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The C Major Scale universe: metric and muscle memory; shaping and tapering

Most piano students celebrate the C Major scale as an “easy” journey over 8 notes and back.

But as the attached video instruction proves, the ingredients of playing this scale with a fluid, well-shaped legato (smooth and connected) in transition to a crisp and vibrant staccato touch (forte and piano) is a “challenge.”

One of my out-of-state Skype students amply described the terrain as she patiently practiced her 8ths to 16ths, (legato/staccato)

“It’s hard!”

I’d second that for these reasons:

Keeping a steady, singing pulse, ascending and descending requires presence of mind, and a sense of “breathing” through the notes.

Anticipation is out the door as 8ths double to 16ths. What about 32nds?

All the more reason to RELAX and psychologically BROADEN your perspective. Don’t crowd the notes!

Metric memory, especially, is a great asset when memorializing the scale over and again. One doesn’t want a shaky landscape to embed a curvaceous spin from C to C.. or from Sea to Shining Sea.

On a patriotic note, I love oceanic analogies when I play the piano, though more often, I draw upon images of smaller bodies of water, like babbling brooks. (Think of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, or rippling piano accompaniments to his Lieder)

Why digress with mental imagery? Because using one’s imagination to play the C Scale will help it rise to the occasion, not crash and burn!

To play a C Major scale beautifully, sing it, shape it, and taper at its conclusion. (A supple forward wrist motion is recommended)

For certain, a lesson-in-progress is worth more than a thousand words:

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A Skyped Piano Lesson in Progress: Between California and Greece (Chopin Waltz in B minor)–Video

Reaching across the ocean to Greece? This was a first. London, maybe or Alaska? But connecting up with a piano student within range of the Parthenon was unthinkable.

In fact, he now lives in Kos, an island with many sites and huge history. It’s famous for the Asklipion where Hippocrates, the ancient doctor lived and taught.

As it happened, Greek literature and mythology were my earliest passions. At P.S. 122 in the Bronx, “Myths and Legends” was piped into our classroom courtesy of WNYE, the Brooklyn-based School District radio station. Actors with gorgeous, nuanced voices, dramatized stories about Romulus and Remus, Orpheus, Icarus, and Terpsichore. They were draped in ethereal strands of music that stimulated the imagination.

Music blended well with tales of Gods and Goddesses. Orpheus and Eurydice inspired Gluck to compose a wondrous opera. George Friedrich Handel’s secular oratorios used Greek mythology as a muse in Acis and Galatea, Hercules and Semele.

Could Chopin seep as well onto the Greek canvas through a web-cam driven exchange? Were piano lessons an Athenian or Spartan undertaking? Didn’t they feed the spirit and prime the muscles?

Chopin’s B minor Waltz, a window to the soul, even had moments of Greek-derived “chromaticism” that created color and moods. The “modes” were ever-present in the Romantic genre, with pathos woven into them.

So with a lofty spirit, our Skypian musical journey was undertaken, though an oxymoron to Bullfinch Mythology scholars.

Not a cable shutdown, or power outage deterred us. No Trojan War intervened.

And unlike Icarus who was cast into the ocean, we were flying high.

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Online Piano Lessons by Webcam: Pros and Cons (Videos)

I’m not about to pitch web-cam driven piano instruction like a CD package promoter of Piano Playing in a Flash. Learning piano is not in the espresso lane. It takes time, patience, and practice.

The question is, can a student gain as much from Online piano study vs. “live” in-person lessons.

For decades I was a tradition-bound teacher with a touchy feely relationship to my instrument. My goal had always been to ignite passion about tone production and phrasing in the presence of my students. (Who would think, otherwise?)

My beloved NYC teacher Lillian Freundlich was my role model. She always sat beside me to monitor tensions that crept into my movements. Quite often she checked my elbows and wrists until I could experience my own sense of physical freedom and Oneness with the piano. Frequently, she sang over my playing in a mother-loving musical transfer that helped me shape phrases.

When I grew up to become a piano teacher, I carried on her legacy, hovering over my students, singing, conducting, and sometimes squeezing myself onto a tight-fitting bench to demonstrate a line or two.

Any other form of mentoring was culture alien.

It was like a hurricane it, when I sprang upon a You Tube of concert pianist, Jeffrey Biegel teaching a young adult student in Singapore. While thousands of miles separated the two, meaningful instruction transpired. Right before my eyes, in less than 30 minutes, the pupil’s phrasing had improved.

I was inspired enough to try out the Millennium piano teaching landscape, having an open mind.

One of my earliest Skyped lessons was transmitted to an adult student whom I’d taught “live” in El Cerrito, California. Since she would be missing a few sessions due to business obligations, a convenient make-up schedule was needed. The Online route seemed like an easy option.

The lesson flowed well and further make-ups ensued. Here’s one example:

Here’s a “live” lesson with the same student as a means of comparison:

The positives of SKYPING

1) I can strategically place my Logitech external webcam so it provides an up-close-and-personal keyboard view of my arms, hands and wrists. This camera placement allows me to demonstrate various phrases for the student.

Likewise, the student can angle her camera for an optimal view of her hands if she has good equipment. Some students rely on the computer’s internal camera which can work if the lap top is moved close enough to their instrument.

(A London-based student uses a SWIX external cam that provides an outstanding view of her hands and keyboard)

When I think about it, this big screen enhancement of our piano-related physiology, provides a minute-to-minute flow of music and ideas that doesn’t require my nudging a student off the bench for a demonstration.

With pupils I had coached from my second piano (a Steinway upright) the distance would be larger than by computer channels, though I could still walk over to the student if she were present.

(MUSIC READER, incidentally, is a program that allows the teacher to post the music a student is playing, and make notations of fingering, dynamics, etc. as the lesson is in progress. It’s another distance-bridger that supports Online lessons.)

2) From a faraway location, an Online pupil can videotape a “live” Skype lesson aiming the camera in the teacher’s direction. (Many students have done this, though I often send them a supplementary video during the week to flesh out the goals of our lesson)

Convenience of Scheduling

3) Online instruction affords flexibility in setting lesson times. For students wanting to sandwich in a lesson over a lunch break or on weekends, even Sundays, it’s mouse click away. No travel, no hassle.

In cities where access to private instruction is limited, web-caming provides an otherwise unavailable learning opportunity.

(In this regard, I’ve fielded inquiries from Vietnam and Malaysia, among other distant countries. Time differences, however, have to be considered.)

In rural areas of the US, the same access can be provided through Online instruction.

Disadvantages

1) Online transmission, no matter what source is used, is not completely free of interference, static, pauses, echoes. (Earphones don’t always solve these problems) In addition, the sound or tone of an acoustic piano is somewhat marred over Skype. Even using Go to Office, tone was somewhat improved though not yet perfected. (For better audio, I use a Yeti mic, instead of my Mac’s internal mic)

While on certain days or times, a complete lesson may flow smoothly without electronic impediment, there will more than likely be periods when both parties will have to sign off, and re-sign on to establish a better connection.

After a while, this is something both student and teacher accept as part of the current landscape, though improvements in technology are in progress.

2) Two pianos cannot not play at the same time, as there may be a time lag that affects synchronized efforts. (Forget duet playing as an option)

3) The etiquette of Skyping or web-caming is that the teacher and student speak or play separately. This requires mutual patience.

4) Singing over a playing is not advised, since it poses the same overlay of complications, though I can’t seem to stop my spontaneous vocalizing Online or offline.

SUPPLEMENTS to web-cam instruction

I find it advantageous to send videos to my Online private students during the week, (at no extra charge) that review the assignment and highlight practicing goals. These run about 15 minutes and are transmitted as UNLISTED or PRIVATE You Tubes.

In a few cases, pupils have sent me video updates of their practicing to which I shoot back a responsive one, or provide a written critique of what has improved and/or needs more focus.

Video sharing is enormously helpful and seems indispensable to Online instruction.

Theory instruction can also be a valued adjunct to private lessons. It can be scheduled mid-week, or at the end of the month to enrich piano study.

Group Webcam Lessons

This is a relatively a new universe of piano teaching. POWHOW features piano lesson sign-ups in a class or private one-to-one setting.

Currently I teach a tone production class that had its maiden voyage a few months ago.

In this setting, I have boxes to tap when checking the progress of individual students, a mind-boggling concept to entertain. Take a look:

On both sides there are mute buttons, and one that permits a student not to be seen by other class members.

Otherwise with individual piano students, there’s only one box to keep track of.

A Word about teaching children Online

I haven’t mentioned my experiences Skyping private lessons to children. This is an area where the verdict is not yet in.

My inclination is NOT to teach raw beginners Online. 5 to 10-year olds need close monitoring and the physical presence of a teacher at the inception of learning. The right chemistry and the quality of a personal/musical relationship with a youngster are paramount to the success of lessons.

In addition, duet playing which is a valuable teaching and ear-training activity in the early years, especially, is not feasible with current technology.

Older children, perhaps, who are at Intermediate or Advanced levels, with good attention spans, would be better candidates for Skyped instruction.

One parent in Oregon hired me to teach his 8-year old, and while these web-cam lessons were productive, it was my decision to ultimately refer her to a private teacher in her area.

Here is one of our SKYPED lessons. In this case, we had set up a video exchange for easy back and forth musical sharing.

***

When all is said and done, Online piano lessons are the wave of the future. Just as cell phones have replaced land lines, taking private and group lessons over the Internet, with improved transmission in the offing, will be considered second nature.

More Examples of Skyped lessons:

Setting up for a Skype lesson to London, England:

A Skyped Lesson to Sydney Australia (piano technique)

Skyping between California and Greece:

Logitech close-up views of the keyboard:

Once again, compare to LIVE lessons (East Bay, California–I’ve relocated to Berkeley!)

