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!

Wandering Hands in a Performance

December 22, 2018

Certain pianists are so dependent on their physical sense of where their  hands are on the keyboard, that if they go off track in a piece, by playing a note or notes incorrectly, it is difficult or almost impossible for them to get back on track so that they can continue into the next measure without having to stop and go back.  This was the case with “B.” today.

We analyzed the situation, tried to think of remedies, but found that we had to reject one after another because they were too hard to implement.    We finally distilled down the essence of the problem to a point where a first “exercise” suggested itself to us: a first, simple enough, and thus doable exercise to help with the general problem.

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Meddling with the Pedal

December 21, 2018

J told me today that she always eschews using the pedal. “It makes things sound more cacophonous and confusing”.  In particular she used the word “clangy” to describe to describe what the piano sounded like when the right pedal was depressed.  It simply wasn’t pleasant to her ear.  At best, J. wants to wait until she knows how the to play the piece very well and what it sounds like before adding any pedal at all.  In general I think that’s great  …. I could take a lesson from her on this subject.

I used the next portion of the lesson to describe other ways of using the pedal than she may have thought of, some or all of which would meet with her ear’s approval.

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“I don’t get this piece of 20th century music”

December 9, 2018

I sent my friend Roy a recording I made ages ago with the Polish violinist Hanna Lachert.   Among other things it contained the three “Myths” Karol Szymanowski*.  Part of his response was:  “What’s the structure of these pieces?  They seemed episodic, and I did not recognize the music as being in any traditional form.”

I responded:

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Ear Training, an Introduction: the What, the Why, the How

December 4, 2018

#1 Why do ear training?

Ask a student or performer if they listen as they play, and the answer which they give, without much pause to think, is generally “yes”.  Yet the ability to hear clearly while playing, and to understand what one is hearing, is the principal things that sets a good player apart from others.  The good player does not only have a good technique, but they have as strong an ability to listen completely and objectively to the sounds they are making.  In the hands of a master, technical matters are brought under the control of the ear.

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Sight Reading: Isolating Variables

November 28, 2018

In learning a new piece, the rate of progress is a function of a combination of variables.  Two of these, which are closely integrated, are level of ability to read the note symbols in the score, and the level of ability to translate what’s read in the score to the fingers in the hands.  If these two are not on par with each other, then the entire process of learning a new piece is thrown out balance.   Both  the student and the teacher may not be conscious of the exact source of the difficulties observed in the student’s progress on the piece.   Incidentally, it is probably doubtful if there are man pianists are equally adept at the visual comprehension of the score and the tactile realization of what they are comprehending.   I’d like to talk a bit about the latter part: translating the score into physical actions.

Here is an exercise that evaluates, as well as isolates, the student’s tactile responses to the keyboard versus visual placement of the hands.  It is based on how strongly developed a topological sense of the keyboard resides in the student’s imagination.  We want the hands to find the notes on the keyboard as quickly as the eye recognizes them in the score.

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