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A new member of the piano family has arrived: “Haddy,” 1951 is home! (Video)

Yesterday was a sight to behold. My Haddorff, 1951, a stunning new acquisition, with an old world timbre (though it still needs a thorough maiden tuning in its new abode), was wheeled on a dolly, wrapped in blankets through the streets of Northwest Fresno. Traffic yielded, and two drivers jumped out with cameras. Two business people on a lunch break nudged the beauty over a minor bump. Otherwise it was a smooth ride made possible by Ginnadiy Mikerin, former owner of the Visalia Piano Gallery, who performed Olympiad “wheelies” with the dolly. His truck broke down, and we had to make do. Surely, he had the skills to coast along to my townhouse, zig zagging on his makeshift skate board sans piano.

The Haddorff, located practically around the corner from my home was artfully transferred with a few mesmerizing dolly maneuvers to home sweet home– Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy might have lowered “Haddy” out the window, making this quick transport along Shaw Avenue a piece of cake by comparison, though nonetheless an eye catcher.

At the one and only street crossing on Shaw and Arthur, Haddy weathered a few additional bumps, and regained a smooth ride onto the paved entry way to my townhouse, and from there, it was just a few weaves around rolled up rugs, before she was maneuvered into the space formerly occupied by the Casio PX110 Keyboard. The digital was promptly banished to the upper floor set beside my Aerobic Rider.

On the main tier, Haddy was joined by two Steinways, an upright (1098 model) and grand (circa 1917), keeping her dignity reserved for special playing times in and out of lessons. She would not be shared for it was her destiny to be an instrument for personal introspection and contemplation.

But onto the official welcoming ceremony as Haddy reveals how mellowed wine and music-making are wedded. (It has for me a more intimate, velvety tone)

A sample:

What I will do here, is play the same first two pages of the Mozart Drawing Room sonata on all three of my pianos to reveal the contrast in “color” that each instrument offers.

This journey among three instruments may at least enlighten about the character of various pianos and reveal why a player may favor one over another.

Please listen past the preliminary warbling of the Haddorff which is in a raw state. Its tuning will be refined after it has two weeks to settle in.

About the Haddorff Piano Company:

“Charles Haddorff was born in Sweden in 1864, and had studied European methods of manufacture and learned to play piano before he emigrated to the America. By 1898 he had become a piano factory superintendent. Founded by Charles Haddorff in 1901 in Rockford, IL with financial backing from P.A. Peterson they embarked upon building high quality pianos. Haddorff designed new piano scales for his grand and upright pianos preceded by a study of the scientific studies of theoretical acousticians. He called his soundboard design, “HomoVibrating Soundboard,” that was constructed to allow greater freedom of vibration.The cast iron plate was of extra heavy construction and was made with a custom shoulder mating against the pin block. The company also built the Bush & Gerts, Bennet , Hartzell, Karl Zeck and the Clarendon brands of pianos. From start to finish (1901-1960) there were aproximately 160,000 pianos built. After Charles died the company was run by the Krakauer Brothers. The Krakauer firm then sold out to the Kimball Piano Co and soon folded completely.”

Before Haddy came home, it was residing a few blocks away in a different ambiance. The tuner checked it over and was impressed. He did a rushed overview pitch raise to test the durability of pins, strings. It’s always a good idea to have the opinion of a technician before purchasing a piano.

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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.


http://www.keithsnellpianist.com/bio.html

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.

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What can you do with a Performance-Piano Degree?

Face the music! Most new Conservatory grads with fancy Bachelor of Music, Performance-Piano Degrees bound in leather must improvise when catapulted into the competitive job market. With only a tiny space on the world stage reserved for budding soloists, many aspiring concert pianists will teach privately, wait tables, babysit, or become high school choir accompanists.

In my case, upon Oberlin graduation, I spent nearly ten years working at the New York State Department of Labor, starting out as an Employment Interviewer in the Household Division. In my spare time, I schlepped around the city giving piano lessons.

My first students, Annie, 7 and Naomi, 5, who lived in an upscale apartment complex off Washington Square in the West Village, benefited from my idealism and determination to be uniquely creative.

Instead of relying on John Thompson’s pixie popular primer series with its middle C fixation, I decided to have my fledglings create their own compositions from scratch. They would write short poems with simple rhyme schemes and we would scan them as iambics or trochees, and from there pick out five-finger positions and create melodies. Before long, I had composed a book of enriched accompaniments that kept our creative juices flowing.

Eventually, I experimented with Robert Pace’s materials that continued to invite sound explorations as it encouraged transpositions, but my job at the State, reigned in my teaching, and I was pressured to become a weekend private teacher in my tight quarters on West 74th and Amsterdam.

The daily stint at the Household Office, though energy draining, afforded a colorful work backdrop. Each day I sent mostly African American and Latina maids into hostile work environments on the East and West Side of Manhattan and then fielded follow-up calls from angry employers about missing booze in liquor cabinets, scratched furniture tops, over-polished, gummy piano racks, shattered kitchen tiles and mysterious bathroom puddles.

These complaints forced my involvement in a fact-finding investigation, not my favorite undertaking.

With Form ES.2 in hand, I called the accused applicant to my desk from the peanut gallery that was stacked with myriads of maids, some literally smelling like Ajax (We had several complaints about one particular worker whom I ardently defended) Who cared whether she over-used scouring powder? Other people layered themselves with perfume or the latest deodorant on the market.

In fact, “Jane” still had a contingent of fans who always requested her.

Inevitably, she got off, was put on an ES3.22, watch hold, a form of probation, and continued to saturate homes with her occupational odors.

In the meantime, I was trying to complete my Master’s Degree in Music Therapy and to this end, invented a cardboard “scanner” decorated with an assortment of Employment Service forms. I cut a horizontal opening measured to a book line of print that allowed me to roll it up and down over my course work text so I could surreptitiously read large chunks of material.

With an understanding supervisor/budding Romance novelist who had me proof read her unedited chapters on the sly, I was able to arrange time off the job to complete a Music Therapy related Internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital on W. 14th Street.

For three afternoons a week I would design musical activities for short-term alcoholic and psychiatric patients enlisting the musical philosophy of Karl Orff, and at the end of my service I had published a paper in Hospital and Community Psychiatry, a Journal of the American Psychiatric Association that summarized the techniques used to improve social interaction skills. These included the use body percussion (clapping, snapping fingers, tapping knees), singing activities and individualized, private piano lessons, etc.

Psychiatric Services — Table of Contents (26 [7])
Shirley M. Smith. USING MUSIC THERAPY WITH SHORT-TERM ALCOHOLIC AND PSYCHIATRIC PATIENTS. Hosp Community Psychiatry 1975 26: 420-421 [PDF] …psychservices.psychiatryonline.org/content/vol26/issue7/

Naturally, with a publication to my credit and a new Degree in hand that was shipped to my office in a hollow tube resembling a toilet paper holder, I thought I was destined to acquire a music-related full-time job.

But like most others holding the same piece of parchment with Gothic lettering, there was no work out there for me. Music Therapy was not regarded with as much respect in those days as it is today. Art Therapy had far more clinical standing.

My relocation to California definitely advanced my private teaching career, though it was not enough to put food on the table. For supplementary income, I subbed for the Fresno Unified School District in every subject known to mankind, and as a side bar, I helped organize substitutes into a union because of dirt-low wages spanning ten years. This effort succeeded and carved out a new legacy for those of us who toiled in the trenches, and spurred much needed change in the work environment. Teacher Magazine and Education Week put Fresno subs on the map in articles about their victory against all odds. (“Substitutes Unite!” October, 1999 by David Hill) Among these fighting back subs, were a few piano teachers, most likely with performance degrees.

So what does a music major do in the long term with such a prize-less piece of paper?

On this final note, I can’t overlook my high school choir accompanying experience that stole precious practice time otherwise devoted to the works of Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and the other masters.

I won’t forget the day a pile of Christmas music with five endings, “da capo al fine,” and an added repeat inserted by the conductor was handed to me by the District’s Music Administrator. It was an overnight assignment with a medley of super-fast paced Christmas carols to be performed at the Big Winter Concert! While it went well, I swore I would never again be enslaved to such a pressure deadline to the tune of $12 per hour!

After that whole episode, I quit accompanying choirs and decided that teaching privately was my niche.

Coming back home was nice as it’s always been. Throw in some blogging and You tubing, and I was content.

Finally, with a sweet El Cerrito Hills piano sanctuary, I was, without a doubt, in seventh heaven!

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More trills, but bucolic and serene: Scarlatti’s d minor “pastorale” K. 9 (VIDEO)

Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata K. 9 in d minor (the “pastorale”)

The trills in K. 9 are far different than those permeating Scarlatti’s sonata K. 159 in C Major. The latter has a robust horn call opening with a lavish assortment of ornaments. The bright sounding Major tonality creates a dazzling brilliance:

By contrast the d minor Pastorale is wistfully beautiful with its very lovely theme weaving through the sonata, drawing the listener into a bucolic scene. The trills are tapestries not displays of technical prowess.

In the second half of the work, Scarlatti develops material in the opening section, preserving the mood, but darkening the theme before the piece gracefully winds to a close with its final resonating trill.

The d minor sonata, K. 9 is written in 6/8 time, but is felt in lilting two’s, providing an undulating rhythm that matches the mood created.

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/trills/

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Piano Instruction: Learning the F# minor scale (video)

I made this video after plunking the “devil” beside Bb Major in my previous blog, so if you review the basic approach in that post, you’ll get my sway about scales in general. It’s always better to think in GROUPS rather than individual notes.

For F# minor in its Natural or PURE form, let’s cut to the chase:

F# G# A B C# D E F# G# A B C# D E F#

It’s related to its daddy or mommy, “A” Major (depending on your gender classification preference) so it contains THREE SHARPS: F#, C# and G#

In all Natural Minors, there are half steps between scale degrees 2 and 3, and 5 and 6.

Note the fingering adjustment at the very beginning in the Right Hand only.

Play the first two notes F# and G# with RH fingers 2 and 3
(In the video, I explain why)

The Left Hand uses fingers 4 and 3 on the same notes (F# and G#)

In every subsequent octave, the sequence of F# to G# will be played as MIRROR fingers (LH: 4,3 RH: 3,4) so it’s a great idea to chunk these groups across the piano, remembering to cap the scale at the top with fingers 3 in both hands on F#.

The chunking should be UP and DOWN to four octaves.

These notes should also be chunked across the keyboard (4 octave model) A, B (LH 2,1 RH 1,2) MIRROR Fingerings

AND

D, E (LH 2,1 RH 1,2 ) MIRROR Fingerings

3’s meet on C# in both hands after the initial intro into the scale with the adjustment fingering previously mentioned.

Pinpoint these 3’s on C# and travel across the keyboard up and down.

The last step is chunking all pertinent note groups with the inserted finger no. 3 points on C#.. Just make sure to cap the scale with 3’s in both hands and to end the scale coming down with the adjusted fingering (RH..3 to 2, G# to F#)

Above and beyond the groupings enumerated, I tend to focus my attention on the F#, G# portions of the scale as these are raised notes in pairs, so I pivot toward them as the
core of this 4-octave step-wise progression.

Finally practice the scale with a Legato touch–smooth, connected at a MF dynamic (Medium Loud)

quarters 2 octaves
8ths 2 octaves
triplets 3 octaves
16ths 4 octaves
Follow with a pair of staccato 16ths to 4 octaves (medium loud MF/mp)

For more advanced students, add 32nd notes, legato/staccato

RELATED:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/why-play-scales/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/the-most-reviled-scale-for-piano-players/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/sports-and-piano-technique-how-about-chunking-on-you-tube/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/from-chords-to-gym-and-back-you-tube-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

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The most reviled scale for piano players!! (Video)

Bb C D Eb F G A Bb C D Eb F G A Bb

***

Last night I had a rap session with a student on the subject of his favorite scale. And it quickly dawned on me that this whole area of discussion, while definitely out of the mainstream and not a life or death issue, might be worth a survey.

Did I hear myself right?

If, for example, I asked myself what scale was the most difficult to teach, it would be a no brainer: Bb Major, resoundingly!!

In talking with myriads of pupils that have come through my studio over the years, the overwhelming consensus was that Bb Major had been a finger tripper, if not a confidence crusher.

But why? It only contains TWO FLats, Bb and Eb!

One student called it the “daddy long legs” scale because of its many strands, ins and outs, with a glaring absence of black key patterns to hold it together.

