Readers' Questions for Parents and Students

Welcome to my Q&A for all the students and parents/spouses of piano students. I hope you'll find an answer here - - perhaps even an answer to a question you didn't know you had!

Read through the list of questions in this file before you e-mail me with a question, please. I receive a lot of the same things over and over, and because of my RSI, I really want to save keystrokes and avoid answering the same questions again and again! Therefore, please read first to see if there's an answer to your question. E-mail me if you have questions not answered or need clarification. This way I can answer more questions before my hands refuse to type! Thanks for your understanding.

Another note: As these questions are answered in order of receipt, there may be other answers that are germane to your question, particularly ones that fall later in the sequence. Please check the list of all questions, including searching on "keywords," such as tuition, make up lessons, piano brand, practice, etc., as most of the time I have not cross-referenced one answer to another in the interests of answering more questions.

And finally: Please put something in the subject line of your e-mail (Piano Question is especially good). My filters are set so that emails with blank subject lines are automatically deleted as spam.

Question 1 What an adult student should be able to do after one year of study.
Question 2 Recommended minimum practice time for an 8-year-old.
Question 3 Recommended minimum practice time for a 12-year old (8 years' study) and 9-year-old (5 years' study).
Question 4 What should I look for in a piano teacher?
Question 5 Parent's sitting at the piano during child's practice.
Question 6 How often to expect teacher feedback for child's study.
Question 7 How often to tune piano.
Question 8 Child complains when parent corrects mistakes during home practice.
Question 9 Teen lukewarm about piano study.
Question 10 Problem with slippery fingers.
Question 11 Buying a digital piano rather than an acoustic piano ("real piano") for a beginner.
Question 12 Mathematical rules for fingering.
Question 13 Suzuki piano method.
Question 14 Self-taught adult student wants self-help materials and help finding a teacher.
Question 15 Adult beginner sees piano study as so overwhelming because of the amount to learn, yet wants to play difficult literature right away.
Question 16 Adult beginner wants to study on his own for 18 months using only a book.
Question 17 Adult beginner afraid of progressing too fast.
Question 18 Trouble with accents in Chopin's "Fantasie-Impromptu."
Question 19 Using a fresh finger on repeated notes. Need for scales and chords in piano study. Large stretches and small hands. John Thompson arrangements of classics in his method books.
Question 20 What the middle pedal does.
Question 21 Piano competitions in New York and New Jersey.
Question 22 Which piano brand is best.
Question 23 The best way to start learning a Bach prelude.
Question 24 Value of "Learn Piano by Video"-type approach.
Question 25 Whether graduate degree in piano or pedagogy is better for aspiring teacher.
Question 26 Software to teach playing skills and music theory.
Question 27 Why mistakes creep in to the end of a piece.
Question 28 Decorating with the piano as the focal point.
Question 29 Preference for long fingers versus short fingers in piano playing.
Question 30 When a B-natural and a B-flat are struck at the same time.
Question 31 Meaning and use of "una corda."
Question 32 Meaning of "circle of fifths."
Question 33 Evaluating whether a present teacher is doing a good job. Teacher not preparing for the lesson.
Question 34 Parent wants to teach own child.
Question 35 Memory techniques.
Question 36 Expensive or inexpensive piano for "rusty" player.
Question 37 Listening to a recording of a new piece prior to learning it.
Question 38 The Busoni piano transcription of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (originally for organ).
Question 39 Adult beginner feels teacher is not in sync with his musical goals.
Question 40 Efficacy of one-day "learn to play piano" seminars for adult beginners.
Question 41 Maintaining pieces in the repertoire.
Question 42 Difficulty of changing from ear-playing to note-reading.
Question 43 Ear-playing child with difficulty reading.
Question 44 Letter-name notation edition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
Question 45 Fat fingers causing difficulty with accuracy.
Question 46 Young man with excellent skills but without a teacher and wanting to play exceedingly difficult literature on his own.
Question 47 Publishers of Urtext Editions.
Question 48 Student unable to memorize.
Question 49 Buy new or used piano.
Question 50 Solutions for pain in the shoulder.
Question 51 Playing for casual small groups as preparation for full-scale format recital.
Question 52 4th finger is difficult to lift when fingers 3 and 5 are playing, too.
Question 53 Telling the key just by looking at the key signature.
Question 54 Child forgets what is learned when teacher takes the summer off.
Question 55 Learning to play with ticks on the metronome.
Question 56 Teacher wants to double lesson time.
Question 57 Student with bifocals has sore neck.
Question 58 Student looking for an adult "piano playing" group.
Question 59 Current quality of digital pianos.
Question 60 Why technique is valuable.
Question 61 The different music tempos and how they relate to one another.
Question 62 Loud and soft markings in music and how they relate to one another.
Question 63 Teacher requires student to play on Kurzweil, and student prefers acoustic piano.
Question 64 What accompanying a chorus involves.
Question 65 The "Kurzweil-only" (above) teacher displays some shockingly unprofessional behavior.
Question 66 Shaking hands while playing a recital.
Question 67 Stories about adults taking lessons. Playing pieces perfectly.
Question 68 Returning adult student starting to fear practicing.
Question 69 Meaning of stem direction.
Question 70 Hands too small to play all notes in middle section of Chopin's "Raindrop" Prelude.
Question 71 More on teen's wanting to quit piano study.
Question 72 RSI and piano playing.
Question 73 Adult wants software program to teach him how to play the piano.
Question 74 Stripping paint from an old piano. Getting rid of cigarette smoke smell.
Question 75 Teen student loathes scales but wonders if he is missing something by not having technique in his assignment. Also wonders about difference in preparation for US vs Australian teachers.
Question 76 Children with missing digits on left hands.
Question 77 Mother seeks teacher for child with missing right hand.
Question 78 How the piano in manufactured, how long it takes to make a piano, and similar questions.
Question 79 Fingering tenths.
Question 80 Description of beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels; messy playing.
Question 81 Chewing gum at the lesson.
Question 82 Difficulty with ear-training for Royal Conservatory of Canada exam; teacher seems unable to help.
Question 83 Nervousness before recital.
Question 84 Maximum age to start piano lessons.
Question 85 Left-hand notes written in treble clef (Fur Elise).
Question 86 Learning how to read ahead.
Question 87 How to find a piano.
Question 88 How to find a classical radio station to play through computer.
Question 89 Music for one hand alone.
Question 90 How to finger large handfuls of notes (as in Liszt's "Liebestraum").
Question 91 Figuring out the key signature.
Question 92 Problems with questions given in English for music exam.
Question 93 Tips for musical playing.
Question 94 How to become a concert pianist.
Question 95 How to get permission to make photocopies to give to competition judges.
Question 96 How many pieces to have under study at one time.
Question 97 There is always a mistake, and it's never in the same place.
Question 98 Where to sit on the bench.
Question 99 Difficult to change from piano to digital piano because touch feels different.
Question 100 Looking at your hands while playing.
Question 101 Trouble reading bass clef and effect fake book style has on improvement.
Question 102 Teen wants to be a concert pianist.
Question 103 Calling a teacher back if another teacher is chosen.
Question 104 Child cries when it's time to go to lesson.
Question 105 Student not sure which literature to select next.
Question 106 What x in front of a notehead means.
Question 107 Worry about loudness of a rock concert.
Question 108 Student wants to know what pieces to prepare for audition at a music conservatory.
Question 109 Books for self-teaching.
Question 110 Counting sixteenth-notes.
Question 111 Whether it is ok to practice harpsichord and piano concurrently.
Question 112 Adult returning to study wants method book suggestions.
Question 113 Learning to read notes without a teacher.
Question 114 Suggestions for technical studies.
Question 115 Assistance with octaves.
Question 116 Follow-up to Question 113: how to read sharps and flats.
Question 117 How to count eighth- and sixteenth-notes.
Question 118 Needlepoint piano bench cover.
Question 119 Chopin's "Military Polonaise." Chopin etude too difficult. Getting known as a performer.
Question 120 Quandary over leaving a competition-focused teacher who is demanding and harsh to return to the child's first teacher who was loving but did not do competitions and who may have left out technical work.
Question 121 Follow-up to Question 120: competitions.
Question 122 Whether it's ok to have fingers held above keys when playing a trill.
Question 123 How to divide up home practice time.
Question 124 Meaning of "dur" and "mol".
Question 125 How to play the "little notes" in Mozart's "alla turca." (Last movement of Sonata K. 331).
Question 126 More on the "alla turca."
Question 127 Possibly gifted 7-year-old who learns standard repertoire pieces easily and willing and balks over method material and its attendant drill exercises.
Question 128 Two sets of half-notes connected by two lines in 4/4 time.
Question 129 Student with letter-name problem, possibly with learning disability.
Question 130 Follow-up to question 129.
Question 131 Still more on teen's wanting to quit piano study.
Question 132 Student able to play a piece better after not playing it for a week.
Question 133 Teacher's make-up policy seems unreasonable.
Question 134 Obtaining transcripts from the Royal Conservatory.
Question 135 More difficult to play hands together than apart.
Question 136 And yet more on teen's wanting to quit piano study.
Question 137 Buying a used piano with rusty strings.
Question 138 Telling a teacher you are changing to another teacher.
Question 139 What a fake book is.
Question 140 Music theory book.
Question 141 Student unable to start anywhere but the beginning after a mistake during practice.
Question 142 Appropriate warm-up exercises prior to work on Bach and Scarlatti at the harpsichord.
Question 143 Warm-up exercises for Baroque music.
Question 144 Preparing for college major auditions, despite having unusual musical training before college.
Question 145 How to "cram for a recital."
Question 146 Short-term piano rental.
Question 147 Chords for "Fur Elise".
Question 148 More on chords for "Fur Elise".
Question 149 Child (not a piano student) beginning clarinet study.
Question 150 Child prefers to play old songs rather than those on assignment.
Question 151 Mold inside an old piano.
Question 152 Quality of Wurlitzer baby grand.
Question 153 How to determine whether the lid should be up for a performance.
Question 154 Same note (same piano key) written in each hand.
Question 155 Time signature of 8/2.
Question 156 Numbering pages.
Question 157 Gifted and seemingly-talented 11-year-old wants to quit.
Question 158 Inexpensive teacher.
Question 159 Playing and singing from a fake book.
Question 160 How to play the left hand soft and right hand loud.
Question 161 Mnemonics for 3 against 2.
Question 162 Fingering for hand-over-hand arpeggios.
Question 163 When children should begin studying true piano literature.
Question 164 Adult beginner wants non-method literature.
Question 165 Adult beginner has trouble remembering chords.
Question 166 Teen boy doesn't want to practice.
Question 167 Weinberg brand piano.
Question 168 Connecting an instrument to a computer in order to generate printed music.
Question 169 Adult with weaker left hand.
Question 170 Teen band and unethical sound studio engineer.
Question 171 Finding place in music again after looking at keyboard when playing low-single-note-moving-to-high-notes-chord.
Question 172 Book and exercise recommendations for student with weaker left hand.
Question 173 Teacher asks parent to sit in the room while student practices. Question 174 How to make trills faster.
Question 175 Cousin teases 12-year-old for liking to play piano.
Question 176 Parent wishes to teach 5-year-old to play the piano.
Question 177 Teacher will not allow student to cancel lesson (and not pay).
Question 179 How fast to practice.
Question 180 Being required to play at an audition for a teacher.
Question 181 Proper placement of the piano in a room.
Question 182 Ritards at the end of a Bach piece.
Question 183 Difference between a digital and acoustic grand piano.
Question 184 V. Reroux piano.
Question 185 Suzuki piano.
Question 186 Essex piano; "beginner piano;" $4000-$6000 price range.
Question 187 Dexterity exercises.
Question 188 Various piano undergraduate degrees (Australia).
Question 189 Changing from a non-degreed teacher.
Question 190 Developing good taste in music.
Question 191 "C Aug." in printed music.
Question 192 Finding a note by ear to match that in printed music.
Question 193 Elementary-school-age child very uncooperative about piano practice.
Question 194 Summary site for music history.
Question 195 How many days a week to practice.
Question 196 Why a song is easier to play after not playing it for two or three weeks.
Question 197 Pianos for tall people.
Question 198 Playing Bach. Fake book left hand patterns.
Question 199 Expected progress after two years' study for adult.
Question 200 Follow up to previous question.
Question 201 Benefit of hands-apart playing in Bach when putting hands together sounds as if the piece has never been looked at.
Question 202 How to count the end of Chopin's Nocturne Opus 32 #1.
Question 203 Characteristics of Renaissance music.
Question 204 Why medieval music allows parallel fifths.
Question 205 Violist wonders if she should return for degree in music in order to play gigs.
Question 206 How to memorize a fugue.
Question 207 Advisability of learning harpsichord music on the piano.
Question 208 Remington and Perzina pianos.
Question 209 Unprofessional teacher.
Question 210 Choosing a specialist teacher vs. a generalist teacher.
Question 211 Information on pianos with unfamiliar names.
Question 212 Problem with theory workbook and Circle of Fifths.
Question 213 Features to look for and avoid in an electronic keyboard.
Question 214 How much technical material is appropriate for six-year-old.
Question 215 What "edited by" means.
Question 216 11 against 6 in Chopin.
Question 217 Choosing between piano brands.
Question 218 Player piano brands.
Question 219 Roland digital harpsichord.
Question 220 When some harpsichord strings don't sound.
Question 221 What MIDI is.
Question 222 What "edited by" and "fingered by" mean.
Question 223 The difference between lute and buff stop on a harpsichord.
Question 224 Parent despairing about practice hassles with child.
Question 225 Whether it's ok to start harpsichord piece on piano.
Question 226 Student wrote song, and mother is afraid recording studio might steal it.
Question 227 Student tells gross untruth to the teacher.
Question 228 Book to learn basics of blues.
Question 229 Quality of grand pianos under $10,000.
Question 230 Teacher urging parent to buy grand piano.
Question 231What a "pitch raise" is.
Question 232Effect of tile floor in room where piano is located.
Question 233Gifted child studying with inflexible teacher.
Question 234Choosing between piano with preferred style of case and pianos that might be better; "Kick Me Test." Question 235 Adult student worried about not knowing letter names of notes on staff.
Question 236 Practicing problems for children of divorce.

What should an adult be able to do in a year?

I'm going to base my answers on the following hypothetical student: You practice 60-90 minutes a day at least 6 days a week. If you practice 30 minutes daily, your progress will be cut approximately in half, probably more.

Other criteria for this example: you are starting from scratch as an adult; maybe you had some lessons (piano or other instrument) as a kid but have forgotten everything. You have a real piano to practice on. You're motivated to learn and have average "talent." You see your teacher once a week (for an hour lesson).

After a year, I would call you an advanced beginner or an early intermediate, if there must be a title put on things. (Note: I do not consider Für Elise to be early intermediate literature, by the way; to play it all and to play it well, it's really lower advanced; the first section standing alone might be termed early intermediate.) More specifically:


You would be able to read fluently from C (two octaves below middle c) to c'' (2 octaves above), including sharps, flats, double sharps, double flats, and naturals.

You would have started a program of sight- reading at about 6-9 months of study. You'd read 1-2 pages daily, going for accuracy only and forgetting about speed.

I would have you reading key signatures by now and would expect you to remember altered notes 70% of the time without writing them in, but I certainly wouldn't object if you needed to write in some of them you kept forgetting (but not all, at this point).


You'd be able to count fluently quarter/half/whole/dotted-half/double whole notes. You'd be about to start learning eighth-notes You wouldn't be undone by a meter change or hemiola (or a key change).


You'd be working from Schmitt and Hanon. Also chromatic scales. We'd probably be starting an octave exercise regimen soon if we hadn't already. When you start playing Clementi sonatinas, we'd start diatonic scales. We'd have been playing hand-over- hand triad arpeggios since month one, and I'd expect you to have finished the major group, be somewhere near the end of the minors or even part-way through the augmenteds (diminished is last). There are 48 triads, total.

You would be fluent in playing staccato in one hand and legato in the other and vice versa. Also the same with forte and piano. I doubt I would have said anything at this point about voicing, though we might have played Burgmüller's "Clear Stream" (from Op. 100) if you could read eighth-notes already (which is unlikely). Perhaps we'd have touched on portato, but probably not.

You'd have good control over dynamics, although playing softly would probably still be difficult at pp and ppp - - but then, that's tough for us all! You would be able to play smooth cres. and dim. and be able to do that in one hand while holding the other at a steady dynamic level.

You'd understand the basics of fingering and be unafraid to toss out the editor's suggestions.


You'd have begun use of syncopated pedaling, although you would not be too experienced with it. We'd have discussed touch pedal, too.

Practice Techniques

You'd know how to use a metronome to speed up a piece systematically. You'd know how to select a speed for the goal you have. I'd have harped again and again about working on a small section instead of roaring thought the whole piece! You'd know how to practice efficiently by setting goals for your practice. You'd use other practice techniques, such as blocking an arpeggiated piece. You'd know about rhythms and when it's good to use them as a practice tool.

We'd have talked about being stymied and why you seem to play better at home.


You'd know how to build any of the 48 triads, even if you hadn't played them all yet. You'd be able to recognize printed triads in root position easily (and maybe some inversions, too, but probably not), whether blocked or arpeggiated or scrambled. Also I-V-I patterns. We'd be beginning to talk about V-I cadences and structure. ABA form. Rondo form. Variation form. You'd be able to tell the key of most any piece you played (secret: what is the triad in the last measure?). We may have talked about modulation and transposition, but not in any fashion other than to point out that the key of the music changed even though the key signature didn't.

We might have discussed the harmonic series and temperaments, but this isn't likely unless you're a physicist or acoustician or otherwise had a interest in this. Maybe I would have begun discussion of the circle of fifths (although you probably wouldn't understand it fully yet), why certain keys have sharps and flats, and how scales are built. You would have derived all intervals in half-steps and would have written down all possible names for them. For example: an augmented unison is the same as a minor second; and a major third sounds the same as a diminished 4th

You might have done some playing "fake book style."


You'd easily recognize consonance/dissonance and octave/not-octave. I wouldn't expect you be able to recognize harmonic or melodic intervals by ear. You probably could tell the difference between a major and minor triad, although if you had not already finished the majors and begun the minor triad arpeggios, such as discussion would be meaningless.


We would have done material from all musical periods by now: Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and Contemporary. You'd be able to play contrapuntal music as well as chordal.


You'd be quite fluent with mordents and turns and pretty comfortable with trills, including those with Nachschläge (the quick notes that follow the repercussions of the two trill notes). We'd perhaps have touched on whether "those little [single] notes" are grace notes, acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas, or quick appoggiaturas, but maybe not. We would not have discussed trills with turned beginnings, although we might have touched on French Baroque notion of inégalité. (That is, "unequalness" of the smallest prevailing note value; usually this is the eighth-note. Played in this style, instead of two eighth-notes, you'd play one dotted-eighth and one sixteenth for that quarter-note value. There are different types of unequalness, but this is the form 90% of French Baroque music takes).


You would have played in at least one formal piano recital with my other adult students. To dispel fear of public performance, I would have asked you to make it a point to play for guests in your home. I also would have encouraged you to attend the monthly piano parties my adults hold to give themselves the opportunity to play for "an audience."

Remember what I said at the beginning of this litany: All this is based on 60-90 minutes' daily practice, which, in turn, correlates with speed of progress.

Ask your [prospective] teacher what you can reasonably assume to be able to do in a year. Be prepared to give the teacher the minimum practice time you will have to devote on a daily basis.

What is the minimum practice time you recommend for an 8-year-old child?

This depends on the child. Short answer: 30 minutes.

Although you didn't ask this specifically, my answer really has to do with my philosophy of home practice.

I don't like my students clock-watching and counting minutes. (This is why I never ask them to write down their practice minutes or have a "practice minutes contest.") I prefer to focus on reaching goals for the practice session: quality rather than quantity.

Adults and teens are successful with goals such as: to fix the fingering in measure 5. Children usually cannot function in this manner, so I structure - - or rather, *we* structure - - the practice session in terms of playing accomplished. For example, the child will decide whether he can tackle the entire piece or just a portion of it. Then he identifies what needs to be done in that portion - - notes? counting? fingering? getting the hands together? Next he estimates how many times he'll have to play that section every day in order to have it learned - - to have reached his goal - - by the next lesson. I write in the assignment pad the number he estimates. It is uncanny, but 95% of the time he names exactly the number I had in mind for him. If his estimate is way off the mark, I will say, "Not enough for that size goal" or "Oh, that's way too many!" Occasionally if his estimate is too low and he sticks by it (and I know that the goal he set is substantially below what he could accomplish), I'll say, "If you really think that 2 times is all you need, then I think you probably could bite off a bigger portion of this piece."

This practice method has several other advantages. (1) It encourages home practice because if the child does not do it, he disappoints himself in not reaching the goals he selected. (2) It enables practice to be broken in segments if necessary to allow for scheduling conflicts, multiple piano-users, or children with shorter attention spans. (3) It enables the parent to monitor practice accurately because he can look at the assignment pad and know whether he heard the third line 5 times or only once. (4) It encourages further piano playing because once the child has completed the tasks he helped to lay out, he knows he is free to get up and do something else or he can stay and play for fun. (5) The organized approach gives children experience in applying time management skills.

Back to my short answer. I think that an 8-year-old has the staying power to practice for 30 minutes (whether at one session or divided into two or three sessions), so I structure the lesson content so that his daily home practice will equal approximately 30 minutes. This usually includes a finger exercise of mine called Finger Builders; an exercise or two from John Schaum's "Finger Power" or from Aloys Schmitt's "Preparatory Exercises for Piano" (Op. 16); a hand-over-hand triad arpeggio; 3 to 4 songs; perhaps also a review song, a hot fudge song (emphasizing legato playing), a metronome song (emphasizing staying with the metronome), or a curving fingers song.

I'm 12 years old and have taken piano for 8 years. I was wondering how long I should practice. Also, how long should my 9-year-old sister practice?

Well, first of all, I think you probably should ask your teacher for suggestions - - unless you disagree with a dictum that has been given to you and you are asking me for "a second opinion"!!

I am assuming that you are at least past the Clementi sonatina level, yes? If so, you should be practicing 45-60 minutes/day. This will include time for your technical studies and sight-reading. If you are playing Mozart and Beethoven sonatas, I'd say 60 minutes is appropriate. Remember not to practice -too- much, as you risk having a problem with repetitive stress injury.

Assuming your sister also started at age 4, she should be practicing 30 minutes/day. If she's playing the Clementi sonatinas, then I'd say closer to 45 minutes than 30.

A better approach, in my opinion, would be to set a series of goals for yourself daily and practice long enough to reach them. Make sure the goals are attainable, not sky-high or so large that you get discouraged. Talk with your teacher about goals that are appropriate for each piece/technical study.

I have several questions. My 7-year-old son wants to begin piano lessons. Neither my husband nor I has played the piano or any other instrument, so this is new and unfamiliar territory for us. (1) What should I look for in a piano teacher? (2) My friends have told me there is a great variety in price. Naturally, I'd rather pay less than more! Are cheaper teachers ok for a beginner? (3) Is a man or a woman a better choice for a teacher for a boy? (4) Where do I start looking for a teacher? (5) What about teachers who come to the house? If we didn't have to drive somewhere, that would be great. We do not have a piano. We also are considering an electronic keyboard. I've heard these are "just as good" as a piano. And they're a lot cheaper. Do we need to have an actual piano? If so, can you recommend some brands to us? Sorry about all these questions. We're beginners at this. Thanks in advance for your help!

I am glad that your son has approached you about lessons - - as opposed to your asking him if he wants to study or taking the initiative entirely (both of which are good approaches, of course). This means he really wants to play the piano! You and your husband have done a great job of making him aware of things that will deeply enrich his life!

No problem about "all these questions." That's what I'm here for!

The task of finding a good teacher for your son is crucial to success in piano study.

Good teaching is always good teaching, no matter the subject! Think back on the good (and bad!) teachers you have had. Ask yourself questions such as these: What made these teachers special? (Or vice versa?) Did they explain new material particularly well? Did they pace introduction of new material so you didn't feel overwhelmed or - - in the case of confusion - - did they take extra time to make sure the entire class understood? Did they plan assignments, etc. so you had enough repetition for retention? Did they make you curious to learn more or investigate related ideas and activities? Were you happy to go to [that] class, or did you dread it? And so on.

In relation to piano teachers, these are the criteria I feel are most important in selecting a piano teacher. You probably will want to add some others.

Cheap teachers usually have no college-level music study, much less a music degree. Some have no degree of any kind. Some have very little piano-playing experience ("I played four years as a child.").

Some have little or no experience (do you want this teacher to "practice" on your son?). Or have few students and thus little opportunity to deal with diversity in learning styles, appropriate materials, motivation, etc. They might not use (or have knowledge of!) effective and pedagogically-sound materials, have no mentor teacher to consult when a question or problem arises, or have little expertise in time management and how to pace/what to include in the lesson or weekly assignment. You get the idea.

In general, you will get what you pay for. Great teachers command higher fees because they're worth it. (Finding out how many students the teacher has will give you an idea how many people are willing to pay that high fee.)

The temptation is strong to engage a inexpensive teacher "for a beginner", but I encourage you not to. You are trusting this person with your son and his musical foundation and attitudes, as well as your time and monetary resources. As noted (and in the file referenced just above, written in response to a high-school age girl who was interested in teaching piano), a degreed and experienced teacher is what you want.

A traveling teacher sometimes does so because qualifications in other areas are lacking. A studio-based teacher has all kinds of materials at hand, something a traveling teacher may not have because it would be impossible to carry this much stuff around! The file on finding a teacher deals with this topic in detail.

All this said, I want to add that there are good teachers with no formal music training (or a degree of any kind). There are people who will be good teachers as they mature in the calling. There are inexpensive teachers who are good but way under-priced and should ask a higher fee. There are good teachers who will come to your home. In general, however, the points above hold true, so start there in your search. See also the file I've mentioned on how to find a teacher.

It doesn't matter if you choose a man or a woman. Be sure to ask your son how he "liked" the teacher when you interviewed. Children have an intuitive sense of how they're going to like a new teacher.

The file on finding a teacher gives information on how to acquire names.

I know you'll find a good teacher if you take your time. You know your son, how he learns, what he likes, and so forth. Not only are you investing your money, but also your and your son's time and effort. Be sure to ask for references and call them!

As to instruments, I encourage you to purchase a piano, not buy a digital. Don't forget a rent a piano .

I have a file on pianos by brand. Check this.

My 5-year-old daughter has just started piano lessons; I also play. I don't want to sit on the bench with her while she practices. Do I have to? (When I'm at the piano, I'd rather be playing myself!)

Short answer: yes.

Remember that you are also investing time and effort as well as money in your daughter's musical education. Also, your sitting with her is direct evidence that you approve of what she's doing - - so much so that you want to join her!

At first, she'll need your guidance and help in carrying out the assignment. Later, she'll want your company; practice is a lonely activity for a little one!

Soon you'll be able to play duets together, and this will be a wonderful reinforcement and incentive for her. And seeing you practice your own is excellent. Your knowledge and habits are a special plus most students don't enjoy. Don't deprive your daughter of your abilities! At age 5, you'll probably have to sit with her for at least the first 3 months. Realistically? I'd say the first year, maybe two. Wait until she says, "Mommy, I can do this by myself." Then she has the added benefit of taking charge of something.

You can't hurry this, though you might - - after 6 months or so - - be able to sit in the room with her (read, balance the checkbook, etc.) while she practices and interact with her from another part of the room (she should be able to see you from the piano). At first, though, you'll need to be right there on the bench with her. No other way to go about it -if- you want your daughter to love music and succeed as a pianist.

How often should I expect the teacher to give me feedback on my child's progress?

Certainly once a year is the minimum. Every three to four months would be ideal. In practice, however, most teachers don't have the time to sit down and write out progress reports. I suggest that you call the teacher (during non-teaching hours or take some of your child's lesson time) when you would like an update.

Very often a teacher will make notations in the lesson assignment pad. Are you checking this every week right after the lesson? Sometimes teachers make comments on the pieces of music; look there, too. What does the teacher say when you pick up your child? Nothing at all or "Spectacularly-good lesson" or "I look forward to an improved lessons next week, Rick"?

How often should I have my piano tuned?

Once a year is minimum, and technicians say twice a year. A lot depends on what kind of music is played on it (Rachmaninov or first-year pieces?), where it is located (near the kitchen or another source of dampness?), what the climate is like where you live (big swings in temperature and humidity?), and your budget. On this last one, I encourage you not to skimp. You would be most displeased to give your child a computer which printed E every time M were struck. A piano is the same way. Your child should not hear G# when A is played - - or, worse yet - - hear nothing but a clank when a note is depressed.

Especially have your technician check the pedal to make sure it is functioning properly. Learning to pedal is tricky business, and the child shouldn't have to fight the mechanism.

This file elsewhere on my home page has more information on tuning, including how to tell your tuner what the problem is and what you can do to maximize the time between tunings.

My daughter doesn't like me to correct mistakes she makes while practicing. No matter how gentle I try to be, she gets upset.

This is a common problem. First, you are not the teacher. The logical extrapolation, to your daughter, is that since you know less than the teacher, your comments are not valid at all. Plus, if your daughter is a teenager or a pre-teen, this situation is even worse. Second, any corrections you make about her music practice are colored by her memories and experience of your correcting her about her schoolwork, behavior, etc.

I suggest two solutions: (1) Say nothing. Even though you know she is making a mistake, leave it to the teacher to correct. That is why you're paying her. Also, she has professional credibility, and your daughter will consider carefully any suggestions the teacher makes about errors. THIS IS MY OVERWHELMING ADVICE. (2) Talk to your daughter about *why* she is angry when you correct her practice. (My guess is that she'll say you're "on my back all the time about everything." Obviously, she's in the throes of becoming her own person. Congratulations! You've been doing your job as a parent very well!) Perhaps you might come to an agreement that you will say something only if she is making a big mistake. If it is only a wrong note or a counting error, you will leave that to the teacher. If it's something major that changes the entire learning process - - such as misreading the key signature - - then you will mention it and she will agree not to be upset because it will save her a lot of work to correct the problem now rather than later.

Also important: make sure the feedback you give her is not all negative! Tell her you noticed her progress on such-and-such a piece. Ask her to play for you after supper. Support her in recitals, competitions, and so on.

My teen is lukewarm about piano study and would sort of like to quit. She's been playing 7 years. I'd like her to keep at it. It seems such a shame to stop after investing all this time in learning to play.

This is another common problem in households with teenagers. The parents know it would be a big mistake to let their daughter quit and that she will regret it when she becomes an adult and has sufficient experience to be able to evaluate the situation accurately. Yet, parents value peace at home, not to mention not being crazy about "throwing money away" when the child doesn't practice enough to benefit from the lessons.


In general, I counsel -against- letting the child make the decision. I know there are parents who don't like to "pressure" their children to do something they express a dislike for, but I think in this matter there are several considerations. The child is not experienced enough to make a meaningful decision about what the long-term consequences will be if she stops. The child might not "see" that something else is really the problem, not piano study. And last, it's our job as parents to make kids do things that are good for them, such as brushing their teeth and being polite and going to school, even though we get an earful about it. We soldier on, however, knowing that in the end they'll thank us and do the same with their own kids!

I also counsel against tying the allowance or privileges to practice time. Or using the threat of additional practice time as a coercive tactic ("If your math grade doesn't improve, you'll have to practice an extra half-hour each day!")

You also can take this approach: "This is the way it is done in our family. Everyone plays the piano until high school graduation. When you are out on your own at college, you may do as you wish. And when you have your own family, you may make whatever rules you wish. But as long as you are under our roof and we are providing for you, you must follow the rules we have in our family. End of discussion." If it's any consolation, if you can make it through the sophomore year, usually teens will come to the realization themselves that it's foolish to toss out so many years of effort. While they might not turn wildly enthusiastic, they usually will practice with more good grace and make it until graduation. (Many of their parents are surprised to learn that when they've gone on to college, they decide to take some music courses - -even piano study! - - or join a music ensemble.) Some even fight with siblings to get the family piano when they're home on vacation!

Hang in there! Your daughter's best interests are your highest priorities!

PS. I have NEVER had an adult say to me, "I used to take piano. My mom let me quit, and am I ever glad she did! It has been so great not being able to play the piano!"

See also Question 71, Question 131, Question 136, and Question 166.

My fingers slip on the black keys. I feel as though I'll never be able to play quickly or accurately. Do you have a suggestion?

I have a student with this same problem. She tried everything, including asking her technician to "rough up" the key surfaces. She finally discovered that a "finger-moistening" paste that is commonly used to make fingers tacky when sorting papers is a good solution. She tried several brands and told me that SortKwik is the best. Check at a well-stocked office supply store.

In my answer, I assumed that you were speaking about slipping because of dry skin. It could be the reverse: sweaty fingers. Washing your hands just before playing can be helpful. I hesitate to say wipe your fingertips across an anti-perspirant....

I'm sorry I'm not much help for you. Asking your doctor is probably your best bet, since you doc knows about your health history. (If you'd please e-mail me what you found out, I will put it here for others!).

I'm considering buying a piano for my daughter (age 7 1/2) to begin to learn to play. I'm intrigued by the capabilities of digital pianos. Do you have any thoughts on their advantages and disadvantages versus an acoustic piano?

In my opinion, a digital instrument is not going to be something you're going to want to stay with. It's ok to start on one (for say, 6 months), but they're expensive. Then you either feel bound to stay with it because of what you paid, or you have the hassle of selling it (if you don't want to keep it in addition to the acoustic piano).

Concerning a digital piano: no matter what the salespeople tell you, a digital piano is -not- the same as "real" piano and within about 3 months your daughter will discover this: the touch is different, the sound is different, and so on, and what she does at home will be difficult for her to transfer well to her teacher's piano at lessons. I have had a number of students come to me, having already purchased a digital piano before beginning lessons, and every single one of them said they wish they hadn't and wish they had an acoustic piano. And every one of them subsequently buys a "real" piano. Some keep the electronic "for fun" and some sell/trade it.

If you can't afford a real piano or would rather not invest until you see if your daughter is going to "stick" with lessons, please strongly consider renting a piano. Your daughter will thank you later and she'll maker faster, surer progress now.

If you do rent, I recommend a plain rental, not a rent-to-buy arrangement. With the former, it's free and clear and you return the piano when you're done with it (and presumably ready to invest in a good piano for your home!). With the latter, the salesperson is essentially choosing a piano for you because you feel "bound" by the money you've already invested to stick with that piano rather than forfeit it. Some dealers recognize this and allow the renter to put the rental fee (actually, this is only a percentage of it) toward any piano in the store, not just the one that was "rented." This helps some, but what if you don't want to deal with that store or you find a piano in the want ads? Again, you're "bound."

In summary, then, if you will not have a "real" piano to start lessons, consider an inexpensive electronic keyboard for the first couple of months. After that, you'll need a piano so you can learn its "touch." A rental piano at this point will be perfectly fine if you still are not ready to purchase. Try to avoid rent-to-buy-this-one or rent-to-buy-another-one-in-this-store deals. A no-strings rental is best. If possible, skip the electronic keyboard part of this itinerary and go straight to the rental, if buying a real piano at the outset is not feasible.

How about an electronic keyboard (these sell for several hundred dollars)? The touch is worse yet! There is no resistance at all. The touch is like an electronic organ. In fact, they are electronic organs! (There's nothing wrong with electronic organs. I have played many church services on electronic organs! It's just that electronic keyboards - - organ or piano - - are not real pianos.)

These are ok for the first 3 - 9 months (or 12 months for a child age 5 and under), but after that the student needs a piano. If you want an electronic keyboard -in addition to- an acoustic piano - - for its fun effects or as an instrument to take to Grandma's - - that's another story. These are good uses for this type of instrument. Go for it.

Bottom line: If you want your daughter to play the piano, she needs a piano. If digital pianos were pianos, they'd be called pianos. I encourage you to start with a real piano, but if a real piano is not in the cards right now and the choice is to wait to start lessons until you can get a real piano, do go ahead and start with an electronic keyboard, planning to get a real piano as soon as possible. (Don't bother buying a digital piano at all. For the situation here, an electronic keyboard for $200 is just as good.)

(1) I have always heard that there is a mathematical or precise method to figuring out fingering. Do you know of any books on the matter of fingering? (2) Also are there any good methods of learning the different keys at the piano. Sometime I have difficulties with all the different keys and knowing them quickly.

(1) I have never heard of a mathematical method, as such, but that doesn't mean there isn't one out there! As to books on fingering, no, not really. I really wouldn't worry over fingering overly much. If you follow what I call the Two Commandments of Fingering and choose fingering that fits your hand and does not violate the composer's musical intent (as you deem it to be), you'll be fine.

(2) Probably a good knowledge of diatonic scales - - major, pure/natural minor, and harmonic minor (skip melodic minor!) - - and the chromatic scale are the most direct ways of learning the "feel" of a key under the fingers. Also play I-V-I patterns on each scale degree in the key.

Just playing a lot will help. Playing fake book style is particularly good, since you'll be "thinking chords," anyway; and if you "fill in" chords under the melody note, this is even better. Sight-read *a lot*, also.

What do you think of the Suzuki Method? I heard from some people that they started learning piano using the Suzuki Method and then switched to the traditional method when they got older. Is that normally the case?

Yes, this is normally the case, in my experience.

The Suzuki idea is that by removing the visual aspect of learning to play an instrument (that is, reading the notation) and focusing only on the physical and aural aspects, learning is easier and can be done earlier because one of the primary elements has been removed.

Also, learning can be done at a much earlier age...presumably, before the child is ready to read words. (I have found, however, that as long as the child can say the alphabet and count to 20 he can learn to read music notation and is cognitively ready for piano lessons. Word-reading is not necessary at all, in my opinion.)

I do not recommend a strict Suzuki experience, however, because it's based on mimicry, despite the philosophy of love that is behind it. From the beginning, the student parrots the teacher and records/tapes/CDs. He doesn't learn to read or to think, just to reproduce exactly what he hears. Everyone studies the same material. There is little or no initiative offered to the student. There are no supplemental materials. I have two sons who took Suzuki violin, so I have spent many years in the program. In each case (and with different teachers), I had to back the teachers to the wall and demand that they introduce note-reading. For example, my elder son was playing the Bach double concerto and still couldn't read a note!

The program transferred to piano is the same: emphasis on mimicry and a static repertoire. With one additional problem: the very first song ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," the same as for violin) requires a movement out of the 5-finger position, which I have found is -very- disconcerting to beginners.

Suzuki is not bad, of course! Many excellent musicians have come from this program, and many highly-qualified and
-respected teachers have chosen to teach it. Students develop superb ears (strings, woodwinds; impossible on the piano, of course, no matter what the pedagogy is!). And the ensemble training is excellent. Instruments which lend themselves to miniaturization make it possible for very young children literally to "get their hands around" the physical problems of making music. This means young children are able to make music a part of their lives and enjoy it early on - - and especially before other things crowd in to fill the time in the daily schedule. The teachers are encouraged to be very loving, supporting, and accepting. There are lots of games and "fun" activities which are, in fact, drill and learning experiences. Memorization is taught from day one, so whether the student "can" memorize is never a topic of discussion.

In summary, despite the positive aspects of the program, for piano especially, I believe it's best to start the way you're going to continue: if you want to be able to read music, start that way. And start with materials that are tailored to the piano. Although I have elements in my program which could be called "Suzuki" (teacher's attitude of extreme patience; the approach that music should be enjoyable; games instead of drills, for example) and the Suzuki method has lots to recommend it, I don't think it should be the pedagogical backbone for piano study.

I've been trying to teach myself piano as an adult after having quit lessons as a child...something, of course, I regret. (Why did my mother let me quit?!) Typically, I purchase some sheet music and a recording. Then I slowly, slowly pick out the notes and work out the fingering until it flows. It took me months to play the Moonlight Sonata, but it felt great! Could you suggest music or teaching aids for me? I need work on sight reading and counting. Also, I realize that I need a teacher, but I'm unsure an instructor would be willing to take on a 30-year-old beginner! The local community college offers adult courses, but they use the Alfred method, and I've already worked my way through one and a half levels of it.

First of all, you're to be commended for teaching yourself the Moonlight Sonata! Wow! I'm impressed!

Second, yes, a teacher will be happy to take you on. No one cares how old you are, only that you want to learn to play. Trust me.

Third, yes, junior colleges offer courses, but I think that with your background this probably would not profit you much. You don't need a group situation; you need one-on-one. Your background is so unusual that you will need someone who can address the "holes" in your preparation. A private teacher is definitely for you.

When you go hunting for a teacher, you might want to ask around if there are any teachers in your area who specialize in adult students. Such a person -might- have more experience dealing with someone with such an idiosyncratic past. Be sure you mention your concern at being a 30-year-old beginner.

Later on, if you want to take some music theory classes at the junior college, certainly this would be a good idea. In general, group performance classes ("learn to play") are lousy for beginners because you don't get individual attention and the class is geared to the norm (whatever that is!). And since you know so much already, I think it would be a waste of time for you.

As far as self-help materials, I'd like to say that there are some things that could help somewhat, but for you, I don't see anything that is germane. You could sight-read a lot, however.

To sum, I think you'd be best served by finding a teacher. I know this is not too helpful since you wanted to do more on your own, but I can't think what besides sight-reading that would further your goal of playing the piano well, other than getting together on a regular basis with a teacher.

Update (2007): See answer #109 for info on a series received well by students. I have never seen this nor do I know a teacher who has seen this. Caveat emptor! See also answer #16.

I am 22 years old and just bought a piano hoping to learn how to play it. The willingness is there but it seems like so much to learn and so very little patience. I want to practice with the hard stuff right away.

First of all, put yourself in the hands of a competent teacher. Tell the teacher your goals. Tell the teacher you want to play hard stuff as early as possible. Then trust the teacher to get you there as fast and as efficiently as she can. An experienced teacher will know exactly what to do. Please endure the first steps, even if they seem glacial, as the teacher has a "method to her madness." She is laying a foundation for you. If you don't "see the point" of something, ask!

Second, play the music your teacher assigns and don't try to teach yourself "the hard stuff." You'll only develop a lot of bad habits, which will make the hard stuff much harder to learn and master.

Third, home practice will make the biggest difference in your progress. At least 30 minutes a day is the minimum; 60-90 is even better and will help you make even more (and faster) progress. See Question 1.

I received a gift of "Teach Yourself the Piano," by Dick Bennett (Bernard Stein Music Company). Do you have any suggestions on how to progress/learn (without picking up bad habits) over the next 18 months so that when I have some time, I can immerse myself in learning to play the piano?

This is a poser! 18 months is a long time to be "on your own" as a beginner working from a book and without anyone to "check" on how you're doing. Not only should you fear acquiring bad habits, a problem you recognize, but there are more efficient (and nearly always more productive) ways of learning and practicing, which a teacher could impart to you.

Is there no chance you could get a teacher? Maybe sweet-talk one into giving you one lesson a month? I really hate to see you set sail alone with no teacher input for 18 months....!

If you decide you want to go it alone with the book, however, I'd take things really slowly and do *exactly* what the book says, down to the very last detail. This will require that you work very meticulously, and this will take lots of self-discipline and time. Be resigned to slow progress. Not particularly fun, but I think this is the only way to avoid getting bad habits when there is no one around to spot them and help you correct them.

