Irina Morozova, Oberlin Conservatory, piano pedagogy, piano playing, piano teaching, piano technique

Piano Technique: No Pain, Much Gain

Sometimes we learn a floating, flowing path to beauty through the unfortunate school of HARD knocks. To this effect, I recall my esteemed Oberlin Conservatory piano teacher dealing in mindless, stressful repetitions of meaningless exercises that caused joint pain and unremarkable displays of flat-lined, tightly squeezed playing. His teaching, to an extreme level of adherence to workhorse regimens (Pischna, et al) caused me to reel into a pleasure zone that my New York City piano teacher had kept as a safe haven after graduation day. I returned to her fold just in the nick of time.

With my Performance-Piano degree in hand, I was reunited with the singing tone and its physical/musical dimension, unencumbered by methodical routines that could extinguish the very basis of my love for the piano as an expressive instrument.

In retrospect, through decades of my own teaching, I observe students having to surrender the false security of grabbing, squeezing, and attacking the keys in their week-to-week practicing. It’s almost taught as a cultural norm to work so hard as to sweat–to extract pain to attain proficiency in nearly every endeavor, whether it be sports, music, or taking exams in any number of fields.

One is conditioned to meet a challenge head on, taking the bull by the horns with aggressive advances toward an imagined VICTORY of great magnitude.

But most of us have learned through a process of ELIMINATION, that pianistic fluency, by analogy, is not a strength enduring pursuit with an expected grit your teeth stoic approach. But rather the execution (oops) of scales, arpeggios, chords, Etudes, Nocturnes, Sonatas… and the rest should be natural outpourings with an aesthetic balance of physical and emotional forces—meaning, that the journey to beautiful playing should be paved with artful motions, feelings, fluid approaches, and imbued imagination.

Modeling a B minor scale as a stage by stage learning experience, we can extract a natural sequence to mastery without the preconceived EFFORT that is bundled with negative reinforcements. Instead, practicing should have a path of least resistance.

A few of my adult students are immersed in B minor, so I prepared a short video to steer them into more relaxed, non-confrontational directions. By focusing on floating, flowing images, we collectively refresh a harmonious musical journey.

And by example, this extraordinary pianist’s artistry is the ultimate in what sounds effortless and ethereal.

adult piano instruction, Face Time, Online piano lessons, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, piano teaching, Rhythmical practicing, Skype

“Counting Correctly, but Playing Un-rhythmically”

“The habit of counting correctly but playing unrhythmically develops easily in the beginning and is too often overlooked.” – Richard Chronister (A Piano Teacher’s Legacy, Ed. Edward Darling)

I love this quote, because many students count out beats quite methodically but without musical meaning. Their metrical repetitions serve little purpose if the goal of study is to communicate an art form that is embodied in rhythmic framing with threads of melody weaving through a “singing pulse.”

Dimitri Kabalevsky’s “Clowns” piece from the composer’s Op. 39 Album of Children’s pieces, is the perfect springboard for practicing (behind tempo) with an animated, “living, breathing,” framing pulse that ignites the very mood and affect of the composition right from the start.

In this regard, my Face Time student in London, in his second year of piano study, has made nice gains playing rhythmically and musically. Here he takes a baby step journey in his early exposure to “Clowns,” with a keen awareness of buoyant rhythmic energies that propel his practicing in a chosen, steady, embracing tempo.

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 1


In this sample, the pupil practices a five-finger C# minor penta-scale in double tempo starting with 8th notes, to 16ths to 32nds..(ending with staccato, forte and piano)


P.S. I always recommend that students enroll in a Jacques Dalcroze Eurhythmics Course. As it happened, my most influential teacher at the Oberlin Conservatory was Eurhythmics mentor, Inda Howland.

LINKS:, piano, piano blog, Vitalij Margulies, you tube piano performance favorites

Chiming in the New Year with my favorite piano performance picks!

