Approaching a brand new piece with spirit and emotion

When piano students first encounter a fresh page of music, they will often wade through the notes as best as they can, fumbling here and there without an adjusted framing pulse or investment of animated interest in what the notes are saying beyond their humble, accurate identity.

In this early stage “reading,” tempo is usually far too brisk (and erratic) for the new learner to experience any emotional response to a cascade of dizzying dots and beams. They are consumed with finding the right pitches and nailing them down.

For this reason, I insist that my pupils separate hands, and slow down the pulse to frame a “deep” in the keys, mood-matching connection to a new score because every playing registers a profound imprint in their consciousness. So throw away trials that breeze over the character of a given composition only divert the learner from the essence of the new composition.

By example, I’m working with a student who’s enraptured by the intensely rhythmic and bi-tonal energy of Kabalevsky’s “Clowns,” yet there’s the same propensity to overlook the character/mood of this piece in the initial hit or miss the notes, baby-step learning process.

A changed perspective:

In this video sample, the student takes the right approach, working assiduously on the first section, paying attention to spring forward staccato releases, and notated accents that he manages in a slow tempo framing. It allows him to capture the “feeling” and emotion imbued in this miniature. Naturally, his being “connected” to the circus atmosphere of “Clowns” from the very start makes his learning engagement deeper and more satisfying.

Since Kabalevsky’s two-page composition has notable harmonic patterns, symmetries, agogic accents, inverted motifs, ostinato bass, etc. these present an opportunity to examine theoretical context as an aid to interpretation, noting that no dimension of learning is a pedantic side bar.

Every examination of a piece becomes part of an integrated whole, of which the very first note ignites a rich emotional, cognitive and kinesthetic experience.

Clowns play through:

Early “Clowns” lesson with my student in London, England (first section)

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 1

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 2

Posted in adult piano instruction, Dimitri Kabalevsky, Dimitry Kabalevsky, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Kabalevsky, Online piano lessons, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, Shirley Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Old Baldwin piano passes to a new owner, but keeps family ties

My blind date sweetheart piano, the Baldwin Hamilton grand 1929, that was a shot in the dark, telephone interviewed instrument, is falling into the hands of my adult student, Julie. That means it’s remaining in the family. (Julie lives practically next door) The good news is that I now have ample space for my NEW BAlDWIN that’s already replaced its cousin.

Baldwin Hamilton

Kinship, however, has a broader meaning in this case, since Julie’s mother studied with my teacher, Ena Bronstein, when we both resided in Fresno, California. The connection didn’t really click until Julie inadvertently mentioned her mom’s stay in the Central Valley having overlapped mine and “placed” herself in a bunting, cradle by her mom at Bronstein’s home and piano studio. Did we cross paths, I’ll never know.

I can only imagine Julie being exposed to Bronstein’s virtuosity in utero, and subsequently being nursed to the strains of Mozart and Beethoven.

Here’s a sample of Maestra Bronstein’s artistry that cross-fertilized my playing, that of Julie’s mom, and indirectly JULIE, herself.

(Flashback to Fresno, CA and Ena Bronstein’s Reunion Concert)

(Should I mention the irony of Julie’s imminent delivery of an infant who will no doubt make an appearance in my piano studio, carrying the musical lineage forward)

Moving on…

Tomorrow is the big day for Julie: Baldwin Hamilton will be delivered to her apartment, while I continue to make my place a welcoming sanctuary for Baldwin 165, a 2015 brand new 5’5″ piano that plays well beyond its size.

Compare the two beauties:



Here’s Julie playing Chopin’s C# minor Waltz on “Hammy” well before it officially became hers. Note that she’s a stained glass artist, possessing many talents.



The BLIND date Hamilton and its history

My Birthday Present to Me

My New Baldwin Grand Arrives! (on video)

Posted in piano, piano blog,, Baldwin Hamilton piano, Baldwin 165 grand piano | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My New Baldwin Grand Piano Arrives! (on video)

Baldwin from outstide in

Baldwin Grand with lid up plays J.S. Bach Prelude in F minor, BWV 881 (WTC Book 2)

And J.S. Bach Prelude No. 1 in C, Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1

Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545, Allegro



Posted in Baldwin grand piano, Baldwin piano, new piano, piano, word press, you tube | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

My Birthday present to me!

Who would have imagined that a new piano would be my special gift to myself! It was one week since my mother had passed away at 100 and I was devastated, shaken by the loss– too distressed to be thinking about celebrating my upcoming birthday in any way. Yet when I saw an ad for a vintage Steinway grand, 1926 on Craig’s list that had an enviable list of positives, including a rebuild by a respected technician, I thought about checking it out, perhaps to honor my mother who had always supported my artistic endeavors.

Even during economically hard times, she had managed to buy me my first real piano–a Sohmer upright that replaced a wheezing Weiser (about 52 inches high) that had land mines of buzzing notes, and many not playing at all. Yet on the up side, the keyboard provided a landing for my cage-free parakeet whose droppings further complicated my playing experience.

Fast forward to Oberlin Conservatory graduation.

My father, a railroad worker, had replaced the regal upright with a gorgeously resonant Steinway M, 1917, that sustained me through graduate school and my California relocation. And after two quality rebuilds, (one on the East Coast) the piano became a permanent fixture in my life.

Cohabiting with the old-timer, my Baldwin Hamilton, known as the blind date piano, barely survived with its glassy upper treble and faltering bass– And considering the instrument’s age and condition, it had been cared for to a remarkable level.

Yet with my personal grief rising to fever pitch, I knew that I needed some kind of immediate emotional relief and replenishment.

In so many words, that’s exactly how a new Baldwin grand came into my life….

Baldwin name on the piano

So without further ado, here’s the beauty that won my heart and eased my pain.

Baldwin profile


(P.S. the Steinway on consignment below didn’t make it to the winner’s circle, though it’s still deserving of a good home.)

Here’s me trying it out before I met up with Baldwin 165.



Posted in Baldwin, Baldwin pianos, Berkeley, Berkeley CA, California, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano shopping, Russell Kassman, Shirley Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Phrase loving exchange between Teacher and Student (Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545)

Tonight’s lesson with Judy had inspiring moments within a phrase sharing interplay. We started out singing the opening measures of the composer’s charming masterpiece, emphasizing a singing line supported by harmonies cresting and dipping into resolutions. The vocal lead-in, threaded through the whole lesson, often rippling into supple wrists, relaxed arms –but it deepened in perspective by an understanding of harmonic rhythm and its influence on phrasing and emotional expression.

Here’s how the lesson unfolded:

Sample of slow practice approach to opening phrases

Posted in adult piano lessons, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teacher, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Multi-cam views during Skype or Facetime piano lessons

Originally posted on Arioso7's Blog (Shirley Kirsten):

I’m now a three-time Logitech webcam user with a long range panoramic capability and two close-up keyboard views, (including an overhead) that’s a mouse tap away. For trill and ornament demonstrations, I highlight the second or third LOGITECH option listed on my Preferences window and can easily switch back to the longer range image with another click. (first view) The FULL SCREEN option is recommended.

NOTE: Since my iMac upgrade to MAVERICKS, I use the HDC920HD1080 webcams.

To add more than one web cam view to the mix, I downloaded the Manycam program to my iMac. (It’s FREE)

For Panorama: C920HD1080 (Place cam on end block of piano, high treble side)
Close-up below: C920HD1080 (clipped to a music stand to the left of me)

LONGER side view of piano

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 7.30.58 PM

closeup camera 3  left of me
My Close-up cam sits on a music stand by specific marked placement. (You can see it in the photo showing the…

View original 216 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Piano Technique: Stabilizing tempo, presence of mind, and breathing through scales and arpeggios

This has to be one of my favorite reciprocal teaching/learning videos because it fleshes out the importance of breathing through scales with mindful concentration. Framed by a singing pulse, the scale becomes a model for all playing.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.25.12 AM

Here’s B minor in Contrary Motion (legato) with my annotations that reference the BREATH and mindfulness.

Important Prompts: Sing to shape; drag notes for traction instead of poke; BREATHE into the scale; be MINDFUL and CENTERED with focused CONCENTRATION–Play with a framing pulse; float “weeping willow” arms; “float” on air.


In this second video, an adult student works on stabilizing her pulse through a legato to staccato rendering of a C Major scale and arpeggio.

Erratic rhythm is a problem for many pupils, but when they review their recorded playing they often have epiphanies that otherwise evade them in real lesson time. This is why playbacks can be so valuable in the piano learning environment.

Posted in arpeggios, blog, blogger, blogmetrics, classissima, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano technique, scales, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment