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Piano Technique: Rina turns 5 and plays two-note Legato slurs (slow motion, soundless replays)

The Good News: Rina just celebrated her big FIFTH birthday, and bestowed a lovely portrait of herself draped in a smile over her precious piano. Thank You for the beautifully framed photo!



Today, technology failed me once again, but this time I outsmarted the devilish, on/off again iMac movie program.

So what if Yeti Mic decided to go silent for this footage. I could still use the video frames to demonstrate the forward roll, two-note slur of C to D, played in every octave from middle C up and back. (using fingers 1 to 2, beginning with the Right Hand)

Rina and her parents could watch, gaining a physical understanding of what was taught at today’s lesson.

I thought about Anne Sullivan and the challenges she braved teaching Hellen Keller.

By comparison, mentoring in silence, (on replay) would be a breeze.

To begin the editing process, I HIGHLIGHTED frames where I demonstrated the legato slurs, and then tapped SLOW MOTION 50%. A slower rendering would send Rina’s folks and other viewers scampering off for a McDonald’s Big Breakfast.

I then retained a slow motion replay for frames where I guided Rina’s hands and fingers over the keys. (These examples would help mom practice with her daughter during the week)

The first video, however, in real time, added a few additional teaching maneuvers (still giving viewers the silent treatment)

I encouraged Rina to first relax her arms by imagining they were hanging over a clothesline. This mental image seemed to help her let go of elbows, wrists…and any related tension.

You can clearly observe the positive results in this first video.

I also reinforced the rhythmic value of each note, by pointing to a WHITE CARDBOARD CIRCLE on the piano rack. (C and D were each designated as “LONG SOUNDS,” or notes that were to be held for TWO COUNTS each–otherwise known as Half Notes)

The second upload, incorporated the slow motion effect, and eliminated some of the footage from the first video.

As for playing through the slurs in consecutive octaves across the keyboard, Rina tended to anticipate the forward motion on the second note D, impeding a smooth roll where the wrist naturally springs forward–but NOT with a jerk.

To remedy this problem, I will enlist other forms of mental imagery to slow down her entry into D-perhaps invoking the JELLO keyboard model, or molasses, honey, etc.

The lesson continued with Left Hand two-note slur sequences, fingers 1 to 2, C to B, down from middle C and back up. (not featured in the footage)

Earlier in today’s instruction we had practiced rainbow motions for each note of the music alphabet, played in octave spans– alternating fingers of each hand.


Rina played “Frere Jacques” in C Major/minor–two hands (LH intoning WHOLE NOTES with melody in RH) and displayed good physical coordination.

She effectively produced three echoes in this piece, increasing her dynamic range.

“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” followed, played Right Hand alone in Major, and then minor.

Separately, Rina practiced WHOLE notes on C in the LH, counting through them with me.

During the week mom will play the melody as Rina practices her Whole notes. (WHOLE NOTE HOLD DOWN… or 1-2-3-4)

Then the two partners will reverse parts. (I’m not recommending hands together TWINKLE practice as yet)


Rina is moving along at a nice pace, making excellent progress. Her attention span is remarkably improved since she first began piano lessons at age 4. I’m using many ideas that Irina Gorin embraces in her excellent instruction, Tales of a Musical Journey.

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Piano practicing, performance, and gym routines: Always Reach Beyond! (Video, Bach Invention 8 in F)

I take my inspiration from the two Irina/Irena-s, each pronouncing their names slightly differently. Irina Gorin is the ingenious piano teacher from Carmel, Indiana via the Ukraine, and Irena Orlov is from Washington D.C.’s Levine School of Music via Leningrad. They both inspire students to explore and draw out their deepest creative expression.

That’s what we should all be doing in our personal practice sanctuaries. I certainly try to evaluate and re-evaluate my own performances, whether they’re recorded for myself to review, or for You Tube. Regardless of having an audience of one, or many, the process of learning from experience, examining phrasing, physical comportment, and anything that might have intruded upon a free flow of physical and emotional expression (there’s that word again) is worth noticing.

That’s why I believe that videotaping yourself is an amazing teaching tool– one that can spur musical growth if you, the player, can distance yourself enough from the recorded sample to make some valuable observations. In other words, don’t be hard on yourself. Look at the mirror of your playing like it was someone else’s image– Think of a friend, whom you would not harshly criticize. Underline “O” for objectivity.

This type of mirrored self-analysis is the next best thing to having a teacher present looking over your shoulder. Or maybe you don’t want anyone encroaching on your space. Give yourself a breather and do a little self-assessment.

If you can spot places in your recording where something went awry, and not necessarily a glut of conspicuously wrong notes, you can try to pinpoint a physical problem, where perhaps a tense arm or wrist got in the way. You might remember at this moment, that you lost your breath and became anxious. Every aspect of one’s mental state and respiration factor into a total performance. Musical inspiration or intuition are not enough to get a pianist from the first measure to the final cadence. There must be a pacing, just like athletes know. Pianists are part athlete, part Terpsichore or any nyphm in the forest you choose to be–and part split personality when they’re playing. Vladimir Horowitz talked about fire and ice states when tackling the warhorses.

Being attuned to a relaxed physical state, in any case, works in a player’s favor

Which reminds me that today, a few hours before I attempted to record the whip-lashing, nerve-splitting, Bach Invention 8 on my iMac, I dashed off to Bally’s Gym, with my boots on, no less, and did a self-instigated photo shoot. Actually I aimed the silly Sony Cybershot at the mirror, not realizing that the flash (an automatic setting) would obliterate me, like I was blown up in one of those superhero video games. But at last, I survived once I knocked out the flash.

My goal was to get a pic of myself working out on the Gravitron where I build upper body strength and feel a good workout for my arms. It’s really helps leverage weight into the keys, so I strongly recommend it.

Here’s a fleeting look: I set the weight at 70, which means I’m pulling about 45 pounds. I follow up with 30-minutes of leg press, deep breathing all the way through.

Not to forget, that behind every performance, especially one being recorded, there’s a cat lurking in the wings ready to pounce at the wrong moment, sending any and all music to the trash! So make sure when you sit down to videotape yourself, that your feline is not permitted on the piano, in the piano, or near the piano. In this instance, Aiden was about to leap to the window sill to make his favorite racket, pawing the blinds.

Tutorial on this Invention 8, BWV 779–using a spring forward wrist motion:


Chopin Waltz in c# minor Op. 64 no.2, Cyprien Katsaris, Guiomar Novaes, iMac iMovie, Joyce Hatto, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, sound and video track problems, Steinway M grand piano, Vladimir Horowitz, word press, wordpress.com, Yeti microphone, you tube, you tube video

The woes of technology: No, I wasn’t finger synching someone else’s Chopin Waltz in C# minor (Videos)

I watched in disbelief as my 55th take of the C# minor Chopin Waltz Op. 64 went up in smoke. That is, it had been the most satisfying re-do, until I discovered that for 50% of the iMac iMovie, (commencing on p. 2) my hand motions and the music were out of synch. Add to this bizarre mix, (without having “mixed” anything in a recording studio) the music finally caught up with my fingers in the last few frames. A real heartbreaker! But such a quirky turn of events had at least proven that I did not fake the performance–or borrow the sound track from one of my Chopin interpreter favorites like Cyprien Katsaris, or Guiomar Novaes. (My playing was nowhere near the caliber of their readings so I shouldn’t stretch the truth) In any event it would have been a mighty task to study their poetry in motion and pull off a performance counterfeit.

The complete debacle was no doubt a stark reminder of the pianist Joyce Hatto who had acquired this unfortunate entry in Wikipedia:

“Joyce Hatto (5 September 1928 – 29 June 2006) was a British pianist and piano teacher. She became famous late in life, when unauthorized copies of commercial recordings made by other pianists were released under her name, earning her high praise from critics. The fraud did not come to light until a few months after her death.”

I was not going to land a similar footnote to my bio in life, or posthumously, just because of a wretched experience with iMovie. Shame on the Apple Support team for blowing off hundreds of fuming musicians whose hands, feet, guitar and drum tracks, you name it, were running amok in all directions!

Or maybe it was the Yeti mic that had spaced out on me. Who knows? I’d moved it back from the piano by a yard or two before recording. Big deal! That shouldn’t have thrown my body and soul out of kilter.

Enough said, except to emphasize, ex post facto, that I’ve posted the performance to You Tube out of sheer fatigue and frustration.

And of necessity I’m adding the obligatory disclaimers that 1) I’m in good health and have no motor movement problems 2) Yes, it’s actually me playing with all the perfectly intact imperfections in the reading, and 3) My noticeably out of tune “Haddy” Haddorff should be excused for its tonal shortcomings due to its 1951 vintage and failure to hold the last 3 closely spaced tunings. Cut it some slack in old age. It’s still a singing nightingale and was the best fit for the composer. My Steinway M grand would not do, because of its tightly packed hammers, and sadly there wasn’t a trace of a concert technician in agriculture’s heartland. Most can milk cows but not voice pianos.

The question remains, “When will this iMac related blight next strike?” It’s probably a dice throw, or a dung shoot. Such pangs of misfortune, no less, having been visited upon underlings such as myself, can boast the good company of Vladimir Horowitz whose hands started a measure ahead of the music in this performance of the Schubert Gb Impromptu, Op. 90.

So what’s not to like? You can close your eyes and forget the problem. (Oops, I think I heard a fire engine somewhere on the track, Oy Gevalt!)

Correction: One of the you tube commentators clarified what I thought was a visit from the friendly fire department:

“I believe what you heard was the sound of a church bell tolling outside, possibly from the nearby Karlskirche. It is a tad distracting, but it is also a strangely poetic coincidence, given the deeply emotional music and the fact that this was one of Horowitz’s last public performances.”