athletic training, boosting the left hand in piano playing, improving the performance of the Left Hand in piano playing, Keith Snell, Leon Fleisher, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano practicing, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano technique,, playing piano, Ravel Piano Concerto for the left hand, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press,, you tube, you tube video

More on boosting the Left Hand in piano playing

In poring over my library of blogs, with October, 2010 as their anniversary date, I found this one from May, 2011, with an embedded video that explored more ways to weigh in with the Left Hand.

A recent comment by a visitor on the subject of Left Hand enhancement, enlivened the discussion and synched in with my videotaped examples.

Dustin said:

October 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

“Hi. What I do is practice hands together scales – But with a twist!

“Pick a hand, any hand. Right or Left. Then play the scale itself but without pressing the keys down. It’s basically like just touching the keys. But the most important thing is to actually play the OTHER hand very strong and deep into the keys.

“So one hand is touching the keys and other is actually playing them. Then switch hands and do the same thing. After you can do this without thinking at slow and fast tempos, then try the following.

“One hand super super soft and the other forte. So instead of just touching the keys you will actually press them down but every so gently. Then switch hands.

“This teaches the hands to act in different ways – If you are having trouble with a passage in a piece, then try the same method. Just touch the left hand keys without pressing them down and actually play the right hand – then switch hands.”

Trust me, it works! 🙂

My comment: Agreed, yes it does! Thanks for posting!

Keith Snell, composer, teacher, music editor, and performer made these astute comments about composing for the Left Hand only:

“There are four basic reasons composers write music for the left hand alone:

1. Technical development. In most two-hand piano music, the demands made on the right hand exceed those for the left. To help equalize technical development between the hands, there is a body of left hand alone music written for this purpose.

2. Compositional challenge. For some composers, writing for the left hand alone is their Mt. Everest. A composer’s skill can be stretched by setting particular parameters, discovering new possibilities through self-imposed limitations.

3. Injury. The repetitive nature of practicing, can cause injuries such as tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome, and focal dystonia. Damage to a hand or arm can also occur through accidents. In either case, music for the left hand alone can become a necessity.

4. Showmanship. Pianists and audiences alike often find pleasure in moments of pure virtuoso display, and without a doubt, a certain portion of the repertoire for left hand alone is intended to impress and amaze!

It is my opinion that the best music written for the left hand alone usually falls into two or more of the above categories. For example, most composers who undertake to write for the left hand alone chose to do so because they find the challenge of interest, yet they may be writing for an injured pianist. Or, a pianist/composer may start by writing a piece for left hand technical development, and end up with an excellent concert piece of virtuoso display.”


Take note that Leon Fleisher and Keith Snell, among other fine pianists, suffered with focal dystonia and were compelled to seek out repertoire for the left hand. The Ravel Concerto composed for this very hand alone, is one of the most well known pieces in this universe.


Circle of Fifths, classissima,, ear training, five finger positions, five finger warm-ups, Fundamentals of Piano Theory by Keith Snell and Martha Ashleigh, Keith Snell, Keith Snell and Martha Ashleigh, Martha Ashleigh, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lessons, piano student, piano studio, piano teacher, piano teaching, pianoworld,, sigtht-singing, solfeggio, transposing music, word press,, you tube, you tube video

Piano Instruction: Solfeggio and Transposing (Videos)

Using Solfeggio or Solfege to advance ear training and to transpose pieces into various tonal regions is very helpful for piano students of all levels.

If we set a goal of memorizing the first 8 notes of a scale using the syllables, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti (or Si) Do, we’re on our way to understanding musical lines in any key that will have a common point of reference. This presupposes that “Do” (or the first note of any scale) is MOVABLE.

In C Major, “Do” would be C. In G Major, it would be “G,” and so forth.

With MINOR tonalities, the first note of a scale in any form whether it be Natural, Harmonic, or Melodic would also be “Do,” but certain internal alterations of the minor scale according to its structure and content would have the following solfeggiated syllables:

For C minor Natural form: C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

Do Re Me (pronounced may) Fa Sol Le (pronounced lay) Te (pronounced tay) Do

If we are in any tonality and an accidental (sharp or flat) is inserted within a measure, then solfeggio accommodates the change.

In the key of C Major, if a composer inserts an F# in the score, then FA (F) become Fi. For an Eb accidental, Mi (E) becomes Me (“may”) If A is lowered to Ab, La (A) becomes Le (Lay)

Many piano teachers start students on solfeggio before they learn note names because it imbues a consciousness of RELATIONSHIPS/interval spacing between notes. Unfortunately the STANDARD method books on the market fixate on Middle C and “C position” making students think that C is the interminable, FIXED, “Do” in the “happy” Major. That’s why I grab any opportunity to insert an Eb (May) in the score, creating the parallel C minor as a tonal variation.

