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Piano Technique: Rotation, Turnaround, and Curve around of scales, with application to repertoire (Videos)

Piano students, by and large, don’t relish playing scales. They would rather eat spinach than practice what they view as tedious, finger-trippers.

I have a different perspective.

For me, scales are my playground and workout space. They keep me in shape, fine tuning my ears to their internal undulations and curvy turnarounds. They translate from aural images, into buoyant, touchy-feely journeys across the keyboard with a tie-in to pieces I study.

Practicing them in a tradition-bound sequence around the Circle of Fifths, also provides a solid harmonic and theoretical foundation. They’re the underpinning of chords that form progressions which influence melodic contouring.

So even if students are turned off by the academic side of scale practice—needing to process the content of sharps and flats for each key, they can easily be redirected to a vibrant, athletically-charged arena, with sports metaphors woven in.

A pitcher on the mound, for instance, winds up for the pitch, preparing its delivery in a series of graceful synchronized movements.

The pianist will likewise roll into scales at the right moment, rippling his way to the top with a curvaceous turnaround that avoids an angular finger poke.

Most students will crowd the notes in the last octave, finding themselves tagged out before the scale makes it safely back home. Known as a choke, it’s often a sports commentator’s analysis of a faulty play on the baseball diamond or football field.

For piano students, who might be tackling C# Major with 7 sharps, white included, such a finger pile-up instigated by tension, can be blocked by a rotation that smooths out a stream of notes on the descent, making it feel like a breezy journey down the ski slope.

Finally, what better way to justify the time spent practicing scales, than to find a composition that’s pleasantly permeated by them. I’ve picked an Intermediate level piece that’s popular among students of all ages.

But first, tips on how to pace and curve around scales that form their own unique category by a symmetry of double and triple black keys. These are good springboards to practice melodic shaping and rotation. I’ve thrown in a slow motion replay in the spirit of athletic adventure.

Latour Sonatina in C Major

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Piano Technique: Two nifty warm-up routines, one loopy, the other for zig-zaggers

Claudia, 11, and I do a 20-minute warm-up before she tackles repertoire at her weekly lesson. Today I snatched two routines that might help others with the time-honored, upper arm roll, supple wrist, and elbow swing. Just my bias showing about technique and what I favor in its development.

I’ve presented this one before, but it’s worth a refresher:

Claudia and I “looped” through a 4-note, E Major, broken chord in inversions. But first we blocked out the chords as demonstrated in the first video. (blocking establishes a sense of “spacing” and “feel.”)

NOTE that R.H. fingering is above L.H. for each inversion:

E G# B E
1 2 3 5
5 3 2 1

G# B E G#
1 2 4 5
5 4 2 1

B E G# B
1 2 4 5
5 3 2 1

E G# B E
1 2 3 5
5 3 2 1


In this second video we played a set of E Major parallel thirds within a five-finger Major and minor position. (In parallel, then contrary motion.)

We started with quarters, then doubled to 8ths, and finally tripled to 16ths in a parallel zig zag motion of the arms–Contrary motion followed, with opposing arm zig zags.

I borrowed the fundamental “HOPPING” exercise from Dozen A Day Book I by Edna-Mae Burnam. (It’s important to TRANSPOSE the samples to get maximum technical benefit)

Aiden Cat, cat, feline, J.S. Bach Fugue in C minor BWV 847, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessson, piano pedagogy, piano playing, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano playing and the singing tone, piano practicing, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, piano technique and the singing tone,, pianoworld,, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Skype, skyped piano lessons, teaching piano, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to children, teaching piano to teens, word press, word, wordpress,, Yeti mic, Yeti microphone, you tube, you tube video

J.S. Bach Fugue/Piano Lesson in Progress, (BWV 847 in C minor) plus Aiden Cat begs for affection, feeling left out (Videos)

Claudia, 11, continued practicing Bach’s Fugue in C minor, (Well-Tempered Clavier) following a break for the Baroque Festival. We had intensified study of the Prelude in preparation for this event.

For today’s lesson, our work encompassed the Fugue opening through measure 20.

The manuscript below incorporates the theoretical mapping of Jose Rodriguez Alvira


Aiden got into the act following Claudia’s lesson as he felt forlorn and out in the cold. A preceding Skype to Pennsylvania kept him out of the fray, encapsulated in a warm bedroom within easy reach of his food bowl. But that was not enough.

He wanted to make up for lost time with a shower of affection from me. And he deservingly received it…


Elaine Comparone, Harpsichordist, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Lydia Seifter, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, pianists, piano, piano addict, piano blog, piano blogging, piano blogs, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons and parental support, piano lessson, piano pedagogy, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and phrasing, piano practicing, piano repertoire, Piano Street, piano student, piano studio, piano study, piano teacher, piano teacher and student relationships, piano teachers, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, Piano World, piano world-wide,, pianoworld,, playing the piano, playing the piano with a singing tone, Seymour Bernstein With Your Own Two Hands, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, shirley s kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, teaching piano, teaching piano to adults, teaching piano to children, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching piano to teens, technique, the art of piano playing, word press, word, wordpress,, You and the Piano Seymour Bernstein, You and the PIano Seymour Bernstein on You Tube

The joy and value of teaching a piano student over many years

Claudia, age 6 playing a duet with me

I recall Elaine Comparone, the renowned harpsichordist having described a student she had mentored for 35 years before a move cut short a lasting musical relationship.

“She was the real deal,” the musician insisted.

Seymour Bernstein, author, With Your Own Two Hands, often shared the joy of teaching a child into adulthood, expressing pride in the work accomplished in steady increments. He proudly watched a beginner blossom into full grown maturity, often as a performer.

Quite by chance, I’d noticed Lydia Seifter, pianist, featured at Bernstein’s You Tube Channel and the name rang a bell.

I remember her as an Oberlin Conservatory student during my years there, enjoying membership in our Jack Radunsky rat pack–a group that met in the Con lounge to rhapsodize about our teacher. We’d tell jokes that rang familiar, sharing our sometimes awkward efforts to please him. If nothing else, the camaraderie was endearing.

I’m guessing that Lydia eventually wound her way back to the East Coast after graduation and began study with Seymour. Perhaps they shared a professional association for at least a decade or more. Certainly her playing revealed a depth I had not known when she was at Oberlin.


I always felt short-changed that I only had three years of study with the late and beloved, Lillian Freundlich. By an accident of fate that I would meet her in the first place. The Merrywood Music Camp in Lenox, Massachusetts produced a friendship with her young nephew, Douglas, who steered me to his aunt during my period of despair.

At the time, I was at an extreme low point in my piano studies. Frustration enveloped me due to lack of insight about how to prepare a piece of music, and where to begin in the creative process. The fundamentals of producing a singing tone and the physical means to achieve it were sorely missing.

Often, I pondered how it would have been if I’d studied with such a gifted teacher as Lillian from my earliest years, growing into blossoming musical maturity in the long term.

Murray Perahia, poet of the piano, was mentored by one teacher, Jeanette Haien from age 3 to 18, and when we met at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, he was well formed as a pianist. No doubt, it was in large part due to instruction that was consistent, inspired, and devoted in the course of 15 years.

Most piano teachers relish such a long-range opportunity to nurture a student, and in my own experience, I can wax poetic about one particular enduring musical relationship.

Paul, the son of a University Nursing Professor, came to my piano studio when he was a cute, little 8-year old. In third grade at the time, he’d previously taken about a year of lessons in another city.

Nevertheless, as Paul’s new teacher, I had a ground-up instructional challenge before me.

I remember how I set aside his method books and embarked upon a repertoire-based learning journey with integrated five-finger technical regimens in all Major and minor keys. Imbuing the singing tone was my priority and it nourished his earliest pianistic efforts.

The first book I ordered was the Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto Level 1 Piano Repertoire Series. During his early months of study, Paul learned “Minuet” by James Hook, Schein’s” Allemande,” and Haydn’s “Country Dance” among selections that encompassed the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods.

After the child’s first exposure to pieces that had substance and beauty, he progressed to compositions with more technical challenges, such as Burgmuller’s 25 Progressive Pieces, Op. 100. These moved quickly from late elementary to early advanced levels, appearing deceptively easy. Yet the art of phrasing and nuance had to be learned, along with cultivating a broad dynamic palette and singing tone legato to realize Romantic period expression.

Over years, Paul graduated to playing Chopin Nocturnes, and Waltzes, having a bit of a starring role at student recitals. Most other pupils looked up to him, giving the youngster an iconic status. Yet in the glow of adulation, he always remained humble and self-effacing.

When Paul left my piano studio at age 17 to enroll at UC Berkeley, it was with a gulp of emotion. By this time he’d grown by leaps and bounds as a musician and was ready to leave the nest.


Currently, I teach two adults and one 11-year old who’ve been my students for over five years. In these relationships, there is not a trace of possessiveness or smothering.

Ideally, we can grow together and learn from each other as a plethora of ideas filter in.

Such is the joy of a long-lasting association that benefits two people committed to working in harmony toward the common goal of making beautiful music.


(Claudia, having grown taller than her teacher in this photo taken October 2011)


A Piano Student’s Milestones and Memories in Photos and Video

Taking Piano Lessons: Skimming the Surface, or Getting Deeply Involved

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The Transfer Piano Student

I would hate to pigeon hole all “transfer” students in one way or another. It would be unfair, and unfortunately many piano teachers shy away from prospects who were immersed in learning environments where little progress was made over a period of years.

Some reluctant piano instructors might say, “there’s just too much work involved in reversing bad habits, so I’m not up to the task.”

In my own experience, where a student is at least on a common page, dedicated to receiving a new set of ideas that will help him improve his technique and musical expression, wedded together, of course, then I’m up for the collective journey. (even with its built-in challenges)

Just the other day, I was delighted to meet a “new” adult pupil who had studied for five years with another teacher. The shift, springing from a schedule issue, brought more than a blessing in disguise. I was pleased to discover that the young woman had been exploring the great piano literature with method books being a things of the past. (Thank Goddess!)

In fact she played a gorgeous Haydn Minuet and a Mendelssohn Children’s piece which both offered opportunities to probe the singing tone, and ways of phrasing in two contrasting musical periods. (Classical and Romantic)

Of interest was the motif of the Mendelssohn composition that could have sounded like Schumann’s famous G Major March (Album for the Young) but for the difference in notated slurs. The former had the march spirit, while the other had to be executed as if sung expressively. This second piece required yielding to the upper voice of two, and letting the common thumb go a tad early. In this way a legato melodic line was preserved. (smooth and connected notes)

What a nice entree to style and interpretation.

In the realm of technique, I noticed that the pupil needed to play with supple wrists and more freedom in her arms which we worked on from the very start of her lesson. Scales that were a bit locked by tension, gradually gave way to a curvaceous spill of 16ths to four octaves.

Had I harbored a prejudice toward meeting with a “transfer” student, I would have lost a treasured opportunity to grow as a musician along with a willing student.

Another situation, but less appealing:

I’ve had moms bring Middle school children, in the main, who’ve bounced from teacher to teacher. This can be a RED FLAG, but not always, depending on the individual circumstance. (Family relocations can require a teacher change given the high rate of job transfers and home foreclosures)

However, where the grass is greener mantra infiltrates each and every teacher consult, I tend to shy away from being the next trial and error instructor.

In the Bay area, there are an abundance of gifted teachers, and each offers a well of musical wisdom. But an instructor and a student need TIME to develop a relationship, and not be subject to espresso evaluations.

However, in the Fresno environs, the musical landscape is a bit different, and often the “transfers” are neighborhood driven, or a student has devoted little if any time to practicing, and blames it on the piano teacher. Mom keeps talking about the “right or wrong chemistry” ad nauseum, and while this could be a valid reason for a shift in instructors, it’s often just the opposite. She will insist that the turnover of pieces is too slow, and that junior has spent too much time learning one selection.

Example, an 11-year old was brought to me who had studied for 9 months with one teacher, and barely a year with another. Mom said her child was not playing enough “popular” music and needed someone to make lessons “fun.”

Upon examination of the child’s musical skills, I observed that she was barely note-reading at a satisfactory level and she couldn’t play a one-octave scale up and down. In fact, she’d never been exposed to a scale or anything resembling, including five-finger Major/minor positions.

Was I braced to be the next mentor in line, accused of NOT making lessons a bowl of cherries?

I passed up the chance.

Obviously there are all kinds of circumstances in which we meet up with transfer students, and each should be separately evaluated. One, for example, may circumscribe an emotionally abusive situation, a cosmos I explored in the following blog:

A student may be fleeing an unwholesome learning environment that has stifled his progress and reduced him to feelings of overwhelming inadequacy.

Seymour Bernstein, author of MONSTERS AND ANGELS describes this very abuse that drove him to request another piano teacher at the distinguished Mannes College of Music. The story is well capsulized in this blog posted by Harriet:

Bernstein’s experience among others must be carefully assessed, or with our cultural blinders on, we could overlook a blessed musical relationship with a transfer student that will grow and ripen with time.

If my beloved teacher, Lillian Freundlich, had viewed me as just one of those garden variety “transfers” who came through her door so ill-prepared to play what I had been assigned by a previous mentor (the Chopin Scherzo in Bb Minor, for example) then I would have given up the piano in sheer frustration.

What I heard in my inner ear, I couldn’t express as a player due to inadequate technique and phrasing. These hallmark musicianship skills had to be learned from the ground up and I needed a willing teacher to guide me. (starting with an awareness of the singing tone)

Teachers make such a big difference in our lives if we let them do the work needed. Support and respect for the instructor and learning environment must come from the pupil, and in the case of youngsters, also from their parents.

Whether students are “transfers” or not, these basic ingredients of a positive teacher/pupil relationship underlie musical growth and development.


Please share your experience as a transfer student, or if in a role as teacher, how did you proceed with students from other learning environments?


The Neighborhood Piano Teacher Lives On

How Long Should a Piano Student Stay with a Piece?

Pulls and Tugs between students/teachers/and parents in the piano learning cosmos

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A Feast of Gillock pieces for Aiden cat (Videos) Big surprise at the end!

This feline falls asleep at the drop of a note. What breed of music lover would tune out so fast before a few measures were underway?

His history precedes him. During the entire Debussy Arabesque No. 1, he was out cold, except for one detectable ear twitch.

Yet he’s been known to suddenly spring forward, like a wild cat in the jungle, thwarting any number of video captures. (Chopin C# minor Waltz, for example)

That’s been documented.

Blind tussling and camera fawning are Aiden’s two favorite activities when he’s otherwise dead to the world on the rug.

So while I knew music would have the usual soporific effect, I still served up a few more Gillock pieces in my ongoing tribute to the composer.

Selections from Accent on Solos included: “Splashing in the Brook,” “Stars on a Summer Night,” “Argentina” and “Owl at Midnight.”

In between playings, Aiden was up and about, getting pets, and jingling his heart-shaped tag.

By the end of the footage, he noticeably startled himself putting a cap on the concert. (Has your cat played the keyboard?)

Be patient to the very last frame.

RELATED LINKS to Gillock repertoire previously uploaded to You Tube:

“The Glass Slipper” and Clowns” The above is “Later Elementary Level.”


“Flamenco” is not in these collections. It can be found in
Accent on Gillock Volume 5. Piano Level: Early Intermediate


ACCENT 2, Later Elementary:

The Glass Slipper (Tutorial)

Clowns (Tutorial)

Publications by William Gillock:

Blog Links, piano instruction, Gillock pieces:


“William Gillock (1917-1993), noted music educator and composer of piano music, was born in LaRussell, Missouri, where he learned to play the piano at an early age. After graduating from Central Methodist College, his musical career led him to long tenures in New Orleans, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas, where he was always in great demand as a teacher, clinician, and composer. Called the “Schubert of children’s composers” in tribute to his extraordinary melodic gift, Gillock composed numerous solos and ensembles for students of all levels. He was honored on multiple occasions by the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) with the Award of Merit for Service to American Music, and his music continues to be remarkably popular throughout the United States and throughout the world.”

REDUX: Aiden

"This is How I Jam" by Tony Levine, 510thekid, Antonio Levine, Aris Jerome, El Cerrito California, rap music, rap video, Ryan Leslie, shirley smith kirsten blog, teaching piano to teenagers, teaching piano to teens, teen dropouts from piano, Tony Levine, word press,, you tube, you tube video

Steering a piano student to his true life passion!

I don’t often veer off the beaten path in my piano blogs except when an unusual opportunity presents.

In this case, a 19-year old named Tony Levine, a.k.a El Cerrito K-I-D grabs the spotlight.

To make a long story short, Tony was one of my piano students about a year ago.

At the time, he complied with a regimen of scales and arpeggios, but seemed hyped by musical theater excursions (West Side Story) and a movie theme here and there, like “Liz on Top of the World” from Pride and Prejudice.

His real idol was Ryan Leslie, though I couldn’t find a sized-down arrangement by the rocker. Most originals were out of Tony’s playing range.

Instead he ended up toying with some Beatles’ tunes: “Hey Jude,” “Yesterday,” “Let it Be!” to name a few.

His real love was messing with his keyboard and creating Rap verses. He’d spend hours experimenting with layered soundtracks, color combos, riffs, ostinatos, brainstorming himself, exploring every sound phenomenon he could–and this was a full-blown PASSION.

Who couldn’t notice?


I knew, first-hand, how teens had come through my studio with a variety of musical leanings, and I’d gone the distance to indulge them, amassing huge scores, pasted together, not easily fitting on the piano rack. You’d see a pile on the rug as I tossed aside extra pages. (Cold Play–“Viva la Vida,” was a bummer with repeats, dal segnos, double and triple endings)

So who said I was a square, totally Classical molded piano teacher? (one qualifier: I’d usually negotiate. If a student wanted pop, he had to pair with Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, et al.) And don’t forget fundamentals of piano technique!!

Basically, I’d go with the flow, getting on board the contempo choo choo.


Taylor Swift, “Forever and Always,” Five for Fighting “100 years,” not to forget a Christian Ballade,” You Raise Me Up,” that needed sizing down. Otherwise, it would be like spaghetti taking up half my living space.

The latest request was “Innocent,” by Swift. No sweat!


As it happened Tony went off to college and couldn’t continue his piano lessons, but about 9 months later, his mom, a retired attorney, phoned and said her son was back in the local loop.

She wanted him to resume classes.

But the teen was married to technology. His keyboard, mics, amplifiers, spun into the process. Who needed or wanted piano lessons? His LYRICS were incubating to the exponential.

K-I-D’S inborn talent bloomed and developed. He hooked up with Aris Jerome in L.A. who agreed to direct one of his Rap creations and gear it to video format.

Meanwhile, Tony earned his Pro Tools Certificate, and continued to learn even more spiffy recording techniques from a skilled engineer.

The upshot was KID’s bookings in San Francisco and Oakland, no small accomplishment!

So this is where Tony wanted to be– NOT propped up at his mother’s upright piano pumping scales.

Currently, K-I-D’s on a roll with his newly packaged CD releases, and Rap videos.


The last one, “This is How I Jam!” is a grabber from start to finish!

As the final footnote to Tony’s achievements, he needs your help.

Takes less then a minute to nominate K-I-D by going to the following web site:
The Bay Area Freshmen 10 is a yearly award presented by DJ Amen of 106.1 FM KMEL and Thizzler On The Roof ( Every year, 10 of the most promising up & coming Bay Area artists are nominated by the public then voted on by Bay Area professionals and tastemakers.


LINK: Tony Levine (K-I-D’s) You Tube Channel