, piano technique,

Piano Instruction: Teaching a good hand position and technical skills to very young children

Teaching wee beginners a natural approach to the piano, that includes a relaxed hand position, flowing arms and supple wrists allows the birth of beautiful music-making while it promotes injury avoidance.

Irina Gorin is one of the best teacher models in this universe.

A dedicated proponent of early exposure to “weeping willow” arms, and “rainbow” movements from octave to octave, even with single note practice for a prescribed time (depending on individual needs), she delivers her living/breathing philosophy through focused videos.

Here, she guides young hands through a smooth wrist follow-through:

And now a Monkey Swing out, Arm relaxation motion

More work with the supple wrist:

In my own studio, I applied many of these concepts when mentoring Rina, a 4-year old, using Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey.

After a full 8 months of my having nursed along smooth and supple motions in baby steps, Rina performed in the Spring Recital (solos and duets)

In September 2012, my article about teaching young piano students using Irina Gorin’s materials was published in the California Music Teachers Magazine. Since it was posted on the website only during last Fall’s quarter, I’ve reprinted the contents at the El Cerrito site.

Many embedded videos throughout my text are instructive.–my-review-of-a-creative-new-teaching-material-for6207751051

NOTE: My October 2014 journey to NYC where I observed master teacher, Irina Morozova mentoring a 6 year old child at the Special Music School-Kaufman Center

Irina Gorin’s You Tube Channel

When Great Piano Teaching Must be Recognized

coffee, Irina Gorin, non-legato, piano, pianoworldwide, wordpress,, you tube,

About Coffee, Cats, and Non-legato

This blog mishmosh is as ridiculous as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a best-selling children’s book title, though it’s the perfect segue way to an unmatched set of events that transpired yesterday in Berkeley.

Coffee was my first preoccupation after Marta Vago, a long lost “connection” to my late piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich, surfaced on FACEBOOK regaling a coffee bean. Let’s back up. She posted a link to “Top Nutrition Lies That Make the World Sick and Fat”... and while EGGS suddenly rose to prominence as the perfect food, Coffee also acquired a new lease on life, as an Alzheimer blocker and more.

To be exact, here’s how coffee drinkers measure up.

According to the spread,

“They have up to a 67% lower risk of Type II diabetes.”

“Are at a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

“And have up to an 80% lower risk of liver diseases like cirrhosis.”

“Caffeine also helps to mobilize fatty acids from the fat tissues, boost metabolism and increase exercise performance by an average of 11-12%”

“Many studies have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, showing that it can improve mood, memory, reaction time, vigilance and overall brain function.”

“….coffee is also loaded with antioxidants. In fact, it is the biggest source of antioxidants in the modern diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables, combined.”

The aforementioned was motivation enough for me to resume coffee drinking, though I’ll admit to having fallen off the wagon, months ago.

During my verboten forays, I noticed higher performance at the GYM after creaming an 8 oz. container of Organic McLaughlin, and an increase in stamina from mid-afternoon into late evening. (nearly midnight)

Organic iced coffee on Gravitron

As for coffee and its relationship to piano playing, I entered only PLUSes on the balance sheet—noting enhanced coordination, greater animation, awareness, cognition, and emotional connectivity to music. (With no reported jitters)

On my sprightly way home from the Berkeley ‘Y’ Gym, (loaded with Organic Iced Coffee) I spotted two daunting felines that caught my eye. (Naturally, I had to snap ’em)

blue eyed cat in North Berkeley

kitten in North Berkeley

And since these pics are worth two-thousand words, no more need be said.



Finally, having acute, caffeine-driven awareness, I continued on my way home, greeted by a computer-generated LinkedIn spotlight on “NON-Legato.”

Irina Gorin, creator of Tales of a Musical Journey believes that a gentle arch of the hand is gradually built by individually developing fingers 2, 3 and 4. That’s why her very young young students tap single, DETACHED (NON-LEGATO) notes to musically rich melodies from the folk and classical literature. (prerecorded with a ticking metronome)

Here’s an example: (My former Fresno student, Rina, was nursed along on Gorin’s book One, having embarked upon piano study at age 4.) A snatch from her 11th lesson included tapping A’s to a modal melody.

Naturally, many approaches to piano study are valid and each teacher makes decisions about learning schedules based upon individual student needs.



Do I dare add more to this hodgepodge?

I can’t resist. One of my MTAC (Music Teacher) colleagues posted this hysterical skit on her Facebook page that dates back to the 50’s. It’s a such a blast that I had to embed it, and besides there’s a conspicuous MUSICAL thread running through it. (I was in STITCHES!)



"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, classissima,, Elaine Comparone,, how to improve memorization at the piano, Irina Gorin, piano, piano, Seymour Bernstein, Uncategorized

The Haydn Piano Sonata in C, UNPINNED, and matters of Memorization

Well, it’s still not memorized yet, but the clips and staples mounted far too high on the rack, have been undone. I no longer need a giraffe’s neck to play through the sonata’s many first movement pages. The music has descended to eye-level.

Incidentally, my feeble excuse for using music was my relatively recent exposure to this work–It would take a while to absorb it minus an unreliable cut and paste exhibit.

And this brings up the subject of memorization, and whether it advances a composition’s performance. Many would attest that owning this masterwork without reliance on the score, would free the spirit and soul?

Or maybe not?

Here’s feedback from a few well-known music teachers/performers:

Irina Gorin: (creator, Tales of a Musical Journey, Books I and II–her own unique approach to teaching piano to beginners and on)

“For me performance with music looks a lot like practicing. I’m used to performing by memory, and I require from all my students that they perform from memory, unless there are some really big problems. But, so far, in 30 years of teaching, every single student of mine was able to perform from memory. There are tons of articles written about memorization and different tricks to help with that. I don’t think I have anything new to say.”

I interjected that Sviatoslav Richter, the great Russian virtuoso, often performed in public with music as exemplified in these videos:

Haydn Piano Concerto in D, movement 1

Handel Suite in D Minor

If I close my eyes, I enjoy these readings, without any distraction of watching the artist’s eyes glued to the score. And what difference should this detail of production make? It was Richter’s philosophy, in any case, that he “played for himself and not the audience.” His personal pleasure was transmitted outward.

To which Gorin responded:

“Richter had music only in a few very last years of performing, and he was over 70 years old. His late performances were not his best. Also, there are different types of performances” formal and informal. I would not mind sheet music if played for a circle of friends or home video, but the big stage is a different story. IMO :)”

Not to be argumentative, but pianists are put to a higher standard in this realm than instrumentalists such as flautists and clarinetists. The latter routinely march onto the stage with the music and no one much cares.

Certainly music critics, on pedestals of power, don’t specifically fault a performer for playing with the score.

A well-reviewed pianist, Leon Fleisher, played Book I of the Well Tempered Clavier with music propped on the rack at the Fresno Keyboard Concerts Series.

Would he have played better without the page turner peering over his shoulder? In some instances, the answer might be a resounding, yes!

I watched an awkward page turner push an Urtext album into accompanist, Martin Katz’s lap in Carnegie Hall. The soloist was either Milstein, violinist, or Shafrin Cellist. Ironically, MY MEMORY FAILS ME! Yet I do recall Katz carrying on gloriously without music to the final cadence. (A good example of MEMORY having come to his rescue!)

Seymour Bernstein explored this very subject in his popular book, With Your Own Two Hands, Chapter 10

Sub-heading, “Why Memorize?”

“There is something very important to be gained from memorization that many musicians themselves may not be aware of. Apart from freeing a performer in musical and technical ways, memorization, per se, despite current opinion to the contrary, actually sharpens the mind.” (He quotes, by analogy, students of ancient Greece who had to memorize all their texts and recitations as a key to mastery in public speaking AND to hone their minds)

Back to the piano: “Some performers are distracted by any visual contact with notation, and therefore prefer to play without a score. Better to risk forgetting, they feel, than do anything that might interfere with their involvement in the music. Other musicians have a complete sense of freedom only when the score is before them.”

Bernstein went on to discuss recording sessions, where he asserts, the decision whether to use music or not, resides with the recording company. He cites a case in point:

“I had been invited to record a recital for the BBC and was somewhat surprised to find in my contract, a stipulation that a page turner be present in the studio. The reason, of course, was that the BBC quite simply did not want to waste more time than was necessary with retakes owing to memory slips.”

In tune with Bernstein’s reflections, I noted a videotaped recording session memorialized on You Tube where Vladimir Horowitz has the mandatory page turner sitting beside him at a reading of Mozart’s Concerto No. 23. (Carlo Maria Guilini conducts)


Elaine Comparone, renowned harpsichordist, shared her own valuable insights about memorizing: portraitelainecomparone2

“Memorizing is as physical as mental but it’s not at all an intellectual process as such. Once you memorize a composition, then those tools are useful for preparing it for performance– kind of as an adjunct practice tool. But the piece has to take hold of your subconscious as well as your conscious mind via your fingers and your ears.”

This statement dispels myths about over-reliance on the analytic ingredients of score, making one further probe the depths of a memorization process.


(As usual, thoughts and ideas are welcomed from the teaching and student community about a controversial area of performing)
See PIANO thread related to this topic:

And on this note, here’s my personal confession about memorization in performance that may ring familiar. It’s in the form of a letter sent to a piano teacher:

“One of the big issues for pianists is the psychological dimension of memorization, and sadly, many teachers equate a student’s inability to memorize with his failure to properly organize or analyze the score according to theoretical and structural content in his protracted learning process. (harmonic rhythm, modulations of course included in this universe)

“But as COMPARONE points out, this type of analysis is not enough.

“I once played a recital, that began without music on the rack.. it was being recorded for airing later on Valley Public Radio. It opened with the rather straightforward first Scene of Childhood, “Of Foreign Lands and People.”

“I knew that piece in my sleep, yet I don’t even know what I played for the first phrase. At that point my music was taken out and put up before me, with my page turner standing by.

“Am I to feel any less of a musician because I play with music? Did this mean that I hadn’t studied my pieces thoroughly, as you know my learning emphasis is ground up, baby-step, layering. (and impart this approach to all my students)

“I gave one of the most inspiring performances of my life at Temple Beth Israel WITH music, and I couldn’t imagine ever having played for two hours without my music.

“I guess I’m writing this because each musician must decide for him/herself what works, and what produces the highest performance standard at any given time that he is capable of.

“So it follows that I refuse to be hard on my students if they cannot play without music. I still say it’s a tradition-bound construct that does not universally apply across the board to ALL musicians. (flautists, violinists, cellists, and the like)

“Recently, I watched violinist, Sarah Chang perform Beethoven sonatas with music, and I enjoyed her performance just the same which affirms my opinions in this universe of discussion.”


Pertinent LINKS


SEYMOUR BERNSTEIN, author, With Your Own Two Hands


"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, Cyprien Katsaris, Irina Gorin, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Uncategorized, Yeol Eum Son, Yeti mic, Yeti microphone

My Top You Tube Picks for 2013, What are yours?

My note: I’ve listed links to blogs posted about these performers.


Grigory Sokolov Complete piano recital, Theatre de Champs Elysee (for astounding fusion of technique/lyricism/wide dynamic palette–having everything and anything at his disposal to draw upon from his rich musical repository)

Irina Morozova: Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, second movement (profound lyricism, singing tone, fluidity, molto cantabile, tasteful rubato, and more)

Yeol Eum Son, Earl Wild Arrangement of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” (gorgeous, finessed playing with a remarkable palette of colors—immaculate phrasing)

Vitaly Margulis: Chopin Nocturne in Db, Op. 27, No. 2 (heart-fluttering phrases, perfect rubato, OLD WORLD playing at its best)

George Li, Liszt “La Campanella” (a wondrously seasoned and beautiful approach to the piano that belies his youth)

Tatiana Nikolayeva ( Old, time-honored, Romantic era-wrapped Schumann) My heart is throbbing!

Yevgeni Sudbin (Domenico Scarlatti from heaven!)

Angela Hewitt, Bach French Suite in G (Lyrical Bach and quite pleasing)

Glenn Gould, Bach D Minor Concerto (beyond words!)

Murray Perahia, Partita in E minor, BWV 830 (As always, exquisite, captivating playing, mind and heart fused all the way through)


Elaine Comparone (Robust, vibrant and the rest)

Keyboard Sonata in G Major by C.P.E. Bach

Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in D Minor, K. 517 (A knock-out performance!)


Seymour Bernstein, Part 4, “You and the Piano”

Boris Berman

Cyprien Katsaris
Chopin Fantasie Impromptu

Irina Gorin (Wrist Relaxation Exercises)

















"Tales of a Musical Journey", California Music Teacher Magazine, Irina Gorin, MTAC, music teachers association of california, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey is reviewed in the FALL 2012 Statewide MTAC Magazine

Here’s the link rather than copy/paste. The article is ONLINE!

The you tubes are nicely embedded within the writing.

Now the icing on the cake:

Irina needs to make the rounds to branches around the State to sell her stuff and give “live” presentations.

Keep the phone lines open!

classissima,, El Cerrito piano studio, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano playing, piano teaching, producing a singing tone at the piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smth Kirsten, whole body listening, whole body music listening, you tube, you, yout tube,

Piano Technique: The Spongy Wrist is a great shock absorber and singing tone supporter

Yesterday, Rina, 5 learned more about playing her D Major and minor chords with a “spongy” wrist. At first she “squeezed” these sonorities out after playing through the “root,” “third” and “fifth.” (bottom note, middle note, and top note)

Once she observed how my spongy wrist made these chords sound richer, she managed to drop one in that was centered and relaxed.

While Rina doesn’t completely understand cause and effect–or how the physical approach to the piano affects tone production, she can clearly absorb the “feel” of a new sensation through a modeling process. And by using vocabulary drawn from her playground and home environment, I can communicate ideas related to technique that would otherwise be above her head. (I frequently refer to “weeping willow arms and hands” as she approaches the piano.)

In addition, a “spongy” wrist is more easily understood than applying adjectives “flexible,” or “undulating” to describe desired motions.

In the same vein, a “spongy” wrist in its shock-absorbing capacity, cushions the fingers, and by association the wrist and arms that belong to a bigger physical spectrum. Energies, beyond the fingers, therefore, should be harnessed to lessen key impact.

For Irina Gorin, “jello keys” is a great mental image that minimizes percussive key attacks as noted in my blog about “Pianists and Injuries.” Her creation, Tales of a Musical Journey, teaches sophisticated technical concepts in a manner that very small children can understand. (Toys included with her materials, like monkeys with velcroe, are attached to a student’s wrist to swing from from side to side. The motion teaches a relaxed, follow through that transfers into smooth, fluid piano playing)

Gorin will also suspend a student’s wrist using a hairband, and then release the support as the note falls by gravity into its relaxed center, supported by a rounded finger.


Emily, 13, has been learning about wrist flexiblity ever since she began piano over a year ago.

At her last videotaped a lesson, she was practicing the J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor, Part A, that is permeated by broken chords vulnerable to thumb pokes on the descent. Often students will land hard on the thumb interrupting the flow of a phrase.

Since it’s shortest finger of the hand, it can easily accelerate its entry into notes.

The way we maneuvered around Emily’s tendency to accent the thumb, was through a wrist forward motion which delayed its landing.

While Rina had practiced a wrist “dip,” Emily rolled it forward.

