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J.S. Bach Prelude in Ab, BWV 862: A Fresh Start for Student and Teacher

In the course of teaching, a situation may arise where a particular favored piece is requested by a student that I’ve never studied–which means a deep-layered journey is ahead of two learning partners.

And given that J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in Ab, (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1) requires thoughtful fingering choices; an awareness of Baroque era ornamentation, phrasing/articulation/voicing, and a knowledge of counterpoint/harmonic movement/structure, the undertaking requires a baby-step advance.

Therefore, one of my learning reinforcers is to create a self-made tutorial early in the assimilation process, well before I’ve had significant exposure to a composition. The goal is to exemplify a parceled practicing approach that is stacked heavily in the direction of gaining mastery, or relative fluidity when the piece ripens to tempo.

The big embracing mantra, however, is Patience un-enslaved to any Deadline because learning and growing into a desired tempo has no marked out notches of predictable progress. Yet one has to have a heap of confidence on credit to keep optimism in high gear.

With that said, one pivotal aspect of the learning journey is setting a good fingering and in the case of Bach’s Prelude in Ab, a separate hand approach becomes only one dimension of the undertaking. In truth, there are more than two steps to be taken in determining a workable fingering.

1) I assigned what I thought were reasonable choices for the Right Hand in a slow tempo frame.

2) I did the same for the Left hand.

3) The above first and second steps had to be refined if not revised significantly in certain measures, when hands were played simultaneously.

And this is an epiphany that most students will have as they explore a new score. Where fingering might work separately for each hand, it will not necessarily comport for both. (This explains the current adjustments I’ve made since I last e-mailed my student)

Naturally, the Baroque style of phrasing is the other important universe of decision-making, and all that follows in relation to harmonic rhythm, modulation, and the contrapuntal cosmos must be part of a nit-picking, ground-up exploration.

So in the spirit of step-by-step learning, the video below should be foundational and of particular assistance to my student and others taking this common journey.

Bach Prelude in Ab WTC revised p. 1 revised

Bach Prelude in Ab WTC revised p.2

Emma Leiuman, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano instructional videos, piano teaching, piano technique, piano tutorial, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, tone production at the piano

Emma Leiuman, pianist, shares thoughts on sound imagination and tone production


In the midst of a heated Internet-driven controversy that surrounds playing a single note at the piano, Emma Leiuman explores “sound imagination” wedded to fluid physical motions that expand ideas about the universe of expressive piano playing. In a detailed narrative, the pianist, schooled in the great Russian musical tradition, shares her awakenings and technique interwoven insights that offer a unique artistic perspective.


The Whole Piece Starts from One Single Note


In my teenage years I struggled with so-called “incorrect tone production.” The sound I produced was not to my satisfaction, and my arms were tense. As a result, I couldn’t adequately express myself in my playing or communicate all my ideas through performance.

My teachers constantly told me that I had a “harsh” and inexpressive tone. They believed it was in some way linked to my hands and body being racked with tension. Naturally, in this physical state my technique was limited and I couldn’t play in very fast tempos. I’d miss notes and my passages/runs were uneven.

Despite the fact that I had started playing piano at the age of 5– enrolled at the well-regarded Moscow Central Music school celebrated for its high-level professional education, I realized that I couldn’t play properly until I found the way to play one single note correctly with a good “singing” tone and the right partnered sensations in my hands.

My dilemma, however, was that I had no idea how to start, even though I’d read many books written by famous Russian teachers about how to achieve good tone.

One note
Sound imagination

One day as I was practicing J.S. Bach’s Prelude e flat minor from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1, I suddenly heard all the permeated textures as if sung by a beautiful angel’s choir. And in a single instant, I gained an awareness of how to begin playing well. Essentially, I would come to the piano and simply express what I’d heard in my mind, and I could control tone and muscle sensations by this formula: energy within created imagined sound reflected in physical sensations that manifested through the tone produced on the instrument.

This imagined sound also helped me to develop so-called “sensitive and tenacious” fingertips (that are the essence of professional piano playing) The imagined sound brought bright impulses to my fingertips.

Soon I discovered that not only could I hear the sound in my mind, but I could also move it and stretch it any way I wanted. The direction of the sound movement I found in melody patterns. If a note in a melody would go up I would stretch my imagined sound to the right, if down to the left. And that helped my wrist become flexible and “singing” as well, because my wrist would follow my imagined sound being filled with that energy.

I might add that in one single note we can imagine different colors of harmony. For instance, how different would note C sound in your imagination in the emotional color of C major, c minor, A-flat major, a minor, F major and f minor. And how different the same note C may sound in your imagination in all dynamic levels from PP to FF.

In truth, this consciousness directly affects your touch and tone. So you may have about 30 different touches based on harmonic and dynamic imagination!

So here I was, playing one single note with good imagination and good hand movements, feeling absolutely blessed and at peace, knowing in my heart that the whole musical universe encompassed the ability to produce one correct sound on the instrument. 🙂

Two notes

In time, I also discovered that this ability pre-hear the sound and stretch it in the direction of the next note is the key to making a good legato. It was because I could imagine two notes and hear how one sound would gradually flow into another sound.

I also discerned that I could actually sing while imagining and playing those two notes. I called it internal singing. To clarify I need to emphasize that singing is not just about singing notes– it’s about feeling the distance between notes with little resistance that helps develop intonation. Singing itself doesn’t really help – if you try to copy Glenn Gould nothing will happen. 🙂 What really matters is how you feel and intonate distance between notes. To feel that little tension between sounds allows you to feel energy that in turn makes you feel like singing.

And that intonation technique paved the way for me to finally start playing with free energy and so-called “arm weight” technique. This emancipated my whole body, resulting in my tone becoming full and free as well.

Another key to expressive playing of two notes was musical speech – intoning not only the distance between notes, but feeling the different meaning of each interval. For instance, a second and seventh may represent tension, waiting, asking energy; a third and sixth are romance and beauty; a fourth is an energetic call to action; an augmented fourth is very tense and mystical; a fifth is calm, meditational energy; octaves and unisons are open statements. All of this I could feel and convey through intonation, and this understanding would affect my intonation, imagined sound, touch and tone.

So taken together – imagination of sound gradually flowed into another sound plus internal singing “intonation” gave me a Masterful technique that all those great piano teachers where talking about but couldn’t communicate how to achieve. 🙂

With possession of my awakenings, I became a master at playing not only one note, but also connecting two notes in the right way. 🙂 Thankfully, it became the springboard for my fluent technique, good tone and expressive performance.

Sequence of notes
Phrasing and form

In my 20s I discovered that I could convey phrasing and form of music through sound imagination and intonation. That phrasing is simply the technique of distributing weight while playing. And so I could emphasize main intervals in motifs, main motifs in phrases and main phrases in sentences through intonation and weight technique. And that would bring a natural flow and expressiveness to my playing and allow playing virtuosic pieces with ease.

On a bigger scale I would find out which parts of the piece could represent the beginning, development, rising to climax, climax and conclusion of the musical story. And that helped me distribute energy within the whole piece.


To conclude I’d like to emphasize that just as the whole universe was born from a single point, obtaining mastery and virtuosic playing must begin from one single note.

And without sound imagination I cannot develop my fingertips, flexible wrist, free hands and body, that I need to feel and convey all gradations of dynamics; colors of harmony; intonation and weight, phrasing and form.

For me, sound imagination of a single note in a piece is as important as the thought of a single word in a complete story.


Emma Leiuman’s The Art of Piano Technique

Piano masterclass – Correct Tone Production

Chopin and Rachmaninoff piano compilation

FACETIME, piano tutorial,

Piano Technique: Picking up Arpeggio Speed with blocked and unblocked note groupings

I uploaded two videos today that focus on practicing strategies for playing brisk paced arpeggio (G Major). The first is an after hours tutorial that I recorded by FACETIME SCREEN RECORD. The screen, framed by Millennium technology art nouveau, features my Arius YDP 141 digital piano as its centerpiece.

The second video sample is a lesson-in-progress over SKYPE with the same advancing speed theme as the first.

Basic Spotlight:
ROLL in motion
Block tunnels through which thumb passes
Play note groupings in arpeggio segments
and Block notes in segments.
Make sure thumb advances quickly and smoothly through “tunnel” fingers.
Round out top of arpeggio (at the turnaround) with hand/finger rotation.


SKYPED tutorial during lesson in progress (G Major Arpeggio in Tenths)


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A Supplement to a Skyped lesson (Chopin Waltz in B minor) Video

It’s invaluable to send videos to SKYPE students between lessons.

1) It fills in some of the gaps associated with long distance transmission where variations in volume and clarity might temporarily interrupt instruction.

2) It’s a summation of what transpired at the lesson along with recommendations to improve practicing and performance.

While some students videotape their lessons over Skype, others ask the teacher to do it.

I record a lesson only with the permission of a pupil, and select portions of video that underscore areas of remediation. In this process, the camera is focused on my hands to maximize student benefit.

Following a lesson to Greece today, I sent an adult pupil a video supplement that explored phrasing and voicing as applied to Chopin’s Waltz in B minor.

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Using piano repertoire as a springboard for a theory lesson: Major, minor and Diminished Chords (Videos)

One of my adult students is working on the gorgeous J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor which has a second page full of “Major,” “Minor” and “Diminished” chords. The sonorities progress in sequences, but they also have a secondary dominant relationship to resolving chords. The “harmonic rhythm” moves quickly.

While this particular pupil may not be ready to understand “functional” harmony or the “modulation” dimension of the broken chords as they occur in the B section, she could learn how to form “Major,” “minor” and “diminished” chords, and then appreciate their differences through ear-training exposure.

In this video, sent between lessons, I reviewed Major, minor and Diminished chords and their derivation from five-finger positions which she has been studying in the Major and Parallel minor. The fact that the chords (broken) moved in a sequence, or a pattern also helped her navigate this section.

The Secondary Dominant aspect had been briefly noted, but will be more deeply explored as the student’s scale work around the Circle of Fifths gives an opportunity to build chords on every degree of the scale, noting harmonic relationships, cadences, and modulations.

Teaching Video:

In part B, the music blossoms into a series of secondary Dominants against sobbing, sighing pairs of descending seconds, before it returns to a familiar revisit with part of the opening A section.

Sustaining a melodic line through recurring broken pattern chords is paramount to playing the Prelude poetically and musically. Varying dynamics and tapering phrases are woven into the artistic process.

Playing through entire prelude, first in chords, then as written in broken chord sequence.


Music Theory doesn’t have to be drudgery

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Part Six Piano Instruction, Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2 and all FIVE teaching segments preceding

In order from Part One to Six:








Part ONE: Beethoven Tempest Sonata in D minor

Part TWO Instruction

Part THREE Instruction

Part FOUR Instruction

Part FIVE Instruction

PART SIX, referenced in You Tube format

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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: