Beethoven, Fur Elise, piano, piano lessons

Piano Technique: Creating an illusion of legato

It’s a challenge to play scales, arpeggios, and passages lifted out of the mainstream Classical piano repertoire with a well-shaped and nicely spaced legato. (smooth and connected playing) But it can be more daunting to navigate particular sections of masterworks that have legato markings over chords, for instance, that carry a melodic thread that is impossible to realize seamlessly without compromise, and a shift in consciousness.

By example, I refer to Beethoven’s Fur Elise, measures 62-68, that’s easily characterized as a “stormy” section with its relentless tremolo in the (Bass) Left Hand, while the Right hand above, has the task of “voicing” chords that carry a haunting melody in the soprano. In order to obey the notation of slurs over a procession of chords, thirds, and sixths, with a melody to flesh out at the very top, the player has to devise a means of preserving a smooth melodic flow, by letting go of certain fingers in deference others.

The sustain pedal is pivotal to the whole undertaking, because it can hold down elements of chords that would otherwise be missing or lost in the prioritizing of melodic movement in the uppermost voice. However, the pedal cannot replace a well thought out finger-connecting strategy that shores up the legato, albeit with some missing ingredients in lower voices, that will be filled in by well-conceived pedaling.

In the attached video, I model an approach to the “stormy” section that creates an illusion of legato by demonstrating fingering choices in concert with maneuvers of the arm, wrist, and hand.

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Piano lesson-in-progress: Shaping a solo for the right hand in Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” ( a “vocal” transition) Videos

Marie, an adult student practiced measures 32-40 of “Fur Elise,” enlisting the model of a singer who shapes and nuances phrases with meticulous breath control. While pianists are not operatic performers, they must imagine that their arms, wrists and fingers are making a vocal transfer to the keyboard thereby overcoming a physical distance from the strings.


Today’s video of a lesson-in-progress fleshed out a creative process that required attentive listening, and sensitivity to the physical requirements of channeled relaxation through arms, supple wrists, into the fingers.

The measures explored formed a recitative-like section where the right hand alone sculpts a lilting melodic line.

In this second video, Marie shares her thoughts about returning to the piano 6 years ago, decades after she had studied the instrument in childhood.


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Irina Morozova’s inspiring words flow through a lesson with an adult student (Beethoven’s Fur Elise-in-progress) Video

“From watching great pianists it is obvious that they incorporate quite different movements to achieve the same goals, because people do not play piano with fingers but rather with the mind and the ear. Again, it is the clear image of what kind of sound one wants to achieve, combined with the knowledge of how to get it….”

To frame a lesson with these ideas, helps to infuse it with the spiritual, analytical, and nonverbal elements of exchange.

Within this paradigm, one of my adult students continued her study of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” (C section, treble chord voicing with bass tremolo)


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Relaxation in piano playing and setting a good example for students (Videos)

By all accounts, the piano instructor should be the model of what she embraces as her teaching philosophy at lessons. For example, as I slip into my weeping willow tension-free state, I keep hammering away at my students to relax. But sometimes they’re just too wired from pressures at work or at home to unwind on command. The pairing of incongruous words like “Hammer” and “Relax” (add in “command’) was meant to be funny, but as it happened, I once watched a Masterclass Foundation video where a distinguished cello teacher screamed “RELAX” at a poor student who became doubly knot tied–even worse so, when the teacher poked the student’s shoulder with his bow while admonishing her. Shame on the instructor for causing a paradoxical reaction, or dishing out a scoop of negative reinforcement.

(An important lesson for teachers: Watch your lingo. You may be working at cross purposes by the tone of your communications and body language.)


This morning one of my adult students who’s been studying “Fur Elise,” the medallion piece for many, was as tight as a board when she sat down at the piano bench. I saw the tension in her whole body, especially down the arms into the wrists, and eventually the fingers. She held onto her thumbs for dear life, self-clamped her wrists, and curled up her third finger in each hand making them orphans among their companions.

She also poked the keys, and didn’t let any sound flow out naturally from her fingers.

My sitting at the second piano, a Steinway upright, provided enough distance to be an observer and helper at the same time. This particular student didn’t relish my staring over her shoulder or moving into her space. After years of teaching, I’d learned to respect boundaries that students marked out.

I next had to devise a way to break through my pupil’s body blocked state–a powerful plus for a tight end football player, but not in this field of endeavor. No sudden death goals at the tie-breaker, please!

But YES to setting long-term GOALS that were wedded to relaxation, but not the kind where fingers turned to jelly fish. The student needed supple wrists that supported securely connected fingers into the keys. And that’s when I broke out a hair band for Irina Gorin’s signature wrist relaxation maneuver, well demonstrated at her You Tube Channel:

What about ways of inducing relaxation:

How about putting mental imagery to work combined with relaxed breathing–a form of auto suggestion—Not just pretending to be a weeping willow tree but letting the hands, arms, wrists and fingers listen to the cue. My student and I practiced together as we fine tuned our Oneness with the piano. My flowing, floating motions were mirrored back and forth.

The desired Hand Position:

By my illumination, the student was shown the unnaturalness of her fixed, rigid hand position. When I asked her to shake out tensely arched hands, she couldn’t perform the task. But then something clicked, and she let her fingers fall into their graceful symmetry.

Once we’d gotten over the first bump, we were able to deal with the wrist and its requirement to be flexible. In “Fur Elise” I demonstrated a forward rotation of my wrist, thereby avoiding a crash on the first beat of every measure. She was able to model this back after a few tries.

Balancing voices

What about that smacked down beat in the bass, smothering the gorgeous treble melody? That had to do with BALANCE between lines, but not separated from the physical means to the end. I told my student to play a little deeper into the right hand as she lightened the left. It took several attempts but over the course of the lesson, things worked.

The Unifying Breath

How about Breathing. Well, that was fundamental to the whole time spent at the piano. The student had to unlock the breath and BREATHE naturally. It seemed like a piece of cake for some, but for others it was like digging teeth into a chunk of raw deer meat.

Just in time:

And right on cue, when most needed, Aiden cat jumped onto the piano bench and saved the day. He was so effortlessly lithe that my adult student disarmed herself and released the tension in her arms, wrists and fingers all at once. (Here’s Aiden in an ice-breaking pose)

It was smooth sailing from then on…


To conclude this sermon on relaxation, I’ve posted tonight’s video of “Fur Elise,” as an example of what I tried to teach today. Not everything came across in the relaxed sense, but the student watched, listened and absorbed the essence of what our lesson had been about.

Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney-Chase


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Some Ideas about playing and learning Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” (even in the dark) Video

I had noticed that my original instruction had disappeared so I posted another in the inadvertent darkness of my room. Time really flies and the area dims by nightfall. (It could have been a mood-setting suggestion)

Ideas about:

The Stormy C section of “Fur Elise” and how to play a legato melody through chords:

Playing through:

A very popular piece, that draws so many students to it, “Fur Elise” continues to challenge the player on many levels.

Phrasing in the midst of a Rondo Form:

A gorgeous theme weaving through the composition has a string of repeated half-steps that can easily sound like a treadmill of notes, unless they’re grouped, shaped, contoured and played with a singing tone. (The flexible wrist forward movement helps taper ends of phrases without a conspicuous accent)

In Rondo Form (A section, B, return of A, C, A) The B and C parts have their own character and contrast. The player transitions to a Mozartean interlude, (B) with a rolled out, broken chord bass, against a lovely woven melody. (Keep the left hand smooth, connected and do some chord blocking as a preliminary)

A solo for the right hand in the midst of this section, is ushered in with a Deceptive Cadence. It feels like the opera here, where the orchestra drops out and leaves the soloist to spin a recitative.

The “A” section returns with its doleful theme which leads smoothly to Part C, where Beethoven’s characteristic autograph of sudden emotional outbursts requires a significant mood shift. (See video about fleshing out a melody through a sequence of chords) The bass should feel like a tremolo and not be poked out, but rather grouped by longer measures. Recommended fingering is 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1 etc.

Not long into this “stormy” section, a transition of fluid arpeggios in the home key of “A” minor and a shimmering, descending chromatic scale (like the wind) bring back the opening that blissfully trails off.

Questions of Interpretation:

I’ve gone back and forth between wanting to adhere to Classical boundaries, but intuitively “feeling” that the melody threading through the composition is pervasively Romantic in character.

Having sampled performances by any number of fine pianists as the culmination of my learning process, I favor those that linger, “sing,” and preserve long lyrical lines.

Please share your favorite artists and their readings.

More about “Fur Elise” at:


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Digital Piano Review continued: On Location at Best Buy in Fresno CA (6 videos)

This was such a smooth experience. Matthew Wheeler was found playing drums and keyboard in Best Buy’s atrium, for want of a better name, and he stopped what he was doing to film me sampling digitals. These were console models: Roland F110, Casio 830, and Yamaha Arius YDP 141.

There are six videos, including a side-by-side comparison of my playing the Roland and Arius. (“Fur Elise”)

You’ll know in an instant which one I favored.

Thank you’s are extended to Matthew and Best Buy for being so welcoming.

Matt is musical director at CMT and Fresno Unified School District. If you’re needing assistance at Best Buy, head over to Matt and he’ll be happy to serve you.

My Reviews:

Roland F110 console model digital piano:

Casio 830 console model digital piano:

Yamaha Arius YDP 141 console model digital piano:

Yamaha Arius YDP 141 fast passage clip (Mozart K. 545)

Side-by-side Comparison playing Roland F110 and Yamaha Arius YDP 141:

Revisit Roland F-110 without reverb

Over-all consensus after having reviewed 12 hammer-weighted digital pianos, I would put Yamaha p155 and Yamaha Arius YDP141 at the top of my list.

RELATED: Scoping out Digital Pianos at Guitar Center in Fresno (9 digital pianos are reviewed)

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Piano Lesson: An Adult student practices the Presto agitato mvt. Beethoven “Moonlight” Sonata (Video)

The Chromatic scale to the end of movement:

R.K. wished to remain anonymous because of the nature of his work, but, nevertheless, he’s a devoted student of the piano.

I met him at the American Cancer Discovery Shop, on Bullard and West in Fresno about 5 years ago when I was a regular music volunteer, showcasing pianos donated for sale. He introduced himself as a piano lover who had given up his lessons as a teen, and wanted to resume study.

R. brought “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” to his very first lesson, an arrangement that was almost impossible to play, and before long he was immersed in the Classics, studying Beethoven’s “Pathetique” (all movements), Fur Elise, Mozart Sonata, K.545, and the “Moonlight” Sonata, among other challenging compositions.

R.K. is a hard worker and practices diligently except when he’s on the road.

This past evening we decided to wing it and videotape segments of his lesson with the camera pointing in my direction.