Please find other with this

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Delmark DVD's

Nicole Mitchell's Black Unstoppable - Live at the Velvet Lounge; Ari Brown - Live at the Green Mill (both Delmark, 2007)

Flautist and composer Nicole Mitchell has been a rising star on the Chicago jazz scene for several years now. Recording for Dave Douglas's Greenleaf label and now the quintessential Windy City label Delmark, she has made her breakthrough. Her music is a unique mixture of hard bop and free jazz, seasoned with some rhythm and blues and gospel. It is accessible and enjoyable and it is clear that the live audience is enjoying it considerably. She is served very well by the DVD, as the band (including Chicago scene stalwarts Jeff Parker on guitar, and Josh Abrams on bass) is always in motion and fun to watch. "The Creator Has Other Plans for Me" checks a classic Pharoah Sanders composition, but takes it in a different direction as percussion propels the music forward. "Thanking the Universe" and specially "Life Wants You to Love" feature the vocals of Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, who sings powerfully and well. Mitchell has become quite active in the AACM and is easy to see why by watching this DVD, her open ended and questing music is grounded by a sense of history and deep respect for the blues.

Saxophonist and composer Ari Brown leads a powerful sextet on his DVD. Heavily influenced by John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and other luminaries of the 1960's, the band is steeped in the history of African American music, but are in no way a nostalgia group, the music that the performon this disc is strong, powerful and vital. Brown plays tough, gritty tenor and soprano saxophone and spars in a friendly manner with fellow front line musician, trumpeter Pherez Whitfield. The rhythym section of Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef ben Israel on bass, Avreeal Ra on drums and Dr. Cruz on percussion carves a deep pocket for the music to groove on. This band is all business throughout, playing classy strong acoustic jazz. But don't miss Brown channelling a little Rahsaan Roland Kirk on "Two Gun V" by playing two saxophones simultaneously.

Both of these discs come with extra commentary tracks from the musicians which are quite revealing about their art and lives, and there are well written liner note essays included as well. Delmark has hit on a successful formula in their DVD releases. The camera work and editing is pretty bare bones, but that allows the musicians to do the talking without being overwhelmed by any technical wizardry. Recording in small local venues around Chicago also gives uniquer insight into the vibrant music scene of that great city.

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Various Artists – Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab (Blue Note, 2008)

This rather spurious collection brings together some of the tracks recorded for Blue Note records that have been most widely sampled by the hip-hop community. There’s some good music to be found here, especially in the grinding organ and sweet alto saxophone solo found on Lou Donaldson’s opener “It’s Your Thing” and on the Brother Jack McDuff organ groover “Oblighetto.” I have a soft spot for the funk Grant Green recorded during his second tenure with Blue Note, and “Down Here On the Ground” has some fine guitar playing. But none of these good tracks can make up for the disaster of Donald Byrd’s disco debacle “Think Twice”, a horror show of sickeningly sweet vocals, and cheesy stings. It’s no surprise that Blue Note’s music is revered by hip-hop practitioners, all thoughtful music fans have a special place in their hearts for the music made by this historic label. That feeling of affection would expand even more if they would stop releasing unnecessary collections like this and instead spend their time and money promoting young, talented and living musicians.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, February 14, 2016


I have, over the years made many dramatic changes to the ways I was taught to practice. In most occasions the changes came about due to external circumstances that had nothing to do with the piano, and which forced me to practice in a different way.

In a few cases they came about because I heard about them (either from other pianists or from reading), I tried them out, found out that they worked better and adopted them.

If I had to select the three most important in terms of their staggering consequences, these would be the ones I would choose:

1. Practice in small segments, sometimes as short as 10 – 15 minutes. I used to practice for hours on end. Yet my playing was completely mediocre in spite of the heavy investment in time. Then, due to some unforeseen events, I was not able to practice for more than a few minutes uninterrupted. So instead of practicing for three-four hours solid, now I was forced to do several 10 –15 minute sessions a day. In the beginning I panicked and fretted. And yet, as the weeks passed, something remarkable happened: not only such small sessions were not having any of the devastating effects I believed they would, as my playing started to improve perceptibly. This was many, many years ago. Since then I have never put more than 30 – 40 minutes of practice (at the piano) in one single session. My playing – rather than suffering – improved enormously. And there are days in which I do not play at all, without any perceivable consequences.

2. Practice the music, not the playing. The obsession with speed, bravura feats of piano athleticism and so on are well known within the forum. However if you let your technique be dictated by the musical requirements of the piece, you will find out (like I did) that the playing improves astonishingly.

3. Do not skip steps, do not look for shortcuts. I really got to grips with this one as a result of teaching. Teaching forces you to go step-by-step over the same piece repeatedly with each student. I started noticing that the pieces I taught were the ones I really excelled at. An honest comparison between these pieces and the ones I was working on by myself showed that I was skipping a lot of steps and cutting a lot of corners on my pieces, while with the ones I was teaching, the teaching situation basically forced me into the proper discipline. Since this realization (many years ago), I have incorporated this into my practice routine, which basically means that after learning a piece, I learn it again from scratch step by step. By the third-fourth learning, the piece is so thoroughly ingrained that even if I stop playing it for a couple of years I can still play it perfectly.


A physics professor arrived at his lesson one day carrying a large cylindrical glass bowl and three cloth bags. This immediately aroused the curiosity of the students.

The professor then announced to the class:

“Today we will be examining space and time.”

He put the cylindrical bowl on his desk, and proceeded to fill it with large rocks from one of the cloth bags. When it was filled to the brim, he turned to the class and asked:

“Is the bowl totally full?”

The class agreed that the bowl had been filled to the brim.

The professor then reached for the second cloth back and emptied its contents on the rock-full bowl. It was gravel, which slipped through the spaces in between the rocks and filled it all.

“Is the bowl full now?” He again enquired from the class. Most agreed it was, although a few were not so sure anymore, after all there was still a cloth bag the professor had not used. And right they were, for the professor reached for the third cloth bag, which was full of sand and emptied into the bowl. And again, the dry sand easily slipped in between the rocks and gravel to fill every available space.

“What about now?”

This time – and considering that there were no more bags left, the whole class unanimously agreed the bowl must be full.

The professor then, reached for his briefcase and produced six bottles of beer, which (to some of the students horror) he proceeded to empty on the glass bowl. And of course the beer easily accommodated itself in the spaces amongst the rocks, the gravel, and the sand.

The professor then turned to the class and concluded:

“As you can see, no matter how full your life might be, there is always space for some beer.”

“Ah! Yes, one more thing. Our time in this life is limited, as is the space in this bowl. So make sure you put the rocks first.”

I have four big rocks in my life, and music is one of them. Finally consider this thought:

By taking piano lessons for the first time we are registering within ourselves a desire to make progress. We must always take responsibility for that progress, for that which we seek lies not in the music school. Nor can it be found in Vienna or Julliard. Your teachers do not own it, nor can they give it to you. You cannot buy it or take it from someone else. What we are searching for when we sit at the piano in the heat of the summer or the frost of the winter is within us all the time. What is missing for most is the ability to appreciate it


It is simple. The fastest way to acquire technique is to identify the most difficult bars of a piece and work on them first of all. Any experienced pianist /teacher knows (or should know) that. Most inexperienced pianists/students ignore this (even if they have been told many times).

So, imagine for a moment Professor Czerny trying to teach his young and headstrong pupil, 10 year old Franz Liszt to play a Beethoven sonata. Franz is impatient. He wants to start at the beginning and go to the end of the piece (he can already sight read well). He does not want to spend time repeating over an over that single bar with arpeggios in the left hand. What is more, Professor Czerny is never happy. Not only he wants to Franz to repeat the arpeggio endless times, as he now wants him to do it with different rhythms, different accents, transposing in all keys. And this is just one bar, for crying out loud!

Professor Czerny is not indifferent to young Franz predicament. He remembers his own lessons with Herr Beethoven, the famous musicus. No exercises. Just a piece thrown onto his lap and the direction: Bring it ready next week. Not much discussion of technique at all, but oh! What interpretation insights! Yet he was grateful for his previous teacher to have told him many of the little practice tricks he now tries to impart to his own students and that allowed him to master the difficult pieces Herr Beethoven assigned to him. Has it to be like this? Dry technical tricks on one side, and beautiful interpretation on the other with no middle ground in between?

That is when he has an epiphany: The left hand has to endless repeat that arpeggio, so why not add a simple melody on the right hand to make things a bit more fun? Yes, why not write a little piece that will incorporate all the repetitions, all the rhythm variations, all the accent variations and so on? Yes, little Liszt will be so excited when I show him this!

And so professor Czerny sets to work. He believes Herr Beethoven’s 32 sonatas to be the pinnacle of piano music. So he sets out to identify and isolate every single difficulty he can find in these sonatas. And around each difficulty he builds up a little pleasant tune so that the task of learning these monumental works of music will be nothing but fun!

And he proceeds to compose over 50 000 of those fun pieces. For generations of students to come to have fun in the process of learning the piano.

Unfortunately for Professor Czerny (and all music pedagogues that came up with the same ideas) there are a lot of problems with this approach:

1. No one finds Czerny (or technical exercises) fun. Granted, they may be more fun than the alternative approach (work on the difficult bars without musical context), but this is more or less like saying that going to dentist is fun since he has all those nice magazines on the waiting room.

2. A Czerny study is completely specific to the Beethoven sonata difficult passage it was meant to conquer. Just playing any exercise – or set of them – will not help technique in general, because there is no such thing as technique in general. Technique is always specific to the piece you are working on. True, octaves, trills, scales and the like are common enough in most pieces, but even then they may have to be played differently according to context.

3. Czerny left no instructions on how to use such exercises. This is of course part of a tradition of secrecy amongst guilds of musicians/teachers in past centuries. You may buy the scores, but you still need the teacher to make it work. So once you have played all the 32 Beethoven sonatas perfectly and acquired all the technique, if you go back to Czerny it will be pretty obvious which exercises are taken from which sonatas. But then you will not need them anymore anyway! So if you are to benefit from them you need a knowledgeable teacher. But this is almost impossible to find since the knowledge was passed from Czerny to his pupils, and as the emphasis on teaching went from technique to interpretation at the start of the 20th century, the tradition was lost. Leschetizky may have been the last one who really knew this stuff, but since he never took on beginners, and since he rarely taught technique (Although Paderevsky was put on a regimen of Czerny for a couple of years) it all died with him.

4. Therefore, most likely your teacher will be giving you a Czerny exercise that has no connection whatsoever with any difficult passage of specific pieces. Go on, ask your teacher: Why am I doing this study? If the answer is: because your assigned piece this summer is the Moonlight sonata, and this particular exercise will get you through bars 1 – 4 of the third movement, the teacher knows what s/he is talking about. If the answer is on the lines of: “It is good for you, it will develop your technique” s/he knows nothing. (S/he can still be a good teacher, but you will waste a lot of time doing things for no purpose whatsoever). What if the teacher reply is: “This study is good to develop your facility with double thirds”. That is better than the previous answer, but then you must ask (most of all yourself): “Does any of my pieces requires double thirds?” If you have no piece currently on your repertory that requires double thirds, why should you be doing this exercise? This may uncover the teacher’s hidden philosophy that one should spend time acquiring all kinds of irrelevant (for the moment) techniques to be (or not to be) used at a later date. And this is really bad philosophy.

5. Although Czerny is better than Hanon (which in my opinion is not only useless but also completely misguided – don’t get me started on that one!) the sad truth is that as music, Czerny studies are crap. Would you perform them for friends and family? Would you like to share them with anyone? Actually there are a couple of them that I actually like, but I never played them for their “study” value, but simply because I like the music. Compare with Chopin etudes. Yes, they are studies, but they are also superb pieces on their own right (and in fact you probably need easier studies to acquire the technique to play them). And if you want easier studies, then go for Burgmuller, Heller and Eggeling which are actually musically satisfying.

6. But now not only you have to learn your assigned pieces, as you have to learn studies that may or may not have any relevance at all to the technique you need in your pieces (more often than not they will be irrelevant).

So what is the alternative?

1. Find a piece you desperately want to be able to play. This is your job . It is not your teacher’s job. Your teacher cannot divine your tastes. If you are assigned pieces you don’t like it is your own fault. Notice that a piece you want desperately to be able to play may or may not be a piece you like. But want to play it you must. Simply because without such compelling inner need you will not be bothered to learn and practise it.

2. Identify the most difficult passage in the piece: all the technique you will ever need to acquire to play the whole piece will be in that passage. It is usually short, and it does not occur too often in the piece (this is true even for advanced pieces). This is your teacher’s job . This is what you pay him/her for. S/he must be able to point out to you straight away the difficult passages. S/he must be able to show and teach you all sorts of practice tricks that will assist you in mastering the difficult passage as quickly and painlessly as possible. S/he must be able to provide you with a choice of movement patterns that will get the job done. S/he must be able to observe your playing and tell you exactly what you are doing – if it is right or wrong – and to assist you in correcting the wrong stuff. With such an approach technical exercises may not be needed at all. The technical exercise will actually consist on the several ways you are working on the difficult passage. If a technical exercise is assigned (and in some circumstances they are helpful) it must have a direct bearing on the difficulty you are trying to master.

3. It is your job (no one else can do it for you) to follow your teacher’s instructions in [2] above to the letter.

4. Therefore you must trust your teacher completely. You must admire him/her. You must worship him/her. I expect nothing else from my students (not that I get it though ). And the reason for this is simple: you will not follow instructions from someone you do not regard as a master.

We are talking of course of beginners or intermediate students.

The difference between beginner/intermediate and advanced level is not on the difficulty of the pieces one can play, but on the ability of the student to do all the above work without the close supervision of a teacher.

If your teacher still needs to tell you where the difficult passages are and how to work on them you are still a beginner and not ready for advanced classes. On the other hand there is something very wrong with a teacher that treats you as an advanced student (by dropping a piece in your lap and telling you to bring it ready for the next lesson) when you are not one


Also, my interest in analysis is not "academic" or "theoretical", but completely pragmatic.

The main problem facing students of any subject, is that as they are introduced to their subject of study, they are being given a solution, but for most of the time, the problem it solves is not at all clear. “Why am I learning this?” “Why do I have to do this?” are usual voicings of this dissatisfaction, which is mostly experienced as a lack of direction, a lack of meaning.

Although there are other problems that are solved by analysis, my interest in it is purely pragmatic: I do it – and suggest that my students do it – solely in order to better perform a piece. So the analysis that we do on pieces is neither complete nor necessarily correct from an academic point of view. I suggest my students to use it for the problems it aims to solve, and if their interest runs deeper, that they use it as a starting point in their theoretical interests (for instance, Schenkerian Analysis is mostly useless for the pragmatical aim of performing a piece - even though it is a very interesting theoretical tool - so I rarely use it). In short, I expect the students to delve deeper and complement and correct the analysis we go through initially as their musical knowledge increases.

A parallel I often draw is with Mathematics. When, as a child, you are first taught to count and add and subtract, you are told that you cannot subtract a larger number form a smaller number. 3 – 5 makes no sense. However, on the next year, you are told that such an operation is indeed possible, and that it creates a whole new set of numbers: the relative numbers. You are then shown how to operate in this new field. Later you will learn that square roots of negative numbers are impossible, just to be told that they are in fact possible and that a whole new set of numbers – complex numbers – is needed to operate on square roots of negative numbers.

It is not that your first teacher “lied” to you, or that he taught you wrong. Rather, he limited your field of learning, so that you would ingrain the basic rules. These basic rules are still valid as subsequent teachers expanded the field. The rules of subtraction and addition still hold with relative numbers.

Likewise, students are given a limited view of the field of analysis. They may come across statements that may prove to be limited and limiting (and even false) when they get more knowledge (“you cannot subtract a larger number form a small number” when in fact you can). The reason the subject in imparted in this way, is that otherwise, one may get the impression, both in music as in mathematics, that “anything goes”, when the very opposite is true. Both music and mathematics are highly organised fields that are constantly expanding and yet keeping the basic rules.

Different pieces will respond better to certain kinds of analysis than others. As the variety in your repertory increases, so should the analytical tools at your disposal.

Just to give you an example of the "problem/solution" approach, consider harmonic analysis. If I do a harmonic analysis of a piece, this analysis should be/provide a solution for a set of problems. These are the problems I set ou to solve with my harmonic analysis:

i. Name and recognize all chords in the piece, as well as their inversions. (Why? because it is a great way to learn about chords in general. It also furthers sight-reading through pattern recognition. And finally, being able to name is the first step to knowing what you are naming).

ii. Recognize recurring chord progressions. (Why? Because it shows that any piece is highly repetitive and patterned. Soon you will recognize that particular chord progression in other pieces and this will accelerate learning. The same chord progression can now be used in free improvisation and composing, and both activities are going to give you the greatest insight possible into the mind of a composer).

iii. Identify the underlying keys (scales) in the piece. (Why? Because in tonal music the notion of key is fundamental. Besides, it also shows which scales one should practice in tandem with the piece so that everything ties up: learning the piece, the practice of scales and the understanding that notes in a piece are not the fancy of the composer, but rather come form a hierarchically organized set of sounds: the scale).

iv. Identify the scale degrees from where the melodic notes and chords are derived and by so doing make explicit the degree hierarchy at work in the piece. (As above. Notice that atonal music poses a different set of problems, and trying to find out about underlying keys is going to be the inappropriate approach - a different sort of analysis is needed)

v. Identify modulations, the place where they occur and the means by which the composer made the transition from one key to the next, keeping in mind that in most cases composers intentionally aim to hide and disguise such transitions. (Modulation is the major compositional tool employed since equal temperament became available and all keys became equally usable by the composer. Identifying the places where modulation occurs has direct import on interpretation - are you going to call the attention of your audience to those points, or are you going to hide them? Often composers change keys in a subtle way. They hide the harmonic structure of their pieces, so to speak. This kind of analysis makes such structure visible. You are now in the position of using this knowledge to make informed choices - the alternative is to have an "intuitive"intepretation where you play in a certain way guided by your "emotions", and you do not have a clue why your emotions are taking you in that particular direction).

vi. Identify cadences – since they signal the phrase structure of the piece – a major consideration for interpretation. (as above)

Now I suggest that you start making a similar list of problems for other kinds of analysis (e.g. modal analysis, motif analysis, counterpoint analysis, fugue analysis, etc.). Further I suggest that you restrict such problems to the ones that will have a direct import on the performance of the piece (at least that is my interest). A musicologist will come up with a very different set of problems, and therefore his analysis is bound to answer those problems, which most likely will not be a performer’s problems. Hence however "useful" the analysis maybe from a musicological point of view, most likely it will have no relevance for a performer trying to tackle the performer´s , main problems:

i. learning the piece;
ii. memorizing the piece;
iii. acquiring the technique to play the piece;
iv. making interpretative decisions in relation to the piece.

Any analysis that helps with these problems should be actively pursued. Likewise, any analysis - however interesting from other points of view - that does not, should be ignored. It is simply an issue of time and efficiency. If your goal is to acquire repertory on the most efficient and rapid way, analysis should be a tool to that end.


1.To keep practicing what one already knows.

2.To play a piece from beginning to end several times (with mistakes) instead of stopping and dealing with the mistakes once and forever.

3.To work without a short/medium/long term plan. Or in other words: to jump form piece to piece without ever perfecting any. Working in such a way that the daily work does not add to anything at the end of a week/month/year.

4.To practice without a clear and specific aim for every practice session.

5.To practice mechanically (which often means unintelligently), that is, no thought is given to the possibility that the practice strategy being used may be unsuitable for the problem.

6.To practice by time rather than for results.

7.To constantly rush through pieces at top speed.

8.To try to tackle pieces that are too difficult. To try to tackle sections of a piece that are too large for a practice session. To try to learn a whole piece in ten minutes.

9.To stop practicing the moment you get it right. (it is when you get it right that you should start practicing!)

10.To practice mechanically without focus, concentration or mindfulness.

11.To keep changing fingerings.

12.Always starting to learn a piece from the beginning, and then never finishing it.

13.Avoiding the difficult bits of a piece and leaving them to learn/practice last.

14.Practicing a piece in section but not overlapping them, so that when the time comes to join the bits, there is an inbuilt hesitation at the seams.

15.Playing only by memory.

16.Playing only by reading the music.

17.Playing only by ear.

18.Procrastinating practice.

19.Bad posture.

20.Angling the hand to help the thumb reach the keys (this puts pressure on the carpal tunnel on the outside of the wrist, and may eventually cause carpal tunnel syndrome).

21.Misaligning the joints from the shoulder girdle down to the nail joint.

22.Breaking the nail joint (either way)

23.Using the heels of the hands to support the weight of the body on the piano (this is usually caused by having the feet tucked under the bench – another very bad habit)


It takes between 20 – 40 daily 20 minutes practice sessions for someone who has never seen this kind of piece to master it. Here is the scheme I use:

10 practice sessions (15 – 20 minutes each) to master the motif score:
Session 1: bars 1- 2.
Session 2: bars 3 – 4.
Session 3: bars 11 – 12.
Session 4: bars 1 – 4 & 11 – 12.
Session 5: bars 5 & 7 – 10.
Session 6: bars 1 – 12.
Session 7: bars 13 & 15 – 18.
Session 8: bars 1 – 18.
Session 9: bars 19 – 21.
Session 10: bars 1 – 21 (the whole piece).

14 practice sessions to master the piece with separate hands.
Session 11 - bars 1 – 2 (Add first beat of bar 3.)
Session 12 - bars 3 – 4 (Add first beat of bar 5.)
Session 13 - bars 5 – 6 (Add first beat of bar 7.)
Session 14 - bars 1 – 6 (Add first beat of bar 7.)
Session 15 - bars 7 – 10 ( Add first beat of bar 11.)
Session 16 - bars 1 – 10 (Add first beat of bar 11.)
Session 17 - bars 11 – 12 (Add first eat of bar 13.)
Session 18 - bars 1 – 12 (Add first eat of bar 13.)
Session 19 – bars 13 – 14 (Add first beat of bar 15)
Session 20 – bars 1 –14 (Add first eat of bar 15.)
Session 21 – bars 15 – 18 (Add first eat of bar 19.)
Session 22 – bars 1- 18 (Add first eat of bar 19.)
Session 23 – bars 19 – 22
Session 24 - bars 1 – 22 (the whole piece)

15 practice sessions to master the piece with hands together:
Session 25 - bars 19 – 22.
Session 26 - bars 15 – 18 (Add first beat of bar 19.)
Session 27 - bars 15 – 22.
Session 28 - bars 13 – 14 (Add first beat of bar 15.)
Session 29 - bars 13 – 22.
Session 30 - bars 11 – 12 (Add first beat of bar 13.)
Session 31 - bars 11 – 22.
Session 32 - bars 7 – 10 (Add first beat of bar 11.)
Session 33 – bars 7 – 22.
Session 34 – bars 5 –6 (Add first beat of bar 7.)
Session 35 – bars 6 – 22.
Session 36 – bars 3- 4 (Add first beat of bar 5.)
Session 37 - bars 3 – 22
Session 38 – bars 1- 2 (Add first beat of bar 3.)
Session 39 - bars 1 – 22 (the whole piece)

18 day plan
Day 1: session 1 – session 2 – session 3 (3 practice sessions/day)
Day 2: [session 4] – session 5 (2 practice sessions/day)
Day 3: [session 6] – session 7
Day 4: [session 8] – session 9
Day 5: [session 10] Session 10 – session 11 – session 12 – session 13 (4 practice sessions/day)
Day 6: [Session 10 – session 14] - session 15 (2 practice sessions /day)
Day 7: [Session 10 – session 16] – session 17 (2 practice sessions/day)

Day 8: [Session 10 – session 18] – session 19
Day 9: [Session 10 – session 20] – session 21
Day 10: [Session 10 – session 22 – session 23
Day 11: [Session 10 – session 24] – session 25 - session 26
Day 12: [Session 10 – session 24 – session 27] – session 28 (2 practice sessions)
Day 13: [Session 10 – session 24 - session 29] – session 30

Day 14: [session 10 – session 24 - session 31] - session 32
Day 15: [session 10 – session 24 – session 33] - session 34
Day 16: [session 10 – session 24 – session 35] - session 36
Day 17: [session 10 – session 24 – session 37] – session 38
Day 18: [session 10 – session 24 – session 39]


One of the causes of hesitation is when practicing a section students don’t overlap sections and a result of this they hesitate when going from one section to another.

It is very important that when practicing you overlap sections. Sometimes a single note added at the end of a bar is not enough. Use a whole bar as overlap (or even a whole phrase). This means adding the first bar (or first phrase) of section 2 at the end of section 1, and adding the last bar (or last phrase) of section1 at the start of section 2. Once you can do these two (enlarged) sections without problems, you should have no hesitation when joining them.

Hesitation typically occurs for two other main reasons:

1. You do not know the music well enough, so you do not know where to go next. This is particularly the case with fast passages. The way out is to memorize the music (and by this I do not mean being able to play without the score – you can use the score as a reference even though you have memorized the music).

2. A far more common reason however, has to do with too many options. This is a technical problem. As you repeat a passage, if you keep changing the fingering, or if you use a different movement every repetition, your brain will be undecided about which option to use when it gets to the passage in question. Therefore you hesitate. So when doing repeats of the offending section, make sure they are indeed repeats, that is, you must repeat exactly the same movements and use exactly the same fingerings. Fingerings and movements are not written in stone. Spend time investigating the best movements/fingerings for your physicality and for the musical result you are after. However once you reach a decision, stick by it and use your focus and concentration to make sure that you are indeed repeating these movements and fingerings. In other words, hesitation may be simply the result of sloppy practicing.


1.Wrong attitude: To practice to get it right.
Why is it wrong to practice to get it right? Because the moment you get it right you loose your motivation to keep practice. A lot of students will fight with a piece for ages and then finally get it right and immediately stop practicing it. The consequence is that their unconscious will have accumulated all the numerous wrong repeats against the one single correct event. At pressure guess which version is going to spring from the unconscious? You can bet it will be the wrong one.

Correct alternative attitude: To practice to never ever get it wrong.

2.Wrong attitude: To consider a piece “difficult.”
Some students are fascinated and deeply impressed by pieces they consider “difficult”. They want to play those pieces, and they want to be seen playing a “difficult piece”. As a consequence, they expect the “difficult” piece to be “difficult” to play, and therefore they feel somehow cheated if it turns out that the piece was actually quite easy to play after all. The idea of “effort” gets built up in the practice. The result: the piece sounds labored, and looks like a lot of effort is involved in plying it.

Correct alternative attitude: No piece is difficult. A piece is either impossible or easy, and the difference is correct practice.

As a consequence of this correct attitude, the aim of practice becomes to make the piece easy. Difficulty does not enter the equation any more. Either you can play it with ease, or you can’t play it at all. No piece is ready until it has become easy. But it will not become easy by itself. You have to figure out what to do, which movements to use, etc. so that it becomes indeed easy.

3.Wrong attitude: To believe one has exhausted all practice approaches to a piece.
Lots of student sight read through a piece and come up with a reasonable (but far from acceptable) rendition. They are then lured into a false sense of confidence: “This is easy”. So they never bother in doing all the work they would do with a piece that they would regard as impossible. As a consequence they are forever sight –reading the piece and producing a less than acceptable performance. Repeating the same mistakes and in-building bad habits. I knew a guy once who had been playing (badly) Bach’s 2 voice invention no.8 for some 5 – 6 years. He just could not be bothered to work on it properly. And he kept moaning how he could not master this piece even after 6 years of practicing it. When I pointed out that he actually had never really practiced it he was deeply offended.

Correct attitude: Approach every piece with the same degree of seriousness. Leave no leaf unturned. Go the whole way.

Ultimately these bad attitudes ultimately refer to aim. Whatever is it that you want, you must aim at it. If you do not aim at your piece being completely without mistakes; if you don’t aim at making it easy to play, if don’t aim at perfection, is it that surprising that you don’t get it?


1.Wrong notes.

2.Wrong rhythm (rhythm taken in its most basic definition as relative time values of notes)

3.Wrong accents.

4.Wrong movements.

5.Playing at the edge of the keys

6.Reaching for the notes with the fingers, rather than let the arms move the fingers into position.

7.Using unnecessary muscles movements.

8.Thinking that relaxation is the key, when actually it has nothing to do with relaxation (relax completely and you will fall to the floor).

9.Long nails.

10.Misaligned joints.

11.Bad posture.

12.Wrong dynamics.

13.Wrong pedaling.

14.Wrong practice.

15.Being too impatient and trying pieces you are not ready for.

16.Being too shy and sticking to only easy pieces you know you can play.

17.Not following a teacher’s advice (at least to see if what he says is true or not).

18.Forgetting to breathe – and most times wrong breathing.

19.Grimacing unnecessarily, and thinking that this adds “emotion” to your playing.

20.Curling fingers too much.

21.Flattening fingers too much.

22.Wrong fingering.

23.Changeable fingering (that is using a different fingering every time you play the same passage).

24.Not tuning the piano frequently.

25.Not using a metronome in the appropriate circumstances.

26.Using the metronome in inappropriate circumstances.

27.Not taking care of your overall physical fitness.

28.Wrong diet.

29.Wrong lifestyle.

30.Hanging around with the wrong crowd.

31.Believing you will be able to get by without a teacher just by reading/listening to CD'S/watching videos and surfing the net.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.


In order to understand the role of concentration in practice, it is necessary to understand two points:

1. Piano playing is not complicated or difficult, but it is incredibly complex. This means that it consists of a large number of tasks, each isolated task in itself pretty simple and easy. It is the sheer number of tasks and the order in which they must be performed that makes piano playing complex – and apparently difficult, but the difficulty is mostly an illusion. In order to play the piano effortlessly and with great ease all you need to do is thoroughly master each and all of the simple, easy tasks, and then put them together in the correct order. The main reason why most people seem to get stuck is because they have not fully mastered the simple tasks and are trying to go to the next level of complexity straight away, or because they have not assembled the simple components in the correct order. Sometimes both.

2. It is not possible to keep more than 7± 2 chunks of information in your consciousness. The moment you add an extra chunk, some chunk presently in your conscious mind must drop to the unconscious to make space.

From 1 and 2, it follows that you cannot possibly play the piano and be conscious of each and all individual simple component that make up the complex act of playing the piano: Piano playing must be done in large part by the unconscious mind.

But that is absolutely fine: The unconscious is perfectly fit for the job. In fact, consciousness is not needed at all except for the very important task of programming the unconscious

I like to compare the conscious and unconscious mind to a person living in a huge underground bunker. All facilities are available there: living space, kitchen, swimming pool, a huge library with every book ever written, CDs, CD players, you get the idea.

However, there is no light in this underground bunker. It is pitch black. The only source of light is a little torchlight this person in the bunker carries with him. This little torchlight can only illuminate a tiny portion of the bunker. But, if the person is systematic about it, he can explore the whole bunker and benefit from all that is in there by carefully directing the torch light to the different parts of the bunker and examining each room in turn. In fact, if he does this job well, he may even be able to comfortably go around the bunker with no light at all.

Now the bunker is the unconscious mind: huge, vast and full of untold treasures and knowledge. But it is all in the dark. Pitch black (it is not called the unconscious for nothing). The light from the torch is consciousness: it throws light and brings to visual perception tiny aspects of the vast bunker. It cannot illuminate more than a few items at a time. For it to illuminate some new item, some previous item will have to drop back into darkness. Finally the act of directing the torch here and there is the faculty of attention.

You can see how it is possible for someone who is systematic and disciplined to actually explore the whole bunker. You can also see how easy it is to actually waste a lot of time getting nowhere fast. For instance by not turning the torch on, Or by turning the torch on but keeping it fixed in a single point in the wall. Or by moving the torch wildly in all directions so that you can never get any good view of anything.

Keeping the torch fixated on a single object is of course important: that is concentration. But never moving the torch is absurd: that is obsession.

Now we can go back to the importance of concentration in piano practice.

People may say: practice without concentration is a waste of time. That is true, but it s also trivial. One must go deeper. One must first answer the question: concentrate on what? Since you can only concentrate (keep in consciousness immobile) on a few items, this is the most important question to be answered. It defines the aim of your practice. You may decide that you are going to concentrate on the correct fingering. That is your aim for the moment. So you put all your attention into getting the right finger on the right note. And why should you do it? Because, as you repeat, whatever you repeat is going to be ingrained in your unconscious, so you better make sure you are ingraining the correct thing. Once the correct fingering has been ingrained in your unconscious, you do not need to pay attention to it any more. You do not need to concentrate on it anymore. You will do the correct fingering automatically (which is very different from mechanically). If you do not consciously pay attention and concentrate on the fingering you cannot be sure of what is there, programmed into your unconscious mind. But your ultimate purpose is not to forever be conscious of fingering. Quite the opposite: you want the correct fingering to become unconscious and automatic as soon as possible. And the way to do it is – paradoxically - to be utterly conscious of it to begin with.

As soon as the fingering is correctly programmed in the unconscious, let your automatic pilot deal with it, and put your conscious attention on another component, say, the correct notes at the correct time. And so on and so forth. So practice becomes a careful programming of a myriad number of simple components into your unconscious. But in order to optimize this programming you must be totally conscious of each component. That is where concentration is needed. Eventually you will not need it at all. Once the piece is ready, you will probably play 99% of the components automatically and be conscious only of the final sound. You may even let the sound be taken care of by the automatic pilot (provided you programmed it well), and just enjoy the music you are making. Since most or all of it is being done by the unconscious, you can devote all of your consciousness to fully enjoy the music.

So concentration (in the sense of conscious focus) is indispensable for practice, but may be a hindrance and ultimately unnecessary for performance.

Czerny study op. 740 no.2

Tempo: Czerny’s own tempo is dotted minim = 60, which works out at 180 /four semiquavers. Scary!

Czerny subtitles this study “The passing under of the thumb”. So we are already starting with the wrong idea. I challenge any pianist to play this study at this speed passing the thumb under (they may tell you they are passing the thumb under, they may even believe that they are doing it. But any slow motion video of their hand movement will show this not to be the case). No, no, no, you must pass the thumb over. In fact you must not pass the thumb at all, you must displace your hand laterally. The best way to do that is to break the arpeggios into chord patterns, and play the whole thing like that.

Bars 37-40, left hand F# arpeggio. This is how to go about it. The arpeggio goes:

F#-A#-C#-F#-A#-C#-F# [and then descending] C#-A#-F#-C#-A#-F# (I am adding the F# from the next bar for purposes of overlapping).

So here is how you acquire the technique to play this arpeggio.

1. Have an aim. In this case the general aim is speed plus complete accuracy.

2. Play each note in isolation. Take your time. Your aim is to get the appropriate finger used to pressing the appropriate black note. So start by playing several times the first F# with the fifth finger. The black key is narrower than the white keys, it is easy to miss it/slip out of it. So try different finger conformations. As a general rule, black notes respond well to flatter fingers. However this is personal. At this stage you are simply investigating what seems to work best for you.

Then proceed to the A# with the third finger. Pay special attention that you “firm” the finger only at the point of contact of the key. Use this first item to investigate the ecapement level (it changes slightly from piano to piano). Remember that after you reach the escapement level you cannot control the hammers any more so you might as well relax. Therefore fingers tighten only for a fraction of a second. Also investigate arm usage at this stage when you are doing a single note at a time. There will be myriads of possible movements. Later on as you add more notes the range of possible movements will be severely restricted.

3. Now move on and play two consecutive notes: F#-A# with fingers 5-3. Start by playing them as chords (it is the fastest you can play any two notes: together).

Try different ways of pressing these keys (from the fingers, from the arms, etc.) Your aim is total accuracy with ease. You will have to control and fine tune the distance between fingers 3 and 5 as well as the degree of curling (as I said you may find that the flatter the fingers the easier it is to press black notes). Aim at the very centre of the key. Also investigate the difference between doing it more to the edge of the key, or more towards the wood.

This looks like a lot of detail, but actually since you are dealing with only two notes, it should take less than a minute to fully investigate everything. Then break the chord and play the two notes slower but still at an unbelievable speed. (It will be slower, since nothing can be faster than together!). Use the arms/forearms to move the fingers. This needs to be demonstrated, but I think you will get it. Then start slowing down so that you can observe more closely this movement: you are now playing in slow motion, you are not playing slowly. As you slow down, make the movement larger, as you speed up, make the movement smaller, but it is still the same movement. This is the most important step: figuring out the movement/sequence of movements that will allow you the sound you want.

Again this takes no time at all, since we are dealing with only two notes. Now move to the next two notes – but not C# and F#, but A# and C# with fingers 3-2. This will create an overlap that as you will see in a moment is crucial for this to work.

Repeat everything you did for F#A#: start as a chord, then break the chord and investigate the movement. You will find this to be easier than the previous one, since fingers 3-2 are fitter than fingers 5-3. Proceed to do the same for C#-F# with fingers 2-1. This will probably the easiest of all movements.

As you can see, by using this procedure you will be automatically practising more the more difficult fingers/positions. Now the next two notes are completely different: F#-A# with finger 1-3. Here you cannot play these notes as a chord, since it is the point at which you must displace the hand laterally. You must use your arm to move the hand and position the fingers from playing F# with finger 1 to playing A# with finger 3.

This is the movement that will ultimately limit your arpeggio speed. All the movements you have done so far can be played at infinite speed (as chords), but this movement cannot be played at infinite speed, since you cannot play it as a chord. So in an even fast arpeggio you will actually have to slow down all the other movements to the fastest speed you can manage for this pair of notes. Therefore, ultimately this is the pair of notes you will really need to work on. After you mastered the basic movement on the other notes, concentrate on these two. Anything else will be a waste of time. Keep working like that until you have covered the full bar (adding the first note of the next bar).

4. Now you are going to start it all over again, but this time instead of working on two notes, you will be working on three notes: F#-A#-C# (easy); A#-C#-F# (easy); C#-F#-A# (difficult on account of the hand displacement); F#-A#-C# (difficult) – A#-C#-F# (easy).

Do each group of three notes both ascending and descending. The easy ones start from a chord position and slow down. The difficult ones are difficult exactly because you cannot play them as chords. Your main aim is the investigation of movement patterns that will allow you top speed and consistent accuracy.

5. Move on to four notes: F#-A#-C#-F#, then A#-C#-F#-A#, then C#-F#-A#-C# and finally F#-A#-C#-F#. You truly worked on the smaller groups, the larger groups should be much easier, since you already drilled the basic movements thousands of times. Again because you are working on such small sections, it should not take more than a couple of minutes on each step (probably less time).

6. Now groups of five notes: F#-A#-C#-F#-A#, then A#-C#-F#-A#-C# and finally C#-F#-A#-C#-F#. by now your fingers should be really flying.

7. Finally the last two groups: F#-A#-C#-F#-A#-C#, and A#-C#-F#-A#-C#-F#.

8. Now you should be able to play the full arpeggio with ease and speed plus total accuracy. The final step is to play the arpeggio several times non stop.

9. The whole process should take something like 30-40 minutes. After that you will know the arpeggio forever, if you do one last thing: repeat exactly the same routine for the next seven days (it will take less time on each succeeding day).

This is the most efficient and powerful method to acquire technique. But no one wants to do it. There is some powerful mental block to it. You have been warned.


This is a common problem for even advanced players. Unfortunately playing with hands together is 37 times more difficult than with hands separate. This is not a technical problem. It is a co-ordination problem. Although some people may say that co-ordination is a technical problem, it is useful to treat it separately. So work on technique with hands separate. Once you have mastered the technique (that is, you can play hands separate perfectly and subconsciously) you will be ready to tackle the co-ordination between hands.

The problem here is the same as when you try to rub your tummy in a circular movement and tap your head at the same time. Try it!

You will see that one hand’s movement keeps interfering with the other hand movement. They both want to move in sympathy. How do you deal with this?

First understand the natural sequence of events: mind (brain) – nerves – muscles. The mind orders, the nerves transmit the orders, the muscles obey. To deal with sympathetic movements you must have a clear mental image of what is it that you are trying to do. Then you must inhibit the sympathy at the level of the nerves. Most people try to deal with this at the muscle level and as a result get more and more tense. It has to be done at the nervous level. How do you do it. I cannot tell you. I don’t know how to tell you. But it doesn’t matter, because you already know how to do it. You are already accomplished in the most amazing feats of co-ordination. Like walking.

Ok. Now for some practical advice. Start rubbing your tummy. Now you are going to pat your head. But don’t start patting like crazy. Do one single pat and stop. Meanwhile keep rubbing your tummy. Your aim is to not let that single pat disturb your tummy rubbing which should be even and regular. Investigate how you can achieve this. Remember that it is not by working on the muscles – so if you are tensing or loosing the evenness of the rubbing movement you are using the (wrong) muscle approach. So try that for a while: rub the tummy and “drop” single pats on your head. When you feel confident start doing two pats. Then three, until you can pat your head and rub the tummy at the same time. Then reverse it. Tap your head evenly and regularly. Then do one single circle in your tummy. Again the aim is to not let that single circular movement interfere with the tapping. Remember, we are talking nerve inhibition here, not muscle tensing.

Have you got it?

Playing with hands together follows exactly the same principle but it is more complex because you have more moving parts to co-ordinate (fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, arms, shoulders).

So – exercises in which both hands do the same thing will be almost useless here. (Sorry, Ilovemusic) These exercises foster sympathetic movement and hand dependence. They are like tapping your tummy and tapping your head. You want independent movement and hand co-ordination. So make sure you really mastered each hand’s movement before trying to join them. Then put one hand – say, the right hand - doing the complete movement – the whole sequence of notes – and “drop” one single note of the left hand. Repeat as many times as needed to get the knack to drop the left hand note without interfering with the right hand movement. Then add the second note. Then the third. Until you can play the whole passage. Then reverse by playing the left hand and dropping the right hand notes. And always remember that you are targetting the nerves, not the muscles.

Try it and tell us how you are coming along.


The rhythm for each beat:


can be counted "One, before and after, Two, before and after," etc, with the accents being for the LH triplets and the "be", "and" & "ter" showing that the RH comes before, in the middle of, and after these LH notes.

Think of the "before" as a crushed note in the RH before the main note in the LH and "after" as the reverse. It works because the words "before" and "after" not only describe the placing of the RH notes relative to the main triplet rhythm, but also give the correct rhythmic sound.

Do this for slow 4 against 3. Make sure the beginnings of each beat coincide.
For fast playing, just concentrate on the beats coinciding.

For 3 against 4, (LH 4 being the main rhythm), you can count "One, after, and, before; ...".

For 3 against 2, say "One, the middle; two the middle; ..."

For 2 against 3, say "One, in between; two in between; ..."


Allemande from French Suite No.1

First of all, most students consider Bach notoriously difficult to memorize.

One of the reasons is that most people memorize without a system. That is, they think “memorizing” is something they were born with. It is “intuitive” (meaning that the whole process happens unconsciously; most people have no idea how they actually go about memorizing something. They just do it), As a consequence most people memorize in a very inefficient manner. It will take me to long to write about efficient memorization, and even longer for you to train yourself to do it. You probably will not have the time to do it and memorize the piece as well.

The other reason is that Bach’s music is composed according to different principles to the ones we grow accustomed to. It is not about a tune and an accompaniment. It is about a motif (a fragment of melody) that is repeated varied and developed in countless ways during the course of the piece. And this is all done by different “voices”. This makes it very difficult to follow by ear: it is done on purpose so that the music, no matter how many times you listen to it, always sound fresh.

Most people when memorizing music, what they are actually doing is memorizing the “sound” of it, and then playing by ear. Another number of people repeat the movements so many times that they develop “hand memory”, that is, their bodies know exactly what to do, and the player has the uncanny experience of seeing his finger hit all the correct notes, while he himself has no idea of what he is playing. A few rare individuals can create a photographic image of the score in their minds and follow it. Finally, you can create a memory for the structure of the music, its architecture, the way it was built. Almost no one bothers with this “architectural” memory unless they are musicologists teaching classes on it. None of these memories are mutually exclusive, and I strongly suggest you work on all of them. The most important is hand memory. It is also the most dangerous, because if you make one single mistake you will have a huge black out and you will need to start all over again form the very beginning hoping that this time around the fingers will comply. At the same time it is the most necessary: without hand memory you simply will not be able to play in any fluent way (even with the score in front of you). So you must back up hand memory with one of the other kinds, preferably with all of them.

So, here is how you go about it:

1. Since you have little time you will need to work intensively on it. This is bad, since memory needs time to settle. You must be extremely organized and completely systematic. You cannot afford to jump all over the place or to plunge head on repeat after repeat hoping for the best.

2. Start by working on structure and architecture. This allemande is built on 4 voices. Your very first step is to rewrite the whole score using 4 staves so that the four voices are clearly visible. You will not play the complete piece from this score, but you will analyze and understand the piece from it. You will also practice each voice separately from it. (And this act of rewriting the score will also help with the memorization process – use a notation software, rather than handwriting).

3. Now you must write the appropriate fingering on every note of this four voice score, and you must practice each voice separately using the correct finger. Adhere to whatever fingering you decide to use. Ingrain this fingering on your subconscious mind by repeating each passage in each voice endless times. By the time you come to work on joining the voices, the correct fingers should automatically go to the appropriate keys. This fingering will be the basis of your hand memory; so do not confuse your unconscious by changing fingers every time you play the same passage. If you have little time to memorize this piece, you cannot afford not to spend whatever time it takes to ingrain the fingering from the start. Take your time over this step. Decide before starting to practice this piece which hand and which finger is going to play each note on each voice.

