Piano Technique: Wrist dipping and thumb twiddling

With creative juices flowing during a piano lesson by Skype, a teacher can toy with various mental images by webcam that assist fluid technique.

“Wrist dipping” through a five-finger position in rapid rhythm required focus on how to avoid the inevitable accent that occurs on framing thumb and pinky. “Soft” landings were therefore isolated and practiced to diminish their impact.

“Twiddling” thumbs beamed to a North Carolina student prepped her for a shift-by-shift journey through A minor. Watch out for obtrusive pokes and hard landings. Keep an agile, relaxed thumb as also applied to a D Major arpeggio practiced in this segment.

twiddling thumbs

Attentive listening fused with an awareness of “feel,” (or physical memory of how to create an imagined sound) plus mental imagery are great assets to advance technique and musicality.



Posted in adult piano instruction, arpeggios, Classical music blog, piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano technique, scales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poignant recollections about pianists, Michelangeli and Barenboim from the Munich Philharmonic’s principal bassoonist

Friedrich and Rebecca crop

As early Spring weather rolled into Berkeley last Sunday afternoon, I set out for Piedmont Pianos in Oakland to try out various grands, and to partake of the San Francisco Munich Trio. Friedrich Edelmann, bassoonist, and Rebecca Rust, cellist are a couple joined in marriage and music. They sometimes perform as a duo, or with pianist, Dmitriy Cogan.

On March 1, they were part of a trio in an appetizing program that offered the works of Classical, Romantic and Contemporary composers. As icing on the cake, their finale was Max Stern’s moving composition, “Prayer” from Laudations, composed for and dedicated to Friedrich and Rebecca in 2013.

While the concert was a feast of fine playing, the true dessert following, was meeting Friedrich and Rebecca at Bacheesos Persian restaurant in Berkeley. They’d been invited by a Classical Music Meet-up Organizer, Alana Shindler, who staged the gathering.

To my immense delight, the couple shared many colorful experiences that spanned decades. It was an oral music history that I was determined to memorialize on video.

My wish came true when the pair graced my apartment and filled the air with even more poignant reminiscences.

Friedrich who was perched beside my iMac, in full screen image, recalled his 17 years playing in the Munich Philharmonic as Principal Bassoonist under the legendary baton of Rumanian born Sergiu Celibidache. Subsequently he’d worked with James Levine and other notable guest conductors: Giulini, Ozawa, Boehm, Solti and many others. His service to the orchestra totaled 27 years!

With a little prompting, Edelmann recounted stories about pianists, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Daniel Barenboim who had been engaged by the Munich orchestra as concerto soloists. What was revealed was compelling and colorful, providing an enticing entree to Friedrich’s book, Memories of Maestro Sergiu Celibidache, published in Japan in 2009.

Interview with Friedrich Edelmann


The Edelmanns are now headed to Germany briefly, but plan to come back to the Bay area where they previously enjoyed the patronage of a music-loving grand dame.

“Gladys Perez-Mendez” adopted the couple and gave them beautiful quarters (gratis) in her Berkeley Hills home. Sadly, she passed away the day before their chamber concert last Sunday, so the duo is in need of sanctuary, or a HOST, to put them up several times a year when they come to California to play concerts, and give master classes.

If there’s a chance this writing will fulfill their wish for housing, then it will be the perfect outcome.

About Friedrich and Rebecca:


E-mail Address: Friedrich Edelmann edelmann@edelmann-rust.com
(Those interested in purchasing Edelmann’s book in English translation can contact him at the above address)

Article by Tony Sauro about the musical duo:


Posted in Arturo Bennedetti Michelangeli, chamber music, Classical music blog, Friedrich Edelmann, Munich Philharmonic, piano, Rebecca Rust-Edelmann, San Francisco Munich Trio | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rehearsing for the Big Day! LIVE/SKYPE piano student recital

Peter at piano cropped

Peter, originally from Sweden, has been studying piano since January 2014. (He started from scratch without any note reading experience.)

Working in the technology field, keeping long hours staring at a computer screen, he wanted to study piano for pure tension relief, and lucky for his teacher, Peter loves his Classical music journey.

As one of my LIVE Berkeley students, he’s made quite a bit of progress, and now has the confidence to play for an audience of combined ONLINE/LIVE sisters and brothers in a music sharing scheduled for Sunday, March 15th.

Last night we fine tuned his two recital pieces: A Two-part invention framed arrangement of “Go No More A’Rushing” (Elizabethan theme/Willard Palmer) and Sadness by Turk.