Grigory Sokolov grabs a deserved spotlight in this bedazzling performance of Schubert’s Klavierstucke No. 1

Bruno Sainmangeon, producer and documentarian captured Sokolov in the same acoustically favorable Berlin space that Murray Perahia chose to deliver the memorable Bach Partita in E minor:

Add in Perahia’s most recent tour de force in Japan: Beethoven’s Appassionata

Irina Morozova melts hearts with this exquisite Chopin reading:

Check out the New York concert scene:

Faculty Recital – Irina Morozova, piano
Monday, February 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm
Concert Hall, Mannes College
150 West 85th Street New York, NY 10024
Faculty Recital – Irina Morozova, piano
Free, but first come first served


And two forever favorites

No longer with us, but eternally present in spirit:

The late pianist, Vitalij Margulis beautifully memorialized Chopin’s Db Nocturne, OP. 27

And Tatiana Nikoleyva offered a heart-throbbing Schumann Interlude:


Don’t miss!

Bruno Sainmangeon and Glenn Gould engaged in an amazing conversation about J.S. Bach’s genius. It opens with a playing segment from the Art of the Fugue, but continues with a generous serving of the master’s works interspersed with Gould’s treasured commentary and vocal accompaniment. (It’s a multi-dimensional exploration of the composer’s vast keyboard output, packed with theoretical and structural insights)


Another riveting conversation: Murray Perahia and Denis Forman chat about Mozart’s Concerto no. 27 in Bb

A full play through


And finally, an Alma Mater choice: George Li plays a challenging set of works at the Oberlin Conservatory Artist Recital Series.. Like old times.


I’ve shared my favorites, so what are yours?

classissima,, Franz Josef Haydn, Haydn Sonata in Eb Hob.XVI:52 (Rondo), Haydn Sonatas, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Oberlin Conservatory, piano lessons, piano study, piano technique, Schmitt exercises, Shirley Kirsten, wordpress,, you tube,

Piano technique is about flexibility not finger strength

I remember my days at the Oberlin Conservatory pumping out meaningless Schmitt finger exercises, often holding notes down, while a selected persecuted finger had to brave the pain is gain ritual. (tap, tap, tap, tap, and move on to the next unlucky digit)

Looking back, it was a wasted effort which had NO relationship to fluid, beautiful piano playing. Yet so many “Performance” MAJORS hammered away through paper thin walls of stacked CON practice rooms hoping to build a SOLID technique.

NO doubt these Ex-CONS (at graduation) would surely find it a challenge to survive the rigors of mechanical drills outside prison confines, with injury being the price of senseless repetition and overuse.

finger in splint

And to think my beloved piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich that I left behind in NYC to attend her Alma Mater, had sent me off to do hard labor. (My apologies to Oberlin classmates who might have had exposure to better teaching methods in the LEARNING and LABOR school)

Learning and Labor better

To provide an example of how I emancipated myself from the no pain/no gain paradigm so respected back in my ancient student days, I’ve made this 9-minute video exploring how to learn a devilish fast passage, by organizing, blocking, singing and shaping the line. (No POWER DRILLS, if you please!)

It’s a NO sweat approach to playing a tricky phrase from Haydn’s HOBOKEN 52 Sonata in Eb (Finale: PRESTO)

Haydn sonata segment RONDO

classical music, classissima, classissima. om, ear training, Fundamentals of Piano Theory by Snell and Ashleigh, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Mozart Sonata in C Major Rondo Allegretto, Mozart Sonata no. 16 in C Major K. 545, music theory, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano learning, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons in Berkeley California, piano lessons in El Cerrito California, piano pedagogy, piano playing, word press, word, wordpress, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Ear Training and Transposing are intrinsic to piano lessons (examples from an Adult lesson in progress)

It’s not easy to plan a one hour piano lesson to include ear training, solfege and transposing. (They belong together, bundled with Theory, and enrich the learning environment)

At the Oberlin Conservatory, Theory, Keyboard Harmony, and Eurhythmics were taught separately. Our piano teachers (applied study) adhered to their rigid routine, rarely fitting solfege, sight-reading, improvising, composing etc. into the time-limited hour. Yet, the cross-fertilization of course work, expanded our musical horizons.

The New York City High School of Performing Arts, my alma mater, offered a valuable/mandatory Sight-singing course that continued from 10th grade through senior year. It was enormously relevant as the movable DO (solfeggio) helped me navigate complex scores, and peel away voices.

