arpeggios, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano technique, scales

Piano Technique: When an adult student is in the Zone!

It’s always valuable to snatch a lesson segment when a student gets it just right and has the equivalent of a runner’s high at the keyboard. It’s certainly instructive for both teacher and pupil to observe what conditions predisposed a pupil to a level of ONEness of body, mind and spirit.

Last night, Jocel displayed such fluidity supported by my framing rhythmic prompts that wrapped his F Major scales and arpeggios into a cohesive frame. Naturally, the goal in the long run, (no pun intended) will be to have him internalize a singing pulse, taking its consciousness into his practice module during the week.

(P.S. Pardon the HOT zone wired webcam mike, that was inadvertently un-silenced)


In truth, both teacher and pupil are on a common wavelength of experimenting, analyzing, and refining during piano lessons: each bounces off the other through a mutual journey of awakenings.

As Seymour Bernstein sagaciously says, if we are good teachers we give our students a lot of credit for being our mentors and naturally, the reverse is true.

When a student gets it, so do we!

documentary, Ethan Hawke, film, Seymour: An Introduction

Love the Second Time Around: Seymour, An Introduction

Sonya in front of poster

I’ve seen Ethan Hawke’s sensitive film portrait of Seymour Bernstein now FOUR times as I amass a film archive of interviews and written tributes.

Need more be said?

Run to see a cinematic masterpiece so well framed by Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post: ‘Seymour: An Introduction’ is a soaring, sublime ode to art and life.


adult piano instruction, imagination, mental imagery, piano blog, piano lessons

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…

Another keyboard view of G Major arpeggio

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


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

SKYPE CALL RECORDER Playback views for Online Piano Lessons



Skype Call Recorder


Face Time Call recorder crop recent

Claire and Face Time Record Box


overhead and treble clef

My Newest Overhead Cam (72 inches high)

newest overhead 72%22

Still another upgrade: My Piano Room has TWO Overhead webcams in addition to a side view cam that’s mounted on a music stand.

my piano room best webcams recent
me under overhead cam

Overhead side view of Keyboard

overhead side view of piano


MY PRESENTATION coming up at the MTAC STATE CONVENTION: July 1, 2016

FLASHBACK: As prep for my presentation to the Music Teachers Association (Alameda Branch) that took place on May 11, 2015, I’d gathered a series of exemplary SKYPE Lessons demonstrating the technology to best advantage: “Teaching Piano by Skype: Braving a High-Tech Universe.”

Alameda Branch presentation

This prep and more recent updates will encompass my program at the Statewide Music Teachers Association (MTAC) Convention in Los Angeles, taking place July 1, 2016.

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

HOW I STARTED OUT before the technology expanded. Here I’m seated at my Steinway Upright teaching a student in Greece using the INTERNAL CAM of my iMac Computer.

early skype lessons--This one to Greece


Example of webcam view choices: (I use the Logitech C920HD1080)

webcam listing


The Direction and Effect of Lighting on the keyboard during Online lessons. (I use the overhead view in this example)


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 recording 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.

Of particular value is the use of the Alzo Horizontal mount on a tripod to support an overhead keyboard view using an attached web cam.

My tutorial below refers to this particular overhead set up.

An Online teacher can also have addition web cam views by using a music stand as support, or he/she may mount a webcam on the end blocks of the piano. There are many possibilities to be explored.


Overview of the equipment and Online transmission by Skype from Berkeley, California to rural North Carolina: SKYPE CALL RECORDER is activated on this playback video.

The attached video below explores a Skype lesson from Berkeley, California to Staten Island, New York showing the various webcam views in progress.

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)


OTHER video supplements, or TUTORIALS for ONLINE and LIVE Students

I will use the Quicktime Record applicationfor these tutorials. The selection of Keyboard views pertain. (Overhead, Side View, or Face Time: Mac Internal Face Time camera view)

In this video I demonstrate Staccato Parallel Thirds in the “Little Party,” La Petite Reunion by Burgmuller, Op. 100, No. 4. (I utilize the side keyboard view and the overhead for comparison)

Hand-Crossovers in a Domenico Scarlatti Sonata (Overhead keyboard view)

Scarlatti Sonata in A Major, K. 113



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 well before she visited me in Berkeley:

April feet

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



After the N. Carolina student had a LIVE piano lesson in Berkeley CA, she compared it to her ONLINE experience in the presence of another LIVE student. (Laura)


Creating a Seamless legato in G# minor Arpeggios (Split Screen view)

A Berkeley to North Carolina Online lesson segment followed by a lesson snatch to Edinburgh, Scotland (B minor scale in Contrary motion) In the first segment I use a split screen teacher overhead view; In the second, I use a full screen LOCAL Overhead cam Teacher view.


The student from Scotland, recently IMPROVISED with her technology during a lesson when SKYPE and FACETIME had serious transmission issues. She came in on FACETIME through her iPhone.

REVIEWS of ONLINE lessons by other virtual students:

Sherry from Louisville, KY talks about her ONLINE lessons:

Marie, from Fresno, California talks about her Lessons on Face Time


Laura’s lesson segment (B minor scales) captured with webcam views of two pianos (Baldwin and Steinway grand)–I use my music stand that has easy rotation.

A more recent LIVE lesson in Berkeley uses webcam technology, recording the teacher and student in alternate sequence:




Earthquake Skype lesson video

Skype lesson/baby interruption (Alaska)

adult piano instruction,, piano, piano blog, piano lessons, piano technique, scales

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:

Ethan Hawke, Ethan Hawke documentary, piano blog, piano blogging, piano teaching, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour: An Introduction

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 clip at the end of various musical performances 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 his seeing the fawn at the warfront 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, NYT Architecture editor and piano student, 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. 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


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

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: