The Importance of Analytical Practicing

Needless repetitions that are unfocused, without attaching an analysis of what requires improvement will impede a piano student in the advancement of a composition. And while a tricky, isolated passage or complete section of a piece may have been carefully learned by layers in slow tempo, the very same area of the piece can develop finger traps, stumbling zones, and voicing problems as the tempo is inched up.

This is when the teacher patiently intervenes to clarify what retro-baby steps must be taken to smooth out shaky measures so the march toward more brisk playing is an attainable goal.

Unfortunately, many students will say, “You must have told me about that same problem in those measures a 100 times, and I just haven’t paid attention.” Added to such a pupil’s self-humiliation, is the belief that he/she is being LEFT BACK or is not up to the challenge of GOING FORWARD at the pace expected. EXPECTATION is the pupil’s self-made burden that inhibits progress and growth.

To bring a self-punitive, guilt-ridden pupil back to reality is to reassure him/her that even the most advanced players BACK UP, and revisit passages that can become riddled with unexpected glitches. The difference is, they usually have the insight from experience to apply an objective, methodical approach to extricate themselves from the doldrums of despair.

In so many words, there’s always a way dig oneself out of a pit if presence of mind and thoughtful analysis are applied.

Today, I worked with a student who’d been nicely upping his tempo in Fur Elise, until he reached the “stormy” tremolo framed section through measures 61-77. At this point, he lost the thread of the melody through the chords, and muddled a few measures by over-pedaling them. The arms and wrists also needed enlistment in a way that prevented tension and tightness. (Some of the movements were jerky inhibiting a GROUP flow of notes in horizontal procession while shaping of lines through dynamic swells was inadequate.)

Naturally, I reminded the student that unfocused repetition would not accomplish the improvement he desired.

Rather than extract footage from today’s lesson, I chose to make a short video that zoned in on the crux his problems in order to aid practicing during the week. These lesson supplements are always valuable for both pupil and teacher.

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Reading Between the Lines: Making decisions about Dynamics

Dynamics cannot always be taken literally when a player embarks upon serious study of a particular composition. In fact, what often governs the shaping of phrases through many measures even with composer inserted soft (piano) or loud (Forte) directives, are harmonic rhythm and metrical considerations. So while a set of measures might attach a Crescendo in the score, it might be modified by a harmonic resolution that requires a dip in the intensified journey to climax.

Diminished chords that have chromatic dependency, for example, often fold in or taper into tonics, dominants, or any other sonorities within a scale. They have an organic pull that frequently will not be specifically notated. Same applies to the effect of Meter, and its overall framing through a composition. In 3/8 time, the last beat will be the lightest, unless the composer is bent on a syncopated effect. It would be un-musical, therefore, to hammer away at the end of the measure even within an overall, broad brush FORTE assigned portion of music.

Similarly, passing dissonances and pedaling decisions that aim to avoid blurring, will alter weight transfer over measures, precluding obedience to a fixed FORTE.

Illustrative of the aforementioned, and what can influence a dynamic landscape are revealed in Beethoven’s Fur Elise, tremolo Measures 61-78.


While the pianist must consider an overall intensification and de-intensification through this section, he will have to understand the effect of harmony, meter, and destination points on his dynamic decision-making. In this endeavor, he must “read between the lines” and create a “musically”-based mosaic of nuances.

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Piano Technique: Creating an illusion of legato

It’s a challenge to play scales, arpeggios, and passages lifted out of the mainstream Classical piano repertoire with a well-shaped and nicely spaced legato. (smooth and connected playing) But it can be more daunting to navigate particular sections of masterworks that have legato markings over chords, for instance, that carry a melodic thread that is impossible to realize seamlessly without compromise, and a shift in consciousness.

By example, I refer to Beethoven’s Fur Elise, measures 62-68, that’s easily characterized as a “stormy” section with its relentless tremolo in the (Bass) Left Hand, while the Right hand above, has the task of “voicing” chords that carry a haunting melody in the soprano. In order to obey the notation of slurs over a procession of chords, thirds, and sixths, with a melody to flesh out at the very top, the player has to devise a means of preserving a smooth melodic flow, by letting go of certain fingers in deference others.

The sustain pedal is pivotal to the whole undertaking, because it can hold down elements of chords that would otherwise be missing or lost in the prioritizing of melodic movement in the uppermost voice. However, the pedal cannot replace a well thought out finger-connecting strategy that shores up the legato, albeit with some missing ingredients in lower voices, that will be filled in by well-conceived pedaling.

In the attached video, I model an approach to the “stormy” section that creates an illusion of legato by demonstrating fingering choices in concert with maneuvers of the arm, wrist, and hand.


Piano Technique: Energy-saving, Relaxed, Resting hands

It’s common for piano students to tense a hand that is not actively engaged in playing during measured rests.

Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” an aspirational piece for so many, is the perfect representation of interactive, woven hands, that flow across from Left to Right, with a spacious margin of relaxed breaths. (as rests are notated) This over-all legato line mosaic that permeates the opening section, should be responsive to an uninterrupted outpouring without intrusive tension in the hands, wrists and arms at any point.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 12.20.53 AM

In beautifully phrased music-making, a basic underlying, hand-to-hand motion plays out simultaneously in the present and in the future. Therefore, if one hand stiffens while the other is sculpting a portion of the phrase, then extraneous energy is expended to the sacrifice of a well-shaped, continuous line. (In the outflow of “Fur Elise,” in particular, while one hand is not playing, it should gracefully move to its next destination.)

In the following lesson-in-progress snippet, an adult student exerted what was energy-draining in a perceived left hand tightening in Beethoven’s character piece.

In this second lesson sample, a youngster, having studied for 4 and 1/2 months, plays a duet with me with a nice interaction of her hands in relaxed motion. Having been trained from the start with the image of “weeping-willow arms” and supple wrists, she’s well imbued with an approach that will further her progress.


In this third and fourth example, an adult student is made aware of stiffness in her left hand as she practices the F-Sharp Major arpeggio. In the course of our lesson, I demonstrated ways to relieve tension and smooth out the broken chord progression.

Mime Practicing, both hands

Many students, often unconsciously, tense a hand that is not playing in synchrony with the other. By reinforcing the hanging hands off relaxed arms framing, and replaying videos of what needs amending, pupils will practice relaxation techniques that will foster improvement.


A Home Piano Concert draped in technology (Video attached)


I had a rip-roaring morning! Art, my next-door neighbor, who puts up with my round-the-clock practicing, was invited precisely at 11 a.m. to listen to my rehearsal in prep for my house concert set for next Saturday night. And naturally, as whimsical as everyone knows me to be, I did a MAN in the STREET interview with him following.

This is a Millennium style concert with all the technological accouterments that need introduction, so I grabbed my SONY camcorder and videotaped the MAC screen that would transmit my hands, several feet behind the machine, en moto–or con moto, take your pick, and then I acquainted viewers with Logitech C920 that is specifically angled to capture my digits gliding over a sprawling Steinway grand keyboard.


The prelude portion of my video then transitioned to ART sitting on my futon beside a perfect slice of carrot cake as his reward for glaring at a computer monitor for about 45 minutes.


In this pea pod apartment that’s crowded in with two grand pianos and a Yamaha Arius digital, an unending row of keyboards precludes invited listeners from watching me play though the aural experience is resonantly LIVE by way of Quicktime Player. (There’s NO recording in progress so sound and motions are perfectly synched)

Finally, in the spirit of the MILLENNIUM, tech-based solutions like these allow future home concerts to preserve an intimacy of communication while the pianist’s head is thanklessly buried behind the rack.


The video below demonstrates:


The set-up seating update:

And finally the EVENT!




ABOUT my neighbor, ART:


4000 Miles by Amy Herzog, After the Revolution by Amy Herzog, Amy Herzog, Beethoven, Fur Elise by Beethoven, Joe Josephs, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Leepee Joseph, Lincoln Center, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York, New York City, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, The Weavers, Uncategorized, West Village of New York

After the Revolution is my cousin, Amy Herzog’s tour de force play. (An Aurora Theatre Berkeley production)


Amy Herzog is regaled as one of the most gifted young playwrights of her generation. Not only has she been a recipient of the well-regarded Lillian Hellman prize, but she’s amassed a slew of New York Times rave reviews.

Charles Isherwood, Arts editor, lauded After the Revolution in a generous media spread that wove in OUR family’s fervently political fabric (The cast of characters, includes Amy’s late grandmother, and my aunt “Leepee,” (aka “VERA JOSEPH”) pictured in the header; her second husband, Joe Josephs, who’s the play’s driving force, and various kin that weave in and out of the drama.

Though deceased, Josephs has left a trail of speculation about his controversial espionage involvement during World War II.

The disclosure comes in a media release which opens a Pandora’s box of doubt and deception, shaking the very foundation of respect and unconditional love for a parent.

As the plot unfolds, a conflict-driven drama embeds a three-generation split.

Isherwood elaborates


The Back Story (from a child’s perspective—MINE)

I knew and loved Joe Joseph. He replaced my beloved uncle Arthur Herzog, (Leepee’s first husband) who collaborated with Billie Holiday to produce the song, “God Bless the Child.” Arthur and Leepee, parents of Gregory Herzog, (my first cousin) divorced in the 1950s, well before Leepee met and married J.J. Joseph in a Unitarian ceremony presided over by the Reverend Donald Harrington. (I was present at the Greenwich Village apartment)

Joe played the violin, (not deftly) but managed to convene a Baroque chamber trio, inviting me in as pianist alongside step-son, Gregory who played the oboe. I rendered the Continuo part on a Baldwin grand, while Joe scratched along.

Though our collective music-making precluded a mix of MUSIC and Politics, Joe would nourish audibly loud dinner table conversation, permeated by non-stop Dialectical babbling. (the “-ism suffixes attached to Stalin-, Lenin-, Bolshev- were DIZZYING!)

Joe Joseph front view

Years before these chamber music convergences, Greg had become my pianistic inspiration as he belted out Beethoven’s “Rage of a Lost Penny,” and then shifted mood, rendering a gorgeous Chopin e minor Prelude.

better Gregory Herzog playing the piano, my inspiration

Greg’s Prelude playing, especially, seeded my love for music that eventually grew and developed over decades.


More about Greg’s mom, Aunt Leepee

An expressive Villager piece about my auntie enlarges the the meaning of After the Revolution by enriching the landscape in political, ideological and human terms.

Dissidence and Drama have filled her life


This poetically woven writing fleshes out my aunt as more than a rabble-rousing militant. At her memorial service in NYC she was characterized as “a work of art.” I experienced her as nurturant and loving.


The RED DIAPER BABY BACKDROP as applied to me

On a personal note, I’ve never been a Marxist, but was unreasonably indoctrinated as a child, having no ability to question what I was spoon-fed. Though my diapers lacked a hammer and sickle, I was still a Soviet propaganda puppet.

Amy, to the contrary was of a younger generation, and remained a keen observer of her grandparents’ idealism.

In a televised interview about Revolution, Herzog discussed their Marxist devotion in the context of an embrace of “religion.” Perhaps she meant to HUMANIZE families and not pin psycho-pathologies on them.

Finally, no matter how my family or any other will be perceived before Amy Herzog’s script comes to LIFE on stage, a jaunt to Aurora is worth an afternoon or evening’s escape from the blaring TV. Perhaps it’s better to watch families resolve their conflicts with a dose of compassion and forgiveness than blame them for political differences.

(As a footnote to this writing, I wanted to meet director, Joy Carlin, but her industrious devotion to directing precluded a face-to-face conversation. Maybe the PR people in the box office can snatch her from the set for a short coffee break)

Aurora Theatre Box Office information
After the Revolution starts its run on Aug. 30, 2013
TEL: 510-843-4822


LINK: My family’s Genealogy



Eugene Lehner, Horenstainer violin 1799 Mittenwald, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Mittenwald, piano, Shirley Kisten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway upright piano model 1098, vintage violin, violin, word press, word press.com, wordpress

Showcasing two of my exquisite instruments (Violin and Piano)

First the violin, a 1799 Horenstainer, Mittenwald that replaced the “cigar box” I was handed as a kid. My precious teacher, Samuel Gardner selected this German original for me in Paris, France. From there, I took it to Merrywood music camp in Lenox, MA where I coached under Eugene Lehner of the Boston Symphony.


Oberlin bound, I studied briefly with Stuart Canin, (former concertmaster SFO) subsequently giving up violin entirely, shifting my emphasis to piano.


Steinway Upright Model 1098

It cohabits with my Steinway grand in a tight-fitting Berkeley space.

Steinway upright reduced by 75 75 75 75

Mac back and Steinway pianos

Here’s the piano tuner waxing poetic about it and playing a snatch, followed by my grabbing the bench for a portion of Fur Elise.

The complete Beethoven composition is played, revealing Steinway’s heartfelt resonance.