Welcome to livingpianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is, “Are musicians antisocial?” I know that seems counterintuitive to what music is all about. After all, musicians often play together, whether it’s a symphony, orchestra, chamber music, or even a rock band. And it seems like being a musician is all about being social. When you play with other musicians, you have to sense each other and give and take. So how could music possibly be antisocial?

Practicing is a lonely endeavor.

In order to play at a high level on any instrument, whether it’s piano, violin, trumpet, etc., it requires countless hours of solitary practice. Some musicians practice upwards of 8 hours a day! So you have to strike a balance in your life as a musician because you’ll never develop the technique and the repertoire to be a virtuoso without spending a lot of time alone.

How do you bring the love of humanity and friendship to your music?

Do you care about your audience? All too often, people spend too much time practicing and don’t balance that out with personal relationships. When playing in a musical organization, whether it’s singing in a choir or playing in a band, you don’t get the same type of relationship that you have with close friends. So, as musicians, we have to remember to get out of our practice rooms and be social! After all, you have to care about people in order to be a great musician because you can have all the repertoire and technique in the world, but if you don’t care enough about your audience to share something meaningful, then what is it all for?

Find a balance between practice and relationships.

As a musician, remember to balance your intense practice with relationships and you’ll be richly rewarded. It’s okay to take time for yourself. Your instrument will still be there when you come back. And your playing will be inspired by your experiences. Remember why you are doing this. You have to care about your audience. So spend the time to nurture your relationships with friends and it will all come back to you in your music. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com, your online piano store.

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Are Musicians Antisocial?

Welcome to livingpianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is, “Are musicians antisocial?” I know that seems counterintuitive to what music is all about. After all, musicians often play together, whether it’s a sym

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com. There are so many times that I improvise on the piano and I have recorded quite a number of them for you. It is fun to do, I love to improvise! I have music going on in my head all the time. Sometimes it is music that I memorize like Beethoven, Chopin, Listz, or Debussy. Other times it is the equivalent of musically doodling. Mentally I am always creating something in my head. It can be hit or miss but is inspired by whatever is going on in my head at the moment. Sometimes I play without anything in particular on my mind, and the sounds of the piano inspire something new.

When you improvise on the piano, you may have no idea what will come out, but you might be surprised by what you can come up with. I encourage you to try improvisation and see where the music takes you. It is always fun bringing these to you, I hope you enjoy them. Be on the look-out for our live videos, we have many more coming your way in the future. Again, I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.

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Can You Create Music Out of Thin Air?

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com. There are so many times that I improvise on the piano and I have recorded quite a number of them for you. It is fun to do, I love to improvise! I have music going on in my head all the time. Sometimes it i

This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store. Today’s subject is surfing on the piano. You might be confused by the title, wondering what this is going to be about? I’m not talking about playing the piano while you are surfing, although that would be quite a trick! What I’m talking about are the implications of the mentality of surfing and the mentality of playing the piano.

Are there parallels between playing the piano and surfing?

Maybe it’s because I’ve been living in California for so long that this thought even occurred to me, but there are times when I am playing the piano and I feel that sense of going in and out of “the wave”. Or rather, “the zone”. I’ve never surfed, so I may get this wrong, but to be able to ride a wave there are times when you have to be able to make a snap decision as to how you are going to negotiate what is in front of you. You can either push the limits or try to play it safe. You have to be able to instantly make decisions. For example, if I’m playing a piece that has a lot of technical challenges in it, I might want to push the limits a bit while making sure I stay in control so I don’t wipe out.

Ride the musical wave!

Say you are playing the B-Flat Minor Scherzo by Chopin. Ask yourself, “How far can I take this?” You’ll want to try to push the envelope just a bit. You’ll tax yourself going for it, but also holding back just enough so you can ride the wave. A great piece of music like this has it’s own momentum. You have to challenge yourself or you might lose the musicality, but you have to hold back enough that you can keep it going.

Try it out for yourself

See if you can push the limits without wiping out. Practice playing it safe first, then go back and challenge yourself once you feel comfortable. You’ll find that there are aspects of each version that you’ll like, so you’ll want to aim for that balance between the two.

Sometimes playing it safe can be detrimental to a performance

You’ll find that there is nothing wrong with the safe version, though you may find that in some ways you are in less control. If you are trying to ride a wave safely, you might not keep going. You’ve got to take risks at the right moments so you’ll land in the right places. That is the parallel with surfing. Think instantaneously and strive to be in the zone.

I’d love to talk to any of you surfers out there, particularly those who also play the piano. You must be able to get into a certain zone where you aren’t even thinking in words, you are just in the moment controlling what is around you and trying to stay on top of everything. Be it a wave or Chopin, it is all the same mental state that you must achieve in your music and in life. Thanks so much for joining me. Again, this Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.

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Surfing on the Piano

This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store. Today’s subject is surfing on the piano. You might be confused by the title, wondering what this is going to be about? I’m not talking about playing the piano while you are surfi

I’m Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com. Today’s question is, “Can playing the piano ease depression?” Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the information in this article is anecdotal. I would not suggest playing the piano as your only treatment if you have a serious mental or emotional condition. However, I will say this; I can’t even imagine living in this world if I didn’t have the piano to play!

How can playing the piano affect your emotional health?

What’s great about the piano in regards to emotional health is that you get a chance to completely occupy yourself. Playing music requires intense focus thereby quieting the mind. It’s almost like a form of meditation. Studies have shown meditation can reduce depression and anxiety, and even help people manage chronic pain. But there are other benefits to playing the piano in regard to how it makes you feel.

The beauty of music can connect you to the beauty of life.

Imagine playing a transcendentally beautiful melody like the F-Sharp Major Nocturne by Chopin, and how that makes you feel. If you were depressed and you played that piece, it might make you feel some joy! When I play that melody it fills me with very warm feelings. So you have the benefit of taking your mind away from everything in the outer world, as with meditation, while also experiencing the soul and emotions of people who lived hundreds of years ago who had something special to say. So it fills you with the emotions that they were feeling during their lives.

It can be cathartic to play music that explores deeper emotions

The beginning of the B-minor Scherzo of Chopin has such anger and hostility, it might actually help you release some of your pent up feelings. So, there can be a cathartic quality to playing the piano since there is a soothing calmness you can experience with music of great beauty. All the while, you can become detached from the day-to-day issues and frustrations that we all face in life.

I want to know how any of you feel about playing music. Does it help to keep you emotionally stable? Does it help you to overcome sadness and even depression? I’d love to hear from any of you out there who knows more about this subject. Put it in the comments. Let us know here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.

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949-244-3729

Can Playing the Piano Ease Depression?

I’m Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com. Today’s question is, “Can playing the piano ease depression?” Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the information in this article is anecdotal. I would not suggest playing the piano as yo

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com. Today’s subject is augmented reality in concert halls. It sounds futuristic and a little bit scary! What are we talking about here?

Designing a concert hall is very difficult.

If you build a concert hall that has beautiful acoustics for an orchestra, will it have the right acoustics for solo piano? If you bring in a jazz ensemble, will it have the right acoustics for that? What about rock bands with amplifiers and digital reverb? It is impossible to have one concert hall that will serve all of those purposes. With depleting budgets for classical music, having a hall dedicated to just classical music is rare. But the fact is, the acoustics in a hall designed for an orchestra might not be right for other performances.

There are new technologies that can customize acoustics in concert halls.

For example, the symphony hall in Indianapolis, Hilbert Circle Theater, has technology where the hall itself is acoustically somewhat dead. But they have built into the hall a microphone and speaker system that creates the ambiance artificially. You might think this sounds like a terrible idea until you actually hear it. They do an absolutely splendid job of creating beautiful acoustics electronically!

You can have a hall where the ideal acoustics can be dialed in for whatever ensemble is performing there.

For example, if you have a group that is playing amplified music, there is nothing worse than having a hall with rich reverberation that creates a wash of sound, making everything muddy. Worse yet, if there is a speaking engagement in the acoustically live hall, it can be impossible to understand speech. Just imagine being able to dial in the reverb at your will. For example, you could have a dry sound for speaking, and a reverberant hall for classical music ensembles.

There are new types of reverbs that use impulses of samples from actual halls.

These convolution reverbs allow you to take the acoustics of Carnegie Hall, for example, and create that space acoustically on recordings or possibly even live. You can make a small hall sound like a medium or large hall. You can dial in whatever hall you want! This isn’t the future, it is happening right now.

Many halls now utilize digital technologies in order to create ideal sound in spaces with acoustic compromises.

Even with the best intentions and all of the best scientific data available, some concert halls are built, but once completed, it becomes apparent that they didn’t get the acoustics quite right. To remedy this they would have to rip everything out and put in new panels with different reflecting patterns and baffles to get the hall’s acoustics dialed in. Some halls actually have mechanical panels that can be moved to alter the acoustics of the hall. Segerstrom Hall in Orange County has this sort of technology. That’s a great situation! It is also very expensive. Once a hall has digital acoustics installed, it is just the beginning. You can experiment with an unlimited number of acoustic possibilities all at the push of a button!

Augmented reality in concert halls, what a fascinating subject! I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Once again, this is Robert Estrin of LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store

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949-244-3729

Augmented Reality in Concert Halls

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com. Today’s subject is augmented reality in concert halls. It sounds futuristic and a little bit scary! What are we talking about here? Designing a concert hall is very difficult. If you build a concert hall

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store with a great subject today: The fundamental importance of arm weight for producing a good tone on the piano. You might wonder what I’m talking about. Before I get into that, let’s discuss the piano as a unique musical instrument.

What was the first musical instrument ever?

The first musical instrument was obviously the human voice! Every other instrument imitates the human voice to one extent or another. Wind instruments, for example, have a clear connection with breath, flow of the phrase, natural progression from note to note, and the smoothness of the line. This is intrinsic not just to vocal performance, but also all wind instruments. String instruments have the bow to create the sense of line like the breath in singing.

What is the analog for the breath on the piano?

You might think, since phrases naturally ebb and flow like ocean waves, that you can simply calculate playing each note louder and louder towards the middle of the phrase, then gradually softer and softer towards the end of the phrase. However, if you try that, you’ll end up with a calculated performance. No surprise there! The secret of creating a smooth line at the piano is, gradually increasing and decreasing arm weight by transferring smoothly from note to note, growing toward the middle of the phrase, and diminishing toward the end of the phrase.

You can try it for yourself!

Play a phrase once while calculating each note getting progressively louder, then progressively softer. Then try playing the same phrase but using the continuous arm weight that ebbs and flows. You’ll find that no matter how much you try to craft the line based upon your musical inclinations, the first version will sound calculated. That is, after all, exactly what you are doing! When you play the phrase again, remember to use the concept of the breath by utilizing the natural weight of your arm. Instead of pushing down more, just support the weight of your arm with your fingers. Lean into it the keys even after initially playing them. Lean more toward the middle of the phrase and less toward the end. You’ll find that this creates a completely different sound. There is something engaging about imposing upon a phrase the idea of the breath and letting the notes flow naturally with that overarching concept. It creates a singing line that belies the reality of the percussive nature of the piano.

I’m interested in your impressions of how this works for you. If any of you have different ways of achieving the same sound, I’d love to hear from you! Once again, this is Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.

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949-244-3729

How to Get Good Tone on the Piano

The fundamental importance of arm weight for producing a good tone on the piano. You might wonder what I’m talking about. Before I get into that, let’s discuss the piano as a unique musical instrument.

This is Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. Today we are going to talk about the importance of walking around a concert hall. What am I talking about? If you ever get the opportunity to play a concert and you have the chance to go to the hall beforehand, there is no better experience than to get someone else playing the piano in that space while you walk around the hall. You will learn so much.

No matter how fine of a hall you are playing in, the sound you will get in the front row compared to the last row, the left to the right, and the balconies can be dramatically different.

Unless you have the opportunity to hear music in the hall on the instrument you play, there is no way that you can really be sure of what you are projecting.

I had the opportunity with my father Morton Estrin who played in so many different halls, including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, to walk around and listen. You get to understand that in some halls you might want to alter your touch or tempo of what you are playing because things can become muddied in certain areas of the hall. Other halls might be overwhelmingly loud in some sections and soft in others and you might want to be able to moderate your expression to be able to suit the hall.

This isn’t just for concert halls. Anywhere you play you’ll want to listen in different parts of the room. Imagine you are having an in-home concert and the piano is opened up, and you go in the room and people’s ears are getting blown away because you don’t realize how loud it is! You’re probably just playing at your regular volume that you always practice at. You want to make sure that you are playing appropriately for the space.

There is no better way than to get another person to play so you can walk around and listen.
That way you’ll know exactly how to create the sound you are after. If you don’t have the luxury of a second person to play:

If you have a good quality portable recorder you can try recording from different sections of the hall.

You can listen back and get some idea of what you are getting. But, there is really no substitute for being there live. One of the coolest things is if you have a recording system on your piano. You actually play in the hall on the piano, play it back, and walk around the hall. That’s an ideal situation! Short of that, get a friend to play for you, listen to what you are getting, and pepper your performance to make sure it is ideal for the space you are playing in.

Thanks again for joining me, I’m Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.

info@LivingPianos.com
949-244-3729

The Importance of Walking Around a Concert Hall

This is Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. Today we are going to talk about the importance of walking around a concert hall. What am I talking about? If you ever get the opportunity to play a concert and you have the chance to go to the hall bef

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store with a question. “Does playing the piano make you smarter?” I hope so. I’ve been playing a long time and wonder what I would be like if I didn’t play the piano! This is a serious question. Indeed there have been studies, like famous Gordon Shaw – Frances Rauscher studies at UC Irvine. These studies showed:

With a control group of children studying the piano, compared to other groups studying computers, as well as a control group studying nothing, the children who studied piano showed an increase of math and science scores and even increase in English skills!

That is exciting to think about! Later on, they even discovered the “Mozart Effect”, which had some controversy. They simply played recordings of Mozart while kids were taking tests and found that there was a temporary increase in IQ scores just from listening to the music! Temporary is the keyword here. Later on their findings were diminished when they found it was just a temporary boost, but that is exciting enough!

Why should playing the piano increase your intelligence? Did you know?

Playing the piano uses more parts of your brain than any other human activity.

This is according to the New York Times in article years ago about the human brain that showed piano playing as the single most complex endeavor of the human mind. How can this be? Think about it. You have short-term memory, long-term memory, tactile memory as well as visual and aural cues.

You have just about every part of your brain firing when playing the piano.

It is a fantastic opportunity to develop your mind. Of course if you play with other musicians you also develop social skills. It is endless. Just playing music is a great way to expand your mind. The discipline of practicing and the organization it takes to digest a piece of music make for an incredible opportunity to explore aspects of your own mind in ways that are richly rewarding. At the end of the line, you have something to show for it. You can play a piece of music or many pieces of music!

As if that isn’t enough of a reason to play the piano, being able to increase your intelligence is a benefit too! Everyone should study the piano, don’t you think? Let me know how you feel about this. I wonder how many of you are on board. I suppose if you are reading this there could be skewed results because many of my readers might already feel this way!

There are studies that prove an increase in intelligence just from playing the piano.

Spend more time with the piano and your brain will thank you! Once again, this is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.

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949-244-3729

Can Playing the Piano Make You Smarter?

This is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store with a question. “Does playing the piano make you smarter?” I hope so. I’ve been playing a long time and wonder what I would be like if I didn’t play the piano! This

Hi, this is LivingPianos.com, and I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is, “Why is a slur impossible on the piano?” It seems like a ridiculous question because you know that you have slurs all over the place in your scores on the piano, and here I am telling you that slurs are impossible on the piano!

Well, as you probably know, the piano is an instrument of illusion. After all, you play a note and as soon as you play it, it’s dying away. So, every single note you play on the piano has a decrescendo to it, and yet you have music that’s written with crescendos. That’s a whole other issue, why crescendos are impossible on the piano, or are they? Obviously, if you play multiple notes, each successive note can form a crescendo. Correct. But what about a slur? Why is a slur impossible?

What does a slur mean?

Did you know that a slur on the human voice and many instruments have all the notes within the slur? In fact, it’s impossible to avoid it completely when singing. Try singing from one note to another note, and try to avoid getting the notes between. If you were to slow that down dramatically, you would hear all the notes sliding between the notes very quickly. I’m also a French horn player, and on the French horn, slurs also have all the notes between. If you listen to great string players, violinists and cellists for example, when they play slurs they won’t always have the notes between, but for expressiveness, depending upon the positions and which strings they choose, they will achieve a smooth slide between notes when slurring.

That’s impossible on the piano.

So what do we do as pianists? We fake slurs! We create the illusion of slurs by simply having the notes overlap slightly. In one case, you can play two notes and detach them. If you want to create a creamy, slurred effect between two notes, you would release the first note after you play the second note of the slur. You will hear a much smoother sound. If you want to avoid a slur, you can detach the notes. That’s how you achieve the effect of a slur on the piano. But you are not technically slurring on the piano. You’re just creating the illusion of a slur by judiciously overlapping the notes just enough so it doesn’t become ugly, particularly if you have a half step slur, you want to avoid dissonance. You can overlap the notes slightly in order to achieve a smooth connection from note to note.

Yes, slurs are impossible on the piano, but we try our darnedest to create the illusion of slurring by overlapping notes slightly. I hope this has been interesting for you, and I wonder how many of you realize what a slur actually means, and how to achieve the effect on the piano.

Thanks so much for joining me again. This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com Your Online Piano Store. We’ll see you next time.

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Why is a Slur Impossible on the Piano?

Hi, this is LivingPianos.com, and I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is, “Why is a slur impossible on the piano?” It seems like a ridiculous question because you know that you have slurs all over the place in your scores on t