A pupil should begin to explore transposition of primer melodies into many different keys by using a movable DO. Otherwise, he will spend several months to a year in a time-warped C-centered universe until the next method book is introduced. At that point G-centered, “G position” plows along in the same predictable course.

To support tonal exploration, a teacher can start a pupil on a regimen of pentascales, or five-finger positions that travel through different keys. The student should sing these back in the Major and parallel minor using solfeggiated syllables. Note names are not abandoned just because SOLFEGGIO is added. Both learning modalities should exist side by side. After alll, the more psycho-neuro-musical-linguistic connections made, the better for overall musical development–Solfeggio being a syllabic lingo that frames music.

Five finger position examples:

C D E F G Do Re Mi Fa Sol

followed by,

C D Eb F G Do Re Me (May) Fa Sol

I make sure to journey around the CIRCLE of Fifths with a student well before beginning full scale study.

In truth, many teachers are shy about placing small hands on five-finger positions in multiple sharp and flat keys, but I’ve found that pupils relish the opportunity to explore something new and different. They will happily shuffle their pentascales, playing them in Major, minor, parallel and contrary motion in diverse geographies.

A few 8 and 9-year olds are now leaping like frogs with spring forward wrists through Dozen a Day, Book one, no. 3 “Hopping.” Parallel minors follow “Major” playings and I use Solfeggio to intone the top voice of the parallel thirds. Once solidly grounded in the first two keys of C and G, students play hopping in the keys of D, A, E, etc. (Major and minor)

A teacher can spring from Faber’s C-D-E-F-G March in Primer Lesson Book One to a self-created “sad” march using Eb–and as the student develops more dexterity, NEW keys can supplement the original. That’s where SOLFEGGIO can be introduced as a SECOND language of musical understanding. (A simultaneous translation, perhaps)

For SKIP and STEP discrimination, solfeggio is the perfect vehicle. If a teacher is motivated to nudge a student into more adventurous tonal realms, the transpositions will pay dividends by improving sight-READING and memorization.

SINGING, of course, is central to SOLFEGGIO as both are EAR-TRAINING activities.

Looking at an original melody in one key, and superimposing another’s key’s letter names during transposition would be very confusing. A rudimentary melody offered in G, will be more easily played in D, A, E, B etc. by using solfeggio.

One of my students, at the advanced Intermediate level, who had learned to read notes in the conventional way with her first teacher, recently embarked upon solfeggio using Keith Snell and Martha Ashleigh’s Fundamentals of Music Theory, Unit 12. She was asked to sight-sing the first melody on the page after I gave her the Do of the key which was C. After sight-singing the example a few times using solfeggio, she played the melody with her eyes fixed on the music drawing on the same solfeggiated syllables. Other tonal transpositions followed, and each line of music in the treble and bass clef was parceled out using solfeggio.

The videos below illustrate the activity:


Here are the Chromatic solfeggiated syllables: (Si or Ti can be used for the 7th note of a scale. Lowered by half-step, they would be say or tay)

Do Di Re Ri Me Fa Fi Sol Si (or Ti) La Li Si (or Ti) Do
Do Si (or Ti) Say (or Tay) La Lay Sol Say Fa Mi May Re Rah Do

"Just Being At the Piano", Baroque music, creative learning environment, El Cerrito, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Faber Primer Piano Adventures, Facebook, Fresno California, fresno filmmakers alliance, harmonic analysis, Intermediate level piano repertoire, Internet, Keith Snell, keyboard technique, Lillian Freundlich, memoir, mind body connection, MTAC, MTAC Baroque Festival, music, music and heart, music teachers association, music teachers association of california, music theory, music video, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Nordiska, Northwest Fresno, Oberlin, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano society, piano warm-ups, Piano World,,, pianoworld,, playing piano, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace,, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway grand piano,, Teach Street, teaching piano to teenagers, technique, Theory, traditional piano teaching, Twenty five Progressive pieces by Burgmuller, video performances, whole body music listening, word press,, you tube, you tube video

The Art of Phrasing at the Piano: Starting the process with Beginners (Videos)

For some unexplained reason, my earliest piano studies never included the art of phrasing. My primer teacher stressed naming notes, finding them, affixing correct fingering and counting out robotic beats.

I knew nothing about feeling a melodic landscape; putting the vocal model center stage in my playing, and breathing through contoured musical lines. My pieces were flat-liners.

By the time a bass clef staff popped up on the pages of John Thompson’s Pixie platitudes, expanding my sketchy musical universe, I had no idea what to do with these new notes besides naming and locating them.

From my Beginner perspective, such unwelcome bass line strangers had no other role than being feebly attached to the right hand part. The black sheep of my musical cosmos, they owned a non grata status along with the black notes.

To say that I had no idea how to PHRASE these bass line notes, would have been an understatement. My awareness of shaping a musical line in either hand was non-existent until I met up with Lillian Freundlich, my piano teacher during years spent at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. During this period she turned my complacent universe upside down and transformed music making into a living, breathing experience with contours and shapes.

Lil Freundlich made me “sing” what I was studying, with parceled out treble and bass parts. (Often she would vocalize over my playing, nudging along phrases) When examining complex fugues, like those composed by Bach with multiple voices, she had me sing and shape all individual lines. Above and beyond contouring each voice, she taught me that the harmonic (vertical) dimension of a piece, offered insight about how to phrase the melodic line. “Resolutions” of Dominant to Tonic, for example underscored a tension/relaxation relationship that affected the total landscape of a composition from the top down.


In a previous blog with a companion video I had explored harmonic rhythm as applied to phrasing and interpreting Mozart’s Sonata in C, K. 545.

Example, A Skype Lesson-in-Progress to Greece:

Andante movement:

Mozart sonata 545 Andante revised

In the posting below, I’ve turned the clock back to the Baroque period, using the two voice G Major Minuet from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook, BWV 116 as a springboard for examining phrasing and interpretation.

And a Skype Lesson in Progress on this Minuet (Notice the hand rotation in the arpeggiated figures)

A step-by-step approach

1) I start with the Right Hand and ROLL into the G Major arpeggio, not in any way accenting the first note. All arpeggios have this natural, out flowing organic shape. In the first measure, the Dominant also appears through the progression from A to F# in the right hand. (The Left Hand beneath provides the root “D” of the Dominant)

Dominant to Tonic relationships suggest LEAN to resolve or relax.

It takes a bit of finesse to cross over to measure two, and RESOLVE the leading tone F# to the downbeat G, since the beginning of a new measure often ushers in a strong impulse.

In this case, it’s best to tastefully shape down the G in the second measure as it is a resolution note from the dominant in the proceeding measure. This whole figure with the G arpeggio to its resolution is in fact the subject or MOTIF of the minuet. It will thread through the composition from beginning to end.

A note of reminder that phrasing is assisted by phrase marks and inserted dynamics. (Keith Snell edited the Anna Magdalena edition I chose for this instruction)

2) Putting the treble and bass lines together is the next stage of the phrasing process.

In the G Major Minuet, a conversation transpires between two voices, so this dialog should be fleshed out, along with echoes of it.

The Minuet’s harmonic dimension is revealed once the treble and bass interact. Dominant (V) to Tonic (I), and Sub-dominant (IV) to Tonic (I) relationships suggest resolutions: Lean on Dominant/relax to Tonic; Lean on Sub-Dominant/relax to Tonic. These progressions permeate the first page and assist melodic contouring.

For Beginners

On the Primer Level, take the very popular piece “Russian Sailor Dance,” in Faber’s Piano Adventures, Lesson Book, and map out the lean and resolve notes.(Insert slurs where necessary) A student doesn’t have to know Dominant from Tonic to shape down notes. In a supportive role, the teacher will play the accompaniment to this piece, and voice down the Tonic resolution chord after the Dominant. She can sing the melody alongside the student as the duet is played with conspicuously resolved or relaxed notes. The echo phrases can be similarly fleshed out.This form of modeling makes a significant musical impact on the student. Duet playing, in particular, gives a pupil an opportunity to be part of an ensemble, to balance his part alongside the teacher’s secondo and emulate the staccato notes that bounce along in both parts. All these phrasing ingredients that include observing dynamics, blend together to create a satisfying musical experience.

Circle of Fifths, classissima,, composing, Creative Fresno, El Cerrito California, Faber Primer Piano Adventures, five finger positions, Fresno California, Internet, Keith Snell, memoir, MTAC, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, music theory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin, Oberlin Conservatory, pentachords, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano repertoire, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano tutorial,, pianoworld,, playing piano, publishers marketplace,, Randall Faber, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway and Sons, Steinway M grand piano, Tanglewood Music Festival, Teach Street, teaching piano scales, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching scales, technique, Theory, traditional piano teaching, uk-piano-forums, Uncategorized, video performances, whole body music listening, word press,, you tube, you tube video

Music Theory and Piano Study: It doesn’t have to be drudgery

Music Theory doesn’t have to be drudgery

If I turn the clock back to my early days as a piano student, I can say without a doubt that I absolutely HATED “Music Theory” or anything remotely related to it. And I can clearly thank my very pedantic teacher, Mrs. Schwed for this aversion. She made the hefty German army look like a bunch of weaklings when she hammered out the names of chords and keys. I didn’t know what hit me!

A complex vocabulary of “triads,” “inversions,” and “modulations” was like pig Latin, and such dizzying labels seemed completely removed from my pieces.

That’s not the way it should be.

The elements of music theory should be woven into the music we assign our students from day one.

For example, a Primer like Faber’s Piano Adventures, offers the opportunity to teach the PARALLEL minor by replacing E with an Eb in Lesson Book, p.24. Why wait for Red colored Book, Level 1 to expose young pupils to the “sad sounding” minor, as compared to the bright and “happy” Major. The word PARALLEL doesn’t have to attach to this discovery until a later time, but an awareness of bi-tonality can be imbued a lot sooner than most teachers would plan.

And how about having beginning students transpose the “C-D-E-F-G March” into different keys, exploring C Major/minor, through E Major/minor as a start.

What’s wrong with introducing a flat in the early phase of study. It works with “Hot Cross Buns,” for example, p. 6, Primer Performance Book.

Faber begins Primer Piano Adventures with unlabeled black notes but abandons them by page 19, deferring to a sea of favored white notes. Why postpone an early sharp or flat among the whites? Insert it when opportunity knocks!

Theory is Wedded to Music-making

Middle C fixation has already been regarded in many progressive quarters as stultifying, so why not similarly reject theory isolation from the nuts and bolts of PLAYING.

Let’s open our eyes to a wider universe that INTEGRATES theory into the pieces we assign our pupils, making the DOING, BEING, FEELING, of music-making allied to a deeper understanding of its form and content.

Fast forward the clock to the Intermediate stage of learning. By this time, the student should have had decent exposure to scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths. A Fundamentals of Theory series, such as the one produced by Keith Snell and Martha Ashleigh is a valuable companion if tied to repertoire-based study.

Kabalevsky’s “Clowns,” for example, sets up a perfect illumination of the Major/minor bi-tonality, and has a crisp and catchy staccato frame that engages students. Why not run with it and make annotations directly into in the music.

In one or two pages, (depending on the edition) a teacher can map out A Major and A minor in a close temporal relationship (two bars at a time) and compare a middle section that has the theme INVERTED or notated “upside down.” It’s not a stretch to perceive a change in tonality. The ostinato or repeated bass line fleshes out a transition to F, with its Major/minor duality reflected in the treble.

This engaging composition, tightly packed with harmonic duality, is a wonderful vehicle to teach an aspect of theory that would otherwise be spoon fed in an unappetizing way. (In worksheet form)

In this vein, I can say with perfect honesty, that the assignment most ignored or forgotten, relates to THEORY. Examples of student responses: “Ugh, Did I have to do it?” OR “I was too busy to remember.” More often: “I forgot that I had a theory assignment.” Sometimes a pet is used as an excuse in an insalubrious way. By then the student has used up the usual time-worn pretexts for forgetfulness.

Composing can be a motivator:

Finally, a word about composing as a vehicle for learning THEORY, especially in the formative stages of piano study. Right now I have a 7-year old student with 6 months of study under his belt who has been nursed along on Piano Adventures, and transposes most of his MAJOR sounding pieces to the Parallel minor by lowering the third. He thinks nothing of it and enjoys the tonal/emotional contrast. As a follow-up to bi-tonality exploration, he’s composed a phrase in C Major (five-finger position) followed by the same in the parallel minor.

Why not enrich his treble melody with a bass line? (That’s where the teacher’s assistance comes in) Inserting a bass part is a great springboard to understanding how a melodic outline fuels the choice of bass. Filling in voices as the process continues, creates an awareness of chords and later amplifies their function in a particular key or keys.

For certain, “Piano Students as Composers” is worth another blog, but I will defer that discussion to a later time. For now, I think of composing as an additional creative activity embedded into lessons.