Piano students who just stick to the music without being exposed to theory, ear-training and other mind-enriching escapades, are basically short-changed. They often view their pieces as finger challenges only–easily becoming Treble clef fixated, tacking on bass lines without a second thought. Naturally, their sight-reading suffers because they’re not internalizing interval movement in various voices, or sensing harmonic flow.

In an effort to stem the tide of such top layer, tracing paper learning, I’ve made a concerted effort to delegate at least 15 minutes of my students’ lesson time to ear training and transposing. (One of my source materials is Fundamentals of Piano Theory by Snell and Ashleigh) Snell and Ashleigh

As an example, I videotaped an adult student transposing snatches from the Preparatory Level workbook, page 45.

for transposition using solfege


I’ve tossed in a spot-practicing segment where the ADULT student is smoothing out a tricky set of measures in the RONDO: Allegretto, Mozart Sonata, K. 545. (Repertoire should be a springboard for sight-singing, ear-training and theory adventures since they’re interwoven)

(I often slip into solfeggio in parceling voices)


Solfeggio and Transposing

The Importance of Sight-singing, Ear-training and Theory in piano study

Using Piano Repertoire and as a springboard for a theory lesson

How to Improve Sight-Reading

Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, New York State Employment Service, Oberlin Conservatory, Schoenhut piano, Verdi Square in NYC, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Rekindling ties with a dear NYC friend, her 1893 Steinway B, and piano tinkering grandbaby


All said in one gulp– A treasured visit with “Laura,” an Oberlin classmate and NYC roommate who’s the sister I never had. In the Big Apple you can make friends for life on the ‘A’ train.

(The jazz favorite, played by Duke Ellington, pulsates with city life and it’s serendipitous events.)

My brother, recently betrothed in a Central Park West location, a mere 8 blocks from the 59th St. Columbus Circle A train stop, met his wife-to-be on the ‘A,’ rode to the last stop with her, and took it from there.

While I didn’t meet Laura through the subway system, the story of our first encounter and its twist of fate are worth recounting.

Flashback: Oberlin Conservatory in the late 60’s. The place was ringing off the roof with VESPERS. I didn’t know what hit me! A Bronx bred child who went to shule (Yiddish school) and had minimal exposure to churchly environments, I couldn’t easily acclimate to a place, where “Father, son and holy ghost” was the mandatory intro to sit-down meals at May Cottage. Saturated with prayers interspersed by tornado warnings, I went scampering down to the basement in hysteria.

Needing relief, and a dose of cultural kinship, at least, I made friends with a composition major named “Laura Jacobs,” whose father sent weekly care packages of lox and bagels plus other deli delights from Zabars, on W. 80th St. and Broadway (Laura had been raised on W. 86th off Riverside Drive. Like me, she was in a morbid state of culture shock) So the two of us, at our wit’s end regularly consoled each other in her dorm room amidst a stockpile of chocolate bars.

As conservatory life took its course, I found myself sauntering across campus to attend Theory Class, when suddenly I spotted “Laura” a few short steps ahead of me. “Hey Laura,” I called out, in my informal Big Apple style of greeting friends. She turned around instantly but was not whom I expected. The young woman facing me was a complete stranger, but owned the NAME, “Laura!”

Quickly, I learned that new found LAURA hailed from NYC—Central Park West and 103rd, and graduated the High School of Music and Art which merged with my alma mater, Performing Arts High to become Laguardia in the heart of Lincoln Center. And while she and I didn’t attend the same Jewish School in the North Bronx, we were both rooted at the piano and had a common secular upbringing with the usual exposure to Passover, Chanukah and other Jewish holidays.

Now with TWO urban Lauras to comfort me, I could survive my four years in the Midwest. (two in the company of L. Jacobs who finally ran away in desperation, hopped a plane and returned to the West Side)

Laura Goldberg, in the meantime, had more in common with me than Laura Jacobs who composed wildly orchestrated atonal compositions. In one, I winged it at the celesta, overwhelmed by complicated entrances between screeching brass, tremulous tympani rolls in poly-rhythms, and tubas droning deeper and deeper. A “Birds” selection of obscure origin had infinite sound effects. Bottom line, our performance crashed with the force of a tsunami! Con jury members looked aghast when I played an impromptu glissando after the composition ended. Laura J. had forgotten to cue me in at the final cadence. (but where was it?)

Laura G., meanwhile practiced piano in one of those claustrophobic white, stacked cubicles in the “Con,” hating every minute of it. I felt the same. We both couldn’t stand hearing our pieces played above and beside us, not to mention the grueling repeats of Schmitt five-finger exercises pumped out to dissonant levels!

As time passed, Laura G. left the Con, and found the COLLEGE, a redeeming educational sanctuary. For me, it was stick to the program– grin and bear it, no matter what it took.

Laura continued to study piano at the CON (where “connies” dwelt) in the studio of Freeman Koberstein, a Baroque ornament specialist, while I whizzed through 4 instructors, one being a violin teacher. At my peak point of despair, I’d switched my instrument major to keep my sanity, but managed to graduate the Conservatory as a born again pianist, to the delight of my mother-in-waiting former NYC teacher, Lillian Freundlich.

Fast forward to post Oberlin graduation: I was back in NYC, looking for a job and roommate and who should pop up, but Laura Goldberg! She’d been working at Columbia Artists Management, hobnobbing with snarky administrators that insulted the lowly employees while aggrandizing the big name, musical giants. My poor friend was in agony!

Meanwhile, I’d landed an assignment at the very earthy W. 90th Street Household Office of the NY State Employment Service, where I sent maids of color to lily white employers residing in plush apartments on either side of Central Park. To my surprise, complaints multiplied to skyrocketing levels! Bab-o and Comet soaked ladies came back from bourgeois locations wreaking of detergent. Some did a great job, others scrubbed the finish off mahogany tables and raided liquor cabinets. I never heard the end of it! “This is Mrs. Jason Robards Jr.–please don’t send Nellie, Lulu, Edna or Missy.” Give me a break!

In those days, conservatory grads took these meaningless, unmusical jobs to earn a buck while waiting for part-time piano students to show up. Or they prolonged their education, pursuing more degrees that had below zero value in the job market. My framed Master’s is gathering silverfish.

As life played out, Laura Goldberg and I roomed together in our one bedroom on W. 74th overlooking beautiful Needle Park, where I discovered drug dealers and addicts in window gazes through tree branches. Not a pretty sight.

(In a recent photo, you see me standing beside a bench in newly named “Verdi Square” that honors the composer) Boy, how they’ve cleaned up the neighborhood!

Verdi  Square

Laura left our West Side apartment after five nesting years in the hub of Amsterdam Avenue drug raids. She departed to wed Steve, the love of her life, while I stayed until my marriage sent me scampering off to California.


My East Coast exit ushered in an unprecedented three-thousand mile separation between Laura and me. Yet our ties in spirit remained permanent, as New Yorkers know, Friends are forever!

At my most recent reunion with Laura, we enjoyed her creative cuisine, sampled the amazing 1893 Steinway B that sits regally in her living room,DSC05332 and watched videos of my dear friend’s first grandchild. The little one played the piano from Laura’s lap, and cavorted around her nursery tapping a Schoenhut piano amidst screams of delight.

Judging by the quality of the toddler’s playing, she’s destined for a glittering piano career. After all, her grandmother is a fine pianist. Her physician mother, is an accomplished cellist, and the oncologist dad, played with the Berlin Philharmonic.

So face the music, it’s all in the family, and I’m glad to be part of it.


"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, Irina Gorin, Minuet by Reinagle, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lessons, Piano Street, Piano World, POWHOW,, Shirley Kirsten teaches classes at POWHOW, Shirley Smith Kirsten, teaching piano to young children, teaching Rina piano, whole body listening, whole body music listening, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video, yout tube

Rina’s Lesson-in-Progress: From the staircase to the piano (Reinagle Minuet in G) Videos

Rina, 5, has embarked upon her 7th month of study and is scaling my staircase before settling down to the piano. I’ve used this routine to imbue a sense of music’s topography before a keyboard transfer. It’s working.

Videotaped samples:

On the stairs:

At the Piano:
(with a preliminary five-finger position legato roll between the hands starting on G)