Piano Technique: Applying Various strategies to unravel a scale in 10ths (VIDEO)

Most of my adult students get unnerved when starting a scale three notes into it. And to make matters worse, they become panic-stricken when one hand is not a carbon copy of the other. (i.e. both hands are not playing the same notes at the same time)

In the case of E minor, using the PURE or NATURAL FORM, (in legato), I doled out step-by-step anxiety relief for one of my adult students who needed assistance ORGANIZING the sequence of TENTHS.

That is, he required both a COGNITIVE and KINESTHETIC (TOUCHY-FEELY) understanding of his 4-octave keyboard romp.

As a start, I introduced him to a built-in SYMMETRY between the hands as the scale progressed: When the Right hands plays E, F# and G, using fingers 1, 2, 3, the Left plays C,D,E, using 3, 2, 1. (These are termed RECIPROCAL or MIRROR fingers)

But it was not enough to isolate all the keyboard neighborhoods that had PLEASING MIRRORS in each octave.

KNOWING and FEELING the arrival of finger number FOUR in each hand, as it occurred over a four-octave spread, was MOST PIVOTAL to the PRACTICING regimen.

(Naturally, SLOW, DELIBERATE repetition framed the early practicing phase, along with imbuing the LONG-Short-Long, dotted 8th/16th rhythm)

Since the student began with a smooth and connected (LEGATO) rendering, I urged him as well to FEEL a certain TRACTION or connectivity to the keys, along with a sense of HORIZONTAL weight transfer –He would imagine a PUSH-UP effect ACROSS FOUR OCTAVES.

When he transitioned to CRISP STACCATO PLAYING, I suggested he use “CUPPED” hands, and a slightly lower wrist.

OTHER support strategies included FLESHING OUT THE LEFT hand over the right, followed by the reverse, before BALANCING voices. (In STACCATO)

LIGHTER ARMS produced a let-up of intensity, while heavier arms channeled more dead weight into the keys for a FORTE (BIG sound).

Finally, my student had a chance to practice a less anxiety-provoking CONTRARY MOTION E Minor Scale. To his delight, the same fingers of each hand play at the same time, though routines like blocking out TUNNELS (through which the thumb passes), and what I term a THUMB swing to swing motion between the hands were enlisted to smooth out his journey.

As a RECAP, parallel 10ths and Contrary Motion practicing strategies are showcased in the attached video.

(The Scale page below does not include 10ths, though once the fingering is given for Parallel motion, the player starts the Right HAND on the third note, G, and proceeds by steps according to the traditional fingering) The Left hand remains in ROOT position.

e minor staccato

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“Hear it before you play it!”

Leon Fleisher, an icon in the universe of pianists, put it succinctly.

He channeled the wisdom of Artur Schnabel that embodied the idea that a musician must have an internal sense of what he expects to hear before playing a single note.

Fleisher further insisted that playing by accident, or having a pile of notes flood the air waves without intention and meaning, is meaning-less. (You can bundle “technique” into a ball of unspun yarn if scads of notes, by chance, are aimlessly rendered)

So how does pre-hearing apply to the whole learning process from beginner level to advanced?

In my experience, there should be no differences in approach among players of varying proficiency, because all music must reside in the imagination in embryonic form before sound emerges from silence. (Daniel Barenboim concurs)

By example, I recapitulated my own process as I learned the “Courante” from J.S. Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G. (BWV 816)

At first I looked at the opening page, encountering a sea of 16th notes, but to help organize them, I “sang” phrases to myself and then aloud. How would I shape the treble melody that launched the basic motif or germ cell that sprouted into a two page development?

And how would I group the notes, execute the ornaments, swell and taper phrases? (not to mention consider the contrapuntal/imitative relationship between voices)

Fleisher urged young musicians to “experiment” in the privacy of their studios and practice rooms–certainly an ideal way to sort through the complexities of phrasing.

But where did fingering come in since it must serve the shape of lines that flow from the very first note?

I believe that fingering choices should be ruled in or ruled out through a process of trial and error, (more “experimentation), making sure these decisions comport with what the player imagines as he journeys through infinite measures. (in accordance with PERIOD STYLE)

In the attached video sample, I imagine, sing, play, experiment and refine. (repeating the sequence as I fine-tune my explorations)

After all, music-making evolves, transforms, and absorbs new awakenings.

In brisker tempo:

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Teaching a Chopin Nocturne under the influence of Arthur Rubinstein

I must admit that one of my daily activities is sampling You Tube videos of celebrated pianists, and as I teach a new composition to a student, I draw an attentive ear to pre-recorded ornament executions, phrasing, and tempo. It’s not that I want to copy another performer’s interpretation or impose a specific reading on a piano student, but eavesdropping on accomplished pianists (living and dead) is part of my well-rounded music education.

As an example, one of my pupils listened to Rubinstein’s You Tube rendered performance of the Chopin Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, while I had done the same. Naturally, it put us both UNDER the INFLUENCE.

Not a problem.

In the literary world, fledgling writers are routinely directed to read Shakespeare, Dickens, Sinclair Lewis, Walt Whitman et al, without fearing retribution for composing virtuous prose in the style of these literary giants. In addition, they learn Form, Imagery and Prose rhythm through the Masters’ written word, and in the case of Shakespeare, by reading his plays and attending performances.

In the musical cosmos, we ingest recordings on IPods, over You Tube, and at LIVE recitals, preserving pieces of the whole in music memory chunks.

That said, teaching Chopin in the shadow of Arthur Rubinstein’s performance is actually the springboard for a greater understanding of interpretive choices without impeding individual creative expression.

And by adding Vladimir Horowitz’s reading to the mix, our sensory antennae become even more fine tuned as we make performance comparisons.

Such specifically directed attentive listening, which is at the core of piano study, is bound to advance musical development.

LESSON in PROGRESS: Chopin Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55

Chopin F minor Nocturne Op. 55



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Prjevalskaya soars as a world-wide pianist!

Marianna Prjevalskaya, an international personality, with roots in Spain; mentored in her formative years by her Russian mother, is a conspicuously accomplished pianist. As she journeys from one competition to another, she’s racking up prizes in every venue imaginable.

But what’s most noteworthy are her profound gifts of communication: The pianist’s phrase-loving playing has drawn audiences far and wide into an emotionally intimate bond with the composer.

In Warsaw, Poland, for example, she rendered a uniquely soulful performance of Chopin’s C# minor Prelude, Op. 45.

Most recently Maestra Prjevalskaya traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska and New Orleans, Louisiana, documenting the beauty of respective cities in her companion photo journals while she amassed the fruits of her intensely focused musical labors through arduous competitions.

In New Orleans she landed the Gold that came with $15,000 and a prestigious recital in London’s Wigmore Hall.

In her preceding northern voyage to Alaska, (the tip of the iceberg) she bedazzled LIVE and INTERNET channeled e-audiences with her Haydn, Schumann and Debussy works, deepening her world-wide exposure.


Marianna’s competitive-framed victories and recital appearances are mind-boggling! Count Spain, Poland, France, Japan, Panama, amidst her jet-swinging tours de forces.

“She has won top prizes at upwards of 20 international piano competitions, among them, the 2013 World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, and 2013 European Piano Competition in Normandy,” as the list briskly grows!

With an impressive repertoire of Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and 20th Century Russian masterworks, Marianna is a well-rounded musician in every sense, expressing joy in playing solo recitals, chamber music, and concertos with orchestra.

And while her musical portfolio is ample as is, she’s added a highly praised 2012 CD release on Naxos to her array of achievements.

Marianna CD


Prjevalskaya dances in an out of recording studios and recital halls here and abroad in presto tempo, as she’s managed to earn Artist Diplomas and Degrees from London’s Royal College of Music, Yale and Peabody.

Possessing an abundance of stellar accomplishments, the supremely gifted pianist has nevertheless remained well-grounded and humble.

She’s as outgoing and personable with her friends, colleagues, and fans, as she’s warmly connected to, and generously giving of her music.Prjevalskaya3_small

Not surprisingly, her boundless sharing permeated the following interview:

1) Marianna, I noticed that your mother, Tatiana Prjevalskaya, was your first teacher. What did she impart that has been of long-lasting value in your musical journey?

I think there are two very important aspects that I could point out: the first is the importance of developing musicality: it included careful, attentive listening and appreciating music. Intonation also played a very important role. The second aspect is natural touch and organic contact with the instrument. Correct use of the arm was always a priority during the learning period.

2) Starting at age six and beyond into your teen years, what studies, repertoire were you exposed to?

As all kids do, I started with etudes by Czerny. Then I moved on to Etudes by Chopin and Liszt. My repertoire obviously was based on Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, it also included works by Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Shostakovich, Prokofiev. In addition to my assigned repertoire, I enjoyed learning works that were much more demanding than I could cope with. Usually that happened whenever my mother would go to work. As soon as she would leave I would take out scores like Liszt’s B minor sonata, his Totentanz, or Brahms B flat major piano concerto. Learning works like these, and being just 14 years old inspired me tremendously and gave me the boosting aspiration to become a concert pianist. In this way I basically learned all Chopin piano works when I was a kid.

3) Was the singing tone, supple wrist, and relaxed physical fluency an early part of your training?

Yes, of course. The wrist for my mother was and still is the most important part of pianist’s apparatus. The beauty of the tone, flexibility of a motive or a musical phrase all depend on the correct use of the wrist. Relaxed physical fluency is directly related to successfully mediated technical difficulties.

4) Following studies with your mother, can you describe the influences of particular mentors in the various repertoire you so beautifully render?

When I turned 17, I went to London to study with Irina Zaritskaya. She was a true Chopinist. The way she taught his music and the way she talked about him was a real revelation for me. Those were the years when I adored Chopin´s music, and I truly believe she taught me the authentic Chopin. Unfortunately she died two years later. I often remember her and think I wish I could play for her now.

Alexander Toradze introduced me to Prokofiev. I learned several of the composer’s works with him, including the 7th sonata. He could spend hours and hours working on each note. I think it was truly amazing to learn from him. I will never forget his astonishing performance of Prokofiev´s 3rd piano concerto!

Boris Berman is wonderful teaching all the styles. I would probably pick his Schumann, Brahms and Debussy. My current teacher Boris Slutsky is a very refined musician, who inspired me the most working on Schubert, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninov. In addition to the Romantic repertoire, he dazzled me working on Haydn. His sense of style is impeccable, his ornamentation always galant and imaginative and phrase-shaping versatile. Whenever he demonstrates during the lesson, his playing is always the most spontaneous and genuine.

I am very grateful to all of them, because I would not be who I am without them.

5) Your Haydn interpretation is uniquely stunning for it tone, phrase-shaping, panoply of dynamics and shadings. Is this composer particularly dear to you? And what was the very first Haydn composition that you played? (I notice that you’ve recorded the composer’s Andante and Variations on your Naxos CD) How did you choose this particular selection among others programmed?

I don’t think I remember the first Haydn’s work I learned because that was too many years ago. I think when you’re a teenager you cannot fully appreciate Haydn’s music.

Understanding his wisdom, humor, simplicity of his expression comes much later. Yes, indeed, he is very dear to me among the Classical composers. I love his Andante and Variations in F minor and that was the only reason why I decided to record this work. My original idea was to record an entire Schumann CD, but then I thought it might be more interesting to record works of different styles.

6) What do you see in your future? Would you like to combine performing, teaching, and recording in equal increments?

Yes, that would be a great combination and a good balance. I love to perform. Being on stage accords a very special feeling that I always need to experience as my life would have no sense without the stage. But I also enjoy teaching very much. I think sharing knowledge and being helpful are joyous undertakings.

7) As an aside, I notice that you have a passion for photography. Your eyes are as sensitive as your ears in capturing flowers and natural landscapes.

Has your gallery of photos (posted at your website) been a side-by-side journey of artistic revelation? http://www.pbase.com/prjevalskaya

I have always enjoyed photography, I enjoy capturing beauty, special moments that I see all of a sudden. Life goes by so fast, and photography helps me to appreciate this world better. There are so many feelings you can experience looking at a picture, making it fascinating. Sometimes I just want to capture a beautiful landscape, but in particular, I look for a specific mood or message I want to transmit. I also do pencil drawing and paint with oil. Actually, I started drawing and painting much earlier than doing photography.


Marianna, Thank You for your many insightful and illuminating answers.

Marianna’s Website:




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From Chemo to Carnegie Hall, a Local Pianist makes her New York Debut


This is a heart-wrenching story that reads like a movie script. A gifted musician in the throes of her teaching career is stricken with cancer, endures bouts of energy-draining chemotherapy, but clings to the piano as her lifeline. In the final scene, she’s not on her death bed, but on the stage of Carnegie to rousing cheers!

Rebecca at Carnegie Hall

It could be a Rocky remake without the ringside ruckus, belly punches and hits below the belt.

Still, music conquers all!

Here’s the riveting blog segment (December 3, 2013) that dramatized a set of unraveling events in the life of Pianist-Protagonist, Rebecca Bogart.

“Near the end of the second round of chemotherapy drugs, my oncologist noticed a new lump under my right arm. She looked worried. “What if it’s another tumor?,” I asked. She replied, “That would be bad if the cancer is spreading while you are on chemo.” I was scheduled for a second surgery in a two weeks. ‘“We’ll just have to see what it is when we go in to clear the margins from the first tumor.”‘

“For the next 14 days I was terrified that I might be dying. Who would take care of my cats if I died? How much pain would I go through before I passed away? Would I lose my house before I no longer needed it? Could I afford hospice care?

“When I awoke in my hospital bed, my friend told me the lump was not cancer, just a blocked lymph node. I experienced joy more intense than I ever had before or since. I had a view of top of a concrete building and blue sky out the hospital window – it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The sky was luminous and almost vibrating. Since that day in the hospital, the rest of my life seems to me like winning the lottery. I’ve given myself the choice to spend it in whatever way makes me the happiest…..”

I met up with Rebecca, heroine of this drama-packed journey just as I arrived in Berkeley, California.

A colleague, and member of our Alameda MTAC branch, she was prepping for a New York City recital that I supposed was of her own planning.

Any number of pianists, can rent a well known concert venue, print programs and gather an audience of friends, followers for a personally produced event.

But as details unfolded, I learned that Rebecca had been a winner at the 2013 Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition that accorded a glittery Big Apple concert appearance. (She was among hundreds of entrants vying for prizes on stair-step levels leading to the Gold tier)

But a plot twist made the story even more compelling.

Rebecca mentioned in one of her Blog entries that “the email informing her of award got lost, so she wasn’t able to perform on the Winners’ Concert at Carnegie in May 2013.”

“After several conversations with the organizers of the event, it was decided that she would be featured at ‘The Artists of the Alexander and Buono Masterclass Series’ in February 2014.”

By then, she had her energy back and was in peak practicing shape to give it a GO!

Snatches from the BIG concert reveal gorgeous artistry that would shine on any coast.


But what’s even more inspirational and enlightening are Rebecca’s own philosophical reflections about life in the aftermath of her cancer battle.

“I find it takes a certain mental strength to not allow myself to fall into well-worn, dark negative ways of thinking. I was really down in the trenches every day fighting this issue while I was in cancer treatment and facing major financial catastrophe. But now that I have worked my way through that phase of life, I am able to be in touch with being happy just to be alive. Another example of seeing the glass half full rather than half empty.”

Treasured words to savor!



Rebecca’s CDs include American Restrospective

American Retrospective


About the Bradshaw and Buono International Competition

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Piano Technique: A Legato to staccato arpeggio with “rolls and snips”

When playing a three-note (root, third, fifth) arpeggio over a spread of 3-4 octaves, the ROLLING motion that permeates a Legato rendering in triplets, can nicely snip into a buoyant staccato, if the arm, wrist and fingers are unimpeded by tension.

I’ve found the wrist, in particular, to be pivotal in sculpting a satisfying legato AND staccato. The rolling-in motion that ignites the very first three notes has a sustaining energy that culminates in a curve around at the peak note, rolling back to the tonic. (first note) A slightly lower wrist at the start might help produce the very first roll forward into a chain link of triplets making smooth and connected playing allied to a detached approach.

In a lesson-in-progress with an adult student, “roll” and “snip” cues wedded to fluid physical motions are explored and demonstrated. (A minor arpeggio–A-C-E-A, etc.)

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Schubert Impromptu No. 2 in Eb, Op. 90: Looping and Grouping notes

“Looping” and “grouping” provide prompts for practicing relentless triplets in the opening section of Schubert’s Eb Impromptu.

Schubert Impromptu in Eb 5

Myriads of scale-like passages meander in unpredictable directions at times, often inserting half-steps under principle notes that carry a thread of melody that peaks with a sequence of secondary dominants to climax.

But of poignant beauty is an early transition from Eb Major to the parallel minor that comes with a dynamic shift to pianissimo. Simultaneously, the shape of phrases alters, requiring a change in choreography through broken chords and alternating scale passages.

In this video segment that focused on section one, an adult student worked on grouping triplets, looping or contouring them, and not crowding them. In the course of playing long lines, she was made aware of harmonic underpinnings that prompted “resolutions” of notes in the treble. (Bass line shaping was a concurrent focus)

Slow practicing is always recommended to preserve the concept of fast melody as tempo moves forward in graduated stages. (Contoured, curved phrasing, nonetheless, should be a consistent feature of all renderings in a layered learning process)

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