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When a Virtual Piano Student becomes a Reality!

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Touchdown! Berkeley, California! An Online student landed in the East Bay just as the Carolina Panthers were bracing for a Super-Bowl match-up with the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara.

Sports-crazed fans were headed for a Big, crowded weekend with tailgate parties, packed hotels and traffic jams!

But my traveling, jet-lagged pupil from North Carolina had no interest in following the football event. Weeks in advance, she’d scheduled her LIVE lesson in Berkeley, with an additional request to sit in on one of my local student’s classes.

It was a slam dunk without a hitch as our scheduled doubleheader turned into spontaneous three-way sharing: an off-the-cuff exchange about LIVE lessons as compared to those transmitted Online. (by Skype and Face Time).

Naturally, April had experienced both sides of the lesson-receiving spectrum while Laura possessed a home-based perspective, and I had both.

So the inevitable outcome of our collective conversation was a recorded interchange without a shred of resemblance to the hair-raising mega-produced commercials that run full blast during Super-Bowl breaks.

This is the real deal, uncensored and refreshingly honest.



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What’s Frightening about Schumann’s “Frightening? ” (Kinderszenen, Op. 15, no. 11)

What convinces most pianists that Schumann’s “Furchtenmachen” (Frightening) is an expression of fear or perhaps more specifically anxiety, are the markedly impulsive sections that contrast with lyrical, reflective ones.

Frightening schneller

And not to be overlooked, are the interjections of syncopated SF’s (accentuated outbursts) that are quite STARTLING and must be well communicated in measures 21-24, as well as in the Schneller (“FASTER”) sequences.

Frightening full page 1

Frightening full page 2

The challenge for the player, therefore, is to keep calm, centered, and focused during the agitated measures and not LOSE CONTROL!

Vladimir Horowitz referred to the fire/ice analogy when approaching testy passages. (particularly those in rapid tempo) so I would readily concur with the Maestro that presence of mind under pressure is central to portraying a potpourri of closely spaced, vacillating emotions.

In my instruction, I suggest an approach to the Schneller section that might relax the treble after beats so they don’t sound forced or too vertical, undermining the horizontal thread of notes in the bass. It’s easy for these to intrude if tension permeates the arms, and if harmonic rhythm is ignored.

Finally while “Frightening” may look frighteningly simple at first glance, it’s far from it, given its abrupt mood shifts.


Play Through:

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Haydn on the harpsichord or piano? (Competition interlude)

elaineshandshubbardScreen Shot 2015-06-27 at 5.07.40 PMElaine Comparone insists that playing Haydn’s works on the harpsichord stirs her “imagination to new heights.”

The harpsichordist’s upload of Haydn’s eloquent Sonata No. 52 in Eb Major ironically paralleled Reed Tetzloff’s piano performance in Moscow which introduces an aesthetic comparison or two.

Reed’s You Tube channel features the opening Allegro movement,
while his complete sonata rendering can be replayed on Medici: Round one, XV Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. (Start at 6:30 in track: the second offering on the grid that follows his Bach selection)

Elaine’s inspired performance of the towering late Haydn sonata is worth an attentive ear to detail in anticipation of her astute comments about playing the composer’s masterpiece on the harpsichord.

“In the late 18th century the pianoforte gradually replaced the harpsichord, but the original editions of almost all of Beethoven’s keyboard sonatas up to Opus 27 (1800-1801) bear the inscription: “Pour le Clavecin ou Pianoforte” (“For the Harpsichord or Piano”). Haydn prescribes harpsichord for his solo keyboard sonatas as late as his E minor Sonata (H. XVI: 34) first published in 1784. In letters from March and April of 1789 he refers to his C Major “Clavier” Sonata (“keyboard” sonata—a generic designation) and he includes a middle movement with the title “Adagio per Clavicembalo o Piano-Forte” (“Adagio for Harpsichord or Pianoforte”).

“All this shows that harpsichords were still widely used around 1800 and that music publishers were eager to accommodate the players and owners of the older instruments as well as those of the more modern ones. Haydn’s keyboard music is stylistically interchangeable between harpsichord and piano, except for the slight proliferation of dynamic directions absent in most harpsichord music. (Modern, non-urtext editions add many more dynamic markings than Haydn’s original ones.)

“Why not merely play and record these pieces on a piano? As a harpsichordist, my major argument is that it has been done many times in the “modern” era. Why not try a fresh approach? The harpsichord has a sound with unique acoustical qualities not shared by either modern or early pianos. I do not regard “early music” as the sole property of those who play antique instruments or modern replicas. Pianists who play modern grand pianos clearly share my opinion as is evidenced by their many performances and recordings of music by Bach. But, at the same time, their performances of Mozart, Haydn and even Beethoven are farther away from the aural imaginings of these composers than harpsichord performance might be. Harpsichord sound stirs my imagination as piano sound never did. That is why I try to play whatever music lends itself to the instrument. As long as it is idiomatic, I will play it!”

After listening to Elaine and Reed’s performances, make your own judgment about what is pleasing the ear and why.

Finally, I asked Maestra Comparone why she chose to “sit this one out,” since she’s well-known for standing at the harpsichord:

“Standing at the harpsichord was a pose requiring an audience.
#1. It added to the complexity of the harpsichord move.
#2. I had four sonatas to record. Standing requires more energy. I had to save energy, not to expend it needlessly.

“Standing was useful when I played LIVE with the entire QCB (Queen’s Chamber Band). Elevating the instrument aided in projection. My colleagues preferred to stand when possible so we all liked to be on the same level.

“In a recording session, the instrument didn’t have to be elevated to be better seen or heard. The camera and recording equipment took care of that. Also, if it had been elevated, it would have been next to impossible to accomplish overhead shots of the keyboard, so we all agreed that simplicity was the key to a smooth and successful recording session.”



You Tube Channel

Tetzloff REPLAYS Round 2 (Tchaikovsky Competition)

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Medici TV presents FREE LIVE stream of the XV INTERNATIONAL Tchaikovsky Competition from Moscow

Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory

This is a unique opportunity to savor performances by a roster of international contestants, one of whom is our very own, pianist, George Li, a loyal Facebook Friend to so many of his avid fans. We’re tracking his global-wide performances with great interest. George Li

Li’s scheduled opening Recital is THURSDAY, JUNE 18:

3:50 PM Piano: Round 1 George Li – Moscow – Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory


So far, the first few pianists of Russian origin have exhibited unique musical personalities and their opening recital can be replayed at the site if you missed the LIVE feed.

It’s definitely worth a Medici mouse click into a big competition panorama spanning 19 days. (June 15-July 3)

NOTE THAT LIVE feed is available for separate instrumental and vocal categories:





More about the Competition:

“Broadcasting will begin early from Moscow at 6 a.m. EST, (1 p.m. Moscow time), with Nikita Abrosimov taking to the stage to commence the Piano Competition. Eight candidates will perform throughout the day. You can find the piano webcast schedule at:”

Prior to the official recital opener a few contestants were interviewed about performance pressure, and their strategies to deal with the high-tension Competition environment:

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Piano Technique: Stabilizing tempo, presence of mind, and breathing through scales and arpeggios

This has to be one of my favorite reciprocal teaching/learning videos because it fleshes out the importance of breathing through scales with mindful concentration. Framed by a singing pulse, the scale becomes a model for all playing.

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Here’s B minor in Contrary Motion (legato) with my annotations that reference the BREATH and mindfulness.

Important Prompts: Sing to shape; drag notes for traction instead of poke; BREATHE into the scale; be MINDFUL and CENTERED with focused CONCENTRATION–Play with a framing pulse; float “weeping willow” arms; “float” on air.


In this second video, an adult student works on stabilizing her pulse through a legato to staccato rendering of a C Major scale and arpeggio.

Erratic rhythm is a problem for many pupils, but when they review their recorded playing they often have epiphanies that otherwise evade them in real lesson time. This is why playbacks can be so valuable in the piano learning environment.

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J.S. Bach, the piano, harpsichord and early music tunings

Elaine Comparone, a well-regarded harpsichordist rendered a dance movement from J.S. Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G, (BWV 816) that I’d performed on the pianoforte. In the Loure, (written in G Major) I was immediately struck by a pitch disparity between our respective instruments. While Loure was composed in the key of G Major, it suddenly sounded in the Key of F (or a tad under) according to A 440 frequency standard. While Elaine looked like she was playing in G, she inhabited another tonal cosmos. This unusual circumstance tweaked my curiosity and led to my querying the performing artist and one of her colleagues, Daniel Waitzman, about the universe of early music tunings and transposition.

Before launching into a discussion about the reasons for Baroque period tuning adjustments, a sample of harpsichord and piano French Suite performances provide a point of reference.



Elaine Comparone:

“In the old days they played at various, non-standardized pitches. Italy was high—Venice especially, I believe, but surviving instruments, organs and flutes mainly, were pitched lower. The current (past 50 years or so) “early music” cognoscenti found enough evidence to support an A pitched at 415, or one half step below 440. Today, most if not all early music groups play at A equals 415.

“Both of my instruments (built in the late 60s) were pitched at A 440 at delivery. Then the harpsichord builders began to add transposing keyboards to their instruments to accommodate the current trend.”

Daniel Waitzman, a virtuoso flutist, and composer offered the following in-depth narrative about historical tuning practices:

As you know, the French set the pitch at about A=392 in the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century, at around the same time that the Hotteterres transformed the shawm into the oboe and the more-or-less cylindrical keyless six-holed flute into the one-keyed flute. (The reform of the woodwinds and of the orchestra occurred simultaneously with the reform of the pitch.) Bach was undoubtedly familiar with this, since he knew and worked with French flutists. Pitch standards in those days were far more variable–and even chaotic–than we are given to believe today. For example, Vivaldi’s Venetian pitch was about 440: nonetheless I have had to give many performances of his Piccolo Recorder concerti at Kammerton (A= 415, as it is interpreted today, for the convenience of its being exactly a half-step below our presumed norm of 440).

Bach worked every day with at least two pitches: the old high pitch of organs built in the Renaissance, about a half-step above 440: thus a whole step above his second standard pitch of Kammerton–422 or thereabouts–from whence the modern “early music” pitch of 415. Indeed, some of his works, such as Cantata 106 and Cantata 8 are rendered more difficult when performed from the old Bach Gesellschaft edition, since those early editors were pianists who assumed that Bach’s organ notation–he treated the organ as a transposing instrument–was the point of departure, rather than the other way around. What is, on the keyboard, an inconvenience becomes on a woodwind a sometimes-crushing burden, if one transpose the woodwind parts, rather than the organ part.

Frederick the Great’s court (Quantz, C.P.E. Bach, Benda, and a whole bunch of other geniuses, with Voltaire lurking in the background–my God!–My wife, Mona and I had the privilege of visiting his summer palace, Sans Souci in Potsdam, back in 1997; an unforgettable experience; one of his Quantz flutes lies on one of the few of his surviving Silbermann fortepianos–the Russkies got the rest in the Great Patriotic War–no, they did not let me play on it; but I had a conversation with the curator in my broken German, and I have played another of Quantz’s instruments in the Dayton C. Milller Collection at the Library of Congress, before it cracked a second time: a wonderful instrument. My own Quantz-near-replica is quite remarkable too, although I have to have the D# key repaired)–Frederick the Great’s court, I say, adopted the French low pitch of A=ca. 392. This is largely because of two factors: Firstly, Frederick considered himself an honorary Frenchman, like so many of the other aristocrats of the day; and secondly, Quantz’s reform of the flute (2-keyed for enharmonic distinctions associated with mean-tone and other non-equal temperaments; wide bore, restricted third octave to favor the lower register and enhance the cross-fingerings; enlarged embouchure hole; tuning slide) was made at the low French pitch. I can testify that Quantz’s flutes are among the very best of the old flutes; and that the old French pitch works brilliantly on the old flute–I have played an original Hotteterre flute in Boston. In his book, Quantz himself speculates on the possibility of re-scaling his flutes to Kammerton (422); but argues that doing so would change the nature of the instrument. The argument continues today; and there is, in fact, some truth to it. Quantz, by the way, did on occasion build flutes to different scalings more in accordance with the usual pattern; and anyone who tries to convince us that the old masters were as doctrinaire and pig-headed as modern early-music cultists is a liar.

Now, it is therefore probable that Bach tuned his harpsichords, at least occasionally, to the low French pitch.

You Tube Channel:

A sample of Waitzman’s artistry is offered in the modern day key of B minor:


To fast forward to the late 19th and early 20th Century, vintage pianos may have been tuned under 440 as well, but certainly not down a whole step from today’s concert A., provides a list of important dates:

1880 Steinway may have been using a pitch of A436. According to Steinway of New York, 1880 is right around the time they switched from three piece rims to the continuous rim that is used today. So it is unlikely the pitch was any higher before 1880, yet Steinway of London had a fork A454.7.

1885 In Vienna a pitch of A435.4 was adopted at a temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit for A.

1885 At an international exhibition of inventions and music in London a pitch of A452 was adopted.

1896 Philharmonic pitch A439, giving C522

1925 On the 11th of June the American music industry adopted A440.

1936 American Standards Association adopted A440. yet; New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, use 442 Hz

1939 At an international conference A440 was adopted.
The pitch of A440 has remained the standard since 1939. Pitches have risen a little, particularly in Eastern European countries, which often wish pianos to be tuned to A 444 or even a bit above. Some concert halls in the UK and European countries have two pianos on site, one tuned to A440 and one tuned to A 444. This is to keep the pianos stable, as constantly raising and lowering the pitch is not good for the piano; it makes it hard for the piano tuner to make the tuning stable.

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Does approaching notes in different ways at the piano affect tone production?

Emanuel Ax, well-known concert pianist and teacher asserts that one note struck cannot be varied by physical approach (except for volume) and I’m assuming duration (a clipped staccato release vs. a lingering sustain without pedal) Yet he didn’t provide enough specific details about duration, dynamics, and how delays into notes using supple wrist motions could affect phrasing. Therefore, I was left in a quandary about what he really meant since pianists deal with many notes in sequence.

As an aside, Ax declared woefully, that most of his pianist colleagues doubted his views.

About chords, the pianist inserted a qualification, saying that decisions circumscribing voice balance factored into tonal variance.

Yet his overall thoughts lacked an imaginative dimension about creating illusions in the course of playing. Perhaps, if he had more time to expand upon his ideas, he would have been more specific about physical motions as they relate to phrasing groups of notes.

Seymour Bernstein, pianist, teacher, and author of With Your Own Two Hands chimed in that “Emanuel misses, or perhaps doesn’t understand a serious point concerning the resultant sound of hitting a key. True, the hammer knows nothing about such an attack. But what we hear is the friction of the finger or an object as it hits the key. And because the blow is done with uncontrolled speed, the key is propelled down to the key bed producing an added percussive sound…The truth is these things have been measured scientifically. There is no difference whatsoever in tone production whether you lower a key with your finger or a pencil, and whether your wrist is supple or not. We recognize sound or tone changes when two or more tones are played.”

In one of his teaching videos (“You and the Piano,” Part 4), Bernstein demonstrates an “upper arm roll” with an “undulating wrist” that together produce an enviable singing tone.

Irina Gorin, piano teacher and Tales of a Musical Journey creator uses “weeping willow” arms as her imaginative springboard for imbuing awareness of the singing tone in her youngest students. Here she partners relaxed breathing with flowing supple wrists:

Here’s her dead weight arm/wrist drop approach using a hairband with a pupil:

In my demonstration, I extract a few measures from J.S. Bach’s Sarabande, French Suite in G, BWV 816 to model supple wrist delays into notes that create tonal nuances or differences that a pencil point cannot produce.

Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist/pianist responded forthrightly to the above:

“I think it’ s impossible to play the pencil-point note and the finger-played note in the same way.

“I think what you are talking about ( and you said it a few times) is a delayed attack or approach to the note. But what one hears ultimately is a dynamic (a loud-soft) difference. I listened to your spiel with my eyes closed. What I heard was a dynamic difference.

“I’d take a position slightly between yours and Ax’s. You are striking the key with a slow stroke with your finger. The pencil touches the key more speedily. But I think you could get the same sound if you struck the key with the pencil using a slower and slightly indirect approach. The flexing wrist makes this happen with the finger.

“I don’t think you can ever resolve this to my satisfaction.

“Harpsichord-wise, you have to make a speedy stroke, especially if you have more than one set of strings engaged, unless you have your plectra voiced very lightly, in which case you’ll get a lot of thud in the attack. With light voicing, you really have to pussy-foot around the keyboard.”


Rada Bukhman, pianist/teacher/author, insists that “one note can be played beautifully with anything, even one’s nose. What’s important is how you relate sounds to each other.”


Irina Morozova, pianist and faculty member at the Special School/Kaufman Center, and the Mannes College of Music, noted the use of “illusions” when playing the piano, making reference in her comments, to “chords.”

“What about ‘”impersonating”‘ orchestral instruments on piano? There is a simple way to make a chord sound differently depending on whether or not one is trying to play a beautiful “piano” chord or an “orchestral” chord.

Here she begins a lesson with a six-year old, demonstrating a fluid wrist approach to playing a chord that’s allied to a relaxed breath. (no pencils in sight!)

Morozova also asserts, “that a most important concept to teach, is weight distribution, or a feeling of a ‘”grounded”‘ sound.”

Rebecca Bogart, a local East Bay area pianist/teacher added the following to the mix of opinions:

“One of my greatest pleasures as a pianist is manipulating the color of the sound through subtle adjustments in key depression, so I guess I would have to say that I totally disagree with Ax. Personally I do experience that how a pianist relates to the key from the key at rest (level with all the other keys) to the bottom of the key stroke makes a HUGE difference in sound. For me, many of today’s performers have very high key speeds, especially in louder dynamics, which result in a very bright, almost harsh, sound.

“How you interact with the key determines volume and duration of the sound you produce. Variations in key speed and weight are how you make dynamics and tonal changes. Otherwise, why not play the harpsichord or the organ???

“Of course Ax is correct that the relationships between notes are also very very important. And I realized after watching his video that possibly dynamic interrelationships (voicing) and agogic expression are a bigger percentage of the pianist’s toolkit than they are for other instrumentalists.

“In terms of posture for playing the piano, I think that there is a posture which is most efficient .i.e. gives the maximum results for the minimum amount of muscular effort. An efficient posture is one which allows the fingers and hands to be in the midrange of motion when playing the keys. More specifically, the bottom of the elbow (the part closest to the floor) should be level with the top of the white keys. Also, the wrist needs to be in a place where the kinetic energy and mass of the arm can be transmitted to the key.

“Of course determined and skilled people can play amazingly well with all sorts of postures – it’s just my opinion that their experience and/or results would be even better if they adopted the posture I just described. But hey – to each their own!”

Rami Bar-Niv, pianist, teacher and author of The Art of Piano Fingering, agrees with Ax on the unwavering sound produced by a single note key depression:

“I agree 100% with what Ax says and I said it many times on various groups.
A single note can be only louder or softer (+ the duration factor that happens after it’s being struck) — nothing else!

“Everything else in the magical hands of a pianist happens between the notes, due to balancing them, the relation between them, and timing. All other ideas are just untrue illusions and beliefs.

“Correct wrist motions and other correct techniques are there to produce good sound and protect your hands.But producing one sound can only be louder or softer, however good techniques help you match the next sound(s) according to your desires.

“We talk only about a single note because the next note already brings in the relativity aspect (which makes the music).”


While it’s instructive to gather opinions far and wide about an individual note approach, it’s the gestalt of many notes played in sequence that’s of prime importance to pianists as they explore an expressive tonal universe.


Emanuel Ax:

Irina Gorin’s You Tube Channel:

Elaine Comparone’s You Tube Channel

Official Website:

Rada Bukhman’s Website

Irina Morozova:

Seymour Bernstein’s Official Website:

Rebecca Bogart’s website

Rami Bar-Niv’s You Tube Channel

The Art of Piano Fingering by Rami Bar-Niv

Learning from Our Colleagues

Piano Technique: Avoid Pencil Point Playing