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When is Superbowl Sunday? I better find out before it’s too late.

Shades of 1988, when I committed the biggest crime of my life. I dared to schedule a student recital on the most SACRED day of the year, Superbowl Sunday! What did I know having been raised on baseball, the Brooklyn Bums and heart-breaker pennants?

In Fresno, Bulldog fever was RAGING when I relocated from the Big Apple!

Championship football games, tailgate parties, hoop mania, and yes, even Girls Softball grabbed all the attention. Music education was relegated to the sidelines. At best I was coach of the bungling, Bad News Bears, a team of kids who never made it to PIANO practice. Soccer tournaments preempted lessons.


Amidst a swirl of sports events, I’d already booked the chapel, and not for my confessional. The pricey rental that I deep-pocketed came with a snazzy 9-foot Yamaha and lavender lighting. For an extra few bucks I got a tech who rolled in the night before to check on the heater, and to set up a long aluminum refreshment table.

He’d warned me that any goodies were to be consumed as far from the sanctuary as possible–maybe, to be safe, in the next room, a.k.a the rec hall. Any detectable crumbs incurred a $50 clean-up fee.

Such sacrilegious morsels were the least of my worries. Superbowl fever and its consequences were looming.

On the Big Day, a designated celebration of musical thanksgiving, a parade of parents entered the religious space wired up with ear phones, and what looked like antennae mounted on mini-TVs. There were VCRs (existent in those days) and fanny packs filled with ear buds. The clip-ins made parents look attentive while they were tuned out. A few moms unplugged them in time to catch junior’s 45-second sheet music tribute to a reptile. (“The Turtle, That’s Me!”)

Dads basically checked out, wandering off beyond sound detectable range, engrossed in field goals and bad penalty calls, but a few dropped back in to hear little Tommy play “That Thing Has No Name,” or sister Sue tap out the “Martian Dance” for a spaced out audience.

How these pupils managed in this chaotic setting was a Ripley’s Believe it or Not miracle-in-the-making.

Curiously, no one stayed to eat the chips and dips I offered in a pleasing post-concert spread. Parents stuffed their kids into car seats and drove off without a polite farewell of gratitude.

Next up were time-delayed Tailgate parties with beer, pizza, and buffalo wings. Beef Jerky added a deleterious dose of indigestion.


In the weeks that followed, a sizable group of my students dropped out. Was it a mystery?

By coincidence, the kids pulled from piano were neighbors on the Bluffs, (a man-made hill overlooking a man-made canyon with scads of hares dropped off by helicopter) It was a far cry from the natural, awesome landscapes of Malibu, or Monterey. In truth, the FAKE bluff was further miniaturized through the window of a passing Amtrak train. At least for beauty alone, Fresno could still boast the The Old Van Ness environs draped in mature pine trees on lavish acreage.

But I wasn’t going to raise consciousness about this, or anything related to my adopted home town.

As a priority, lessons had to be learned from the 1988 debacle.

At the stroke of midnight, 1989, I therefore pledged to be as conscientious about noting any calendar of conflicts affecting dental appointments as pertained to the former bi-annual student piano recitals.


Fast-forward to 2012:

Now that the chapel around the corner is over-charging music teachers, I use the new Valley Music Center for my musical EVENT. It’s dwindled down to ONE because of competing sports and dance activities. For sure, MTAC planned Festivals can fill in the gaps for those motivated.

Oops, I just noticed that I recommended attendance at the Daniil Trifonov concert which falls on a February Sunday.

I better check this date out pronto before I risk a major loss of students!




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Memorization at the piano: How to improve your skills

Memorization should be a natural outflow of consistent, thoughtful practicing. Thoughtful is underscored because it’s the most important ingredient in the process of playing a studied piece without music. It means having mental assists that relate to mapping out a particular composition without chance reliance on intuition or instinct. So if you suddenly find yourself lost in a piece without having your music propped up on the rack, your mapped sense of it, should re-orient you.

What do you map during practice sessions?

