piano, piano blogging, piano lessons, piano teaching, piano technique

Piano Teaching: Diagnosis and Treatment in Cyber

The miracle of technology allows a micro-review of a student’s physical relationship to the keyboard, magnifying problems that need thoughtful remedy. Today, I felt akin to a radiologist examining x-rays in great detail, looking for areas of concern, if not glaring pathology.

A student whom I teach Online, was having difficulty playing a D Major scale.

Staring at me in full screen mode, was his skittish relationship to the whole tonal landscape: Given the pupil’s un-centered hands, with some fingers curled in and going shallow on white keys, where others headed toward the blacks with an edgy gesture forward, the scale was impaired.

Without a geo-CENTERED approach, the player would be eternally frustrated.

In a miraculous click of a mouse, the student was sent a video of his scale travels that pinpointed problem areas.

The curative phase ensued, focused on blocking out chunks of notes with featherlight thumbs passing through them. The “blocks” or “chunks” were well-“centered,” forming “tunnels” through which the thumbs would pass swiftly and unpretentiously.

(Too often, students allowed the thumb to pull down their hands, interrupting singing legato streams of notes in the scale frame, with toxic consequence.)

Gradually, the pupil applied significant adjustments to his scales (and arpeggios) that improved them.

In the final analysis, technology afforded a necessary examination of the hand/finger/keyboard triad that benefitted both teacher and student.

Bruce Loeb, pianist, piano blog, piano blogging, silent era movies, silent movie accompanist, silent movies

Bruce Loeb: A Silent Film Accompanist and much more!

Bruce Loeb at the piano

Berkeley, California boasts a repository of uniquely talented musicians some of whom have a wide array of interests and activities that elevate them to renaissance status. Bruce Loeb is one of those exceptionally diversified, high achievers with a C.V. to substantiate. His vast list of identities includes silent film accompanist, vocal coach, piano teacher, composer, and recitalist.

It’s mind-boggling!

To my delight, within a matter of minutes of having phoned him, he amiably squeezed me into his crowded schedule of Bach Invention and Fugue transpositions, piano practicing, private teaching, journal writing, avid reading, concert and movie-going. The last endeavor requires his immersion in silent era movies as preparation for his appearances at the Nile Film Museum in Fremont, California. As accompanist he devises a “schema” for well-known favorites starring Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks and a host of silent era luminaries. He’ll also accompany comedy shorts featuring Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, et al.

A DVD (Her Night of Romance) with a printed acknowledgment of Bruce Loeb having “composed and performed the music,” gives testimony to his expertise in a creative realm that may be of niche market interest, but nonetheless underscores Loeb’s originality and enterprise.

Her Night of Romance

DVD reverse

The Interview

Once I was led into Loeb’s sprawling creative universe by way of a Baroque era collaboration between us at the Knabe grand, he became instantly embedded in his art, sharing hands on knowledge with precise verbal articulations and demonstrative keyboard samples.

Two grand pianos Loeb

Here’s a sprinkling of Bruce Loeb’s musical sources for his silent film “schemas.”

Songs of the 1920s

American Fiesta album

Chansons Francaises

Schubert shorter works

Bruce Loeb is seen playing at a Silent Film event: Musica Marin–Belvedere, CA

Featured movie: The Docks of New York (1928)


Bruce’s website


Niles Film Museum


Sent from my iPhone

a piano that draws, Jewish Contemporary Museum, Jewish Contemporary Museum in San Francisco, piano

A piano that DRAWS is a sacrilege: or how I otherwise spent Christmas Day

As a prelude to my bottomless pit experience at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco that featured the desecration of an upright piano, I’ll first provide readers with the necessary back story….

Following 8 days of Chanukah candle lighting, I found myself in search of meaningful things to do on Christmas day, knowing full well that virtually everything would be shut down on this nationwide holiday. (Count in corporate coffee centers such as Starbucks and Peet’s.)

On top of this slam dunk 99% draw down of eating out opportunities, I had to contend with a cultural cliche surrounding Jews like me, that we should go to the Chinese restaurant and celebrate a uniquely permanent welcome mat. (But to my dismay, many Chinese proprietors who were not of Buddhist persuasion, joined the masses, celebrating the birth of Christ, or they just didn’t think it worthwhile to stay open on a day when business drastically dwindled.)

As validation of the vast climate change in restaurant accessibility on the biggest holiday of the year, San Francisco’s Chinatown displayed countless signs of restaurant closure, while novelty shops were lit up and doing brisk business.

San Francisco Chinatown

Meandering to the Hyatt Hotel on Market Street for a pit stop during the Chinatown romp that eventually produced a below street level Mandarin repast, my daughter and I were greeted by a colorful lounge-displayed Christmas tree. While it begged to be the centerpiece of a photo shoot, we were both plainly distracted by rotating hues of light beamed on a neighboring “ECLIPSE of anodized aluminum.” (This second floor light show was produced by Charles O. Perry–circa 1973)

Pink Eclipse

orange Eclipse cropped

Green Eclipse

Such artistic satiation should have been enough for one day, but we tempted an Ecumenical God of grace, by venturing over to the Jewish Contemporary Museum that was a stone’s throw from the AMC movie theater where we’d earlier taken in the film debut of JOY.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, a film goddess who’s likely to land an Oscar nomination for her riveting performance, the movie was for me a cinematic work of art.


