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When an adult piano student advances well beyond Primer preliminaries

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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

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SKYPE CALL RECORDER Playback views for Online Piano Lessons



Skype Call Recorder


Face Time Call recorder crop recent

Claire and Face Time Record Box


overhead and treble clef

My Newest Overhead Cam (72 inches high)

newest overhead 72%22

Still another upgrade: My Piano Room has TWO Overhead webcams in addition to a side view cam that’s mounted on a music stand.

my piano room best webcams recent
me under overhead cam

Overhead side view of Keyboard

overhead side view of piano


MY PRESENTATION coming up at the MTAC STATE CONVENTION: July 1, 2016

FLASHBACK: As prep for my presentation to the Music Teachers Association (Alameda Branch) that took place on May 11, 2015, I’d gathered a series of exemplary SKYPE Lessons demonstrating the technology to best advantage: “Teaching Piano by Skype: Braving a High-Tech Universe.”

Alameda Branch presentation

This prep and more recent updates will encompass my program at the Statewide Music Teachers Association (MTAC) Convention in Los Angeles, taking place July 1, 2016.

My plan is to project blogs on a big screen that have have embedded you tube videos with various captions for multiple playback views via Skype Call Recorder and Face Time Recorder.

HOW I STARTED OUT before the technology expanded. Here I’m seated at my Steinway Upright teaching a student in Greece using the INTERNAL CAM of my iMac Computer.

early skype lessons--This one to Greece


Example of webcam view choices: (I use the Logitech C920HD1080)

webcam listing


The Direction and Effect of Lighting on the keyboard during Online lessons. (I use the overhead view in this example)


The Details

When a student is watching his/her computer, she can see me in full screen, but as a lesson progresses, on my end I can RECORD the event using various views (LOCAL-me; REMOTE: the student; or SPLIT SCREEN-me and the student) These settings can be altered while a lesson is in progress without interruption. Changing views does not stop the recording process.

When I review and import the lesson footage to iMovie, I then upload it to You Tube and send the student a Lesson PLAYBACK with multiple keyboard views for increased pedagogical value.

Of particular value is the use of the Alzo Horizontal mount on a tripod to support an overhead keyboard view using an attached web cam.

My tutorial below refers to this particular overhead set up.

An Online teacher can also have addition web cam views by using a music stand as support, or he/she may mount a webcam on the end blocks of the piano. There are many possibilities to be explored.


Overview of the equipment and Online transmission by Skype from Berkeley, California to rural North Carolina: SKYPE CALL RECORDER is activated on this playback video.

The attached video below explores a Skype lesson from Berkeley, California to Staten Island, New York showing the various webcam views in progress.

J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor

JC Bach p1

Page 2

p2Preludein A minor

A Preceding Technique Lesson Segment (A minor scale and Arpeggio)

Teaching supplements

These were Video recorded supplements for Gayle re: the theory and Harmonic Rhythm of J.C. Prelude in A minor. They are embedded in the attached blog:

My Legato Pedaling segment included playing and naming A minor chords on each scale degree with an ear-training dimension, along with a harmonic Analysis of the first half of the J.C. Bach Prelude

This second segment examined part B with its string of Secondary Dominants:

About Gayle from Staten Island (She’s a transfer student with less than a preceding year of formal piano lessons)

A transplant from San Francisco to New York City (but originally from Chicago) Gayle made her first performance appearance in a SCREEN SHARE at our KICK-OFF SKYPE/LIVE piano recital. That meant she and all my piano students here and afar could watch Gayle in a pre-recorded segment. One other student, about to give birth did the same with Chopin’s C# minor Waltz thanks to the Miracle of Technology!

As it happened, I created Gayle’s video profile framing for her “Happiness” offering by Turk.

Gayle also made a transition from playing a digital piano, to acquiring a lovely Baldwin Acrosonic that was LANDED by FACE TIME, if you can believe!

