Musical Solutions to Technical Problems

Piano Lessons / music theory / Musical Solutions to Technical Problems

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about finding musical solutions to technical problems. My teacher, John Ogden, tied for first prize in the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition with Vladimir Ashkenazy, two legendary pianists. I remember John Ogden talking about how he really was taken with Ashkenazy’s performance of the famous first Chopin Etude in C major Op. 10, No. 1, and how he had a lightness to it that he thought was really an interesting way of approaching the piece, because so many people play it really strong. Then I remember hearing an interview with Ashkenazy, who had rather small hands, saying his approach to that etude is because of the nature of his hands. It just falls under his hands better playing more lightly. John Ogden didn’t realize that this was a technical consideration. Ashkenazy came up with a beautiful, musical solution to a technical challenge. This is what it’s all about in piano playing!

Find what works for you with your physiology, your psyche, and your makeup, and find something that is musical.

There is no absolute when it comes to how something should be played. You want to find a way that you can accommodate the music. It’s the same with everything in life. Everybody has a different gait. The way you walk is not the same as the way I walk. Everybody has a unique way of approaching a myriad things in life, and piano playing is certainly no exception. Let’s use the Beethoven Sonatina in G Major as an example. Sometimes students have difficulty with the end of the first phrase because there’s a crescendo, and maybe they don’t have enough strength to be able to pull it off. But there is a great musical solution to this problem! Come way down right at the start of the crescendo so that you can easily achieve it. I think it actually sounds better that way. The crescendo can unfold naturally without having to force anything or struggle at all. This technique applies to a wide range of music.

There are ways you can give your performance more power without expending more energy.

For example, Chopin’s powerful Military Polonaise. Playing that piece in a very loud, strong manner takes a lot of energy. If you take all the repeats, it is a true tour de force, because it goes on and on with very few places where it comes down that much. By coming down wherever you possibly can, it gives you a reserve of energy. You can make it sound more powerful, not less powerful. Having a reserve is the secret to a powerful performance. If you’re at the limit of what you can produce, it sounds weak, no matter how much energy you’re putting into it. But when you have that reserve and you let it go here and there, just little flares of excitement, it leaves the listener wondering how much power is undulating under the surface that could fire up at any time!

Use selective energy in your playing.

For example, by playing the fast chords of the Military Polonaise very delicately, when you land on the strong chords, it gives you a lot of power. By doing this, you have tons of energy reserves. You can play through the whole piece without even breaking a sweat! Trying to play everything strong takes a tremendous amount of energy and bogs you down. Instead, play everything you possibly can lightly. You want to use selective energy, another musical solution to a technical problem.

Discover what works for you and make a convincing case for it.

You can discover countless ways of negotiating scores that are intrinsic to your physiology, instead of struggling for some preconceived notion of the absolute way a piece should be played. That’s what a great performance is ultimately all about. Try this in your playing! Maybe you don’t have a lot of power, or a big reach, or maybe your fingers are so big and clumsy that you can’t play lightly, but there are tons of ways to accommodate your physiology.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

My father, for example, had massive hands. Rachmaninoff just came naturally to him. He played all the preludes in a public performance at Lincoln Center! Can you imagine such a thing? It was like nothing for him. But playing a delicate Schubert impromptu was another story, with his big, fat powerful fingers. His secret was to delineate the notes by playing them separated. They weren’t actually as light as you might have thought, but he created the illusion of light fast playing by separating them with staccato fingers. So he found a solution that worked beautifully for fast light pieces that didn’t come naturally to him. Find your strengths in your music and bring them to your interpretation. That’s ultimately what great performing is all about! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

For premium videos and exclusive content, you can join my Living Pianos Patreon channel!

Contact me if you are interested in private lessons. I have many resources for you!

2 thoughts on “Musical Solutions to Technical Problems”


  1. I remember hearing the idea of holding back so you have reserve energy in an interview with the band leader Artie Shaw years ago. I agree that your first example is better that way. It’s the contrast that we notice, everything loud might as well be nothing loud.

    In my case, my fingers are so wide they won’t fit between the black keys. Since what I play is mostly Broadway/Tin Pan Alley, I can usually arrange, transpose, or re-finger things. C may be the easiest key to read, but often B is the easy one to play with fat fingers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × four =