Joe’s Blog

Welcome to my blog!

A reminder that these blog entries are not ‘timely.’  They do not address issues that relate to the present news of the world.  They address perennial issues faced by most pianists when striving to excel in their playing.  I encourage you to search through the posts to find the ones that will yield the greatest benefit to you.

You can also use this list of all blog posts in order of keyword, which you can also sort by title.

You are also welcome to contact me to suggest a topic that you would like to see appear on the site, or ask questions or comment below each entry. Enjoy!

An ennead of things about awareness.

September 23, 2020


Be especially aware of the notes that come in between the notes that you are more aware of. If, for instance, the LH has eighths and the RH has sixteenths (or any 2:1 ratio like that) create a zig-zag awareness between the LH notes and the ‘in-between’ right hand notes. Intentional awareness of the sound of any note is almost always accompanied by a lack of awareness of the sound of some other note. The time to be aware of the sound of a note is when and if it continues to sound while another totally new note appears in a different voice or hand. When you play one after another, notes sharing the same letter (say C-Natural) that occur in different octaves, sometimes the goal in awareness is to eliminate anything having to do with pitch range that would make the C-s sound somewhat different, and focus only on the “C”-ness inside each note.  At other times the goal of awareness should be to ignore the C-ness inside each note and focus on what makes the sound of one C as different as possible than the others. When you play a note can you distinguish completely between what, in your consciousness: 1) comes from feelings in your muscles or feelings about shape or position of your body in space, or from the senses of touch or pressure, and, 2) sensations that come into consciousness solely and exclusively through your ears – the sound of the note. Can you eliminate from your awareness of a sound its pitch, its duration, and its loudness, which leaves, for lack of a better way of saying it, just the ‘sound’ in the sound? Try not to be as aware of the ‘attack’ of the note as much as what ensues about a half a second later. This is the rich, sweet spot in the evolution of the note.  The second most important moment to listen to that same note is in the instants just before it cedes or changes to another note.  All connection, all legato depends on what happens between the ending moments of a sound and the onset of the next note, between the moment when the note is softest and the moment when the (next) note is loudest.  Most control lives at this moment – if you can ‘find’ it.  Usually what we are doing physically to get ready to play the next note obscures our awareness of the last moments of the current sound. If there were just one sound, one note, and you have to imagine the evolution of an entire

    piece made up of the evolution through time of just this one sound, what “story” would it

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Sluggish thumbs – getting older.

September 20, 2020

When the thumb has to separate from the second finger horizontally, in order to make a skip (rather than a step) to a higher or lower note, the muscles in my thumb are no longer adequate to reliably send the thumb the exact distance on the keyboard it needs to traverse in order to get to the next note it wants to play.


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The entire body rings like a bell.

September 13, 2020

We are faced with a division in the body: the core of the body, which remains largely whole unto itself and moves as a coherent whole. and the body extremities, particularly the arms and the hands which are constantly making motions that are externally dictated by having to adapt and conform to the horizontal expanse of the keyboard which expands logarithmically from the center.

The most effective piano playing results when this division is done away with, by establishing motions in the torso that conform in spirit to the motions of the arms and hands, and actually serve to reinforce the latter. As the large bell in a Zen monastery is perfected so that its entire body contributes to the sound that therefore emerges from the entire bell.

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Twelve ways of simplifying a passage physically.

September 9, 2020

These ways all involve altering, in some specific way, the sequence of notes played in the passage; as through omission, magnification, or distortion.  Once the distortion is brought back into focus we have a new understanding of what that part’s function is within the whole phrase.  There is always something special about witnessing something in the process of coming into focus, that is taken more for granted when it begins already being in focus.

1. Simplifying physically by purposefully changing the loudness of certain notes. 2. Simplifying physically by changing the rhythm of the notes. 3. Simplifying physically: by leaving notes out and compensating by for the lost duration by holding other notes longer 4. Simplifying physically by omitting certain notes and thus revealing new connections between less proximate notes. 5. Simplifying physically isolating certain notes of a phrase and giving those notes a new and different expressive contour, thus revealing musical potential in a phrase hitherto overlooked. 6. Simplifying physically by transposing the octave range of certain notes and thereby removing large skips and jumps between notes in a phrase and modelling the cohesiveness inherent in the phrase. 7. Simplifying physically by holding down one note of a phrase while continuing on to play several of the upcoming notes: in order to homogenize and create greater unity to the sound of the phrase. 8.  Simplifying physically by repeating some or all of the notes in the phrase so they sound twice or more in a row.  Like a sculptor bringing out a three dimensional curve.  Or doing the same to feel like one has more than an ephemeral moment to perfect how a note sounds. 9. Simplifying physically by placing a fermata on a certain note in order to suddenly increase appreciation of how that note functions in the phrase. 10. Simplifying physically by placing a fermat on the note that comes just before a note that is hard to reach or articulate. 11. Simplifying physically by eliminating the rhythm and playing each note with the same duration as every other note. 12.  Simplifying physcially by first making it even more difficult, and then experiencing the relative ease when returning to the original degree of difficulty

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The beginning is wherever we choose it to be.

September 8, 2020

When a certain note in a passage gives you difficulty, start the passage with the problem note, as if there were no preceding notes eventuating into it*.  So often it is the sequence of events and their context which creates the apparent difficulty.  Taken out of context the problem note is seen as being just a note, like any other on the keyboard, played with one of the ten “usual” fingers.

* In computer program it is like putting in a “breakpoint”*.  (From Google Chrome).  In software development, a breakpoint is an intentional stopping or pausing place in a program, put in place for debugging purposes. It is also sometimes simply referred to as a pause. More generally, a breakpoint is a means of acquiring knowledge about a program during its execution.

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