Well said: B, F#, and C# Major and their “enharmonic” equivalents in FLATS (Cb, Gb and Db) are a piece of cake by comparison despite their generous content of black notes. At least the thumbs meet between the double and triple black keys which use mirror fingers. (Easy to “chunk” or block out during practice routines)

Bb Major is another story

In fact when playing Bb Major with two hands, the only place the same fingers land on a common note is on G, the sixth tone into the scale, hardly the CORE of this step-wise progression. So when the 2’s land on G, one hardly notices it. In fact that very spot can be a finger-trapper because of what precedes and follows. A student might consider himself lucky to make it to G in the first place, let alone with the correct fingers along the way, in sequence.

Because the internal “organizers” of this scale are few and far between, and on the surface non-existent except for the G already mentioned, the brain has to come up with a different way to piece it together.

Suggestions:

First think of this scale as having a symmetry in its asymmetry?

(Would Shakespeare have been amused with this play on words?)

In Twelfth Night, He nobly said, “If music be the Food of Love, play on..”
(But would he have known in the 17th Century, that Bb Major might have ruined his love banquet)

To salvage the ruins and restore a modicum of love for the Bb scale, consider the following:

Begin the scale on Bb using finger no. 3 in both hands. (At least you think this scale will be a piece of cake with an easy start like this, and having the right frame of mind is half the battle)

Next, notice the second and third notes into the scale which are C and D..
Between the hands, there are MIRROR images of the fingers that play these notes.

In the Right Hand C has finger number 1 (thumb) and D, finger 2
In the Left Hand C has finger number 2 and D finger 1

Everyone loves a MIRROR when prepared to look at it.
(Think 1,2/2,1)

Just wait, it gets better:

Eb is the fourth note into the scale:
In the Right hand, use finger 3
In the Left hand, use finger 4

If you say, 3 over 4 enough times you realize there’s a happy reconciliation between the two numbers–at least they’re chronological.

The good news is we have just accounted for the second black note or flat in this scale, but we had deceived ourselves into believing the very first flat (Bb) would always have common 3’s in each hand.

When Bb comes back again, right at the scale PEAK as the 8th note, before it goes into the second octave,

the Right hand uses finger 4
the Left hand uses finger 3

A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE–oops, I meant the opposite of what happened with Eb

Reminder, Eb uses 3 in the Right hand
Eb uses 4 in the Left hand

Bb uses 4 in the Right Hand
Bb uses 3 in the Left Hand

In every subsequent octave, the player just needs to keep track of Bb and Eb, thinking chronological number reversals in both places.

The numbers 3 and 4, therefore are the biggies
If one hand has 3 on a black note, the other must have 4

So keeping track of just TWO BLACK NOTE FLATS is not too big a serving for most who are willing to give the scale a second chance.

Finally there are THREE notes, unaccounted for in the GROUP context.
And they are F, G, A

We already tagged G as having common finger number 2 between the hands, but that’s not enough to pull this scale together.

The brain prefers to think in groups or chunks:

So think of F,G,A, which are the remaining notes, as having a MIRROR fingering between the hands

In the Right hand F uses 1; G uses 2 and A uses 3
In the Left hand F uses 3; G uses 2 and A uses 1

Summary for F, G, A
1, 2, 3 over 3, 2, 1

Practice routines:
1) Isolate all the Bbs after the first introductory one, and play with both hands (RH 4 over LH 3) Use the 4 octave model.

2) Isolate all the Ebs across the keyboard with both hands
(RH 3 over LH 4)

3) Chunk or BLOCK all the C, Ds (RH 1,2, LH 2,1) Reminder: 4 octave model

4) Chunk all the F, G, A’s (RH 1,2, 3 LH 3,2,1)

5) Finally Play the flats, followed by the chunks until you reach the last note (Bb)

6) Note the 4 finger roll-out in the Right Hand at the conclusion of the scale, going up: F G A Bb (1,2,3,4)
Get used to ending the scale on 4 in the RH.

Time to play it straight (in Legato-smooth and connected) with the following rhythms with MF dynamic (medium loud)

Two Octaves: quarters
Two Octaves: 8ths
Three Octaves: Triplets
Four Octaves: 16ths
Four Octaves: staccato 16ths (medium loud/medium soft)

For more advanced students, add 32nds Legato/staccato MF/mp

While mathematical strategies assist in navigating a scale in the course of learning process, above and beyond these numerical twists and turns, the rendering of a scale must be musical, with a permeating singing tone, and internal shaping.