For the Advancing Student

For an advanced player, theory should be interwoven into the fabric of learning so that it becomes second nature. (Add in a hands-on knowledge of scales, arpeggios and chords in every key and the joy of music is deepened)

Unfortunately, too many students who are technically proficient, lack an adequate understanding of how their pieces are composed. It’s like residing in a house with a shaky foundation.

For teachers who acquire transfer students with little if any theory knowledge, they’re faced with a huge ground-up endeavor to make up for lost time. But it’s worth the effort.

In summary, music theory shouldn’t be considered as archaic as Latin. It’s a living, breathing part of piano study that widens a student’s musical horizons and makes practicing more meaningful.


Supplementary video:

I sent an adult SKYPE student in Anchorage Alaska, a tutorial on “Major,” “minor,” and “diminished” chords that fed directly into her study of the J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor, p.2. Such an infusion of theory advanced and solidified her learning.

Celebration MTAC Fresno, Creative Fresno, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Faber Primer Piano Adventures, Facebook, Fresno, Fresno California, Keith Snell, keyboard technique, KJOS Music Company, MTAC, music, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, music theory, musicology, my space, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Northwest Fresno, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano practicing, piano student, piano teacher, piano technique, Piano World,,, pianoworld,, publishers marketplace,, satire, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway grand piano, Steinway M grand piano, Steinway piano, teaching piano to teenagers, uk-piano-forums, video performances, word press,, you tube, you tube video

The MTAC Celebration Festival, Anna Magdalena Bach, and Meeting Keith Snell (VIDEO)

Last weekend I journeyed to the Fresno State University Music Building to monitor Room 1 for the Celebration Festival sponsored by the Fresno branch of the Music Teachers Association of California.

Every February students from our city and surrounding areas are invited to play one or two pieces in a selected cubicle, (basically a music department practice room) that serves as a mini stage beside an audience of one. A branch teacher sits nearby with a simple evaluation form, jots down notes about each performance, and renders an overall rating of “Fair” to “Superior.” Each category has assigned points.

“Excellent” and “Superior” ratings bestow a handsome engraved Medallion, while only those earning “Superiors” play on one of many ongoing Honors recitals that are scheduled over the course of two weekend days. No one goes home empty handed. Lovely grand piano pins are more than a booby prize.

This year I had ten participating students, and most received the coveted Medallion that was tightly embraced like an Oscar, minus the heart-wrenching acceptance speech.

Nayelli, age 10, managed to eek out a “Superior” for her dazzling Performance of “The Juggler” by Faber, Lesson Book One. And with her honor came the hot news that rippled through my studio like lightning. First thing I heard from Sakura and Mai, two sisters who’d performed selections by J.S. and J.C. Bach at the Festival, was that “Nayelli” had scored a victory at the mini musical Olympiad. While all three students proudly wore their colorful ribbons with attached medals, the HONORS recital appearance seemed to carry the most prestige.

While I enjoyed swishing down the hallway from time to time with envelopes delivered to the front registration desk from an adjudicating teacher, I was most excited by a serendipitous event that occurred in the break room where mounds of croissants and bowls of fruit awaited Festival helpers.

Who should turn up but Keith Snell, composer, performer, and editor of the very prestigious Fundamentals of Theory course, not to mention a host of other publications including Selections from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook.

Snell’s Anna Magdalena edition was definitely a significant improvement over Schirmer’s, the mainstay of most piano teachers back in the 50’s and 60’s.

By a quirk of fate, I’d been practicing a few Minuets and Marches from the collection, and appreciated Snell’s thoughtful editing. Teaching these pieces to fledgling students was made easier by having enlightened phrase marks, intelligent fingerings, and a dynamic landscape that conformed with the style of the Baroque era.

But I wondered what this renowned individual was doing in Fresno? I would have tied his visit to judging a local solo competition.

I quickly learned that Keith had moved to the Valley and was actively involved in our Branch’s diverse musical activities. On the side, he flew out of the area to his sanctuary in England with stop-offs in other European venues–the life of a jet setting musician.

Following our convivial conversation, I paused to hear Nayelli play “The Juggler” in the big university recital hall before returning to my monitor post in Room 1.

The Festival ended at 4:30 p.m. while students trickled home with their awards.

By Thursday following Celebration 2011, I had already received a thick manila envelop with Certificates, and detailed performance reviews to share with my students. All but one had received an Excellent or Superior rating, which showed a curve of improvement since last February’s MTAC Celebration.

In any case, my pupils plan to be back next year, each one hoping to earn a coveted gold cup worth a minimum of 15 points. It may not be an Oscar to most, but for these kids, it comes pretty close.