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Teaching piano to Rina, 5, with a supplementary video for mom that outlines our lesson plan and goals

Rina’s mother attends her daughter’s lessons, takes notes, and receives a follow-up assignment.

Today, I sent her a video that summarized what we had accomplished yesterday along with a goal-setting outline.


The child has been working on her legato which is a new and enticing musical universe. For the better part of 6 months she’s had considerable saturation with single, detached notes, using one finger at a time.

Last week, I felt it was the perfect moment to join notes in a connected fashion because I’d seen her do this on her own, and felt she possessed the musical and physical ability to move forward.

Here’s a snatch of Rina’s legato from her last lesson:

And her preliminary work on Minuet by Reinagle:



She’s now playing her “Frere Jacques” in Major and minor (with Eb) using connected fingers (Legato)

In this regard, Rina currently “reads” a pre-notational form of music, where the notes in various rhythmic values float in space, going up and down in STEPS and SKIPS. Bar lines have been inserted along with letter names and finger numbers. (These pre-staff landmarks have been gradually learned)

EXAMPLE of the format with “Frere Jacques”


This latest video prepared for mom pertains to practicing an expanded five-finger warm-up in legato and the Reinagle Minuet in G Major.


MY PREP VIDEO for the Reinagle piece, created earlier, encouraged ear-training, clapping and singing activity, etc. in readiness for playing.


For the intricate intervals in measures 13-16, I’d planned to enlist staircase activity which is demonstrated on video. (Note that a FLAT can be added for the Parallel minor, which I illustrated at the conclusion of footage)


Finally, here’s an overview of Rina’s progress before she embarked upon legato phrasing:


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Piano Lesson: Analyzing/playing Bach Invention in D minor, No. 4, BWV 775 in slow tempo (Videos)

In J.S. Bach’s Two-part Inventions both voices overlap and imitate each other creating counterpoint.

The SUBJECT of no. 4 contains a d-minor Harmonic form scale whose 6th note, B flat does NOT continue in an upward motion to the leading tone, C# or 7th note, but instead, the C# is displaced down to the lower one. (B flat goes down to C#) This is unexpected in the course of scale progressions, so it has an emotional impact bound up in the intrinsic nature of the interval and its fall. (watch phrasing, and roll wrist forward for the ascending scale)

In truth, the descent sounds generically like a Major 6th, but its spelling conforms to a 7-letter spread, making it a 7th.

The second part of the opening subject, is the broken-chord, detached 8th-notes. They should not be too short. (I think press/lift)

Once the content of the Subject is understood, then any elaborations should be noted as occurs starting in measure 5 and on, as well as sequential measures, where a melodic or bass segment may be repeated a step below or above–or for that matter any uniform distance as long as there’s a symmetrical relationship between measures or phrases. (melodic and/or harmonic component–rhythmic as well)

The trills spelled out in the Palmer edition, are not played rapidly. They’re designated as treble 32nds against 16ths in the bass. When the trill is reversed, the Left Hand plays 32nds against 16ths in the Right Hand. (These would be called “measured” trills)

A very poignant juncture is at m. 48, with its DECEPTIVE cadence. An awareness of this surprising emotional shift is needed, so be prepared for an unexpected delay by way of a Bb VI chord.

Above all, carefully shape phrases and be aware of the counterpoint at all times.

Play Through:

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More and more “piano” students are going Digital. Is it a good idea?

It’s sad but true that a glut of former piano buyers who would have considered piano lessons for their children at age 7 or so, have made the choice to invest in a DIGITAL. (known as a DP)

Of further testimony to the culture’s relatively new fixation on electronic piano technology, are the 35,000 plus You Tube hits my DP overview has amassed, compared to a mainstream “acoustic” offering that snagged the spotlight because of my bench potato CAT.

The CAT and Chopin

Considering the above, which musical purveyance is more pleasing?

I’d say hands down that Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” (below) would be better rendered on an acoustic than a Roland, etc. based on tone dimension and timbre alone. The “feel” of a real piano, also cannot be compared to any so-called mimicked “hammer-weighted” electronic keyboard, though many buyers have tried to trick their hands, not to mention EARS into believing so.

“Fur Elise” rendered on a Steinway (Compare to Roland/Yamaha samples)

So having voiced my bias against digitals, why would I have invested hours of time scoping them out at Guitar Center and Best Buy? No less, bringing a video camera along for the ride? (thanks to Guitar Center’s CEO, Jeremy Cole for the written permission, and to Matthew Wheeler at BB)

Well, reality is, that the purchasing trend is in this direction, and if I tabulated all the inquiries fielded for an opinion on which one to buy, it would stagger the reader’s imagination.

It’s a fact that shoppers are flocking to acquire DPs at every opportunity and they haven’t stopped for a moment to think of what they are sacrificing in this fever-driven pursuit.


Elaine Comparone, a well-known New York City-based concert performer injected a bit of social commentary about the wave of DP buying. It was after I had bemoaned the number of parents contacting me for piano lessons who had electronic keyboards. Some of their prize musical possessions amounted to 61, bell and whistle sounds, with a few “belches” thrown in for special effect.

