Artur Rubinstein, the famed Polish pianist, once remarked that the damper pedal on the piano gives the instrument its soul. Although I feel that no one is an expert on the nature of the soul, we all are entitled to an opinion. As for me, I feel that the soul an an accumulation of all the thoughts, emotions and feelings that a person during their lifetime; and possibly, if the theory of reincarnation is correct, all their other cumulative lifetimes. In a similar way, the damper pedal can effect an accumulation of sound. I personally believe that the worst disservice one can do to music is to insist on as pure a blend of tone as possible. As no one has a pure soul, not even a saint; then no singer or instrumentalist could or should attempt to sing or play with total purity. It just doesn’t happen in life and therefore should it not happen in music. Our music, at best, is a reflection of the human condition through sound.
As a pianist, that brings up the point: How should we approach the damper pedal on the piano? Beethoven is reputed to have left the damper pedal down for the entire of the 1st movement of his Moonlight Sonata. The answer on the best use of the damper pedal lies in the (1) sonority of the particular piano being played (2) one’s touch and (3) the nature of the composition. Artur Rubinstein once commented that he would give a year of his life to hear how Chopin played the piano. All of us are can only make educated gueses as to how Chopin played. I feel that the damper pedal was generously applied by Chopin: Often he uses one firm and repeated tone in the bass, played with beautiful sound, repeating it many times with changing harmonies above. Musically, a low and repeated tone called a pedal point. In Chopin’s Prelude, Opus 28 No. 17, for example, a low Ab pedal tone, three lines under the bass staff, in 6/8 time repeats and sounds for a duration of 26 measures. If this the section is played on an appropriate piano; while bringing out the bass, playing the melody with only a medium strong tone, and the chords in the middle with extreme delicacy, the damper pedal may be held down for the entire 26 bars- thereby giving the entire section the beautiful effect of soul. At some point in the future, when more resources are at more disposal, I will play this prelude in the manner I feel it should be played as a feature on our website. Finally, I ask my pianist readers not to be afraid to experiment with touch, pianos and longer damper pedaling when called for.
One Musical Hoagy Please? This blog takes a look at the timing of American musical trends. It uses the songwriter, Hoagy Carmichael, to illustrate the point. In the past, dominant melody and then dominant rhythm have taken turns in ten year periods. Individual writers here and there have written melodic works in a rhythmic era and vice versa; but there has been a ten year rhythmic cycle in public taste.
Hoagy Carmichael’s Epoch Making Song- Stardust One Musical Hoagy Please? Here’s the story.An effective way to gain some insight into these cycles involves the classic song, Stardust. It was written in the late 1920’s by Hoagy Carmichael. Hoagy made a fortune with it because of the Great Depression which began in October of 1929.
GOOD TIMES = RHYTHMICAL SONGS
Earlier, January of 1929, Joe walks downtown, he’s upbeat because “everything’s coming up roses.” He has plenty of money, a good looking dame and one of those new- fangled automobiles. He has a bounce in his gait and moves to the rhythm of the quick step song, “Five-Foot-Two”. The last thing he wants to hear is a long- winded beautiful melody. What a damper melody is!Continue reading
What’s Your Musical Angle? Just as a salesman usually has an angle to sell his product, a pianist should have an angle formed by the tilt of his hands toward his thumbs not only when playing scales and arpeggios but also most of the time. Prepared thumbs are only one of several necessary techniques necessary for playing scales effectively.
Use your thumb as a fulcrum With you thumbs resting on the white keys, raise and tilt your hands and other fingers toward the thumbs so that while the thumb along with the first, second and third fingers stay grounded, the 4th and 5th fingers are slightly elevated as follows: The fourth finger barely touches the white key, while the 5th hangs suspended in the air ready to pounce on the key when required. Since the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers are strong, they do not need additional strength to strike the keys, while the 4th and 5th finger do. With the hands tilted toward the thumbs, these weaker fingers can make use of lateral motion from above to get a fuller sound. This is essential because not only are the 4th and 5th fingers the weakest on each hand but as you will now see:Continue reading
Beethoven’s Innovative Prepared Thumb: Beethoven was not only the greatest pianist of his day and arguably the greatest composer, but he was also a great innovator of piano technique. Among the techniques he invented was the “prepared thumb” for scales and arpeggios. My piano instructors can trace their training back to Beethoven. How? Well… working backwards, I studied for 14 years in Detroit with Mischa Kottler. Kottler studied in Vienna with Emil von Sauer in the 1920s. Von Sauer studied two summers with one of the greatest pianists ever, Franz Liszt. Liszt studied with Carl Czerny – the greatest writer of piano exercises of the classical era. Czerny studied with none other than Beethoven, himself.
Beethoven’s Innovative Prepared Thumb: for Playing Scales
In the figure below, I share how the principle of the prepared thumb is executed in motion. The C major scale, as played by the right hand, shows the correct fingering with the corresponding letter names of the pitches.
Letters: C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
Fingers: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5
As you ascend the scale note by note, the moment you strike your 2nd finger on “D”, tuck your thumb under the palm of the hand to prepare to play the “F”. The hand must be held in a high arch to make room for the thumb so it doesn’t scrape the keys below. When you place your 3rd finger on the key to play the “E”, the thumb is already there waiting on the “F”.
As you proceed further into the scale a slight variation occurs, three notes G-A-B are played before the thumb is reused. The thumb is tucked under in the same fashion but when you play “B” with your fourth finger the thumb does not reach the “C”. So, the hand glides horizontally in a tiny jump to land the prepared thumb on the next “C”. This way you prevent strain.
Playing Scales Smoothly
The prepared thumb should contribute to evenness of tone as one plays up and down the piano. Nothing is as annoying than hearing a thumb go thumping on the keys after every third and fourth finger during scale work. When playing scales, the top of your hand from its knuckles to the forearm should be still. The scale work in Beethoven’s concertos and sonatas often require speed and fluidity. For that purpose, Beethoven had to “build a better mousetrap”.
One Full Year of Study and Practice
Mischa Kottler told me, it takes a year of training to have good hand position. Kottler played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra until age 93 without injury. I have a limited number of openings for piano students in the Sarasota area. In season I play six nights weekly at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande Fl. If you are interested in studying, E-mail me for schedule availability.
David Ohrenstein will play the Steinway grand that belonged the world renowned duo piano team, Ferrante and Teicher. His performance will be for the open house ribbon cutting ceremony for Brookdale Colonial Park, a senior living facility- given on Thursday April 23 from 5-7 pm at 4730 Bee Ridge Road. For more information and to RSVP call 941.378-4414.
David will have just completed his sixth winter season playing the two Steinway grand pianos at the Gasparilla Inn at Boca Grande where he regularly plays for American presidents and heads of state from around the world. He is a great fan of vintage Steinway pianos.
In honor of the autographed piano by Ferrante and Teicher that Brookdale has, he will feature the special arrangements for one piano done by these giants of music including such classics as:
The Shadow of Your Smile
Last Tango in Paris
Put Your Hand in the Hand
and even Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
He will demonstrate the incredible tone capabilities of their Steinway piano with numerous selections by Chopin, Beethoven, J.S. Bach and Brahms and that great early jazz classicist, Scott Joplin including Bach.s Italian Concerto (all three movements, the theme from the movie The king’s Speech from Beethoven’s 7th symphony, Chopin’s Ab Etude used in the movie The Turning Point
and of course many selections from the Sting especially Joplin’s beautiful Argentine tango- Solace.
David will also play some of his own compositions which he recently played for at a command performance in New York on beautiful Oquaga Lake this last September where he has been residing in the summers.
Featured will be Moonlight on the Lake along with other great classics about the Moon including Debussy’s Claire de Lune and little known but equally beautiful composition of Claire de Lune composed by Debussy’s composition teacher, Gabriel Faure. I personally like Faure’s better although it is not as well known.
In the popular vein he will play Moonglow and Blue Moon and Moon River along with numerous other compositions by Henry Mancini including:
the Pink Panther
the Baby Elephant Walk
A Powdered Wig
It Had Better Be Tonight
and Inspector Clouseau’s theme
Of course there will be plenty of Cole Porter and George Gershwin to go around with the marvelous atmosphere and piano Brookdale Colonial Park. David is also a great fan of Michelle Legrande and will play such classics as Windmills of Your Mind, What Are You doing the Rest of your Life, and Little Boy Blue. There will be plenty of music fun to go around.
Taking piano lessons is an activity for all ages. Don’t let that phrase, “I always wanted to play the piano,” go unheeded. I have taught students from the age of four to well into their seventies. My oldest student was 83 and she decided to take piano to help ease the arthritis in her hands. And it did.
Music helps keep the mind relaxed and healthy, increases IQ, and teaches rhythm and timing. Scientific study has shown that playing an instrument engages more corners of the brain than almost any other activity. Playing music is a 3D experience. One must think up and down, horizontally, and within cubic space. It is good for anyone at any time in their lives. (For more see Page on the benefits of music.)
Basic Philosophy as a Piano Instructor:
As long as the student is learning what I think they need to know with the pieces I assign, they can bring in and learn pieces of music they enjoy. I, also, expand their knowledge of repertoire by introducing the student to and demonstrating differing styles of music on the piano.
Also they say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Come to taste the pudding at the Gasparilla Inn inBoca Grande,Fl. There, I regularly entertain heads of state, VIP’s, and former US Presidents with their families. This is my 7th year at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande playing their Steinways. Click on events for dates and times. My goal as a pianist is to honor the memory of my own teacher, Mischa Kottler. I feel proud to be part of a wonderful tradition. I hope my students will feel the same way when they study.
David to play the Steinways at the Gasparilla Inn
December 18, 2015 @ 6:00 pm – March 27, 2016 @ 9:30 pm
Piano Lessons in Sarasota for the Beginner
Beginning students get the benefit of my years teaching both boys and girls. I have observed and put into practice ways that deal with the differences between how boys and girls respond to learning music. My approach is to give my students a piece of music that they will enjoy learning and playing as soon as possible so I can teach them what they need to know in a positive framework. The basics to be taught are:
Learning the notes on the keyboard, where middle C is, and what the white notes and black notes are named.
Proper hand position and healthy playing habits to prevent possible future problems and even damage.. Because I was taught and learned the proper hand positioning, in over fifty years of playing, I have been spared trips to the doctor for such problems as carpel tunnel.
Introduction to reading music which includes:
quick recognition of notes/pitches written in both the treble and bass staves,
the different kinds of notes (such as whole, half, quarter, eighth…etc. dotted, tied….),
the time signature,
sharps, flats and key signature
beginning knowledge of dynamic marking such as loud and soft, crescendo, decrescendo
recognition of phrase markings, use of staccato and other musical notations
Beginning fingering and coordination of using both hands together to play music.
Introduction to scales
Piano Lessons in Sarsota for the Intermediate Student
The Intermediate student will have some competency in sight reading the accurate note and rhythms written and coordinating both hands on the keyboard. Also, the intermediate student will understand the expression marks, and have some understanding of phrasing.
We will cover:
Works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Joplin and other intermediate pieces by popular composers.
Major and minor scales, arpeggios, and practice rules of fingering such as the prepared thumb
Basics of music theory and chord progressions
If desired, beginning composition
How to employ varying stylistic approaches for works by different composers, and the rhythmic emphasis in works such as waltz, tango, ragtime, tarantella, etc…
Piano Lessons in Sarasota for the Advanced Student
If you have spent many years playing piano, I have much to offer. I advocate and continue to use proper touch, posture, and fingerings to keep the hands and arms healthy so the fingers are able to play for hours at a time without fatigue.
My philosophy of playing is to make the melody shine by developing a beautiful singing tone while keeping the accompaniment in service of the melody. Fingering is a tremendous aid in overcoming technical problems encountered in the virtuoso piano pieces.
I share my knowledge of:
Advanced techniques for fingering that enhance smooth and legato playing.
A practice program that includes preliminary warm ups, exercises that develop speed and the layered playing involved in counterpoint.
How to develop a beautiful singing tone on the piano.
Mastering legato and staccato octaves
Special stretching exercises for the fingers.
For performance, I guide and help with individual interpretations to make them appealing to an audience.
If you are interested in signing up for lessons, please feel free to call.