Here’s how it played out from a first love meeting to marriage made in heaven (with my long distance matchmaker efforts)


OTHER video supplements, or TUTORIALS for ONLINE and LIVE Students

I will use the Quicktime Record applicationfor these tutorials. The selection of Keyboard views pertain. (Overhead, Side View, or Face Time: Mac Internal Face Time camera view)

In this video I demonstrate Staccato Parallel Thirds in the “Little Party,” La Petite Reunion by Burgmuller, Op. 100, No. 4. (I utilize the side keyboard view and the overhead for comparison)

Hand-Crossovers in a Domenico Scarlatti Sonata (Overhead keyboard view)

Scarlatti Sonata in A Major, K. 113



Multi-cam Views during Skype or Face Time Piano Lessons

My Overhead Web Cam adds to my Online accouterments

A North Carolina piano student by FaceTime talks about the ONLINE private lesson experience well before she visited me in Berkeley:

April feet

Sample Piano Lessons by FaceTime: From Berkeley CA, to North Carolina (Chopin Waltz in A minor Op. Posthumous)



After the N. Carolina student had a LIVE piano lesson in Berkeley CA, she compared it to her ONLINE experience in the presence of another LIVE student. (Laura)


Creating a Seamless legato in G# minor Arpeggios (Split Screen view)

A Berkeley to North Carolina Online lesson segment followed by a lesson snatch to Edinburgh, Scotland (B minor scale in Contrary motion) In the first segment I use a split screen teacher overhead view; In the second, I use a full screen LOCAL Overhead cam Teacher view.


The student from Scotland, recently IMPROVISED with her technology during a lesson when SKYPE and FACETIME had serious transmission issues. She came in on FACETIME through her iPhone.

REVIEWS of ONLINE lessons by other virtual students:

Sherry from Louisville, KY talks about her ONLINE lessons:

Marie, from Fresno, California talks about her Lessons on Face Time


Laura’s lesson segment (B minor scales) captured with webcam views of two pianos (Baldwin and Steinway grand)–I use my music stand that has easy rotation.

A more recent LIVE lesson in Berkeley uses webcam technology, recording the teacher and student in alternate sequence:




Earthquake Skype lesson video

Skype lesson/baby interruption (Alaska)

adult piano instruction, harmonic analysis, J. C. Bach Prelude in A Minor, J.C. Bach, Johann Christian Bach, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, Theory, Theory and piano lessons

Weaving Theory and Harmonic Rhythm into a piano lesson

The flow of harmony in and out of pieces should be a big part of a piano lesson. Yet it’s one thing to isolate chords in student a hand-out, but quite another to bring phrases to life with an infusion of harmonic rhythm awareness in the process of playing.

chords, Major and minor on every scale degree-2-2

In this video sample, a student who was previously oriented to the chords within C Major on every scale degree, phrased the opening of Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545 by blocking out the Left Hand and “feeling” the pull of dominant and sub-dominant chords. Their resolution respectively to TONIC, illuminated phrasing and line shaping.

These second video examples featured an overview of A minor chords within the natural and Harmonic form scales, and their relationship to each other as applied to J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor. Legato pedaling was an integrated dimension of the learning experience, though the student was not able to play during this class. Yet she still wanted to acquire a framing perspective of her piece to assist her practicing.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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A favorite Piano Prelude to play and teach

Randall and Nancy Faber came through with flying colors by including J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor in their Developing Artist Series Album, Early Intermediate Level. It’s definitely a winner with ear-catching appeal!


In a heart-melting opener to a more cognitive analysis of the composition, I play a series of sonorities that provide a lovely framing of “broken” chord sequences that characterize the Prelude’s melodic thread enriched by lush harmonies and modulations.

This particular composition, sounding Baroque but written in the Classical era, gives a student the opportunity to shape a musical line through a series of broken chords. As a preliminary, the player can block the sonorities to follow its harmonic scheme and rhythm. The Harmonic minor, for example, shimmers in the opening measures with a progression from E to F to G# to A. (the fifth degree of this scale meanders through to the tonic)

Beyond an analytic understanding of chord progressions, necessary phrase-shaping requires attentive listening, a supple wrist, relaxed arms, and consciousness about harmonic rhythm and resolutions.


In part B, the music blossoms into a series of secondary Dominants against sobbing, sighing pairs of descending seconds, before it returns to a familiar partial revisit of the opening A section. (Modulations are a more complex dimension of this piece that can be woven into a study of chords, progressions, and in this instance, Dominant/Tonic relationships.)

Sustaining a melodic line through recurring broken pattern chords is paramount to playing the Prelude poetically and musically. Varying dynamics and tapering phrases are an important interpretive dimension.


One of my adult students who’s preparing to learn J.C. Bach’s hauntingly beautiful Prelude is studying the A Harmonic Scale and building chords on each degree. In an early tutorial I explored this underlying “chordal” dimension.”

To Back up—

In a Piano Lesson by Skype, I introduced the rudiments of A minor (Harmonic), building chords on each scale degree. In this early baby step approach, the student has also been assigned A minor chord INVERSIONS, which will be extended to inversions of the Sub-dominant (D minor) and Dominant (E Major). She was also made aware of the VII chord (diminished) and its unique tonal character.

Inversions of chords are part and parcel of the first section (A) of J.C. Bach’s Prelude–they afford smooth voice leading, while in part B, the broken chord thread contains leaps that would be best understood in the context of MODULATIONS and their meaning.

An A minor arpeggio playing was added to the prep mix, so the student would understand how a chord could unravel into a “broken chord” sequence though J.C. Bach’s composition does not require thumb under fingers shifts in its progressions.

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A Peak teaching and learning experience!

Piano teachers may complain about students who hardly practice, or come to lessons with a truckload of excuses, but the times we savor are when everything seems to click.

Tonight, I had a lesson with an adult student who announced immediately before playing a note that her piece “was in the doghouse.”

What a tension-relieving way to begin our musical exchange!

I chuckled at her quip because I knew it was the disclaimer she needed to relax and enjoy our moments of creation.

The J.C. Bach Prelude is one of my favorite pieces, because it is a repository of heavenly harmonies spread through undulating broken chords. It’s the perfect vehicle to teach a singing tone legato and how to phrase beautifully with an awareness of forward wrist motions, rotation, natural, relaxed breathing, and the emulation of a singer.

This evening my pupil and I reached a pinnacle of communication because we were in the zone, having simultaneous awakenings.

The interplay grew our musical/emotional/physical consciousness to a “peak experience” level worth sharing.

JC Bach p1

JC Bach p. 2

LINK:, Prelude in A minor by J.C. Bach

Piano Study: Learning in deep layers and loving it

Deep-layered learning should occur at all levels of piano study because it enriches the music-making experience. Taking shortcuts, and constantly reading through a composition, skimming the surface, deprive the player of being in touch with himself and the composer at the moment of creation.

One particular masterwork, that draws so many pupils into its gorgeous fold in an intensely engaged journey, is the Prelude in A minor by J.C. Bach. (one of J.S. Bach sons who lived during the Classical era, though this work has a Baroque autograph)

It’s an ethereal composition that happened to woo me the minute I heard it, and now years past that first exposure, I partake of its beauty as a pianist and teacher.


I stumbled upon the Prelude one day in Faber’s Developing Artist Series, Early Intermediate Level, but frankly, I would not go so far as to label it one way or another, since the whole process of absorbing its many dimensions makes it difficult to categorize.

So rather than boxing it in, I encourage students who are “ready,” to relish the harmonic and melodic contour of this piece, in a baby-step adventure.

It starts with blocking out broken chords, and “feeling” a melodic strand that seeps through these sonorities. In the first half there’s a pedal point, meaning that one note played by the thumb in the left hand, has both dissonant and consonant chords in the TREBLE traveling through it.

In the second “B” section, the “harmonic rhythm increases” through a series of “secondary dominants,” (creating transitory but powerful modulations) that melt the heart and intensify pleasure. Here again, a “blocking” approach aids learning.

I’ve noticed that many students are amply gratified by playing through lush harmonies, though once they unravel the melody, their joy is intensified. Naturally, exploring the theoretical dimension of this masterpiece, creates an even more profound understanding of what unfolds.


The video instruction that I recorded, details the approach that has produced so many touching performances rendered by adults and children.

But first, here’s my play through:

JC Bach p1

JC Bach p. 2


J.C. Bach Prelude in A mino, Shirley Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress, you, yout tube,

An Adult Piano Student’s Epiphany

Yesterday, I was greeted by the following riveting e mail:

“I’m so excited that I’m beginning to understand scale degrees.

“Can’t wait to be back at the piano to practice. Return late tonight.”

The adult student, into her 4th year of formal study with me, had decided to buckle down and integrate her theory knowledge with hands-on explorations of the music Masters. And at a pinnacle juncture of her learning process, she experienced the rush of “scale degrees” alongside our weekly phrase-loving exchanges.

It wasn’t long before I understood her new-found spurt of excitement. The crinkled hand-out that had formerly been a tag-along tucked away in a neat blue music folder, enjoyed a renaissance of interest because of its relevance to J.C. Bach’s A minor Prelude.

Chord sheet-building on scale degrees

Here’s my playing sample, recorded at the El Cerrito teaching location where I bask in a divine acoustical space with a cathedral-high ceiling.

In this rendering, I play a series of sonorities that conspicuously thread through this composition. In the second reading, I unravel the chords in a harp-like sequence.

The composer’s ethereal Prelude in A minor is made of broken chords, best absorbed in a step-wise learning process that begins by blocking a chord on each note of the “A” Harmonic minor form scale. (My student had already been exposed to the same in C Major. She labeled chords by Roman numerals and identified them as “Major,” “minor” or diminished)

Yet, the chord symbols I had written into the J.C. Bach score, displayed “inversions” of sonorities with fancy annotated numbers. These required an illustration in real time of how they progressed separately, in the KEY universe of A minor, built on every Scale Degree in ROOT POSITION and then put though an assortment of positions.

JC Bach p1

p2Preludein A minor

Here, by example, is a videotaped chord primer for all my students.

Following this rudimentary exploration, the student experimented with various positions of chords as they might appear in her new, enticing Bach score. (PART 1) The composer’s manipulations of chords, incidentally, allowed him to flesh out a particular melodic line that seeped through the UPPER Note of these sonorities.

Such a newborn awareness of chord positions and melodic contour sent my student into ecstasy!

Example of Chord Inversions:

i chord–Minor A C E, Invert to C E A, then E A C (these carried their own assigned labels)

ii chord-Diminshed, B, D, F Invert to D F B, then F B D

III+ Chord-Augmented C E G# (and put through the inversion paces

iv chord-Minor D F A Invert to F A D then A D F

We went through each chord as it occurred on every degree of the A minor scale, experiencing timbre differences.

“A” minor scale-based chords weave through the Prelude’s first section A.

Yet my pupil had been confused, as mentioned, by chord symbols that showed the sonorities to be inversions from the ROOT position–Like IV 6/4 which meant the chord built on the fourth degree (D) of the harmonic minor form, was in a second position. Instead of D F A, it was A D F. Her epiphany, however tied to the realization that fundamental root position chords could have the same letter name content but in a different order.

Her e-mail to me now resonated with new meaning.

She eagerly raced home to practice her chords, inversions, and apply this knowledge to the realm of the heavenly Prelude. It was an exciting journey that she eagerly anticipated.

PS The B section would be the next exploration that bore harmonic complexity via “secondary dominants.”

RELATED VIDEOS of lessons-in-Progress
which flesh out the theoretical dimension of this masterpiece and explore use of the supple wrist in producing the needed singing tone.

Prelude in A Minor by JC Bach