1) Start by knowing what key the piece is in. (this presupposes an understanding of how scales move on the Circle of Fifths, acquiring Sharps in Clock-wise motion, and Flats in Counter-clockwise motion)

But even if your knowledge of the Circle is scant, you can still “know” that your Sonatina, Prelude, or popular music are in individual keys with so many sharps or flats. (You would have to differentiate Major from minor, by “listening” to the piece, and noticing where it comes to rest in the last measure: final cadence) Having a deeper knowledge base related to Major and minor scales; various forms of the minor, and how they are constructed are even better organizers, but whatever level of key awareness you can muster, is better than none.

Go over the scale of the Major or minor key the piece is in. Play one octave up and down, feeling the physical terrain, with designated sharps and flats.

Do you notice that the piece changes key at any point(s) in the music? You might observe a NEW inserted key signature along the way. MAKE note of it, and play out the scale of the NEW key. Write the KEY name into your music.

If there are any scale passages in the music, make a written reference, and see if you can chunk or group the notes, through which the thumb passes or shifts. (Cluster the finger “tunnels” and move the thumb deftly through them) This should imprint how the passage “feels” along with your having a cognitive awareness of its name.

2) Map Phrases

Are there any that repeat exactly as they first appeared in the music?

If, yes, make a mental and written note of it. You might CIRCLE phrases that repeat.

What about those that are nearly the same but deviate in some way?

Tab these mentally, and circle the part of the phrase or phrases that are different. You should play the two phrases, side- by-side, to experience the change.

What about the interval content of a phrase or phrases? Do you see a pattern of skips or steps going up or down? Fourths, fifths, sixths?

Are there any broken chord figures in the melody? Arpeggios? Note and PLAY through these passages.

Do you observe melodic sequences, where a particular phrase sounds the same on a repeat except that it’s played higher or lower on a different key level? If so, insert the word SEQUENCE into your music and physically experience the change over and again with this simultaneous cognitive awareness. (Label the key transition)

3) Map out Fingerings. Use a practical fingering in your practicing. Hopefully, the editor will have provided a good one throughout the score.

For some players, their memory box assists are only based on retrieval of fingerings, so when push comes to shove, having a smooth, facile fingering may keep a piece from falling apart with or without music.

Sometimes fingerings that are designated in the music provide an occasional bonus for the player. Where 2’s might meet in both hands on the way to a cadence, it’s like a painting by numbers giveaway that holds the piece together where it would otherwise not make it to the final cadence. Look for these finger symmetries including instances of MIRROR or reciprocal fingerings between the hands, and practice pertinent phrases and passages.

4) Map Form
After you’ve read through your piece for the first or second time, getting a sense of its melodic landscape before delving into the vertical dimension, make note of its over-all form. Is there a big A section, followed by a different sounding Middle Section (B) followed by a return to the A? Is there anything else going on, like an added ending or Coda? Be sure to write in these section (Letter) designations within your music as these are important music organizers that aid learning and memory.

In addition, notice where the piece PEAKS or comes to a climax. Was there a KEY CHANGE? (How about a shift in dynamics?) Take note and insert in your score.

If your piece is in Rondo Form, it may follow the scheme: A B A C A D A etc.
Knowing what rondo form is, and applying it to your music, if pertinent, is another important organizer that aids memorization.

When it comes to Inventions, Fugues, etc. knowledge of form is critical to learning and memorization. Knowing subjects, counter-subjects, episodes, etc. requires an understanding of the musical period and compositional practices, etc. This is a level of memorization that belongs to the advanced realm of piano study.

Part of form is noting the movement of voices between treble and bass. Do these move in Parallel motion in parts pf the piece, or in Contrary motion?(opposite directions) Notate what you observe and play through these sections.

5) Map Harmonies
Here we get to a more sophisticated analysis of a piece of music that aids learning and memory. If you’re playing a pop piece, you might see guitar based identities of chords like C7, G, G min, A dim. etc above the treble staff, or there might be inserted Roman numerals.

These assists are only as valuable as your understanding of chord building, or better yet, the relationships between chords as they originate from Scales in all Keys. Otherwise, you might fall into a formula-based track, which is all well and good if you can learn how to grab these chords with a degree of fluency.

In the Classical repertoire, you won’t see these harmonic tabs, but you would do well to analyze the harmonic flow of your piece with the help of your teacher or a Theory workbook. (I recommend Keith Snell’s series)

The depth of your learning process will relate to the time and effort you spend studying theory/harmony alongside your daily practicing. It will enrich your learning, provide more valuable LANDMARKS, and give you a better map of what you are playing.

Under Map harmonies, you will note the MODULATIONS where the composition moves into different tonal centers or KEYS. Or you can become aware of Harmonic SEQUENCES with the same harmonic outline or progression on a different KEY Level.

This journey into various tonal realms should be notated in the music, and mentally absorbed. PLAYING and KNOWING what is transpiring on a tonal level, will firmly lay the foundation you need to learn on a deep level and to naturally memorize as the outcome of your thoughtful practicing.

Part and parcel of tracking harmonies, is observing the bass pattern, whether broken chords in sections, or ostinato ( a repeated bass pattern)

Ostinati, are great organizers because they repeat over and again throughout a composition. (You will find an Ostinato in Pachelbel’s Canon)

6) Map Dynamics. While dynamics may not help with note retrieval during a memory lapse, or give harmonic context to your piece, it will certainly be an ingredient in polishing your fully memorized performance. Circle any ECHO phrases–from Forte to piano, where they occur in your music, and make note of where the CLIMAX of the piece occurs. It may have an elevated dynamic. (Climax designation is also part of Mapping FORM)

The Climax may also have a poignant KEY CHANGE, so indicate it in your score.

In summary, any learning aids related to phrasing, fingering, form and harmonic analysis are valuable when it comes to memorizing your pieces.

But underlying this whole process, is a non-judgmental, self-accepting attitude. Getting tensed up, not breathing natural, relaxed deep breaths– grabbing notes like there’s no tomorrow will not advance learning or memorization. So reserve a part of the day for your practicing that is free from interruption. Enjoy the time spent with your music and savor its beauty.


Of special importance: Knowledge of Solfege and its application to learning, and subsequent memorization:


I will be posting videos that flesh out these aids to memorization.



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Piano Technique: Big Leaps, Crossed Hands, and shifty eyeballs (with slow motion video replay)

up tempo:

Be prepared to exercise your eyeballs minus head movements when tackling large leaps, especially those hand-over-hand acrobatics that are intrinsic to many of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas.

In the first video I’ve isolated a few of these jumps from Sonata K. 113 in A Major, demonstrating what I’ve found to be the best approach.

While I’ve crashed and burned on more than one occasion, a new consciousness emerged through trial and error.


1) No bobbing head back and forth when playing crossed hands.

Use your shifty eyeballs, if necessary, to target the destination notes going back and forth over your right hand.

There are two places that stand out in this sonata. The first involves two octave, crossed-hand jumps. The Left travels back and forth over the right multiple times.

In the second instance, there are jumps of four octaves, and these can be suicide trips, unless mediated by shifty eyeballs.

2) Use an arc-like motion back and forth, but not too high, or you’ll lose contact with the keys.

3) Block out the broken chord progressions in the right hand as they move in sequence. Then unblock them before adding in the left hand.

Be calm, relaxed, and breathe deeply but not anxiously.

Finally, say a prayer..

CLICK to enlarge (page 1 and 2, Sonata, K. 113 by Scarlatti)

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The Big Baroque Festival!

I cleared most of my Saturday morning lessons so I could be on time for a special rehearsal at Fresno State. I took no chances given the steady rain these past few days that caused dangerously deep puddles along Shaw Avenue. The inevitable flow of traffic to crowd-jamming Bulldog games would also be a time delayer. (What season were we in?) My ignorance reminded me of the time I inadvertently scheduled a student recital on Superbowl Sunday. I had booked Northwest Chapel well in advance for a particular weekend afternoon, and naturally a specific Sunday in February was the only one available. Not a mystery with all the sports hoopla engulfing the city of Fresno. Since a pile of tailgate parties had to be canceled on account of my recital, the inconvenience cost me 4 students. And by coincidence, these kids all lived on the BLUFFS, a pseudo wealthy northwest enclave where homes overlooked a custom contrived pasture. (I noticed similar landscapes along my weekly train route to the Bay) It appeared that almost every city had set aside acres for panoramic views of a deep, expansive ditch decorated with trees, a few roaming horses, and some wild dogs chasing a few rodents that needed easy disposal) Here in Fresno there had been a fever pitch rush to buy such properties on the newly fabricated hills back in the late 80’s. (But I often wondered if the people hawking these houses, realized that a chugging, whistle blowing train would whiz by at frequent intervals, turning their dream homes into railroad flats)


Despite the fact that these Bluffs parents were put off by my recital scheduling on the day of a mega sports event, they still managed to show up for their kiddies’ concert with a variety of television hook-ups. Since iPhones had not yet arrived, I wished I had brought my camcorder to videotape some of the instant replay videotaping going on. No joke. The unpleasant distractions virtually ruined all of my students’ performances.


Flash forward: Thank God, today’s musical event at the university didn’t compete with football mania. (I happily reminded myself that the Superbowl came and went)

A high brow Baroque Festival sponsored by the Music Teachers Association of California had been planned in the afternoon, and one of my ten-year old students eagerly participated. The event had a competitive edge because only 1/3 of the entrants would be selected to go on to the Regional recital. In simple terms, those who were picked in this round by two esteemed out of town judges, would play in March at an Honors performance. It came with a Certificate of recognition and a handsome medallion. Not exactly an Olympic event, but for some keyed up students, it was a good comparison.

For starters, at 11:30 a.m. my student and I met at the concert hall to test out the stage piano.

Just last week, I had nearly died, thinking I missed my student’s run through, because a mistake was made in the announcement put out by the local music teachers association. Or maybe it was last year’s flier that got sandwiched into my branch’s Yearbook with an erroneous date of 2011 instead of 2010. Naturally, with the old dating, the February Festival would have been past history along with me.

What a relief to have come back from hell this week with another shot at being this kid’s teacher. Close call.

Today this very talented youngster performed two Bach Inventions weeks after she had appeared faceless on You Tube demonstrating her technical prowess. With only her HANDS on camera, she was put through grueling technical paces, playing every scale and arpeggio known to mankind. A bit of an exaggeration, but used to give her credit for hanging in there with a camcorder gaping over her shoulder.

Here’s a snatch of her anonymously rendered keyboard agility:

(Note that one of the pianos on video was waiting for a tuning, while the other had just received one. Hence, the warbling between them.)

In any event, the formerly invisible student, finally emerged with a face attached to her name, along with an assigned number that followed her to the Walberg concert hall stage that was equipped with a 9 foot size Yamaha.

Incidentally, last year I had learned a mighty lesson about Festival pianos and warming up. Mistakenly, I permitted a student to practice on a small upright piano in one of the university’s cubicles after she had tried out the concert hall’s concert grand. The diminutive practice size instrument had a very light action by comparison to the house piano’s resistant touch, so when my pupil played the first few notes of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on stage, they totally disappeared. Naturally, she was caught by surprise and remembered the most recent piano she had tried. Live and learn.

The atmosphere at today’s Festival, or COMPETITION, was superficially low keyed. Everyone was supposed to be celebrating the age of the Baroque without a second thought, and I guess I should have joined in the fireworks, or the candle lighting ceremony but neither took place.

In preparation for the ordeal, or golden opportunity, however one wanted to spin it, I gave my student a copy of Just Being at the Piano by Mildred Portney Chase and told her to meditate over several selected, underlined passages.

I made sure to recommend my favorite mantra:
“To be a pianist, in one sense of the word, is to think that a daddy long legs on the window sill is dancing to your playing; it is to think that the breeze came through the window just to talk to your music; it is to feel that one phrase loves another; it is to think that the tree is a teacher of the tranquility you need in your playing. It is to know a loneliness crowded with the beautiful as you play.”

These words had worked like magic with another student who had made it to the Regional recital two years ago. In honor of her sterling playing, I had framed a picture of her holding a Certificate and wearing the medallion. But by far the truest memento of her 2009 Baroque Festival appearance, was a DVD that captured a portion of her “live” performance.

Here’s the c minor fugue from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book I coming from Fresno State University’s concert hall. (excuse the raw footage with some sound irregularities)

PS An in depth documentary is in progress about what transpired at the MTAC sponsored Baroque Festival. In the meantime, winners will be alerted by email on Sunday Feb. 20, 2011 so the suspense is killing most of the participants.

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A Performance I’ll Never Forget!

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to provide keyboard music at a Fresno art supply store. It happened quite unexpectedly around the time I’d bumped into Ralph Cato, US Olympic Boxing Trainer at the neighboring Guitar Center. (“Cato, His Killer Keyboard and A Round of Piano Lessons”)

Because I liked the establishment’s acoustical environment, I volunteered to serenade customers with Christmas music on my PX110 digital.

The space, located in a busy shopping area right beside Trader Joe had a high, wood beamed ceiling that gave a shimmer to even the worst bell and whistle keyboard, so my more spiffy 88-key, “weighted” one, would surely soar with streams of electronically generated sounds.

With the permission of the owner, a perky, middle aged woman, I plopped myself down with my gear next to a neat row of easels and promptly served up a menu of popular holiday carols along with Handel’s “Messiah” excerpts. It was enough of an audience draw to land me a steady paid gig at the “Second Saturday Art Exhibition,” hosted by this very establishment.

Each month local artists displayed and sold their paintings, while one selected in advance, was given a well publicized teaching table to share techniques with interested customers. The location was conspicuously at the front of the store.

I was to arrive at 10 a.m. to set up my keyboard, stand and other accouterments, and once settled in, I had agreed to play a steady stream of classical music, setting a nice tone for the event.

The owner strategically placed me behind the featured artist, who, on this particular weekend, would display her rock and roll subject era paintings. At first glance, these hardly made an impression, but upon closer examination, I realized that she had produced thought-provoking works. One, titled, “Solitude,” with a Beatles theme, had an instant association to “All the Lonely People,” one of my favorite songs. Its moody grays, pinks–shadows and silhouettes were mesmerizing, and the more I gazed upon it, the more I hungered to acquire this treasure as a trade for doing a few dinner parties at the artist’s house. Maybe she’d consider it. “Give me your business card,” she had said, before things got underway. A few had separated from my wallet and were lying on the floor beside my Casio keyboard, at risk to be trampled, but I had decided to leave everything in place, without a second thought.

The artist, a plump, middle aged woman, with flaming dyed red hair and steel green eyes sat by her table alongside one of her flamboyant keyboard theme murals. Occasionally, she dabbed it with grays and yellows while her husband, who appeared to be in his late 60’s, registered a strong, protective instinct toward her. Intermittently, he chatted with visitors to the gallery and carried on prolonged, audible chats with them.

I had just about set up after having lugged my 27 pound portable from my van along with other accessories–pedals, music rack, double braced stand, and an electrical source, when to my astonishment, the A/C transformer that plugged into my keyboard, got caught in the van’s sliding door, becoming detached from its wire. It was instantly rendered useless! What a great segue way to my second banana appearance at the Second Saturday exhibition!

Luckily, the Fresno Guitar Center was within easy reach, so I raced over to borrow a substitute that was taken from one of the Casio digital floor models. “Guy,” the store Manager had already delivered a keyboard size bench since I’d inadvertently left mine at home.

With a working transformer the music would soon be up and running, but not before the art establishment’s proprietor raced over like clockwork to do a volume check on my keyboard. She’d decided on a half knob sound level because of her concern that “background” music could drown out conversations between the artist and a stream of visitors. While I believed that a 50% volume cut would significantly muffle the music I had selected, I went along with it. In a paid situation like this, aesthetics were often put aside in favor of pleasing an employer. We musicians were used to keeping our place.

Right on the button at 11 a.m. I sent dim electronic impulses into the universe to the accompaniment of nearby conversation that grew intolerably distracting. A group of visitors to the featured art table who leaned right up against me, were comparing plumbing disaster stories and bad home re-modeling adventures. The toilet bowl intrigues were particularly invasive to my concentration, so for tension relief, I found myself mumbling a private wish fulfillment. After the concentration shattering dribble ran its course, another flock of visitors replaced the first, talking at a higher volume level, and through all the dizzying banter not one person noticed Beethoven’s heavenly music trying to squeak out of an electronic box.

