Beethoven’s Innovative Prepared Thumb:

Mischa Kotler, David's piano instructor and official pianist of the Detroit Symphony for 30 years.
Mischa Kotler, David’s piano instructor and official pianist of the Detroit Symphony for 30 years.

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.

 

piano lessons sarasota

Piano Lessons in Sarasota Florida

PIANO LESSONS IN SARASOTA FL

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.

My own teacher Mischa Kottler playing an exclusive “Minute Waltz”.

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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.

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La Cathédrale Engloutie by Claude Debussy Concert Pianist David Ohrenstein plays La Cathédrale Engloutie by Claude Debussy. Filmed at the Glenridge Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, Florida.http://dsoworks.com/ Please watch me on youtube,

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 pmMarch 27, 2016 @ 9:30 pm

gasparilla inn

 

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:

  1. Learning the notes on the keyboard, where middle C is, and what the white notes and black notes are named.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  1. Beginning fingering and coordination of using both hands together to play music.
  2. 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:

  1. Works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Joplin and other intermediate pieces by popular composers.
  2. Major and minor scales, arpeggios, and practice rules of fingering such as the prepared thumb
  3. Basics of music theory and chord progressions
  4. Ear training
  5. If desired, beginning composition
  6. 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:

  1. Advanced techniques for fingering that enhance smooth and legato playing.
  2. A practice program that includes preliminary warm ups, exercises that develop speed and the layered playing involved in counterpoint.
  3. How to develop a beautiful singing tone on the piano.
  4. Mastering legato and staccato octaves
  5. Special stretching exercises for the fingers.
  6. 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.