Chopin A minor Waltz, No. 19, Op. Posthumous:

Play Through:

RELATED: https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

LINK:

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

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The value of sending video supplements to students between piano lessons

Since I’m in the swing of You Tubing, it’s not a stretch to whip up post-lesson videos to send to students for mid-week reinforcement.

In this instance, one of my new SKYPE pupils will benefit from a video that carefully explores the singing tone, as well as arm, wrist, hand choreography, since these are fundamental piano playing ingredients.

Rather than enumerate what I explored in this first instruction, my footage below amplifies.

The adult student is working on the James Hook Minuet. (A Level I piece)

LINK:

LIVE webcam piano classes at Powhow
http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

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Launching a LIVE Webcam Piano Class at POWHOW! (Videos)

Yesterday was an experience! A writer friend had referred me to POWHOW, an online conduit for webcam-driven classes, and my first thought was HOW ON EARTH did this apply to piano lessons which held a sanctimonious ONE-to-ONE student/teacher space for centuries? (It had started in Italy with Cristofori and his miraculous pianoforte invention)

Would I be treading on hallowed ground, insulting a time-honored tradition embraced by icons, Anton Rubinstein and Sergei Leschetizky?

What would my late teacher, Lillian Freundlich say if she knew that I had dared to tweak my Logitech 1080 HD cam on video, YOU TUBING my set-up for a Skype lesson to London, England?

Two full-blown keyboards co-existed in harmony, separated by thousands of miles with a breathtaking landscape to consider in the MILLENNIUM.

One was up close and personal:

And what about the split-screen approach? (Was I bordering on the RADICAL?)

POWHOW took an even greater leap forward with a host of keyboards in the works, marked off in boxes, clicked for a close-up at any moment. Students might see one another, or remain anonymous if they chose.

The instructor, in a Honey I Blew Up the Professor image, could teach up to 30 students simultaneously. (I couldn’t imagine so many compressed cyber cubicles on my screen!)

“IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL” blared in my ears!

What else was new?

With a simple mouse click, I could open a full screen view of myself, or promptly revert back to the keyboard angle.

A myriad of mind-boggling options!

***

POWHOW TOOLS:

Rachel Simpson, an able POWHOW team member had walked me through a mosaic of boxes, clicks, sub-clicks, etc., in rapid pace.

A newbie, I felt inundated with dizzying directions!

(In a cyber-circuit shock to my nervous system, I called upon “USER FRIENDLY” as my MANTRA for pure survival!)

***
The POWHOW TUTORIAL:

With my Sony mini cam poised at the right angle on its tripod, I snatched a portion of the POWHOW POWER TOOLS-related footage, adding a preview of my TOP-NOTCH TONE CLASS!

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

Top-notch Tone Class Preview:

It was a dress-rehearsal for the “LIVE” event coming soon.

A POWHOW adventure to be continued….

Stay tuned!

LINK:

Former Googler Unveils An Online Marketplace For Live, Webcam Classes (POWHOW)

http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/10/powhow-beta-launch/

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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:

I.

II.

III.

IV.

V.

VI.

LINKS:

Part ONE: Beethoven Tempest Sonata in D minor

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/practicing-tips-for-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-part-one-video/

Part TWO Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/piano-instuction-part-two-beethovens-tempest-sonata-hand-cross-over-with-tremolo-in-the-middle-voice/

Part THREE Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/piano-instruction-part-three-beethoven-tempest-sonata-in-d-minor-op-31-no-2/

Part FOUR Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/piano-instruction-part-four-beethovens-tempest-sonata-in-d-minor-op-31-no-2-measures-55-93/

Part FIVE Instruction

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/piano-instruction-part-five-beethovens-tempest-sonata-op-31-no-2-measures-93-to-158-development-recitative-submerged-pedal/

PART SIX, referenced in You Tube format

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwQzBpWJWqs

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A video supplement to a Skyped piano lesson (Instruction for Minuet in G minor from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook)

Following today’s Skyped lesson to Pennsylvania, I created a video to reinforce instruction pertaining to the “Minuet in G minor” from the Anna Magdalena Bach Collection. This composition is attributed to Christian Petzold.

My adult student wanted to study this piece which has challenging Baroque-style phrasing and articulation.

During our class time today we examined the need for a rolling wrist forward motion to execute larger groupings of notes. (This fluid approach avoids finger poking, and phrase distortion)

As it played out, related choreography was woven into the pupil’s Dozen and Day “Walking and Running” five-finger position warm-ups that were extended to 32nd notes in legato/staccato.

***

Video supplements allow the student to revisit parts of her lesson and improve the quality of practicing during the week.

These are uploaded on You Tube as UNLISTED or can be marked PRIVATE if requested.

RELATED LINK:

SKYPING PIANO LESSONS

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/skyping-piano-lessons-with-an-imac-logitech-cam-and-yeti-mic-videos/