument, it’s very possible at some point in the future, you’re going to get something else. So, you might buy two or three pianos over time. If you get a fine instrument, you buy it once. And that piano, if it’s well-cared for, can get passed down from generation to generation. So, from a monetary standpoint, it’s an investment rather than an expense. And you get to enjoy the sound and the beauty of a fine instrument. So, is it worth it to get a Steinway or other top-tier piano? It absolutely can be.
Is there any benefit to buying a fine piano for a beginner?
Sometimes parents want to buy a piano for their children. They say, “Well, I don’t want to get anything too expensive. I don’t know if they’re going to stay with it.” And some parents just buy keyboards for their children to take piano lessons. What they’re doing is setting up their kids for failure. Because the keyboard is not going to be satisfying to play. And if it’s not a weighted action, their kids will have difficulty at lessons playing on a real piano. So you have to get a good enough instrument that is going to be rewarding and worthwhile to play. The piano you practice on should prepare you to play other pianos, which is the other big point. If you get serious at all, you will get to play in recitals. Or maybe you get to play at your school, or church. You’re probably going to be playing fine pianos at some point along the way. If you’ve never driven a sports car, you might not have any idea how to drive one. But if you know how to drive a fine automobile, you’re going to be able to drive anything that runs okay. The same is true with fine pianos. You gain experience getting the most of any piano when you are accustomed to playing on a fine piano on a regular basis.
There are many good reasons to get a fine piano.
The most important thing is that you’re going to enjoy it more! And it’s a good investment, so you can justify it for yourself. So yes, go out and get a Steinway. You’ll never regret it! Thanks again for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
This is LivingPianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is: Should you buy a Steinway or other fine piano? It’s tough when you’re going to buy a piano. You will see digital pianos for a few hundred dollars. Then there ar
I get questions from piano students all the time asking, “How can I determine what level player I am?” Students from India have specific designations from organizations like ABRSM that have regimented repertoire putting students in specific categ
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. A few weeks ago, I put out a video on the top 5 piano lesson fails. I thought it was only fair to do the other side of the equation. So today, I’m sharing the top 10 piano teacher fails! Incidentally, these aren’t just about piano teachers. Most of these apply to all teachers. So I think you’ll be very interested in this!
1. Your teacher doesn’t show you how to practice.
You go to your lesson. Your teacher makes corrections and they assign new material. When you get all done, they tell you to practice. You leave the lesson and go through those corrections. You have your new piece. But how do you practice? You realize you have no idea even how to approach the practicing! That’s because they didn’t show you how to practice. When you leave a lesson, you should know exactly what it is you have to do and how to do it. Just telling a student to practice isn’t enough.
2. Your teacher doesn’t show you how to memorize.
You learn a piece and you’ve played it for a long time. Finally, at the end of the lesson, your teacher says, “For next week, I want you to have this memorized.” You get home and you start from the beginning. You see if you know any of it. You remember just the first couple of bars. Your fingers kind of just go to the right keys because you’ve played it so many times. Then you wonder, “Well, now what do I do?” You can’t figure out how to memorize because your teacher didn’t show you how to memorize! They just expected you to know how to memorize.
This is really bad for a number of reasons. First of all, it makes you feel like something’s wrong with you! The teacher expects you to be able to memorize and you can’t do it. You feel like maybe you just aren’t smart enough to know how to memorize. Well, nobody can just instantly memorize! I guess there are some amazing geniuses out there who can just play music and it’s memorized immediately. Of course, if music is simple enough, maybe just sheer repetition will work. But if you have just one week to get something memorized, and you don’t have a method or a process, you’re in trouble. So, if your teacher tells you to memorize, ask them how to memorize. If you don’t get a clear, concise answer, then you might consider getting another teacher if memorization is important to you.