Naturally, with most students, performance anxiety and strategies to deal with it are part of the preparation process which will be ongoing as we approach the event.

Lesson Excerpts from the Palmer and Turk compositions:

(My Baldwin piano will be tuned this coming Monday in readiness for the 15th)

Flashback to Peter playing a duet with me, 5 weeks into his piano study in Feb. 2014

PRE-TEST for SKYPE/LIVE piano recital

Posted in adult piano recital, Live and Skype piano recital, piano blog, piano recital rehearsal, Skype | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piano Technique: Selective, MINDFUL repetition to avoid overuse injury

After decades of observing students practicing their scales, arpeggios, five-finger positions, and myriads of permutations (parallel/contrary motion, longs strands of 10ths, 6ths, etc) I’ve observed many jumpstarts, anticipations, and anxious out-of-synch doubling of tempo on the turnarounds in scales, that if repeated over and again in haphazard ways will put a student at risk for injury.

Getting on the frantic, frenzied practicing bandwagon is a big, definitive NO!

Remediation, however, is best accomplished with presence of mind and focused, relaxed approaches to repetition with a FRAMED singing pulse and spot practicing emphasis. The latter involves calm, objective analysis of what needs to be improved. Rather than practicing a long strand of notes, not proximate to the site of a glitch or mishap, the student should consider bracketing off measures that lead in, and out of the finger trap. If the problem is fuzzy rhythmic perception in doubling tempo within a contrary motion scale, for instance, then practicing INTO the turnaround and OUT from, provides the fractioned part of the scale that needs work. (again within a framing, relaxed pulse)

Overuse injury can occur when continuous UN-mindful, shot-in-the-dark practicing occurs. In particular, if stock is not taken of what is causing playing irregularities, then self-devised meaningless repetition that seems to have a life of its own, can cause undo physical harm. I’ve watched LIVE students and those on Face Time and SKYPE create an unrelenting juggernaut for themselves that if uninterrupted leads to undo tension and pain.

When I send students recorded lesson segments, I try to edit out their myriads of frenzied repetitions, substituting their best efforts with some of my interspersed corrections. (so it shouldn’t seem like I’m eating up their lesson time with showboat demonstrations) To the contrary, I’m trying in the most focused amount of time to exemplify a more relaxed and mindful approach to the problem at hand.


BREATHING natural, full breaths is so pivotal to practicing and it ties in with AVOIDING injury. Anxiety infiltrates muscles and blocks fluidity, so that anything like meditation or related, can assist with remediating measures, phrases, etc.

In the attached video, particularly in the second part where a student works on the scale turnaround to double tempo (A minor melodic form in contrary motion) I have him SPOT practice the octave leading in and out of the turnaround with a consciousness of how to avoid the JUMPSTART or anxious anticipation of the rhythmic shift.

What isn’t seen are the pupil’s multiple repetitions that were getting him tangled in KNOTS–a feverish pursuit that had to be examined and amended.



The first segment focuses on playing parallel thirds, B Major with a recommended legato, side-to-side traction movement in preparation for snipping into legato.

What is not seen were the multiple efforts that were taxing the student, not allowing a funnel of relaxed energy, in its most economical form to accomplish the playing goal. With our focus on side-to-side motion, and mental imagery infused, (“caterpillar along the keys”) the student began to work with improved channeled energy. Making him aware of what WORKED as a substitute for haphazard repetition, improved the playing landscape as it likely will impede injuries.

I always tell my students: leave a memory in your practicing of your best, most fluid and relaxed effort. Once you have accomplished what you want, preserve a muscular memory and mental image that should linger into the next practicing session. Don’t keep hammering away after you have attained what was desired because it will otherwise lead to the very tension that took prescribed measures to relieve.

In this second video, some of the same referenced issues arise as a student practices scales and arpeggios with a remedial spot practicing emphasis. (Note that a “the floating arm” mental image proved to be valuable.)

Posted in pianists and overuse injury, piano, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for a SKYPE/LIVE student recital

The day is fast approaching when Online students will meet the LIVE ones who are here in Berkeley, California. As a pretest of connections for the SKYPE contingent, we set aside this past Sunday, coordinating time differences in Europe, the East and West Coast. Two of our ONLINE students were not able to make it, but they’ll turn up on Sunday, March 15th for the big event.

Here’s a preview of what will appear on my computer screen.

As for the set-up in my living room, LIVE students will play the Baldwin Grand with a webcam providing a side view of the player and keyboard while my Imac monitor will be perched on my Steinway piano in full view of a LIVE audience of students here.

computer screen

I’ve previously given concerts at home, where invited guests watch a big screen because of the preponderance of pianos eating up living room space which prevents a good view of the performer and keyboard. The computer screen accommodation has been practical and positive.

Judy, one of my transfer students is conscientiously prepping for D-Day. Sadly, most students are racked with performance anxiety in anticipation of the event, though it will be framed as a “music-sharing” experience. Certainly, the Skype/Live exchange will provide an opportunity to explore relaxation, mental imagery, presence of mind, concentration, focus, etc. as performance supports.

Here’s Judy slow practicing her Beethoven Sonatina, first movement. Her progress has been considerable in the few months we’ve been working together. I look forward to hearing her play at our unique occasion.

A sample of the SKYPE/LIVE Program: March 15th: (not all students have opted to perform this time around)

Bach French Suite, Sarabande and Gavotte

J.S. Bach Prelude in F minor

J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor

Mozart Sonata, K. 545 (Andante)

Beethoven Sonatina in F (Allegro)

Chopin Waltz in A minor Op. Posthumous

Program decisions are still in progress, and a few students are open to “bribes” re: participating.

Posted in Online piano recital, Skype | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Live Streaming a National Chopin Piano Competition–Final Round, Sunday, March 1

The brave new universe of Internet technology allows a global-wide audience to gaze at, and listen to accomplished young pianists vying for top prizes. With a mouse click, the latest competitive milieu in Florida minus swaying palm trees and ocean breezes, is beamed at high frequency into our living rooms. A feast of Chopin’s music reverberates though iMacs, iPads, cell phones, and PCs of infinite varieties.


It’s the Ninth National Chopin Piano Competition!

Chopin Competition

Nine foot grands move onto a stage shared with a full size orchestra for the weekend concerto phase wrap-up. Each pianist has been given three instruments to choose from, offering a landscape of playing possibilities: from a pronounced angular/bright sound dimension (Fazioli) to what transmits as a more balanced voicing in Steinway and Yamaha pianos. Still it’s all quite subjective, and one can argue about tone, touch, phrasing as each surviving entrant puts a unique musical signature on the Chopin E Minor or F minor Concertos. (The E minor has triumphed in popularity thus far, and will be a program exclusive, today Sunday starting at 3 p.m. Eastern time)

A $75,000 first prize awaits the WINNER, I dare say, in what perhaps can’t always be MEASURED in the artistic/interpretive arena. Yet, the competition ethos is alive and well, bolstered by Internet exposure and a niche audience of piano enthusiasts. (Bedazzling virtuoso technique is a given)

Eric Lu (Curtis Institute) opened Saturday’s program with a Fazioli delivered performance of Chopin’s E minor, while Josh Wright, the sole Utah resident, amidst bi-coastal colleagues settled into a Steinway. Eric Zuber, a Peabody student in Baltimore was perched at a Yamaha. (the age range of finalists is 19 to 30)

Today, Alex Beyer, George Li, and Rachel Naomi Kudo will cap the competition before prizes are rolled out, including specific honors for Mazurka and Ballade playing.

(Top tier “winners” will also have guaranteed entrance into the INTERNATIONAL Chopin Competition in Poland)

Watch and listen to George Li who’s on today’s roster. (He’s my personal favorite.)


Eric Lu

Expect a riveting musical finale!

1) Eric Lu
2) Rachel Naomi Kudo
3) George Li
4) Eric Zuber
5) Joshua Wright
6) Alexander Beyer

Posted in Chopin Piano Competition, Chopin.org, George Li, piano, piano competition, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First Love Bach Fugue in F minor, BWV 881

What a divine pairing from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2! The ethereal, “sighing” Prelude is joined by a somber, though monumental Fugue in three voices.

The Subject with its characteristic three-8th note repetitions followed by two-16ths, meanders in stepwise movement with small skip deviations while its borrowed melodic and rhythmic components weave through the composition as spin-offs. (That’s why a student should carefully analyze the Subject’s character and chemistry at the very outset of learning)

In the counter-subject realm, this FUGUE does not adhere to strict rules of FORM, but instead it reveals a host of ideas that should be recognized and mapped out as to occurrence and recurrence.

In this early learning experience, which is admittedly my falling in love PHASE, I still make sure to keep an analytical eye and ear open to what this masterpiece is about as I play through it in a slow, deliberate tempo discovering its architectural features.

Page ONE:
Fugue in F minor p. 1 revised

Posted in Classical music piano blog, Fugue, Fugue in F minor, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, Well Tempered Clavier | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment