adult piano instruction, adult piano instructn, Domenico Scarlatti, Lillian Freundlich, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano technique, Scarlatti Sonatas, Uncategorized

A Domenico Scarlatti Sonata that enables Finger and Forearm Staccato

It’s been decades since my beloved N.Y.C. piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich bestowed upon me the gift of Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas. And at the time, (while I was a student at the New York City H.S. of Performing Arts) I had no idea that those she had selected were permeated with the basics of technique bonded to musical expression.

lillianfreundlich  lil2

Yet, I have no specific recollection of my mentor having isolated finger staccato from that generated by the forearm. Similarly, wrist staccato was even more foreign to her musical vocabulary. (Nonetheless Mrs. Freundlich always checked for supple wrists, and for relaxingly suspended arms without a trace of tension)

Basically, Lillian Freundlich’s springboard was the singing tone, and how to phrase by building smaller measures to larger ones using a free fall relaxed arm and a progressive note-grouping approach. She also doted on the dotted 8th/16th rhythm to smooth out bumpy lines.

As years have passed, and more than one teacher has influenced me during an extended musical journey in and out of the Conservatory, I’ve come to the conclusion that identifying and isolating various types of staccato is part of the enriched piano learning cosmos–that such a physical/musical nexus is intrinsic to growing artistry.

Excuse my wordy introduction, but perhaps it’s a necessary prelude to a tutorial I prepared right after having resurrected Scarlatti Sonata in G, K. 14, L. 387 as part of my spiritual homecoming.

Scarlatti Sonata in G  p. 1

Having observed reams of detached notes in forte and piano dynamic ranges permeating the score, I realized how fortunate I was to have spent inordinate time with my adult students cultivating various kinds of staccato via scales and arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths. It clearly amounted to a common journey of infinite value!

Finally, to have reviewed a Baroque era composition that was exemplary of the Keyboard School of Virtuosity fathered by Domenico Scarlatti, afforded an opportunity to re-explore staccato playing in all its expressive facets.

Play Through:


Classical music piano blog, Fugue, Fugue in F minor, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, Well Tempered Clavier

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

Later Play Through:

She plays “red-blooded” harpsichord!

It’s well-known to a wide audience of admirers that Elaine Comparone has a commanding presence at the harpsichord. And while she sits this one out in a bedazzling reading of Bach’s D minor concerto, she’s made headlines standing before her beloved as Queen of a Chamber Band that’s produced reams of high quality performances.

Comparone, in royal fashion, continues to champion the harpsichord as a front and center player among its keyboard kin. In solo and ensemble appearances, her resonant Dowd or Hubbard make a profoundly audible impression to final cadence, leaving an entranced audience with an insatiable appetite for more.

What better way to showcase the impeccable artistry of Maestra Comparone than to post her most recent gift to a growing league of You Tube fans and subscribers: an inspired recording session at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in New York City.

J.S. Bach Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052

Elaine’s music can be found virtually everywhere, starting at Arabesque:

Comparone’s You Tube Channel:


Bach Sinfornia in F minor BWV 795, Baroque music, J.S. Bach, J.S. Bach Sinfonia in F minor, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

J.S. Bach and blurred tonality (learning the three-part Invention or Sinfonia in F minor, BWV 795)

The Sinfonia in F minor is a tour de force work of art, perhaps evocative of the composer’s Musical Offering in its strikingly atonal sections. Yet there are definitive cadences in Major and minor keys that occur at the terminus of tonally ambiguous tunnels.

Bach wrote a preface to the two and THREE Part Inventions (as per Elaine Comparone, Harpsichordist and Baroque scholar), *”where he beautifully expresses his purpose to develop the art of CANTABILE playing in 2 and 3 voices” (loosely translated) “on keyboard instruments.”

Quote, Johann Sebastian Bach 1723

“Honest method by which the amateurs of the keyboard—especially, however,
those desirous of learning—are shown a clear way not only
(1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress,
(2) to handle three obbligato parts correctly and well; and along
with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well;
above all, however, to achieve cantabile style in playing and at the same time
acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”


The way to approach a composition of this magnitude is to parcel out three voices, and separately track them from beginning to end. This can be tricky, especially where they converge, or are divided between the hands. At one point, the soprano and alto are so closely placed on the printed page, that it takes a keen eye, not to mention ear, to separate them within the texture.

Until the player is thoroughly versed in the alto, bass, and soprano lines to the extent that he can sing each, as if learning his part in a choir, should he begin to layer the voices. The process presumes that singing has been translated into playing each line, beautifully phrased, with a sensible fingering attached. (knowledge of the Subject, its content, articulation and phrasing is pivotal to the learning paradigm combined with an awareness of streamed half-step movement that gives the composition an eerie effect–along with its embedded tritones)

In my instructional video, I take the stepwise journey that begins with a breakdown of voices, and I conclude with a sample playing of three simultaneously layered lines.

There are no learning shortcuts. Laying down a solid foundation is the best route to enjoying a complex composition such as this one.

Play through at Largo Tempo:

Sinfonia in f minor bwv795 page 1

Sinfonia in f minor page 2

Sinfonia in f minor p. 3

Bach Prelude BWV 847 in C minor, classissima,, harmonic rhythm and Bach Prelude BWV 847, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jorunal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Comparing Interpretations of Bach Prelude in C minor, BWV 847 (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1)

Over a year ago, I posted a tutorial about the harmonic rhythm of Bach’s C minor Prelude (WTC I) to help myself and others navigate strings of 16th notes with an awareness of shape, direction, and resolution.

This was my springboard to learning the composition and it remains a good reference.

However, my you tube meanderings, that brought discoveries of wide-range interpretations, provided food for thought.

Andras Schiff, for example, adhered to his no pedal approach throughout the Prelude, but in the ad lib Adagio interludes with their series of broken chord spreads, he used tasteful finger pedaling. (holding down notes with fingers)

In the opening, he did an admirable job fleshing out the upper most voice, and revealed a few INNER voices that most would overlook. I ended up favoring his reading the most. (His tempo, particularly in the first section, was not rushed)

Nairi Grigorian, delivered what I thought was an impressive opener, but the slower interludes had some extreme tempo shifts, with the second ad lib, having a stretched rubato. As I kept listening over and again, I was drawn into her cosmos, and ended up embracing her approach that had a distinctly personal autograph.

Angela Hewitt, took a brisk pace, and with her naturally musical approach, nicely emphasized what would be the soprano voice in the first section. (The melodic thread was clear, though she played these highest notes a bit detached) while the middle voice 16ths were otherwise legato. (I preferred Schiff’s tempo)

The first Adagio interlude, seemed to whiz by, for an unknown reason that if queried about it, Hewitt would amply explain. Her second one was more relaxed, spaced, and feeling nicely improvised.

Glenn Gould’s reading was for me a bit surprising in its ultra-detached note opening, though he led the listener through a conspicuous melodic landscape. The slower, interludes were masterfully, played, and he was the only pianist, to take the first one at a relaxed tempo, and not race through it.

I loved this reading from the first interlude to the end.

Dare I follow with my own reading at my Steinway M Grand (followed by the Fugue)

If I were to record the Prelude again, the performances I ingested on you tube would have an influence on me. Still, it would be invaluable to first allow myself a uniquely individual adventure.

I always tell my students to give themselves a period of time to follow their own inclinations with a new composition, and not be copycats.

J.S. Bach Little Fugue in C BWV 952, Logitech HD10080p, pianist, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano lessons by Skype, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Bringing the Keyboard closer to the long distance piano student

Yesterday, my Logitech cam was un-clipped from the Big Mac during a lesson to Greece.

holding clearly knee cam

The pupil, hanging out on the island of Kos, needed a graphic representation of my hands braving a few difficult measures in Bach’s Little Fugue in C Major, BWV 952.

closeup hands bach 952

It’s the composition where the composer challenges the player to devise a humane way of dividing a voice between the hands. There are a few awkward places. For most pupils, a voice or two, or three, in this case, can get lost in the fabric if not fleshed out by a willing and helpful teacher. But as a rule, the instructor should do the leg work well in advance of leading an adventure through the rockies.

bach fugue 952 p 1

I must admit to having logged enough miles on this one to get through the journey in one piece. (And be a reasonably good guide)

Bach fugue BWV 952 p2

To cut a long story short, I videotaped the lesson in progress, where the mini-cam assisted my efforts, but having quickly realized that little Logi, had a mind of its own, slipping and sliding off my knee, I decided to make a separate, personalized video, with a blown up view of my hands. It was unimpeded by the forces of gravity.

better knee cam

Here are my initial Logitech assists:

1) The lesson-in-progress videos

2) The blow-up view using a post-lesson, separate camcorder that I aimed down at my hands

A flashback to a “knee jerk posting,” where a Mozart ornament was navigated with Logitech at the helm.

right-hand-plays-logitech-knee 3

Bach, Bach Two Part Inventions, classissima,, J.S. Bach, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, teaching Bach Inventions, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you, yout tube,

Piano Lesson: What I learned from an adult student about Bach Invention 4 in D minor (VIDEOS)

invention 4 p 1

Today was an ear-opener, though I admit to having had a set of preconceived ideas about this Bach composition. (in two-part counterpoint)

Just from having studied it myself, parceling out each separate voice in a step-wise, layered approach, I could impart what I learned as a self-delivered lecture.

But the ingredient, of adding a student to the mix in a shared learning environment, brought a birth of new ideas that might otherwise have remained below the surface.

I’ve often heard students thump the downbeat, or the first impulse of any new measure. The same might be said of playing a complete 8 note scale. Pupils often attack the top note, or squeeze it unnaturally. The turnaround, on descent gets choked.

In today’s lesson, my student and I realized rather quickly that the opening SCALE of the D minor Invention was NOT COMPLETE. The top note, or “tonic” never arrived. In fact Bach was so cunning as to drop from the highest Bb (scale degree 6) to C# (scale degree 7) (In this Invention, he never ascends 8 consecutive notes up in a standard scale sequence) what he does is UNEXPECTED.

What did this asymmetry create? My student and I had to confer.. (NOT all was covered in the embedded video extract)

We discovered back and forth, that the hanging Bb dropping DOWN to the 7th scale note C# (the leading tone) was an emotional moment not to be passed over.

In fact it was so INTRINSIC to BACH’s SUBJECT or MAIN IDEA. It created a certain tension– yet the player should not attack the descending note, but rather LIFT it UP, phrasing over the measure without an obtrusive accent.

The duality of the subject with its stream of scale-wise 16ths paired with detached 8ths, was more to investigate.

In fact a harmonic component was not only imbued in the scale segment, but more conspicuously in the broken-chord pattern 8th notes–second portion of the subject. These 8ths spelled out distinct harmonies that begged for resolution at desired points in the music. The Diminished chord, measure 4, as example, needed to be shaped down to resolving note D in measure 5.

In this video, which gets into the meat of our lesson, the whole area of melodic contouring and harmonic rhythm reach into the very essence of effectively practicing the Invention in the early, foundational, learning stage.

Our work certainly, opened my eyes and ears to what appeared in the score, though listening to my student, even over SKYPE (on her digital keyboard) brought awakenings that made my teaching more articulate with an enduring value for both of us.

In Tempo (feel ONE beat per measure)