3. Your teacher gives you music that is too hard for you.
This is something that is so blatantly wrong and common! Teachers give music that’s too hard. Now, why would they do that? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First of all, you might be begging your teacher to give you a certain Chopin etude. So part of it can be inspired by the student asking to play something that is really not appropriate for their level. Another thing is that teachers often like to brag to other teachers and pianists. “I have students playing Liszt etudes and late Beethoven sonatas.”, or whatever it may be, because it makes them feel like they’re really good teachers. Or maybe they’re tired of the easy pieces they teach all the time. If a student asks for something that’s too hard, they just say, “Go ahead and do it.” They figure, at least they’ll be listening to something that they like. Occasionally, studying a piece far more advanced than you have played before, can help you reach new levels in your playing if you are willing to put in the hours of practice necessary to master it. But all too often, you can end up wasting valuable practice time on something you can’t end up playing on a decent level.
4. Your teacher talks over your head.
This is something true of almost all subjects. Some teachers will talk over your head. They’re talking as if you understand them, and you sort of do, but not quite. You don’t even know what question to ask. You feel like it would make you seem stupid if you ask a question after your teacher talks to you like you understand. This is particularly true with music theory. Maybe they expect you to understand some complex harmonic progression and they think, “Well, this is the C diminished, which obviously is going to be in the key of D flat.” And you go, “Mm-hmm”. Before you can even formulate the question, they’re going on to the next thing. “So this is the diatonic chord in this key. And you can see, well of course the key signature…” You’re nodding along hoping you will eventually catch on, but you never really understand anything they’re talking about! You sort of get it. And once again, you think there’s something wrong with you because you think you should understand what they’re talking about! They seem so brilliant. And if they think you understand it, you should. Well, sometimes teachers don’t appreciate the foundation you need in order to follow the whole chain of a conversation. You could be lost at the beginning and kind of nodding along, thinking, “Oh, I’ll get this eventually by the end of this talk.” But then before you know it, you’re onto the next topic, and you never even get to it. So this is a really big problem.
5. Your teacher never reviews what you’ve learned previously.
Your teacher introduces something new. Great! “Today, we’re going to do harmonic analysis.” So you spend a little bit of time with it. But that’s the last time it ever comes up. Next time they bring up something else, like how to play scales in contrary motion. They do it once, then you never hear about that again. You never quite got it. Before you know it, you’re going on to two, three, or four other things. There’s no follow through. So you end up with all these little tidbits of knowledge that go by the wayside. You never really understand any of them because your teacher is not consistent in the instruction.
6. Your teacher’s instructions are too vague.
Have you ever gotten some abstract instructions? You’re playing a piece and your teacher says, “Over here, make it sound like butterflies flying through the wind in the flowers.” You’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds great.” You’re just so impressed with the imagery. But you think, “What do I do to make it sound like butterflies?” You love the whole concept of it so much that you don’t want to ask about it. Abstract comments can sometimes give you some vague idea of what you’re after. But if it’s not followed through with specific instructions about how to achieve that sound, it can be meaningless. It might sound good, but you need more than that.
7. Your teacher makes you feel bad about yourself.
Now we’re getting to some of the heavy things. There are some really destructive things that teachers can do. A teacher might say something passive aggressive like, “That’s good if you think you like it that way.” They make you feel small. They’re saying things to you and making you feel terrible. Why is this so destructive? Well, first of all, it’s hurtful! Also, it might make you just give up on the whole idea of piano. If you’re constantly demeaned at lessons, then you lose the joy. What’s the point of studying piano if you can’t enjoy it, right?
8. Your teacher yells.
Teachers who yell, there’s really no excuse for this. It really is verbal abuse. “Why don’t you know your scales? You should know this by now!” Or, “You didn’t memorize this piece? I told you to memorize it!” Any kind of yelling, there’s no place for that in a piano lesson. There is one tiny exception. I notice that with online lessons, occasionally the technology doesn’t cooperate. A student is playing a sonata and I need to stop them. I’m going, “Hey! Hey!” Trying to get somebody’s attention online. But that’s a different story. I’m talking about yelling at a student because they’re doing something wrong. The teacher thinks they need to yell to make their point. No. That’s not an appropriate way to make a point. End of story.
9. Your teacher physically harms you.
I’ve heard so many stories about teachers who hit their students. Hitting is absolutely wrong in any circumstance during a lesson! There’s an old story, you’ve probably heard of teachers who used rulers to make students’ corrections. Every time there was a wrong finger, whack! The teacher thought, “If they know they’re going to get hit, they’re going to play with the right fingers.” Well, aside from the potential for damage, pain is not a good way of getting people to be open to concepts of instruction. Hitting is just absolutely wrong.
Early on in my teaching career, I had a student who hit me! It was a child, but a child who was old enough to know better. And Janine, if you’re listening now, I forgive you. She was actually joyful to work with and it really didn’t hurt. But it was kind of weird to be hit by a student! But hitting from a teacher, or a student for that matter, is absolutely inappropriate, obviously.
10. Your teacher doesn’t allow you to play through anything.
This can be so frustrating! You start your piano lesson and begin playing. You make a mistake early on and your teacher stops you. “That was wrong.” So then you try to continue, but you’re kind of put off by this. So you go on and make a mistake again, just because you’re not in your groove anymore. Before you know it, you’re so afraid of being stopped, that you’re not even concentrating on the music anymore! This is so counterproductive. A teacher has to let you play through your music so they know how to guide the lesson. That’s how they can see the points that need to be covered during the course of the lesson. They must listen through. Even if there are several things they think they absolutely must discuss with you, if they don’t hear everything, how do they know the priorities of the lesson? They don’t. Worse yet, it doesn’t give you an opportunity to show them the hard work you did during the course of the week. You want to show them your achievements and feel good about them before getting to work. So, if you have a teacher who doesn’t let you play through things during the course of a lesson, that’s not going to work. It’s not going to be a very useful or valuable lesson for you.
Those are the top 10 teacher fails!
I wonder if any of you have other teacher fails to share. Let me know in the comments here at LivingPianos.com or YouTube! Thanks so much for joining me. Thanks for subscribing, and telling people about Living Pianos. There are more piano videos coming your way on LivingPianos.com – Your Online Piano Resource!
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. A few weeks ago, I put out a video on the top 5 piano lesson fails. I thought it was only fair to do the other side of the equation. So today, I’m sharing the top 10 piano teacher fails! Inc
Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to figure out rhythms by counting. It’s essential to count rhythms so you know the timing of a piece of music. There’s a lot that we can talk about here. The number one fundamental is understanding time signatures. Time signatures tell you how to count a piece in the first place! What’s counting all about? Well, a carpenter has a tape measure right on their belt. They check their work constantly by measuring. The way we measure in music is by counting.
If you don’t count, you’re just guessing rhythms.
Maybe you have a good sense of rhythm. You can listen to recordings and get an idea of what the rhythm is like. But how do you know the recordings are even right? Suppose it’s a piece that has no recordings? At some point or another, you want to be able to figure out rhythms, and counting is the answer for that.
First, you look at the time signature. The time signature contains two numbers and is found at the beginning of every piece of music. The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure. The bottom number stands for the kind of note getting one beat. So if the bottom number is a four, that stands for the quarter note getting one beat. If the bottom number is a two, the half note gets one beat. If the bottom number is an eight, the eighth note gets one beat. If the bottom number is a one, the whole note gets one beat. So that’s what the bottom number tells you.
So if you have a piece of music in 4/4 time, you would count, one, two, three, four. If you have quarter notes in 4/4 time, there would be one note on each beat. If you have half notes, there will be notes on the first and third beats. But the counting never changes.
Never change the style of counting within a piece of music.
The counting must remain consistent! That’s how it measures accurately. Imagine if you had a tape measure that had inches marked in some places but in other places had multiples of six inches marked without the inches marked anymore. It would be very confusing! So, no matter what types of notes you have, the counting remains consistent. Once you embrace this fundamental concept, figuring out rhythms will become a breeze!
A simple tune like, Mary Had a Little Lamb is in 4/4 time and contains mostly quarter notes and half notes, as well as a whole note at the end. This is a very simple rhythm. But most rhythms are quite a bit more complex.
What do you do if you have eighth notes in 4/4 time or in 3/4 time for that matter?
There are two eighth notes in each quarter note and the quarter note gets one beat. So an eighth note gets half a beat. You count half beats by saying and between the numbers. So for a piece in 3/4 time you would count, one and two and three and one and two and three and, et cetera. So you know exactly where all the notes come in.
What if you have 16th notes in 2/4 time? There are four 16th notes to each beat, so you must divide the beat into four parts. Since you’ve already divided the beats in half, you just need to divide the halves in half. For that you use u.. One u and u two u and u one u and u two u and u. So, if you are in 2/4 time and you have 16th notes, you would have one note for each syllable. Eighth notes still come in where they did before, on the numbers as well as the ands. Likewise, the quarter notes come in where they did before, just on the numbers. Of course you could have half notes, which would get whole measures.
Now you can see that it can be a real mouthful counting like this! As long as your counting remains consistent, you can count just with numbers as well as ands, or even just the numbers. So, in order to figure out exactly what rhythms are, first count with all the subdivisions. But as the music goes faster, you can just think the subdivisions while counting only the numbers. But you must always think the subdivisions, particularly in dotted rhythms. If something is fast, the subdivisions must be precise. Eventually, you can work with a metronome and just count the subdivisions in your head.
Sometimes you have triple divisions of the beat!
Counting this is a little bit different. Something in 6/8 time is, one two three – four five six, one two three – four five six. When going much faster, you may only count the first and fourth beat. You may just count in two. In that case the one represents the first beat, and the two represents the fourth beat.
With polyrhythms, things can get quite different, and you may have really fast notes. Sometimes your best bet is to write-in lines in your music where the beats are which can also help you determine which notes play together with both hands. But those complex rhythmic situations are a subject for another video.
For most rhythms, simply counting them out is the answer for you.
I hope this has clarified things for you, or was at least a good reminder for everybody to remember to count your music. There’s nothing worse than listening to somebody play something where the beats are not consistent. You lose the foundation of the music. Counting is a great way for you to figure out any rhythm! Thanks again for joining me. 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 how to figure out rhythms by counting. It’s essential to count rhythms so you know the timing of a piece of music. There’s a lot that we can talk about here.
I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. It’s hard for me to even contain my excitement for the guest we have today: Madam Ruth Slenczynska! Ruth is regarded as one of the great child prodigies of the 20th century and started performing the piano at that age of 4. She’s also the last living student of Sergei Rachaminoff! She’s performed for presidents and traveled the world over performing the piano. At 97 years old, she is still performing and recording. We are going to talk about her 10 CD set that has been released recently to critical acclaim. It’s in its second run already! I will provide links below here on LivingPianos.com and YouTube. We’re going to talk about this and so much more. So without further ado, here is Madam Ruth Slenczynska.
Ruth, it’s so good to see you today. Thanks so much for joining us.
It’s my pleasure, Bob. I’ve known you since you were a little boy!
That’s right. We go way back together. I’m just trying to remember, you knew my father before you met me? Is that true?
Oh yes. Your father brought you to me as a little tike. And then when you grew older, your father took you to the Midwest to study. And you did quite well for yourself I might add.
Well, thank you. I learned a great deal from you. I share so much of your teachings in my teaching, and my online presence is so influenced by you. That’s why I thought it was great to introduce you to everyone. There’s so much to discuss about your rich history, but the first thing I want to bring up is all the exciting things you’re embarking upon right now! You are doing yet another recording after the smashing success of the re-release of your Decca recordings from decades ago. You have another recording coming up and you’re even playing a concert in a couple of weeks at Lebanon Valley College! Maybe you can talk a little bit about some of these upcoming events.
Ruth Slenczynska: Well, I practice!
Of course practice always helps, and I never stopped really practicing. But of course, as an old lady, I don’t have the strength or the endurance that I used to have. So I practice somewhat less. But I still practice. And practice makes you able to play. So I remain able to play. I might add, I’m a very lucky lady too, because I don’t have the usual ailments that people my age complain of.
I remember studying with you. One thing that I really respected about your teaching that so few teachers will do is, you will practice with students. There’s so many teachers who feel they’re above that. I practiced a good amount when I studied with you, but there was one particular lesson that perhaps I wasn’t as well prepared as I should have been. What you did was, you turned on the metronome and did metronome speeds with me. If anything would motivate me to practice more for the next lesson, that was it! I’ll never forget that. I’m wondering, what music are you playing at your upcoming concert in Pennsylvania at Lebanon Valley College?
Well, I’m playing a Mozart sonata, a prelude by Rachmaninoff, a group of Prokofiev pieces from his ballet Cinderella, and the Sonata of Beethoven that precedes the Moonlight Sonata. It’s a Sonata Quasi una fantasia. So it’s a nice program.
Great program! Fantastic!
You have the distinction on two different ends. You have studied from the time you were a young child. Your first performance was when you were four years old and you still perform. Also, that you are the last living student of Sergei Rachmaninoff. But a lot of people might not realize the legacy of other artists you studied with. You had the opportunity to study with Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot, and you studied theory with Nadia Boulanger. You even got the chance to play for Arthur Rubinstein! I can’t even begin to imagine what this must have been like for you and what your takeaway was from the experience of working with these legends.
What you take away from a lesson is the ambience of the whole thing, not just the words, but the feeling of the situation. This is what is important because music is not just something that you hear or even something that you listen to.
Music is a feeling that comes over you. The performer either has the power to make this feeling engulf you and take you into the land of imagination, or the person doesn’t have that power. And that’s what it’s all about.
Absolutely! You said something recently. I don’t know if in regards to what Rachmaninoff told you or something personal that you reflected upon, which is how music is storytelling. And I really relate to that so much. It was so great to hear you share that, because otherwise, what do you have? There are so many people today who can play all the notes, but it’s something beyond that. That feeling that you describe can be so elusive for people. I don’t know if you have any advice to those who practice and practice, and maybe they don’t have that connection. Do you suggest they go to another field? Or is there something they can do to gain the insights into reaching deep within their soul to share their emotions or deep emotions in their music?
Well, I don’t necessarily want other people to share my stories. I want them to find something in the music that reminds them of something in their past and work with that.
Everybody has many, many stories inside them that they just haven’t explored sufficiently.
You have 1000 stories, of course, of your father and your own self. You’ve been around. You’ve had experiences. So you are rich with stories. Everybody should explore their own inside stories and they will find a richness there that they didn’t know they had.
Absolutely. You’ve had so many experiences that you can share. For example, I know that you played for several presidents. You even got a chance to play with one of them. This is a fascinating story. I’d love you to relay these experiences with the various United States presidents, not to mention other world leaders that you can reflect upon. I’m sure people would love to hear about that.
Well, I’ve told the story about president Truman many times, but I had a nice Reagan experience too. I have in my New York apartment a nice letter that starts, “Nancy and I want to congratulate you.” It was from the 50th anniversary of my New York debut. I got this lovely unexpected letter from an American president. But you see, I had known Mr. Reagan and his wife before they were in the White House. This is one reason why I think he sent me the letter.
I don’t think it was just a dictated letter from the president to congratulate an American citizen. I think he remembered me and that is why he wrote the letter.
So I was one of his memories and he was writing to congratulate someone he remembered. When I was included in a luncheon that was given at the White House for various friends of his, ahead of me was a famous actor named James Stewart. I could watch as he climbed the stairs. He was at the top of the stairs. He was receiving his guests – James Stewart arrived. I was close enough to be able to listen. He held out hand and said, “Mr. President…” Reagan took his elbow and poked him. He said, “Don’t you Mr. President me!” They were good friends. He didn’t want to be called Mr. President by his friend. Jimmy and Ron.
I understand you also played for the Kennedy inauguration. Is that right?
Well, I was among many who played at the Kennedy inauguration. It happened through my management. I received a letter that they wanted them to choose 20 artists born in the United States, trained in the United States, to perform at the inauguration. So the management looked at everybody’s schedule who had been born in the United States, and I qualified. I was born in Sacramento, California. I was going to be in the area at the time. So the management informed me, you are among the 20 that we selected.
We were picked up by bus at the airport and brought to this hotel. It wasn’t a famous hotel. It was close to the White House. It was a hotel that was used for special occasions such as this. At the appointed time, the bus came for all of us. Isaac Stern was with us and his wife also. We treated it like a whole little weekend. We were having a good time. And we went to the back of the White House. We were cracking jokes and talking. Nobody heard a note that we played because there were so many people there, all of them talking at the same time. While I was playing, for instance, there were people around me holding drinks, and sandwiches, and talking, not whispering, but actually talking. I couldn’t hear a note I played myself! That was the way it was. What we had to do was submit programs of what we intended to play. I had known Samuel Barber personally, so I submitted a Barber program. I also played some pieces by John La Monte, who was a personal friend of mine. And that’s how it went. Everybody played their own program for 20 minutes, and then we were free to walk around.
While I was playing, I remember that Isaac Stern’s wife went around and she got a whole platter of sandwiches which she was dishing out to us. She said, “Hey, when you get through, there’s a sandwich there I selected for you.” It was a fun weekend.
All right. Now, growing up, of course you wrote the book, Forbidden Childhood. This interview wouldn’t be complete without touching upon the dark side, shall we say of the beginnings of your music. I understand that your father in particular was extremely strict. Yet, what is so fantastic, is how you have one of the most joyful spirits of anyone I know! At your recent 97th birthday celebration on Zoom, there were people on continents around the world. Universally, everyone has been touched by your positive attitude and your giving nature. So I’m wondering how you managed to overcome such adversity. A lot of people sink deep down and never break out of such a thing. Yet you managed to make a career, and a joyful one at that, sharing with the world your love for music.
I got away. I was the butterfly who escaped. Yes, that’s literally what happened. I ran away from home.
How old were you at that point?
19. At the time I thought I was eloping with a fellow student. I did. I married him. But I got away from my father. And from there on, I had control of my life for the first time. I probably did not know what to do. I was very inept. Whatever happened, happened, and it’s happened for the good.
I understand that before teaching at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, where we got to work together, there was another college that you taught at. At that college, somebody overheard you in the room below and you managed to get an engagement to go on tour with the Boston Pops! I understand that you had trepidation at first about even performing. You had doubts about your own pianistic abilities at that point. Maybe you can share that experience a bit.
Well, every artist experiences doubts before you walk on stage. Everyone does. This is the most common thing of all. But artists have to keep on operating as artists or they’re not really artists.
And that’s what happened to me too. At that time, I was speaking at a college for young ladies in Palo Alto, College of Our Lady of Mercy was the name of a Catholic school for young ladies. I was teaching these young ladies so that they could play the piano acceptably for what their families required of them. I entered one or two in a competition that was nearby and had good luck some of the time. And in this way I earned my living. I earned my keep.
I had the great pleasure of getting to know James Kerr, your husband for many years. And I want you to talk a little bit about how you met him. He was such a sweet, gentle, intelligent man that I’m sure you miss tremendously. I wonder if you could share a little bit about how you two got together in the first place? Did you two meet at Southern Illinois University?
That was at Southern Illinois University. And that happened because I had been concertizing a very great deal at that time. I had toured South Africa and I came back via Vienna and recorded the Liszt Concerto with the Vienna Orchestra. I then came back to New York, prepared four programs to go to South America, then played all over South America.
When I came home from that I woke up in my New York apartment and I wasn’t sure where I was!
My first thought was, What program tonight? I was in New York. I didn’t have a program that night. I felt strange. And my first thought was, well, I have a doctor friend who lives downstairs, I’ll call him because I don’t like the way I feel. He came up and he said, “Well, I think that what you’re having is a problem with your stomach. I think that what you should do is not play for a year or so.” I thought, a whole year without playing concerts, what will I do?