In both instances, the elasticity of the wrist and its wide range motion advanced a relaxed and resonant singing tone that afforded a more satisfying playing experience.

acoustic piano, Daniel Mori, Irina Gorin, Irina Morozova, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano teacher, piano teaching, playing piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, the right age to begin piano lessons, Uncategorized

The Right Age for a Child to Start Piano Lessons (Videos)

Is there a right time in a child’s life to embark upon piano study?

The answer is not clear as I’ve discovered from years of teaching.

With technology creating an environment in which children as young as two or three are propped up at electronic keyboards hooked into big-size computer screens, the whole area of learning “piano,” or a toyish substitute for it, can be clouded with ambiguity.

So let’s start with the premise that piano lessons involve teaching a child to play on an acoustic instrument. A hammer-weight digital, comes in a distant second, since the nuances of touch and tone can’t be explored in depth.

That said, I usually recommend that a child begin weekly private piano lessons between the age of 6 and 7, but in some instances, after a preliminary interview, I might advise an earlier or later start.

Since I’m not a Suzuki teacher who follows the paradigm that piano learning is closely allied to language acquisition, and therefore incorporates a model of imitating the teacher’s playing without awareness of notation and musical symbols, I would decline students as young as 2 or 3. In essence, I don’t want children to “play by ear” as their primary learning vehicle because of its tendency to become habit-forming.


Rina, 5, a poster child for an instructional jump start, proved to me that a 4-year old (the age she began) could integrate cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic processes in a healthy, ever-growing piano-learning experience.

As an advocate of the playground as music teacher, I drew upon my staircase, for example, placing letter names of notes on each step, and had Rina romp up and down to “Frere Jacques.” Her spatial understanding of the tune, preceded its physical transfer to the piano and aided her learning.

In a capsulized journey, she had a cognitive sense of the music alphabet going forward in step-wise and skipped motion, and the kinetic experience of getting from one note to another in a prescribed space that was marked off with flashcards. Singing accompanied the activity with letter name recitation.

(Her knowledge of the alphabet was a given, and was well-embedded before lessons began)

It’s now been about 10 months into her instruction, and she “reads” a pre-notational form of music, knowing how to play quarter notes (“short sounds”), half notes (“long sounds”), eighths (“running notes”), whole notes, (“whole note hold down”) and the dotted-half note (“half note dot”)

We’ve placed cardboard notes on the piano rack so she can clap their value in a horizontal sequence even at her tender age.

Spatially, this 5-year old, sees floating notes on a page of paper, and comprehends which way is up and down. (Hand signals assist)

The best transfers ensue from playing activity away from the piano, to the instrument itself.


Back in the 70s, the ideas of Francis Webber Aronoff as expressed in Music and Young Children became popular. At the core of her teaching were play activities that sprang into rhythmic forms, subsequently transferred to instrumental study.

Likewise, a book titled, The Playground as Music Teacher by Madeleine Carabo-Cone revolutionized ways of teaching music to very young children. They were urged to clap, tap, run, and skip to a rhythmic stream of quarter notes, eighths, and rapidly, light sixteenths.

Three forms of “knowing” were identified: “kinesthetic” (physical), “cognitive” (analytical) and “affective” (emotional). In the total creative musical process, all were meant to fuse together.

On a kinesthetic level, the child had abounding energy that begged for release in movement.

In this spirit, Rina warms up with a relaxed flowing, improvised beginning to her lesson. As I play “Harmony of the Angels” by Burgmuller, she moves gracefully to the music. Her activities are age-defying.

When she sits at the piano, she emulates the tranquility of a weeping willow tree, having supple wrists and relaxed arms to evoke a graceful eagle. These images can be preserved in the imagination of a very young child, reaping benefits for piano study at its most basic level.

In all fairness to this discussion, there are children who can’t sit still long enough to benefit from a minimum dose of instruction. They might have a five to ten-minute attention span. In these instances, piano lessons might be postponed, or parceled out in small segments.

Irina Gorin, a piano teacher in Carmel, Indiana who’s created her own unique method book, Tales of a Musical Journey, takes students as young as 4-years old, especially if they have older sibs enrolled in her studio.

“With such young children, I give 15-minute lessons, twice a week, not requiring them to practice at home. Later, when a child is ready he graduates to longer periods of instruction.”

Gorin believes that teacher preference plays a strong role in the choice of one age group over another.

“I love teaching young kids even though it can sometimes be nerve-draining. When I raise a student from a young age, it’s an intensely wonderful relationship that evolves over time. And it should be emphasized that the beginning stage of learning is the most important one for a developing musician.”

Eddie, Gorin’s 5-yr. old student plays a Russian folk melody:


Irina Morozova an esteemed teacher and concert pianist who instructs young children at the Special School of the Kaufman Center in New York City weighed in on piano study and the right time to begin.

“Based on my 30 years of teaching experience, some kids are ready to study an instrument at as early as 5. Most, not before 6. I started at 7 myself and do not think it was too late. A few of my best students started at 8-9 and caught up with kids who had been playing for much longer.”

She asserts that “good students are those with a high IQ, a good ear, and self-motivation. Everything else she “considers much less important.”

Daniel Mori, a Morozova student plays in a recital at the tender age of 6:


From my perspective, a child beginning once per week lessons for a full half-hour to 45 minutes should be mature enough to assimilate musical symbols, such as clef signs, the grand staff, notation, meter, etc. introduced gradually through materials that are creative and innovative. It helps if the child can read his language and have expressive writing skills.

But the ingredients of the singing tone and how to produce it must be at the core of early exposure to piano study. That’s where Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey excels.

For those using the Faber Primer Piano Adventures books, the Lesson and Performance albums show a small map of the keyboard, and begin with notes floating in space with up and down movement. Words imbue rhythm and the student would do well to have a first grade-level reading ability, basic coordination skills, and a good attention span.

A positive feature of the Faber series is its introduction of black-key combinations of two and three groups at the outset with significant playing experiences using these notes. The white ones are then easily identified by their proximity to the black keys, but they stick around a bit too long without black key relief relief. It’s a backslide in the learning sequence.

A 6 or 7-year old can gradually acclimate to the feel of the piano, using black notes; acquire basic rhythmic awareness through the word-driven music, and slowly but surely progress to putting the floating notes on the staff with letter names attached. Along the way the teacher and student will play duets that bring even two-note melodies to life through harmonically rich accompaniments.

But to re-emphasize, I believe a child should have some basic readiness to digest what the Fabers have offered.

One youngster, for instance, may have unusually good coordination skills, but not have reached a maturity level to focus on printed-page lesson material. Another might possess greater strength in cognitive areas but need more time to improve technique.

This is why each prospective student should be evaluated individually without any hard and fast rules governing his so-called readiness.

Even before lessons are undertaken, I advise parents to surround their children at home and in transit, with good music in many forms and styles: classical, folk, ethnic, jazz, etc. and I recommend that they attend children’s concerts in their area that are specifically geared to capture the interest and imagination of young people.

In many cities there are music appreciation-based groups for very young, pre-school age children that provide singing activity, and pitched, non-pitched percussion exploration. (The Orff Schulwerk and Music Together are prime examples)

These can be wonderful experiences that prime a child for private piano lessons.

“Music Together,” in particular, “is an internationally recognized early childhood music program for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, along with the adults who love them. First offered to the public in 1987, it pioneered the concept of a research-based, developmentally appropriate early childhood music curriculum that strongly emphasizes and facilitates adult involvement.” (

I’m familiar with a local powerhouse Music Together teacher who engages so many little ones and their parents in kinetically-driven musical experiences, integrating folk-based themes from all over the world with classical and jazz idioms. It’s an exciting musical potpourri that my student Rina sampled for at least 3 years before she started private piano lessons.

In conclusion, the guidelines I addressed with respect to age appropriateness and developmental readiness for piano lessons, should be a working model for parents who are considering private instruction for their children. An open mind is needed along the way.


NY Times article link:

More Related Links