As I moved on to play Baroque period Scarlatti Sonatas with their shimmering ornaments and trills, I noticed the registered displeasure of the artist’s husband in his angry demeanor. He was sending an inaudible, though pervasive message, that my music was too loud.

The situation hearkened back to a party at which I was invited to play, located in the Huntington Lake neighborhood. At the time, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sample a 7 foot Bosendorfer grand that was hand-picked by my dermatologist at the Vienna factory. What an awesome instrument with a resounding bass and lyrical treble. The rehearsal was definitely memorable and should have been savored as a special moment because once I was seated at the piano at the glitzy event, the Bosie quickly dwindled to half its size. Hordes of noisy guests crowded in on me with cocktails in hand and within minutes I could no longer hear what I was playing. It could have been a selection by Bach, Mozart or even Stephen Foster.


The circumstance at the art store was comparable. No one had acknowledged the music through 90 minutes of playing and increasingly, I received alienating stares from the protective husband who I’d learned had been a long-time member of the Fresno Philharmonic horn section.

But I persevered and moved on to the Beethoven “Adagio” movement, from the Sonata “Pathetique,” with its doleful melody that instantly brought tears to my eyes.

Within moments of my musical immersion, I was distracted again by the leering husband who looked like he was about to approach the keyboard and turn down the volume himself. Instead, the store owner did it for him. She arrived just as I was playing through the agitated middle section of the Beethoven slow movement and with lightning speed, she threw her arm in front of me, nicked my cheeks, and zapped the volume knob, stopping my performance in its tracks! I felt the whole world crumbling around me, and I wanted to escape the whole nightmare right then and there. It had been the same with composer, Robert Schumann, who in his Neue Gezeitschrift fur Musik (New Journal of Music) wrote about purging the dilettantes from the face of the earth! He depicted the earnest war against them in his “Davidsbundler Tanze,” written at the height of the Romantic period. His self-made “League of David” was a proverbial collective of artists, composers and performers who upheld the intrinsic value of higher art in the face of destructive forces.

With the spirit of Schumann hovering, I gritted my teeth and played his “Arabesque” with its forlorn spindle of themes that reflected my countenance. Almost on cue, the store owner’s associate arrived on the scene. Sarcastically, she said, “Now why don’t you smile, honey, ‘cause you have such a pretty face.”

My tolerance threshold was waning and I realized that if I didn’t pack up my gear sooner than later I would emit a primal scream that might summon an ambulance. I would surely be carried away involuntarily.

Just as I was about to make my gallant departure in defense of higher art, my 83 year old friend, “Ruthie” neutralized everything. She sauntered in and greeted me in her usual chipper way. “Hi, there,” she said, “I’m sorry for being so late, but everything just went wrong today. The worst part of it was that my JC Penney card disappeared so I had to call them and cancel the account.” At that very moment, I looked down at the floor where my wallet was placed to see if it was still there. The business cards nearby had strangely disappeared, so I had reason to panic. My money and ID’s might have been taken as I was immersed in the works of Scarlatti, Schubert and Chopin.

Meanwhile, Ruth roamed around the gallery viewing paintings, and then warmly greeted the displaying artist whom she seemed to know. My senior citizen friend was a talented water colorist who had a small art studio within her home where she painted and taught. We had enjoyed a nice companionship over the years, and in the course of time, she had become the chief screener of my newly released CDs. I would bring the Master to her home, and she made comments about the order of my selections and the sound balance from one to another. She enjoyed the process of quality controlling my disks before their official release.

It was about 12:45 p.m. and I needed a well deserved time out, so I inserted one of my own recorded classical CDs into a Sony boom box that I had brought along. The owner had concerns about it when she saw me carrying the monstrosity into the store along with my keyboard and related gear. “It’s just for the breaks,” I had reassured her, “like for 15 minutes of each hour.” The artist’s husband had a frightening look as my CD resonated through the awesome space with its astonishingly high ceiling. In a matter of time, exploding emotions could cause a face off.

Just then, Ruth chimed in proudly, “Oh my gosh, you’re playing CD #3, one of my favorites.”

I had decided to let the disk run on perpetual “repeat” because I was not looking forward to playing “live” again, with all that was transpiring around me. Just in the nick of time, “Sharon Cooper” walked in with her husband and four year old daughter. She had been enjoying her Wurlitzer console piano that had settled into her Lemoore home. An instrument with wonderful resonance and personality, it had been acquired for all of $500, an irresistible bargain. The piano also had a delicate pecan cabinet that complemented its lovely voice.

Sharon had agreed to come to the art store after my performance so we could both dash over to the Guitar Center to select a keyboard. She needed a supplementary instrument with earphones so she could practice late into the night without disturbing her sleeping daughter. At the same time, I dropped off the transformer and bench that I had borrowed from Guy.

By late afternoon, at least Sharon was happy. She left the Guitar Center with a gem of a keyboard and then Ruth met me at “Whole Foods” for lunch. Another ray of sunshine appeared when one of my piano finder clients had sent me a $20 gift card in appreciation for my having steered her to the resonating PX110 Casio digital piano.

Ruth and I had a nice repast and shared a chocolate chip/oatmeal cookie that someone had left, completely wrapped, on our table. Finally by the very late afternoon, I drove home, crashed on my sofa, and woke up dazed and disoriented in the middle of the night. Ironically, I had dreamed that I was playing in Carnegie Hall to a pin drop silence. Gratefully, I went back to sleep with a pleasing smile on my face.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFBqDcVa1JA “Did Somebody Say Fresno?” Video Editor, Aviva Kirsten


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Why Play Scales?

Scale practicing examples:

The Backdrop:

As a young piano student living in New York City, I remember my reluctance to prepare a mandatory scale each week for my lesson. In fact my first teacher had so many students, she always seemed to forget the scale she had assigned to me, so I remained happily in the key of C for most of the year. (Played on all white keys) Little did I know that C Major was a lot more challenging to practice than the keys of B, F# and C# Major that had nice, regular patterns of double and triple black notes that fit the longer fingers perfectly, with the thumbs meeting in between.

Frederic Chopin was known to teach these three black-key scales before all others. Think about how much easier it would have been for a sightless person to play these step-wise passages with braille-like elevated black notes in regular patterns, as opposed to a sea of white notes without reference points.

Now that I’ve grown up to be a piano teacher and you tube poster, I realize the importance of scale study in the growth and development of musicianship.

Scales are about the “feel” and geography of the keyboard. They are about shaping, phrasing, sculpting. Sometimes they’re practiced with catchy rhythms, crisp and detached (staccato) or as smooth and connected, freely spun out, rolling triplets. You can even reverse the direction of the fingers when practicing scales, having them lightheartedly dance together and apart, in shades of loud, soft, and in between. And you might bring out one voice over another, by drawing more intensity from the left hand, then reversing the process, giving the right hand its place in the sun.

Most importantly, scales help us understand where we are in a piece of music because they define the TONAL CENTER of a composition or a section of it.

I wish I had known about the famous Circle of Fifths when I was beginning my piano studies. The Circle maps out the progression of scales (Major and minor) in an orderly fashion with sharps acquired going clockwise, and flats in reverse. As a student moves from the Key of C, to G, to D, to A, etc. he/she learns not only the new sharp that is picked up in the clockwise journey but comes face to face with fingering adjustments that make the smooth playing of various scales more attainable.

Scales, in summary, are part and parcel of piano study and they feed in and out of the piano repertoire. What could be a better entree to the pieces we most cherish than to find the key they’re in, and dance through a few preliminaries.

Example of a Classical era Sonata by Mozart (first movement) permeated by a series of scales.

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The mapped out manuscript for Bach Invention No. 1 in C

Here’s my hand-written analysis of the Bach Two Part Invention No. 1 in C that supplements the video. I’ve added more at:

The Main Idea or subject is bracketed, as well as an Inverted form of it.

Key changes are also marked in the score.

Recap: Instructional video, Bach Invention no.1 in C, BWV 772 to follow along.