Elaine’s thoughts were riveting:

“I think a lot of this is economic along with the pervasive effect of pop culture. Which of these kids, or parents for that matter, have ever seen or heard a real instrument on TV or live? Real music study has become a pastime for the wealthy elites where years ago it was a sine qua non of immigrant working class culture. But it behooves us to hang in there and pass along genuine musical values, which can exist in myriad musical forms. Blah blah…..”

I added to the mix that “real” pianos sold at dealerships were beyond the financial means of the average instrument buyer, though, ironically, struggling consumers might in a flash, slap down a credit card for a $4100 Roland equipped with EVERYTHING, like a snazzy new car with all imaginable options.

Try this DP out for size:

One Facebook correspondent owned a 9-foot Steinway grand, but had the luxury to invest in a pricey Digital console that would yield hours of pleasure with its fancy accouterments.

Initially plagued by making a choice between a LX10 Roland at $4,100 and a $2900 Yamaha CLP 440, she was biased toward the Roland based on its “accelerated action and weighted keys from bass to treble unlike the Yamaha.”

It could also simulate the so-called Steinway grand piano sound with a simple finger tap.

Other consumers, of more modest means, might have gone the less expensive route buying a portable or more modestly priced console like the Yamaha Arius going for about $1100 plus tax.

Still, when it came right down to it, teaching piano to a child or adult equipped with a “hammer-weighted” digital wouldn’t be same as working with an acoustic.

I Skyped a few piano lessons to rural Pennsylvania, where a DP flashed up on the screen. In time, after the first virtually transmitted instruction, it was tossed in favor of a twangy Haddorff 1941 console. To call the latter a saloon piano would have been an understatement, though its “feel” and “resonance” appealed to the owner.

I could relate.

The decay rate of any note on this “real” piano was astounding. It reverbed to the heavens despite its shortcomings attached to a poor maintenance history.

By coincidence, I had purchased my treasured Haddorff 1951, advertised on Craig’s List for $700, and it played circles around any digital in the tone and timbre department. (Though I will admit that its tuning needs were frequent, compared to tune-free electronic instruments)

Nonetheless, the above example alone, proves to me, that there are many worthy used pianos waiting to be purchased, and like mine, they may be located around the corner.

I’ve helped any number of students acquire pianos before the digital rage took hold and these purchases included Baldwin Acrosonics and Wurlitzers from the 50s, 60s and 70s era.

Just a decade ago most parents who contacted me for lessons had one of these acoustic pianos in their home. Today, the majority own a Casio, Yamaha, or a lesser known DP, and they have no idea that embarking upon instruction might require the real deal as far as some piano instructors are concerned. (myself included, though I’ve made adjustments for students who have little or no space for even a console or spinet piano)


But for piano study to be meaningful, it entails properly teaching the singing tone, touch, phrasing, nuance, “feel” which means a student needs to practice on a functional acoustic piano– one without sticking notes, missing notes or blanks, etc. In addition, the instrument needs to have tuning viability. (an able technician can examine the tuning pins, hammers, strings, etc. before a particular piano is acquired)

Many DP owners boast the critical lack of need and cost associated with tuning or regulation. (not to mention having climate-free concerns ) While these may be definite advantages, the trade-off in other areas of assessment is, in my opinion, not worth it. And I’m not talking about the hours of recreation and pleasure afforded by DPs. That’s FUN and great. My concern surrounds TEACHING and passing on a traditional legacy that has been time-honored for generations. (and that goes for mentoring “beginners.” There’s no reason for the training-wheels equivalent of a digital as predecessor to a real piano) One piano teacher’s website, for example, shows a row of 3-year olds wearing over-sized ear phones, hooked up to computer screens and attached digitals. She claims they are Mozarts in-the-making.

I’ve heard that song sung so often, that it’s become a dissonant reminder of the status quo.

But to inject some humor into this posting,

Evgeni Bozhanov, a distinguished Bulgarian pianist who competed in the last Cliburn International Piano Competition, was quoted as being unhappy with the complimentary Steinway grand donated to his host family in Fort Worth Texas as he prepared for his first-round musical appearance.

Pictured at a Yamaha Clavinova practicing a warhorse Rachmaninoff piano concerto, he was the poster boy for musical sobriety, shrugging off the arrogance of effete snob pianists who might discredit him. (Would that happen to be me?)

So on this disturbingly confusing note, I’ll conclude by sharing my voiced fears about the survival of the acoustic piano culture as channeled in a previous blog.



My “new” old 1929 Baldwin grand–a tribute to a seasoned used piano. For me, no digital can come close to it.

Footnote to item about Evgeni Bozhanov, from Wilson Pruitt who blogged about the last Van Cliburn Piano Competition


“Things we know about Bozhanov: … He doesn’t like Steinways, especially American-made Steinways, and definitely not the brand-new New York grand that was delivered to his host family’s house so he could practice. Instead, his host family bought a Yamaha Clavinova electronic piano for him to use for practice (while in Texas) … He travels with his own piano bench.” (which looks like one of those DP jobs)

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Bias against Black Notes stopped me in my tracks! (Video)

I would have been leg pressing at the gym but for my detour to Nancy Williams’s Facebook Page.

Here’s what I found:

“Those bloody sharps and flats–those endless calamities of the personal past. Bah! I disown them from the rest of my life, in which I mean to rest.” From “Grass” by Mary Oliver.

My inserted comment

Shirley Smith Kirsten: “I wish it were not that way. If our teachers had made us friends with black notes from the very beginning, there wouldn’t be such avoidance.”

“For example, my little 5-year old student whom I mentor, loves her new FLAT as much as the whites.”


Nancy strongly interjected when a prior poster had voiced surprise that the blacks were stigmatized:

Nancy Williams: “Adult students sometimes” have a “bias” about “black notes” and perhaps they’re not white notes “gone wrong.”

To me, this attitude hearkened back to 1960’s Montgomery, Alabama with its apologia about desegregation.

Such double talk as it applied to keyboard inequality was nipped in the bud by an African American piano student/retired postal worker:

“Gosh darn, I see only 36 Blacks, and 52 Whites? That’s a sure-fire case of discrimination.”

I could relate.

Lyrics from South Pacific suddenly popped into my head.

“You’ve Got to Be Taught before it’s too late,
“Before you are six or seven or eight,
“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Such riveting words were applicable to piano learning in “traditional” teaching environments around the country.

The cold-hearted truth was, beginning piano students were TAUGHT that BLACK NOTES DIDN’T EXIST as EQUALS among whites.

As a case in point VICTIM of BLACK-NOTE AVOIDANCE SYNDROME, I believed:

1) That too many of us were glued to the WHITES with our THUMBS stuck on middle C until it hurt. We were so primordially ENSLAVED by the 52s that our DEEP SOUTH-indoctrinated prejudice deterred us from making friends with our NORTHern neighbors.

To wit:
2) Our Southern-biased teachers, may they rest in peace, refused to introduce us to the stigmatized blacks until we had advanced so far along in our primers that we would rather eat spinach than make friends with the dark-colored outcasts.

Sad but true.

I was fed on John Thompson RED books and he, too, furthered the cause of Whites as a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee from Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell.

John S. Thompson Bio

“For thousands of people who taught or studied piano in the 1930s and later, the name of John Thompson brought immediately to mind the shiny red covers of his “Teaching Little Fingers to Play;” his six-volume series, “Modern Piano Course;” and his three-volume series, “Adult Piano Course.” Using his own original compositions, simplified transcriptions of familiar classics, and actual works by famous composers, Thompson crafted a graded series of piano pieces that allowed students to begin with an introduction to the keyboard and music reading and to progress to a fairly sophisticated performance level. These publications had a profound influence on the teaching of piano…..”


Time marched on with little progress made since Thompson churned out Pixie plus publications.

Lisa Corcoran, an adult piano student residing in Oregon, seconded the stone age view of “blacks.”

“They always called them ‘accidentals’ because they were accidents waiting to happen.”

Likewise, a candidate for admission to a major East Coast music Conservatory flew in from Mississippi and played a Beethoven sonata, avoiding all black keys. In response, a shocked panel of teachers queried him about his new arrangement. His reply: “I’m not going to touch those blacks.”

Seymour Bernstein, pianist and author, added his own black-key anecdote:

“When I performed the Bach F minor Concerto with orchestra during my one year at the Mannes School, the late Leopold Mannes, who was present at the rehearsal, said to me, ‘Isn’t it odd that when we get nervous before a performance, the black notes seem so much higher than the whites?!!’

“I did a double-take because I never considered these keys to be ‘higher.'”


In the Millennium, enter the Faber Piano Adventures Generation, with a peep-through, veiled relief of black-key associated anxiety.

At least for the first few pages of Primer Performance Purple, the little ones pleasingly dance on the blacks without a hint of displeasure–an ebony-realized dream that should be FOREVER, according to fairy tales.

But like Cinderella’s fate at the stroke of midnight, Primer page 6, sent the blacks packing– banished from their privileged KINGDOM, restoring WHITE-note supremacy!

The story line might have been changed:

“Wind in the Trees,” and “The Shepherd’s Flute,” such sweet black-key melodies, wooed newbies, keeping them in the throes of love-sickness through page 5. They could have stayed in variation form but were mercilessly bumped by “Hot Cross Buns” on the Whites, (p. 6) dashing the hopes of blacks for keyboard EQUALITY.

Oh No!!!!.. “HOT CROSS buns” and the DEEP South. The pairing smacked of unabashed black-note bigotry!

The clock had been turned back..

More of the same:

“Lil’ Liza Jane,” Level I, RED FABER, Piano Adventures, (Revised?)

It was time to bring on the Black Notes for a rousing rebellion!

I’d say, Give beginning students early exposure to sharps and flats,

“before it’s too late.

“Before they are six or seven or eight,

“They’ve got to be carefully taught….”

REPEAT refrain as needed….in chorus


Curtain drawn