piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano pedagogy, piano technique

An adult and child share common goals in playing piano artistically

There’s no big ocean of divide in working with children and adult piano students. In fact, today I found common threads running through two lessons: one with a local beginner, age, 8–the other, a seasoned adult.

Liz, 8, completed her fifth week of instruction, with my imbued emphasis on how to produce a singing tone. From day one, I’ve nurtured a relaxed funnel of energy down her arms, through supple wrists, and gently curved hands. This same fundamental lesson framing applies to Sam, a much older student who resides in London, takes lessons Online, and is practicing “Fur Elise.” (He’s about three years into his studies.)

The following lesson samples were nicely paired with common goals of creating beauty. Sam’s challenge today was woven into his D Major Scale in 10ths. He worked on ORGANIZING it–discovering symmetries between the hands in mirror images, while maintaining a natural flow of energy down his arms, wrists, and hands. Curling fingers under in a block practicing segment impeded its smooth octave by octave course, and grabbing notes would cause the same interruption of well-breathed out sequences. The remedy proved to be thoughtful repetitions, that gradually eliminated these impediments.

For Liz, whose lesson I re-capped in a summary video, I illustrated the very concepts that were woven into Sam’s lesson, but in a different context.

The child is studying short pieces in Frances Clark’s Primer, Time to Begin, but she’s also given composing assignments that tap into her creativity with an embedded alliance to the singing tone. The earliest exposure to the piano is probably the most critical in furthering the development of attentive listening; a physical/emotional connection to the instrument, and a cognitive framing that reinforces the practicing phase. (Not to overlook the imagination and its profound influence upon musical expression.)


SAM: Playing the D Major Scale in 10ths

A Summary of Liz’s 5th lesson–correction from “4th” mentioned in the video (in part)

Liz’s previous lesson segments have been recorded in progress:





piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano technique, scales and arpeggios

Barnyard follies in the piano studio, or how imaginative prompts can improve technique

As piano teachers, we often devise spur of the moment, impromptu strategies to deal with redundant student glitches as they frequently play out in scales and arpeggios. In this creative teaching/learning universe, we can become quite imaginative as we integrate physically-based adjustments with mental cues and prompts that might ironically lead us to the “barnyard.”

As far afield as this may sound, two of my pupils were “clucking away” to center their hands on the black keys, as they de-intensified unmusical, intrusive thumb accents. In the framing of the F# minor arpeggio arpeggio, by intoning “Black—Black, Black,” etc. (referring to the SHARPS), a student omitted a tendency to fall hard on her white note affixed thumbs.

clucking hens

Two examples:

In this particular terrain, one of the biggest obstacles to fluid legato and staccato romps through 4-octaves, is the obtrusive thumb.

Because it’s the shortest finger it will exhibit a Napoleonic complex, asserting its un-entitled authority along the scale or arpeggio route if not specifically reigned in.

To undermine its Accent-heavy Autocratic leanings, I give it “feather light” status, while I position it in a way where it’s stripped of its pretension to Power. (One of my suggestions is to obliquely angle the thumb on the key so it does not flatten out on its side making it positioned for a sneak ATTACK.)

Students usually thrive when given tangible instruction and imaginative prompts that they can take home and integrate into their practicing.

So while a pupil’s piano sanctuary may oddly transform into a barnyard, it will reap the benefit of providing fertile ground for improvement.

adult piano instruction, adult piano students, blogmetrics, Classical music blog, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano learning, piano lessons, piano teaching, piano technique

When an adult piano student advances well beyond Primer preliminaries

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 11.59.43 AM

Peter started piano lessons from scratch about 1 and 1/2 years ago, not reading a note of music at the time, but having gads of enthusiasm about his maiden musical journey.

Readers will be reminded of his earliest efforts playing Faber Piano Adventure duets with me. (I chose the Primer edition because it moved slower than the companion Accelerated Adult Adventures)

Peter’s second piano lesson: Jan. 14th, 2014

The purple-colored book provided more opportunities to explore black note-based melodies for imbuing the singing tone/supple wrist/weight transfer/dynamic contrast spectrum while the companion adult book raced too quickly through the preliminaries. Still, the standard “method book” mentality was not compatible, in my opinion, with long-range acquisition of sound note-reading skills.

If I had to do it over, I would have thrown Frances Clark’s Music Tree into the mix. (Her materials shuffle fingers on landmark notes, Treble G, Bass clef F, Middle C, etc. and create departures from these at various, gradated intervals, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc.)

Nonetheless, hitched to early FABER pages, Peter made remarkable progress in a 4-6 week sprint with the material. The lovely Faber duos with harmonically engaging secondo parts, grew his love affair with the piano at a pivotal learning juncture.

Fast forward to the present. My inclination had been to snatch engaging music from various collections, creating a repertoire-based study environment, though Peter has had a regular dose of scales and arpeggios in legato and staccato. (parallel and contrary motion) Most recently he’s added 4-octave parallel 10ths to his technical routines.

In a Circle of Fifths journey through Major and Relative minors, he’s absorbed a lovely singing tone and animated staccato. With the latter, he can play convincing forearm to wrist-driven detached notes as demonstrated in a recent penta-scale framing. (Peter has also zoned in on clipped finger staccato contrasts when needed)

Yesterday, my very engaged pupil, made a landmark leap in playing J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor. His legato pedaling practice stemmed from his exposure to Poole’s Mist, and using the sustain, he admits, was comparable to experiencing a first sunrise. Without doubt, it ushered in a universe of piano love eternal.

Post Script: Over the past 18 months, Peter has acquired a beautiful singing tone that is advanced by his supple wrist approach to the piano. Combined with an understanding of weight transfer and its relationship to a producing a wide dynamic palette, he’s creating steadily beautiful musical outpourings.

Peter’s Repertoire List

“Happiness” by D.G. Turk
“Sadness” by D.G. Turk
Minuet by James Hook
“Go No More A-Rushing” (in two-part Invention form) by Willard Palmer
Study no. 6 Chernyavskaya
Study no. 8 Barenboim
“A Little Joke” by Kabalevsky
“Mist” by Poole
J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor
Peter is currently learning “First Sorrow” by R.Schumann, from the composer’s Album for the Young
He will also shortly embark upon “Clowns” by Kabalevsky

piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano technique, Shirley Kirsten

Piano Technique: Remediating peak octave scale paralysis (Staccato)

Choking up is probably the best description of what often happens to final scale octaves and their turnaround. Students get anxious at the terminus, and tend to crowd notes as if they’re racing to the finish line, when in fact, they’re only half way through. So psychologically, it’s best if the peak octave is viewed as an expansion or broadening of the scale, with lots of natural, relaxed breathing to support it. (In addition, an extra infusion of energy is needed on the very top scale note to bring it down with a feeling a smoothness and paced note spacing.)

In Staccato, players become even more anxious because they feel a sense of “disconnection” to the notes when they can otherwise apply the same RELAXED framing to the peak as they did in LEGATO.


How to Practice

There are many ways to remediate the final octave spill and turnaround (in staccato) which I include in two separate videos. One of these contains a Lesson segment with an adult student who inspired my deeper thought about the whole last octave landscape.

Lesson in Progress

Ways to Remediate last octave choking

Big points:

Relaxed breathing last octave approach.
Spurt of energy on turnaround note; cupped hands for precision forearm staccato–ample arm weight should support the forearm staccato.

Lift arm weight (perhaps HALF weight) for forearm generated soft staccato.

GOOD consistent framing rhythm in all practicing, whether spot practicing last octave or rendering the whole scale.

adult piano instruction, adult piano lessons, blogmetrics, blogmetrics.org, Chopin, Chopin Waltzes, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, online piano instruction, pedaling on the piano, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano pedagogy, Romantic era piano music, Waltz, wordpress, youtube

Pedaling Chopin Waltz No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posthumous

Frederic Chopin

When considering ways to pedal Chopin’s ethereal A minor Waltz, I think back to Stephen Hough and his teacher’s comments about the learning process: “I don’t care how you’re playing the piece now, what I care about is how you’ll play it in 10 years.” (Gordon Green)

Well as a segue way to this posting, I will admit to having a time-nurtured set of revelations about interpretation as well as pedaling the Romantic composer’s masterpiece. Certainly, my current pedaling choices, different from those offered in 2011, are not set in stone and are subject to experimentation and variation. That’s what musical growth is about for students of all levels. And we must constantly remind ourselves of our eternal student status with its attendant learning horizon expansion. (The creative process has no bounds and always preserves an opening for new thoughts and ideas to filter in)

Having opened with no apology for my flux of ideas pertaining the Chopin’s A minor Waltz, I still offer my latest pedaling practices, with a webcam directed at my right foot. Hopefully, this will be a springboard for those embarking on a common, Chopin inspired musical journey.

Play through in Tempo for pedaling:
(Rubato is added in this playing)

A good reference for pedaling techniques of all varieties is Melanie Spanswick’s excellent blog on the subject:


My teaching supplement for an Online adult piano student:

Bam Boomerang, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Lakewood Estates, learning to read, piano, piano blog, reading tools, Shirley Kirsten, Steinway A grand piano, Walnut Creek

An afternoon with piano student, Judy and her Steinway ‘A,’ in nature’s paradise

How many piano teachers are invited to a student’s lakeside home nestled in verdant beauty?! It was a splendid display of trees, including pines, cedars, spruce, casuarina, maples, birches, poplar, locusis, and sycamores, as well as native oaks.

River otters, deer, and exotic birds, such as egrets and herons are known to inhabit an awe-inspired Walnut Creek, California natural environment that frames a home bundled with a generous serving of early California history. (“Land and water rights in the area were acquired in 1908. Two years later the reinforced concrete dam was built at a cost of $80,000 creating the beautiful lake.” Road construction followed in the course of Lakewood community’s birth)

Better screen shot lake

To add to this gorgeous nature-draped backdrop, a soulfully resonant Steinway A, 1911 grand drew me into its playing universe the moment Judy sampled a few Mozartean phrases for me. While she’s been practicing the Exposition of Sonata K. 545 for less than three weeks, it’s nicely forming with contoured phrasing in back tempo.

best Judy at the Steinway A

After Judy’s dip into a pool of resonance, I was wooed to play a “chorded” version of J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C, followed by my extemporaneous lesson on trills that seemed to lighten up the space.

What an extraordinary piano to explore!


The afternoon had begun with a tour of Judy’s place, an incredible lunch, followed by the centerpiece display of her family’s heirloom grand piano in the “adobe room.”

Judy’s dad, who attended Juilliard, played chamber music with a string of fine musicians on the East Coast igniting his daughter’s interest in music, though ultimately Judy doted upon the oboe.

For a time she studied with Jean-Louis Leroux at the San Francisco Conservatory before embarking for France to become a pupil of her teacher’s mentor.

As Judy’s journey played out, her musical connections led to artistic trysts in Paris with some of the most regaled performance artists of the Twentieth Century, one of which was pantomimist, Marcel Marceau whom Judy met and worked with. He was a source of inspiration for her interest in helping children, in particular, to learn early reading skills in a creative framing.

If we fast forward the clock over decades of Judy’s life, we see how she was drawn into the educational realm, branching out into the universe of helping youngsters with basic reading fundamentals. (Wrap up 40 years of teaching experience and you have a vision realized)

Not surprisingly, a dynamic and creative App, Bam Boomerang evolved for which Judy, her son, Keenan, and assistant Beth became intensely engaged. Over years, they developed and refined what is a well-established and highly regarded teaching tool.

Over a delectable lunch prepared to the last meticulous detail, both Judy and Beth served up a mouthful of valuable information about their reading-based activity that’s obviously their labor of love.


For more about Bam Boomerang, the app that gives kids personalized feedback while they play games and learn to read, check out the Direct Download:

“Bam Boomerang is an engaging app where kids read words into a microphone and get one-on-one feedback while having a blast playing games, earning trophies and buying things for their own animated world.

“No other app gives personalized, effective feedback to students!”

Download and get started free: http://bit.ly/DownloadBamBoomerang



adult piano instruction, classissima.com, piano blogging, Romantic era music

Ornaments, Romantic Style: Don’t be enslaved, but master them

There’s nothing more inhibiting to piano playing than being boxed in by ornaments–tied down by their inertia and lack of smooth resolution.

For certain, if you’re threatened by them, or anticipate the worst possible outcome, ENTRAPMENT, then it guarantees a hasty entry and debilitating departure.

Sadly, breath-LESS and anxiety-prone pianists often impede their journey, leaving embellishments crippled measure-by-measure to final cadence.

So how does a player avoid the vicious cycle of ornament-driven dysfunction and enslavement?

By learning flexibility and rotation, a pianist can MASTER these subjugated appendages while assuring their relaxed release.

In a lesson-in-progress with an adult, Chopin ornaments from the composer’s Waltz in A minor No. 19, Op. Posthumous were FREED in the space of 34 minutes edited down to 15 conforming with You Tube imposed time limits.

Chopin A minor Waltz p. 1