Imagination and mental imagery in the piano learning environment

It shouldn’t be the same old, five-finger warm-ups and scales without an infusion of emotion/imagination. That’s why I decided to experiment and have two adult students communicate a juxtaposed shift of mood between a MAJOR penta-scale (five-finger position) and its companion parallel minor. Neither pupil expected to be asked to raise five step-wise notes to a level of emotional engagement.

So here’s what happened:

Peter started with Parallel thirds (in a five-finger Db MAJOR and minor) frame.

Laura took off with a B Major/minor penta-scale.

Later in his lesson, Peter infused a G Major Arpeggio with a “floating” contour…

Experiences with mental image prompts encourage expressive music-making and will be valuable in all practicing phases.


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Multiple SKYPE CALL RECORDER Playback views for a Piano Lesson: J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor

overhead and treble clef

As prep for my presentation to the Music Teachers Association (Alameda Branch), I’ve put together a series of exemplary SKYPE Lessons demonstrating the technology to best advantage.

In fact my May 11th Program title is, “Teaching Piano by Skype: Braving a High-Tech Universe.” Monday, May 11, 2015: 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

My plan is to project blogs on a big screen that have have embedded you tube videos with various captions for multiple playback views. (Skype Call Recorder)

The Details

When a student is watching his/her computer, she can see me in full screen, but as a lesson progresses, on my end I can RECORD the event using various views (LOCAL-me; REMOTE: the student; or SPLIT SCREEN-me and the student) These settings can be altered while a lesson is in progress without interruption. Changing views does not stop the record process.

When I review and import the lesson footage to iMovie, I then upload it to You Tube and send the student a Lesson PLAYBACK with multiple keyboard views for increased pedagogical value.

This particular lesson by Skype from Berkeley, California to Staten Island, New York illustrated the process:

J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor

JC Bach p1

Page 2

p2Preludein A minor

A Preceding Technique Lesson Segment (A minor scale and Arpeggio)

Teaching supplements

These were Video recorded supplements for Gayle re: the theory and Harmonic Rhythm of J.C. Prelude in A minor. They are embedded in the attached blog:

My Legato Pedaling segment included playing and naming A minor chords on each scale degree with an ear-training dimension, along with a harmonic Analysis of the first half of the J.C. Bach Prelude

This second segment examined part B with its string of Secondary Dominants:

About Gayle from Staten Island (She’s a transfer student with less than a preceding year of formal piano lessons)

A transplant from San Francisco to New York City (but originally from Chicago) Gayle made her first performance appearance in a SCREEN SHARE at our KICK-OFF SKYPE/LIVE piano recital. That meant she and all my piano students here and afar could watch Gayle in a pre-recorded segment. One other student, about to give birth did the same with Chopin’s C# minor Waltz thanks to the Miracle of Technology!

As it happened, I created Gayle’s video profile framing for her “Happiness” offering by Turk.

Gayle also made a transition from playing a digital piano, to acquiring a lovely Baldwin Acrosonic that was LANDED by FACE TIME, if you can believe!

Here’s how it played out from a first love meeting to marriage made in heaven (with my long distance matchmaker efforts)


Finally, I’m looking forward to spreading the Gospel on Skyping piano lessons at the May 11th MTAC Branch Meeting.

Here’s hoping for a good reception and turnout!



A Piano Lesson by Skype Primer

Multi-cam Views during Skype or Face Time Piano Lessons

My Overhead Web Cam adds to my Online accouterments

A North Carolina piano student by FaceTime talks about the ONLINE private lesson experience:

Sample Piano Lesson by FaceTime: From Berkeley CA, to North Carolina (Chopin Waltz in A minor Op. Posthumous)

Sample lesson Excerpt (Ab Major and minor thirds/staccato in Five-finger position)

Skype lesson to London, England from Berkeley CA

For humor: Earthquake Skype lesson video

Skype lesson/baby interruption (Alaska)

Posted in MTAC, music teachers association of california, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten, Skype | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piano Technique: Attaining speed and clarity

Last night, one of my adult students observed me doing a quick glide warm-up over a two-octave scale before we officially started our lesson. Uncannily, his inquiry about how I managed to attain fluency at peak tempo, turned out to be the focus of our first fifteen minutes together, and it got me thinking about how I could help the pupil navigate his A# minor Natural scale to brisk speed in specific, well thought out steps. (We fragmented the last two ascending octaves)

What evolved in baby steps, was a back and forth exchange that built on a primary foundation of blocking clusters of black notes; isolating thumb points with a relaxed forward follow through supple wrist motion; then alternating thumb placements with cluster black note groups–We continued with rhythmic rolls into small note groupings and then to larger ones, building to peak. Breathing was a big part of our undertaking: Inhaling a relaxed chestful of air, and then slowly expelling through the scale. Once the scale had a sparkling journey through two octaves, we worked on varying dynamics: crescendo, diminuendo, then playing all Forte followed by piano (soft).

Our lesson segment unfolded out as follows:

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Run! to see Seymour: An Introduction, Ethan Hawke’s film masterpiece

Seymour in scarf

I went! I cried! I applauded! Those of us immersed in the arts as students and teachers, felt especially validated.

On the East Coast, harpsichordist, Elaine Comparone was riveted to the Big Screen just as I nestled into a snug seat at the Albany, California Landmark Twin theater. (East Bay, California)

She perfectly summed up what seemed beyond words to express:

“I found it moving, touching and masterfully put together! How did you like that performance at the end that moved from his studio to Steinway Hall? Wonderful job of editing. And the camera work throughout was artistically first-rate—not gimmicky. The clips at the end of various musical performances and audiences was just the cherry on top. .. The part about his service in Korea and how he made the best of it was great. Also the reaction to seeing the fawn and thinking he had died and gone to heaven. I thought the whole thing was just wonderful! That young man who played the Rachmaninoff—-wow!! I loved it all. It deserves to be nominated for the Academy Award. I hope it wins! Kudos to Ethan Hawke for his fine work! And that Kimmelman. What a sweet, sensitive man!”

If some of these characters interwoven into a gorgeous mosaic sound unfamiliar, please satisfy your curiosity, and ingest 84 minutes of heavenly film work as quickly as possible.

A pleasurable afterglow will linger for days, weeks, months and years….

For me, it was a joyous cinematic journey in the good company of Jocel, Alana, and Bernie who generously shared their enthusiastic responses to Ethan’s treasured documentary.

Thanks to all!

NOTE: The photo I took, and gave to Seymour as a gift in 2012, sits on the wall of his apartment’s entry-way. It’s seen fleetingly mid-point in the movie.

houseboat on water


Posted in Ethan Hawke, Ethan Hawke documentary, piano blog, piano blogging, piano teaching, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour: An Introduction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Weaving Theory and Harmonic Rhythm into a piano lesson

The flow of harmony in and out of pieces should be a big part of a piano lesson. Yet it’s one thing to isolate chords in student a hand-out, but quite another to bring phrases to life with an infusion of harmonic rhythm awareness in the process of playing.

chords, Major and minor on every scale degree-2-2

In this video sample, a student who was previously oriented to the chords within C Major on every scale degree, phrased the opening of Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545 by blocking out the Left Hand and “feeling” the pull of dominant and sub-dominant chords. Their resolution respectively to TONIC, illuminated phrasing and line shaping.

These second video examples featured an overview of A minor chords within the natural and Harmonic form scales, and their relationship to each other as applied to J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor. Legato pedaling was an integrated dimension of the learning experience, though the student was not able to play during this class. Yet she still wanted to acquire a framing perspective of her piece to assist her practicing.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Posted in adult piano instruction, harmonic analysis, J. C. Bach Prelude in A Minor, J.C. Bach, Johann Christian Bach, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, Theory, Theory and piano lessons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Piano technique lesson segments flow nicely into repertoire

Today, the technique portion of a Face Time lesson to North Carolina complemented the main musical course, Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, Op. Posthumous.

It was a harmonious streaming with thumbs swinging; arms floating; and scale contouring that fed well-shaped Romantic era phrases.

It played out as follows:

The A minor scale was parceled out by thumb shift “swings” in rhythms; Rolling motions into a 4-otave spread ensued.

And then a diversion to a D Major arpeggio emphasized the same “swing” throughs from thumb to thumb to prevent impact and obtrusive accents.

The thumb is a nemesis for most students, having its frozen, isolated, annoying effect during transit unless freed of its propensity to interrupt and intrude.

That’s why specific focus on relaxing the thumb and LIGHTENING its effect, took up a good deal of lesson time, though it was worth the effort.

Finally, the layered learning approach to technique in small increments improved the student’s phrasing once she settled into playing the Chopin Waltz.

Posted in adult piano instruction, Chopin, Frederic Chopin, piano blog, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lesson by Face Time, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, piano technique, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A SKYPE/LIVE Adult piano student recital!




It Finally Happened! My students taking lessons by Skype or FaceTime finally met their LIVE piano-connected peers in an hour-long, music-love ONLINE exchange. The emphasis was sharing in a compassionate setting with a spirit of unconditional support for participants of varying levels and abilities.

Introductions preceding the program proved as engaging as each player’s musical offering. As proof, footage in 4 parts memorialized the event through the tap of a SKYPE CALL RECORDER button, bringing distant locations closer by cyber shrinking degrees of separation. The borough of Staten Island, the states of Kentucky, North Carolina, California (with cities, Berkeley, Chico, Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek, all well-represented), forged friendly connections to each other and with Merry Old England.

Two Londoners, one a transplant from Berkeley logged in on standard time, while European clocks hadn’t yet made the hour shift.

Sam, in the UK, grabbed a lion’s share of credit for coordinating the GROUP SKYPE gathering, while Peter, here at my place in the East Bay (Berkeley) provided top notch technical support.

While many students chose to play LIVE for this particular occasion, two pre-recorded their pieces and had them Screen Shared on Skype. Two more, who hadn’t recently updated their Skype application, managed to communicate by audio only, with one sharing Tchaikovsky’s “In the Church” without being seen.

It was hardly an impediment to a wondrous afternoon of music-making. The program included the works of Turk, Palmer, J.C. Bach, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Frederic Chopin.

Finally a 4-part revisit of the event provided a SKYPE recital primer for those interested in embarking upon a cyber-friendly musical journey such as this one–whether from the teacher or pupil perspective.. or ideally, BOTH.

PART 1 (Includes a Primer about how to produce an ONLINE musical exchange)




Part 5

The most unexpected, yet delightful visitor of the afternoon proved to be “RASCAL.” He was without doubt, the biggest hit of the day!

Dog one

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