To fast forward the narrative to its riveting climax, I’ll admit that the most insalubrious escapade of the day was our DESCENT to the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s “interactive art exhibit” that enlisted an old upright piano, gutted of its strings–reduced to a basic typewriter. With each key stroke of its dead keys, a sterile set of percussive taps were produced that activated ink blots on a rolling paper canvas.

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 11.32.18 PM

Witnessing this soul-less instrumental conversion was a “sacrilege” not worthy of a legitimate “musical” critique, though in fairness to Museum curators, there were a host of redeemed exhibits (in my opinion) that merited commendation. (These included early 20th Century labor struggles realized in lithographs and framed by the heading, “Chasing Justice.”)


On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ionic, bionic, and robotic displays interspersing those that fleshed out pioneers of labor and even the Rock n’ Roll era, were frankly a retread of a period when Milton Babbit, for example, put a generator on a concert stage absent a performer, and let it grunt away!

One might also lump into the scrap heap, three look alike vertical vacuums that were programmed to dance and drone through finite computer programming.

Finally, when all was said and done, a pleasing set of holiday adventures drowned out the type-written cacophony of a stringless piano, and a higher level substitution encompassed eye-catching displays of ECLIPSED color and cinematic technicolor that made our day memorable!

Merry Christmas to all!

me in front of Christmas tree

Aviva in Front of tree

The Contemporary Jewish Museum
Jewish Museum

Fugue, Fugue Analysis, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano

Putting Slow Practicing to good use in a J.S. Bach Fugue Analysis

I’ve been my own mentor to the exponential these past intensified 48 hours as I immersed myself in a slow, deep-layered analysis of J.S.Bach’s Fugue in Ab, BWV 862 (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1) The detailed exploration not only heightened my understanding of this ingenious composition, but it increased my love and reverence for it.

So without waxing poetic about the longing that’s expressed through a chain of emotion-gripping modulations, I will defer to my Two Part introspection of this Fugue that’s the beginning of my immersion. Awakenings and epiphanies ensue once the solid foundation of analysis with cognitive, affective and kinesthetic dimensions are integrated.

Finally, in a slow practicing frame, the Subject/Countersubject interaction that includes fragments of each and inversions therein in partnership with a divine set of harmonic progressions, affords a learning process that brings fulfillment with each incremental and parceled out discovery.

J.S. Bach Fugue in Ab analysis

J.S. Bach Fugue in Ab analysis p. 2

Part ONE:

Part Two:


piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano practicing, piano teaching, slow piano practicing

Why is practicing slowly so unpopular?

There appears to be a stigma attached to parceling out a brand new piece in deliberately slow tempo, where a player threads through separate lines with a commitment to expression framed by an ultra-relaxed singing pulse. In the best realization of such immersion, the music becomes magnified to a new level of awareness, albeit in the incipient learning stage. (Fingering decisions are made; phrases undergo slow motion contouring, and a deep key/weight transferred relationship to the notes is explored, avoiding a top of the keys haphazard glide.)

Such slow but engaged practicing as described, sets a foundation for added layers of learning on progressively deeper levels.

In light of this truth, a substantial proportion of nay-sayers still view “slow learners,” as cognitively impaired, further stigmatizing the pupil who labors against premature piece-turnovers, and stays deeply affixed in moto lento. That is, until the time is right and ripe for a graduated tempo advancement.

More often, students who are asked to pull back from a tempo that is racing out of their control will resist the push back to a near heart-stopping pace. Or at minimum, they will re-try a separate hand reading at the tempo set by the teacher only to deviate from the agreed upon “beat,” as if the mentor would hardly notice.

Face the music, practicing at a snail’s pace, but preserving the player’s “high” inside a MAGNIFIED musical bubble, still attaches a Western cultural taboo allied to our fast-paced existence with its built-in upward MOBILITY frenzy. (“Getting there fast is half the fun,” blasted at fever pitch in carry-over-to-life auto advertising, is pervasive!)

Add in cell phones grunting out instant message alerts amidst unwanted calls interrupting piano lessons, and it’s no wonder that peace of mind needed to inhabit a retrograde inversion of time is a foreign and ill-timed request.

Still I refuse to surrender my commitment to time-honored teaching that is in defiance of a Beat the Clock, 1950’s era mantra. As antidote to the culture of cramming, crowding, and herding notes in a cadential stampede, I underscore my own SLOWED down approach to all my music from Bach to Blues.

“If I can practice my pieces slowly, so can you.”

I’ll admit that there’s a bit of guilt sandwiched into my haughty, authoritarian push back, but it works, at least for 15-minute chunks, before an iPhone breaks the mood of a higher Power tempo-suspended intervention.

By example, I will rehash one of my classic learning journeys and how it advanced from a heightened back tempo approach to a smooth and satisfying outpouring. That usually gets my adult brood going, at least for the time being.


(Below is a J.S. Bach Prelude that I allowed months to grow from carefully spaced-out seeding to its eventual maturation.)


An Adult Student exemplifies slow practicing in Turk’s “Happiness”

The steady progress made over time:

adult piano instruction, adult piano instructn, Domenico Scarlatti, Lillian Freundlich, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano technique, Scarlatti Sonatas, Uncategorized

A Domenico Scarlatti Sonata that enables Finger and Forearm Staccato

It’s been decades since my beloved N.Y.C. piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich bestowed upon me the gift of Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas. And at the time, (while I was a student at the New York City H.S. of Performing Arts) I had no idea that those she had selected were permeated with the basics of technique bonded to musical expression.

lillianfreundlich  lil2

Yet, I have no specific recollection of my mentor having isolated finger staccato from that generated by the forearm. Similarly, wrist staccato was even more foreign to her musical vocabulary. (Nonetheless Mrs. Freundlich always checked for supple wrists, and for relaxingly suspended arms without a trace of tension)

Basically, Lillian Freundlich’s springboard was the singing tone, and how to phrase by building smaller measures to larger ones using a free fall relaxed arm and a progressive note-grouping approach. She also doted on the dotted 8th/16th rhythm to smooth out bumpy lines.

As years have passed, and more than one teacher has influenced me during an extended musical journey in and out of the Conservatory, I’ve come to the conclusion that identifying and isolating various types of staccato is part of the enriched piano learning cosmos–that such a physical/musical nexus is intrinsic to growing artistry.

Excuse my wordy introduction, but perhaps it’s a necessary prelude to a tutorial I prepared right after having resurrected Scarlatti Sonata in G, K. 14, L. 387 as part of my spiritual homecoming.

Scarlatti Sonata in G  p. 1

Having observed reams of detached notes in forte and piano dynamic ranges permeating the score, I realized how fortunate I was to have spent inordinate time with my adult students cultivating various kinds of staccato via scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths. It clearly amounted to a common journey of infinite value!

Finally, to have reviewed a Baroque era composition that was exemplary of the Keyboard School of Virtuosity fathered by Domenico Scarlatti, afforded an opportunity to re-explore staccato playing in all its expressive facets.

Play Through:


Burgmuller, piano, piano blog, piano pedagogy

Finding a melodic thread in a sea of fast notes

Compositions that are laden with myriads of fast paced notes often pose a problem for students whose immediate response is to efficiently “type” them out. Implementing such a mechanical approach often excludes an awareness of a melodic strand that will need to undergo shaping and contouring.

One particular piece comes to mind that offers an opportunity to explore the complex task of phrasing a nexus of notes in brisk tempo.

Burgmuller’s The Clear Stream with its relentlessly beautiful triplet figures (in Allegro Vivace) will sound very “notey” if it’s played giving equal emphasis to every 8th. Applying such an unmusical approach, will transform a “limpid” trickle into turbulent waves pounding against the shore.


This is why using a sensitive blocking technique (for each set of three notes in broken chord formation) can divert students from early superficial mechanics, affording instead a primary understanding of a melodic thread that resonates through clusters.

Yet it’s not enough to “block” out chords without an internal image of how these “chunks” move musically in sequence. Dominant chords might need a dip in dynamics at resolution. Or there may be an ascent of chords that requires intensification through a crescendo or by its opposite, diminuendo, in a descent.

Because dynamics are intertwined with a comprehension of harmonic rhythm, the journey becomes intrinsically allied to phrase shaping. Still, beautiful phrasing of seamless triplet figures requires a supple or flexible wrist approach which is another important phase of piano learning. The singing tone which becomes the focal ingredient of a threaded melody in The Clear Stream, necessitates not only an internal or imagined image of what the player wants to hear before the very initiation of sound, but a commitment to a “wavy” thread of notes with a moto perpetuo character integrating nuance, shape, and structural awareness. To play with artistry also requires the use of “rotation” in the flow of legato triplet figures.

Where the the second part or B section introduces a counter-melody, the student must be guided to understand devices of inversion and counterpoint and how to make decisions about two threads of melodic and sub-melodic interest that simultaneously exist.

Finally, my original tutorial set out ways to counter the “typed-out” approach to The Clear Stream and replaced it with a more thoughtful exploration that included ingredients noted in this discussion.

The play through:



To add to melodic thread discoveries and their treatment, I added a recent video of a lesson in progress on Bach’s Invention 13 in A minor. In this particular instruction, rhythm practice and BLOCKING techniques helped the student better phrase and shape reams of broken chord figures, while it nudged her in directions of recognizing contrapuntal/imitative interactions between voices.

Page One:

J.S. Bach Invention 13 in A minor