Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tone Color

Varieties in tone color at the piano are produced by different kinds of touch, unequal distribution of power both in tones struck simultaneously and successively, differences in the moment of attack and release of tones, differences in the degrees of legato and staccato in sustaining tones, different uses of the pedals, and in other ways too subtle to discuss at this point. Still, in coloring the tone quality of piano playing comes largely through repeated experimentation at the keyboard, listening intently to the results of different ways of laying the same passage and contrasting passages. Careful observation of the playing of others and of the effects which they produce is a most helpful practice.

Above all, tone coloring is the result of aesthetic imagination, which conceives an effect and strives to realize it. The teacher should strive to stimulate his pupils to expressive playing through coloring the tone quality of their performance in accordance with the spirit of the music. The use of songs in the early study of piano playing is a great help in this work. The songs express mood. The children may first sing them so that the mood is reflected in the vocal tone quality. Then they can strive to color the playing with the same tone quality. Such imaginative coloring of the tone serves as the best background for the later more technical approach to the subject through varieties of touch, dynamics, phrasing, and pedaling.

For more information about piano classes NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Phrasing is to music what punctuation is to language. Just as punctuation indicates the divisions of sentences and parts of sentences within paragraphs, so does phrasing show the groupings of tones of the composition into such divisions as will make the tonal flow most comprehensible. And as in speech there are longer or shorter periods of silence separating the word groups, so in music the phrasing is effected by brief periods of silence between the tone groups. In singing a breath is usually taken between the phrases; and in playing the hands should likewise seem to breathe between the phrases. The phrases usually end softly, with a gentle release of the tone. Phrasing gives clarity to the expressive interpretation of the music. Definite phrasing is as essential to the interpretation of music as are the rhetorical pauses in expressive speech. The best and most natural way to teach phrasing is to sing the phrase.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Crescendos, diminuendos, stresses and accents constitute vital piano dynamics in expressive playing. Like the inflections of the voice in speech, they point the meaning of the composition. Two successive tones should seldom be sounded with equal intensity. As in speech, there should be constant variation in the tone, volume, stress and accentuation. The possible variations in dynamic contrasts are almost limitless, but there should always be reason and purpose in the way they are employed. Ascending passages usually increase and descending passages decrease in volume, but sometimes the opposite procedure is all the more effective because it is unexpected. Of course the printed dynamic indications must be observed, but the student must be led to delve deeper into the reasons for contrasts in tone volume and must not mechanically follow marks and directions nor imitate blindly the playing of the piano teacher.

It is not uncommon for teachers to over-stress the importance of measure accents and in so doing to lose sight of the larger rhythmic units. Such constant pounding on the first beat of each measure is like the metrical sing-song way of reciting dull poetry.

Every phrase has its climax, and every composition has its principal climax. In longer works there is a series of climaxes which cumulatively lead to the principal climax. A great composer builds his climaxes with the same careful planning that is given by an architect to the designing of a building. The performer must realize the design in a musical composition, and must plan his dynamic scheme with care, so that each climax, subordinate and principal, may receive its due proportion of emphasis. This principle may be illustrated in the very simplest of little pieces, provided they are based on the principles of artistic design.

Children should be directed in their study of every composition to the consideration of the general dynamic effects of the piece as a whole, contrasts within the piece, and the relationship of primary and secondary climaxes.

For more information about how to learn piano NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Tempo is one of the elements of interpretation through which the nature of an artist expresses itself. The piano teacher needs to make sure that tempo is observed and evaluated in the study of each composition. The student's ability to control and express his interpretation in piano classes will thereby grow in his capacity to be clear and expressive.

The general time gradations in the performance of a piece of music, sometimes called agogics,are important in determining the character of an interpretation. First of all, the rate of speed (tempo) of the piece as a whole should be determined. The composer usually indicates the tempo by such terms as andante, allegro, etc., though these terms are subject to various interpretations depending on the character of the music itself. Sometimes the tempo is indicated by a metronome mark, though even this is subject to variation under different conditions, as, for example, in recital halls of various sizes. Many compositions are printed without tempo indications, and then the general character of the music must determine the rate of speed of the performance.

After the general tempo has been decided comes the consideration of variations of speed during the performance, accelerandos, ritardandos, etc. The more important of these changes in the rate of speed are usually indicated by the composer, though there are infinite subtleties too delicate to be recorded in notation. For instance, an ascending passage sometimes pushes forward, and the close of a composition is liable to slow down somewhat. Few pieces should be played with metronomic precision in classical music tempo - ebb and flow is very desirable. These variations should not be overdone, though, since the effect of exaggeration is as inartistic as is clock-like metronomic regularity. On the other hand, it is important to develop the ability to maintain a given tempo, without hurrying or slowing down.

To inquire about a piano teacher NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Plan of Technical Development

  • The piano is a medium for the musical self expression of the student. Technique is really a means to this end.
  • The approach to piano playing should be through the music to be played. The music should be interesting while stimulating the desire to play, grows out of the student's past experience and is directly linked to it. Hence the importance of the "song approach."
  • In learning to play even their earliest and simplest pieces, students recognize certain technical demands and requirements. These should be immediately reinforced by the teacher as material for drill.
  • Each technical drill grows out of an immediate musical experience and should be applied to additional new and interesting musical material. Drill may at times be given per se, but it should grow out of actual music and lead to more actual music.
  • These are especially applicable to the earliest years of study. They easily lead to the formation of musical habits and a keen interest out of which attention to matters of technique become more or less automatic. The older students then find real pleasure in overcoming the problems of more advanced technique.
  • During the first year technical drills grow out of the experience of playing the musical numbers in the course books. To these are added games designed to develop control of fundamental movements of arms and fingers. Gradually this is developed into organized, independent drill in the several essential elements of technique, such as chords, scales, arpeggios, etc.
Learn more from a piano teacher NJ at Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Early Movement

It is helpful for a piano teacher to have books of games and fingerplays in her library that develop muscular control in playing piano without stiffness. This means having ample material handy for progressive selection to suite the age and ability of students.

The earliest pieces establish free, rhythmic arm movement. This could include material for developing alternation in muscular tension involved in lifting the arms, and the immediate relaxation in the natural drop of the arms. It helps the student learn an activity that shows the tensions used in actual playing, and shows that between the tensions there is relaxation in the brief intervals resulting from rests or other breaks in the music.

Following pieces learned for rhythmic arm control, the teacher can offer a combination of arm and finger activity. In these pieces children use both rhythmic arm movements and the use of finger support, in that the relaxed weight of the arm is brought to rest on the various finger tips in turn. These are designed to lay the foundation for correct hand position, and after these would follow pieces for more particular development of finger movements.

In the first months of study it is good for students to learn arm and finger control with the least possible conscious attention to the muscular movements involved. Calling attention to hand position, or the specific manner in which fingers should be raised or knuckles arched, etc., is likely to induce the stiffness and inhibitions we try to avoid. The value of finger plays lies in having students so absorbed that they acquire the desired movements and positions without feeling self-consciousness or constrained.

We all know that technique progresses from unformed beginnings gradually to more and more finely controlled movements. To begin with, children are naturally relaxed because their nerves and muscle movements have not yet been disciplined. To avoid strain and stiffness, training for keyboard mastery should be gradual and careful. Good piano teachers want to lay a solid and steady foundation for a permanent skill. So, advancements are progressive to get the results, but slow enough to avoid strain - and frustration on the student's part.

The early pieces serve as an introduction to the formal technical drill of later years, such as in finger exercises developed by Czerny.

For more information to learn piano NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Keyboard Posture

The correct use of the arms can be achieved sooner than a perfect hand position, fineness in finger action and control. Almost all children tend to play with free arm movement and unconscious use of the weight of the arm. In the beginning of piano instruction, emphasis should be on freedom and ease of arm movement rather than over-precision in hand position and finger movements.

On the other hand, the teacher should illustrate the principles of correct technique in easy, graceful arm movement, good hand position and well controlled finger movements. The basis of the child's early technical development is imitation. So, he should have an opportunity to observe and imitate good models to form his ideal of good piano playing. The following will help establish good technique.

Height of chair at piano. This should be arranged so that when the hand is held in position on the keyboard (keys depressed), the wrist and forearm are horizontal. In testing for correct height of seat by means of quiet hand position on keyboard, use the below guidelines.

How to sit. The player should sit somewhat forward on the chair, the body upright from the hips, poised very slightly forward, never bending over the keys. He should never rest on the back of the chair while playing, and should not rigid in the hips.

Distance of player from keyboard. The player should sit at a distance from the keyboard so that the upper arm hangs vertically from the shoulder, never with the elbow further back than the position.

Use of arm. The arm should be used freely from the shoulder. All movements should be as natural as possible and free from affectation. Between successive chords, the hand must be lifted, by the arm, slightly above the keys. In melodies the same release is to be used at the ends of phrases. When coming away from the keys let the hand hang, relaxed, at the wrist; never swing the hand back at the wrist.

Hand position. The standard position of rounded, arched hand with curved fingers and curved-in tip of thumb is recommended. Hold the hand quiet when testing for height of seat and make sure the thumb is held absolutely horizontal. The child's first approach to correct hand position should come through observation and imitation of the teacher's use of hand and fingers.

Use of fingers. As no formal finger exercises are usually given in the first year with younger children, control of finger movements should be first approached through striving for legato in melody playing. If the melody is played legato, then the finger attack and release are correct as to timing. Here again, gradual improvement is the aim, guided by the teacher's example.

Good tone. This means a quality of tone that expresses the message of the music to be played, such as singing tone in a melody, a firm tone in a march, etc.

Fingering. Fingerings are indicated with definite plan and care in first year music books. In five finger position, unless indicated otherwise, the next finger plays the next note in all diatonic passages. A repeated phrase is always played with the fingering indicated upon its first appearance.

Accuracy. Accurate, clean playing should be strived for at all times. The student should aim for the middle of each key and develop thereby an accurate sense of finger spacing.

Dynamics. "Louder and softer" can be attained through imitation, and through singing the songs and then playing them in the same spirit. Every composition has a climax, and every phrase has its own secondary climax. It is through dynamics and phrasing that, in expressing his message, technique serves the performing pianist.

For more information about piano classes NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Piano Technique: Drill and Teaching Pieces

Piano playing involves developing the ability to learn keyboard technique. In the past, this technique evolved only through mechanical drills and technical etudes. These classical exercises are designed to give control of the movements necessary to play, to increase facility in playing the various figurations found in piano music, to develop power and speed, and to establish foundational control for dynamic and rhythmic variety in piano performance.

However, the mere mechanics of playing, without spirit and expression, is not widely accepted as the way to musicianly performance. An extensive literature of teaching pieces has evolved, through which the student can acquire technique while at the same time he studies selections more or less interesting musically. Most teachers now depend largely upon this type of material for the technical development of the student, while others make use of the exercise and etude literature as an integral part of their teaching scheme.

Some teachers have come to feel that technical drill may be entirely abandoned in favor of a progressive list of more varied material. Their reasoning?
  1. only a comparatively few teachers have acquired real skill in obtaining the essential technical elements from the pieces and organizing them into a well rounded system of development
  2. the teacher is restricted musically in the selection of pieces if it is necessary to depend on this material alone for technical material
  3. it is hard to find selections which contain all the necessary material for comprehensive technical training of the student
  4. while this procedure has carried many students successfully through certain elementary stages of development, sooner or later there has come a time when progress stops, and the student, lacking training under a comprehensive plan, abandons his pianistic ambitions in the face of difficulty and demands involved in further pianistic advancement.
In the final analysis, though, practice of exacting technique cannot be avoided by a piano student or teacher. A good pianist must have training which includes all the different elements of a well rounded technique. Advanced pianism includes both artistry and expression, and the necessity of playing exacting technique which the pianist uses according to his artistic taste and judgment. It is common for teachers, even the most eminent, to exaggerate certain phases of musicology at the expense of others.

The superb control over technique that results from classical drilling is incomparable. Thus, both classical mechanical drilling and creativity must be included in the course of teaching piano for the student to become an accomplished pianist.

To find a piano teacher NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Parental Support of Creative Practice

Home assignments usually take for granted some kind of parental supervision. Many parents oversee the practice of their children, and have assumed the responsibility for timing the practice periods and seeing that the student is kept consistently at a routine. While this method sometimes is effective, not infrequently it degenerates into a system of policing that is irksome to both the parents and student. Few things are more dispiriting to a student's progress and enjoyment of music than the constant nagging of parents to make him practice his home assignments. Besides, parents eventually tire of supervision, and there are few, naturally, who have the patience, tact and influence over the student to carry him along year by year until he has reached the point where his own interest prompts him to keep up with sufficient practice. Additionally, the quality of enforced practice, with a ticking clock as a constant reminder, is seldom going to bring the best results.

Parental Cooperation

One of the first essentials to the success of creative practice is to make the plan clear to parents. So much stress has been laid for years on the necessity of parental supervision of home practice that parents expect to be called upon to assume this responsibility. It is often difficult for them to keep away from the child and leave him to his own devices at the piano. Parents should be urged to leave the child alone with respect to home practice. The following forms of cooperation are ones the parent should give, and are vital to the success of creative practice.

Best Place for the Piano

The piano should be available to the student whenever he feels like playing it. This is not always easy - sometimes the piano is in the living room where the student's playing disturbs others; sometimes visitors interfere with the student's freedom of action; sometimes in winter it is hard to keep the room well heated at hours that suit the child's convenience; sometimes a tired father or mother is disturbed by the student's playing. Conscientious parents can work out the most satisfactory solution possible under the circumstances.

The piano should be placed where there is enough light to read music and learn the keyboard both during daytime and evening. If at all possible, a separate music room, free from family gatherings, visitors, cell phones, television, and other interruptions, and where the student can go at any odd leisure times, is an ideal condition.

Let the Child Correct His Own Mistakes

Parents often find it extremely difficult to refrain from giving help and suggestions when the child makes mistakes. They might hear or see the child doing something contrary to their own experience as piano students, and are naturally anxious to offer assistance. But such help is exactly what the student should not have. He needs to develop his own interest and initiative, learn to detect his own errors and find his own ways of correcting them. He will find his stimulation in piano lessons. A student should be so engrossed with the music he is working out that the urge to practice comes from within. The spirit of emulation (see earlier blog post) will help motivate him to perfect his practice.

Other Home Music Projects

There are many music projects that interested parents can start, that serve not only to stimulate the student's pleasure in music study, but also to make the home a center of interest that will carry over into his whole life. Reading matter on musical subjects of interest to children should be abundant. The child's room can be decorated with pictures of musicians or musical subjects, chosen by the student and arranged as planned by him. A music cabinet can be available, where he can be encouraged to organize his music. Attendance at concerts and recitals should be planned, with advance preparation by reading about the repertoire or hearing the music on iTunes. The use of all of these will contribute to the growth of the student's musical culture and his musical life. They will vitalize piano study by associating it with the broader world of music.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Creative Practice

We all know that the results of piano lessons are largely dependent upon the practice done by the student between lessons. Every good piano teacher realizes this fact, and tries to encourage students to give consistent time and energy to home practice. Various plans work with greater or less success. Roughly these plans are
  1. parental cooperation;
  2. a card system for checking the time which the student has given to practice and some form of rewards; or
  3. organization of home practice so it can become a creative experience
The third type, creative practice, can be the most effective, especially when combined with the spirit of emulation naturally stimulated by activities such as watching the teacher perform, listening to music, attending concert pianists' recitals, or attending local classical music events such as chamber music or musical ensembles. If a student can develop an interest in his practice, an initiative in going to the piano for pleasure, a desire for regularity in home study, this attitude will be a great step toward successful pianism.

Plan of Creative Practice

Essentially the plan of creative practice consists in presenting a musical problem to students which can be solved in different ways, or which can be worked out by the student from material of his own choosing culled from his previous experience. The music should be able to be worked out at the keyboard. This helps motivate good piano practice. The student then brings his solution to the lesson and has an opportunity to express his own ideas, to consult his own taste, and to have his opinions sympathetically considered by his teacher (and family). He has created something - thereby exercising one of the strongest incentives to playing piano. Of course, the teacher must exercise her own ingenuity and inventiveness in applying this idea.

It's best if lessons are varied, flexible and alive. Truly, home assignment shouldn't degenerate into mechanical drilling or to merely assigned tasks. Intense drilling can come in later years. When a particular composition is to be studied it is approached with the ideal of attaining an expressive result, as nearly as well as the child can make it; and whenever possible, taking a creative practice approach to the piece.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Is Reading?

Some of the instruction of little children and the music material prepared for piano instruction is based upon the idea that sight reading is the development of a fluency in deciphering one note after another. It is assumed that if a child can be taught to read one note after another correctly, and kept it up patiently, he will gradually be able to repeat this faster and faster until he becomes a ready music reader.

Studies shows that reading is the ability, first, to recall to mind a previously learned thought by means of recognized symbols; and second, to group familiar symbols into larger and larger units, each group representing its previously learned idea. in other words, fluency in reading does not consist in seeing single notes more rapidly, but in visualizing in larger and larger units the groups of notes.

This process is greatly facilitated where the note groupings on the page correspond to tonal or music units. Where the notes of a phrase skip from staff to staff, the unity of the group is broken and the eye must follow the music from note to note. When teaching reading, look for keyboard sheet music where the music is printed phrasewise, each tonal figure printed to be grasped in one eye span. Where the chords may be seen as units, the melodic line encourages groupwise rather than note-to-note thinking. These considerations are basic to the development of good sight reading skills.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.