4. Now start learning each voice separately. You must work with a metronome so that you hold each note for the appropriate length of time. When you join voices later on, some fingers will need to hold a note, while other fingers are playing other notes. This is one of the chief difficulties in counterpoint playing (which this ultimately is). This is what is really difficult to remember once the score is not in front of you anymore, so you must take your time to ingrain this both in your fingers and in your aural memory (that is, you must memorize the sound of it as well as the physical feeling of it). This will take countless repetitions. The most efficient way to do it is to do the following routine for each voice separately:

a. Start with the first seven bars. Repeat bars 1-2 countless times, until you cannot get them wrong, even if you wanted. Because it is only two bars, and you are working on a single voice, this should take you only 2 – 3 minutes.
b. Now do bars 2-3, then 3 – 4, then 4-5, then 5- 6, then 6 – 7. Have a break of five minutes.
c. Start again but this time repeat bars1-2-3, then 2-3-4, then 3-4-5, 4-5-6 and finally 5-6-7. Have another 5 minute break.
d. Now do bars 1234, 3456, 4567. Notice how much overlap is going on. Also notice that every time you start from a different point. This will avoid the problem many people experience of always having to go back to the beginning of the piece if they make a mistake and have a blank. Another 5 minute break.
e. Next bars 12345,23456 and 34567. Another 5 minute break.
f. Finally bars 123456 and 234567.
g. You should now be able to do the whole passage perfectly, and you may find that is already memorized. Remember you are working on each voice separately at this stage.

As you are going through this routine, do not just play mechanically, but engage your mind in looking for patterns. See how each of the four voices has quite different contributions (for instance, the tenor voice almost is not there, disappearing completely in some bars; notice how the bass voice uses a lot of augmentations as a way to vary the motifs; observe how in the alto voice and in the soprano there are quasi canonic sequences, and how the motifs are inverted and modulated. Finally figure out what makes this piece an allemande that is a dance.)

Memory is based in associations, so at every phrase you must create a strong association and keep reinforcing it.

Working in these first seven bars in this fashion may take you any time between 45 minutes and 2 hours. So after you went through it, leave it. Do not repeat it until next day. But you must repeat exactly the same procedure the next day, no matter how confident you are that you have learned it.
5. Now, since you are pressed for time, I suggest that you go through another
practice session just like the one you just did for bars 1 – 7 (by the way, I am counting the anacrusis bars at the start of the first and second part as well, so for the purposes of this explanation this piece has 26 bars, not 24). But instead of doing bars 1 – 7 (remember, you must have a night’s sleep before you tackle it again), now do bars 20 – 26. That will be another 45 minutes – 2 hours.
6. If you still feel like another practice session, do it all over again, but his time on bars 7 – 13 (notice: 7 – 13, and not 8 – 14. By starting on bar 7 you will have an overlap with the first session). Or you can do this session in a couple of days once the previous two sections are well under your belt.
7. Finally repeat the same routine with bars 13 – 20.

8. Now, comes the next day, you must repeat all the above again. When you start in the morning you will feel as if you have never seen the piece before. You cannot remember anything! It will be as if all that practice time yesterday was wasted. This is the trap most inexperienced students with this way of practice fall into. Instead develop a “so what?” attitude. You cannot remember anything? So what? Start again from scratch. To your amazement, you will se that it all comes back to you very, very fast. If yesterday each practice session took 2 hours to complete, now it may take only 15 – 20 minutes. But do not be lured into a false sense of confidence, and assume you learned the piece and move on to the next step. Instead wait until tomorrow. See what happens then.

9. Comes tomorrow and you will experience exactly the same frustration that you experienced before: it is as if the whole piece has vanished without trace from your mind. Fear not! It is there. Start from scratch again. It is really important that you do not cut corners here. I am not joking when I say you must start form scratch. You will be pleasantly surprised that you can now do what took you some 6 – 8 hours in the first day in less than 30 minutes. If so, add another practice session where you start joining these big chunks, e.g., join bars 1- 7 and 7 – 13 and play the complete first part. Join the other bars and play the whole of the second part. Finally join it all together and play the full piece. You are still working on separate voices. And remember: you must make this a different practice session.

10. Next day, one of two things will happen: you will feel like you have never seen the piece before, in which case you will have to start from scratch again (but it will come back to you with surprising ease) or you will simply remember and play the whole thing perfectly first time in the day. If this happens, then you are ready to move on. While this does not happen you will have to keep at it. In my experience no one has ever needed more than seven days to achieve this state – provided that they follow the instructions above to the letter. Most students are ready to move on by the 3rd, 4th day.

11. If so, you are now going to join the voices, but you are still going to keep playing hands separate. In this piece the right hand gets most of the work, since it will be playing two voices most of the time (and occasionally 3), while the left hand plays just one voice and occasionally 2. So repeat exactly the same procedure you did for separate voices with separate hands. Again after 3 or 4 days it should be under your belt.

12. Then move on to join hands. Again repeat the same procedure. If you did a through work on separate voices and separate hands, you should by now have a pretty good memory of the piece. So this should take another 3 – 4 days.

13. This is the basic procedure. Now there are lots of details you can add. For instance, once you are confident you can play the sections by looking at the score (even though you are looking at the score, you are actually playing from memory. It is just that your associations are linked to the score), try playing the section by looking at the keys. This will throw you off at the beginning, so do not wait until you can play the whole piece to do this: start at the level when you are working on just two-bars/one voice. Alternate between looking at the score, and looking at the keys. And throw eyes closed in as well. This way you will have memories associations with the score, with the visual pattern of the keys and with the “feeling” pattern of the movements. And of course, meanwhile you are also developing aural memory.

14. Once you are confident in your ability to play from memory, try this: Leave the score on a desk nearby (but out of sight). Start playing. When you get stuck, go to the desk and look at the score. See where you went wrong and make an effort to memorize it. Then go back to the piano and try again. You can look at the score, as many times as you need, but you must not bring it to the piano. You have to leave it at the desk and go there to look at the bit you forgot. Keep doing that until you do not need to look at the score anymore.

15. Hear the music in your mind. From what you are hearing, try to write down the score. Then compare with the real score and see where you went wrong. Now there is a correct way to do that, and a way that is just a waste of time. The correct way is to writhe the score form what you are hearing in your mind. The incorrect way is to memorize the score and remember what it looks like (photographic memory) and simply copy what you are “seeing”. Do you understand the difference, and why it matters?

16. Listen to a CD of this piece as many times as it takes for you to be able to recall what it sounds like in real time. The more accurate this aural memory is, the more reliable your general memory of the piece will be. Also, memorize what each voice sounds like on its own when you are practicing separate voices.

17. Once you have done all the above, find a sympathetic friend who is willing to go through that and give him a lecture about this piece. Talk about its structures, its motifs, how each voice sounds, how they go together. Do all that at the piano illustrating each one of your statements with your playing of the relevant fragments. End your lecture by playing the whole piece. Include in your lecture everything you believe to be important to remember. Repeat this lecture as many times as you can. If are able to do it say, ten times, you can use notes and even the score the first three or four times. But as soon as you feel confident try to do your lecture from memory. Teaching is an amazing memory trainer. This whole article was typed from memory without me even bothering to look at the score. Does that mean that I have a super memory? Not really, it just means that I repeat this everyday to my students, and I have taught this piece countless times over the years.

Although all of the above may seem like a lot of work, it is not really. You are already doing it every time you practice. As you sit at the piano to repeat one more time to play a passage for the nth time, you are hearing it, you are looking at the score, you are feeling the sensations in your body as you move and touch the keys, you are following the music structures, and so and so forth. But most people do that unconsciously. They turn on the automatic pilot, and as they practice fill their minds with their last holiday on the Caribbean.

All I am really suggesting you do is that each time you play a repeat, you direct your attention to one of these aspects (you will not be able to keep all of them in consciousness all the time because the conscious mind is very small – most of them will drop to the unconscious) systematically.

Most people are very energetic and when it comes to physical effort: they can sit at the piano and practice for hours on end (physically). But they are also mentally lazy. They cannot concentrate their minds for more than a few seconds. And for memory work your mind must be there if you want fast and effective results.
I remember that name now, Tureck! I saw a short clip of her playing a fugue and whatnot on the Classic Arts Showcase that is broadcasted free without commericials 24 hours a day on whatever station decides to carry it. She wasn't playing on a piano but on a harpsichord. I can't recall exactly what I thought of it at the time but the tempo seemed to be correct - this is all I can recall.

But she played on a harpsichord. Perhaps this is the reason you like her interpretations, Bernhard? I mean the way she played since the lack of dynamics is different than on a piano. Perhaps we should all start playing on a harpsichord because it would teach us how to phrase passages et al and work with limited range since dynamics can be used to conceal lack of expression - play the bass really loudly to cover up lousy melody playing.

He he he , Faulty, Now you really made me laugh. Rosalyn must be turning on her grave!

She is the one who originally advocated playing Bach on the piano using the full range of sonorities of the instrument. She abhorred Gould’s playing which she thought was too limited (Gould actually had his piano “doctored” so that it would sound like a harpsichord).

You see, in the 30s/40s the greatest keyboard exponent of Bach was the Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, a very dogmatic woman, who was one of the great forces behind the “authentic” early music revival. She was adamant that Bach could only be played on a harpsichord. In fact she was so successful in her campaign of playing Bach solely on historical instruments that Claudio Arrau gave up playing Bach on the piano (even though he had given a cycle of recitals in which he played all of Bach keyboard works). Arrau was later to regret this decision very much and went back to Bach in his 80s.

Needless to say, a young (in her 20s) upcoming Tureck clashed head on with well established in her 60s celebrated Landowska. They had a conversation about it all, and it started well enough, but soon they were at each other throats. From that conversation came the often quoted phrase (usually quoted wrong or missing the names of the people invoved):

Tureck to Landowska (admitting that they would have to agree to disagree):

“Well, you play Bach your way, I will play Bach his way!”

You see, Tureck besides being an accomplished virtuoso was also a formidable scholar who would investigate all possible sources of Bach’s manuscripts. Her wirtings on the shortcomings and contradictions of the early music movement are worth reading.

Yes, she played Bach on the harpsichord, but only as a pedagogical device. You see, she would play exactly the same piece on the harpsichord, and then on the piano using the full range of sonorities and in so doing demonstrate her main point to the audience: that not only Bach did sound better on the piano, as Bach’s music was instrument independent. She also played the Theremin (a precursor fo the modern synthesisers) to show that Bach would sound good even on an electronic instrument. The clip you saw probably was followed by a performance of the same piece either on this piano or on the theremin, but they just showed the harpsichord part.
Rosalyn Tureck single handedly brought Bach back to the piano and was the most important influence on Glenn Gould (but she was critical of him, and Gould did not want to give her too much credit for his own playing - although he did give her some credit). She believed in pedalling, in using dynamics, and she hated when people suggested that Bach should be played machine-like. Here are some instances of her wisdom that I collected over a number of her master classes I attended (as a member of the audience):


Legato touch:
Legato means to make a connection, to bridge a gap. A bridge must touch the two sides of the abyss it crosses. If it touches only one side, it cannot function as a bridge. If one lifts the finger before playing the next note there will be a gap, even if it is just for a split second.

There are infinite detached touches, but only one legato touch.

Repeated notes:
It demands great technique to do repeated notes legato. But it is rare that such legato is required. Usually repeated notes should be played detached, and this detachment will be part of the strength of the musical statement. In Bach particularly, repeated notes have a specific symbolism, which we can see from his choral work. This is the symbolism of words and ideas, specifically the phrase I believe in God.

Bach uses chromaticism whenever the mood is meditative or contemplative.

Much emphasis is played on melodic counterpoint. But there is rhythmic counterpoint as well, which is at least as important.

Rhythmic motives are as important as melodic ones: they give shape to the structure.

Some people believe I play fast. In fact, I do not play that fast, but I take time to make sure that every note is heard. It will sound faster and more virtuosistic if you kep the structure even at a slow tempo - people will have more to hear within a given unity of time.

Stressing the correct beats brings out the harmonic structure of the motif.

The combination of downbeat with harmony is a clear indication of Bach’s intentions.

Everything is right on the page, but people don’t pay attention.

Difficulty is not a premise on which to build an interpretation.

Be an artist, not a perfomer.

May one use the pedal when playing Bach?

The basic function of the pedal is to sustain sound. The harmonic idiom uses chords, resolutions and so on. But in counterpoint one does not need to sustain for there are multilevels that fit together.

So the question becomes: What is there to be sustained? Answer this question and you answer the pedal question. In general vertical music is more likely to require pedal than horizontal music.

There is only one kind of trill in 19th century music. But in the 16th and 17th centuries trills could be played in many different ways. Embellishments on dotted notes in the French style have their own specific meaning.

Many pieces that are thought to be melodic (e.g. variation 13 of the Goldberg variations, Sarabande on partita 1) are in fact built upon embellishments. Bach has simply written out the embellishments so as not to leave any room for confusion or ambiguity.

1. no. 15 in G (Book II)
2. no. 6 in Dm
3. no. 21 in Bb
4. no. 10 in Em
5. no. 20 in Am (Book II)
6. no. 11 in F
7. no. 2 in Cm
8. no. 9 in E
9. no. 13 in F#
10. no. 21 in Bb (Book II)
11. no. 6 in Dm (Book II)
12. no. 19 in A (Book II)
13. no. 11 in F (Book II)
14. no. 19 in A
15. no. 14 in F#m
16. no. 18 in G#m
17 no. 2 in Cm (Book II)
18. no. 5 in D
19. no. 7 in Eb
20. no. 14 in F#m (Book II)
21. no. 7 in Eb (Book II)
22. no. 1 in C
23. no. 17 in Ab
24. no. 13 in F# (Book II)
25. no. 15 in G
26. no. 12 in Fm (Book II)
27. no. 1 in C (Book II)
28. no. 24 in Bm (Book II)
29. no. 10 in Em (Book II)
30. no. 16 in Gm
31. no. 5 in D (Book II)
32. no. 18 in G#m (Book II)
33. no. 24 in Bm
34. no. 9 in E (Book II)
35. no. 4 in C#m (Book II)
36. no. 23 in B
37. no. 3 in C# (Book II)
38. no. 12 in Fm
39. no. 3 in C#
40. no. 8 in D#m (Book II)
41. no. 22 in Bbm
42. no. 17 in Ab (Book II)
43. no 4 in C#m
44. no. 8 in D#m
45. no. 20 in Am
46. no. 22 in Bbm (Book II)
47. no. 16 in Gm (Book II)
48. no. 23 in B (Book II)



Why was the blonde looking so intently at the orange juice carton? Because it said, “concentrate”

Concentration problems stem from not understanding what concentration actually is.

First you must accept that concentrating by sheer force of will is impossible. The fact is, the human mind likes to wander, and although you may start with the best of intentions of concentrating on your piece, very soon you will be thinking about what happened on the TV soap yesterday. So, rather than fight this tendency of the human mind – a fight you will eventually loose – use it for your own ends. Let your mind wander, but keep its wanderings within the work you are doing at the moment

I will give you a simple example. Look at you right hand. Try to keep your thoughts concentrated in your hand. You will probably find that after a few seconds, your mind starts to think of something else, quite unrelated. You may even completely forget that you were supposed to be concentrating on your hand.

Now try again looking at your hand and focusing your thoughts on it. But this time let your mind wander around your hand: think of its shape. Examine the size of your nails (do they need cutting? Pianist have short nails!). Consider how your thumb opposes the other fingers, and how this allows you to grasp objects. See that the fingers have different sizes and different strengths. Look at the shape of your hand and fingers. Is it squarish? Or roundish? Or pointed?

By letting your mind wander around your hand like that you will be able to keep your thoughts focused in your hand for quite long periods of time. And your mind is nowhere as interesting as your piano scales! Or as your new piece!

Don't wait for your mind to wander on it's own accord. From the very beginning encourage your mind to wander, but control its meanderings by keeping it around your subject. And of course you can apply this little trick to anything, including that boring lesson at school!

If you keep using this strategy consistently, very soon you will discover that it becomes a subconscious habit: you will be concentrating without effort and without thinking about it, and everyone will be amazed at your powers of focus and concentration.

Then you can try two meditation techniques. One is to observe your breath (sit on a chair with a straight back, closed eyes, and put your awareness on the several breathing sensations, how it warms up as it gets in, how the air cools down as it goes out, where can you feel the air – nose, trachea – lungs, etc. this is really a variation of the “let your mind wander but control its meanderings). This should improve your concentration. Then you can try a more advanced one: Think of nothing. In fact, you will not be able to do it (no one can do it). Thoughts will arise. Your job is to observe the thoughts without following them. Think of thoughts as clouds in the sky. You want to keep your sights on the blue sky. If a cloud passes by, notice it, but do not let your sight follow it. These are long term disciplines that will work wonders not only for concentration as for performance nerves and stress.

Working on concentration is hard mental work. If you are not used to it, start by doing as little as ten minutes a day, and slowly increase the time. Over the months one should be able to see one's capacity for concentration increase from a few minutes to a few hours.


There are many special techniques to deal with playing fast scales:

1.Play the scale in chords.

2.Always increase speed by increasing the speed hands separate. It is the HS speed that will limit your HT speed.

3.Use a thumb over movement.

4.Decrease movement range. And make movement as efficient and economical as possible.

5.Do not practice slow (practicing slow is not for speed is for other purposes), although it is all right to practice in slow motion.

6.Do not play thumb under.

7.Do not start the movement from the fingers.

8.Do not use exaggerated inefficient movements.

9.Do not use a different finger for right and left hand: the left hand will slow you down.

10.Do not try to increase speed by practicing hands together.

11.Do not practice mechanically.


In piano playing you must repeat something several hundred times. But you must also alternate repetition with time for the unconscious to work it out. This means ultimately a night’s sleep. It is when you start dreaming with your piece that you know you are starting to learn it. Dreaming is a consequence of this integrative work of the unconscious.

This has the following awesome practical consequence: In order to learn anything in the most efficient way, work on it with full concentration for a period of time (15 – 20 minutes is more then enough) and then forget about it until the next day. The next day repeat the same procedure for the same amount of time and again forget it until the next day. Repeat this as many days as necessary to be able to play the passage in question is such a way that you cannot get it wrong even if you try. I assure you that you will get to this point in a maximum of seven days, usually much less. This demands incredible discipline and consistency. But it works like magic.

Now consider this extreme example. You decide to practice 5 hours every day. These five hours can be divided in 12 practice sessions of 20 minutes each plus 5 minutes break in between each practice session.

The worst thing you can do is this: “Today I am going to practice bars 12- 24 of piece x.”. Then you do that in each of the 12 practice sessions. For 5 hours solid. It does not work. It is a waste of time.

The brilliant thing you can do is to use each of these 12 practice sessions to practice something completely different in each.

You see, it does not matter if you work on a passage for 20 minutes or for five hours. Whatever you accomplished in 20 minutes is all you are going to accomplish that day. You need a night’s sleep in between. It is far better to work twelve days for 20 minutes everyday in a passage than to work on that passage for 12 consecutive sessions in a day. (You do not need to believe me. Just try it out!). Instead use the other eleven daily sessions to learn eleven new things. At the end of a week you will be amazed at the fantastic amount that you have learned.

But you must have a plan. You must make sure that everything that you are practicing in these sessions add up to something at the end of a week. This is the simple secret of all those pianists who were able to learn massive repertories in no time at all.

This also means that you do not need to practice 10 –12 hours a day. 20 minutes is plenty. But the amount you will be able to learn in 20 minutes will be 1/12 of what you could learn in 5 hours. Do you understand what I am getting at? Do not think in terms of hours of practice per day, but in terms of number of 20 minute sessions per day and stick to whatever you are doing for seven days (or until you master it - usually less than seven days).

Now let me say a few more words about 15 - 20 minutes, so that it is perfectly clear what I mean.

The important aspect is that you should have a passage perfect at the end of 15 – 20 minutes.

If it is taking more than that, then the passage you chose to work on is too big.

Cut it in half.

Most people select bits that are bigger than they can chew. This leads to practicing for hours on end without visible improvement, which leads to fatigue, discouragement and actually burn out in relation to the passage/piece in question.

Here is another approach to be combined with the 15-20 minutes one. I probably already said that in one of the threads, but I cannot remember where.

It takes 7 repetitions for the human brain to learn anything. So, choose a passage and repeat it seven times. If after seven times you have not learnt it, it is because it is too large a chunk of information.

So instead of doing what everyone who does not know this piece of information do, namely keep repeating endlessly the passage hundreds of times, do the clever thing and make the passage smaller.

Try again seven times. If you still have not got it, make it smaller again. Certain passages will require that you par it down to only two notes. But I assure you that anyone can learn two notes after repeating them seven times. Then you go to the next bit (make sure you overlap to avoid stuttering on the links later on).

So you must organize your 15 –20 minutes in seven time repetition blocks that add up to the passage you have to master in that session. Or make the passage smaller so that it will fit in the 15 – 20 minute session.

In the beginning this will be sort of overwhelming, but as you keep at it, very soon you will be able to look at a score and immediately know how long it will take you to learn it. You will know exactly how to break it down and the size of passage you can manage.

I. There are three basic stages in learning/practicing a new piece.

i. The first stage is exploratory. You sight read through the piece to identify the difficult bits, the motifs, the voices, you do analysis, you listen to CDs of the piece, you break it all down in manageable chunks to practice. You also figure out for each chunk the best fingering for the sound you aim to produce, the most economical and efficient movements. You spend time trying different movements, and fingerings. You also plan how you are going to tackle the piece; how many passages, how long the passages are going to be, how you are going to join the passages. A good part of this stage is done away from the piano. The end result of this stage is to have a thorough knowledge of the piece (theoretically) and to have a working plan to master it in as little time as possible.

ii. In the second stage, which is mostly technical, you have most of the parameters defined, and you go to the piano to teach your body (fingers, arms, etc.) to actually play the several passages in which you organized the learning/practicing of your piece. The main aim here is to ingrain the correct movements fingerings in your subconscious, and to smooth the movements so that they become not only automatic but also efficient and economical (and as a consequence elegant) This is the stage where you work with separate hands in small bits, ten join hands, and use all sorts of practice tricks (practicing with different rhythms, practice in chords, use repeated notes and repeated note groups, etc.). You will also develop hand memory at this stage. The end result of this stage is to have the piece learned as far as playing the correct notes at the correct time is concerned. You want to get to that magical moment where your fingers just know where to go, without you having to think about it.

iii. Finally on the third stage, you will be dealing mostly with interpretation and performance issues. The piece is learned and memorized at this stage, but you still need to work things like phrasing and dynamics, rubato and liberties you may take with tempo and rhythm, bringing out (or not) melodic strands in different voices. If you know where you will be performing the piece, you may need to adjust your playing to the piano and to the acoustics of the hall. If you are playing with an orchestra you may need to comply with the conductor’s suggestions.

These three stages are not separate as the descriptions above may imply. One stage informs the other. It may well happen that in the second stage, when you actually start practicing the piece on the piano, you find out that the fingerings and movements you decided on the first stage actually do not work. So you may have to go back and change them. Also, although the second stage is mostly technical, you should not leave interpretation completely out of it until you get to the third stage. So there is a great degree of interpretations and overlap on these three stages. They are not at all self contained.

II. Having said that, the 15 – 20 minutes practice idea refer to the second stage. What is this idea? In fact it is not an idea. It is a principle . in fact two principles.

i. The human brain learns by “chunks”, and then by clustering these chunks into larger chunks. Anything that can be learned by repetition will be learned after seven repetitions. If after seven repetitions you have not learned the “chunk”, it means that the chunk was to large for the brain to handle. You must break it down into smaller chunks. Let us say that you want to learn a poem with 200 verses. If you read the full 200 verses seven times, chances are that after seven times you will not have learned it. Most people who are not aware of what I am about to say, will just keep repeating the whole poem in the hope that by increasing the number of repeats they will eventually master it. Let us say that it takes 30 minutes to repeat aloud 200 verses. Repeating the poem seven times will take 3.5 hours, at the end of it you will not have learned it. So you repeat another seven times. You still will not have learned it. So you do another seven times with the same dismal result. Now you have been reading this poem for 10.5 hours. Do that for a whole month. I bet that at the end of the month, practicing 10.5 hours a day (21 repetitions) you still will not have learnt the poem. This is partly because you cannot fit enough repetitions in a day (the poem is simply too large), but also because if you have not learned after seven repetitions increasing the number of repetitions will not make any difference.

ii. So what should you do? You must decrease the size of the chunk of information that you are trying to learn. How much should you decrease it? Well, start by cutting the poem in half: 100 verses. Now this takes only 15 minutes to read through. After seven repeats, did you learn it? If you did, this is the chunk size you can cope with. If not, the chunk size is still too large. So cut it in half again: 50 verses, which you can now read in 7.5 minutes. Now let us say that by cutting it in half and trying to learn the chunk in seven repetitions you finally got to 1 verse. That can be read in 9 seconds. This is the exploratory stage of your practice: when you find out what is the larges chunk you can learn by repeating it seven times. With experience you will get this size fairly immediately. But in the beginning expect to spend sometime learning about yourself and your learning capacity.

iii. So you figured out that one verse is (for you) learnable after seven repeats. After seven repetitions you just know it. So it is going to take you (9x7) = 63 seconds to master one line of the poem. To master the 200 verses will take you exactly 3. 5 hours, the same amount of time it took you to read through the whole poem 7 times without making any progress whatsoever. The conclusion is obvious: Breaking your learning tasks into chunks that can be learned after seven repeats will save an amazing amount of time, as compared to the alternative of reading the whole thing seven times.

III. The second principle is this: You learn nothing until it is processed by the unconscious. Dreaming is one of the symptoms of this, so you need at least one night sleep in between learning sessions before you actually learn what you have been practicing. Usually you will need several nights sleep depending on the complexity of your task. This is the 20 minute principle.

Going back to the 200 line poem. It took you 63 seconds to repeat and learn the first line. That’s it! You do not need to do any more work on this line today. You can do, if you want, but it will not make any difference whatsoever.

If you do your seven repeats (63 seconds), stop and go to bed, next day when you wake up you will find that you pretty much forgot the line. So you must start again, and repeat the line seven times (63 seconds again). But you will discover that although you felt as ignorant as in the first day, this time it took you only 5 repeats to get to the stage you were in yesterday after 7 repeats. So you re-learnt the line in 45 seconds, instead of the 63 seconds. Never mind that, do your seven repeats again (even though you have mastered it by the fifth). On the third day, you wake up and to your dismay you realize you cannot remember a thing. However, this time by the second repeat it is all back in your mind. This time it took you only 18 seconds to get to the stage that in the first day took you 63 seconds. And in the second day 45 seconds. Again, even though you mastered the line by the second repeat , you do the full seven repetitions. On the fourth day. Chances are that you will not need to do any repeat. you simply know the line. I have never met anyone who needed more than seven days to get to this stage. Usually by the third/fourth day they have learned their chunk of information (provided that the size of the chunk could be learned after seven repeats).

The important fact here is this. If you repeat your verse 700 times (instead of 7), It will make no difference whatsoever to the speed with which you will learn it. It will still take four days. You do not need to believe me. Just try it. Get two passages of a piece. Size them so that they can be learnt after seven repeats. Do only seven repeats on the first one, and 700 repeats on the second. See which one is thoroughly learnt first. My prediction is that they will both take exactly the same amount of time to be learnt

In the case of a passage of music, you will probably do more things then just repeat it. Possibly (I would do that) after repeating seven times, I would work on hands separate and hands together. Depending on the passage I might use rhythmic variations, or play it in chords, or other practice variations. So it may take 15 – 20 minutes to go through all these routines, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. Then that is it for the day! Only go through that passage again next day. If you want to devote 5 hours a day to piano practice, use the remaining time to practice other passages, or even passage from other pieces.

So use the 7 repeat principle to define the passage you are going to practice. Then practice it only for the time necessary to master it (usually less then 15 – 20 minutes, but rarely a bit more). Then leave it until the next day. Repeat the same process again until you finally know it (should take 3 – 4 days).