He said, “You have an ulcer and you need to rest. And you have to go on a strict diet, you can’t have any raw vegetables, you have to eat cottage cheese, and drink a lot of milk.” He put me on a rigid diet. And I started getting phone calls from various colleges who at that time, tried to hire what they called an artist in residence. This one person called up, his name was Lloyd Blakely. He was from Southern Illinois University. He described the situation in such an interesting way that I was interested in it. He said that they were on a new campus, and that they were building new buildings, and they were starting from scratch to build a fine group of people to teach at that university. He said that I would be free to teach and that he was familiar with my books. I wrote Music At Your Fingertips, which was a very much used teaching book at that time. He asked if I would be interested in teaching at that college. So I said, “Well, I’m willing to have a look at you, but I don’t know about living in the Midwest. I’ve never lived in the Midwest of the United States. I’ve never lived in a small town. I don’t know how to drive!” He said, “Well, at least come and look us over.” So he sent me a ticket. I arrived in St. Louis, and the professor who was supposed to meet me there was supposed to hold Music At Your Fingertips so I could identify who it was waiting for me.
I tried it for a year. During that first year, I made friends with certain people and I got invited to their homes. I met this unmarried person in the political science department named James Kerr. I spoke to him and he offered to take me home. My host, Maho said, “He’s a very nice chap.” So I went home with him. He talked about a string quartet concert that was going to take place. And I said, “Oh, yes. I was thinking of going there.” He said, “I have tickets to that. Would you like to go with me?” So I had my first date.
That sounds familiar. How my wife and I first got together was actually one of my father’s concerts. So music brings people together!
That’s right. But the interesting thing is that after that first date, I went home. When I was still teaching, I would have supper. And then I would go to the place where they kept a concert grand. I had the key to that concert grand. I would go there and practice for four hours. I did that every night. That’s how I spent my evenings.
One evening when I was practicing, I had the feeling that there was somebody in that hall. I looked, and there was James Kerr. He greeted me. He said, “Now I know what you do. Every evening of the week I’ve been calling you and now I know what you do with your evenings!” So we got to talking and he invited me to another concert. And that’s how it grew.
Oh, that’s beautiful.
Also he was an amateur cook. He asked me out to dinner. I said, “Fine, what time?” And he said, “Maybe about two o’clock in the afternoon.” I said, “Dinner at two o’clock in the afternoon?” He said, “Yes. First we have to select a recipe, then we have to go and buy the stuff we need for it. And then we go home, we put on a few records. So the two of us will be working in the kitchen to make this dinner, and then we’ll enjoy dinner, and we’ll select some more records and we’ll talk.” And that’s what we did.
I have one last question I want to ask you. One of the things that I often wondered with such a busy performing career, how did you ever find the time to practice when you were on the road and traveling from continent to continent? How could you possibly keep all this music in shape when you don’t have the time to practice?
You find time. You can find time between things that you never knew were there.
You live on what your fingers can do. You don’t make yourself play something that you cannot play.
So you work and you keep getting a little bit better, and a little bit better, and a little bit better. And then you take one more piece out of the repertoire and you learn that little, by little, by little. And then you learn another piece, little, by little, by little. Pretty soon you have a whole new program that you have learned while you were working. And that’s your repertoire.
You are always adding to it.
Absolutely. The most important thing is to always be growing as a musician. Always be learning something new. You are truly an inspiration to me and to so many people around the world with your absolutely amazing life. There’s even preliminary talk, I understand, of a film of your life, which would be absolutely thrilling for people. You have one of the most interesting lives of anyone I’ve ever met. It’s really a pleasure getting to talk together here today. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we say goodbye for now?
Well, I don’t know what would interest you, but it’s been an interesting life. The main thing that you have to do is keep adding to your repertoire, keep adding to your friends, keep giving what you can to the music, and never stop looking. When you stop looking I think that’s the beginning of the end.
Those are beautiful words of wisdom. I’ve always said, one of the most important attributes is curiosity. To be interested enough in life, in people, in music, is what keeps us all alive and keeps the spirit alive, isn’t it?
Yes. That’s imagination. Nothing in the world has ever been created without imagination.
That’s beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your time with all of us. We will be in touch. Once again, this is Ruth Slenczynska. She’s going to be appearing at Lebanon Valley College, Sunday, February 6th, at 3:00 PM. The links to her box set of recordings on Decca are below, here on LivingPianos.com and YouTube. Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll see you next time. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. It’s hard for me to even contain my excitement for the guest we have today: Madam Ruth Slenczynska! Ruth is regarded as one of the great child prodigies of the 20th century and started performin