It’s the teacher’s job to illuminate the dimensions or properties of a scale, and subsequently integrate them into a whole.

Please share your favorite or most challenging scale.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/why-play-scales/

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Adult piano students say and do the darndest things.

I remember Art Linkletter’s show, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” which made me think of a few adult piano students and their hauntingly memorable words.

Yesterday, for example, I was forewarned by a 70-year old pupil, that I should expect a call from her during the night about the key of “F# minor.” What impending crisis was she talking about? Did it have to do with the Melodic form of the scale and its raised notes going up, but not coming down? Was it the temporary shift in fingering or the modal turnaround? I’d concede that the “melodic” was a cliff-hanger on the ascent with its “raised” 6th and 7th notes, but definitely a descending blow-out in its restored “natural” form. Would this duality catapult a student into full-blown despair?

F# G# A B C# D# E# F#
E D C# B A G# F#

The Circle of Fifths for Major and Minor Scales

Wait a minute, my 70-year old, wasn’t assigned the more complicated Melodic minor this week. She was supposed to practice the NATURAL FORM with mirror fingers, 4, 3, and 3,4 on F# and G# in every progressive octave, with 3’s meeting on C# in both hands. We’d spent a few lessons on these reciprocal relationships and symmetries, though she’d planted her 4th finger on two different notes in the same octave, hoping I wouldn’t see the guilty left hand from my vantage point at the second piano. But my peripheral vision had been fine-tuned from hunting down crossed-hand notes with rolling eyeballs.

All humor aside, it’s always difficult to navigate scales that are not strict patterns of two and three-black key groups with thumbs meeting like those of B, F# and C# Major and their “enharmonics” spelled in flats: Cb, Gb and Db. But just about every scale has an internal symmetry that can be explored to best advantage regardless of its location on the Circle of Fifths.

The scales of C, G, D, A and E fall under one heading where the bridge between the octaves has a reciprocal fingering or mirror.

In the case of C Major, the 7th note B crossing over C to D, uses finger numbers 4, 1, 2 in the Right Hand while the left plays 2,1, 4. The anchor finger over which 4 passes in either direction, holds things together.

In previous writings and videos, I also pinpointed where finger number 3 met in both hands, providing another internal organizer.

For the student who was rattled by F# minor, a scale that had a novel identity, we found a different location for mirror fingers, but still a helpful aid.

Another pupil, a US Attorney who’d been chasing robber barons in South Carolina, was worried that he didn’t get to the piano this past week, so he let me know in no uncertain terms by telephone and text message, fax, email, registered mail, certified mail, and just plain 3rd class snail mail, that his upcoming lesson would “just be a practice.” I wondered to myself, had he otherwise feared a public flogging in front of Starbucks?

He had done very well over the years, reconciling the relationship of scale study with his desire to improve his understanding of the Beethoven sonatas and other repertoire.

I’d previously mentioned Ralph Cato, the US Olympic boxing trainer who was my sparring partner for ten minutes following his lessons. Every week he’d use my staircase for athletic training and balance routines. Was I dreaming? Because his coaching was pert and perfect, I’d wished his precise directions were recorded for posterity, though they remain a lingering memory.

Up in the Bay area, a retired lawyer, used her iPhone to capture angles of her hand and fingers that were used as learning reminders between lessons.

I had started to believe these technology based aids were helping her and I had to get with it without resisting change.

She’d admitted that her first piano teacher, a nun in a rural Texas parochial school, had used a ruler to beat her hand into a rigid, arched position.

Oops, maybe I’d mixed her up with my paternal grandpa who ran away from the Cheder in Latvia after his knuckles were skinned with a cat o’ nine tails by the head Rabbi. He’d ditched his Torah lessons.

Oh well, some teachers over generations used this same dastardly approach.

In a few years, none of us would be collecting colorful stories about our piano students. We’d be replaced by micro robots who’d comb the keyboard, electronically marking fingerings for every major and minor scale.

An exaggeration, perhaps.

In retrospect, I should have appreciated middle-of-the-night calls from my 70-year old student. At least I could log them for a growing anthology of pianorama.

RELATED:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/piano-instruction-learning-the-f-minor-scale-video/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/piano-technique-related-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/the-iphone-invades-piano-lessons/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/cato-his-killer-keyboard-and-a-round-of-piano-lessons/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/a-piano-teachers-worst-nightmare/

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