Still and all, I'd urge you to find someone to give you some feedback along the way. If not a teacher, can you find a reasonably-competent pianist? I know this is not the answer you want, but if your goal is to play the piano decently, I'm not sure there *is* another answer! Kind of like learning any other highly-specialized physical skill which is taught in a hands-on process.

Try to rearrange your schedule and/or financial priorities so a weekly lesson is possible for you. I guarantee you will be glad you did it this way.

I am always trying to push myself too fast. Are there drills or exercises to help me pace better?

I'm not sure there are, if I understand your question correctly. I assume you are studying with a teacher. Yes? Your teacher will be able to help you much better than I can, as you will be able to explain it better to her and demonstrate, which you can't do in e-mail to me.

My concern is if you practiced so much (and/or with incorrect hand position) that you gave yourself a repetitive stress injury. Really, that is the only problem with practicing a lot. Otherwise, the more, the better! Your enthusiasm is a teacher's dream!

I am having trouble teaching how to play the right hand accents in Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66, in measures 17-22. Please help!

As if we didn't have enough problems already just playing the four over three, Chopin throws another curve by putting the accents in these measures on the second of the four-note sixteenth-note groups! Thanks, Fred!

I advise that you assign a word to each sixteenth-note group and say it as you play. You'll need one with an accent on the second syllable, such as Yo-SE-mi-te. Practice must be done slowly to help the student the "feel" of the right hand in this passage. Tell your student not to worry about speed! The idea is about control. The student should be going slowly enough to be in -complete- control of the notes. Speed will happen as a natural adjunct to being in control.

If you can't make this second-syllable-accent work for you, I suggest you think of this section as having a displaced accent, which is what it is, structurally. That is, the "downbeat" is really on the second sixteenth (even though it looks like it's on the first because of the barline). I like the word WA-ter-me-lon for sixteenth-note groups. To take care of the initial real downbeat (m. 17), preface your string of watermelons, with "a" or "oh," as in "a watermelon, watermelon, watermelon." As I mentioned above, the student must play slowly and train the hand. The transition will be at m. 22, and I don't anticipate your student will have any difficulty falling off your watermelons.

Note also that the student is greeted by the same challenge in m. 119-124. In this one, I'd suggest you say, "Eat a watermelon, watermelon, watermelon."

I suggest that you practice this technique with the student to demonstrate that it works. If it takes the entire lesson, who cares? If you can get through only part of it before the lesson ends, who cares?

(1) Why should I not strike the same note, in sequence, with the same finger twice (or more)? Is it written in stone? (2) My instructor asked me whether I knew the scales. I said that of course I knew the scales; but apparently I didn't and was put to playing scales and chords until I couldn't bear it (to the point of quitting lessons again). Are scales and chords really necessary? (3) My hands are quite small. I can reach one note over an octave, maximum, and, as you have pointed out, most classical pieces were written by men. At the level at which I play (e.g., Schubert's Impromptus and Moments Musicaux, Bach's Goldberg Variations) I find reaches that are impossible for me. Schumann and Brahms, in particular, are almost impossible for me to play. May too-long stretches be arpeggiated or otherwise modified so as to be manageable? (4) My last instructor pooh-poohed the John Thompson series - - the series I used as a child - - because she didn't like transcriptions. I found most method-type books to be boring musically and most simplified transcriptions in other books are pretty poor. I still find the transcriptions in the early levels of the Thompson books to be well done, and, in my experience, this exposure to classical themes was invaluable to my all-around musical education. I'm going to begin teaching my 11-year-old niece - - just to get her started - - and would like to use these books. Any comments?

What a collection of questions! I shall try my best!

(1) You do not have to use a fresh finger on repeated notes. This is an artifact from the middle- to late 1800s. (My guess is some piano pedagogue - - perhaps Friedrich Kalkbrenner - - thought up this "rule," which was then handed down to his students, and then to their students, and so on until the source became unknown and it was accepted as holy writ. It ain't holy writ.) There is absolutely no good reason I have found to require a fresh finger. Moreover, in order to accomplish this feat, generally you will find the price is much gymnastics and nonsensical fingering must precede it. Phooey on that. Use the same finger without guilt.

But wait! There is one situation in which I think changing fingers on the same note is a good idea, and that is on quickly-repeated notes. There is not enough time to lift the hand/finger in time to get a good clean re-strike. Better to use an adjacent finger instead. Our old friend, M. Hanon, has exercises which address this problem. I can't remember the number (no, I don't sleep with Hanon under my pillow!), but it's in the second half near the end.

(2) Yes, scales really are important when you reach intermediate literature and above. From what you tell me about the literature you are presently playing and your statement that you "didn't know" scales, my guess is that you didn't know them in precisely the format that your teacher wished them. Or, perhaps they weren't fast enough to suit him. Or, he preferred another fingering. Didn't he tell you why he wanted you to repeat learning scales? If not, do ask.

Chords are necessary to the student earlier than scales, in my opinion, as they are a structural part of music from the beginner level on up, whereas complete scales in one hand are not. Again, I wonder if the format was the problem, rather than the content? Again, ask.

In my opinion, you should be able to play a continuous arpeggio (ascending and descending), using the fingering 1-2-3 in both hands (including the top and bottom notes - - extra practice in tucking/crossing, depending on which way you're going!). You also should be able to play a triad in blocked and arpeggiated forms for root position and the two inversions. Example: C - E - G [root position]; then E - G - C; then G - C - E. It's good, also, to be able to do the triad with the minor seventh (three inversions plus root position; in our example here it would be C - E - G - B-flat.).

Some teachers like students to do a cadence (Look at The Brown Scale Book, published by F. Harris. This is an excellent compendium of scales.)

Note: I prefer to teach scales so the thumbs always fall together. Much easier than the "old way."

(3) Absolutely yes. Modify the music in whatever way is necessary to make it playable.

Look at the elements of each oversized chord and remove any duplicate notes that appear in the hand that cannot reach. Don't double the third. (Do you know your chords, heh heh?) Eliminate notes you can't reach, but try to keep the "color" notes, such as 3rds (but don't double it!), 7ths, 9ths that "define" the chord. Move notes to the other hand. Arpeggiate if that is compatible with the style of the piece. For example, in Baroque music, you would arpeggiate, not play grace notes. Gershwin does both, so choose the one that fits your hand and seems to work best at that point in the music.

In conclusion, make whatever modifications are necessary to make the music playable. Aim for tasteful modifications which preserve the original chord structure and style of the piece. Do this guilt-free.

(4) Yes, use the Thompson, if you like. He was the grand-daddy of the "use classical pieces in a method series" idea. As little as I like method series, you are correct that many of his transcriptions are good, musically. Some of the choices are a little dated (what I call "salon music" from the '30s and '40s), and not all the transcriptions work at the professed student level, but his concept was valid and today's teachers, myself included, have much for which to thank him.

As you say, much method book music is boring (the stuff I call "My Doggie's Birthday Party" and "Climbing the Mountain"). This is because the pieces are contrived to fit a specific pedagogical purpose. (Because of this many of the longer ones are not musically worth the effort to learn.)

Better, I think, to look at the music first and ask what pedagogical purpose this piece can serve and in what sort of arrangement?

It won't surprise you, therefore, to hear that is the approach I use in place of method books. I now have a filing cabinet full of arrangements of pieces from the standard repertory (public domain) at all levels, from earliest beginner to late intermediate. They're arranged in order of difficulty. I go to the file and pick out what the student needs at that lesson. Works really well. Obviously, no one plays every single thing, but I have depth for those who need extra work in a given area. If a transfer student comes to me and is weak in a certain area, I have just what I need for remedial work.

You can do the same thing! It just takes time and effort, but I promise you it is worth it!

What does the middle pedal do?

What the middle pedal does depends on the instrument. On grands, the middle pedal is a sostenuto pedal, which, when engaged after the note is depressed, raises the damper only on that selected note rather than on all notes. (The damper pedal, or right-most pedal, lifts the dampers off all keys. That is why the notes all "ring.") The sostenuto pedal is sort of like an extra hand.

The use a sostenuto pedal, first depress the note(s) you wish to hold; then "capture" them by depressing the sostenuto pedal. Play on, and only the captured notes will be held.

It is possible to need both sostenuto and damper pedal. This is in advanced music.

On many uprights, the middle pedal is an apartment mute, which just makes the piano play softer. (This is different from the una corda pedal, though!)

Where are competitions for my daughter in the New York/New Jersey area?

I do not live in New York or New Jersey and therefore know nothing about the local competition scene in NY/NJ. Ask her piano teacher. Ask at music stores. Call local universities. Try Google.

What brand piano is best?

It would be impossible for me to say because so much is personal taste. Do you like a really strong bass? A bright treble? Bright throughout? Mellow throughout?

How much room to do have? Enough for a grand piano? If so, do you actually -want- a grand piano?

How much money are you willing to spend?

My bottom-line advice is to buy the best piano you can stretch to afford.

Get Larry Fine's The Piano Book, which will give you great detail about individual brands and also the piano-building and -buying process. Or call 800-542-2022.

More information on my site in this general file about pianos and in this one about specific piano brands.

I'm an adult and about to begin Bach's BWV 927 (Little Prelude in F Major). Should I learn this piece with two hands together or in sequence (i.e. first the left hand, then, when I can play this fast, only the right hand, then together)? Is there a golden rule?

With any Bach, any time you spend practicing hands apart will be repaid handsomely, so, yes, start this way.

I don't know what your teacher does vis-à-vis lifts, etc. If he/she does use these, mark them in each part before you start to practice so that your hands "learn" these physical movements at the same time they're learning the notes. Also make sure the trills and other ornaments are in place.

And - - observe the rests! It is absolutely vital that rests begin and end *exactly* where Bach indicated. You may not "dribble over" into the rest. I find the best way to learn this is as a simple physical maneuver, just as with the lifts. Determine which note in the other hand coincides with the onset of the rest. Slowly, work through each one so that when "one hand goes down the other hand goes up," kind of like driving a stick-shift car!

Another way to make yourself observe rests with precision is to touch the index finger of the hand coming up on the rest to the nose. This will train you to lift your hand in order to touch your nose. I am sure this drill will give you some good laughs as you do it. Be sure not to "smash" your nose, as you'll probably be exerting the same force on your nose as you'd give to the keyboard!

Be aware that RH + LH is not going to be twice as hard as hands apart. It is not a case of 1 + 1 = 2. It's more like 1 + 1 = 37. Hands together is much harder than twice as hard as hands apart. So, you just take it slow - - even slower than you believe you can stand! As soon as you identify a place that is more problematic than the rest, you stop and learn that place thoroughly. There will be more than one!

Also, usually about 2/3s of the way through, Bach gets really devilish and starts piling motif atop motif, and the traffic is -really- heavy. Find this place (if it doesn't find you first!) and concentrate there. So what if you don't work on the beginning or end first? Master this difficult section first. Then go back to the other parts hands together. Not only do you know it's going to be easier sledding, but the training your hands got in heavy traffic will vastly simplify learning the other parts of the piece because the motifs will be quite apparent to you in these sections (which are more "transparent") and you'll be able to follow them easily as they move from hand to hand.

Your efforts with Bach will be *well* worth it. You will see the direct influence of Bach in the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, to mention just a few.

I'm saving the best advice for last: GO SLOWLY!!! Hah! Bet you are thrilled to hear that!

See also my file on learning fugues (and other imitative pieces by Bach - - and most are!).

I have seen a "learn piano on video" set, which is quite expensive. Would it be any use?

Save your money.

My son has a bachelor's degree in piano performance and wants to teach. Which would be more beneficial: a graduate degree in piano performance or one in piano pedagogy?

If you want my unvarnished advice, I'd say skip the advanced degree in pedagogy. Throw in a couple of pedagogy courses if he wants, but I think he's going to get a lot more substantial gain from another performance degree than one where his classes are instructional methodology, materials surveys, etc. Better that he has classes in form and analysis, composition, piano lit, music history, etc. Good solid stuff. He'll be a better piano teacher if he's a better pianist and has more depth in literature.

He probably will benefit from reading the many files on my site. Have him visit my pedagogy page. Of particular interest, I should think, are the files on teaching and learning styles, special techniques in teaching adults, special techniques in teaching children/beginners, special techniques in teaching learning disabled students, etc., plus all about how to teach notereading, counting, etc. He is welcome to print out these files (as long as they are for his own use, not to distribute).

I am interested in learning to play the piano. Can you recommend any good software program that would teach both theory and piano skills?

I can't recommend any software that would do either, even separately! Sorry. I know you don't to hear that. You probably suspected that was true and were hoping I'd be able to assuage your suspicions!

Find a good teacher. In the long run you won't save money using these "alternate" methods because they are a monumental waste of money: you won't learn how to play - - and there will be no one around from whom you can get help! The whole point of these " teachers' " financial strategy is to sell you the "product." They don't care whether you learn to play! They've already left town! You're on your own, toots. Find a real teacher!

Use the search function (software) for a couple other answers germane to your question.

It seems as though I always mess up at the end of a piece. Can you help me fix this?

The reason could be any of a number of things, but here are some ideas to try:

(1) Make sure you know the end well. People generally start learning the piece at the beginning. As time passes, the beginning is learned well (this part has all the themes laid out in satisfying directness, too, and is therefore very gratifying to play; thus, we do it a lot!). The middle of the piece is learned less well, and the end the least of all (generally a disaster!). You might want to start learning your next new piece at the -end-.

(2) This is especially true for a piece which has an ending which is more difficult that any other place in the piece. One reason for this is that composers want a "flashy" ending. Sometimes they make the ending more note-y. Usually they change the harmony (chords) more frequently (this is called "increasing the harmonic rhythm"). Therefore the end has built-in hazards. An example here is the end of the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata in C Minor ("Pathétique"). The material appears earlier and is difficult enough there, but in the coda, Beethoven speeds it up!

(3) Another reason you may have difficulties at the end of the piece, particularly at a performance, is because you "let down your guard." It's kind of like a swimmer who sees the wall and doesn't "finish strong." This problem is -very- common if the piece ends in fairly simple chords or octaves, such as the end of Mozart's "Rondo alla turca." You come to that ending, having been victorious in the acciaccaturas and Alberti bass section of that last page, and you mentally say, "Ah! I made it!" You let down your guard. Then you blow the octaves at the end. You haven't made it until you lift your hands from the keyboard at the end of the performance!

(4) A last reason is perhaps just fatigue. You are just pooped out by the time you get to the end of the piece. Building stamina just takes time. Play progressively longer pieces; or take repeats if they are there.

Be sure to ask your teacher about this problem!

Just about the only thing that wasn't commented on on your Web site was how one might decorate a room with a piano as the focal point - - it's not as easy as I thought!

I think the solution to your decorating problem is to put the piano on a rotating, mirror-covered stage in the middle of the room. Spotlights and disco mirror balls are optional, of course!

Some serious thoughts. If possible:

What I'd do is create a "conversation area" in the middle of the room which can act as an "audience" area for the piano. Work other furniture around it and on the room walls. Look in decorating and lifestyle mags for ideas. Many of them use a piano gratuitously in their scheme (you know this by the sterling silver picture frames on the closed piano lid!), and you know no one actually plays this piano (and that it might not even have keys or an action! - - hey! There's a new furniture niche!), but you still have can get conversation area ideas from the pictures.

The dinner-theater-in-the-round with the disco balls is tried and true. Sure you don't want to go with this one?

I've been told that people with long fingers play much better than short-fingered people. Is there any truth to this? Does the length of your fingers matter?

I don't think finger length is much of an issue except as it affects hand span. Can you reach an octave? This is really the minimum stretch for "real" literature, in my opinion, for an adult. Lynn Freeman Olson's collection of pieces for hands which can span only an octave or less (published by Alfred) is useful for small hands. More than that? Fine. Hand span for a child? The hands will grow. Don't worry about this now. Make sure literature being assigned is not too "large" so that the child damages the hands through work-around maneuvers.

A different problem: some men have what I call "fat fingertips," and this makes it difficult for them to get their fingers in-between the black keys, as for an E-flat triad.

A third problem: many adults worry about their ability to "ever get to play well" because their hands are "stiff." After a month or so of playing, most adults find that "stiffness" is not a problem anymore.

So in the end, I think finger dexterity/flexibility is the defining factor, and this may be attained or vastly improved through carefully-done technical studies. Even the hand span may be increased by judicious playing of octaves. I caution, however, that whenever something hurts that the player should stop immediately!

In m. 12 of the third movement of Beethoven's Sonata in C Minor ("Pathétique") there is a B-flat and a B-natural struck at the same time. This sounds awful! Is it a mis-print? If not, why did Beethoven do this?

First, your answer: no, it's not a misprint, and he did it because he wanted to and because he was skillful enough to get away with it!

Now, the explanation. This is such a horrible dissonance that it has its own name: cross relation. A cross relation is whenever a note plus another of the same letter name but in a different guise (flat, sharp, natural) are struck simultaneously. Not only did Beethoven do this, but other composers, too. William Byrd (Renaissance England), J.S. Bach, Chopin, Mozart (see the second movement of his famous Sonata in C Major, K. 545, in measure 16), and Gershwin come to mind immediately. (The rest of us hacks just abide by the rule or get an F on our theory exams.)

Sometimes cross relations are written with enharmonic equivalents (ex.: B-natural and A-sharp). This sounds the same as B-natural and B-flat, but doesn't look the same. In this case, we'd call it a B Major 7 chord and have no trouble with our theory teacher. But it would still sound awful!

Why did Beethoven really do it? Because he wanted such a striking effect that the listener would really sit up and take notice. "Wow! Must be something important coming." Look at your score and do a harmonic analysis. Where is Beethoven going with this chord?

What does the term una cora mean? What do I do when I see it in my piano music?

You probably mean una corda ["one string"]. Using this pedal makes the piano softer because the hammers are not striking all three strings. From the name, you would assume the hammers are striking only one string, but this isn't so! Counter-intuitively, two strings are being struck and one is not!

Here's how the una corda pedal works. Inside the piano, the hammer assembly shifts slightly so the hammers hit only two strings instead of three. (Note: On some pianos, you can see the keyboard itself shift!)

The una corda pedal ("soft pedal") changes the tone of the piano, as well as the volume. When the una corda pedal is depressed, the sound is "muffled" or as though it's from "behind a curtain." Sometimes composers specify the una corda because this tone color is desired, not necessarily because less volume is desired. Debussy is one composer who uses the una corda this way.

To play una corda, put down the left-most pedal. Let it up when you see tre corde ["three strings"], which means a return to normal. Please see this file for more discussion.

What is the circle of fifths?

I have covered this elsewhere.

(1) How does a student evaluate her teacher? (2) I'm not feeling good about what I've been getting at lessons. My teacher doesn't seem to have done any preparation for my lesson. Most of the lessons, if not all, consist of some time spent "chatting" and then her saying to me, "What would you like to play today?" Then we review the pieces thoroughly. My lessons seem to be "on the fly" all the time. Should I expect some sort of preparation on my teacher's part? She's European ("conservatory-trained") and there may be some vanity involved.

Ok, one at a time.

(1) Hmm! Good one! How about: a student is getting good teaching by:

(2) Yes, you should expect preparation, but perhaps your teacher does it in her head because she's been teaching so long. It sounds, though, as if the lesson is completely unstructured: as though the teacher is "presenting herself" to you (sort of like a papal audience!) to answer whatever questions you come up with and not putting much energy into creating a framework for your overall study.

Does your teacher write down a lesson assignment for you for the coming week? If so, this is what should be covered at the next lesson.

How do you feel about "on the fly"? Does this make you uncomfortable? If so, mention it to her. She should teach you the way you need and want to be taught. You are paying her for individual instruction, after all, not a class piano experience or a coaching session.

Tell your teacher what you need:

To be honest with you, it sounds as though this teacher is relying on her reputation and ego. I would begin looking for another teacher. It sounds as though this one is being lazy.

I'm not a piano teacher, but I did take lessons for 10 years from professional teachers. I'd like to teach my son. He's been through KinderMusik and shows interest in playing. Do you think I could do it? Should I?

You might be able to do it, BUT you are Mom. I tried teaching my two boys and got nowhere; I hired a teacher. You may have better luck, but I doubt it since you're not a trained piano teacher.

If you want the child to love music and have it his whole life, I suggest, as a professional, that you hire a professional teacher so he gets a good foundation from a person who creates a teacher-student dynamic with him rather than a parent-child or, worse yet, a confusion of the two ("Which hat are you wearing now, Mommy?").

I'm having a terrible time memorizing music. Can you help me?

I have a file on memory techniques which I hope will help. Please ask your teacher, though! He will know your strengths and weaknesses and will be able to suggest a memory method which might be most efficient for your learning style, the literature you have under study, and your planned use for the memorized music.

I studied piano for many years. Today I play only for my own enjoyment but am really rusty. I would like to purchase a grand piano. Does it make sense to buy a really good piano like a Steinway or Boston, or should I stick with moderately-priced one?

If you can afford it, have room for it, and want to continue piano study, I'd definitely advise you to go with a really good piano. Buy the best one you can stretch to afford. You won't regret the joy you receive from it (and it will maintain its value better than a cheaper one). If you're unsure you want to continue playing this time around, rent an instrument. Meantime, start looking around at what's available in showrooms and the want-ads. Piano technicians often sell used pianos that they have rebuilt or otherwise reconditioned.

Incidentally, though it is designed by Steinway, Boston is made by Kawai. And Steinway markets the product. Also, Steinway is not the only "good" piano, so don't limit your choices up front. (In fact, were I buying a piano right now, it would not be a Steinway. I have never liked the touch or sound.) See also my opinions of piano brands.

Should I listen to a recording of a new piece before I start to learn the notes?

Short answer: no.

Instead, learn to rely on your own musicianship. What does the score tell you? (I hope it's an Urtext!) What do your fingers tell you as you play through it? What do you know about this composer and/or this musical period? What other composers were in this same period? What do you know about them? How do they and the present composer compare and contrast? Pull out this information from your brain and apply it to this piece.

Listening to a piece "for someone else's interpretation" first colors your own decision-making, as well as making you intellectually and musically lazy. I don't recommend it.

I recently heard a piano transcription by Busoni of the Bach D Minor Toccata & Fugue. Do you have any idea where I could find a copy of the score?

No, sorry. Start at your local music store, asking them to search their catalogue, but I'm pretty sure it's in print. (You probably are referring to the performance by Horowitz. Sidelight: Vlad starts with a big ol' clam. The story goes that he decided to go with this take and when asked why, he mentioned something about not being perfect.) Start working your way up the chain to an online store with larger search capabilities. There is a music store somewhere in the U.S. that specializes in hard-to-find music; I can't recall the name, though. Use a search engine and see what you turn up. (If you're successful, please email me so I can add that information here for others; thanks.) There are several piano forums; try posting to those. Contact the piano faculty at your nearest college/university and ask; check with the music librarian, too.

I am an adult beginner who wants to play the works of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. I find myself questioning my teacher's selection of literature (pop, which is what all her other adult students seem to want) and her lack of interest in teaching me technique and music theory. I have told her numerous times that I don't want pop, but classical. She might give me what I want if I push her, but I am not experienced enough to decide whether to trust her or to try to make her do the kinds of things it seems to me I will need in order to play the music of these great masters.

It sounds to me as though the teacher is in over her head with you. I am sure she would give you what you have told her [several times] you want if she felt she could do it competently (that is: if she could give it to you while still looking as though she understands this stuff and knows how to teach it).

My guess is that she perhaps has never had a student with goals such as yours and doesn't know exactly what to do and is covering it up by (1) teaching literature with which she is familiar and comfortable (pop); (2) making light of the importance of, for example, scales and theory. Pop music is in her "comfort zone," and other literature and in-depth music study is not. Nor is "growing" outside her comfort zone.

My guess is that she is unlikely to change. I suggest you change teachers. Tell the teachers you interview exactly what you want and why you feel you are not getting it from your present teacher.

I got an ad for a special one-day program at my local community center. It claims that I can learn to play in just one day! This sounds like just what I'm looking for. I don't have time to take lessons for a long time. I want to -play-! And I don't want to keep paying every week. This seems like such a great combination: cheap, just a little time investment. What do you know about these seminars?

I know that they are designed to part you from your money.

Out of curiosity, I followed up once on an ad to the effect of "We're looking for piano teachers who want to make big money quick." It turned out to be a seminar much like what I suspect you are being offered: a one-day session on electronic keyboards that will cover (note I did not say "teach you") reading notation and playing with chords beneath a melody. Then the teacher sells "tapes" for you to "complete your study at home, at your convenience, and in comfort without paying anything else."

That's the quick money part: the tapes. The teacher comes in, teaches one day, sells tapes (big markup), and then leaves town. She never has to answer to any questions or do any follow-up. Instead, she sets up a seminar somewhere else. It's a "one-day commitment," as the follow-up material stated - - for the teacher, as well as the student!

Where do the students go when they have questions? They have no "real" person to ask. They have the comfort of their tapes.

This is "teaching"? Not in my book.

Is it ethical? No, not that, either.

Is it what such "students" deserve? Maybe, especially the ones who want to get something complex and difficult in one session and for a low price.

There is no such thing as "learn to play piano in six easy lessons," so there most certainly isn't one "in one easy lesson"! If I could figure out how to do this and then teach it in even a marginally-effective way, I would be rolling in money!

If you want to spend your money this way, it's your choice. But you won't be getting piano instruction, and in my opinion, you won't be getting much of anything except snookered.

Note: I don't think the "video instruction" sets are worth anything either. Find a teacher.

How do students keep up with learning new pieces while maintaining proficiency on the older pieces?

The trick to keeping lots of stuff in your repertoire is to play -slowly- a couple of "old" pieces daily (how many depends on the size of the repertoire you want to keep - - obviously, you'll need to decide what you do want to keep ready; you probably can't keep everything ready) and never go too long (say, 2 weeks) without playing everything you want to keep active.

I suggest using the music to make sure no mistakes creep in.

Remember to give some extra attention to the known problem spots.

I am 43 years old and have been playing by ear for about 30 years. I have played in bands for most of that time (pop/rock dance bands). I would like to start lessons and learn to play properly. My worry is all the bad habits I've taught myself. Is it much more difficult to teach an adult with bad habits than someone who has not played at all?

Congratulations! I salute you! Most adults with your experience in music would not have the guts to go back and "learn how to do it for real." With your attitude, you will have no trouble.

Tell the teachers you interview what your background is, what you want to accomplish, and what your fears are. Ask each to address those areas specifically with you and explain what he/she would do.

You suspect you have some bad habits (and I'd guess, too, that you have them), but if your teacher keeps this I mind uppermost while teaching you the basics and if you are careful to follow the advice carefully (and to ask about anything not explained in enough detail for you), you'll be fine! You play, guy!

My daughter will turn 5 this week. She just had her first piano lesson. She enjoyed it, did well, and liked the teacher. This teacher emphasizes reading right away. My daughter can play many songs beautifully and musically by ear. With the music, it seems as though she is just following the notes and not really making music. Although I agree with many of the things you said about the Suzuki method, I can't help but feel that if the reading is a struggle and she plays so well without music, then why not just start with the Suzuki method and switch in a year or so?

(The second half of the question appears below.)

My response to this will be that in another year, it will be even harder to change to note-reading! The younger she is, the more "flexible" she'll be to accept the change. Ask the teacher to give her a lot of "reward" music, such as holiday songs. Also, her by-ear playing should be complimented, too; not thought of as a second-class kind of playing. The teacher can assign a by-ear song each week; and perhaps she can choose the song and surprise the teacher.

If you want to go the Suzuki route, and you sound as though you do and are asking my "permission" to do it, then, yes! Do it! Do what is best for your daughter. You know her better than anyone in the world!

I am undecided about how I should have her continue her lessons. It is a real struggle for her to recognize the notes on the staff. She recognizes Middle C immediately but gets a little confused with the other notes.

Well, first, did the teacher just say "this is a Middle C and this is a D" without explaining the idea of stepping (2nd) and skipping (3rd) and how this relates to the alphabet? This may be why she's confused! This approach surely seems to her to be arbitrary and without any kind of logic she can understand.

I would suggest making up some games that have to do with reading.

Start talking about stepping and skipping with objects, such as M&Ms. Talk about step/skip up/down. Then move to letters (like Scrabble letters or the magnetic refrigerator letters). Then move to the keyboard.

Now she needs to learn how to connect this with the printed page.

On staff paper (as described for the snakes, below), write out different steps and skips (up and down, high and low). Don't do ledger lines yet! This is sort of a workbook exercise for her. You do just enough where she is not squirmy; if she's restless and seems to be getting bored, you quit and come back another time.

Now move to "snake songs", which are a series of stemless black noteheads written on one staff (without clef, time signature, or even barlines - - just the note heads and the staff).

Ask her to pick any white note. You announce, "That is this note," as you point to the page. Then you isolate that note and the next one in the V of your index and middle fingers and say, "Here's where we want to go. Is this a step or a skip?" She answers. "Up or down?" She answers. "Ok, step up [or whatever it was - - you just repeat it as she does it]." Then on to the next one. Ask her all these questions each time. This shows her how to think through each pair she sees. You'll know when she's catching on because she'll start doing it before you can get all the words out of your mouth!

She may use either hand and any combination. Don't even think about fingering.

When you introduce ledger lines, use a note in the space above/below the staff and a note on the first ledger line above/ below. Don't go any farther afield than this; this is all you'll need for now.

Snake songs have about 12 notes in them. Remember to include repeated notes; when she catches on, include some above and below the staff, as described above.

Make these songs hers. Ask her to name each song. Snake names? Vegetables? Friends? Holiday titles?

Then, it's on to worm songs. This are like the snakes except they are shorter -and- she may no longer choose which hand and which finger to start. You have to be careful when writing these! Write down LH or RH and also the finger number of the first note. See that she gets this starting note correct. Again, she may choose any white note. Note that her choices have been truncated; this is part of the plan!

When she steps, she uses the adjacent finger. When it's a skip, she skips a finger; children have various abilities to master skipping a finger on the first try, as it's a physical thing more than a lack of understanding.

If she runs out of fingers, you both laugh. Woopsies!!

Make sure you write enough worm songs so that each finger of each hand starts one.

Now you go to the grand staff with clefs (no time signatures needed), but you only do Middle C. This note is played by either thumb. The first 1-2 songs are only one-count notes, alternating between R and L hands. The stem direction tells which hand.

This presumes that she has already learned that quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes get 1-2-3-4 counts respectively. This should be developed with card games - - make your own - - concurrently. Use Go Fish and Old Maid (I call this one Hot Potato because I don't want to reinforce sexist stereotypes, but this is just my personal slant on things!); also the opposite (which I call "[name] is a Star!" Make two extra cards: one a potato and one a star. Out-of-date business cards work really well for deck of cards.

Make a second deck of quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes (four of each) and play the same games with this deck. Also use this deck as "draw cards" for board games. Use any that you have at home already; or draw you own.

Back to the Middle C songs. After she can get R and L hand straightened out with Middle C and all quarter notes, then half notes are added to the mix, etc. Somewhere along the way, add the time signature - - but only the top number because the lower one has absolutely no meaning to her at this point. I leave out the time signatures of the songs and ask the student to figure it out and write it in on both staves (it doesn't matter particularly where, just as long as it's within the staff line area).

Anyway, this is the way I do it and have had tremendous success, even with people who come to me as by-ear players only. Older kids, teens, adults: all get the same data, but of course at a pace and in a package that is age- appropriate.

You are welcome to share any of this with your daughter's teacher. Perhaps a printout of your question and my answer might help the teacher understand your concerns in detail. I assume you and she have had a discussion about this.

I'm a beginner learning to play the keyboard and I find it much easier playing with letter notes instead of symbols. Is it possible to get letter names for the notes to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" first movement? Please give me a site to get it, if there is any.

Answer: I don't know any.

Sermon: Of course it's easier to play with letters because you already know those symbols. About 900 AD, however, musicians decided that letters were not the way to go to notate music, and that's why the current system of dots and lines was invented. I'd strongly advise you not to go backwards in technology, especially to a system that was proven to be inadequate over 1000 years ago.

Why not learn to read music? As you've already seen, there is nothing available done in notation that comes, quite literally, from the Dark Ages.

As to your desire to play the "Moonlight," find a teacher and tell her/him that this is the piece you want to play most of all. As for a simplified arrangement - - perhaps just the opening melody - - as soon as you know enough notes to play a phrase or two.

While answering a question about long or short fingers, you eluded to fat fingers' having a problem fitting in between the keys. I have this problem when trying to play any chord except C. I can fit my fingers in between the keys, but I have to be very precise. (I'm not overweight.) If I play a sharp or flat with my pinkie and a white key with my middle finger, either I have to hit that perfect spot or curl my finger to where it's uncomfortable. I guess there's no sure choice between the two? I read in a newsgroup in a similar discussion where a person said that they make the choice depending on the piece they are playing, sometimes curl and sometimes play between the keys. Is this the best thing to day or should I make a choice and stick with it?

This is a tough one. My standard advice would be to play further out toward the edge of the key but as close as you can to make the triad a more comfortable grasp. If you are overweight, losing weight will also mean losing some in your fingers, but you say this does not apply to you.

I have had several gentlemen students with wide fingertips. And I'll bet that an E-flat major chord is not your cup of tea, either! They surely didn't like it!

Consider also trying to "play out" (just out from the start of the black key), as for the Eb chord. This is the "curl under" solution, of which you speak, perhaps. Your fingers should be long enough to reach the Eb and Bb even if your third finger is in a strange position on the G.

And consider a re-fingering, such as 1-2-3 (on the Eb again, as an example), so you can change the attitude of the fingers relative to the black keys. That is, 2 would be canted toward the outside of the hand (pinkie), drawing the elbow toward the body. Sometimes the index finger is slimmer than the middle one.

I think the "choice" solution probably is best, unless it confuses you to use two different motions to solve the same problem. On the other hand, most pianists use the multiple solutions approach in fingering all the time.

My son started taking lessons at the age of 7, played for 8 years, and quit at the age of 15. His teachers always raved about his natural talent but soon grew frustrated with his lack of practice. He made most of his learning strides in his first 5 years and by that point had completed his grade 7 Royal Conservatory Exams with honors. The last three years of his studies were a waste of our money and the piano teacher's time. He would barely practice an hour a week. So, we finally let him forgo his piano studies in lieu of sports teams and other such endeavors. Jump ahead 9 years. During his spring break from college, we rented the movie Shine one evening, and he was so inspired by this movie that he started to play again for the first time in 9 years. At first he couldn't remember a single piece. But within a few weeks he was playing all of his old grade 7 Conservatory pieces. When he returned for summer break, much to our astonishment, he could play Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp Minor, as well as Chopin's Military Polonaise. He told us that he got a key to the practice rooms and access to the university's sheet music archives and practiced for 2 hours a day. Apparently those two songs were to serve as preparatory pieces to warm him up for his real goal: The Rachmaninoff's ossia cadenza as featured in the movie. My husband and I were concerned at this point that he would lose interest after attempting this technically-challenging section and then quit again, however, after three months of fairly intense practice (2 hours a day), he mastered it along with several other pieces (such as two Joplin rags etc.). We have been telling him he should resume formal study. He says he doesn't want to because "they will make him play stuff he doesn't want to learn." We are afraid that bad habits will inevitably be the consequence. In addition, he is a horrible sight-reader; he can hardly sight-read at grade 2 level (Royal Conservatory). He learns the songs by attacking a bar at a time and only continuing when the bar is committed to memory. Finally the question: We see some real talent here. If he keeps this up, he will mature into a real good pianist. How can we convince him to resume study with an instructor? Or are we overreacting? He seems to be interested only in attempting pieces that are the most difficult in piano literature, such as Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2, which he gave up after learning a few pages and apparently stopped from discouragement after playing it for a two months. We are so afraid that if left to his own devices, he will burn out and quit again, whereas if he takes lessons, the teacher won't engage him in pieces above his technical skill level.

First, he sounds like a talented young man. Young. Therein lies most of the problem.

Second, you sound like very reasonable parents, and you obviously have only his best interests at heart. You know that he is doing himself harm and are trying to save him from himself. Naturally, he is not listening, and this is typical.

Now a solution. I think I would tell him that his best bet for improvement lies in private study, but don't bludgeon him with this observation. If he can schlog through music at the level you mention, he has pretty good skills, sight-reading notwithstanding.

Also the fact that he has come back on his own to an activity he gave up in favor of [more] sports and other teen pursuits says a lot about his intellectual depth. You need to let him make his own decision to come back. When he does, and he's serious, he'll be able to admit the deficiencies and be mature enough to address them.

Meantime, what to do now. Sight-reading + young may be what's holding him back right now, down deep. Also telling is his concern that a teacher will "make him" learn stuff he doesn't want. I'm guessing he knows he can't sight-read worth beans and that he will be "found out" by a university piano professor. And, of course, this is true! He is likely afraid that when his sight-reading level is discovered he will be written off as a musical ne'er-do-well and tossed out the door in ignominy. He's not old enough yet to bear such "rejection," although I think his main problem is -fear- of rejection. He also may fear he will be assigned remedial pieces, and that those will have limited musical appeal (and challenge!) to him.

He might be well-served by studying with a competent grad student and working specifically on sight-reading. This is if he acknowledges that sight-reading and perhaps other skills are deficient. Tell him you'll be happy to pay for this, if he can "find someone to be in cahoots" with him to work on his sight-reading. Then later, you'll be happy to pay if he decides he wants to take literature study from a prof.

If he's not interested, let him continue to work on his own. Let him know that the offer stands, and you'll make good on it when he's ready. Meanwhile, encourage him to play for you, to make community appearances (retirement homes are great for this!), and use his musical talents and skills in other ways.

When the time is right, he'll come back. But I know it's tough to wait!

You mentioned Urtext in one of your answers. Who publishes these?

Urtext means "original text", and several publishers do this. Ask your music dealer what's available as Urtext in the piece(s) you want. Ex.: Henle for Mozart, Beethoven, etc.

I started my piano studies on my own around age 6 but had figured out lines and spaces and note values long before formal study began. My first teacher (I was 8) instilled in me thorough practice methods: slow practice, absolute clarity and even playing, proper fingering, and solid to-the-bottom-of-the-key playing even when the passage is marked ppp. I do all this, even to this day. Other teachers introduced me to ensemble playing (great for tempo and rhythm). I had the opportunity as a teenager to join Chamber Ensemble Weekends at Phillips Academy in Andover. What a musical experience! Other things I've worked on include absolute relaxed playing, chord balancing, inner voice balancing (Beethoven is famous for that) and finger independence exercises. I feel I am a competent player with a solid background, but I can't (or at least I think I can't) memorize. I can read anything - - even sight read close to tempo. My first teacher suggested backwards reading and symbols in different sections (try to start at the symbol-marked section rather than just the beginning). Other teachers seem to have used finger memory. I use tone analysis and association. I can see where finger and rote memorizing don't work because if you slip, the whole piece unwraps. I develop blocks that I can't seem to get around. I have some major confusion places that seem to clear for one day or week, but as soon as I come upon these places again they mess up. It's really frustrating.

You have my sympathy. I have seen many students just like you. You are not alone!

First of all, please do not think you are less of a musician because of your memory "problem." People are "variously-abled" in memory, just as they are in ability to play tennis or learn a foreign language.

Second, please read my file on memory.

Third, ask yourself whether memory is really necessary for how you are using your music. You didn't say if you were a music major, an adult playing for pleasure, a prospective music major, etc. If you are not a music major or a pre-major, don't worry about the memory. Play from music. You are -not- less of a musician to do so, I assure you. There is a big mystique about performing from memory (started by Clara Schumann and perpetuated by Franz Liszt, mostly as a parlor trick), and I think a lot of it is bunk.

We are ready to buy a piano, even though our daughters have not yet begun study. Which is best? New or used?

Please read my file on this topic. See also this file on general information about buying pianos and this one that gives my opinions of specific brands.

You should consider what your home situation is, since your girls are not yet studying.

At this point, then, you survey what is available new and also look at what is available used. Try the newspapers, piano dealers' used stock, piano technicians' used stock - - and they also usually know of people with pianos to sell.

As far as whether new or used is "better," this also depends.

A new piano is expensive, but you have the comfort of a "warranty" in case there is something wrong with it, and it will be a nice piece of furniture. For these features you pay a premium.

I would say if you are at all unsure whether the girls will continue and you have no other reason to have a piano in the home except for them, go with a used piano. You can always trade it in on a new one later (if the person with whom you are dealing has such a program) or sell it and put the money toward a new piano.

If you just "prefer" something new, go with that. You can always sell it if you wish.

But, please, since you want your daughters to play the piano, don't go with an electronic keyboard/digital piano if you can avoid it! The folks at the store will try very hard to sell you one and tell you how they're "just as good" and "almost as good" and "feel just like" a real piano. Not so at all! Every single one of my students who bought an electronic of some kind, including the very high end models, has traded it in for a real piano. (And I have said zero to them about this. They have come to this conclusion on their own.)

I am a 49-year old pianist. I've had a great deal of pain with my right shoulder, primarily, but it radiates down the arm some. I've had this pain for many years; sometimes worse, sometimes better. I've been to doctor after doctor, had physical therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, Rolfing, chiropractic. Some of these therapies gave some relief, but it's flared up again. I'm just about ready to quit playing. Everything hurts. Do you have any suggestions?

Oh, wow! What a problem! I assume that it's from piano playing? Are you doing anything else that might contribute, such as lots of computing, playing tennis or golf, etc. Have you been to an orthopedist who specializes in repetitive stress injuries? If so, has the doc decided that piano indeed is the culprit or could it be something else or even a combination of activities?

Now for solutions. (1) If you find that certain types of music really aggravate the condition, change the literature. Decide that for your health and continued ability to play at all, you will enjoy these pieces on CDs. (2) Ask your piano tech if the downweight can be adjusted on your keyboard. (3) Practice those "aggravating" pieces much less. Choose shorter ones so you have a hope of learning them in this lifetime! (4) Don't play so loudly. If you type, don't type "forte." (5) Change to harpsichord, virginal, or clavichord. Obviously, this would necessitate a change in literature, too. (6) Switch to an electronic keyboard (not a digital piano, but what's known as a synthesizer).

My professor wants me to play solo recitals. I'm really nervous about playing in public, yet I'm bored playing just for myself. Do you think playing for my friends or small groups (master class) will help me overcome this feeling?

Absolutely! My adult students play for each other once a month. They play partially complete pieces, pieces just begun, the same piece several months in a row. Whatever they want.

They say it helps tremendously. And when recital time comes, it's just like another "piano party" because it's the same people.

I'd advise doing the small groups of friends/amateurs first. Master classes are pretty intense - - other students are listening to the teacher critique your playing. I'd wait on this until I'd had several recitals under the belt.

I have very little control of my ring finger. I have a hard time playing fingers 3 and 5 without finger 4. If I rest all five fingers on the table, I cannot lift finger 4 at all. Is there anything I can do to solve this problem?

A classic problem and one every keyboard played faces! Your "table" exercise will help, but be very, very, very careful. Lift the 4th finger only enough to lose contact with the table. Don't try to "stretch" it or lift it higher. Robert Schumann, the composer, put an early end to his concert career by using a device he designed to conquer the same problem you - - and every pianist - - has.

I suggest Aloys Schmitt's Preparatory Exercises for Piano, Op. 16. Work through them all to build strength and dexterity. Along the way, you'll come to exercises especially for the 4th finger. (I don't want to tell you which ones because you need to work up to them by starting at the beginning of the book!) Also, discuss this problem with your teacher. Good luck. You -can- do it; all pianists before you have done it!

How can you tell just by looking that a key signature of a song what key it is played in?

You memorize that one sharp is G major; if there are two sharps, it's D major; and so on.

One problem: one sharp also can be a minor key (in this case, e minor).

So, you have to look at the triad in the very last measure of the song to be sure.

Another thing you can do is to look for sharps written in as accidentals. In e minor, it would be a d#, but since this is still hazy for you, I'd go with analyzing the last measure. In fact, if you do it this way, you don't have to memorize which key is how many sharps!

My daughter is in her second year of lessons with the same teacher, who is a member of our state teachers' association. My daughter enjoys piano and has some talent (according to the teacher). Last spring I was shocked to learn that the teacher takes off for the summer and feels the students don't really lose anything. My daughter lost almost everything she had learned! I have about 10 years of lessons and am feeling that I'm teaching her, other than the teacher's giving the assignments. We're working on "sit up straight and play with curved fingers." We pay $60 per month for 1/2 hour weekly lessons. With just this little information, what would you advise?

It sounds as though this teacher is not committed to the profession (well, it's a calling, really!) and is teaching for some extra money. Perhaps this teacher is just inexperienced and hasn't found out yet what happens in "real life."

Or, maybe the teacher is lazy. I advise you to look for another teacher - - one who realizes, as you do, that kids forget a lot over the summer. Actually, they forget a lot just over two weeks at Christmas!)

Give yourself a pat on the back for spending the important time with your daughter that she needs to become a musician. She sees that you deem it so important that you'll fill in for her teacher, and she can hardly miss learning that music is important!

I'm a guitar player. I read your file on using the metronome, but I still don't understand. (1) How does listening and clapping with the metronome aid me in keep time when strumming my guitar? I can keep beat by clapping but this doesn't help me in learning how to keep beat while playing blues? (2) What is also hard for me to understand is the playing of notes in between the sounds of the metronome. I thought that one strikes a note every time one hears the sound of the metronome, but my teacher says it is also important to play between the sounds of the metronome, this is the problem I have.

(1) Listen and strum. the clapping was a preliminary step; control over large muscles happens before control over small ones.

(2) Start with a simple 1&2&. Set the metronome for one tick per "1" and one per "&." You are setting the metronome for the eighth-note. Strum on each tick. You are strumming on the eighth-note. Go all the way to 208. Then set the metronome for 104 and strum twice on every tick. You will be playing on the quarter-note. You will not be playing any faster than you did at 208 with one strum per tick, but you will have "less support" to keep you consistent in speed. This is what your teacher means by playing "between the sounds of the metronome." Take this to 208, also.

Now do the same with triplets. Tick on the first one.

And quadruplets. Tick on first one.

All along, you have less and less support as far as a tick on each note.

At the outset the metronome to be your drummer. Where do you want a drum beat to sound? Probably on 1 of each measure.

Your teacher is correct, however, you can have the tick represent anything you want, as I illustrated above.

You should ask your teacher to help you, as I mentioned in a previous email. That is what you are paying this person to do. If you have to spend a lesson or two entirely on this topic until you can practice it at home, that will be money well spent, don't you think? Tell your teacher this is what you want to do.

If your teacher balks, get a new one. This one is not teaching you what you want to learn and, more important, helping you in what you perceive your weaknesses to be.

I would like to know what is your opinion on lesson time. My son's teacher says he needs two half-hour lessons per week (rather than the half-hour he is taking now). My friend told me, "The teacher probably just wants to squeeze more money out of you." My son just turned 6 and is currently on level 2 books (Suzuki level 2, and John Thompson level 2), and the teacher started him on Bastien's level 2 materials during his first lesson. How do I know when Samuel really needs an hour lesson each week?

Ask the teacher why she feels Samuel needs more time and what she plans to do in that extra 30 minutes. Also, ask the teacher to discuss the pros and cons of 2 half-hour lessons a week vs. a whole hour once a week. Then you can compare this answer to the answer about what the teacher plans to do with the extra 30 minutes. Do the answers jibe?

What I look for is if the student and I consistently run out of time before we run out of material on the assignment pad. If we do, this means the child is very quick and needs more material and more depth. This means we'll need more time.

It could be that the teacher is "padding" the income, but maybe not.

I do, question, however, whether a 6-year-old can sit still for an hour on a weekly basis. If the teacher feels 60 minutes is warranted, I suppose you could try it for a while and really "tune in" to Samuel and gauge his mood and reaction. Is his love for piano diminished? Another option would be to take an hour lesson once a month. If the teacher is NOT trying to pad the income, then probably this suggestion will be acceptable, unless it makes chaos out of the teacher's schedule. You could try a long lesson once a month (and probably would have to take it at another time during that week) and then re-evaluate after 6 months. It may be that he can profit from a longer lesson, but I'd watch carefully to make sure new material and help are being presented at each longer lesson; if the teacher is just filling time, then I don't think it's warranted.

Has your friend had this experience? Does your friend study piano or have her children study? What is her background in this situation? Why would your friend say it's just a way for the teacher to squeeze more money from you? As sad as it is to note, some families are very competitive with other families when it comes to piano study. Perhaps this friend is discouraging you because she knows that additional instruction will put your son "ahead" of the her children?

I wear bifocals, and it's killing my neck to tilt my head back so I can see the music! Help!

Piece of cake. You need piano glasses.

There are two routes. (1) Have your eye doc prescribe a pair specifically for you to see to the music rack. Use a tape measure to measure from the tip of your nose to a book of music open on the music rack. This probably will be about 23-24". Tell your doc this measurement and what you want. (2) Buy a pair of reading glasses at the drug store. Try one-half to one diopter less than your reading glasses (or the reading part of your bifocals). Take some music and set it up at the distance you figured out before (the 23-24" or whatever it is for you) to help you decide what strength to purchase. If necessary, buy two pairs and "test drive" at home for a day or so and return one of them when you decide which strength you prefer.

Look for a pair that is "light," as a heavy pair will hurt your nose after a while.

I'd like to know where all the adult piano students are hiding. I feel a bit like a freak since starting lessons last year. Is there such a thing as an adult piano student support group?

Don't feel like a freak; there are TONS of adult students of piano; also students of other instruments, of course. And a lot of them are rank beginners. Look at it this way, next year you'll be a year older. Will you also have started lessons or will you still be thinking about it? Obviously, you've decided to get going now. Hats off to you!

My students have a "piano party" group, where they play for each other: finished pieces, works in progress, portions of works in progress, etc.

Ask your teacher about starting such a group with her/his adult students. If there aren't enough to make a group, ask the teacher for the name of the teachers' association president and approach this person with your idea; ask for the names of the other teachers in the organization. Call each one and float your idea. Depending on where you live, there might be a program sponsored by the state teachers' organization or perhaps a local college or junior college. Adult students are out there, I promise.

As in all things, a leader is needed. That probably will be you!

I am an adult student who wants to play for fun and relaxation only. (1) I am thinking about buying a digital piano because of the earphone option. Will digital piano be "sufficient" for me? (2) I can practice only late at night and do not want to disturb my family or neighbors. (3) Has piano technology changed significantly, in your opinion, since you wrote your file on this in 1998? (4) Yamaha has been actively promoting their Clavinova series and claiming them to be as good as the real thing. They mentioned that the Clavinova is used to teach the junior piano classes as well as pop piano classes. (5) The tone of this email suggests that I already made up my mind to buy digital, but I am curious to know if the strong disapproval from most piano professionals like you are targeted towards music students.

(1) In my opinion, the earphone option is the only reason to choose a digital piano. Yes; any piano will be "sufficient."

I warn you, however, if you shop for an acoustic instrument (a used one might be the way for you to go), have it inspected by a certified piano technician. You do not want to have to "fight the instrument" as you are learning to read the music, keep a steady speed, and make your hands do what your brain knows they should be doing.

(2) Look at your schedule and see if there is some time you could practice during "polite hours" and do whatever the other thing is late at night.

Or, buy the digital.

(3) In my opinion, not so one would notice. Consistently I have people who come for lessons and have bought/or who do buy a digital without my input; within 6 months, they want a real piano. I know that's not what you want to hear! (See also my previous answer.)

(4) As good as Yamaha products are, a Clavinova is not as good as the real thing. There may be a bit of promotional cash being offered to dealers by Yamaha from time to time. I don't know for sure, but often in sales of any commodity there is a manufacturer's incentive payment to the retailer. If it weren't an uphill battle to sell these things, the dealers would not harp on how much like the real thing a Clavinova is!

Electronic pianos, of which the Clavinova is one, are good options if a teacher is doing class lessons. It is probably the only way a teacher could afford enough instruments. Usually such classes are taught with less expensive instruments than a Clavinova; as you know, they are not cheap.

(5) Yes. To whom else would we say this? We don't like to see you do something that isn't what you think you are doing. Again, if the digital works for you, go for it. It's better than not playing at all! And remember this is only my opinion! Other teachers may advise you otherwise.

See also Question 63.

Why do I have to do technique? I don't like it very much.

Yes, well, you and me and most everyone else. Let's face it, it's not as much fun as a song!

Why do technical exercises? Think of technique as a "vocabulary" of physical skills you need in order to play the kind of music you want. This includes things such as triads, arpeggios, scales; the ability to play staccato and legato; piano and forte (as well as playing staccato in one hand and legato in the other; same with forte and piano). Without this vocabulary, it is difficult to express the music.

Have you ever looked up spelling words in the dictionary? (Right; you had to write the definition and then use the word in a sentence.) If you didn't know very many words, you couldn't express yourself in oral or written language.

What are the different speeds in music? How do I know which one is quicker than another?

Starting with the fastest: prestississimo [as fast as it is possible to go], prestissimo [really, really fast], presto [really fast], vivace [pretty darned fast; literally, "lively"], allegro [fast], allegretto [a little fast], moderato [moderate], andante [comfy, strolling speed], andantino [a little less fast than andante; some authorities say andantino is somewhat faster than andante], adagio [slow], largo [really slow], lento [really, really slow], grave [as slow as you can stand].

There are modifiers sometimes added, such as allegro fuoco (fast and with fire) or andante cantabile (a comfy strolling speed and a singing style in the melody).

You learn which is faster and slower by flat-out memorizing them or by playing enough music that you learn by absorption. I recommend you start with memory to jump-start your learning.

Please tell me the continuum of loud and soft.

P is soft ("piano); f is loud ("forte); and m is medium ("mezzo"). Now you can build them all. -issimo is the -er ending, and to get progressively softer, keep adding -iss.

ppppp - pianississississimo; incredibly soft to the point of no sound at all! (no pianist can play this softly; this notation is found in choral or orchestral music)

pppp - pianissississimo; very, very, very soft (a stretch for a pianist)

ppp - pianississimo; very, very soft (a reasonable dynamic level for the advanced player; difficult to achieve); also called "triple p"

pp - pianissimo; very soft; also called "double p"

p - piano; soft

mp - mezzo piano; medium soft

mf - mezzo forte; medium loud

f - forte; loud

ff - fortissimo; very loud; also called "double f"

fff - fortississimo; very, very loud; also called "triple f"

ffff - fortissississimo; very, very, very loud (the limit of any pianist - - or so close to it that further discussion is meaningless)

fffff - fortississississimo; found only in orchestral music; blow the roof off!

What is a reasonable range for a pianist? A concert artist is expected to go from ppp or pppp to fff or ffff. An advanced student, ppp to fff or ffff. An intermediate student, pp to ff. A beginner child, p to f, with only mf in between.

How can I play better on a Kurzweil digital piano? The touch is spongy. I feel like I can't control dynamics like I can at home on my piano. My teacher says my problem with the Kurzweil is that I'm "nervous" and that I should continue to play on the Kurzweil at my lesson, even though there is an acoustic piano at his studio. What is the difference between a Kurzweil and an acoustic piano? Do you have advice for me?

You've discovered the shortcomings of these instruments. No matter how fancy they are and how the technology and the construction change, these instruments still will be what they are: not pianos.

The "acoustic" piano is a "real piano." And electronic isn't a real piano, despite what salespeople tell you. The touch is different. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is! They are fine for some uses, but if you want to learn to play the piano, you must play on a piano! Not something else.

Ask to play only on your teacher's piano. Tell him you don't like the Kurzweil. Be prepared to tell him exactly why you don't like it. Emphasize that you are not "nervous" playing in front of him. Tell him why you don't like the Kurzweil and how it feels. (It is, by the way, an excellent instrument for what it is.) Stand firm with your teacher. Remember, you are paying him! Unless there is a sound pedagogical reason you should play on the Kurzweil rather than an acoustic piano - - and a reason that you understand and with which you agree - - you should not have to do something that you feel does not enhance your mastery of the -piano-.

What do I need to be able to do to accompany a chorus?

For starters: You also should assume leadership in whatever capacity the director asks you or that you sense could help -always- being careful to be supportive of the director, never to undermine the director's authority or musical judgment. Particularly when working with children or teens, the presence of another adult is helpful, for curtailing boisterous behavior and for modeling good choral attention and habits (such as putting a pencil behind your ear to mark you score as the director indicates).

I have a problem with interruptions during lessons with my teacher. I think he should not to do this, although he is a top senior teacher (66 yrs. old), and most teachers study with him. The interruptions are: (1) In his new house, he put a grandfather clock near the Kurzweil (which I must play). The clock strikes (loudly!) every 15 minutes. I feel as if I am becoming "deaf". He said that he loves the clock. (2) At the lesson, he often gets a phone call or sometimes he calls his friend, and it takes about 15 minutes. (3) Sometimes the lesson is stopped because he has to eat something. Actually, he is my best teacher if I compare him with my previous teachers. He makes me like playing piano; the previous ones just made me stressed. He gives me support when I feel frustrated on difficult pieces, etc. I realize nobody's perfect and really don't mean to blame him, but I think he 'steals' my lesson time for his own uses, and I am harmed. What do I have to do?

This is another question from the student in question #63, above.

The actions you list are unprofessional behaviors in the extreme. (Not to mention arrogant.) He gets away with this behavior because he knows he can. And you let him.

I imagine your question actually is what do you have to do to get him to quit interrupting your lesson with personal activities. Nothing you can do will change him or the way he conducts his lessons.

Surely you can find a teacher who values you and wants to -teach- you, rather than just feed his/her ego on your time and nickel. I don't care if your present teacher is the greatest piano teacher on earth. He's a lousy human being. He does not have a clue about what he's doing to his students: showing them that he doesn't care about them, their time, or their presence in his studio. Bah!

Bottom line: Leave him! And tell him why.

On the other hand, if you think the positives outweigh your frustrations with his unprofessional behavior, stay with him.

PS: You should blame him for his actions! He's wrong wrong wrong. And he knows it. He does it because he knows he can get away with it.

I am an adult piano student and have been playing for six years. In the first couple of years I did not participate in the Spring Recital, however, several years ago my teacher insisted that I play. I was very excited and expected it to be a walk-in-the-park. Much to my surprise and disappointment, my hands shook so badly I could hardly play, and my hands felt like they were paralyzed. I left there that day extremely disappointed in myself. As you can imagine, fear has gripped me since that very day. Last year, in preparation for the recital, I played at our local nursing home and experienced some of the same problems, but after a short while the shaking subsided. Last year's recital performance was much improved. Today, I played for the Senior Adult Luncheon at our church, and my hands would shake and then relax, continually throughout the performance. Is shaking hands a common problem? What can I do to get rid of this problem?

Common? Oh, my, yes! It's endemic. And not only with adults, of course.

The only cure: lots of performances.


If anyone says that he/she is "not nervous" about playing a performance, either he/she is lying or is dead. Nervousness, of which shaking hands is one manifestation, is perfectly normal; it's your body's getting ready to perform. Don't let it get the upper hand, however. Be well prepared, etc.

Where can I find stories about adults learning to play the piano late in life? I find myself in need of motivation. I've been taking private lessons for about a year-and-a-half using Alfred's books and do feel I have a good teacher, but I still make beginners' errors. I think it would help if I could read about how adults have progressed at different stages in their learning.

I don't know where to find stories such as this; might run a search engine. Also post to one of the piano newsgroups; there are lots of adult beginners there who'd be happy to give you the benefit of their experience. Try: newsgroup.

Does your teacher have other adult students? Maybe you all could get together and play for each other. Also see the answer to another question on this page about how to set up an adults' group.

Don't set up playing perfectly as an expectation. It's unreasonable. Concert artists don't play perfectly, either, but we don't hear them because they're tiny errors (usually) or the recording has been digitally touched up. What does your teacher say about this problem?

I am a 52-year-old male piano student, returning to the instrument after a 40+ year absence. I have been taking lessons for about 5 months, and have learned six Chopin pieces (4 mazurkas, one waltz, and one prelude). My teacher seems impressed with the progress we've made so far, so that's encouraging. My problem is structuring myself to practice regularly, at least 45-60 minutes per day. This is turning into a "fear" of going to the piano, and is getting to the point where sometimes I go for 2 or 3 days without any practice. My playing is beginning to suffer, naturally, and I'm wondering if this is a common issue for adult students, and if so, what advice can you offer.

Congratulations on returning and for making such great progress! It is obvious to you that you are able to succeed at piano. I think fear is your problem. You have done so well that you are afraid you can't keep it up. If you don't practice, you know what will happen: you will not do well. If you do practice, you don't know what will happen. Perhaps you will stop making such great progress. Perhaps your progress will slow down. Perhaps you will fail altogether.


Set a practice goal of about 30 minutes instead of more. If you feel comfortable with this after a month or so and want to increase your normal practice time, do so. If, on a particular day when you're still doing 30 minutes scheduled, you want to play longer, do so. The goal here is no pressure.

Don't beat yourself up over this. You don't say how long you played before and how skilled you were when you stopped lessons, but for these first months of study, perhaps you were riding on your previous skills. I have this problem often with my gifted students; read this file for the story about running hurdles in track and field.

Make sure you save time to play for fun: stuff you already know, holiday and social music, playing by ear, improvisation, and other things that are low-stress playing situations.

Remember that you are doing this for you and for fun. You are not in a contest with anyone, not even with yourself!

Could you please explain the significance, if any, of the direction of the stem of a musical note, particularly piano music? There doesn't always seem to be any rhyme or reason to the direction (i.e., pointed up or down).

If the note is on the middle line, the stem can go up or down; usually it's aesthetics that guides the choice. Sometimes, though, the stem direction indicates something specific, such as a "voice," often a note of longer duration which is held while other notes move (this is often the melody). You can't put notes of different values on the same stem, and it's easier to read if one stem goes in the opposite direction. Other times, the stem direction indicates which hand takes a note, especially if both hands are playing in the same clef. If both in bass clef, a stem-up notes often indicates to play it with the right hand.

My hands are small and to play an octave requires a full stretch. In fact for me to reach an octave is a tip of pinkie to tip of thumb type of endeavor. This doesn't hurt me in and of itself, I can play octaves melodically without any problems at all. The difficulty is when I have to play octaves while holding down a note in the middle. The best example I can think of right now is the one I'm trying to learn, Chopin "Raindrop" prelude in D flat, op. 28. (I am sure you are familiar with this piece). Playing the middle part, I am required to play the octaves while holding down a note in the middle. This is supposed to be played forte, and the louder I play the more my wrist hurts! I have tried to use my arm more than my wrist, and I find myself more bouncing with the music because of it, and it helps a little, but from the way I can see it I'm going to HAVE to use my wrist to play the octave and hold down that middle note. Am I missing something here? I LOVE this piece and feel I could play it quite well if I can overcome this difficulty.

As an adult, since it's unlikely your hands are going to grow anymore, I think the solution is to prune the chords so that you can reach. In this piece, cut the top note of the octave and play the lower root and the middle note only. It would be a shame to put away this marvelous piece for want of bigger hands, so just do some judicious trimming, and you'll have the full enjoyment of the music.

My almost-15-year-old daughter has been taking piano for a few years. We changed teachers this year because her former one is ok for little kids, but my daughter was one of the older ones and had no one who was much better than she was. Plus, this woman didn't want them to "work too much." Her new teacher is moving her right along. There are many adolescents in her studio, too, some of whom are better than my daughter and thus show her that she's no longer the top dog. Since this summer ended, she has done no practicing, is balking at learning Bach inventions, and is going through the "I want to quit" stage. She plays well, though she won't be a concert pianist, but I always said quitting was not an option. She must do music through high school, and then it will be up to her. I pointed out that the difficult part is pretty much over; she can count, read notes, and other things that are basic skills that take so long to master. Now she can take advantage of her hard work. She is a new freshman, there is a lot of work, but she also wastes a lot of time chatting on the computer. I suggested she take 1/2 an hour from computer time to practice, but she says, "I don't like it," which to me is not a valid reason. She has put the ball back in my court saying that she is doing music, as she plays flute in the marching band and will be doing wind ensemble next semester. True enough. Would you give in? Is it worth "forcing" her? At yesterday's lesson, her teacher said she didn't need more pressure, so she won't be doing competitions and evaluations, nor does she have to do the Academically Correct thing of learning Bach. The teacher gave her the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata (which she will like to play) and will give her other things she likes instead of "must do's". What is your experience with these stages of rebellion? I have met so many adults who wish their parents hadn't let them stop, and I am so grateful that my mother didn't let me quit. I need your wisdom!

Your statement/policy that playing through high school and then letting the child make the decision for piano playing/study thereafter is precisely the correct approach.

If she were my daughter, I'd give her the rules by which I work (and which I explain to each new student and secure their agreement before we even begin lessons - - sometimes this set of expectations seem to be a revelation to the parent - - not the content so much but that they are laid out so baldly!).

Ok, sweetheart, here's the deal about how I run my studio:

An aside: At this point in the interview I say to the student, "Can you live with this?" I then go on to explain that "some days" heavy home or a dentist's appointment may throw off the schedule to such an extent that there isn't time for fun stuff. Can the student still agree to follow the rules?

Yes, your daughter a busy gal now, but responsibilities come first. Period. We don't "take time from play" [computer and phone chat] to "make time" for responsibilities.

Exactly backwards.

Her "I don't like it" explanation is a perfectly valid reason for her to quit piano. It's her own insight and therefore valid to her.

But it may be flawed.

And you think it is.

Just because you don't agree doesn't mean her opinion isn't valid. It may not turn out to be correct, but it is her opinion and that in itself makes it valid in her universe.

She didn't like to eat ___ (fill in the blank) when she was little [or take a bath, brush her teeth, or whatever], and the fact that she didn't want to do it was adequate justification in her mind. You, however, knew that for her health she needed to do whatever it was.

Another important point to consider: Perhaps she isn't really saying she "doesn't like" piano.

She doubtless is saying, "It's hard now. I have to practice a lot more to get a result I think is worth reaching."

She may also mean any or all of the following:

It's important that she get straight in her mind what she is really feeling about piano study and wanting to quit.

Her rebellion is entirely to be expected and is, in fact, a good sign: you are rearing an independent adult. She, however, does not have the experience at 15 to know what will be important to her as an adult, nor how her actions now might lead to something she will regret later.

For example, this is why parents often are appalled that a 15-year-old would pierce her navel or her tongue or some other area of her body other than her earlobes.

She thinks it's cool, and her friends do it. She doesn't realize that "the world" judges her by a different set of criteria than her 15-year-old friends do. The world thinks she looks trashy and/or stupid.

For now, though, having a pierced body is something she values not only because her friends do it, but because she thinks she can make a reasoned decision on this matter.

For you to tell her that she's not making a correct decision - - let alone a reasoned one - - is an insult to her intelligence. And an aggression into her space!

Remember, she has only her 15 years' of life experience to guide her, many of which she doesn't even remember! You may not know precisely "what is best" for her, but you are statistically more apt to light on it than she, if only because you've had more years of living under your belt and have "been around the barn a couple of times."

As she gets older, she is capable of making more and more decisions on her own, based on her knowledge at that time.

As in all things, decisions bear consequences. You now allow her the decision of whether or not to play in the street. She now knows the consequences and understands them. When she was four, she didn't know the consequences or understand them. Therefore, you made the decision about playing in the street.

Her decision to stop piano study does bear a consequence, but she doesn't recognize what it might be. Or, doesn't believe or can't imagine the consequence you describe is true.

Another point: as a freshman, her life has changed drastically. She's no longer "a kid." There are a lot of things pulling at her time, and lots of things she'd like to investigate. And remember that she is probably not very good at time management - - to wit, her frittering away hours on computer chat. She doesn't realize she has an underdeveloped time-management ability. Seems fine to her! Works for her life!

Except that you know otherwise because you're older. And probably made the same errors.

Each generation must re-invent the wheel!

As to saying playing piano and playing flute/wind ensemble are equivalent is not true. She's comparing apples to lawnmowers.

Flute and ensemble are in addition to playing piano.

Why was it so easy for her to learn to play the flute? How is she able to do both? Why, she is drawing on her piano training!

Flute and ensemble are things she chooses to do. You applaud it, but she still must abide by the rules you and her dad set.

She isn't studying flute formally, right? She's playing it during band. She practices outside of class just enough to get over the notes in a reasonable fashion. That's all she needs because there are a lot of other flutes to "cover" any mistake she makes. I'm willing to bet that she spends a maximum of 10 minutes per week practicing flute so she can play well enough to keep up with the section and not embarrass herself with an unacceptable number of wrong notes. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she spends zero minutes outside band!

As to her teacher's agreement that she didn't need competitions, I agree entirely.

Regarding Bach: Bach is important because it teaches structure. Also, so many of the figurations in Bach are used by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, right on down to the present.

A steady diet of Bach is not required (that is, a piece of Bach under study at all times), but a good dose of Bach is really necessary. At her present level of competence, she should complete three or four pieces of Bach annually. By this I mean an invention or a fughetta or one of the many short preludes. Or, a movement from a French or English suite.

The first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" she will love. Also look into some of the Haydn sonatas and the "études" of Stephen Heller. These Heller pieces are called études, but they're really neat pieces! Some real thunder-and-lightening stuff that sounds hard to play but really isn't. Short, too; usually 2-4 pages; Da capo form gives her more to show for her effort.

The teacher is smart to give her music she wants. There are so many wonderful pieces of music that it's stupid to play stuff you don't like!

How to play fake book style, how to accompany a chorus, how to play piano in a woodwind quintet, how to improvise the blues, and so on all should be part of study and is particularly important to teens and adults - - they need to use the skills they have worked to master. Sight-reading is important, too, if only because she'll be able to learn new pieces faster.

Adding any of these (in addition to sight-reading) may be a welcome change.

As you pointed out, this is "cash in" time.


Has she looked into getting some gigs? She probably can play background music at Christmas parties, for example; and get $20/hr doing so. Can't make that kind of money flipping burgers!


She has to prove she is worth that price.

You don't say how long she's been studying, but if it's about 6 years, she should be able to get a bunch of Christmas stuff under her belt and loaded for bear.

Let's cut to the chase:

Would I give in? Absolutely not!

Is it worth "forcing" her? You bet!

How much less happy would you be today if you didn't know how to play the piano? If I had a nickel for every adult who told me, "I played as a child, and I gave my mother so much grief that she finally left me quit. I wish she hadn't. I'm sorry I was such a jerk about it back then. I wish I could play now," I could pay cash for a Mercedes.

She will be angry now, but she will be even angrier later. Don't let her quit.

I suggest laying it on the line like this: "This is the way it is in our family. As long as you are under this roof, you will obey our family rules. The family rules are [fill in]. You'll note existence of the rule about piano study. If, when you're a grownup and have kids of your own and you find that our family's rules were not good ones, be sure to change them for your kids. For now, however, it's our rules. We'll make an effort to work together on things we don't agree on, but the bottom line is that we're the grown-ups here, and our work and money run this place."

Be sure to follow up with her teacher. The teacher should be in the loop, so to speak, so whatever you have set up at home can be reinforced by what the teacher says and does at the lesson and specifies on the assignment. If you sense that the teacher is not on the same wavelength or seems reluctant to work with you, look for another teacher.

If it's any consolation, ages 14 and 15 (especially 14) are really difficult years to keep kids going in piano study. Hang in there! You're doing the right thing.

See also Question 9.

After playing very sporadically over the last 20 or so years, at age 38 I have recently started to take lessons again. As an adult, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome due to my career in computers and some really intense needlework. I never have had surgery but wear braces at night and take Advil if the pain bothers me. I am now a stay-at-home mom, so do not do the intense computer work that I once did. Not surprisingly, playing the piano again has "reactivated" my condition, even though I have only been doing it for about a month. My hope is that I will eventually "loosen up" and work different muscles with the piano. What do you suggest, if anything, to help me? I guess I could see an orthopedist again, but am reluctant to do so. I am currently practicing about 1/2 hour each day or less, as I have to very small children (one with special needs). I don't want to give up the piano, again!!

I don't think "loosening up" has anything to do with it, nor "using other muscles." Alas.

Do shorter sessions at the piano. Stop when it hurts. It won't get better. Continuation will just inflame things more and take even longer to subside.

Try to remove other things that aggravate your condition so you have more "good time" to devote to piano. I guess it comes down to prioritizing what you most want to use your "good time" for.

Consult your teacher about choices in literature. Stay away from octaves and full chords (or trim them). Liszt and Mussorgsky are not for you right now! Bach is very good (and "compact"), as is most Haydn and Mozart. I'm afraid Beethoven is not going to be a friend to your carpal tunnels, though.

Keep with those splints. Wear them during the day whenever you can.

Change your Yamaha setup to make it ergonomically correct - - you're just making the situation much worse! If nothing else, get a higher chair and a footstool. Maybe a piano is in your future......

Change your stitching techniques. (See that file.)

You probably should see your orthopedist again. How long as it been?

Addendum: A reader let me know that Pilates mat work gave her immediate relief. "Overnight - - literally!" This might be an avenue for you to explore.

I'm 53 years old and have decided to engage in piano lessons. When I was a young lad of 10 years old, I played an accordion, however, that was long ago and I only took lessons for about 2 years. How do I find a user-friendly software package that will assist in teaching me to play? I have a very demanding job that does not afford me the flexibility to have regularly scheduled lessons with a human being.

How to find such a software package depends on whether there are any to be had. I do not think there are.

What is out there - - or, what was out there - - I do not hear or see of anything being advertised these days - - was a "tutor" built in to a electronic keyboard. It must have fallen on hard times because I have seen no news of it in about ten years. I'm not surprised the product is no longer available; I believe it was a real case of "misleading advertising."

You might try a search engine. Let me know what you turn up.

I honestly don't know of anything out there. And if there were anything out there, I doubt it would be very good. There just isn't a long-distance method of learning the piano.

This is also why college elementary ed majors who learn piano in a group class end up not being able to play a lick. (The idea is that the class will enable them to play songs for their children in a rudimentary fashion.) Even though these students were with a live teacher, there was still no learning to speak of because the lessons were not one-on-one situations.

Therefore, the only way to learn to play any instrument is private lessons; group lessons are ok as long as they are a supplement to private study.

I'd still recommend regular lessons with a human. Tell your prospective teacher what your schedule difficulties are and ask how you can work around them. (Double lessons some weeks? Two lessons some weeks?)

If you want to play, you have to go about it properly. There are no shortcuts. If there were, there'd be a lot more pianists!

I was recently given a very, very, old upright piano that belonged to an elderly woman who was a smoker. Someone painted the entire piano with beige gloss paint. Is it possible to repaint with a black lacquer finish or should it be sanded and stained? How can I get the smell of cigarette smoke out?

Probably you can refinish the wood. First call a piano tech and ask this person to recommend a furniture refinisher who is experienced in refinishing pianos. This is not the same as a general furniture refinisher. A piano requires special techniques and attention to detail. And there are a lot of details. The problem is knowing what parts of the piano to avoid beautifying. (I could tell you several horror stories of furniture refinishers who thought they were doing the client a favor by refinishing such parts, which resulted in ruining the piano altogether.) Sometimes the tech is also a refinisher.

Always ask for references (even the tech) and call these people. A refinisher with nothing to hide will be happy to point you to people who are pleased with the work.

As to the smell of cigarette smoke, I think the only cure is open windows and time. Removing the paint might also help, but I'm not sure. Also removing the felt in the piano (hammers, for example) might help. I'm thinking that maybe the paint and felt are "holding" some of the odor.

I'm 16 years old, and live in Australia. I'm a very enthusiastic player. I have two questions. (1) What is the standard of piano qualifications in US (compared to Australia) to teach? It seems from the tone of your articles that it is a prerequisite of piano teachers to be "music majors." (This I assume to be a Bachelor of Music.) In Australia, the authoritative examinations board for music is AMEB (equivalent to Royal Conservatory, I presume). Our highest practical qualification is the Licentiate Diploma in music. I attained this grading a couple of months ago. My repertoire was as follows: Beethoven: Sonata No. 17 (Op 31 No 2) - "Tempest" ; Chopin: Grande Valse Brilliante (Waltz No. 1 E Flat Major); Chopin: Etude "Revolutionary" Opus. 10 No. 12; Bartok: "6 Bulgarian Dances" (Mikrokosmos). This is what I feel my teaching qualifications are. I now have three students; I teach part-time since I am very busy with school and it is a blessing since I can choose three very good students. How does this compare with the teaching standard in US? Note also, I'm still taking lessons from my piano teacher 2. Technical Work: How important is it? I hate technical work. My technique is shaky at best. I have played no technical work, and scales only when required (in examinations) and so have not touched a scale since 1998! I am however very good with sight reading, I am very musical, I have good knowledge in theory, good fake book reading skills, excellent aural memory, adept with rhythmic and melodic transcription, perfect pitch, and love to play **MUSIC**! I'm not looking to be a concert pianist. I do, however give recitals, plan to teach part time and would like to extend my skill. Would you recommend improving my technique? Or should I just manage without it, and use my musical ability to compensate for some wrong notes? Does the fact I am simply technically weak matter in terms of teaching? My students don't seem to mind because they are children and teenagers and it seems to me my enthusiasm and cheerfulness (perhaps the fact I'm a teenager myself) compensates.

The difficulty of your level exam is most impressive! Congratulations on your achievement. You have every reason to be very proud! And I'm pleased to hear that you are continuing your private study; at your age you do need to do this.

There are many uncredentialed teachers in the US teaching piano: they have no formal college training and only know 'how to play'. Some are really poor at it, and some are not. Some have degrees in other fields. It's a wide variety of preparations. Of course, the college-educated music teachers have a better chance of being good, though a music degree is no guarantee!

The variety of your skills (less the technique!) is indicative of a well-rounded musician. I think if you wish to make teaching your career that you take a degree in music. This plus your exam level would make you very attractive to parents looking for quality instruction for their children. But this is a US point of view. You should talk to the best Australian teachers you can find and ask them.

As to lacking technical work - - perhaps you refer to scales alone? - - how on earth did you traverse the literature you listed above?

I really think you should add technical exercises to your assignment. What does your teacher say about technique and your needs? (That's the reason to have technique - - to enable you to play the lit you desire.) If you were my student, I'd set about correcting this deficit. Even you, hater of technique that you are, see this void.

As to your teaching, if you don't like technique you will send this signal to your students. And if you hate technique but think your students will need it, you won't have a base from which to make decisions. And you won't know what kinds of materials can do what you want to do. I think you'd better set about fixing this problem. I see it as a big problem, as you may have guessed I would say.

And know that technique is not just diatonic scales! You need finger independence, octave work, chromatic scales, arpeggios, and so on. Did you read my files on technique (general remarks and my own regimen for students)?

I need some beginning book levels for my two daughters who lost most of their fingers on their left hands because of a fire. One girl has her thumb and the next two fingers. The other has only her middle finger. We do not have access to very many piano teachers. Most of them teach the standard method of piano. The girls' current teacher is not very patient but doing her best.

Your first daughter will be ok because she has her thumb. The teacher should revise her music, eliminating notes and re-writing so it fits her hand. Later, when more notes are involved, the teacher can move some of them into the right hand.

The solution for your other daughter probably would be single-note parts for the left hand. Later, she can add notes to the right hand part to make it sound fuller.

If this teacher is not doing your daughters justice, find another teacher . Is there a college or junior college nearby? Ask there. Did you ask at church? Is there a community center?

I am the mother of a six year old boy who was born without a right hand. My son has expressed interest in learning piano, just as his best friend does, but I have been unable to find a music teacher who has the interest or skill to teach a child with only one hand. In addition to private teachers, I have contacted the music departments at two nearby universities, but without finding anyone. They seem stumped for any suggestions or resources I could try. I came across your web page while searching through the internet for information on one-handed musicians. I cannot tell you how pleasantly surprised and pleased I was. My son is an intellectually-gifted child who has a warm, loving personality and greatly appreciates music. He would be a cooperative and motivated student. He has always been quite determined to show that he can do the same things as other children. He shares my frustration with piano teachers who have said that he should not even bother trying to learn the piano. I'd very much appreciate your advice.

I'm sorry that you have been unable to find someone, or even someone who is able/willing to help you with your challenge.

You have made a good start. Go back to those universities and talk to the chairperson of the piano faculty in the music departments. (Go to other local universities, too, of course.) Put your question again. If the person knows of no professional teacher, ask for the names of several graduate students who might be interested in taking on a student. You might also ask for the names of the professors in the music pedagogy arm of the department. You might find some direct help here, but if not, ask for the name of some graduate students who might, at least, get your son started. Another option would be to have the giving of lessons to him be a semester(s) of private study. Or even a dissertation topic; this wouldn't be ideal, of course, because of the short-term nature of the arrangement (even a dissertation would be limited in matters of time), but at least it's a start! I'm thinking that perhaps if he has a start and you can tell the teacher what worked and what didn't, you might find someone who would at least try to carry on. Many times graduate students are willing to take on a challenge because they stand to learn something as well as teach the students; often professional teachers do only what they want to (in your case, not take on a challenging student) and don't care to expand their horizons because they can make money doing just what they are doing with no changes whatsoever.

Did you ask the teachers who refused you to recommend someone? Or someone else who might point you to someone? Call print music and piano retailers. Also piano technicians and the music teachers' associations, such as MTNA. Since you are in California, try MTAC, which is a California-only association. (Other states have state-only associations; all states have MTNA sub-associations.) Also try community points of contact, such as school music teachers, directors of community choruses, churches, etc.

Call anywhere you think you might find someone with contacts in music.

Have you read this file on how to find a music teacher? If not, it may provide further help for you in the search mechanics.

A prospective teacher may find the files on one-hand music and arranging for beginners a help. I think if you go to them with a few resources they will not be so afraid to give it a try.

Meantime, have you thought about enrolling him in a music-readiness class? Rhythm activities, large-muscle activities, and so on. Not one with keyboard skills because you don't want him to become frustrated (the teachers at such programs will be even less prepared to teach your son than a degreed professional teacher). I'm thinking about games, dancing and moving to music, and things such as this.

Tell your son not to give up. He's a special guy, and he deserves a special teacher. And special teachers take some hunting to find.

I am studing [sic] the piano, and I needed some basic information. I need how the piano was manufactoried [sic], what materials were used, what are the steps needed to construct the piano, how long did it take to make the piano, who and where was the piano produced, what is the cost to produce the piano?

You need to go to the library and/or on the Internet and do some research. You aren't going to learn a thing by my telling you the answers. You also will learn how to do research as you carry out your teacher's assignment.

I am flattered, however, that you chose me to do your homework for you!

Is there a rule about how to finger the middle note of an open triad (tenths) - - especially major and minor triads in all inversions - - with the index or middle finger?

I don't know any particular rule, but I'd offer this. Choose what:

What is considered an intermediate student, as opposed to a beginner or advanced? Is there some kind of testing method? I just turned 40 - and have been playing mostly Elton John-type chords since age 7. This is my repertoire - fast and sloppy: (1) Bach Inventions 1 and 14 - pretty good; (2) Sonata Pathétique - messy. But I can do a rock & roll version of the Adagio! (3) Gershwin Preludes - decent; (4) Chopin Étude #1 - very sloppy & not full speed; I play this only to frighten children. Sight reading is lousy. I never played scales, arpeggios, or block chords until just in the last few months. I seem to learn very quickly, though, and they’re great fun! Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, but this is all so important to me now. I just learned to play two early Haydn Sonatas and want to learn more. I’m sick of just pounding out pop chords ‘til the neighbors complain or tossing out horrific versions of Beethoven. (I need a teacher.)

Usually levels are described in terms of the kind of literature one is playing. I'd say you are playing advanced lit, however, it sounds as though your basic skills are (I'm sorry!) woefully lacking. This lack may contribute to your messy playing, but my guess is it was your attitude when you learned them. These pieces weren't important enough to you to learn correctly, which translates most times to "learn slowly," nor did you care about playing well. It seems that has changed.

You are right to seek a teacher. The discipline imposed from above plus your desire to play well and fix all your bad habits should have you "flying right" certainly within a year.

You've got a clue, now, so run with it. Make sure you tell each prospective teacher what you feel are your strong and weak points and what, specifically, you want to learn from that person. This will help the teacher evaluate whether you are a good fit for the studio.

My daughter's teacher won't let her chew gum at her lesson. I think she's being unreasonable about this because kids like to chew gum. Am I?

I don't think you're unreasonable as much as uninformed. The reason your daughter's teacher doesn't want her to chew gum during the lesson is that it's a distraction. The brain will want to revert to the survival activity, which is eating. Let your daughter have gum after the lesson.

I am preparing to do my Grade 9 practical exam (Royal Conservatory of Canada) and am having a terrible time with the ear training. Specifically, chord identification. I need to be able to identify a dim. 7, dom. 7, -R, -1st, +R and +1st. I am having difficulty hearing the difference between the root and 1st inversion of both major and minor triads. I have purchased books and cassettes to help me, but I seem to need some very specific advice in how to hear the difference. I don't know if there is something you can tell me via email, but I'd really appreciate your help. I have a wonderful teacher, but because she can "hear" the difference, she doesn't seem to know how to help me. In her sweet voice, she says, "Can't you hear the difference?" as she plays the various chords. There are also times when I will identify a dim. 7th as a minor! I'm feeling very exasperated with myself (I'm an adult and panic is beginning to set in!!) as I have spent a lot of time, and just don't seem to be advancing in this area. I am planning to do my practical exam in 3 months time. Please help me.

First of all, do not be in a panic. And don't be exasperated with yourself. Some questions:

Second, it's up to your teacher to help you with this. She'll have to figure out a way to help you; that's her job and what you're paying for! Ask her again. Tell her you need something specific from her and you'd like her "to think about how" she can help you. You'll have to be blunt with her if she goes back to the "can't you hear the difference?" stuff. Sample: "That's not helpful to me. I need you to figure out how to teach this to me. I can't 'just hear' the chords the way you can. [Stroke her ego:] You're a professional, and I'm not! I have only three months, and I want to get started now! You need to help me with this. Find another way to teach me. Surely I'm not the only one who can't 'hear' the differences."

An idea: maybe you could learn to hear the outer notes? This means you could tell a 7th, maj., min., aug., or dim. chord right off the bat. If you hear a 6th, then you know it's a first inversion; then you can noodle out the other note to determine major or minor (fall back on the "happy/sad" choice). Etc.

There's no way I can help you with this through e-mail other than what I've given you above. I'm sorry! I wish I could help! This is clearly a source of major anxiety for you.

You're going to have to lean on your teacher and make her do her job.

Or decide you don't care what your score on the ear-training part of the test and/or whether you get the certificate. Which is what I'd be inclined to do.

I am so nervous before a recital. How can I calm myself down?

Please see my file on this topic.

I will be 62 this year. I've always wanted to play the piano. Is it too late to start? I'm afraid I am too old, and my brain isn't what it used to be.

No, you are not too old. No age is too old! In fact, authorities in the field of aging indicate that there are three things that are really superior in terms of keeping the mind sharp as we (notice the plural!) age: doing crossword puzzles, learning a foreign language, and learning to play an instrument (and continuing to learn new music after we learn how).

Will there be some drawbacks associated with your age? Yes, probably.

Bottom line: next year you'll be a year older, regardless of whether you are learning how to play the piano. Go for it!

I am trying to learn "Fur Elise" by Beethoven. I am a relative beginner so am not familiar with all the theory. The problem I have at the moment is where there is a treble clef inserted on the bass staff. I don't understand the meaning of this. Please fill me in!

That means to read the notes in the clef where the 2nd line from the bottom is G above middle C. Piano notation is what I call "location specific." This means a written note is one particular key on the keyboard and none other. It doesn't matter whether you play that note with your right hand, left hand, your nose, or the end of an umbrella. Its place does not change.

I suggest you play the notes with your right hand first so you know where they are on the keyboard. Then go back and play the very same ones using the left hand. You will have to revise the fingering in the end, but for now, just use any fingering to get your left hand used to seeing the treble clef on the lower staff and using your left hand to play these notes.

I am guessing you are speaking of the place with all the Es. I advise you to figure out which printed notes represent the same piano key. With my students, I circle each location group in a separate color. Since the two low Es have no "friends," don't circle these. Start with the Es just above middle C. Circle those in color A wherever they appear. Use color B for the Es an octave above the previous Es. The colored circles will help you "see" where Beethoven has put the notes on the keyboard.

I know all the notes. Can read both treble and bass. Love music theory in fact have no problem with theory. But I cannot make myself read ahead. Can you give me a simple suggestion on how to read ahead?

Select an easy song. Play very slowly. As you play each note, make yourself look ahead during the note's duration. Start slowly and give yourself plenty of time not only to read ahead but to think about doing it. Reading ahead is a skill to learn; don't be discouraged! It'll come.

I'm looking for new, small pianos for sale, preferably with a black finish. Where can I find one?

Call piano stores in your area. You might also inquire at your local university. (contact chairperson of the piano faculty) and see if there are any recommendations from that quarter. Contact the local music teachers' association. Ask at music stores how to get hold of this group. Don't tell the store you are looking for a piano because they will launch into a sales pitch. Act as though you are looking for a teacher only. If you don't get any leads from the music store, look in phone book and call a teacher and ask how to contact the association - - say you're interested in info on joining). Watch the want-ads. Check Larry Fine's The Piano Book for info on specific pianos. He also does telephone consultation work. You might also be interested in my files on specific information about piano brands and general buying considerations.

I'm looking for a radio station (classical music) to play through my computer's speakers. Can you recommend where to find one?

You bet. Take a look at this site. You can search by call letters, frequency, city. Or, search on "classical music station" and your city name. This is a a great option if you want a "local news/weather angle." Otherwise, there are "flagship" stations in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, etc.

I like public radio stations because I don't have to listen to blaring ads in jarring non-classical styles: rock ad for thus-and-such right after I've listened to a Mozart string quartet. I listen to the station in Sacramento (CA).

Make sure you have the "correct" media player installed. Not all stations use the same one.

A dear friend, who has played the piano all of her life and taught her children, has been in a terrible car accident and can no longer use her left hand. One of her greatest losses has been her ability to play the piano. I've told her that there is music for right hand only (complete pieces - not just bits and pieces), but she said she knows of no such music. I would love to be able to purchase some music for her, take it to her, and give her a ray of sunshine again from her piano. I have called several music stores, and they said they had no such music but could probably order whatever I wanted. The problem is, not being piano player, I do not know what to ask for. Any suggestions that you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

What a lovely thing to do for your friend! She is indeed lucky to have you!

Have you looked at my file about this? Much of the music is left hand only, but there are several for right hand and a bunch for unknown hand (which you can find out only by looking at the music - - obviously I have not looked at everything on my list or I'd be listing which hand it is). Maybe something on this list will work.

You don't say how skilled a player she is. Print out my list (above file) and take it to her and ask her to guess at her skill level. If she has taught, she may already be familiar with some of these composers and can judge the difficulty (sort of!) this way. Then you can let the store know. You might want to give her Dennis Alexander's "Arioso for the Right Hand" as a start and then a "gift certificate" for something else she would pick based on my list (in order to keep the surprise element!).

Another option is for your friend to take lessons and work with a teacher specifically to transform two-handed material for her needs. The teacher needs to know in advance that this is what your friend wants. She may have the best luck finding such a person (or such an adventurous person to try this, having never done so) through a university.

I was wondering if you could help me with some of the fingering for Liszt's "Liebestraum". I have a transcription that has fingerings, but I don't understand a few parts. There are incredibly large reaches with the left hand in many measures. How do I play these? Do I play the bottom note with the right hand? The fingering provided does not say to do this, but this seems to be the only possible way to do it. And what about measure 38 where the reach-over would be impossible because of the chord I must play at the same time with my right hand? The left hand is a 10-note interval. I have no idea what to do. I have pretty big hands but not that big!!!!!!! Any help on this would be most appreciated, as I don't have a teacher to ask.

Well, yes, you certainly have identified the problem with this piece! As you note, you have big hands, but not that big! We can't all have Rubenstein's hands! (Or Liszt's!) So, what to do:

Play your reworking and see what it sounds like. Try other solutions to the same problem. Which one sounds best to you? The same solution may not be best for each incidence of the same motif (the way the chord needs to sound may be different depending on what comes before and after the chord); or for each problem spot (regardless of structure or similarity to any other motif). It's a matter of trying several things on each problem and taking the one that works best for each difficulty, making changes as musically as you can and trying to preserve your view of what the composer was trying to convey.

By all means, make changes to places that are too large for your hands (another one that comes to mind is the famous A Major Prelude by Chopin) and do not feel "guilty" about "doing things" to this piece (or any other) in order to play it. What's preferable? You make changes so you can play the piece, or you deprive yourself of the joy of playing it? No brainer to me!

Note: For that Chopin in m.12, I suggest playing F#-C#-F# in the left hand and C#-E-A#-C# in the right hand. Fingering will be 5-2-1 in the LH; and 1-2-4-5 in the RH. (For more specifics for measures 11 and 12, see this answer in my pedagogy Q&A file and this file on the consumer info page.

How do you figure out the key signature....for instance, if a piece is in 3 flats, what key is it in?

Look at the last measure of the song. Figure out what triad it is. The letter name of the triad is the key of the song. (See also Question 53.)

I can't speak English properly / my English is not good. So in the practical examination, I will get a low mark in the aural tests because sometimes I don't understand what the examiners ask me. So what should I do?

Tell the examiners you do not understand English well. Ask them to repeat the question slowly and to change the words to simpler words. Another option is to ask for the questions in written form. Also, is there a translator who can help you?

Will you please give me some general guides about playing musically?

Here are some of them:

I was recently thinking about majoring in music and possibly becoming a professional pianist. I realize that there is quite a lot of competition at that level, and I was wondering how "good" I have to be, and if I'm on pace to perform at the level of professional/concert pianists? I'm currently going into the 11th grade and can play Chopin's Etude in E, Fantasie Impromptu, Minute Waltz, Ravel's Concerto in G, and other pieces around that level. Are professional concert pianists, or pianists that give recitals professionally, gurus by the time that they're my age with the ability to play pieces such as Rachmaninoff's 3rd concerto? Or am I on the right track? I heard of many concert pianists being able to play pieces around my difficulty when they were much younger because of their god-like abilities. I'm just worried that I'll major in music and realize that people around me are much more advanced, and that despite how good I might think I am, I'm going out of my league. Also, about how much money do professional pianists make?

The "amount" of talent you have to have to be a successful concert pianist varies, depending on who's already "in the marketplace." Let's face it: being a concert pianist is a career for which one is paid: it's a job. How much competition is there for those jobs? Who's there already who won't be "retiring"?

What does your teacher advise you about your prospects? Perhaps you could contact the piano chairperson at a nearby (local) college with a very good piano program and ask for a quick listen-to? You should be prepared to pay for this person's time. When you make the appointment with this person, ask, "What is your fee?" (Rather than, "Do I have to pay for this?" or "How much is this going to cost?") Is there a professor there who concertizes regularly? Perhaps an appointment with that person would be productive. Are there any concert artists (piano, any other instrument) who live nearby and with whom you might secure an appointment? How about the "local concert artists"? These are the people locally who play well and have area gigs. They might not talk to you because their position in the pecking order is not secure and they might see you as competition (which you are), but, on the other hand, your age may disarm them and/or you might find a person who is generous. Again, expect to pay for this person's time.

Your repertoire is impressive. You are headed in the right direction if this is the career you choose. Know, however, that many pianists want to be concert artists, but few make it. This is a very narrowly-populated field.

As to pay, I don't know, but I'd say, "Don't give up your day job just yet." That is, even though concertizing is your goal and you're an excellent musician and technician, you'd better have some way to pay the bills as you do the tedious and long job of getting your name before those who are in a position to hire you. And an agent who is willing to take you on.

Meanwhile, you should enter all competitions you can find. If you consistently win, that's a good indicator of how you stack up to the local talent. Keep going up the scale to competitions that draw from a wider area.

See also Question 102.

I have a son who will be in a keyboard festival. He wants to play "When We All Get to Heaven" from The Piano Hymnal by David Smither. The contest says the judges must have their own copies of the music. We need to get permission to make two copies of this for the people who will be judging them. I have been searching around and do not know where to go to get help. Could you please help me find out what I need to do?

When you are in a contest, you must submit originals to the judges. Otherwise you may not play. This is standard contest protocol. You'll have to find another book. Borrow from the church? From your son's teacher?

Another option would be for your son to memorize the music and give the judge his published copy.

I know this is not what you want to hear, but you cannot give photocopies to judges.

How many pieces at once can I practise at one time? I'm currently learning five pieces. Is that too many?

As long as you are satisfied you are making progress on all of them, five is just fine. Too many is when you start to feel stressed that you are not doing any of them justice. Drop one at this time, perhaps the one into which you have invested the least time at that point. What does your teacher advise?

I am an advanced pianist, but I always seem to have a problem with any piece I play. Every time I play a piece, it has one mistake. The mistake usually jumps around to different places, but usually it will stay within the same few measures. I have tried and tried, but cannot seem to get rid of them. Is this psychological? Am I practicing wrong? Please help!!

Ah! what my dad (an engineer) calls a "*!$*@*!$*%! intermittent." These are so hard to fix because they are difficult to track down because they don't always happen. There is very little you can do except accept it. A friend of mine, an accomplished concertizer, told me that at any one performance you're going to drop 5% of the notes because you're human.

As to the one section, I think you need to concentrate there. Have you tried these practice techniques? (1) Play hands apart slowly. Then hands apart a little faster. Then hands together slowly. (2) Play hands together ultra-slowly, so you must think about each note rather than let muscle memory take over. (3) Analyze each hand change (octave jump; finger stretch to get you into a new position; anything that has the potential for a problem for you, based on your history). Is one finger moving to the new position way ahead of which you must play the note? Try to place the finger on the note before it's needed. I tell my students to break down any stretch or jump into three separate steps: play - place - play. Put these three movements to a metronome so you don't cheat! This will take three ticks. Wait three ticks before repeating. You want to emphasize only this one movement to the new note, not "practice" going back to the first note! Gradually increase the speed. If it's a big stretch and you can't reach it, then the movement should be only to expand the hand. (4) Play one hand and hum the other (or the main melody or motif in the other).

Bottom line #1: You're going to make errors. Don't worry about them.

Bottom line #2: The fact that they jump around are probably the result of some transient change you made in the execution, such as a fingering you don't normally do; etc. Play slowly and "let your hand"; does it always do the same thing? If not, this may be the source of the difficulty: your hand doesn't "know" what to do.

Where should I sit on the piano bench?

In general, you should be centered on Middle C. Adjust as necessary. In just a short while you'll discover where it's best for you to sit. (I tell my wee ones to sit so their "bellybutton is in front of Middle C." It's very cute to see them look down at their tummies through their clothes. I can just see them thinking about where their bellybuttons must be located. They then shift about on the bench to get lined up!)

Also, you should be sitting so that your forearms are parallel to the floor (this means your wrists are flat). And sit up. If you do this, it's easier to keep your wrists flat. Your thumbs should not be hanging over the edge of the keyboard, as though you were drilling for oil.

I think a lot of playing has to do with body balance. Nothing metaphysical here, just that you need to sit somewhere where you can lean to the high and low notes without starting to tip over!

I have trouble playing keyboards such as Roland keyboards or non-Clavinova digital pianos that don't have a lot of weight in the keys, as a normal piano does. After playing piano keys and then trying to play pieces on a keyboard, it feels as though I hardly know the piece at all. My hands lose their muscle memory because the keys are so light I can hardly feel them. Is this normal?

Yes, entirely normal.

This disconnect is one reason why if you want to play the piano, you should buy a piano. The only real reason I can see to purchase a digital is if you need an earphone jack (baby's sleeping, grouchy neighbors; late night or early morning practice). It may be possible to change the "down weight" on the keys to make them "stiffer." Ask the dealer.

Is it ok to look at my hands while I play? Two prior teachers said I shouldn't. What do you think?

Each teacher is different, but my take is to look at your hands whenever you want to. I think the old adage about not looking at your hands was so that you'd read the music rather than remember what your hands looked like on the keyboard and sort of "play by ear/faulty memory." Glance down whenever you need to and don't feel guilty.

I'm an adult (40 years old) and started playing the piano 2 1/2 years ago, and my teacher has been using the Alfred book series to teach me. I'm still struggling to play the music the way it's written (i.e., reading and playing treble clef and bass clef), however, I have memorized a lot of chords and find that I can play fake books with no problem, so, as you can imagine, my right hand (treble clef) has developed (reading and playing) faster than my bass clef. Now when I start to play music the way it's written, I struggle with the songs and get so frustrated that I revert to fake book style. My teacher says that this is not a detriment to me and that my left hand will catch up to my right hand eventually; and not to quit playing the fake books because any playing on the piano is good practice. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm causing myself more harm than good. I feel like tossing out all the fake books and just play poorly but play the way the music is written. What your opinion of my situation?

Fake book style is always an excellent technique, but I agree with your estimation that playing this style exclusively (and reverting to it "in time of need"!) is not helping you improve your bass clef reading. I think that without a specific program to improve your bass clef reading, you probably won't improve very much.

I'd recommend the following:

Tell your teacher you want to focus on reading bass clef better. That you are feeling uncomfortable with your present reading skills and feel that reverting to fake book style as a substitute for reading "regular music" is a cop-out. That you want to spend time doing this, perhaps to the exclusion of 99% of right-hand music. (This last will impress upon the teacher how critical the problem is, in your estimation.)

If you were my student, I'd give you a lot of sight-reading material and have you read only the bass clef (LH, normally) part. A book I'd start with would be My Very First Piano Solo Book (Alfred). My students love to make fun of it and many of the arrangements are similar (boom-chick-chick in the LH), but it's a good starting point. Continue with Small's Teacher's Choice and then Student's Choice (the student title is more difficult).

Later you can use the Small books for two-handed sight-reading. Or use the just-completed book for that and continue with the next book for LH only.

When you finish these three books, you should be ready to read LH parts for Clementi sonatinas; also look at Kuhlau and other sonatina writers (Kabalevsky, for example).

Other books you might consider are anthologies of easy music. Method series have these (Bastien has a set). Also look at Lynn Freeman Olson's books (Alfred).

Also, when starting a new piece, learn the LH part first. This will give you confidence and will allow you to "move ahead" on the piece as a whole more quickly.

You didn't say what level work you can do with fair ease in the treble clef, but I'd say if you spend 2-4 months with the main emphasis on LH, you'll be happy. And remember a lot of this depends on how frequently and thoughtfully you practice!

I agree that you should not stop playing fake books. This is a wonderful skill and one that you should continue to nurture.

I have read through the questions, and I see that there is a lot of talk on adults wanting to be concert pianists, but not a lot on the younger generation! I am 15 years old and would LOVE to be a concert pianist, but I know how difficult it can be. What advice can you give me?! Should I seriously consider it? Is it THAT difficult? I have been playing since I was 3. (12 years) and have reached a fairly decent standard, e.g. Scott Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag, Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C# Minor and all three movements of Beethoven's (Op. 10 No. 2) Sonata, to name a few. I read about "entering competitions." We have a school music festival each year, and from first year to now I have won all of them. But I could do with a 2nd opinion.

If you really, really, really want to do this, go for it. It requires frightfully long hours and incredible dedication. Know that MANY are called and few are chosen. Those who are chosen have the happy confluence of talent, knowing the right people, and being in the right place at the right time. Once there, it's promotion-promotion-promotion to keep your name in front of the public, including the public that does the booking for concerts and recordings.

You must begin the serious competition circuit right away. By circuit, I mean the competitions sponsored by national conservatories, schools of music, etc. If you are in the US, it would also include national and state-level teachers' associations. Symphony orchestras often have "young artist" talent searches.

You must begin now (you're late, actually!) to ensure your acceptance at an excellent school of music. What curriculum is your present teacher giving you? Does your teacher know of your interest in this field?

Your literature sounds fine for someone your age. I add the caveat that having the notes under the fingers does not constitute making music. So, how is your interpretation? Your minute control over each note and its nuance?

First stop, your teacher!

This is definitely something you should discuss post haste with your teacher. If your current teacher does not feel competent to guide you in this new direction, change teachers.

Best of luck to you!

See also Question 94.

I interviewed several teachers for my son. One I thought would be excellent, but she was very expensive. I continued calling to see if I could find a cheaper teacher. (I did.) Should I have called the expensive teacher back? (I didn't.) I was embarrassed to say that she was too expensive and that I needed to find someone cheaper. What should I have done? I feel guilty that I was rude. Was I? Do teachers expect someone hunting for a teacher to call back to say someone else was chosen?

It would have been a courtesy to call back and say you selected another teacher. (If you are uncomfortable doing this, call when you are sure the teacher will be with a student. Leave a voicemail for her.)

If it were a brief, info-only call limited to price, location, and availability (that is, you didn't spend more than 5 minutes on the phone with the teacher), most teachers do not expect a call-back. (Though they'd be greatly impressed with you if you did!).

If you have taken more than 5 minutes of the teacher's time (let's say you discussed her curriculum and asked for recommendations on which pianos to consider for purchase), you certainly should call her back to say you have selected someone else for your son. This teacher invested time in talking to you. To leave her hanging, wondering, is not a gracious thing to do.

If it hasn't been two years, call her back right away! (She won't know how long it has taken you to select a teacher.) I promise that if you should need to call her again (perhaps the present teacher would move away), if her schedule permits, she'll remember you favorably and make time for you in preference to another student wishing to join the studio. It's never too late to mend fences!

I'm a nanny, and the 9-year-old boy is having a terrible time with his piano lessons! The teacher called me yesterday (a Saturday!) and told me that he was just not doing well. We practice together and he does fine, but he flips out when he's got to play in front of the teacher and doesn't do well. (I think she yells at him.) Anyway, I'm worried about it. He cries every Friday when I take him to his lesson. He doesn't mind practicing, but it doesn't seem to matter how long he's practiced when he gets in front of his teacher.

I, too, think the teacher must be doing something at the lesson. At least the child perceives the teacher is doing something to him. But since it is a long-standing situation, my guess is that there -is- a problem (no matter how large). Sometimes kids are upset before the lesson because they know they are not as prepared as they should be (this seems not to be the problem in your case) or they're very uneasy about playing for the teacher (perhaps this, as you indicated).

The teacher should be talking to the parent, however, not you. You have the option of going to the parent right away or speaking to the child first and then going to the parent. (Surely the parent does not expect you to handle situations like this.)

Here's what to do. You say to the child, "I feel sad that you cry when it's time to go to piano lesson. I know you like to play the piano because we have such fun when we play together at home. Tell me what makes you cry when it's time for your lesson."

Then wait for him to say something. If he is reticent: "Take your time, sweetie. I want to help you not be unhappy about going to your lesson, so I will wait as long as it takes for you to tell me." If he still will not tell you after two or three minutes (after which time he may have lost track of the question) say, "Ok. We'll talk about this another time, and you can tell me about it then."

Now is the time to go to a parent if you have not done this. The parent can call the teacher (though if the teacher is browbeating the child, I doubt this information will be forthcoming from the teacher). Or you can call the teacher and ask for specifics. What, exactly, does she/he mean with the comment that the child is "not doing well"? What solutions does the teacher have to offer? (This conversation may shed some light on what is actually happening during the lesson.)

Checking back with the parent, discuss your conversation with the teacher. Ask if he/she has anything for you to implement. Then you add your ideas.

If you are not sitting in on the lesson, I suggest that you suggest to the parent that he/she or you do this. What do you observe? If nothing seems amiss, ask for the names and phone numbers of other children the boy's age: "I want to contact them and ask for ideas about how to solve this problem." Of course, what you do is to ask whether there is any reluctance to go to the lesson and if this parent has observed similar behavior, any off-hand comments the child may have made, etc.

If the behavior continues (you should be able to do all these steps in two weeks at the most), it's time to look for another teacher, which you would suggest to the parent. You are welcome to show my comments to the parent. The family is lucky to have a nanny such as you!

My teacher told me it's time for me to look for some new pieces to play, and since I'm an adult, I can pick whatever I want. (This is not entirely true because she will not let me do anything that's not at my level...which I really appreciate.) I was playing Chopin Op. 69 #2 Waltz on my own before I started my lessons, and I asked if I can learn that one...of course, she said no. (I am currently playing Bartok Romanian Folk Dance, Bach Prelude in C Minor from WTC I, Chopin E Minor Prelude, and Bach A minor 2-part invention). And recently, I've come to a decision that I will not pick anything that is beyond my level since that only creates frustration. I've picked three pieces for my teacher to choose from for me...but I also want to hear your opinion on that since you're very experienced with adult students... 1. Beethoven six eccossaises 2. Beethoven Rondo a capriccio (theme only) ("Rage Over a Lost Penny") 3. Schubert Moment Musicaux No.3 in F Minor. What is your opinion on this? Do you have any other suggestions? I tend to like fast, happier pieces rather than slow, sad boring ones...(the E Minor Chopin prelude is pretty, but really not my taste...). Thanks in advance.

Perhaps you should look at a Beethoven sonata (Op. 79, perhaps). I think the Schubert is a fine choice. (The impromptus would be frustrating for you at this point, I think.) How about one of the Chopin waltzes in A Minor (Op. Post. or Op. 34 #2)? Also you might consider the 3rd movement of the famous Mozart "easy sonata" in C Major (K. 545) and Beethoven's set of "La Molinara" variations on a theme by Paisiello (from his opera of the same name) and his two easier sonatas (Op 49 # 1 and #2). In the Chopin department, look at Nocturnes in F Major (Op. 68 #3) and G Minor (Op. 15 #3 and Op. 37 #1). Also D-flat Major Prelude ("The Raindrop", Op. 28 #15). And perhaps the Polonaises in G Minor and B-flat Major (both Op. Post.)

I am flattered that you value my input, but I really think you ought to be having 99% of your input from your teacher. I confess I don't understand why your teacher is letting you pick (it seems at random, rather than from a list she/he generates as being appropriate for your current level and tastes). Do you sense that your teacher doesn't exactly know what's best for you at this (or any other) point in time? That's the vibe I'm getting from this end!

I would:

If your teacher gives you an answer that doesn't make sense or is incomplete (despite your prompting and questions), you might consider getting a new teacher. As I say, I don't know your teacher or her/his curriculum for you, so this is only a guess. But something to think about. It doesn't sound as though you are getting what you need right now.

I’m working on a Beethoven sonata, and it has a symbol I can’t find in any of my books. (I'm working without a teacher because I can't afford one). It looks like a little “x” in front of the note (which is an F). Could you please clarify this for me?

It is a double sharp. It means raise the pitch another half-step from F-sharp. Or, if you prefer, raise the F-natural two half-steps. (A double flat is written as two flat signs next to each other.)

F-double-sharp sounds the same as G, and, in fact, looks like G on the keyboard. So, of course, you ask why not just write G? It has to do with spelling. If the three letters in the triads include an F, the note must be written as an F, manipulated on paper in whatever way it takes to spell that pitch properly, even though that pitch sounds like G. (A-double-flat also sounds like G.)

As to spelling, suppose your name is Sandy and is spelled S-A-N-D-Y. In addition to "Sandy," you could spell it "Sandee" or "Sandi" or "Sandie" or "Sanndee" or "Sannddieeee" or numerous other ways even sillier than those last two. Your name would still sound like your name when someone said it, but it would be spelled incorrectly because your name is spelled "S-A-N-D-Y".

Same with triads. F is found in three triads: F (F-A-C), D (D-F-A), and B (B-D-F). Any triad with an F in it must be spelled with an F in it, no matter what pitch is sounded when that form of F is actually played.

This spelling rule includes the major, minor, augmented, and diminished forms of these triads, as well as the sharp and flat forms of all four of these. (Yes, there are 48 different triads - - 12 of each of the four "flavors." Although the enharmonic spellings such as E-flat and D-sharp increase this number, let's call it 48.)

So, yes, a D-sharp augmented triad must have an F in it. So must B-flat minor and F diminished.

In building any *major* triad:

(Note: The minor, augmented, and diminished triads have different formulae. These are 3-4, 4-4, and 3-3, respectively in case you're wondering. The first number is half-steps from root to third. The second number is half-steps from third and fifth.)

Look at a C Major triad and figure out why this is so if you don't believe me. Don't count the key you are starting on - - C, in this case - - count half-steps away from C! Then half-steps away from E, not counting the E itself. What kinds of C, E, and G do you get? Yes, all white notes - - C-natural, E-natural, and G-natural.

Note that this formula is for root position only! (You can tell you're not in root position if you have any numbers other than 3 and 4.)

Let's build a D# triad as an example. Any D triad must be spelled D-F-A in some fashion, so any kind of D-sharp triad also must be spelled D-F-A in some fashion.

Ok, D-sharp's a given. Now count 4 half-steps away from D-sharp to find the third of the triad. You get G, right? No. Wrong. You get F-double-sharp! (The middle note of any D triad must be spelled as an F, even though, as in this case, it's clumsy to spell correctly).

Three half-steps from F-double-sharp (to get the fifth of the triad) brings you to A-sharp. No, not B-flat. There is no B in the spelling of a D triad. (Plus, you won't find any flatted notes in a triad with a sharp in the name, so that should be the first clue you've gone astray.)

Sometimes you will see a notehead (let's use F again) preceded by a natural sign followed by a sharp sign. This means a note previously double-sharped (F-double-sharp) has now become a note that is just sharped (F-sharp). Or, suppose that the composer wants to switch from F-double-sharp to F-natural. In this case, there will be two natural signs preceding the F notehead.

I need some guidance. My son insists that rock concerts are "not that loud" and "it's not loud enough to do damage." He's a pianist, and I'm afraid he's going to damage his hearing by attending rock concerts. Can you give me any information about this?

Here's info I got from a Harvard University medical school health letter about hearing. Normal conversation is measured at 60 decibels. A garbage disposal or outboard engine on a boat is 80 db. A chainsaw is 100 db. A concert of classical music is also at this level. A rock concert is 120 db. So is a jackhammer. 120 db is considered the threshold of pain.

If you're going to be around constant noise at 80 db or less, you can safely be around noise at that level 24 hours a day. At 100 db, the safe limit is 15 minutes. Now your son is going to be displeased! The safe time limit for his 120 db-rock concert is 9 seconds!! (Since a concert of classical music is not maximum loudness for protracted periods of time, it seems to me that though it is noted at 100 db, it's ok, my bias notwithstanding!) It is recommended that people who are around such loud sounds on a continuous basis wear ear protection. Not exactly consonant with a concert of any kind! If this information doesn't at least give your son pause, make sure he has his hearing tested on a regular basis. Hearing, once lost, does not "grow back."

I am a 17-year-old serious piano student. I began my studies at age four, only becoming serious about making it a career 2 years ago. Since I made my decision, I have increased the practice time dramatically. I can work for up to 7 hours a day, averaging around 4. My repertoire has also grown significantly to include such pieces as Rachmaninov 2nd Concerto, Prokofiev Toccata, Liszt La Campanella, Liszt Ballade in B minor, and Chopin Ballade in F major to name a few. This past summer I attended a program in the Hamptons of New York called Pianofest. Up to 18 students are selected; the oldest being 26. I am auditioning for Curtis, Juilliard, Mannes, and Cleveland this coming March and wonder if you have any suggestions about preparing. My program is almost an hour, including 7 pieces. Any advice would surely be helpful.

Please take care with your hands!!!!

Your summer festival is good experience as well as an opportunity to make professional contacts - - contacts and luck are the primary elements of a concert career. Skill and musicality are givens.

First, I suggest you work with your teacher. This person knows your strengths.

Second, contact the schools and ask for their audition guidelines. These will give you an idea of what they are looking for. For example, one school might require a "big" Chopin piece; another might not care of you play any Chopin at all, as long as you play something from the same period (say, Schumann) or an example of a form that Chopin used extensively (such as a nocturne by John Field, an Irish composer).

Third, basically what they are looking for is a demonstration of proficiency in all styles, technical and vis à vis performance practice - -[maybe Renaissance (William Byrd)], Baroque (JS Bach), Style Galant (CPE Bach), high Classical (Mozart, Haydn), early Romantic (early-ish Beethoven, early Schubert), Romantic (late Beethoven, Chopin, late Schubert, Schumann), late Romantic (Rachmaninov), early 20th-century (Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel, Joplin perhaps, Copland, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Bartok), [perhaps modern (Barber, Hovhaness)]. If you have a "specialty," you may be able to put in two pieces by this composer/of this period, but don't count on it. Do count on being stopped and asked to restart in another place or to abandon that piece entirely and go on to something else. Also, make sure your sight-reading skills are excellent and that you have complete control of scales and arpeggios. Stay away from "arrangements" and "piano reductions."

I'm looking for a book I can use to teach myself piano. What do you recommend?

I have heard of a "teach-yourself" series by Alfred Publishing. The book comes with a CD. On-line reviewers (students, not teachers) give it high marks. Evidently it comes in beginner and intermediate books. I have not seen this book, so I can't comment on its pedagogy or content, but this is what I know about it, should you wish to pursue this.

I'd still suggest finding a teacher!

In order to make my sixteenths come out even, I have to count 1 e & a, etc. If it's a long song, however, or there aren't that many sixteenths, counting 1 e & a is very cumbersome. I don't do too well "fitting" the sixteenths.

Try counting 1 e & a only when you need it, but "warm up" to it by starting to count 1 e & a in the measure before:

1 - 2 - 3- 4, 1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a [here comes the measure you need to actually play them:], 1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a Then go back to 1 - 2- 3- 4 again until you need to do 1 e & a again. This way you get the sixteenth idea going ahead of time (they just "plug them in" in the measure where they're written) but don't go dry-in-the-mouth counting 1 e & a for the whole song.

I am a piano student who is going to learn to play the harpsichord. Do you recommend that I keep my practice on both instruments segregated? One month piano and one month harpsichord, or can the two be integrated successfully in some other way?

No problem. Practice them concurrently.

I am an adult piano student who resumed playing after a very long dormant period. Would you please consider recommending some method/theory books for the adult student to use?

I really don't recommend any of them, to be honest, but you might look at Dennis Agay's "Joy of First Year Piano" if you are really rusty! Otherwise, I'd advise you to go straight to literature: try Clementi sonatinas, Op. 36 and Op. 37, Burgmuller etudes, Op 100. Also consider literature anthologies, such as those by Lynn Freeman Olson. There's a new series by Kjos, too.

Is there a way to teach yourself how to read notes, or is it essential to have a teacher?

Sure, you can do it without a teacher. The bottom line on the bass clef staff (the lower one - - the bass clef looks like a C turned the wrong way) is G. Use your knowledge of the alphabet and count up. When you get to G, start over at A. Therefore the space above that bottom line is going to be A.

On the treble staff, the bottom line is E.

Moreover, the note that sits above the top line of the bass staff is B. The next note up, a line note, is C - - usually identified as Middle C. The bottom line of the treble staff is E, as noted. The note just below that E is D, which makes sense, following the alphabet. The interesting thing is that the treble staff is just a continuation of the bass staff, where B - C - D are the "interim" notes between the staves. Actually, the staves have been "pulled apart" at the Middle C point to make reading easier.

As to counting, the white note without a stem is a whole note and gets four counts. The white note with a stem and dot (to the right side of the notehead) is a dotted-half note and gets three counts. The same note without the dot is a half-note and gets two counts. The quarter-note, the black one with the stem, gets one count.

That's all there is to it!

Get some very easy music to "practice" on. At random, pick a note and say the letter name. Also say the number of counts. After a while, close your eyes and put your finger on a note so it's completely random.

Note: Stay away from music that has to "1-count notes" joined at the top with a horizontal bar. Those are eighth-notes and get 1/2 a count (have a quarter-note, that is). Stick with the four basic note values.

I'm really wanting to start myself on a technical regimen and was wondering where I fit in on your progression from Schaum to Schmitt to Henri Herz, von Dohnanyi, to etudes, etc. After a group class and one semester of private instruction in college, I pretty much am self-taught (Bach invention, Mozart's Sonata in G Major, K 283). I decided I wanted to be a piano major and was accepted, even though I was at the intermediate level (it was a small department and at that time was pretty much "open admissions." I have played Chopin's C Major and A Minor preludes (worked on G Major, too), Bach's two-part invention in C Minor, and the second movement of Beethoven's Sonata in G, Op. 79 ("alla tedesca"). I also played Debussy's "Minstrels." The most difficult piece I have played is the Chopin C Major prelude. So what technical studies should I start with? I still feel soooo inadequate and "behind." I still have bad practice habits but am working on that. Hanon bores me. I feel like I'm wasting time when I try to get myself to do those repetitious exercises in the first half of the book. I'm attracted to Czerny's Op. 821. I haven't seen them, but I also like the idea of short exercises that still get the job done.

Have you consulted your present teacher? This person knows you and can make very specific suggestions.

If you no longer have a teacher and/or don't feel your teacher has been helpful in this topic, I would say you should do the Hanon, anyway, but do it the way I describe in my technique file aimed at teachers. I concur that the notes are boring, but you can use these mundane exercises to gain other skills, as I describe in that file.

If you have not used Schmitt, which includes diatonic scales at the back of the book, I suggest you work through that. After you've gotten through all the exercises through 169, go back and do the book again on C#. Continue through B. (This should keep you off the streets for a while!)

Concurrently with re-doing Schmitt, do the Phillip.

Then perhaps the Dohnanyi. (The Schaum is light-years below you!)

As to etudes, I would steer you toward the Czerny eight-measure ones. I'd skip his School of Velocity, as it tends to engender bad habits - - the darned title not helping things at all! I confess that I find Czerny pretty boring, except for the short-and-sweet eight measure etudes.

Since you feel your technical regime has been glossed over, I'd start at the bottom and work upwards. See above file.

I am quite capable of playing Mozart’s Alla Turca, but I still find I have problems playing octaves quickly even though I can comfortably reach. Do you have any suggestions to help me? Also later in the pieces, broken octaves are required. Do you have any tips to play those, as well?

My initial thought was maybe you are holding your hand/wrist stiffly so it "tightens up" and restricts your mobility AND tires your hand so that you cannot maintain the open hand position and start getting inaccuracies. Try getting a little "cooked spaghetti" into your wrists and see how that goes.

Also, do you "key" on a finger as you play octaves? For example, do you think about where your thumb goes next, knowing that the pinkie will land on the right note? Or, is it the other way around? You may be able to increase accuracy by discovering which is your "keying" finger and then watch (literally!) that one for a while until your octaves become accurate.

As to broken octaves, analyzing which is the "keying" finger should help.

Incidentally, have you done any octave exercises? If not, you might consider these two simple ones (both of which directly relate to the octave figurations in the Mozart!):

For each: Use the metronome, increasing your speed to two notes per tick at 208. Don't play any faster than you are in complete control. Start with the broken octave exercise and then move to the blocked octave exercise. Don't expect to complete these exercises in a week! It may easily take a month! And don't overdo. Don't push your hand. You'll only injure it.

After taking each of these to "2 @ 208," you might want to try chromatic octave scales.

In the Mozart, discover the "keying" finger in the problem places.

Another thing you might try is what I call "play - place - play," in which you play one note, move your hand to the next note but don't play it ("place") and play it after you've been in place for a moment. The idea is to get to the new position before you need to depress the key. Start with each of the three steps to one tick of the metronome. When you are comfortable, change so that "play - place" both occur on the first tick and the final "play" occurs on the second tick. This is exactly what will happen when you actually play the piece.

Hello again. I have another question. When you count up the note lines using knowledge from the alphabet, do you count the sharp and flat notes identified as the black keys on the keyboard? If not, could you please explain to me how to read the sharp and flat notes on the sheet music papers? Part of the reason I want to know is because I'm trying to learn the classical piece "Moonlight Sonata". I learned the first part by watching online videos of people playing it, but I can't see all the keys that they're pressing. As a result I ended up downloading the sheet music for the song, but I'm new at reading notes. The reason I bring that up is because I want to ask if there's a special way you have to read that particular song on a music sheet.

The sharps and flats are just alterations to the notes written on lines and spaces. Sharps are shown as tick-tack-toe signs (#) and flats by half-Valentines-on-a-stem (b is the best I can do on a computer keyboard). A sharp means to alter the note on whatever line or space by moving it up to the very next key - - this is called a half-step. A half-step up usually lands you on a black note. The exceptions are E# and B#, which are white keys and usually called F and C. (You have to call them E# and B# in order to spell things correctly, depending on which letter name note is the one that's most common in the song. This letter name note is called the key of the song. See my file on what key of a song means.)

A flat means move a half-step lower. Where are Cb and Fb on the keyboard?

So, in the "Moonlight," rather than play white-note C, you play C#, which is the black key nearest, on the right.

You can get a simplified arrangement of this piece at your music store (not a pop sheet + CDs store, but a regular music store) or on-line at a store. This will be in a different key, which will simplify your learning. It probably will be fore-shortened, but this might be a good trade for ease of learning and quicker gratification.

I am trying to learn to improve my sight reading. I am an adult professional pianist. How I got this good with such terrible reading ability I'll never know! I just read your explanation of learning eighth notes. I'm pretty good at 8th note reading from fake books, but what about 16ths? Do you have any tips on how to handle 16ths that invariably occur in pop music - - and classical, too. I labor over classical pieces with uneven 16ths and 32nds. I have to know what the piece sounds like. I count in 4/4, "One and two and three and four," and sometimes, "One-ee-and-uh, two-ee-and-uh " (for 16th notes), but boy, it's a hassle and it doesn't seem to improve. Any suggestions?

You are right to figure out you need to be able to sight-read. Having to hear every piece keeps you from a lot of music!

There are lots of ways to deal with what to "call" things when counting.

Handle sixteenths the same way you do eighths - - just choose a smaller value for "one." So, if the eighth-note is "one" when you count eighths as the prevailing unit, the sixteenth-note pairs are "one-and". (A whole note in 4/4 time is " one two three four.")

If you use my system for teaching eighth-notes, then the quarter note is "1 - 2" and the eighths are "1" - - a pair would be "1 - 1". (A whole note is "1- 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8," which is how eighth-notes got named: they're 1/8th of a whole note.) Sixteenths still present a problem. Consider: "1 - uh, 2 - uh 3 - uh 4 - uh," which is the same as described above.

Therefore, for a piece with a lot of sixteenths, convert the eighth-note to "one," with the sixteenths as "one and."

Or, with my system, now the eighths are "1 - 2" and the sixteenths are "1." Quarters are therefore "1 -2 - 3- 4." (A whole note would be "1- 2- 3- 4- 5- 6- 7- 8- 9- 10- 11- 12- 13- 14- 15- 16." )

Your "one -- ee -- and -- uh" works, too. Admittedly, it's clumsy - - just as describing sixteenth pairs as "1 - 2", but perhaps you could use it as a starting point, transitioning into tracking the eighth as the pulse and letting the intervening sixteenths just "slide in-between." For a piece with a lot of sixteenths this might be a workable option.

When I teach sixteenths, I make sure eighths are well-established and that the student can "fit in" eighths, tracking the quarter as the smallest note value. Then we can use "1 - 2" for the eighths.

A similar solution would be to count each group of sixteenths as "1 - 2 - 3 - 4." There would then be four sets of this in a measure. Of course, as you point out, each quarter-note also would have to be tracked as "1 - 2 - 3 - 4."

Another would be to track the smallest prevailing note value (say, an eighth-note) and have a special word for any sixteenth-note pairs. I use "PIZ-za" with my students since it's a universal idea!

An eighth followed by two sixteenth in this system: "1 piz – za," or better: "HAM - bur - ger"

Four sixteenths, in my system is "WA - ter - me - lon."

As to unevenness, use the metronome. Set it to the smallest prevailing value, as noted previously. Count out loud, too. (Yes, you'll feel silly. What's more important? Feeling silly or conquering this problem?

This is something you'll have to work on for a while, especially since you've probably been using "The Bob System" for some time!

I'm a piano teacher. My mother-in-law (not a pianist) made me a needlepoint cover for my piano bench. What do you think of bench covers?

As much as I love needlework, I don't have a cover on my piano bench. This is because a cover on the bench makes it hard to move your body around (you need to be able to cross your right arm across your body to play notes in a hand-over-hand arpeggiation, for example, and you need to be able to "pivot" on your backside) to reach the upper ends of the keyboard. "No" to needlepoint covers.

As to your particular predicament because the cover was a gift from a family member: how about making it into a lined, removable cover? (Seam the cover and lining fabric, right sides together, turn, clip across corners, and slip stitch the turning hole.) Put it on the bench when the piano is not in use. Remove it when it's time to play . Explain to her up front that you're protecting her beautiful piece from little bottoms (and grown-up backsides) that might be less-than-clean after playing in the yard.

The only other possibility would be to make the piece into a bolster-type pillow. Tell your mother-in-law what I have recommended and say that you want to use her lovely piece yet protect it and would making it into a pillow be acceptable to her?

I think the removable cover would be the way to go, however. Then it's put to the use your mother-in-law intended it to be.

(1) Do you know where to get any writeouts on the Polonaise in A major Op. 40 No. 1 ‘Military’ by Chopin? If you don’t, can you tell me what inspired him to write this piece or tell me anything interesting about this piece? (2) I have problems playing the Op. 25 No. 11 ‘Winter Wind’ etude by Chopin. It is way too fast for me after the 1st 4 bars. Do you have any suggestions how to solve the problem? (3) I want to be a performer. Is there any way I can make myself known? I can't find any piano recitals that I can participate in. (4) Do I have to be good at sight reading in order to be a performer? I am not good at sight-reading; is there anything I can do to improve it?

(1) Not sure what you mean by "writeouts." Printed music? Any music store will have this piece. Or, try an on-line music store. Search Google for info about why Chopin wrote it, etc. Is this what you want to know?

(2) If this etude is too fast, choose another one. Or, play this one slowly and aim for control rather than speed. Once you have control, speed will develop naturally. You won't even be aware you're playing it faster! Aim for control. The more control you have, the faster it will go - - naturally!

(3) I gather that you mean a "concert pianist" when you say "performer". There are many answers to this very question here in this Q&A file.

You'll have to find some competitions to enter. Ask your teacher. Check at your local community college or university. The local print music and instrument stores. Other area teachers.

Doesn't your teacher have recitals? You should participate in all of those. Also, ask if there are recitals given by the music teachers' group. Play in those, too.

Tell your teacher your goal so he/she can help you reach it!

If you don't have a teacher, you need to get one right away! I have a file on how to find a teacher. Also in this Q&A file there is discussion on this topic, especially as regards a student who wants to be a concert performer.

(4) You are not required to demonstrate capability in sight-reading (or in anything else, actually), but you should be able to do this because not being able to sight-read greatly lengthens the time you'll need to learn a piece.

Can you give me some advise of picking the right teacher for my daughter? My daughter is 11 years old, and she has played piano since she was five. She is going to Grade 6 in piano. My daughter loves to play the piano, but she does not practise very efficiently, according to the current piano teacher. My daughter loves to be on stage and loves to participate in music competitions (for now) and loves to get placements. Her first piano teacher (from beginning to Grade 4) is the most loving person I ever met. My daughter adores her (almost like her grandmother). They have a very good rapport. The philosophy of her teaching is to hope all her students enjoy music and play for life. She uses Alfred, Bastien series, the Royal Conservatory Repertoire and Studies. Sometimes, she will give us Disney pieces, and sometimes it would be some longer and more challenging classical pieces. I have to say the lessons were always fun and were never boring. The teacher always said, "If you can read, you can play any music you want to!" She would add some expressions to the pieces, but she never spent too much time polishing a piece. Also, sometimes, I wondered how come my daughter did not need to practise scales at all. Maybe the teacher incorporated everything slowly in all the pieces. Although she is a well-respected musician (semi-retired) in the community, she refused to send her students to any music competitions or examinations. She strongly feels that a lot of students get turned off from these competitions and eventually lose interest in playing. My daughter's second teacher (Grade 5) is the complete opposite. She is very focused on competitions. She spent almost the whole year to prepare a few pieces to the music competition. Although my daughter received the 1st place honor in the competition, she did not enjoy the lessons at all. My daughter always wondered, "Oh! Will I get yelled at again this time?" Sometimes, there were tears from the lessons. Sometimes, she felt she was not up to the teacher's standard. After one year of this unpleasant experience, I am determined to find the right teacher for her. Should I go back to the first piano teacher? Should I look for another teacher who is more focused on competitions and examinations but hopefully has a better personality? Would I get the same nightmare? I have done some research on my own. It seems to me that those kids who won in the music competition all drilled only a few pieces for a year to get perfection. I really do not know what is the best for my daughter. Please help!

You have several problems.

First, you are correct that you need to find the best teacher for your daughter. To begin, you need to identify exactly what you want piano instruction to do for her. Make a list. Also have her make a list. (How different are they?!) Now it's time to find a teacher who meets as many criteria as possible.

Second, I would be concerned that the teacher is yelling at your daughter. There is NO excuse for verbal abuse (or abuse of any kind). The fact that there are tears - - I assume this is not a one-time event, in which case it may be your daughter's guilt over lack of preparation - - is a big red flag!!! Trust your instincts in this. Red flags fly for a reason!

May I assume from your last name you are Asian? Often Asian families choose Asian teachers. It's been my experience with many of my Asian transfer students that *some* of their Asian teachers are ultra-focused on winning competitions, which means limited repertory and spending time preparing only the competition pieces. Sometimes this translates as making lessons stressful, unpleasant, and/or boring for the student. I'm guessing, from your letter, that this is the case with your daughter's teacher. The problem here probably is not the teacher's electing to do a competition because it's best for your daughter, but because it makes the teacher look good to his/her colleagues if the child does well. It also could be her/his desire to show *you* what a good teacher you've selected. Maybe both! See this file I've written for teachers about competitions.

Note to other readers: Please do not interpret the previous paragraph in any way to be a negative comment about Asian teachers. As a whole, they are superb teachers and musicians and always operate from the point of view of what's best for the student. I am trying to address this mother's particular concerns. It appears to me, from her letter, that the mother's and the teacher's probably being Asian is germane to the problem. Bear with me, please!

That your daughter enjoys competitions is fine. What you need is a teacher who is more gentle in her approach. And, I think, willing to work on literature during the year other than what's on the competition list of "approved pieces."

Third, I gather you left the first teacher primarily because it seemed nothing was polished to competition level. From what you said about the teachers and your daughter, I'd go back to the first teacher. If you have questions about specifics (such as technical exercises), tell her your concerns. Ask if she is already addressing them in a way that's not obvious to you. If not, ask her how she can incorporate that in the curriculum now. Also ask her about bringing pieces to a more polished level before moving on.

In my opinion, you should RUN from the current teacher. She is killing your daughter's love of music.

Incidentally, your description of that teacher is exactly why I don't do competitions.

Yes, I am Chinese and my present teacher is also Chinese. I am positive that I will not stay with the present teacher. My heart tells me to run back to my first piano teacher as soon as possible, but my daughter will not be able to participate in the music competitions. My daughter told me that she loves to go to music competition and feels a little sad that when all her Chinese friends are going to the local music festival but she can not go. I do admire the first teacher's philosophy, but I do not know whether the Royal Conservatory examinations are also important or not. It seems that the student can work towards a goal and gets reward from the hard work. What's your opinion on the competitions?

Ok, now that you ask point blank, I can say I loathe competitions! They are usually undertaken to put a feather in the teacher's cap or because parents think they are important in order to show other parents that their child is a superb player.

Your daughter has told you that she loves to do what the other children are doing. What does she actually think about competitions, as specifically divorced from this social aspect of them? My guess is that she'd choose not to do them if they were solitary pursuits. Ask her!

I am in complete accord with teacher #1. I don't worry about polishing a lot of pieces, either. For recitals, yes. But for general run-of-the-mill songs, I have identified the kernel of what the song is about. When the student shows mastery of this and general skill in playing the piece as a whole, we go on. Often the song "returns" in the guise of a memory song or a legato-emphasis or a don't-collapse-your-knuckles song, however. And often I add to the assignment: "Play 4 different review songs daily." This means quite a few old songs are reviewed.

As I said before, communicate to the teacher about your "polishing concerns." I'm sure if the teacher knows about this, she will address this in her lesson plans for your daughter.

As to social situations, does teacher #1 have "workshop" or "studio recitals" apart from the full-blown annual recital? If so, your daughter needs to play in these. Also ask if the music teachers' association there in Canada sponsors recitals. She can play in these.

Also - - very important - - get your daughter into a choir or a band/orchestra (or both!). She probably will need to learn another instrument for band/orchestra, but I don't think it will be difficult for her, based on what you have told me. Camaraderie is one of the big draws of ensembles. I'm betting these situations will fill the bill for social interaction with music!

As to examinations (as separate from competitions), I am not a fan of these, either. It may be a tradition in your area for all/most students to participate in them. This would be your call, I think, with input from the teacher. You might wish to talk to other teachers and parents and find out what they think of examinations.

Just wondering if its wrong if you trill and your fingers come off the keys as you do, or is there no set way?

I think it's easier to keep fingers just above the notes (and, yes, your fingers probably will touch the key surface), so you don't wander away from the needed keys, but if you want to hold your fingers farther from keyboard surface, it's not wrong. If you prefer to keep your fingers on the keys, that's not wrong, either. Do it however produces the trill in best control for you.

I normally practice about 60 - 90 minutes a day and have been playing about 18 months. I would like to know if you think there is a "right way" to structure a practice session. I start with scales, broken chords, etc., which I guess is sensible, but should they last for half the time available, a quarter, or more? I spend about 20 minutes. Then I'd do about half an hour on learning the new piece, then the remainder going over some of the older stuff, or trying something completely new. Does this sound vaguely sensible, or should I be spending much more on the boring scales?

I think what you are doing is very good, overall. (But what does your teacher say? Your teacher knows you best, so I'd definitely ask if you haven't done so already.) As a general guideline, I suggest 20% of the time on technique (including sight-reading), 70% on literature, and 10% on fun (old pieces, pop stuff, etc.). The only thing I'd change is add some "fun" time and increase time spent on literature, unless the amount you are doing is the maximum your brain will "hold." (We're all different. And some days are even different!) Keep up the good work!

What do "dur" and "mol" mean, as in "Sonata in D-Dur"?

"Dur" is major (literally "hard"), and "mol" is minor (literally, "soft"). "D-Dur" means D Major.

I am interested in how to interpret ornaments in Mozart's "alla turca" (K. 331). Your site is the only one on the net where I have hope of finding this information. I would greatly appreciate your help.

Quick answer: no pedal and play acciaccaturas. (See the next question and answer. Also, I hope to get a complete file written on this piece. See pedagogy.html for the exact link.)

I do use pedal now and again. I want to play grace notes. Also, my teachers disagree. One says to play equal eighth-notes rather than a quarter and a grace note. The other says play a sixteenth and a dotted-eighth, with the sixteenth on the beat.

Long answer (a continuation of the previous question and answer):

I would consider using pedal ONLY as an ornament, such as on chords at the end of the piece (or at the end of the first section). Remember that the pedal on Mozart's piano was knee-operated and also was divided in half (controlling the upper and lower halves of the keyboard separately). If you try to "knee pedal" in the places where you want to "foot pedal," you will find yourself becoming very fatigued. It's also clumsy. This is obviously not what Mozart intended. His piano music is so idiomatic. (To try out "knee pedaling," raise your foot onto the ball, pressing your knee into the wood on the underside of the keyboard for the duration you desire. Great stuff, huh?)

Later, the pedal mechanism changed, and then other performance practices ensued. There is a triad between composer/performaer/instument maker - - each influencing the other two and each pushing the envelope on the other two - - so we don't know whether performers wanted it, composers wanted it, or instrument makers thought it up and offered it.

What your teacher speaks of with the sixteenth-note and the dotted-eighth is a "quick appoggiatura." The note printed small is played on the beat and immediately is exchanged for the "main" note. To teach these, I use the mnemonic DO-nut. The small note is DO- and falls on the beat. A quick appoggiatura is certainly an option in the "alla turca," but I think the equal-value appoggiatura sounds sluggish and uninteresting.

An acciaccatura is striking two notes together and immediately lifting the one printed in small type. I use "SQUISH - it" in teaching my students. Both notes go down on the beat (which is why "squish" is in all caps), and the little note is released on "it" while the big note stays depressed. ("Acciaccatura" mean "crush" and is pronounced "ah-CHOCK-ah-too-rah".)

Grace notes are definitely wrong, although you hear the piece played this way all the time, which, of course, perpetuates the problem, as everyone becomes "accustomed" to hearing it that way. (And, of course, you hear it with pedal, too!)

When Mozart wanted a grace note, he wrote a small value note (often a sixteenth or thirty-second) at the end of the previous measure. Otherwise, where not notated in this way, he meant either an appoggiatura, quick appoggiatura, or acciaccatura.

Sometimes he'll write out a quick appoggiatura, too. This seems to be the case when he thought the performer might choose the equal-value appoggiatura or the acciaccatura, and he wanted to specify that he did not intend the performer to make a choice among these three ornaments; or that he didn't want the performer to choose the equal-value appoggiatura or acciaccatura.

I know what you're thinking now: how do you know what Mozart wanted if he didn't write it out? You play each possibility and choose the one that seems to "work" there. Your hand won't "lie" to you. You might also look elsewhere in the piece to see if he gives you a hint. Sometimes the same notes appear (or transposed, of course), but the ornament is written out. The assumption, as in Bach, is that all similar places are executed in the same way.

I wouldn't waste time with an equal-value notes appoggiatura "learning stage." If you need a learning stage (which I doubt, beyond maybe one day), play both acciaccatura notes together (as normal) and don't lift the "little" one (practice stage).

Try the acciaccaturas. I think you will like them.

We chose our piano teacher very carefully, believing that our son may be gifted. At 6, he chose his own teacher, the most aggressive teacher and bonded with her immediately. She tries to balance the daily simplified work with classical pieces to keep him entertained. He will play children's music but he really only likes classical. He loves theory tests, competitions and recitals. She knows the type of music that he likes and recently chose a re-write for piano of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for something extra to do. He can sight-read the more difficult pieces quicker than easy ones. He quickly worked on this piece until he could play and count it smoothly. We purchased a pedal extender to help him, and he automatically incorporated it in this piece without hesitation. Yet, he sometimes has to repeat his simple Music Tree workbook pages a second week because he is unable to count or play it properly. It is like pulling teeth to get him to do them or his few pages of theory. He has crammed for a classical competition after 9 months of lessons to take a year two theory test, with many concepts he had never seen before. He raced through the test in under 10 minutes with a 90% average (sloppy mistakes). He used to trick us to keep from reading the music. He would ask his teacher or myself to play his new piece for him so that he could memorize it instead of reading the music. - He used to compose such beautiful, difficult pieces without hesitation or preparation. He would think of them at school in his many hours of free time (4 hours a day after his work is finished) and play them for his friend over the phone as soon as he got off the bus. Frustrated that he couldn't remember them or write them down quickly enough, he stopped. We tried a tape recorder, but it didn't work. His teacher does not want him to stop trying to compose but doesn't want to incorporate it in his lesson either. She suggested that he was mixing up music that he was playing by ear. After a group recital, I also noticed that he played sections from all the other students' pieces. Last night, we went to a recital at our local university. She placed the first sheet of music on the piano, and he said, "Oh, my favorite! Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata!" He was right! He is also learning his scales. - I always have concerns for him, and his teacher is not receptive to interruptions. She concentrates when she is with him and usually holds him over an hour. Part of this may be because if she slows down, she loses his attention. I have tried to wait until after the lesson but she is on to her next task as soon as she is finished with him. - I am hoping to find an experienced teacher to bounce some of my concerns off from time to time or a book for children musically gifted (in case). This week's concerns are (1) His largest restraint is the size of his hands (now that we have the pedal extender). He plays Symphony #5 over and over, with quite some emphasis, but even after the first time through his hand hurts. He drops off any bottom notes that span an octave. Possibly his hands hurt because he is strengthening them or do you think he is hurting himself? (2) Is there anything I can do at home to get him to do his Music Tree? In trying to avoid the Music Tree book, he is avoiding practice altogether. We have tried games, rewards and a little patience when working in the simple books. His one and only set of flashcards were a nightmare! He loves to practice, especially if I sit in his room but not for flashcards.

An update: He had his piano lesson again this morning. Once again, he played through a new classical piece with ease (the first time through) and stumbled over 'Big Elephant' in his workbook, after working on it for two weeks. He doesn't like the sound of it. His hand hurt last night but not today. He is so little, he has a hard time reaching more than three octaves without jump/scooting while he is playing, if he is using the pedal he looks all twisted up.

(1) Music Tree. These are boring books. I don't blame him! I'd let him toss them. They are way below his level. (He is bored with them, so he doesn't practice them and doesn't even try to play them correctly at his lesson. This is his way of communicating his low opinion of this material. In fact, he may even be playing it badly on purpose as a protest!)

There is no reason to make him schlog through this stuff, even for the character-building value. What is the teacher's goal in using these books with him?

There is a lot of music out there. One player is not going to like all of it! If he doesn't like the song, he won't work on it. He may not like the way 'Elephant' sounds, or he may not like its level and feels insulted for having been assigned it. If he doesn't like it, drop it and find another that will accomplish the same pedagogical goal. (For example, I hate Schumann's "Happy Farmer," and none of my students studies it. It was all I could do to stomach it to accompany my sons in their sojourns in that Suzuki violin book.)

(2) Flash cards. If he hates drills, I normally suggest you recast them as games. You say he doesn't like this, either. So, eliminate them. Is there anything that indicates to you or the teacher that he needs these boring drills? Or, does the teacher assign them as a matter of course to everyone?

(3) Pain. If his hands hurt, stop. Period. There should not be pain! Left ignored, he will be permanently damaged.

You already have pruned his music. Do it some more and see if this helps. Note the sorts of figurations which cause him trouble. Tell his teacher. Whatever notes he cannot reach, seated where he should be with his bellybutton in front of Middle C, should be eliminated.

(4) Composition. Consider getting him a music notation program with a MIDI interface which will allow him to play his songs "right into the computer" and come out with printed notation. You probably will have to set up the individual file for him for a while, but from your description, he will be able to do it by himself in time. I am familiar with Finale from Coda. There are others. Coda has a free notation software program you can try, but it doesn't have MIDI capability.

Why does his teacher not want to incorporate composition? Since he shows a great interest in it and seems to have a knack for it, she should make this part of his curriculum. Perhaps not every lesson, but every other one or at least once a month. I think this is an incorrect decision on her part. Perhaps his teacher's resistance to working with him on composition is because the teacher feels inadequately prepared to teach this topic.

Another option: Pay the teacher for one additional lesson a month, during which the only topic addressed is composition. I also know of students who study with two teachers, one of whom is strictly for composition/theory. Save face with the teacher: "My son really wants to compose, as you know. I agree with you that a thorough understanding and ability to play the standard repertoire is paramount. For a little while, I'm going to have my son take a few lessons with a composition [not "another"] teacher, just for composition. Then all his lesson time with you is free to devote to literature and the other most important aspects of playing." Note that you are "selling" what you're doing by framing it in how it will benefit her. Don't avoid this prickly conversation with his teacher, as you won't be able to keep the composition teacher a secret, thanks to your son! He'll probably enthuse over his compositions, want to play one for her, etc. Obviously, his current teacher will know these pieces are not coming from -her-!! It's best to head off trouble by telling her beforehand what's going to happen and "sell" it to her in a palatable way, since she may feel insulted that you don't think she's doing a good/well-rounded job with your son.

(5) Hearing new music assignments. His teacher is correct in not playing for him, thereby enabling him to learn the pieces by ear. He must read!

(6) Company. It's common for a young one to want someone to "keep him company" while he practices. Do so gladly.

(7) Consultation. Do not expect the teacher to talk to you "on someone else's time" or when she must get to other things. Chat during his lesson or call her at a non-lesson time.

I came across a notation I've never seen before. It looked like two half notes connected by three lines (like thirty-second-notes would be connected), but not touching the stems. There are two sets of them in the measure! The piece is in 4/4 time, so it looks like there are too many counts!

This is tremolo. What it means is to go back and forth between the two notes for the duration of a half-note, using thirty-second-note values for each note. (You will have 16 of each note.) Do the same for the second set. You'll have the equivalent of two half-notes, which is perfect for 4/4 time. This method is easier to read that a bunch of thirty-second-notes!

Note: This question is a posed by a piano teacher on my pedagogy question-and-answer page.

I thought it would be of interest to parents and students, so I include it here. Please follow the link.

Note: A reader responds with suggestion about the learning difficulty evident in the question just previous. I am very grateful to this reader for valuable input.

The 8-year-old girl sounds very much like my 8-year-old son. In spite of the fact that he has an above average IQ, seemingly simple concepts go right over his head. He has had difficulty learning to read notes made it through his first set of piano books by memorizing the songs. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince his piano teacher of this problem until I sent him to lessons without practicing all week, and she had to work with him "cold". He played so beautifully after I had struggled with him all week, that she was stunned when she realized he couldn't read the music (he picks out songs by ear and makes up his own songs). He has trouble distinguishing between line and space notes on the staff and seems to have trouble tracking along the line visually. He often uses his finger to follow the line when he reads print, but it's a little hard to do that and play the piano. My son has some visual motor difficulties. His vision is fine, but his eyes don't always work well together (sort of an eye/brain/muscle problem). Because of this, he had a hard time distinguishing between line notes and space notes. I think I also mentioned that he had trouble visually tracking along a line. He would also lose his place easily, causing him to skip things. One exercise he has done with his occupational therapist is called the Infinity Walk. He walks a figure 8 while he reads a series of letters or numbers posted on the wall at eye level without losing his place or changing the direction he's walking. This requires him to turn his head while he walks in order to keep his eyes on the letter chart. It doesn't sound too difficult, but it was very hard for him at first. He's much better now. Anyway, he cannot play the notes and say the names of the notes at the same time, but he can play and sing the words of the song. Like the little girl, he shuts down with too much input. He was tested by a neurologist who specializes in children with ADD/ADHD and was found not to have either of those conditions. Instead he has Sensory Integration Disorder. This condition can affect fine and gross motor skills, vision, hearing, etc. There is abundant information on the Internet about this condition, and there is an excellent book called "The Out of Sync Child" by Carol Stock Kranowitz. My son is doing very well with the help of an Occupational Therapist. We will start piano lessons the end of August with a teacher who is more willing to listen to a mom!

My daughter is going into the 7th grade and wants to quit piano. (She's been taking since kindergarten.) I don't want her to. Is it "safe" for her to stop now and still be able to play as an adult. My mom let me quit, and I am so sorry she did. Please help me not repeat that mistake! What do I say to her? How can I make her realize she will regret it always - - as I do - - if she quits?

First, understand her point of view: she wants to spend time with friends rather than be alone [at the piano]. She won't particularly understand your point of view (!) or even want to, but that doesn't matter because you're the grown-ups. Also, this might be something you selected for her to do "way back when," and she now wants to choose what she wants to do.

So, you've just got to put your foot down: "In this family, children study an instrument/take piano lessons until they graduate from high school." (Or whatever boundary you want to set, though I think graduation is the best one.) "Yelp and moan all you want, but your mom and I make the rules here concerning things that you're not old enough to make an informed decision on." She'll probably respond with a barrage of angry words ("I hate you!" and "You never let me do anything!" and "Nobody else has to take piano lessons!"), to which you respond, "I understand how you feel, but that doesn't change our rule."

She probably will "retaliate" by purposely doing poorly. Ignore it. Yes, you will feel as though it's money down the drain to continue to pay for lessons, but that's only a short-term loss. Keep your eye on the long-term goal: that she be able to play for pure enjoyment as an adult. She won't be able to do that if you cave now, financially or backbone-wise.

Set consequences if she doesn't play every day (or whatever frequency you set - - perhaps give her one day off per week? The day before the lesson is not a choice). No cell phone until practice is done or something like that. Yes, she will object strenuously and will do everything she can think of (including some things -you- won't have thought of!) to get out of it. Stand firm. Let her yowl and stomp off to her room. It's good for her to have opinions of her own, -but- as long as she's under your roof, -you- set the rules.

You'll need to talk to the teacher in advance and let her know what's going on so she can change teaching techniques and lesson content. Maybe only one song plus a pop piece and fewer technical exercises. Or only two pop pieces for a while and then later add a "real" piece. Asking the girl what songs she'd like to play, what songs she doesn't like, etc. Since she's been studying for seven years, she should have the ability to sight-read fun stuff (movie themes, for example), play some fake book songs, do some jazz (try William Gillock's New Orleans jazz series - - it's fantastic! Also look at Leo Alfasy's Blues Hanon, which has "exercises" in various blues styles and also can be a jump-off place for some beginning jazz improvisation), etc. There's also one on jazz and boogie woogie, but these are more difficult. Start with the blues one; it's the basis for the other two styles, anyway! Maybe she'd like to play the piano for the second graders during Sunday School. There are all kinds of things she can do with her piano skills.

Ask the teacher to lay out a practice plan that is black and white. (In my studio, I work with the student to decide how practice will be done. She and I decide exactly how many times she is going to do this specific thing: two lines of this Mozart piece five times. This kind of assignment gives finite boundaries to the practice session instead of making it seem as though it stretches interminably into the distant future.)

Contact the teacher and discuss specific strategies. It will take all three of you working together!

To answer your first question, in general, if you can keep them at it through 10th grade, they won't give it up because by then they're mature enough to understand that they have so much invested already it's foolish to stop.

There are some other answers elsewhere in this file that may be of help.

Hang in there! You're doing the right thing!

Another idea: begin lessons yourself! You'll enjoy it immensely, especially since you quit when you were a teen. And, you will be a role model: (1) dad is practicing so this must be important; (2) dad regretted quitting as a teen so much that he is trying to fix that mistake now; (3) dad wants to play duets with me; I'll play secondo since it's harder. (Tell your teacher you want duets as soon as possible. Remember that a duet part should be a level or two lower than your present playing level to make up for the inherent difficulties of playing with someone else. Don't try to tackle a duet that's as difficult as your present music. Your teacher might want to check out my pedagogy page for info on this topic.)

See also see several previous answers to similar questions. The index is at the top of this file.

At my lesson today, I played a piece beautifully for my teacher that I had not played at home for over a week (I was on vacation). How could that possibly be?! I should have played it worse, right?

I have noticed this phenomenon in my own playing, too! I think what happens is that you know you haven't played it in a while so you pay extra attention to everything on the page to make sure you don't leave anything out, mis-play notes, or mis-count, whereas when you've been practicing a piece daily you tend to "sluff over" reading all the details. Also "muscle memory" takes over.

I wouldn't rely on this method to produce good playing at your lessons, however! Home practice is the way to go!

My son's teacher refused to make up a lesson because my son had a soccer play-off game (he says we still have to pay). I can understand if we suddenly decided we wanted to go off on a vacation we'd have to pay, but there was no way we could know about the play-off if the team hadn't won the night before. The teacher has a 24 hours' notice rule, and obviously we couldn't follow that. He said he got the idea from you, and so I'm writing to ask why you recommend that. I'm unhappy that I have to pay and get no lesson, through no choice of our own. We couldn't help it. There was an unexpected soccer game, which my son didn't want to miss. We don't think this is a fair thing to do.

I understand your chagrin. This happened to me, as a mom taking my son to violin lessons. I had hoped the woman would offer me 'professional courtesy,' but she didn't, so I didn't ask and paid her.

I have been teaching nearly 60 years, and for at least 10 of them I allowed people to make up with short notice. (Sometimes they didn't even show up...or call later to apologize!..and I still made up the lesson.) I averaged about 20 students back then, and it was chaos. Of course, some people also took advantage of my lack of make-up policy and used short notice not for things like soccer play-offs and heavy homework, but for things like going shopping. ("I missed you last week. What happened? Were you sick?" No, my mom and I went shopping.) As my studio grew, the chaos grew and I finally figured out I was in charge and it was up to me to quell the chaos.

I then instituted my 24 hours' notice rule. This says, "I don't care what the reason is. If you give me 24 hours' notice, I'll give you a make-up. Otherwise, it's a forfeit. (Exception: the child wakes up sick or comes home sick.)" I make very clear in my policy that things such as soccer play-offs, heavy homework, car trouble, illness of the parent or a sibling, etc. are forfeits.

This protects me from capricious behavior. It also allows me to know ahead of time that there will be a blank spot in the day's schedule so I can put a make-up lesson in there.

I would never go back to my previous "method" of doing make-ups. (which was no method at all!).

Some teachers have a "no make-up lesson is given for any reason, not even illness of the student" policy.

As to choice, you did have a choice: miss the lesson or come late to the soccer game.

Another option for you would have been to ask the teacher for the names of several other families in the studio who might have changed lesson times with you for that week.

I'm sorry you think it is unfair, but it is unfair to the teacher to expect him to change his policy. It's his business, and he runs it as he sees fit. If this incident or policy plank is a deal breaker for you, perhaps you should consider changing teachers.

How do I obtain my records and exams for Royal Conservatory of Piano? I am now interested in teaching piano lessons.....where do I start?

I live in the States and am not familiar at all with the Royal Conservatory process. I suggest you contact a music instrument/print music retailer or your local university for help. Or call the Royal Conservatory directly.

As to where to start, check elsewhere in the QA this file for my answers to similar questions.

I can play music with the left and right hands without any difficulty, however, I am have great difficulty playing the same music with both hands together. My teacher thinks I may have a learning disability.

First, know that hands-together playing is much, much harder than hands apart. Much more than twice as hard! (I tell my students it's thirty-seven times as hard!) Expect it so you're not put off by what may appear to be instantaneous onset of stupidity. It's not.

Also, know that hands-together playing is going to be slower going than when you were learning hands apart.

Second, locate the place that is most difficult, hands together. It may not be most difficult place when you are playing only one hand. Probably will be at the end of the piece. Or near the end of the piece. Your teacher may be able to help if you can't pinpoint it.

To find that place, you'll have to slog thru the whole song slowly. Or look at the score and find the place(s) where there appear to be "the most notes" or other tricky things that might contribute to hands-together difficulties.

Work only that one measure (or two). Then 'build' on 'either side' of it. Continue until you have the whole line learned. Then pick the next worst spot and learn that; build on that, too. Continue in this fashion until you have all the hard places learned hands together. Then go back and learn the easy parts.

If you prefer, learn the end of the piece first: last two or three measures and work backwards toward the beginning in 'chunks'.

Third, are you sure that you know hands apart pretty well? Any time you spend playing hands separately will be handsomely repaid. Don't be in denial about how well you can play hands apart.

Fourth, are you doing sight-reading? If not, ask your teacher to start you on this assignment task. It will greatly improve your ability to gets hands together.

Last, don't expect too much too quickly! But hang in there. You will not fail! And next time, it won't be as hard as this time.

I think the likelihood of your having a learning disability is extremely low. You might want to read my file on this, however. It's written for teachers, but you may find some information there that will be helpful.

I'm 14, and I want to stop taking piano lessons. I've taken them since I was in third grade. My mom says no. I say yes. She says to write you to ask why I should not quit.

First, don't stop because, when you're out of high school, you'll regret it. I have never met an adult who told me he was glad his mom let him quit piano study. They ALL say they are sorry she did and wish she hadn't caved.

Second, you're already over the difficult part! You can read notation, count, and do all sorts of other things. Now's the time to cash in! Ask your teacher to give you some pop music - - or just arrive at the lesson with some sheet music you like. Ask your teacher about other changes he can make to your assignment so it suits you better. You're old enough to have some input into the music you study.

' Note: "Cash in" also means earning money with your skill. Who needs someone to provide background music at an anniversary celebration, fashion show, or a Christmas party?

I am looking at a used piano. I live in Hawaii. The piano my friend has rust on almost all of the strings. It's almost impossible to avoid that here because of the salt water and humidity. Do you think it is a bad idea to buy a piano if it has rusty strings? It is a spinet. Some of the keys stick, too, but another piano-playing friend who came with me to play it thought that could be fixed pretty easily. He is not a tuner or repair person, just a great pianist. Do you have any opinion on this? We can not afford a new piano, and I'm afraid any piano we look at will have rust, too.

Humidity is a problem with pianos. Not only do things rust, but keeping it in tune is a problem of equal magnitude.

I would not buy this piano without having a technician look at it (a registered tech is better than a "plain tuner"). She can tell you the exact nature of the damage, what sort of short-term work is needed (and about how much that will cost), what sort of long-term expenses you'll be looking at because of the condition of the piano now, and - - most important - - whether this is a piano you should buy.

Having not seen and heard the instrument and having no feedback from someone who knows what she's looking at (not your friend, alas, even though he is an excellent performer), it sounds to me as if buying this piano is not a good thing to do.

I am sure you feel beholden to your friend, but if it's a realistic no-go, then I'd tell her that your "tech thinks there is too much work to be done to it to make it immediately playable and that such an expense is not feasible for you".

Now, if she wants to give you the piano and anything you would have paid to her you can apply to repair and service, then it might be an option - - based on what the tech says about what the long-term needs of the instrument probably will be.

Suppose you choose not to buy it. What to do? How about a used instrument? They'll be much cheaper than a new one. A rental piano may be the way to go, too, as you can "swap" it if humidity seems to be damaging it. (Make sure you are clear about what obligation you have to the instrument, humidity- and rust-wise before you sign the store's contract.)

Or, a digital or electronic (such as a Clavinova) might be a good choice in your case.

I would also call your local piano stores and universities and ask them about how they deal with the excess-humidity problem. If you have air-conditioning, perhaps the humidity problem can be brought under control. Also consider a Dampp-Chaser, which is a heater unit that helps evaporate excess moisture in the air. Whether this would be enough to chase away rust, I don't know. I do have one on my instrument, and it definitely helps. (I also have a second unit - - same manufacturer - - which adds humidity to the air during the dry season.)

How do I tell my daughter's teacher that we are changing?

Depends on the reason.

If it's for something specific, try this: "We feel Gina would profit from competitions, and we know you don't believe in these. So we are going to try a teacher who does have competitions as part of his studio curriculum."

If generalized, try this: "We think it's time for a change. We've been very pleased, but right now she needs something different, so we're going to try another teacher."

Naturally, the teacher will feel it IS something he is not doing or something that is "wrong" with his curriculum or teaching style. There's nothing you can do to avoid this reaction.

Be sure to do this in person. Or, do it over the phone. An e-mail is not a good way to tell the teacher you are leaving his studio.

What is a fake book?

A fake book is a compilation of songs for which only the melody line and chords are given (and words, if there are any). With only this information, the player "fakes" an arrangement. In years past all fake books were illegal because copyrights were infringed on each song! (Perhaps some compilations still are in violation of copyright.) Now "legal" fake books are available from legit publishers, using exclusively material to which they hold copyright or material they license from the copyright holder.

Can you give me the name of a book on music theory? I want to learn more about how composers use chords to put music together. One of my friends who takes lessons says that knowing how the music is built is helpful in learning it. I can use all the help I can get learning new music! Thanks.

To be honest, there isn't much out there that will do what you want, which is, I think, form and analysis.

Probably you need to get a college freshman theory text. Have you spoken with your teacher about this? You doubtless will get a better answer there, as your teacher knows you well.

You might look at Tipbook Music on Paper (distributed by Hal Leonard), but it's a more general book: how to read notes, clefs, note values, dynamics, articulation (accents, staccato, etc.), swing rhythms, etc. - - if you want to do form and analysis, you already know all this - - but the book has sections on circle of fifths, relative major/minor, modes, and so on. These topic will be of help to you as you start your study of this branch of music. I also recommend you see Wayne Chases's How Music Really Works. He's somewhat of an iconoclast, but you might find something helpful there.

Ask your teacher, however, as he knows you best and can suggest specific materials appropriate to your level and goals.

When I make a mistake, I can't start anywhere but the beginning of the song. My teacher wants me to be able to start anyplace.

Your teacher is correct.

Starting anywhere in a piece is a learned skill. It's not something that comes naturally just from learning to read music. It's a problem every musician faces, whether she's a pianist or not.

If you always start at the beginning, you end up learning the starting part of the song very well! Also, you practice in going back instead of onward. Obviously, you must fix the problem spot. Then practice starting different places before that point. So if you make an error? Or two? Or a gazillion? The idea is just to try it! Be brave!

Another thing to do is to "hum in your head" the music right before the place where you are starting. Then start the fingers when you get to that place in the music. Of course, you'll want to start mental humming in different places.

You have fixed the problem spot, right? If not, that's the first order of business!

What does it mean when there are staccato dot and a slur on the same notes? How do I play this?

This means portato. You play the notes not-quite-staccato and not-quite-legato. Lift your finger up only half-way before playing the next note. I like to think of it as trying to run in a swimming pool.

Think of it, perhaps, as legato but with a tiny accent on each note.

It is difficult to explain in words. See if you can find another pianist to help you with this. This is the best I can do!

I want to study J.S. Bach and Scarlatti on the harpsichord. What warm-up exercises do you recommend?

I think any standard warm-up would be fine. I would not, however, use Czerny's "School of Velocity." These will tire the hand and emphasize the "stretched out" position. Hanon is good and Schmitt (Preparatory Exercises for Piano, especially #41 and following) are excellent.

As to learning, since the Bach, in particular, is imitative, you need to address this first. Have you done six two-part inventions? Any of the three-part inventions? See my file on fugues and how to learn them; this file also covers other imitative music (such as the two- and three-part inventions). Also see the file about harpsichord touch.

Keep your knuckles high and remember each finger must act independently. You can't just "throw your fingers" at the harpsichord, as you can on the piano, and get the notes to sound.

I am an advanced piano student, and I have already begun the process of going through university auditions for a major in music. Sadly, my musical education has mostly been provided by me, however, my repertoire for the auditions is well-polished and prepared. I seem to be getting a poor reaction because of my lack of a flashy technique. Many of the few teachers I had praised my wonderful musicality, but it seems all that piano departments want are machine-like and drilled playing mechanisms. My technique and facility are fine, but you know how today's pianists are: note-perfect always, flashy, and hard-toned. How could I help myself gain an advantage (no matter how small)? Just to give you an idea, I play more "musician"-type works, fugues, singing legato works (Beethoven slow movements), and fast and technical pieces (Chopin or Liszt), as well to show my diversity. All the others who are auditioning usually play are (stereotypically): Chopin's "Winter Wind Étude," Prokofiev (the hardest thing they can find of his), and something slow and very loud (a transcription of a Bach organ work, possibly).

Oh, boy, that's a tough one.

I think you're going to have to find a "champion" on each audition committee. See if you can discover who the committee chair is or who seems to be the biggest gun on the committee (this person may not be the chair- - the biggest gun may not have time to chair) and approach this person, asking for a *quick* (10-15 min *maximum*) audition. (Be prepared to pay: "What is your fee?" For a few minutes, it's likely to be free.) Within that time span, also speak of your lack of certain technical drill skills and ask what you can do in the official audition to make up for those.

If you consistently get a "go back to square one," I think this indicates a genuine hole in your training, which you should seek to remedy immediately. Musicality and other intangibles can't make up for shortcomings in traditional technical benchmarks.

Another option is to major in something else and take a minor in music. Then, if your school is like most others, all you have to do is audition and get one professor to accept you as a private student. Since you will not be "carrying a flag" for the profession or for the music department or for the piano faculty, someone who needn't see you as competition or a "blight" upon the profession because of your non-traditional background might take you on.

If, however, you see yourself as a college-graduate professional musician, you're going to have to toe the line and present the skills required by the music department. Perhaps you could pick up those skills at the junior college level, while taking your core classes at university.

I recently played a recital and wasn't as prepared as I should have been. Actually, I should have been working harder on my pieces in the months before the recital, but I didn't. I practiced really hard for the two days before the recital, but it didn't do much good. If I happen to find myself in this situation again, is there a way I could cram more successfully?

First, I congratulate you on looking at yourself honestly. You goofed up, and you know it. You already know that practicing a lot just before a recital - - "cramming," as you call it - - doesn't do the job and that you should have been working along on your pieces for several months prior to the program.

Second, to answer your question - - and I hope you never had to put these ideas to work again! - - here is my advice on how to maximize a few days' practice when you have a recital deadline. When you sit down to practice, make sure you are entirely focused on that.

I reiterate what you and I both said: don't get into the situation. It's not as if the recital date is a big surprise!

I have a question regarding the choosing of a piano. I am an advanced student, and I am leaving for college this fall to pursue a major in music. I have a piano at home, and its age (92 years) is really starting to show. Its very hard to control the tone and volume, and it's not worth enough to be regulated and re-voiced. I have been working on technique like the dickens, and the piano's action isn't fast or sensitive enough to meet my needs anymore, not to mention the shoddy pedal that isn't exactly the greatest for training. Should I rent a piano for the two months summer while I get ready for school? If so, which type of piano would you recommend (I know a grand would be best, but I only have space for an upright)? Thanks for your advice.

I'm wondering if you could get access at a church to practice?

Or maybe a community center or nursing home or VA hospital? In exchange for a "concert" once a week?

If you think the present piano is detrimental, then yes, I'd rent if I couldn't find one to use for free. I'd talk to the person at the piano store and ask what the best one they have is (and don't worry about the case). Among rental pianos, there's great variation, and a "good" piano (such as Yamaha) may be in worse condition than a lesser-known name.

I also have a file piano brands that addresses this topic in a general way. Also see this general file about buying pianos.

I play by ear and don't really read sheet music all that well, but I am quite familiar with various chord patterns on the keyboard and guitar. I've been trying for weeks now to figure out the chord pattern to Beethoven's "Fur Elise in A minor." I know the root chord is an A minor plus maybe a C Major chord and an A Major chord is in there somewhere, but what the heck are the other chords to help me learn how to play this song? Just tell me the chords, and I'm pretty sure I can figure out the fingering that goes with it from's really not that difficult a piece to play.

Yes, the key is A Minor. Here's the first (famous) section:

am - E - am [repeat all]

bridge: C - G - am - then a string of E notes by themselves

am - E - am [repeat if desired]

There is no A Major chord at all. Perhaps you are hearing the C or G, which are also major chords?

No, this isn't right. I know there's a seventh in there somewhere. Where is it? Send me the right answer.

I did send you the correct answer.

I cannot tell you by e-mail how to play this piece with chords any more than I have already answered you. You need to get the printed music if you want the melody (or you must sound it out). With the score, you can do a chord analysis and satisfy yourself. As you say, it's "really not that difficult a piece", so you shouldn't have much trouble.

All this being said, do not write to me again. Ever. Rudeness doesn't ring my bell. Nor does arrogance.

I know you're not a clarinet teacher, but I found your site on the Web, and I hope you can help me, anyway! My son played the recorder during 3rd grade and is going into 4th grade in the fall. He will have a chance to be in the band, and he'll be able to learn an instrument. He is thinking about clarinet or sax. How can I help him with practicing at home? Is it worth the extra money to have him in the band at all? I'm a single dad.

Yes, it's worth your extra money to get him in and keep him in the program. You are giving him a priceless gift. Since he's interested, jump on this opportunity! Usually the window for beginning music study is small. As he gets older, other things will flow in to fill his leisure time. (Of course, teens and adults do start music study, but most beginner music students are children.)

I think clarinet is an excellent choice. It - - and the saxophone - - have the same basic fingering as a recorder. Plus it works on the same principal: the more fingers used to cover holes, the lower the pitch. School band saxophone sections usually consist of alto and tenor saxophones. The alto is lighter and smaller. But the clarinet is smaller yet. I suggest the clarinet. It will be a little heavy at first, but he'll be able to get his fingers to the notes. His hands will have to grow before it's feasible to play the alto sax (about 6th or 7th grade).

Another choice would be the flute. It requires stretches to about the same extent as the clarinet. It's not a "feminine" instrument, though some guys think it is. I once had a piano student - - he was 6'6" and weighed 230 pounds - - who took up the flute in the high school band. He had a puckish sense of humor, and I think he chose flute specifically to twit those who thought it unmasculine - - since he so obviously was!

No matter how much your son loves playing clarinet, though, he eventually may balk at home practice. Wanting to do something else or wanting to practice "later" is not the sole province of piano students!

I suggest you actually sit with him just to "keep him company." Most parents are of two minds about doing this. They want to spend time with their child, yet they feel they "ought" to be doing "something else." (What's more important than your son's future?) Anyway, you don't have to help him practice (unless he asks for it). Just be there in the room with him. Read a magazine (a newspaper makes too much noise). Don't load yourself with guilt. Enjoy this time.

I don't know if you're a musician or not, but here's a practice idea that works with my piano students.

Have him play through a song, if he can. Then he should pick "the hardest spot" and work on that. At his level of skill, it probably will be a single measure. A measure is the amount of music printed between two vertical lines - - those lines are called barlines. They "measure out" how much music will occur during a given duration. Have him play the hardest place six times. When he gets it right, ask him, "Was that just good luck, or could you do it again?" If he says the former, play the measure four more times. Then ask the question again. When he says he's got it, you grin and say, "Prove it," and he plays it again. If it goes haywire, he doesn't have it. Go back to playing it in four-time batches.

If he can't find a bad place, ask him to play again and then choose. If there's still no bad place he can identify, ask him to play the whole song 3x. (Or, as much of the song as he knows.)

A "hardest place" may be a fingering he is not sure of, a note that squeaks, or something of that nature. If you're not a musician, you may not be able to hear when the counting or notes are wrong (probably, that is - - unless it's a very common song, such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Jingle Bells," "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," and so on). If you can't hear errors, don't worry about it. The director will attend to this at school.

So many kids don't know how to practice. (I call it "playing the clarinet," not "practicing.") This is because teachers don't address this skill - - and it is a different skill from actually being able to produce the notes and a good tone. Usually teachers don't address this skill because they don't recognize it is a separate skill. In fact, they might not even remember how *they* learned to practice. It's also helpful if you have a particular time to play clarinet. Maybe before dinner (after dinner probably means some of the dinner will end up in the instrument!).

Also, make sure he understands where clarinet falls in the family hierarchy. I tell my students that their marching orders are "homework first. There is absolutely nothing that gets done before your homework. Your job right now is going to school. After homework comes piano. Then whatever chores your parents give you. And THEN you may go outside or read or whatever you like to do with free time." (I specifically do not say "watch TV," "play video games," or "text your friends.")

Make sure you have him play his "new songs" every day when he has band rehearsal. This lets him know you value music and applaud his using some of his time for playing clarinet in the band and at home. It also lets you know what he will be playing during the week for you. Be sure to ask him, on band days, to tell you something that happened that day during band. This is another way to let him know playing clarinet is important to you, You want to hear some details about some funny thing that happened or about starting a new song or learning a new note. Initially, you may have to nudge him along by suggesting something ("Did you learn a new note?" or "Did the flutes do better today?"), but he'll pick up the habit and start to answer without prompting.

When there's to be a "family party" of some kind, ask him to be prepared to play his favorite song for everyone ("give a concert"). If he plays daily for you, he probably will be fine with it. If you call hearing his new band songs "a concert for Dad," he'll probably get over any reticence since you're using the same terminology. If he does protest, cool it, and ask again at the next opportunity. If you can, suggest a specific song by title. At his age, he may have a difficult time choosing since he's a beginner. And if he can't play (or doesn't feel ready to play) an entire song, have him play part of it. ("I'd really like to hear the first part. It's one of my favorites parts, and I'm so happy you can play it." or "I'd like to hear how that new part is coming along. I have been hearing parts of it from the other room, and I'd very much enjoy hearing it when I'm nearby.")

This might be more than you thought you needed to know about taking a band instrument in school, but if you follow those suggestions, your son will be so proud of himself, feel a sense of accomplishment, and reward you with lots of smiles.

And perhaps you'd like to start clarinet, too? They you could play duets! Best wishes! You're doing the right thing! You also might want to read other files, as there is information there that you can convert from piano to clarinet.

My first-grade daughter started piano lessons in the summer. Now that school has started, practicing has become a bit of an issue. After doing homework she really doesn't want to practice. I've tried getting it done after homework, after playing for awhile, after dinner, and right before bed. This seems to work pretty well but not as well as I'd like it to! After about ten minutes, she starts to get "antsy," goofing around at the piano, playing old songs. I don't want to "force" her and take the chance she will start disliking the piano. She seems to like playing songs she is familiar with best.

The piano time you described is perfectly ok, if this works for your schedule. Don't be afraid to adjust practice time to fit your family's schedule. My suggestion of "after homework, before play" is just that. And a place to start as you experiment with what schedule works best for all of you.

Another idea: Have you tried doing 10 minutes in morning before school? Then you can do 10 as you outlined above, after dinner. Have part of each session devoted to "playing old songs." In fact, if you let the old songs portion have a time limit, so much the better: "We'll play [not "work on"] one of your exercises and Song A. Then you may play old songs until it's time to get in the car for school." This may help her to stay focused on her lesson stuff in order to maximize the time "left over" for old songs.

Being antsy is typical of her age. Don't worry.

Being antsy is actually a good sign: she could goof off and then leave the piano in anger! The fact that she is playing old songs - - and preferring them to her new songs - - indicates she really likes playing the piano, which is what we want!

It will get better as she gets older, but (1) it's hard for you right now because you know what she needs to do and that she's not doing it; and (2) it's a slow process and won't happen overnight that suddenly she's doing her assignment without first wanting to play her old songs.

On the other hand, you might try having her play 2 old songs first (1x only!), then doing her assignment (or part of it, if you're dividing practice time), and then playing old songs until she's tired of doing it/it's time to leave for school.

Of course, she likes playing songs she knows better! That's a LOT more fun than learning stuff she doesn't know yet and is more difficult to learn that the present "fun songs" are (and were when she was learning them - - by definition, she's advanced from that level). Kids don't quite "get it" that new songs become old songs and that then there are -more- "fun songs" in the repertoire. They are focused only on the present. And the less-satisfying preparation of a new piece is never the choice because the payoff is down the road, even though that may be only 2 days away - - a duration they can't even imagine!

Remember, though, in the end, you are the grown-up and have chosen to make music part of her life. Though she would prefer to play the songs she knows well, she must understand that the ultimate authority rests with you. She can cooperate. Or, she can fight it and still lose because you're in charge here.

I hope that you can help me with my problem. We just refinished our basement and took great care in waterproofing it. From his mother, my husband inherited an upright piano with cast iron innards. When we received the piano, we had it moved to our basement. When the piano was placed downstairs I noticed that it had a strong musty odor, and when I looked inside, I saw mold growing in it. I tried to wipe it all away, but the odor is still there, and I can't tell if the mold is on the felt parts of the piano or not. Some mold is starting to grow back on the wood. My problems are: (1) It was my husband's mother's piano and it has sentimental value to him, so he would like to keep it. (2) I however am afraid that if we leave it there or play it, the mold spores are going to be let out in the air and spread throughout the basement, which we just finished - - a few days ago. Is there a way to salvage the piano? If it needs to be cleaned (and my husband agrees), it will have to be done in the basement because of its weight. We had to pay a piano moving company to get it down the steps and we had to have the steps reinforced to do so, however, the contractor removed the reinforcements when he finished the basement. So, the piano would have to be destroyed in order to get it out of the basement. We had planned on keeping it down there and never moving it again.

Oh, boy! This is a tough one. I think what I'd do first is to contact a company that specializes in water damage (as after a house fire). They probably would be able to tell you where the mold is and whether there is any fix. I agree that mold spores floating around your house aren't a good idea. I hope that you won't have to abandon the piano since it's a family piece, but if it's a health risk (and I don't know that it is!), it might be a no-brainer decision, despite its sentimental value and the difficulties of getting the piano down to the basement.

I have just started my search for my first piano. I am buying it for my wife and trying to surprise her with it. I have come across a Wurlitzer baby grand that is about 4 years old. They want $4000 for it. Any recommendations? Are Wurlitzer baby grands any good? What baby grands should I be looking for in the $4000 price range or would I be better off with an upright?

So much depends on the condition the piano is in.

I am not familiar with Wurlitzer baby grands (having never played one or had a student with one), but I do know that the Wurlitzer Acrosonic spinet piano has terrible tone. How much this is a company-wide characteristic, I can't tell you, alas.

Have you read this file on general piano information? Also I've written another file about specifics of piano brands, including prices. (The first one contains links to piano-search sites. I haven't checked these sites recently to see if they are still up, but they were fine when I wrote that file.) Go back to the front door for this parent/student section of my site for other links on buying instruments.

My standard advice applies. Find a registered piano technician (if you can - - sometimes they're hard to find because the testing is prolonged and extremely rigorous) or a piano tuner recommended by piano retailers. Have this person look over the piano you have in mind (a small fee probably will be involved - - ask what it is). You can almost never go wrong with a good-quality upright. Don't dismiss them from your search.

I was wondering if you could offer any tips on how to know whether to play with the top open, semi-open or closed. I don't take lessons anymore so I don't have a piano teacher to turn to for an upcoming performance. I will be playing the pieces in a very large hall, but I don't know much about the acoustics. Any thoughts?

Start with an open lid. The hall is large, and you'll have a lot of space to "fill." Have a knowledgeable friend sit in various places in the hall and advise you on loudness. If you don't have a knowledgeable friend, show this person "how loud" you want the piano played, and you go out and listen. Teach this person a 5-finger/5-note pattern and show him/her "high, low, and middle" so you can call out which register you want to hear from whatever position you are in the hall.

Perhaps the hall staff can advise you.

I am working on a Bach fugue, and there are places where the same note (that is, the same piano key) is written at the same time in both hands. What does this mean, and how do I play it?

Generally the notational problem you describe is that the same note is needed by both voices, so Bach writes it twice. (Other composers do this, as well.) The doubled note is just meant to show you how the voices move relative to one another. Just pick the hand that is most convenient for playing it.

Quite often, however, music that has the hands playing the same keyboard key was written for a two-manual instrument (organ or harpsichord). This is doubtless the case when the notes are of different duration. Bach, of course, spares no difficulty, so you'll find things like this all the time in his compositions.

You may find this file (written for teachers) helpful in your study of fugues and other types of imitative music.

What does an 8/2 time signature mean? There are two half-notes in each measure. I'm trying to do scales and am having trouble counting. Please help!

This is quite strange. An 8/2 time signature means 8 half-notes in a measure.

Perhaps you mean 2/2? That would be 2 half notes per measure. For scales, I wouldn't worry about "counting." Just play all the notes equally-spaced. You may find a metronome very helpful here. Play one note on each click.

I know this sounds silly, but please tell me how to number measures. What do I do when there are pick-up notes? First and second endings? Codas? Thank you!

Not a silly question at all! This is something everybody needs to know, and nobody thinks to give the information about it. So, here we go!

You can write in a number on each measure, you can number every 5th measure, or you can write in the measure number in the margin at the clef side of the music. (I like the last way. The first way has the likelihood that measure numbers will get confused with counting numbers and finger numbering. Or get lost in the printed notation - - and your teacher's marginalia.) I put the number in a box or a circle to help me remember it's just a measure number.

As to the various oddities you noted above:

Sometimes in long scores, there will be "rehearsal letters." This would be pieces like a symphony, where a "quick reference" is helpful. The conductor might say, "Let's start at the 5th measure after letter B." These rehearsal letters are usually capital letters, put in a box, and located at the top of treble staff.

The convention is to restart numbering when there's a new movement, though sometimes a trio's numbering is a continuation of the minuet's.

My 11-year-old daughter doesn't want to practice. She is so talented; she has played for 4 years. She has won two local competitions, and her teacher thinks her very talented in music. She has played the Haydn D major Sonata for the competition. She is very advanced in her math study, at grade 5; she has already done intermediate algebra program from Stanford University Educational program for Gifted Youth with an A+ grade. She still does not like to practise piano at all. She tends to rush through the piece without working on precision of the piece and says she is bored with this piece. She even considered giving up the piano. On the other hand, she can do her math for a very long time without complaining. I am wondering that if we are wasting our time and effort to force her to do something she is not naturally inclined to do. (Her piano teacher thinks otherwise.) Is it normal for a musical talented 11 years old still hate to practise after 4 years of hard work? When I sit with her for her practise, she seems to progress much, much faster than when I do not. We have tried let her practise on her own, but she does not seem to pay the same level attention as if I sit with her. Should I continue to sit with her for her practise? If so, when you think she will be able to practise and do it by herself? The main question is should she continue serious study of piano or should she quit?

Sit with her for practice, especially since you know she does better when you do this. She may be "lonely" to be in there all by herself. Or she may think that *you* have decided *she* will do this and then leave her on her own to accomplish it. By your sitting there with her, she knows that it's important because you are investing some of your own valuable time.

As to whether it's normal to balk at practicing, even after four years of lessons and achievements, yes. She's only 11. She doesn't see the big picture yet. Also, she's a pre-teen, and it's time for her to start rebelling and doing things the way she wants. (Which, incidentally, means you have done a good job bringing her up! You should be worried if she didn't want to break away and become her own person!)

She will practice by herself when she comes to value it for itself. This may take a few years. Stick it out with her. She'll thank you later.

Another thing I would suggest is a discussion with her about how she feels about competitions and other "required" performances. She may really not like those and is "refusing" to participate in them by refusing to practice well so she is eligible. Then she puts the icing on the cake by saying she hates piano.

After this discussion with her, THEN discuss the matter with her teacher. If you decide your daughter needs to stop competition (altogether or only for a while), do not let the teacher sway you to keep doing it. YOU know what's best for your daughter.

You might try skipping a year of competition and see if the practice situation improves. Or if she decides she misses the competition. Or decides she does not like it. Better to eliminate the competition than allow her to quit. Note that sometimes teachers (and/or parents) insist on competitions because it's a way to showing the teacher is doing a good job and/or that the parent has done a good job choosing a good teacher. Examine why you (and the teacher) feel competitions are important.

My guess is if she keeps playing, as she matures she will appreciate what you are giving her the opportunity to do and how good she is at it already.

Give her chances to -use- her skills: giving concerts in the community or at her school, etc.

Is an inexpensive teacher ok for a beginner? My daughter is only four.

The very fact that you are asking me indicates that you are unsure this is a wise choice. I know you are thinking, Gosh, this teacher is expensive. Surely, I can find someone cheaper.

Yes, indeed, you can find someone cheaper, but will the trade-off be a good one? I don't think so. Beginners need the best teacher the parents can find (and stretch to afford).

The fact that your daughter is young (but old enough for lessons, in my opinion) means that she really needs a good teacher.

Please search carefully for a teacher for her. You won't regret it. Remember you are investing (yes, investing) more than just money. You are investing your time. And for her future, also.

Sidelight: You wouldn't believe how many times I get this question. But not from whom you think! Not parents, but people who want to teach but "have played piano for four years" or "don't have a degree in music"!! Basically, I tell them, Get some real training, or you'll do damage. Does that tell you how many unqualified people there are who are assuming they can "teach beginners"?! For every one who asks me, how many others are out there? Caveat emptor!

I have been playing piano (self-teaching) for several years and can play some pieces, such as "Fur Elise" and "Moonlight Sonata" (not perfect, though). I also like to sing and bought some fake books. I can play chords with both hands. How should I play the music when I sing? Should I play chords with my left hand and the melody with my right hand? That will be kind of difficult. As I want to sing many songs, I don't want to spend time to learn to play the melody. I am playing chords by both hands now when I sing. Is it right? What is the right way to do it?

The easiest solution is to play chords in your left hand and the melody in your right (as you sing). Or, easier still, play the chord in your right hand and play the root of the chord (the letter name of the chord)in your left hand. If you like, double the note and play an octave.

How do you play the left hand soft and the right hand loud?

This file addresses this problem. It's written for teachers, but I think you will find it helpful.

I have difficulties on complex rhythm combinations such as 3 against 2 and the like. You say to use "hamburger bun" for 3 against 2, but how? What matches up with what?

"ham" is where the first note of the triplet and first note of the duplet happen (at same time).
"bur" is the second note of the triplet.
"ger" is the second note of the duplet.
"bun" is the last note of the triplet.

You might also try "Not ve-ry hard."

I notice from your website that you teach students to play hand-over-hand triad arpeggios. Could you tell me what fingering you recommend? Is it LH 531, RH 135, even for keys like E flat or D flat?

Yes. Except that some people like LH 521 for B Major. Some men like 123/321 for some of the diminished triads because their hands are bigger, but as a general rule 531/135 works perfectly. It also is consistent. Feel free to change the fingering to whatever fits your hands, though!

At what point should music of the classical composers be introduced during instruction? Our instructor uses fun, modern music for recitals. My children are levels two and three and their age range is middle school to high school (the high schoolers had started late with lessons). I have had the kids take my old books with them to lessons that I thought might be appropriate for their level but she hasn't used them yet. My personal experience with piano study is that I wasn't able to "graduate" to a more challenging instructor until my junior year in high school, and I regret that I wasn't able to have more time with her for learning theory and classical music.

I think your kids should be playing material from the "standard repertory" right now! I can't imagine why the teacher is waiting!

Since you've sent some of your books, and the teacher has not used them (and I'm assuming she hasn't spoken to you about them), I'm guessing there is an important underlying reason (other than she hasn’t taken the time to look them over to see what's there). This could be (1) she doesn't like the standard repertory (why is she teaching piano?) or - - I hope this isn't true - - (2) she doesn't know how to teach it (perhaps because she hasn't played it - - or much of it - - herself?). Rather than address this issue, it's just more convenient to ignore the books you've sent. You did not say what the teacher's credentials are. Is she degreed (in music)? How long has she been teaching?

At level two and three, your kids should be playing Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Haydn, etc.

I'd speak to the teacher pronto. You may need to change teachers if this one seems reluctant to get to the "meat of the matter."

I used to play clarinet, 4 years, in high school. I never paid much attention to music theory, just knew which notes were which, and followed the crowd. A few years ago played around on guitar. Now, I'm quite intent on learning piano. I've spent a lot of time actually learning about key signatures, reading notes I'd not seen with other instruments, theory, etc. The knowledge part is not a problem. The problem I'm having is that most of the music I've ordered is above me. I want something that is maybe a few months past beginner. I can play with both hands on slower music, and can read notes from C2 to C6 decently. I am ordering music such as Tori Amos, but it is too difficult for those with my years of experience. Do you have any "go to" pieces, or advice for someone this early on? I definitely am beyond "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." I'm not familiar with classical but would prefer suggestions in this style. Is all Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Gershwin, etc. above my current level? The goofy songs in most beginner books are extremely boring and tough for an adult learner to get into. More emotional music is preferred. Thanks for any advice.

No, not all the composers you mention are beyond you where you are, but you will have to (1) use simplifications - - this is what I do in my own studio; or (2) learn by rote because the pieces are way above your current reading level. There is very little literature by the great composers that is playable in a 'real' way (that is, you are reading the notes and not learning the song by ear or by looking at your hands, or any number of other ways to 'learn' a song other than by reading the notes). I agree that the method book stuff is junk.

Check out "Joy of Piano" by Denes Agay. Lynn Freeman Olsen has a good (2-book) series of easy "real" literature.

Really, you need a teacher.

I have a problem remembering all the different chords. Is this a major problem in learning? I'm retired (I'm a former Marine and postal worker) and am looking for something to do to keep my fingers active.

What you should do is to start slowly. Learn a C triad (triads those are chords with only three notes), then G and F triads. A whole lot of music is written with just three triads! Notice that "G is five when C is one." This is a crucial concept in music because triad movement from five to one establishes what letter name "one" is. (Whatever that letter name is is the letter name note you want to hear at the end of the song so it sounds like it's finished.)

This movement may be summed up in the phrase, "The end!"

The common use of the "The end!" triad progression in Western music was a major advancement and didn't happen until the Middle Ages.

Sing "The Marines' Hymn." When you get to "[and to keep our honor] clean, we [are proud to claim the title of United States Marine]", sing only these two words out loud and "think" the rest. This is the "five-going-to-one" sound. If you substitute the for clean and end for we, you have what I call the "The end!" sound, also called the "five-going-to-one" sound. In proper music terminology this is called V - I.

V - I is critical to any song, so you need to know how to find it.

Put your right thumb on C (finger one). Your pinkie (finger 5) automatically falls on G. And finger 4 falls on F. No matter where you put your right thumb (the "one" note) on the keyboard the "five" note will be under your pinkie and the "four" note under your fourth finger.

Think about "Mary Had a Little Lamb." This song is made up solely of V and I triads (G and C). Start playing it with RH 3 on the E key and with a C triad in your left hand. (Note: A C triad is C - E - G.) Do you notice when suddenly it sounds as though the C triad isn't right? Change to the G triad. (Any triad is I - III - V. If G is one - - because it's the letter name of the triad - - what are the other two notes in the G triad? If you're confused, look at which letter names are under RH fingers 1, 3, and 5.)

Notice when you play the RH part white as, you really want to hear the I letter name note on the word snow. In the left hand, you are moving from the V triad to the I triad - - you are playing "The end."

Now, then, suppose you play "Mary" with a different letter as I. Let's say we want to use F as I. This means V is C. (Yes, now C is serving a different function. It's no longer I because we decided to let F be I this time.) Play again, starting with your RH 3 on A. Change to V (C) when I (F) doesn't sound right, and vice versa.

As I noted, a lot of songs are written with three triads - - I, IV, and V. Try "When the Saints Go Marching In." Start with your RH thumb on C and your LH playing a C triad. When the I triad doesn't sound right, try the V. If that's not good, try IV. (Incidentally, what notes make up the IV triad? Again, place your RH on the keyboard with your thumb on F.)

To answer your question, start with I, IV, and V in the key of C. (A key is the letter name of the note we want to hear at the end of the song - - the end of the phrase the end.)

Learn these triads fully so you can call them up immediately by playing some other songs in the key of C. "Jingle Bells" (start with RH 3 on E) and "Dreidle" (start with RG 5 on G) are good ones. Listen for the spots where V doesn't sound right, and neither does I. Try IV (F) here.

Now that you understand how triads for the framework of a song, you'll just have to learn them by playing a lot of songs. Your hand will always "feel the same," though, no matter what the letter name of the triad is. You'll always use fingers 1, 3, and 5. The letter name of the note under your thumb will always be I.

You can build triads yourself (a topic for another file!) or buy a book that will spell out the triads for you.

Then you just play a lot until you remember them. Look for songs that have zero or only one flat or sharp in the key signature - - two at most. Leave alone anything that has three or more. Start simple! You have lots of time!

You are clever to take up piano to keep your fingers oiled, but the better benefit is that playing piano constantly requires building new circuits in your brain, increasing memory and reducing the risk of dementia. Go for it! (You should to find yourself a teacher.)

"If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven's scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines." Semper Fi!

My son (age 12) has not been motivated in his piano practices in the last few months. I am not sure if it's a stage he's going through, or if different music would get him more excited at the piano. He's pretty good about his schoolwork (I think he could do a lot better than his grades show). Please help us. We don't want to force him, but piano is important to my wife and me, and we don't want him to lose interest. Is this a stage he's going through?

He should talk to his teacher and tell him what kind of music he likes, and, conversely, what kind of music he doesn't like (have him give examples). If he can't say "I want to play music like this," saying "I don't like stuff like this" is nearly as good.

Tell him that "I don't know" is not an answer that's going to bring about identifying what he likes so the teacher can give it to him.

Sometimes "I don't know" is teen-speak for "I'm not sure I can succeed. I'm afraid I won't. I'm scared." Or, "I'm not sure how valid my opinion is. Maybe it's no good. Maybe people will think I'm stupid or laugh at me if I give my opinion because it's a lousy opinion to hold."

Similarly, "I don't like this song" is anyone-speak for "This is hard" or "I'm scared that this is too hard for me and I'll be humiliated if I try but fail."

TV/movie themes? Blues? Holiday music? Music by a specific composer?

As to a stage, yes, you are correct. Hang in there. He's trying out his wings, preparatory to flight. This is a good sign, truly. It means you two have done a great job in providing him the skills and attitudes he'll need! Yea, you! If he were not being contrary at this age, we all should be worried!

These little guys don't have the experience to make an informed - - or even quasi-informed - - decisions, as we all know - - bit they have plenty of opinions! And the oblivious infallibility of youth.

He also wants to see how far he can push the envelope before you guys say, "Enough! We're in charge here. We say that you will do ____, and that's the way it's going to be." [I told my guys that they could do whatever they wanted once they were on their own, but while it was my watch they were going to toe the line, and I didn't care how loudly they griped. They didn't like it one bit and it was NO fun for me ("Do you think I WANT to make another rule I have to enforce?!"), but I feel the result has been well worth it.]

These years are generally the most obnoxious of any guy's teen years because he knows he's "expected" to act older, but he's not ready just yet to give up the kid stuff. Kind of caught with one foot on the gunwale of one sailboat and the other foot on a completely different boat! Something's got to give, obviously, but there's a lot of fear not only in the process of getting both feet onto one boat but in deciding which boat it should be and exactly when this foot transfer should be undertaken.

He also wants to exercise power over you since you guys have always had the upper hand (as it should be). And homework, keeping his room clean, being mouthy, piano, etc. are the only weapons he has. If he can get a rise out of you, he's been able to parlay his "weapons" into a "victory" [as he sees one!].

No teen likes to practice. (Are you calling it "playing piano"? This is better than "practice," in my opinion.) Peers are calling. New activities, etc. And then there's the power struggle! And the sheer perverse behavior!

Does he have a particular time he sits down to play? Right before dinner? Right after? This kind of set time is a really effective tool: "It's 3 p.m.! Time to play piano!" and then it happens.

You might also say that half of his time *should be* spent messing around, composing, playing old stuff. That'll surprise him! A kind of shock therapy!

Remain calm. Steer a steady course. You know what's best for him. (He doesn't, though he thinks he does!)

You're the parents. It's not your job to be his friends. It's your job to be parents.

You're in charge. He won't EVER say, "My mom and dad let me not learn to read, and am I glad they did!" or "My mom and dad let me be a slob and never take a bath or brush my teeth, and I'm glad they did." On and on! When he's once again human, he's going to recognize that you really did know best at that point for him, and he's going to be thankful you didn't give in to him. I seems sometimes as if that day is in so distant a future as to be only a rumor.

Right now, he wants you to set boundaries for him, but he'll never let on to you that he wants them. When he knows that there are boundaries and he knows exactly where they are, he feels safe because he knows for sure you're going to yank him back if he's about to fall off the edge of the earth. Of course, knowing where the boundaries are gives him the thrill of treading close to them to cause you aggravation!

Hang in there! Don't let him quit. Communicate with the teacher what the problem is and let the teacher take it from there (probably the action will be what I described at the beginning of this answer.) Your teacher has encountered this problem a jillion times before and will know how to work with him (and you!).

My daughter, age 6, has just started to learn piano. I found a reasonable offer for an old piano. The owner had to get rid of it due to space. She inherited it from her late aunt and had used it herself occasionally for 2 years. The brand is Weinberg and she said it’s made in Germany. I’m a newbie to piano so can you please advise on this brand? I can’t find it in the list of recommended ones in your website. I guess this brand may not be so reputable. I really appreciate your help.

I do not know this brand. I'm sorry. Your next stop might be a Google search on the name. If it's built in 1960s or before, it truly might be from Germany. Many pianos made these days have parts from Germany, though the piano is not made there. Find a local piano technician and ask advice. Also ask how much the technician would charge to come and do an inspection for you. It might be a good buy. It might not.

You might also find help in this file about whether to buy a new or used piano.

And remember that a beginner needs the best piano you can stretch to get her. You wouldn't give her a bicycle with one flat tire when she's learning how to ride it. Beginners need the fewest impediments possible! My guess is that this piano is not very good and will do your daughter harm. I'd pass on it.

Note: My list is not the definitive list of which are good pianos and which are not. It's only what I know about!

I just want to ask if you could give me some points to consider in connecting my synth to my personal computer. If that is possible, how can I do that? and also, could it be possible that once I was able to connect them, I could create a software that could capture the sound produced by the keyboard?

You'll need a MIDI keyboard (or another MIDI instrument) and MIDI cables to hook that to your computer. And Finale by Coda or some other notation program. I don't know whether Sibelius does this, too, but probably.

What you play on the keyboard will be transformed into printed notation (you'll have to massage it to get the notation just as you want it. It is NOT possible, however, to take music from another source (radio, etc.) and transform it into printed notation.

I am an adult returning to piano lessons after about five years of lessons (interrupted) when I was younger. I have been with my current teacher about 1 year and am really enjoying it. I'm playing pieces that are probably categorized as "advanced intermediate", and we are focusing on technique. I wasn't terribly diligent about my assigned technical exercises (scales, chromatic runs, chords) until about two months ago, when I got a wonderful new upright Schimmel piano. Now, I am trying very hard to strengthen my fingers and have even (on my own) begun the Hanon exercises. I am distressed that my left hand is still so much weaker and less agile than my right, although it is getting stronger. To compensate for the difference, I've been exercising the left hand more than the right (although not to the point of pain). How long will it take for my left hand to "equal" my right, or will it ever happen? I practice about 90 minutes/day overall, with about 15-20 minutes dedicated to the technical exercises. I know I shouldn't worry about this too much, as most of my pieces use the right hand for the most demanding parts. Still, the perfectionist in me wants both hands equally functional!

You are to be commended for wanting to improve your left hand. Because the LH is naturally less agile in playing piano (even in left-handed people!), I always introduce any new idea/skill to the LH first. How about just dispensing with the RH on the Hanon and do the LH only? Particularly, focus on the down portion of the exercise. I recommend you look at #2 and #3.

As to "when," that's individual. I wish I could give you a specific answer, such as, "You should expect to see results in 90 days."

I think what I'd do is make an appointment with a physical therapist, present the situation, and ask for advice. There may be hand exercises you can do that are not playing-related (such as Hanon). I'm sorry I can't give you a better answer than this. I know you were counting on me for one.

My band is recording our first CD this weekend. I know this is last minute, but if you could answer a question for me I would be very, very appreciative. In a last minute struggle to think of everything that could go wrong, because it usually does, I came across something that really bothered me. We intend to record at a local studio about 20 minutes from where we practice, but we are very unfamiliar with the person who will be recording us. We are all under the age of 18 and are very concerned that we will be taken advantage of because of our youth. We do not want to have our music accessible by the studio after we leave the studio, and this is why I have been looking to copyright it. How can we protect our music from being stolen or used in any way by anyone other then us? I know I may just sound like a stereotypical kid who's just in a band for high school and will eventually get out of this stage and "grow up," but my band and I feel we could do this for the rest of our lives. We don't want something now, like the use of our music by someone other than us, to mess up our futures.

I commend your thoroughness!

Your work is already copyrighted if it is in printed form, even if on computer screen or disk.

Are you perhaps thinking of copyright registration? A lot of people confuse this with "plain" copyright. Registration is proof the work is yours, should you take anyone to court over copyright violation. And, incidentally, you must prove the other person stole your work should you file a suit!

As to unethical sound engineers, do you have a written contract? Who holds the master of the session? Is there an archive copy at the studio?

If not, you need to put an archive copy somewhere safe. Does one of the parents have a safe deposit box? Or, the band could get one. You might have to be 18, however. This I don't know and may even vary by state. The bank would help you. Call around to several banks to see the rate. Sometimes you can get a cheaper - - or even free - - safe deposit box if you have an account with the bank. Does your band have an account? (How are you paying the studio?)

It's too late now, but in the future, ask for and check references for your proposed engineer. Chances are that any thinking studio engineer would never endanger her own business by stealing others' material. After all, her business is to -produce- material, not to perform it (and therefore have a need to steal it). She wants you to tell your other musician friends what a fabulous job she did sound engineering for your band.

There's no way to guarantee your music won't be used in unauthorized ways, by unauthorized people, or for profit only for them - - witness all the illegal song-stealing sites! (No, not "song-sharing." These are "song-stealing" operations.) For now, I think you'll just have to trust that you picked a person of integrity. In the future, do the contract/reference check thing.

One final word: the studio probably has no interest in stealing your music. The studio wants to engineer CDs, not distribute music. If they did something underhanded, you can bet the word would get out and they'd be out of the recording business pronto. Get a contract next time and try not to worry this time.

My question relates to the keyboard and effective ways to manually memorize the location of notes without looking at the actual keys. Whenever I play a waltz and the left hand must play one bass note (on beat one) and follows with two higher chords (beats 2 & 3), I find myself looking to the left side of the keyboard and losing my place on the printed music sheet when I look up again. Are there any tips to help me locate a very low left hand keyboard notes without peeking sideways? I have no trouble in playing higher left hand chords once the chordal bottom note is physically located.

This is a problem everyone faces, usually when study of Chopin waltzes, etc. are begun. What we find is the first count of the measure in the left hand routinely several octaves below where the notes are for the second and third counts. These great leaps invite wrong notes because the hand must move so far.

Let me note first, however, that it's perfectly ok to glance down at your hand to make sure you're going to play the correct note! Whoever said one cannot look at the hand is full of baloney! If this method works for you, then read no further! Stick with it and don't feel guilty!

Now let me move to general remarks for readers who are less familiar with the problem than you are.

Look at the keyboard to locate visually the low note (this is on the first count). Send your hand there. It's best if you watch only long enough to decide that your left hand will move to that note successfully. Bring the eyes back to the music. When it's time for the notes on the second and third counts, take a quickie look for their location, send your hand there, and play those. Next, glance down to locate the note needed for the first count of the next measure. And so forth. The important thing here is not to wait until the hand has reached the note but to look long enough so you are assured the left hand is near enough that with a little more movement, the proper note will be reached.

Now back to your quesion. If you routinely get lost finding your place on the page: (1) put a red (or another color) dot at that place so your eye can find it right away. (2) memorize that little bit while your eyes are moving back to the page (and maybe use the dot system, also).

You might want to look at this file I wrote for teachers, using what I call the "play-place-play method". Usually this does the trick. Note: The steps are broken down into very small pieces.

Best wishes and hang in there! As I said, it's ok to look. I sure do!

I am 51-year-old beginner. My teacher and I have discovered that my left hand and fingers have far less ability than my right hand. I am a right-handed. What beginning books do you recommend for exercises for the left hand?

Oh, my, is this a common problem! The "sluggishness" you feel is just the natural tendency for the LH to be slower to get under control. The LH parts always seem "more difficult to read." This problem is encountered, strangely enough, by most left-handed people, too! Who'd have guessed?

Here are some things to try.

Why should a parent sit in the living room and listen to the child practice? Am I expected to help him? I have a 2nd-grade son who just started lessons. He is tall for his age and has an above-2nd-grade-level vocabulary, as well as being highly intelligent. (Ok. I'm a little prejudiced!) His teacher told me it's been a long time since she taught someone who learned as fast as he did and absorbed so much at his first lesson. She asked me to sit with him while he practices. This seems odd. Do I have to do this? If so, why? I don't know anything about piano and can't help him!

No, it's not odd. Instead, it's really, really beneficial to your son. Your son's teacher is perceptive. Sounds as though you chose an exceptional teacher.

Yes, you or you spouse should sit in the room while he plays (I don't use the word "practice" because it's too onerous). This way he doesn't "get lonely" and want to stop before he's done his assignment, thinking there might be something really interesting going on in another part of the house. Or, that his parents don't care what he's doing and have shunted him off to the room where the piano is while they go on with things elsewhere.

You can read a magazine, balance the checkbook, or whatever (but nothing that peeps; I'd also suggest you turn off the cell phone and tablet so when he glances over he doesn't see you engrossed in the gadgets that people cannot seem to put down for any reason). He needs to feel piano-playing is so important to you, too, that you'll give him some of your valuable time to listen to him play and be with him. He'll progress faster and always have the joy of playing if he knows he has the obvious "physical" support of his parents. When he's older (4th or 5th grade, perhaps), he will be able to play by himself, without company, but he'd like you to sit in, anyway. When he gets to be a teen, he won't -want- you there! As a little guy (even though he's tall, articulate, and incredibly intelligent), he's still a 2nd-grader emotionally and needs to have a parent in there with him, keeping him company. You don't have to say a thing. Just be there.

If you like, you can say things like:

Trust me. This will -not- be time wasted. Now and forever. You will not go to your grave thinking, "I wish I had spent less time at the piano with my son."

I also encourage him to "play us a recital" after dinner, if you possibly can do it. Nightly is best. This will take about 10-20 seconds for a song at his level. Have him choose one song (more than one is ok, too, of course, but just one is fine) to play. You clap when he's finished. Be a good audience. Don't talk, clear the table, etc. while he plays. This is another way to let him know you support him and are proud that he is playing piano and of how well he plays.

How can I get my trills faster?

Three ideas.

Another idea I have heard (but haven't used because the above works for my students) is to do one repercussion only and at desired speed. When that is well in hand, do two repercussions, etc.

I'm 12, and I like to play the piano. I practice almost every day. My cousin, who is 14, says mean things to me about it. I try to ignore him, but it's hard to do. He used to play saxophone. He should understand. Can you help me?

Absolutely, but first let's take a look at why he might be saying those things. (1) He feels like a "quitter." (2) He misses it. (3) He knows/thinks he could never be as good on the sax as you are on the piano. (4) There is something else in his life that is making him unhappy or feel bad about himself, and he is taking it out on you. Maybe he's scared. Maybe he's afraid he isn't very good at something. Or isn't very good at anything. (5) He is just a mean person. (6) He is being a jerk and is playing "Get Your Goat" or "Let's Argue."

Now let's look at solutions. (1) Ask your parents to talk to your cousin's parents about what is going on. (2) Play piano when you cousin isn't around. (3) Learn how to play "Goat" and "Argue."

Be prepared to play these games with him. When you see him, know that he will probably say mean things. Because you are prepared, you'll be on the look-out and be ready to play when he starts. Good luck! These games will work all your life!

My 5-year-old boy is beginning to tinkle on the piano, and I wish to begin guiding him to more than just his banging on the keyboard. We cannot afford formal lessons at the moment. I had some formal lessons in piano as a child, but I cannot remember in what order I was taught. What are the first beginning steps for a child? Do you have some tips for me or could you recommend some websites or good books to home school piano? I recall I used John Thompson’s books. Are these still well-recommended and appropriate for a 5-year-old?

First, see if you can get him in a music-and-movement class at a local community center. You want to have him start with a positive mind-set. These classes should not be too expensive.

Second, take a look at my pedagogy page. There are numerous files on how to begin children in piano lessons and games to be played with them. I suggest, as you will read, that reading music notation should be taught from the start (there's a file on this, too). I recommend what's called "Middle-C position".

Third, go to the local music store and ask for materials they sell to local teachers.

Fourth, as to John Thompson, I have never used it but his use of classics is admirable (and certainly better than material that I call "My Puppydog's Picnic," which is what I find contained in modern method series). I don't think you can go too far wrong with Thompson, though the art is dated, and I don't agree with his premise of "something new every lesson" because virtually no child is ready for something new every lesson. You might start with this material and plan to supplement.

Do not teach the eighth-note pieces until he's in fourth grade! Skip over these. Or rewrite the piece in double note-values. The brains of children under fourth grade cannot imagine partiality. They can cut a candy bar exactly in half, but imagining a quarter-note cut in half is beyond them. This (work of the famed educator Piaget)is why (1) beginning math is first taught with "manipulatives" (the child takes buttons from one pile, counts them, and then keeps counting to cover the number of buttons in a second pile as a prelude to addition; and (2) fractions are not taught until the fourth grade.

Really, I think you should find a teacher as soon as possible. Try a local university and see if there is a grad student who would teach him. Don't expect polished teaching, of course, but you can evaluate what is being taught by checking against the material in my pedagogy files and watching your son's facial expressions and body language during the lesson and gauging how excited he is to go to see his teacher.

My child's teacher won't let me cancel a lesson, even when I have a very good reason! Why is this? It seems stupid to me.

Almost universally, teachers do not allow cancellations. A student's time is reserved for him. You would be most upset if you arrived for the lesson and found someone else using your child's time. You would be doubly-upset if this happened AND you had to pay, anyway! Therefore, your tuition payment not only pays for the actual teaching but also for the sanctity of your appointment. The teacher feels the same way. Your time spot is reserved for you and the teacher has prepared specific goals, activities, and music for the lesson, so you must pay for it.

And for the teacher's continued thought about what your child needs next and how to solve problems the child may be having with note-reading, counting, and so on. Even special arrangements the teacher can make just for your youngster.

Also, teaching is this person's livelihood. Suppose you were an account exec at an advertising agency. You would not appreciate coming to work one day to find that the account has been dropped, and therefore you would not be paid.

Do not ask to cancel. Instead, ask to make up the lesson (sometimes called a "reschedule"). Depending on the teacher's studio policy, you may be able to have a make-up the same week.

The teacher's make-up rules should be stated clearly in his studio policy. If the policy doesn't say, ask. Be prepared with specific situations that might occur in your family's life, such as the child's team making the soccer playoffs. (If the teacher doesn't have a studio policy, this is a bad sign!)

If you don't like the teacher's rules, find another teacher. You don't have to begin study with a teacher if you don't like the way the teacher runs his business. Nor do you need to continue with one who runs his business in a way with which you don't agree. It's your child, your time, and your money!

Don't expect the teacher to change her policy, however. She won't do it.

When I make a mistake and start over, almost always I make the same mistake! Please help!

Your problem can be solved with two techniques.

First, don't just dive right in to playing again. Take a few seconds to figure out what the problem was. Fingering? Wrong notes? Forgot the key signature? Counting? Got lost on the page? Mind wandering?

Second, play more slowly than you first did. (Turn on your metronome. Make it help you.) Your natural inclination is to play just as fast or even faster because your determination to "get it right this time" translates into "faster."

How fast should I practice? I am sure I practice far faster than I should.

Congratulations for recognizing this. Many people don't!

Don't play faster than you can control the piece, which means how fast you can control the hard sections.

I had to chuckle. I, too, guess that you are practicing far too fast! Practice like this is a waste of your time and also leads to frustration!

How does the process work with finding a teacher besides asking questions on the phone? Do they usually request that you play for them before taking you on?

Some request you play; if so and you aren't comfortable with memory playing or have nothing committed solidly to memory, when asked to play, use music; tell the teacher the title of the piece you are going to play; don't "apologize in advance" for how it's going to turn out ("I haven't played this in a week, so it may not be very good" or "I'm pretty bad at playing for other people").

Did you read the file on how to find a teacher? If not, there's a lot of info there. Write back if you have further questions.

Were you coming to meet me, I'd ask you to play something you like, not the last thing you worked on, not the last recital piece, not the last challenging piece. I'd be looking at how you hold your hands, whether you play a consistent tempo (not necessarily whether it's an appropriate tempo for the piece), what sort of nuances you include (bring out melody; unaccented phrase endings/phrase shaping, etc.), whether you are plainly playing to quickly and don't know the piece nearly as well as you should to be playing at that speed (I also would know whether the too-quick playing was because of nervousness), and things such as this.

I would not be evaluating "how good you are." I'd be evaluating where you "seem to be" in literature, what you probably need next, and whether I can deliver that - - plus whether I can deliver what you would already have told me about the kind of music you like and dislike, what you aspire to play, where you think the holes in your preparation are, what you think your strong points are, etc.

I probably would point something out (such as bring out the melody) to see whether you give me a blank look (that's ok; that's something we'll need to address), try it even if you've never done it, or condescend to me ("What a silly question. I do this when I feel the music warrants it."). This would give me an idea of how well we would work together.

Though this file is written for teachers, you might find it helpful in exploring how you like to learn. This is something that probably will help the teacher decide whether or not you're a good fit for the studio. If, for example, you want to play only music to which you "know the tune" and will not play anything you don't already know, the teacher may not want even to try to convince you to try something you don't already know. If someone said to me, "I need to hear the music first so I know how it sounds and can't learn it any other way," I would know that the prospective student perhaps doesn't sight-read well or never has had a teacher with enough gumption to force the student to try it "the other way," which, incidentally, is the usual way to learn a new piece since you can't possibly have heard all the pieces that you would like and that would be appropriate for your goals and the teacher's for you.

Also see the file about how to change teachers. You don't have to stick with the first one you choose.

You might want to search on keywords in this file for other answers, as I have not gone back to cross-reference very many answers, preferring to use my time for other questions.

I seem to remember something about a piano's not being placed against an outside wall. Is that still true today in our well insulated homes with 2 x 6 walls? I am limited due to an open floor plan and lots of windows. Also what about a finished basement?

That is my advice. I realize such placement is not possible in many homes/condos/apartments. If at all possible, keep it out of the sun! I wouldn't put my piano in the basement because of dampness. You might measure the humidity there. One of 43% is considered ideal relative humidity.

After thirty years, I have attempted to study Bach again. My question concerns ending Bach compositions. I frequently hear pianists slow down in the last couple of measures. I think that I remember that my teacher had said to keep the tempo, but hesitate slightly before the last note - - a "breath" of sorts. Could you tell me which technique is supported historically?

Your teacher is correct. The exaggerated ritards found in some performances (and probably the same ones in which damper pedal is used, if the piece is played on a piano) are a relic of the romantic period, when not a lot of attention was paid to Baroque performance practices.

Best wishes with your Bach. It is not easy, as you know, but playing Bach, along with a study of his compositional techniques and structure, is exceedingly satisfying!

Can you tell me if it would be worth buying a digital baby grand and what is the difference between the two?

In my opinion a digital "baby grand" or a real piano is a no-brainer. A digital "baby grand" is a digital piano put in a case that is grand-piano-shaped. Tone-generation, richness of tone, acoustics, etc. are not affected at all. It is still a digital piano.

A real piano, on the other hand, sounds like a piano.

A digital does has a non-piano touch. It's more like a synthesizer, which is what most digital pianos are. (Tone is either generated synthetically, or piano sounds are "sampled" and used a the basis for all other pitches.)

Go to my file for parents and students for links to more files on this subject. There are some other questions and answers on this page, too.

I urge you not to buy a digital unless you must have earphones in order to play. If you want to play the piano, get a piano, even if you must rent one for a while.

See also my file on piano brands. This will give you my opinions on various brands and whether they are a purchase appropriate for your stage in learning. The bottom line of this selection is to purchase the piano whose cost you can stretch to afford. This way, you will not "outgrow" the instrument. If you purchase on price only, you soon will find that the tone, the touch, or something else is not adequate.

Would you be willing to offer an opinion on a console piano purchased in Germany in the early 1950's with the brand name "V. Reroux"? Our piano has sentimental value, but I'm trying to decide whether it's worth moving across the country.

I would gladly give you my opinion, but I have never heard of this brand. I suppose you already have used all the search engines, including ones that are sort of obscure.

Another option would be to get hold of a registered piano technician (they have a site) - - to find a local person; or there may be a "general mailbox" that would respond to you. Last, try a post on one of the piano forums/newsgroups.

You know what it costs to move it. How much sentiment? To whom is the sentiment tied? In the end, I'd use my standby criterion, "The Kick-Me Test": If I [do]/[don't do] this, in a year, will I kick myself?

Also, see my file on piano brands.

Do you know anything about the Suzuki pianos that Costco is selling online?

I am sorry, I do not. not buy a digital piano.

I'd skip the one with the playback features, too, unless you particularly want that. Check into delivery price. Does a tuning come with it? Whom do you contact if there is a problem? Ask for references. Other responses on this subject are in this file. Also look at my student-and-parent page for links to more files on this subject.

My 7-year-old daughter is in love with piano. My husband and I feel that we want to go forward with investing in a piano that she can use for a long time. I hear about beginner pianos, but we would like a piano that will hold her over for a long time. My husband and I want to buy a upright piano for her. What would you suggest is a good piano in the price range of $4,000-$6,000? I have been doing research, and I found your site to be very helpful. I have looked at Essex from Steinway and Sons, Hamilton from Baldwin, and I also heard a lot about Yamaha. What would you suggest?

I don't know what a "beginner piano" is, and I've been in this calling for many years. Maybe a cheap piano? Maybe a battered old warhorse? Don't bother; bad investment. You're looking for quality and long life. Skip the Essex, too (see below).

A Yamaha is a good upright. Look at a Boston (built by Kawai and marketed by Steinway) grand. Consider a used piano, too.

Also look at my piano brands file, which has discussion of prices and brands - - you might find another brand you'd like to investigate; and for links to more files on this subject. More info there on the Essex.

Update, 2009: I asked my tech about this piano, after being contacted by a dealer looking to get me to sign on to recommend this piano. My tech said that this is not a very good piano and should not be purchased. It is the bottom of the Steinway line. "The cheapest piano in any brand is the worst one. Go up a level in order to make a sound investment in an instrument. Such a one will have a better resale value, too." Therefore, I wouldn't recommend an Essex. Look at a Boston. And don't forget used pianos - you might be able to find a used Boston at a reasonable price; perhaps the same price as a new Essex.

At the tender age of 43, I certainly need finger dexterity drills. What are your feelings and suggestions on Czerny? ("The Little Pianist") I have read your file on your own technical regimen.

Having read that file, you know what I use. I do not use "The Little Pianist." I find this "early level" material by Czerny is, generally, not early level! His "Eight-Measure Etudes" are excellent, however. And I do not like the "Velocity" studies; these are an invitation to sloppiness. Not sure how much additional help this is, but, in any event, here is it!

I don't know if you remember me, but I was the fifteen-year-old teen in Australia returning to piano studies after having quit as a kid. After continuing my new piano studies, I have been inspired to share this beautiful and exquisite skill with others. I am grateful for a very dedicated teacher. I am pretty sure I want to major in piano. You mentioned that a proper certified teacher should have a degree. There are many different degrees offered in music (such as a Bachelors in Entertainment, Bachelors in Contemporary Performance, Bachelors in Classical Performance, Bachelors in Musicology, Bachelors in Music Education). Which would be the one to go to? I am thinking of a major in music. Also, are there any things I can do now to 'taste' or gain experience in this field?

It is good to hear from you; yes, I remember you. I am glad to hear you are studying again.

I'd go with Bachelors in Classical Performance. Contemporary performance sounds like current "pop"-type music (rather than classical music by contemporary composers, such as Copland or Glass). Entertainment sounds like orchestra-management and things like that. Musicology is the study of music history. Education is working with young students, usually at public schools.

As to 'a taste,' I would contact the music department at the university offering these degrees and ask to speak with the chairperson of the courses in these tracks. Ask this person for advice. There may be something you can observe; or someone to whom you may talk who is currently a student and could give you some real-world feedback on these tracks.

You have written many times that a teacher should have a degree in music. I am currently studying with a teacher who has no degree and am thinking of changing.

Why are you thinking of changing? Because I recommended finding a teacher with a degree?

What background and training does your present teacher have?

Do you feel you are getting good information, and it is presented in a way that helps you? If you have a teacher you like and feel as though you are benefiting from this person's tutelage, I advise you to stay put.

If, in the future, you feel you have learned all you can from your present teacher, start looking. Interviewing teachers with degrees is likely to net you a good teacher, all things being equal.

How do I develop good taste in music?

There isn't any really quick way to do this. Ask your teacher to guide you toward recordings of pianists he or she thinks are very fine. Are there any other people you might ask for suggestions?

An interesting thing to do is to listen to several artists play the same piece. Choose a short one (such as Fur Elise) or one movement of a sonata so you remember enough to compare. One performance might jump out at you as being better-suited to your tastes than the others. What makes this performance more compelling? Speed? Volume nuances? Which performances do you not like and why? Try to be specific ("The melody didn't stand out above the accompaniment."), not something like, "I didn't like the way it sounded."

Do you sing? If so, join a community, school, or church choir. All musicians need to sing. This will help you develop an "ear" for details and understand how they are formed by the voice and thus can be transferred to the piano. A good director can teach you a lot about good taste in music.

In general, however, developing taste can be done only with time and experience doing it. Listen to as many recordings and live performances as you can.

My wife saw this on the G clef: C Aug. What is this? What are the notes?

She saw an augmented ["enlarged"] triad [3 notes], probably written just as you have written it - - that is, in letters, not in music notes.

A "generic" (major) C triad is C-E-G. To enlarge it, the distance between the C and G is increased by one half-step. Therefore, G becomes G#, which, as it happens this time, is the very next piano key upward.

Incidentally, it doesn't matter whether the notes are on the G or F clef, and sometimes a half-step upward is from one white note to another (B to C is one example).

I'd like to be able to play a tune I've heard or have in my head. At present, I can do it given some time, but it's a matter of trial-and-error. If I hear a given note, I don't know automatically which key will produce it, so I end up having to "hunt around" for it. I assume with the right training and practice it should be possible to know the right key to press automatically. What training should I seek?

Trial and error is the way unless you have "perfect pitch." I regret to inform you this is an inherited ability! My older son has it. His mother does not!

Another way to "find" the correct pitch is by "relative pitch." In this method, you know exactly what, for example, E-flat sounds like. You can pull it out of your head. Then you compare the E-flat with the pitch you are hearing and figure out what the other pitch is. I sort of have this (on E-flat because I can hear the opening of Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto"). Supposedly F-sharp is easy to learn to hear, too. There was a program some years ago put out by a fellow named David Burge, in which he stated he would teach you to have perfect pitch. Since that is genetic, what he was teaching was relative pitch, and I think he was using F-sharp as the touchstone. I have not seen any ads for this in years and years, so I suppose he has withdrawn it.

Now the "real answer." It doesn't matter if the song you hear starts on the note shown in the printed music or heard in a recording. What's important is the relationship between the notes. For example if the song begins on G and then moves down to F [one whole step] and up to G again [ditto], it will sounds the same if you start on, say, A and then go down to G [ditto] and back up to A [ditto]. Or, D – C – D [ditto all].

Let us take the same exquisite piece of composition as above: G - F - G. Suppose you start on D but go to C-sharp (not regular C). This is only a half-step. Now you have disturbed the relationship, and the song will sound different.

So, just pick out a note and reproduce the distances between pitches to match the distances in the recording. And, yes, this takes time! No easy solutions, alas!

My son is really giving me a hard time about practicing piano. He complains, he drags his feet when I tell him it's time to practice, and he cries. He even throws tantrums sometimes! He's 8. Please send help right away! I'm desperate!

When you mentioned his age (8), I knew immediately what is really wrong!

Eight is a horrible age, especially for boys. They're mouthy, emotionally-uncontrolled (tantrums), uncooperative, pig-headed pains in the behind. How'm I doing with descriptors? (I have two boys, and they were both 8, once-upon-a-time!) Thirteen isn't very jolly either. Stand by, Mom/Dad.)

This behavior and mindset are because eight-year-olds are getting a dawning glimpse that they are independent persons. They realize they are able to have an opinion different from the adults in their lives, and they want to put that opinion into action pretty much as soon as they realize that the opinion is different from what the adults would recommend or prefer. Especially if it is different from what the adults would recommend or prefer!

This behavior also means they are only dimly aware that their decisions and actions have consequences. Right now they're reveling in the power they have to make decisions, especially those make the adults angry!

Most often, the results of the opinions put into action are not the desired outcomes (other than making the adults aggravated - - they love this!) and usually are negative (sometimes they realize this but usually don't associate it with the action).

What they don't understand is that unwanted outcomes are the result of their not being experienced enough in life to predict probable outcomes with any accuracy and identifying those actions that will result in a negative consequences. In fact, some adults never get to this point!

They stand by their opinions and actions, by gum! They are not going to back down, even to the point of beating the parent to the punch, which 99% of the time means a really unreasoned and unthought-out projection of consequences so they can avoid them.

This behavior is actually a good thing: you're rearing an independent adult. He just happens to be in an 8-year-old boy's body right now. He'll grow into a physical and emotional consonance eventually (after going through the teen years, which also can be a trial!).

Give him the decisions that are ok for him to make now but preserve as your own those he is not experienced enough to make safely or wisely. You'll note he griped that he wanted to decide when he played piano. (Don't call it "practice" because this has a negative and onerous connotation.) Give him options. Not, "Shall we get up early to play before school?" but something very specific, such as, "Would you like to play piano right before breakfast or right after it?" That he can decide. But not: "Do you want to brush your teeth?" or "Do you want to stop taking piano lessons?" or "Do you want to wear dirty skivvies?" (or "stop eating vegetables?" or "not exercise?" or "not go to church?" or "not be polite?" or any of those things we know kids really must do!).

We all want what's best for him: to grow into a responsible, successful, happy, generous, caring, and kind citizen of the U.S. (and the world!).

Hang tough, Mom. Be a parent. Don't be a friend. Carry out what you know is best for him even if he squawks now and makes it very difficult to keep your resolve to stay the course. He will thank you for it as an adult; and your grandchildren will thank you, too, as he'll rear them with the same values.

I am starting my Masters at ASU in the fall, and I have to take some entrance exams. One of these exams is a music history exam. While I have notes from all of my music history classes from my undergraduate work, I feel like there may be some gaps. Do you know of any accurate websites that will be able to help me out? Thanks.

I have found Wikipedia to be pretty good because nobody has an ax to grind in the field of music history (ornamentation, maybe, but not the overall content). this is a good summary and may be exactly what you are looking for

Also try these search terms for more detail (I followed them all):

baroque music
classical period music
romantic period
Galante music
impressionist period music

and so on (consult your undergrad music history text for other names of periods or styles).

You might also ck the general societal "climate" and literature and art of the times (politics and geopolitics, too), knowledge of which will help you remember and help explain what was going on in music at the same time.

There are what appear to be some summary music history sites, but these seem to be associated with a particular class at a particular college, which means you can't access them. This probably is not big loss because most likely they are just syllabi/outlines without content.

I have three questions about practicing. (1)Do I need to practice every day? Four times a week? Three? (2) How long should practice sessions be? Long? Short? Is there one length that is optimal? (3) If I take a vacation from piano practice, will I lose ground? How hard will it be for me to catch up to where I was?

I am assuming you are an adult student and/or are taking lessons for your own enjoyment.

(1) The more often you practice, the better you will be and the more quickly you'll be better. (This relates to your third question.) If you practice daily, you'll make quicker progress.

It may be that practice seven days just doesn't fit for you, for whatever reason. I tell my [child] students it's fine with me for them to choose a "day off," if it's ok with their parents. The child and parents should choose the day together. A rotating day is not a good idea. Too much chaos! And, since there's no set day off, it ends up that several days are skipped. (This relates to your third question, too.) This translates to six days a week. I am reminded of a statement by Arthur Rubenstein that goes something like this: If I take a day off practice, I notice it. If I take two days off, my colleagues notice it. If I take three days off, everyone notices it.

It's obvious, no doubt, that you don't choose the day off on the day before your lesson, but what might not be as obvious is that your day off shouldn't be the day after your lesson. Retention of learned material/skill is a geometric curve. Fall-off is more precipitous the farther out you go in time before repeating whatever activity it is. Therefore, on the day after your lesson you will remember more of how to do things accurately than you will on the second day. (As an aside, I suggest that you also play everything once when you arrive home from your lesson. Retention is greatest then.)

Bottom line: I think six days a week are fine. Certainly no less than five. If less than five, you must ask yourself whether you can accept rather slow progress. And you might even ask yourself why you are taking lessons!

(2) The longer you practice, the greater the progress. Learning is essentially chemical. The more times a specific thing is repeated, the stronger the "chemical bridge" between nerve cells in the brain that govern how to do it (and your memory of how to do it). The more often and the more closely-spaced the repetitions are, the greater the amount of and the strength of the learning that will be retained.

Usually, your body will tell you when to take a little break: your neck feels a little stiff, you need a bite to eat, and so forth. If you are looking for a specific amount of time, however, I'd say 45-60 minutes. Then rest for 10 or 15 and come back to it. This little rest will recharge your brain, too, and give it some time to process what you have just accomplished.

Also, if you seem to be making no headway on a piece, do something different for a while. Then take a 15-minute rest and come back to it.

I must now mention practicing in sessions so long that you damage your hands. As always, if your hands hurt, stop!! Look at other things you're doing with your hands and forearms (golf, tennis, computing, hobbies?). These are exacerbating the piano situation. Cut back on all (unless computing is part of your job - - and, even so, try to be more efficient to reduce your keystrokes).

An aside: If you have only a small amount of time on a given day, don't just not play. Play something, whether it's a technical exercise or a small portion of a piece you're working on. Make sure the next day you practice a little longer, if at all possible.

(3) Yes, you will lose ground. How much depends on how long a break you take, how well-cemented the learning was in the first place, and how you approach the piece when you return. Immediately, play the sections you already have identified as trouble spots for you before you went on sabbatical. Start there and use good practice techniques your teacher has taught you. Also see my files on how to practice efficiently and some productive practice techniques. Presumably you have worked on these already.

As to how long it will take to return to where you were, I can't answer that specifically because of the above factors.

I do know, however, that a child of school ago who "takes August off" will have a dim awareness that they've lost ground ("This isn't as easy now as it was in July.") It will be glaringly obvious to a child who "takes the summer off" that he has lost ground ("I can't play my recital piece anymore!") This is why my students study through the summer (I take two weeks' vacation at the end of August).

Bottom line: I suggest several things. (1) Refresh yourself on the song by playing it in separate sessions spaced as often as possible. Remember that retention is greatest when actions are repeated as close as possible to the previous time. (2) Work small sections only. (3) Use the metronome. (4) Don’t expect to play it as well as you did.

I have another question. In the past, I have gone on vacation, and when I come back home, I can play the song better than I could before I left! How can this possibly be? You say that I shouldn't expect to play it as well as when I left home.

I think it's because, when you come back home and start to practice, you pay closer attention to what's on the page because you don't want to miss anything. You know you have to concentrate harder. The result is that the piece is "easier" to play (and "sounds better") than before you took a break.

Do Japanese brands cater for taller people? I am 6'1".

I don't know about taller people; you'll have to sit at the bench and test it. The usual problem is that fibula/tibia are so long that the knees rub the underside.

I used to be a jazz/rock drummer who sang. I have aspirations to play piano and sing again. I learnt piano for a year in the 70's and all the scales in Hanon. I have revisited that and done the first 20 drills and all the scale drills. I was working my way through Alfred's Adult Lesson Book, Level 2, and decided there was a better way. I had a hunch that Bach would be very helpful. I bought 2 part Inventions but found it a bit tough. Your comments on the craft required have put my progress in perspective. (1) I am committed to learning Bach and it was a revelation to see that my thinking was in line with the Bach pieces you suggest for beginners. I am going to get all those pieces and work through them. It took me 10 days to memorize and play the 1st Prelude in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, to give you an idea of what level I'm on. I practise and memorize hands separately and let hands-together just come. My goal is to play piano and sing, generally using fake books because that what all my old jazz-muso mates use. I am assuming by learning Bach, I will gain a good understanding of harmony and a good left hand. (2) Is there a technique for playing fake sheets under vocals? Just playing a melody line and block chords in the left hand seems a bit tame to me.

Congrats on going so far alone!! Hats off!

First of all, re harmony understanding, Bach won't do that for you unless you undertake an analysis. Since you have some background in chords, you probably can make good progress by yourself. Particularly look at the "circle of fifths" to see how Bach moves from one chord to another. Also look for enharmonic spellings. A favorite of Bach is to spell a C diminished-seventh chord as C - E-flat - F -sharp - A. The correct spelling is is C - E-flat - G-flat - B-double-flat. (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Gershwin do this, too. It's strictly "illegal" and you and I would get a big fat zero on our theory exam.) Any C triad has to be C - E - G, whether is a C Major, C Minor, C Augmented, or C Diminished triad. If it's a seventh, then it has to be spelled C - E - G - B of some sort, depending on the "flavor" of the C triad. All the letters have to be there, spelled however is necessary. A good example is the B-double-flat. It looks like A on the keyboard, but if you're spelling correctly in a C triad with a seventh, you have to call it B-double-flat. Sorry. That said, the composers mentioned above (among other "greats") take the shortcut. You have to be able not to be fooled into faulty analysis by this red herring.

Yes, by playing Bach your left hand technique will grow by leaps and bounds. You might also look at Czerny's The Eight-Measure Etudes. There are lots of different challenges there (NOT the octave/velocity etudes). Also look at Schmitt. See my file on what technical regimen I use with my students. Perhaps this will give you some more ideas, as well as how to apply them, although this was written for teachers.

As to the fake book, here is what I teach my students as basics.

(1) LH plays only letter name of chord.
(2) Same, but in octaves.
(3) Blocked triad (all notes together as a group).
(4) Arpeggiated triad (3 notes only, of course) – bottom (letter name) – middle – top and then all the permutations/scrambles of those placements
(4) IVI on the chord name.
(5) Alberti bass on triad.
(6) Alberti bass on I – V - I.
(7) hand-over-hand arpeggios as possible (LH I - III - V then RH I - III - V an octave from I in LH, proceeding up keyboard).
(8) Other, being careful not to play III twice at the same time, as this results in a "weak" sound. Try this yourself by putting - - let's use the C triad - - C E G in the LH, low and E G C in the RH in a middle register. Now take out the E in LH. Hear the difference?
(9) Then I teach how to voice under the melody. First, determine the notes in chord/triad. Fill in the missing, less the melody note (which is on the top). Put octaves in left hand for starters. By the time you get to this point, you'll have some good ideas.
(10) Last I teach "closest inversion." That is, for the second chord, are there any retained notes from the first? If so, keep your finger on that note, subtract the melody note, and then fill in below with what's left.
(11) Then some artistry kicks in because sometimes the next melody is part of same triad or even same inversion and you need only re-strike the melody note, not the entire thing. Sometimes there's a note that's a "non-chord tone" (usually a dissonance, such as 6th and 9th) and you have to recognize that and not let it lead you astray from the foundation chord. Same with "color" notes a distance from the root (such as 11th, 13th, etc.).

I am an adult, age 38, who started taking piano lessons about 2 years ago. I played clarinet from 10 to 13 years old and started playing sax at age 13. I studied sax in college and even minored in music. In theory class, we did some simple chord progressions. After 2 years, I feel like I have made progress but not as quickly as I would have liked. My teacher thinks I am performing well. We have completed Hanon Ex. 1 and have started on Ex. 2. We have learned all the major scales up and down 2 octaves. My current literature includes Schumann's "Soldier's March." I am about 3/4 of the way through the book Keyboard Musicianship by Lykes, et al. Do you feel I have made good progress? I'm not sure.

Given your instrumental background, I would expect you to be further along. This is my opinion only and based entirely by your letter, please remember. That you are concerned about this is more telling. Talk with your teacher forthwith, expressing your uncertainty about appropriate progress for someone with your prior training.

If you are not playing Clementi sonatinas, you should be. Also Burgmüller's Op. 100 (Melodious Pieces) should be on your music rack, in my opinion, and having not heard you play. With your music background I think you should be farther along - -again IMO. Read the first question in this file. I hope that will give you a yardstick (well, the one I use!).

Did you tell your teacher your concerns in stronger terms and/or different terms, such as, "I am not feeling challenged"?

Thanks for your help. I also should have mentioned that we have just started the first prelude in Bach's WTC. I am going to get the Burgmüller Op. 25 today.

First, Bach.

Do not go beyond this Bach prelude until you are a lot more advanced; the others are quite difficult. This piece is atypical in that it isn't imitative. It is repetitive and formulaic once you see the pattern. Thus, it is an excellent piece of "real" Bach with which to start. BWV 999 - - starts in C Minor is also an accessible one, but, please, wait on the rest until you have the chops to do them justice.

For study of imitative music, I strongly recommend you start with the "little preludes." This is at least 6 months down the road for you since you're just starting the Burgmüller (Op. 100, not Op. 25!) and Clementi.

There's a Kalmus edition of 18. Paint out all the cres., dim., rit., etc. that Herr Doktor Bischoff put in - - all incorrect for playing Bach. For more information on that, plus general remarks about embarking on study of imitative music (the fugue being the most complex form), see this file meant for teachers, but with some material in the first part that I think will be helpful to you, as a student. Also see these files on Baroque ornamentation and pedaling and other pianistic idioms in Bach.

That said, your Bach study after the C Major Prelude is at least six months down the road.

When your teacher thinks you're ready, go on to the two-part inventions, then three-part (also called sinfonias), and finally to the preludes and fugues of WTK.

Back to Clementi and Burgmüller.

Clementi wrote a bunch of sonatinas, but the first six are all you need. I teach only #1, #2, #3, and #4 because I think they have the most to offer students by way of new concepts and challenges.

I don't teach #5 and #6 because I think they're musically uninteresting and don't offer much new, but you should read a bit in those two since there may be a movement you like and want to pursue. By the time you've done #1-#4, you don't need any more Clememti. Use the others for sight-reading.

Some of the Burgmüller pieces are not worth careful study, either, in my opinion. Look at "Clear Stream" (good preparatory piece for beginning study of voicing, which shouldn't start until you're well into Chopin - - just tuck this info away and ask your teacher to start you on this one when the time comes), "Ballade," "Arabesque," "Knecht," and "Tarantella." The rest I have my students use for sight-reading. Again, zap through (slowly!) some of the beginnings of the rest of the pieces. You may like them and wish to pursue them.

I am not saying the remainder of Op. 100 or #5 and #6 by Clementi are shoddy and not worth learning. I am writing only what I do in my studio.

I have recently begun study of Bach (I read the files you mentioned above and found them helpful.) I start each piece hands apart, which I know I should do, but when I put hands together after some weeks of hands apart, it sounds as if I have never played a note of the piece! Why not just start hands together if it's going to sound this bad?

This seems to be Bach time!

See my file on teaching fugues. It's for teachers, but I think you will find some helpful information there.

Yes, playing hands together is not twice as hard. It's several orders of magnitude harder. I don't advise starting hands together, but you might try it to see if it works for you.

I am learning to play Chopin's Nocturne Opus 32 #1. I am having difficulty in establishing the correct timing of the last 2 lines of the music score as there are no bar lines. Does this mean that the timing is free choice? I'd appreciate it if you'd give me advice? I have asked my teacher already. I know you will say this first because I've read this page many times! And found it extremely helpful, by the way!

It is difficult to help you by words only, but I'll try.

You have the right idea: it's "free." And, yes, the counts don't seem to "add up." They actually do, but it's pretty convoluted. Grab some chocolate and let's have a go.

We're in the key of B Major.

Measure 62 is "standard" in its counting. (The little notes in the RH are an arpeggiation. The whole-note chord goes on the downbeat.)

That takes us to "measure" 63, which is where the fun and ambiguity begin.

The first thing in the "measure" is a dotted-half G7 chord. The 32nd-note figure following it is the 4th "count."

The RH G-natural begins the "next measure." Note that the quarter-note G Major triad (this is on the 2nd count) that is played beneath the G natural single RH note is played softly; it is not part of the melody; note the stem downward. The rest with fermata is the 3rd count of this measure, and the 32nd-note figure is the 4th. Note that the previous "measure" has the 32nd-note figure as the 4th count.

The next "measure" begins on the B natural in the RH. The stem-down RH notes (soft, again) fall on the 2nd count, just as in the previous "measure." The third count of this "measure" is the rest with the fermata. All those eighth-notes (hands are playing in unison) comprise the 4th count.

Now we're at a Q G natural in both hands as the first count in the next "measure." The second count starts on the G in the RH - - the 8th beamed with a 16th rest and a 16th note. The third and fourth counts of this "measure" are covered by the half-note F# in the RH. Note that the stem-downward RH notes fall on the & of three and directly on four.

Next we have a H rest. = 2 counts. The other two counts of this "measure" are covered by the C# in the RH. Note that on the fourth count, the "LH" has three stem-down notes (F#, G#, B). Plus a low F#. No way you can play all those with your LH. So you take the low F# with the LH and play the three-note group with your RH.

The half-note C is tied into the next "measure" as the first note of the triplet. The following triplet is the second count. Then there's a Q, which is the third count, and a D natural, which is the fourth count.

This D natural is "tied" into the final "measure" because of its value - - there is no tie slur. The downbeat of this final "measure" is the low F# and the three-note group, all written in bass clef. This is the place where the low F# notes are marked staccato. Those two are counts one and two. Count three is the Q rest. Four is the Q note As.

Hurrah! We're at the last two "real" measures.

Now we have it all sorted out mathematically.

I suggest that you consider the G7 at the start of m. 63 as a downbeat and the 32nd-note figure following (4th count) as a pickup to the G natural in RH (followed by the G triad, stem down). Take a breath and play the second 32nd-note figure (fourth count in this "measure") as a pickup to the half-note B. Then there's a big hole before you commence on the fourth count of this "measure" - - all those 8ths.

The rests foul up the feeling of pulse there, alas, so just be free and approximate the idea of long-note-plus-32nd-note figure-pickup-on-four as a measure.

The G naturals in both hands are the downbeat. This is followed by the beamed figure (beat two) and the half-note (beats three and four). Attempt to keep these mathematical relationships pretty strict so that the arpeggiation before beat two stands out (as fast, free notes).

That big half rest is just an alternate notation for a rest with a fermata (as we've seen earlier), but it's worth two counts. The C# half-notes are the other half of this measure. Keep this measure strict in speed.

Where the RH C# is tied into the triplet, keep these counts strict, too. Where the D natural occurs, slow down in the Q notes (LH). Note that the next measure (last 2) are marked adagio. These notes are a prelude to that idea.

You might show your teacher my answer to get further information from him. Perhaps something here will "jog" his memory!

I stumbled on your page and just read your answer to the previous question and am hoping you can help me with mine! I'd like some general tips for what to listen for in order to identify the provenance and likely composer of Renaissance compositions. This is weird, I know, but I'd really like your thoughts on this.

Know, especially in the early and middle Renaissance, the style was primarily "universal" because of the wide wanderings of the minstrels. If it's brass, especially antiphonal, it's most likely Venice/Gabrieli et al. If it's winds (especially recorder) with some brass (sackbut) and buzz-y stuff (krumhorn, racket), it's likely German/Praetorius (Terpsichore).

If there is a run in parallel thirds (gymel ["twins"]), it's likely English (Dunstable). Vocal motets are perhaps French (de Prez, Mouton, Dufay) but could be English. In fact, much vocal part music is English (Byrd, Bull, Taverner, Tallis).

A rhythm of quarter/dotted half -type (1, 1-2-3) is often found in English music of this period ("Scotch snap"). Dots over the barline tend to appear in French and Italian works. Virginal music is nearly always English.

Viol music is primarily English (East, Simpson, Dowland, Jenkins), though there are some pieces by Italian (Gesualdo) and French composers (Marais).

Settings of Lutheran hymns are, almost exclusively, German (Praetorius). Most settings in praise of the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary - - we musicologists are as fond of acronyms as anyone else!) are Spanish (Morales, Victoria), though Mariolatry was widespread in France, as carry-over from the Middle Ages.

Missae breves are commonly German (and this predilection carries through to the many missae breves of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, etc.), English (modern: Walton, Britton), Italian (Palestrina, Gabrieli); not seen often in French pieces of the period (those are full-on masses, such as by Josquin and Ockeghem). Paired instrumental dances are usually German (Praetorius).

Exquisite mass settings are probably Palestrina (or Gabrieli). Large-scale settings of masses are commonly Italian (Monteverdi) and have much in common with operas of this period ("Coronation of Popea", for example), as will be no surprise; many people (myself included) feel these pieces "fit" better in the early Baroque rather than late Renaissance. There are many large-scale French masses, too, of course (Josquin, Ciconia).

Madrigals are pretty recognizable as this genre and are preponderantly English (Morley, Gibbons) or Italian (Monteverdi).

Hope this is a start for you!

Your answer was very, very helpful. Can you stand one more, please? I've just found out that it was common for sacred Mediaeval music to be sung in parallel 5ths, but I also know that all this was later forbidden under the rules of voice-leading used by Bach and other composers. What happened in between to make this change possible?

Ah! Another interesting topic!

Let me preface these remarks by saying that just because something [ex.: polygamy] seems to be a "DNA imperative," in that the male of a species wants to contribute to and dominate his particular species' propagation, doesn't mean that it is acceptable behavior in a given society and/or in a given era, despite its being practiced elsewhere [today in Senegal] or at another time [Moses, Abraham, David, and other Old Testament patriarchs].

I know you are wondering how polygamy and the harmonic series - - and parallel fifths - - are related topics, so let us proceed.

It wasn't until the Renaissance (about the time of Josquin) that our "modern" dominant-tonic (V > I ) tonal relationship was moving fairly well toward being established as common practice. This transition was completed in the early 1600s. Along the way, other tonal organizing relationships flourished - - modal music of the English virginalist school, for example.

Medieval chant was doubtless meant to be sung in unison. As we know, all singers are not created equal. Most of the monks sang the same note (unison). The boys sang the same note but higher (octave). But - - and this is my speculation - - SOME of the monks couldn't carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it, so they fumbled around until their throats produced a pitch that was at least related to the one everyone else was singing. Related how? At the fifth.

I am sure you've been singing with a crowd - - let's say "Happy Birthday" warbled at your local pub - - and are aware that some people are not "in tune" with the rest of you. How? At the fifth.

When the singing continues beyond one note, this creates parallel fifths.

There is a recording of a 1965 civil rights march in Selma (AL) in which we hear "We Shall Overcome" sung on the correct notes AND on a fifth above them.

Why the fifth? Enter the harmonic series.

The harmonic series is a "ladder" of higher pitches (called "harmonics") derived from the main pitch ("fundamental"). (Note: The higher pitches on the ladder are also called "partials" and even "overtones," though the latter is an incorrect use for this instance.)

As the ladder ascends, the partials farther away from the fundamental are not related to the fundamental as mathematically-elegantly as the earlier ones. They are also more closely spaced, as measured by half-steps and, compared with our modern equally-tempered scale, are somewhat out of tune.

The harmonic series is all about wave lengths and cycles per second of sound. Let me make a coarse summary by saying that the fundamental and all its octaves are numerical multiples of each other. The other partials in the series do not have such a tidy mathematical relationship with the fundamental, though some are still simple ratios; 3:1, for example. Therefore, the farther up the ladder the pitch is, the less consonant it is with the fundamental that spawned it. More on that in a moment.

If you look at the harmonic series, you see some very interesting things.

The second note in the series - - called the "second harmonic" - - is an octave above the fundamental (also called the "first harmonic"), and the third note - - the "third harmonic " - - is a *fifth* above the previous pitch. ( V > I !)

From strictly a physics point of view, octave and fifth displacements seem almost ordained in the human larynx, as well as in the music of the spheres!

middle C (fundamental) C on the next-to-top space on the treble staff (second harmonic)
G just above the top line on the treble staff (third harmonic) - - G is V when C is I.

Now, then, suppose we go on to the fourth note in the series ("fourth harmonic"). It lies at an interval of a 4th above the third harmonic. And guess where that lands us? Right! On a note that's has an octave relationship with the fundamental!

To expand the previous example, this new pitch is another C - - the one that is a 4th above G. The intervals of a 4th and 5th are inversions of each other. So, if you turn a 4th upside down, you get a 5th. Everything is still I and V!

So, the first four notes of the harmonic series on C are Cs, with one G: Middle C, C an octave above, the G above that one, and the C above (commonly called "high C," a note considered the Holy Grail for sopranos).

A complete example:
Middle C (fundamental)
C on the next-to-top space on the treble staff (second harmonic)
G just above the top line on the treble staff (third harmonic)
high C above (fourth harmonic)

I know you are curious, so let me put you out of your misery: the interval of the Major 3rd appears next in the harmonic series (fifth harmonic). It is interesting to note that the fundamental and harmonics two through five form a triad. Or is a triad formed because of the placement of these?

You are wondering how polygamy and Bach have anything to do with chant and first-year music theory, yes?

To answer your next question, I don't think Bach indicated anything about using or not using parallel intervals. I think he avoided them instinctively because by this time parallel fifths were deemed unattractive, even though the math in the harmonic series shows that fifths are consonances and a "natural" part of sound production.

As so often happens, documentation follows practice. Usually much later.

Using the great master's examples, we examined what he did. And what he did not do: parallel fifths.

And so it was written in theory books.

While tin-eared monks sang in parallel fifths, theory harmonization exercises should not reflect "historical performance practice," even though the math of the matter is supportive!

Polygamy sidebar: I know the anthropologists reading this essay will take issue with my careless use of polygamy here, rather than polygyny. Apologies.

I came across your wonderful website. (Thank you!) This is my dilemma: I started playing the violin when I was about 6 years old, switched to viola in middle school and fell in love with that instrument. I was a serious player - - still am - - and I accomplished quite a lot all the way through high school (I had to audition to get into that high school). My senior year, I was accepted into a pretty good school to study viola but some situations happened, and I wound up not attending the college (father passed away, had to move to different state, family not able to support college financially, etc.). I am twenty four years old, and I still practice daily (though I'm married now). I believe that I've gotten better over the years. Should I take the plunge and go to school to get a degree, etc. and make a career of playing viola, or should I not bother? Mind you, I have no aspirations to be a soloist, just to be in an orchestra. I do know that I'm a dreadful teacher! Thanks for the help. I'd appreciate any advice you could give.

Marvelous! I'm so impressed with your perseverance!

Your goal is to play well in an orchestra, right? I think right now you're probably well-enough prepared to play in a community group (not a full-blown, commercial symphony). And doubtless good enough for community small-orchestra gigs (esp. MESSIAH and things like that).

Do you have any experience playing quartets? If so, such ensembles are frequently hired by churches, especially for special Sundays, weddings/funerals, when the organist is on vacation, etc. Another area you could explore with a 4tet would be the "wedding circuit." There are sometimes local booking agencies that field requests for ensembles. Some require a flat fee to be "put on the call list," and others take a percent of your payment. Perhaps a local orchestra runs such a service, too. The musicians' local does, I am sure - - you'd have to join the union, however.

Wedding planners (also get it touch with florists, dept. stores, photographers, etc. - - all places a bride might make contact with someone from who she wishes to purchase services). I do not know what kind of money relationship you'd have with these people. Reciprocal referrals, if you're lucky. A percent of your payment?

All these things could open for you through an orchestra, where you could hook up with 2 violinists and a cellist for 4tets. Violists are -very- hard to come by!!

Now, as to a degree, I think if you want a degree, you should go for it. The more extensive your credentials, of course, the better your chances for "getting in the door" for whatever you want to do. I encourage you to pursue this. Since you wonder if it would be helpful tells me that you do think it very valuable.

In the meantime, you might consider studying privately with a good teacher to brush up your skills. "Student of ___" is always good to put on a resume because it tells the reader that you are not only interested in upgrading your skills and expanding your knowledge but that you are doing something about it.

Check with the local universities and community colleges. Ask for the chairperson of the string faculty. Are there any faculty members who take private students? Can the chair or a string professor point you toward competent grad students? If there are string orchestras, 4tets, etc. in your community, you might be able to get a line on a teacher thru a venue such as this. Also check music stores (instruments, print). Get hold of the local music teachers' group (thru music store) and inquire about string teachers thru this route.

As to a career, what is it you propose to do? Be an orchestral musician, with pick-up gigs on the side? (Be aware that auditions for pro orchestras are fierce, and there are not that many openings. For this level, you certainly need a degree and a good deal of experience for your resume because other applicants will be presenting this.) Just do pick-up gigs?

Please note that teaching viola is a lot different from an orchestra or 4tet gig.

A good player does not necessarily make a good teacher! In fact, some excellent players are utterly lousy teachers! A teacher must not only be a very good player but a teacher. ("Those who can't teach have to do something else.")

Since you label yourself a "dreadful" teacher, you won't want to pursue this course.

Right now, though, stick to the gigs! I think you will find them a satisfying and a potentially-profitable area!

Can you recommend any way to go about memorizing fugues? I'm tackling the first fugue in WTC Book 1, which is a four-voice fugue with no counter subject. I've learned to play it, including playing each voice separately, and playing it through from beginning to end emphasizing one voice at a time. I know it's not the easiest one to start with, but I figure if I can do this one, it will only get easier from there.

Here's what I advise.

As to practicing after you've memorized, I suggest you do all kinds of things to test your memory: play very quickly, play only one hand (or one voice) staccato - - whatever you can do to "interrupt" your finger memory. I think I have a file(s?) somewhere about memory playing; perhaps you've checked that out?

Memorizing imitative music takes a long time. Be patient with yourself!

Oh, yes....You have already learned the notes thoroughly, right? I know some people like to memorize and learn the notes concurrently. I don't recommend this with imitative pieces because your ear never "hears" what's going on until the piece is memorized. Knowing the structure is a big help for memorization.

Is your fingering reliable? The same each time? Is every needed note fingered? If not, do it now. Be generous with your fingering. At this point, you are not "reading by finger numbers," so feel free to put in whatever fingering will be helpful.

Look for real and tonal subject entrances, excursions into keys other than the dominant, and so on. Any other structural understanding will help the memory process.

And, last, have you memorized any other imitative music? If not, put aside this particular fugue and go back to the 2-part inventions. Pick one of those and work on that. Then maybe a 3-part inv. Then a 3-voice fugue. THEN go back to #1. Of course, you will "keep the notes" warm on #1.

You might find helpful information on this file I wrote for teachers about how to teach imitative music.

I have your article on the differences between a piano and a harpsichord, and I still have a sort of "burning" question that ties into the rest: are there fundamental differences between learning to play a harpsichord and a piano? For instance, if I started learning piano, would this translate well if my ultimate goal is to play harpsichord? I realize the best answer is probably "no, you idiot, learn to play harpsichord on a harpsichord." Given that it's a bit of an obscure instrument, I also anticipate lessons being substantially more expense or harder to find. If it just takes a little effort to translate piano into harpsichord, then a little effort is what I've got. I'm aware of the differences between the two in terms of tone variety and sound production.

No, go ahead and learn to play piano. Easily translated, as long as you understand you'll have to make some adjustments in touch.

Also, know that you'll have to approach (or re-approach!) Bach from a harpsichord point of view (lifts, ornaments, articulation, etc.). But yes, do learn the notes on the piano.

Do you have an instrument? If not, do start looking for one! Then you won't have this problem!

As to lessons, they may be harder to find but perhaps not more expensive (I charge the same, for example).

Do you know anything about Remington and Perzina pianos? They are made in China.

I have information on them in my file on piano brands and recommendations.

After reading the articles on teachers' being professional, this is something of my concern. I currently have a teacher who is an excellent teacher with much skill and experience. He has a very busy studio, with people popping in and out. I have been through several other teachers who have taught me. All the past ones were qualified but still weren't good teachers, and what they taught me was not useful. Their method and approach were not at all good. On the other hand, some of my past teachers were very professional but not good at teaching. My current teacher is an excellent teacher, however, he overlaps his students and begins later than usual. He answers the phone when he is teaching and sometimes makes phone calls (to other students to see if they are coming). He does chores around the house whilst teaching at the same time. Other than that, he is 'semi-professional' because he returns my calls, doesn't treat me like a child, and dresses professionally. I feel as though I am caught in a rut with him and am not sure what to do. Please help!

He does not sound at all professional to me. No teacher should be doing anything during your lesson time except teaching you.

When he starts late with you, does he end late with you, too, by the same amount of time? If so, everything evens up.

Or, does he end at your "usual time", thereby cheating you out of some of your time? If so, you are paying for something you are not getting - - like paying for a piece of apple pie and getting only the pastry but no apples.

Start looking for another teacher. Not later but =right away=. Get moving!

You know what you want and what you don't want in a teacher. Make two lists. Then start hunting.

Since your current teacher is unprofessional, don't bother telling him in person that you are changing teachers, which is what you'd do if he were a good and professional teacher. Write a letter and mail it on your way home from your last lesson. Make sure your tuition is paid through that lesson (but not in advance because a teacher like this won't send you a refund for unused lessons).

Something like:

Dear (name),
I have decided that I need a different teacher at this time. Today (add month/day/year) was my last lesson. I thank you for what you have taught me.
Sincerely, (sign your name)

He will not call you. If you feel he will, set your telephone to voicemail or "screen" and don't pick up the phone. If he calls, which he won't, he won't call more than a couple of times, and then you'll be able to go back to your usual telephone habits.

If, perchance, you do get caught by him on the phone, no matter what he asks you, you respond with =only= "I have decided I need a different teacher at this time." Don't let him bully you into giving him details or trying to make you justify your decision. The more you say, the more there is for him to argue about with you. It is hard to keep repeating the same thing over and over, but it does work. Write down this sentence and put it by every telephone so you are not surprised by his call and can't remember what to say.

Upon looking for a new teacher, something has come to mind. Some teachers teach various styles or they specialise in one or more particular styles. This makes me wonder. Does style really matter? I thought technique was the fundamental foundation of a student's course. Technique should not be different but the same with all teachers, though different teachers may teach technique differently. In the end, however, they are really teaching all the same thing. My question is: should a student wishing to study a certain style be looking towards a teacher specialising in that style? Consider this scenario, John Smith wants to learn Jazz piano, he has two options: a piano teacher that specialises in jazz and has played with jazz ensembles in the past, regularly performs and has some sort of a qualification majoring in jazz. Or, a piano teacher classically trained, however, who also knows works of differing styles and also has a variety of different genres in his repertoire - rock, pop, folk, 20th-century, and jazz. I also have had this confusion with finding a piano and voice teacher. More so with voice. I understand you are not a voice teacher, but in principal I'd like to know your thoughts on style and if it really matters.

You don't say how old you are or whether you're in college or not. I'm going to assume you're in college and about 21 years old.

I suggest you seek a generalist, unless you know which style you want and want to play that to the exclusion of all others. Once you're pretty sure what periods you like best, look for a teacher with that emphasis. Be careful, however. At the point [where I am assuming] you are, don't limit yourself.

As to "John," I suggest he go with the latter. A narrow specialty precludes a lot of "cross pollination" between styles. A generalist would be able to work with John to see how, for ex., Baroque ornamentation and improvisation compares to that in jazz. Someone without a bachelor's-level degree (in piano, for ex.) might not know about this connection.

For voice, I'd again go with a generalist. Though voice is genre-specific (opera, art song, madrigal, small ensemble, etc.), in addition to being period-specific (Baroque opera, Romantic art song, Elizabethan madrigals, Paredes' vocal quartets, etc.).

If you have particular favorites for periods in piano lit, I'm guessing you might have a preference for the same periods in vocal music. You'll be able to use the keyboard interpretation principles in your vocal studies. To use the Baroque again as an example, knowing keyboard ornamentation puts you 99% of the way there for vocal work - - the 1% being how to do it (!) physically.

Bottom line: you're better off with a generalist until you have a bachelor's degree. Then go on to more specific study.

I am currently looking to buy a used piano because I am at a point where I'm not yet ready to buy a new piano but also can't live with just playing a keyboard anymore! One piano I will be going to see tomorrow is an "Ambassador" piano, I was told. Have you ever heard of this brand? I can't seem to find anything about it on the internet, but you seem very knowledgeable so I thought you may know. It is a super reasonable price, but I'd love to know more about it before I spent the money. I appreciate any advice you have. Thanks very much for providing the information that you did on the website. It was very helpful!

Glad you have decided to switch to a "real piano". You'll be happier with your piano studies now. A used piano is an excellent choice if you don't want to rent.

I do not know anything at all about this piano. In fact, I've never heard of it. My guess is that it's one of those made by Aeolian (which never were very good, in my opinion).

I know you prefer students, especially beginners, to have a real piano, and I agree they should. Still, I'd like to hear what you have to say about features to look for and avoid in an electronic keyboard. I don't have any choice but to buy an electronic. The other choice is to not study piano at all. That's a no-brainer! I need to get an electronic because I do not have enough room for a real piano, not even a spinet (the store said "spinet" was the smallest and an "upright" was bigger). I will buy a real piano as soon as I move into someplace larger. Meanwhile, please give me some help with an electronic keyboard purchase! I love the piano and don't want to put it off learning it until I move.

I have written a file on this topic.

My son started piano this year in February. He just turned 6 in August. He is now playing Level 3 songs and moving on to Level 4. The reason that he advanced pretty fast is that he is very good with pattern-recognition and memorizes music very fast. He also has a good ear and good coordination. He can also sight-read at his level. He understands a lot about music and picks up things really fast. Right now I am trying to decide whether or not to switch teachers. His current teacher is excellent in teaching the piano touch and correct hand movements. My son is currently on Dozen A Day, Book 2, Fingerpower II, and Snell Scale I. At his level, I am wondering if he should be moving the Schmitt and Hanon to improve his techical skills? We interviewed a master teacher (Ph.D.), and she said he needs to improve his finger strength instead of putting emphasis on the songs. I was wondering if you can give me opinion as to how to proceed?

No, do not have him move to Schmitt. Not yet. Not until grade 7 in school (not "grade 7 piano level," but age 13 in physical years). His hands are not physically strong enough yet. He has plenty of exercises with the Finger Power and Dozen and Snell.

I believe the teacher you interviewed is not correct in her analysis of his technical needs at this time.

I am wondering whether the master teacher is suggesting an increased regimen for some particular reason.

In my opinion, songs is what he needs right now. He has plenty of technique. In fact, I'd stick with Finger Power and delete the Snell and Dozen. Songs and supplemental activities, such as sight-reading (which you mention), playing by ear, composing, and things like this are appropriate additions to his weekly assignment. The more different material he plays now, the broader his understanding will be when he is ready to tackle composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, etc.

At his age, your son needs socialization, too. Much more piano material will keep him from time for Cub Scouts, church choir, swim team, T-ball, community service, after-school clubs, bike-riding and book-reading at home, etc. This broadening will be more helpful to his music down the line than increased (and, in my opinion, inappropriate) technical material now.

What does "edited by" actually mean when applied to printed music? For instance, does it mean that the editor has actually changed some of the music? Or could it be as minor as adding the fingering or articulation notation? I know that a lot of music is modified to make it easier to play for early students, but it looks as if the term used for this is "arranged by." And looking at my Urtext editions they have both a "edited by" and a "fingering by", so the two are differentiated in Henle. My Bach preludes are "edited by Dr. Hans Bischoff," and I know that he added articulation and fingering, as well as made some decisions as to what Bach really may have written, based on several sources he studied. This came up because I was looking at some printed music online, and some said "edited by" and others said nothing about it.

Usually, it means fingering. Sometimes it means some dynamics were added, especially when they are implied by earlier places (very rarely later places) in the music. A good editor puts this kind of thing in [square brackets], though fingering is assumed to be editorial (even in Henle editions). Less often, and asterisk ( * ) or other footnote indication, such as N.B. (nota bene, which translates "beneficial note" and means this "information is important"), is used to call attention to an editorial change.

Very few composers put in fingering, though Clementi often did because his sonatinas were written as teaching pieces. Several published versions of some of these sonatinas exist, and Clementi used different fingering in some places. We don't know why. Maybe he changed his mind, based on experience with students' having trouble with the published fingering. Maybe one student had a small hand, and Clementi altered the fingering to fit. (But we don't know why this version was published.) Some music by Kabalevsky also contains some fingering. Again, these were teaching pieces.

A good editor - such as Bischoff - makes footnotes when citing several editions and how he/she decided on the editorial suggestion. (You also always can trust editing by Maurice Hinson and Denes Agay.)

As you note, sometimes the front page (and the top right of the first piece in the book) will have the notation "fingered by." Any further editorial remarks are found in square brackets.

Note: Some Alfred editions place editorial suggestions in gray print above the black-printed [original] score. I find these very difficult to read (and also feel that some editorial suggestions are incorrect), so I never have my students buy these editions.

In Chopin's Nocturne Opus 9 the first bar 2 has 11 notes against 6. I play the first and second notes together then never again. The 4th note in the bass comes after 5.5 spaces in the treble. I think this sounds good. Do I have to play these runs as triplets or is my way acceptable?

I'd like to wring Chopin's neck for writing so vaguely! We're all scratching our heads over how to play 119 over 15....

Yes, I think your solution is just fine.

I usually divide up notes, match a note of the more-numerous figuration with a note of the other one. Generally, I put the "extra notes" in the last group to give the idea of "gaining momentum, rolling down a precipice."

For example, suppose you have 14 notes in one hand (let's say it's the RH, since Chopin usually does it this way) and 3 in the other. I'll put 4 RH notes with each LH note = 12 notes. I'll add the 2 leftovers to be played with the 3rd (last) LH note. This gives me the distribution of 3 - 3 - 3 - 5. Using my mnemonic devices, that's "strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, hippopotamus."

I also could do 3 - 3 - 4 - 4 ("strawberry, strawberry, watermelon, watermelon").

Throw in a little rubato to smush things around, and you're set!

You also can get down-and-dirty and work it out mathematically.

Or, you can be "born with it". One of my students says she does it by hearing 11 and 6 as different groups and easily fits them together. Yeah, she's a physicist.....

I hope you will be kind enough to give me your opinion. I am a former player of the piano, who has neglected it for years but used to be a quite good (non-professional) player. I would like to buy a piano and have about $6000 to spend. In my area I have found the following: Dealer A: a Boston, new upright, 45", for $6000. Good tone. Dealer B: a new Young Chang, also about 45", good tone, though a little "bright" for $5000. Dealer C: a used (barely) Story & Clark Professional Model 140 , 55" high, which has a very good tone, for $4000. 5 year warranty. Laminated spruce soundboard. Although the YC sounds a little bright (not as bright as others I've heard - the Yamaha, for instance), the dealer, who is an RPT and has an excellent reputation hereabouts, says he can "bring it (the tone) down" to a mellower level. Leaving personal preference for sound quality aside, which would you say is the better piano? I can find nothing pertinent about the S&C's quality. Some people say "stay away" but without saying why. You dismissed them in one line on your website, for instance. I am also disinclined to buy a Boston just on its status as a Steinway-designed product. That dealer would sell me a Boston from his warehouse, which I had not even seen. That surprised me. I had planned on buying the actual piano I had played at the store. Isn't it important to choose the actual piano, as well as the brand? I realize we have not met, but I would be most grateful for your feedback. I would like to make a decision soon, I've been vacillating, uncharacteristically, for a long time, and my own patience with myself is wearing thin. Many thanks for anything you can tell me.

The Boston will hold its value longest. Ask your tech how much it will cost to mellow the tone. I'd play the YC a while to see if you get used to it before having the tech work on it. You may "warm" to the tone. (Pardon the pun.) S&C is a generic piano (often from China) to which store chains put their names; I don't advise this unless you love the tone and the price is the precipitating factor..... I would lean toward the YC and then the Boston. Hope this helps. In the end, your money and how the piano sounds and feels to YOU are the deciding factors. Buy the best piano you can stretch to afford.

As to the dealer's saying he'd be shipping directly from the warehouse: NO! Not a good idea. Your instinct is 100% correct. You should buy only the piano you played and choose. (What's wrong with the ones at the warehouse, eh?! Smoke damage? Case damage? Water damage?) Make sure the serial number of the exact instrument you want is in the sales contract. If not, write it in, indicating you are buying this piano and none other. Ask the dealer to initial your addition. Verbally stress to the dealer that you wish this piano, not one from another source, including the warehouse. Indicate that you'll be checking the serial number of the piano delivered against the serial number in the contract you sign and will refuse delivery if they do not match. "I'm sure there won't be a problem, but just in case someone else ends up doing the delivery scheduling and instrument selection....," you murmur.

I could not find a Cunningham brand on your web site and thought to drop you a note to get your opinion.

I have never heard of the brand, but, then, I am not at all conversant with player pianos. Guess you've already Googled. See if a piano tech can give you a pointer toward information. Ask the seller, too. Someone may have an address or phone number. You might also search for a player piano group on usenet. Likely to be rec.musicmakers.playerpiano or something like that. If you turn up anything, please let me know so I can add it to my piano brands file.

What do you think of the Roland digital harpsichord? I really want a harpsichord! Real ones are so expensive! How much does a Roland cost? Less, I hope!

Roland products are top-notch, so they command a high price. The instrument of which you speak is about $5000 (2009). For that price, you probably could find a used harpsichord. For some situations, though, this instrument could be the best purchase for you. Near the bottom of my file on piano brands, there is a review of this instrument and other information about buying a harpsichord, including places to look.

Some notes on my harpsichord don't work. What's wrong?

If you can depress the key, it's likely a string problem. When a string doesn't sound, the problem is a need for "regulation."

The little things sticking out that pluck the strings (called "plectra") are misadjusted. They are not sticking out far enough to activate strings and so need regulating.

Take out one of the things that go up and down when you strike the key (they are called "jacks"). The plectra pass thru the top of the jacks. Do you see them?

The strings that are not sounding are doing so because the plectra are not sticking out far enough to pluck the string as the jack rises when you press the key. Some of the notes sound because their plectra ARE sticking out far enough.

Remove the jack and push the plectrum out the littlest bit. The tip of a small blade-type screw driver, tip of tweezers, etc. are good choices of a "tool." I don't know what kind of jacks you have, so I don't know whether the plectra are regulated by screwing a little screw on the top of the jack ("set screw") up and down.

Or, whether you just push gently on the back of the plectrum (the back is straight across; the plucking end of the plectrum is pointed), rather than move them by adjusting the set screw.

If your instrument is a Hubbard, the plectra are regulated by set screws.

With Zuckermanns, often you nudge the plectrum directly. Just the tiniest bit you can move it. Otherwise, you'll have to push the other way, and the pointed end of the plectrum is more delicate than the back, and you might break it. If you do that, you have to shape and file a plectrum, something you don't want to do! Be gentle, be gentle.

After adjusting the plectrum, set the jack back in and play the note. Plays? Great. No? Remove and the repeat. Tiny increments, always, even though it's very tedious and you want to give the plectrum a decided shove so move it into place.

Adjust the plectrum of every string that isn't sounding.

What does MIDI stand for?

Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It's a method of sharing musical information generated by one electronic instrument with another. The keyboard is the most common MIDI instrument.

An aside: I have mentioned music notation software I use (Finale). One way I can "write" is by connecting my keyboard to my computer via MIDI cables. What I play on the keyboard becomes printed notation on my computer screen. There are, of course, a huge number of idiosyncrasies in actually implementing this approach to the Holy Grail of Music Notation. After a while, I got tired of having to go back and spend three times as long tweaking as I would have spent entering notes by hand on the computer, which is finally what I wised up to do!

I don't know whether you could use Finale to transform your favorite ring tone to printed music, but maybe?

What does "edited by" actually mean when applied to printed piano music? For instance, does it mean that the editor has actually changed some of the music? Or, could it be something as minor as adding the fingering or articulation notation? I know that a lot of music is modified to make it easier to play for early students (e.g., Allan Small), but it looks like the term used for this is "arranged by". And looking at my Urtext editions they have both a "edited by" and a "fingering by", so the two are differentiated in Henle. My Bach Preludes are "edited by Dr. Hans Bischoff" (Kalmus) and I know that he added articulation and fingering notation, as well as made some decisions as to what Bach really wrote based on several sources. If you have already covered this in your Q&A on your website, I'll be happy to go there for the answer. This came up because I was looking at some sheet music online and some said "edited by" and others said nothing about it.

I look at "edited by" and "fingered by" as the same thing, where "fingered by" seems to be more specific. I think it depends on what the editor decides to use.

Sometimes some dynamics, especially when implied by earlier iterations of the same material, are added. You find this sometimes in Henle's Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. A good editor puts this kind of thing in [square brackets] , which is the case with Henle. Sometimes the suggested repetition of dynamics is printed in smaller type (you find this in Henle, too).

Fingering is assumed to be editorial (even in Henle), and sometimes this is not noted as an editorial addition (even in Henle). Very few composers put in fingering (notably Clementi because his sonatinas are teaching pieces - and several sets of his fingerings can be found in the different editions of the pieces; and a bit by Kabalevsky, again in his teaching pieces). Therefore, you can assume that fingering is always editorial.

A good editor makes footnote citations, etc. (as does Bischoff). You have noticed that Bischoff cites the different sources and notes the differences; usually he states why he chose what he did. I find his scholarship (except for the addition of dynamics, tempo changes, etc.) to be excellent. You can always trust something edited by Maurice Hinson, too. Materials edited by Keith Snell (Kjos) also tend to be good, but not his Baroque works, as he falls prey to the we've-got-a-piano-so-let's-use-dynamics-etc. His Clementi, Burgmüller, and such as good; I don't know about his Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, however. Music edited by Willard Palmer (Alfred) I find to be uneven in quality, so I avoid using his materials. Also, his stuff has that disconcerting "gray" interpretive material printed above the staves. This is so difficult to read! ("What shall I ignore? What should I pay attention to?")

Just a note about the Bischoff Bach preludes you mention: he has done a lot of editing (adding dynamics, putting in staccatos, etc.), but the price is so good that I have my students buy this edition and we just paint out what would not have been in Bach's score. I do the first couple of preludes, and then the student takes over.

As long as we are talking about editorial additions of fingering, let me point out that most music is fingered by an adult male. Most piano students are adult females or children. None of these people (usually) has hands the size of the gentlemen. These guys put in what fits there hands ("It is self-evident that this fingering is best here!"), so feel free to change it to fit your hands. You may find my file that discusses what I call the Two Commandments of Fingering helpful.

What's the difference between a lute and a buff stop on the harpsichord?

Please see my answer in my Q&A for teachers.

I'm ready to pull out my hair! I can't get my child to practice! What's wrong, and what can I do? I'm at the end of my rope! Help!!

Three-word answer: Stay the course. See a discussion of this at the end of my file about how to help your kids practice.

For young ones: You'll need to spend time on the bench. Expecting the child to practice on his own is the main reason children want to quit. This is discussed in the same file.

Don't give up. Your children will thank you. They just don't know it yet!

Go up to Question 9; at the end of my answer are links to related questions.

Is it ok to start harpsichord pieces on the piano?

That is just fine! Very often people study a piece first on piano just to get the notes down and then go to the harpsichord to perfect it, in so doing getting all the harpsichord nuances attached with no extra trouble. Most people don't have harpsichords in addition to pianos, so usually it's a moot question.

For my part, I prefer to start on the harpsichord, but that's just what works best for me! And because I have the luxury of having an instrument.

My daughter has written a song, complete with the lyrics and tune. We went to a studio to record the song, and they hired a pianist, a drummer, and a guitar player for us. I paid each of them separately for their services. The piano guy was the first one to work with us, and my daughter gave him some chords that she thought went with the song and then sang the song for him to get the melody. He said the chords were very basic, and he would make it much more complex. They worked on it and made a draft. He then spoke to me and said that he was going to have us sign a work for hire contract, since he did all the chords and made the music for the song. He said if the song ever earned money he would get 30% of the profits. Is this normal, since she had all the tune worked out and he did not write it but just did the extra chords? Any information you could give me on this would be very much appreciated.

Congrats to your daughter! How nifty!

No, it's not normal.

This is a copyright question, not a contract question.

Your daughter wrote the song, and it is entirely hers. Lock, stock, barrel, and all the chords! (The chords are implied by the melody.) It's entirely hers unless she gives the rights (or sells them) to someone else. Plainly, she has not done that.

While it sounds as though the piano guy may be a sleazeball out to earn a shady buck through intimidation by tricking you with a contract to grant him a percentage of anything the piece earns because he "dressed up" the chord progression without your asking him to, he might be misinformed as to what work-for-hire is.

In the case of music, work-for-hire is a composition that is written at the specific request of another person, in exchange for a flat fee. A contract specifying that the composition is a work-for-hire must be signed by both parties. There is no way one person can trick another into a work-for-hire arrangement.

The composition may be an original work, or it may be an arrangement.

When a composer does something as work-for-hire, she will never earn royalties from it because she never had any rights in the piece in the first place because it was done as a work-for-hire (for which she was paid a specific fee).

The piece is and always has been the property of the person who requested the work. That person will earn royalties.

Now suppose the work-for-hire composition is wildly popular. It's part of a CD collection. It's used as the soundtrack for a cartoon. It's arranged for piano duet. No matter how much money the composition earns, the composer receives no more than the payment she already has received.

Work-for-hire is not a good deal for a musician.

Why he is demanding a work-for-hire contract makes no sense.

A work-for-hire arrangement would not be in his interest because your daughter is the composer and holder of the rights. If it were a work-for-hire situation, he would be signing away what he did in fleshing out the chord progression. A work-for-hire contract would mean he was selling his work to your daughter!

Now, then, did you ask him to flesh out the progression? (It sounds as though you did not.)

Did the guy ask if you wanted him to make the progressions more complex? (It sounds as though you did not.)

Did he say he wanted to make some changes? (Maybe he couched it this way.)

Or, as I suspect, did he just announce the song "needed" changes and went ahead while you just sat there and kind of nodded your head, murmuring, "Ok...." ?

If he is pressing you to sign a contract giving him a cut of any future earnings, he is either a scoundrel or waving around terms he knows so little about that he doesn't even know that what he is proposing is not to his advantage!

He may have heard the term work-for-hire, and without looking up the term, decided that it covered the situation you are describing. He then decided to see if he could get some money from you.

You paid this guy to play the piano. From what you have written, you did not hire him to make changes, give critiques, or even voice his ideas. He was to play the piano for the recording session. Period.

If he wanted to make the chord progression more complex and you agreed, that's fine. He did that out of the goodness of his heart, for which you were paying him the hourly fee (no matter what he did during that hour for you, including making a salad or yodeling).

It sounds as though you were hiring him for a flat fee, based on the studio's guess that your project could be accomplished in one hour's time, not that you were hiring him on an hourly basis and would pay for as much time as was needed to complete the project: "We'll set up an hour for you for $20. Joe will work with you for 15 minutes, and then Jill and Pete will join you for the other 45 minutes to make the recording. You pay each of them $5 for their services and $5 more to the studio for use of our equipment."

As to the 30%, he pulled this number out of his hat. He gets nothing unless he has a contract signed by you specifying the percentage.

On the other hand, it may be a lack in his professionalism.

He might be trying to fleece you out of a portion of royalties. He's either an amateur who is using terms he doesn't understand or is using "legalese" he hopes will scare you into complying with his demands for a cut of future earnings.

No respectable musician would behave in this fashion. Especially not a pro who does studio work…..and presumably hopes to get more gigs of this type!

The fact that the studio engaged him for you is not a good sign. Complaining probably won't get you very far at this point, but when the dust settles, I'd pay a visit to the studio director and tell him that one of the musicians he hired for you tried to hustle you and your daughter, not only for more money for his services, but that he went so far as to demand a percentage of any earnings.

Meanwhile, refuse to sign anything for this man. (If you have signed, contact your state's consumer affairs office and ask if there is a short time during which you can void a contract because it was made, for example, under duress.)

If the work has been done, pay this man by check (so you can prove you paid) in the amount you originally agreed to pay and get a signed receipt for it. Pay him nothing in addition for any alterations he may have made. Do not be coerced or guilted into giving him more money.

Look him straight in the eye and say, "Thanks for your work on this project. [You hand him the check if you haven't done so.] I believe we're done now." Wait, lady! You owe me! "I just paid you." No way! What about the extra work I did on your daughter's song? "I didn't ask you to make any changes. I hired you to play for the session. The session is now complete. I have paid you the agreed-upon fee. Goodbye." Turn and walk away. If he harangues you, keeping walking and repeat, "I hired you to play for the session. The session is now complete. I paid you. Goodbye." Do not turn around. Do not engage him in further conversation by responding to anything he says. You need not justify yourself to him. (Yes. This will be difficult. Very difficult. Keep walking.)

If you have not made the recording yet, stop! Look around for a fresh setup. Contact local booking agents and ask for referrals, for both studios and studio musicians, if you can't find any specific studio listings. If you can't find them in the phone book or on the Internet, contact a bar where live music is performed and ask how to reach one or two of the bands that play there.

A third option……..maybe he's a naïve guy. He was just saying that he wanted more money because he ended up doing more on the piece than just play the piano and didn't know the proper way to ask you for it. He had heard the term work-for-hire, and it sounded like what was going on because you had hired him to work for you.

If this is the case, and I strongly suspect it is, it's just a case of his not knowing how to phrase what he wanted. He went about it all wrong.

He should have said, "I see that she has not written down the song. I will need to do that before we start recording. I'm pretty sure this will take more time than the hour [or whatever amount of time] you arranged with the studio for the entire session today. I think I can make the chords more interesting, too. If you like, I will do this extra preparation work for you at my regular fee of $x per hour, to be paid in addition to the fee paid the studio for my work on the recording session."

You then have the option of agreeing to it or saying no.

I hope he will see this answer. I think it would be helpful to him to learn how to do this properly, rather than alienating his clientele. Perhaps you could call the studio and ask the owner to follow up on this? Perhaps the owner could direct him to this file on my site? It would also benefit the owner to read this saga, as this man's behavior reflects negatively on the owner's business.

My first-grade son told the most outrageous lie about something not related to piano study to his piano teacher. I am horrified and embarrassed. I scolded him for telling the lie, right there in the lesson, yet he refused to say he was lying when he was clearly wrong and knew it. My son will be disciplined at home, of course, but what else shall I tell the teacher, if anything?

Since it was so outrageous, as you say, the teacher will know to discount it.

I know it is shocking to hear your child tell an outright lie, but it is so typical at this age. Try not to worry about it. Your son isn't "flawed." All kids do it, but he needs to learn to filter what he says and eliminate what is not true. Some of this he will learn as he matures. Some of it, as you noted, will be learned at home through discipline for infractions elsewhere.

As to why he didn't admit he just told a lie, it's easier to stand by a lie, no matter how unbelievable it is, than it is to tell the truth and get in trouble for telling the lie and the untruth behind it. By the time the child is called on it, he's in too deeply to tell the truth. So, he persists in his lie. What usually happens is the child tries to figure out how to extricate himself from the mess without jeopardizing himself even more. He finally decides sticking to the lie is his best hope!

As to the teacher, a concise apology is all that is required at this point: "I apologize for Kevin's lie at his lesson on Tuesday. What he said was not only personal about our family, but he knew it is untrue."

I took organ lessons from ages 7 to 18 and continued playing the organ until just a few years ago. Got rid of my organ and bought a piano (electric, but a good one: Yamaha s-80, 88 weighted keys). Now, at age 56, I really want to learn to play decent blues and jazz. Do you have some suggestions for books for me? Or any other suggestions?

Look at Leo Alfasy's Blues Hanon. He starts from the most basic pattern (4 quarter-notes) and progresses from there. You will also be able to see how to use the 12-bar blues form. Try using the melody in one of his exercises and put a LH pattern from another exercise and improvise away!

Alfasy also wrote Boogie Woogie Hanon and Jazz Hanon. Boogie woogie is basically blues, so I have never taught from this book. The jazz book is quite difficult. As you've listened to jazz, you see that it is a great deal of improvisation. So it's hard to teach.

My students seem to be happy with the blues book and learning improvisation from it. After all, jazz is an outgrowth of the blues.

It would be great to play like Diana Krall, but since no one else is Diana, Blues Hanon serves everyone well! I recommend it.

What do you think of the grand pianos that are advertised for less than $10,000? Can a good grand piano be had for that amount?

Here is from my file about piano brands. Read more there.

Excerpt: Beware of "loss-leaders." Most companies make small grands to sell for under $10,000. Music stores advertise them as "You can buy a grand today for less than $10,000 at our piano sale!" ($8999 is a common price for these.) The low price means the piano is the most stripped-down model in the company's line of grands. Because these instruments are meant to get the buyer into the store, that's how they're sold: draw the buyer in to view the store's inventory, explain that "for not that much more money" one can trade up to the next level and get better quality in materials/sound/etc., and induce the buyer to purchase a more expensive instrument. This can be a very good idea for the buyer, actually, as the instrument's value (not just price) is noticeably better. Don't buy the piano with the rock-bottom price. Think very carefully if you are purchasing one of these "loss-leader" instruments. You might well be better off buying up. (Be sure to bargain down the asking price of the next-level instrument. See how close you can get it to the loss-leader price!!)

I'll do some research to find out what "selling off a university's practice pianos" mean. These "events" may be designed to move close-out stock brought in from other locations. I'd be careful if you are considering a piano bought in this way. "You gits what you pay fer," as my granddad would say!

My son is 11 years old. He started lessons at age 5. His teacher is starting to put him into more competitions; he is at an intermediate level. She is urging us to get our next piano. I was fine with purchasing a used Kawaii K-3, but a baby grand is more to her liking. Should we get the upright or the grand?

I confess I'm scratching my head over this one. Is your current piano impeding your son's progress (the action and pedal function)? Is this why the teacher wants you to buy another piano?

I am wondering why the teacher is pressuring you to buy the grand? Ask the teacher why she specifically recommends a grand - touch? sound? And if she wants a grand, why is she recommending a baby grand and not a larger grand?

Maybe she thinks that in the long run you'll want your child to have a grand (for any one or more of several reasons). You should ask her to clarify how his present piano is detrimental to his study and why she is recommending a grand over an upright.

What is a "pitch raise"?

This is an extra, preliminary step tuners take on some pianos before bringing them up to correct tune.

When piano strings start to stretch (get longer), the pitch goes down. When the strings shorten, the pitch rises.

Think of a rubber band. When it's pulled moderately tight, the twang sounds one way, but if it's pulled a great deal more tightly, the twang has a higher pitch.

If the piano has not been tuned in quite a while, the pitch has sagged quite a bit. To draw the strings to full tension might pop them. Therefore, the tuner will tighten the strings part-way and come back in a couple of months to bring the piano fully to correct pitch.

Sometimes a pitch raise is a little more expensive than a regular tuning because it takes more time than a tuning. Inquire.

I am going to tile the room where I have my piano. I know the piano will sound different. Probably too loud; and the tone quality probably will change. I like the way my piano sounds now. What should I do to avoid a change once the room is tiled? (I have a grand.)

If your room is very large, there might be reverberation problems, as you suspect. If so:

Hard surfaces (hardwood floors, tile, slick un-upholstered furniture), as well as brick walls, and many floor-ceiling windows (I'm imagining you in a NYC penthouse!), will make the room more live.

My guess, though, is that you will be pleased if you do no alterations at all. If not, try one of the above, although I confess using the short stick/lid closed would be my last choice!

Try it and "live with it" for a couple weeks. It will sound different, yes, but it might not sound "bad." If you decide you don't like what's going on in the room, start with the rug. If you have one already somewhere else in the house, try it in your newly-tiled room. If not, do you have some small rugs you can move in temporarily to simulate a large area rug? Even a triple layer of beach or bath towels would do in a pinch.

If you decide to go with the rug, I wouldn't put it under the piano. This is because the lid acts as an amplifier, projecting sound out into the room. It would be better to have the rug out in the room, where it can absorb the sound. If too much sound is sucked away, try it under the instrument. Another option is to reduce the size of the rug.

Note: Don't roll your piano when you need to move it for tiling; the wheels on pianos make us all think they're put there to roll. Not so. (Then why are they there? I don't know.) Get some pals and lift the instrument and "walk it" to where you need it (for whatever reason). Get a grip along the bottom side of the case. That iron harp is a heavy dude! Depending, of course, your large piano could weigh 1000-1500 pounds! If you have to take your piano a distance (such as into another room), you might want to get a piano board; it's a long, rectangular dolly. You put the spine of the piano on the board and roll it. The trick is getting the instrument on its side on the piano board w/o snapping off the legs. (You'll have the lid strapped closed, of course, the music desk removed, etc.) If you do go this route, investigate how much it would cost to have pros come do this for you. You probably would keep your piano on the piano board during your renovations because it's a chore getting it on the board; therefore, your instrument would be unavailable. (Ask the tile people how long you must wait before you move the piano back. There may be a "drying period" for the adhesive. Also...did you consult about whether the weight of the piano will be too much for the type of tile you chose? You surely wouldn't want the tile to crack!)

You are correct to anticipate acoustical problems but live with the situation first. (You might find your speaking and singing in your newly-hardened "concert hall" different at first, too!)

[This is a long question. Bear with us! Or skip ahead!] I have a 5 year-old-daughter named Ada. At age almost 5, she was tested for school placement for giftedness; we found out she was gifted. It was no surprise because she started reading English when she was not even two years old and when she was 3, she was reading in two languages, Turkish (her mother language) and English. According to her test, she is especially good at math, logic, and signs. She always enjoyed music and playing with musical instruments, so she started taking piano classes 8 months ago when she was 4 years old. Her teachers were so happy with her and her improvement. They quickly covered two books and started the third one. The place where she was taking her piano classes was a little bit far from our house, and, more importantly, I realized that the teachers were going a bit fast, and, although they were happy with Ada's performance, I thought that she was not learning properly because they were moving to new songs too fast. I am teaching at a university right now, and I have been teaching since I was 15 years old. I earned my living by teaching since high school, and I taught every level and every age. So, I have a humble opinion on how the teaching must be and how a student learns. As a result I decided to find a teacher who was a little bit more careful of how quickly they moved Ada through material. I found another place, and the credentials of the teachers were great. She had a evaluation and then started classes there. In her second lesson, I learned that she started crying because the teacher told her that she couldn't play as she was supposed to play, saying her previous teachers missed to teach the fundamentals. For example, she would stop for a couple of seconds between measures and she would play three beats instead of two for some notes because she doesn't count when playing. The most important issue was her hand positions. She would have flat fingers instead of curved. The teacher also said that I should be present in the room for future classes, and so I did.

Next lesson was a nightmare. The teacher criticized Ada, so Ada refused to play the song for the second time. The teacher tried to explain the importance of practice, yet it was so difficult to make her practice during that week. She never cried before during a piano class, and it was never that difficult to make her practice (20 minutes for 3-4 times a week; she would do pretty well during the lesson at the previous school). I wanted her to practice every day with this new teacher so she would be able to play as her teacher wanted and would not be upset with her. I had a really hard time with her during the week.

I decided to talk to her teacher before the next lesson about practice problems. I said that she was a gifted student and teaching to a gifted kid might be problematic sometimes. I also said Ada could be really stubborn sometimes and there must be another way to deal with her during those critic times. I say: "I am not criticizing your techniques or anything, and, in fact, I am really happy that we found someone as passionate as you because I was aware that she was not learning properly at the other school." Then the lesson began, and the same thing happened. He told her to repeat something and this time he would clap. Ada said, "My mother (that is me) counts the notes and that works. We tried clapping, but I cannot do it with clapping." Her teacher says: " I know what is the best. I know how to do it, and I will help you by clapping." As you may guess, Ada refused to play!

Right after that, the teacher said that they could not work together any more. It would be more beneficial for Ada if she continues with someone else. And he said it so Ada could hear! When I told him that being gifted did not always make things easier for a child. And Ada doesn't like to be criticized. He said there was no other way to do it, and she had to learn to be criticized. His attitude made me upset. We decided to continue with his wife, who is also a piano teacher, but, now, Ada doesn't want to play piano anymore!

When I read your writings about gifted kids, I talked to Ada about what failure actually means. I made up a story about a kid who tries and one who doesn't. I tried to explain how important "trying" is. I also asked whether there was anything that she gave up before she had tried enough. I finally made piano our primary topic, and I told her if she did not try enough she might end up like the kid in the story: who never succeeded because she never tried. Ada said that she did not like her male teacher because she likes female teachers. She promised that she would try and would practice with her new teacher. I am not sure, though!

Although teaching technique is extremely important, building music love and being able to give children the love of music, the passion for piano should be as much important as the technique. I am very sad to see how Ada is losing her interest in piano. I don't know what to do. I feel extremely guilty because I was the one who caused all these problems by changing her school. When I was searching about this issue on the internet, I saw your writings and I couldn't say how happy I was. I am desperately looking for your guidance and suggestions about the issues with Ada and her teachers. I will be glad if you can help me with the situation.

You have met a stubborn teacher. Combine him with Ada's natural stubbornness, and there is a big problem! I think the main problem (other than the fact the teacher is a man) is that he is not presenting what he wants to teach her in a way that is geared to her age. As you know, one can't teach a 5-year-old with the same methods and vocabulary that one would use with a 15-year-old! For example, if he is concerned about her keeping a steady beat, he should do several things.

It seems obvious that, besides the battle of wills, he might not have taught a gifted student before.

Ada is the stereotypical gifted child to whom everything comes easily. At the first challenge, she is astounded! She has never run into piano adversity before! She's afraid she will never be able to do whatever it is. She fears she is a failure. Not only can't she do this thing, but she now fears she can't do anything at the piano!

You might try the "running story." Pick a time she is calm and happy, perhaps a Saturday. Do not pick a time before or after piano practice; or when it's time for bed or some other time there might be distress or crankiness. You do and say something like the following.

As to hand position, I think she doesn't need to worry about it at her age and stage in piano study. See this file on how to teach hand position. Again, the teacher is using intermediate-level topics.

Now, as to counting, Ada has to toe the line. This is non-negotiable. She cannot use "Ada Counting." She has to use "Doggie in the Window" counting (or whatever the name of the song is). With her own songs, she will be using Ada counting. With someone else's songs, she has to use that kind of counting. Look on the pedagogy page, under the "Teaching Rhythm" section. These files are written for teachers, but I think you will find some help here.

Let us now address the most difficult problem: criticism. As is obvious, this is tied very closely to the hurdle problem and to the how-to-handle-a-5-year-old difficulty.

A teacher must tread carefully; a teacher cannot say, "Too bad. This is the way it is," as the man did.

One way to offer corrections is to make it a funny situation. Suppose, like every other piano student on earth, she is not giving a half-note two counts. The teacher makes a razzberry and says, "Yuck! Where did you get that counting? In the garbage can? Half-notes get two counts. Always. Every day. [The teacher writes "1-2" in big numbers with a colored pencil between the treble and bass staves. Maybe some others need to be marked. Maybe the student should mark them all!] How many counts does a half-note get on Wednesday? How many counts does a half-note get on Christmas? How many counts does a half-note get on your birthday?" and so on.

Probably the man is not experienced in teaching young children. He would never think to make it funny. Maybe he's uncomfortable being funny; maybe he thinks that takes away from his stance as the authority figure.

I'll bet there are no games, either. Kids adore games! I have had 6th-grade students who will occasionally ask to play a favored game.

For recital preparation, we play The Don't Stop Game. For details, see this recital prep file I wrote for teachers. Look after the subheading about prepping students for recitals. This game never seems to grow old! All students play this game in the weeks before recitals!

Bottom line: you may need to find another teacher. If I were you, I'd start looking now. Your daughter's music education is too precious to be left in the hands of people who don't know how to (or don't care to learn how to) teach young children.

I have a choice between a piano that matches my décor to a T (Craftsman - there aren't too many pianos with this style case, I can tell you!) and two others that perhaps are better instruments. Can I put one of the better instruments inside my preferred case?

Hmmm. Switching out the guts from one piano to another. I've never heard of this, but it might be worth exploring. Be prepared, however, for riotous laughter and "No way. The dimensions aren't even compatible."

I think what I would do is have a tech evaluate each one and give you her recommendation, based on the best instrument (not the case).

Or, decide by which is the most important factor to you (not to anyone else who comes into your home or plays your piano): the case or the sound/touch.

A decision-making tool I use is what I've named the Kick-Me Test: "Will I kick myself in a year for choosing [this option]? Will I kick myself in a year for not choosing [this option?]" Works every time!

I'm retired and have been taking music lessons. Mostly piano, but some cello, for 10 years. Coming along ok, but I have not been able to learn the names of the notes on the page (that is, say the letter name if I am looking only at the page, not the keyboard)! Usually, this is not a problem. I know what key to hit on the piano. My teachers have never taken me very seriously about this problem when I tell them. Any suggestions?

I'd say that if you can associate the dot on the staff with the proper piano key that's all you really need to know. After this long, however, you should have "picked up" the letter names of the notes, just by osmosis. I think you need to address this matter.

If you are intent on learning the letter names on the staff, however, put some printed music somewhere you sit fairly often. Close your eyes and 'circle' above the page with a finger, dropping it on the paper; name that letter name. I call this "armchair note reading."

Ask your teacher for help, and if you are pooh-poohed again, tell the teacher this is really troubling you and you want to work on it. Be firm. You are paying your teacher! You have some questions, you know what they are, and your teacher should address them.

I am going through a pretty bitter and protracted divorce, and the two children (8 and 12) spend some time with me and some with my ex. My ex is very, very controlling and authoritarian. For example, he announced they would be vegans. I have no problem with veganism, but he didn't consult me at all about the health ramifications of veganism (and I think he didn't talk it over with them, either, about whether they wanted to give up meat, dairy, etc.; he announced that it would be so). The children are very uncooperative about eating when at my home. Although it galls me because I was not in the discussion at all (but I probably would have said ok to veganism as long as they get equivalent protein), I cook vegan when they're here. Nevertheless, they are very uncooperative, with nothing positive to say about the food and refusing to eat at all sometimes. He has made many other unilateral decisions about the children that have substantial repercussions. As I say, bitter. Their father took the piano when he moved out. He then registered the kids for piano lessons, again without discussing it with me. I am in favor of the lessons, of course (especially since he pays for them). Ok. So he took the piano. I don't actually own a piano, so I bought a keyboard. It is a nicer one but not super top-of-the-line (this was all I could afford, considering I haven't found a job yet and I have ever-mounting attorneys' fees); the keyboard has a little under 88 keys. He accuses me of being a "bad parent" because I don't "make" the children practice when they are with me. This makes me very mad that, without consulting me, he decided on something that regulates/impacts my parenting time with them. My philosophy is that the keyboard is there unrestricted (unless it is bedtime), and they can play whenever they want. I don't believe in forcing them to practice. I have told the therapists, the court, and the kids that piano playing is an amazing extra that they have the opportunity to do and learn, but it has to come from the heart. Anyway, I remind them daily to practice. If they have not played at all a couple of days into their visit with me, I remind them more firmly. If it is near the end of the visit and they still have not played, I tell them flatly that "your dad will be upset and you will have to deal with him. Your other choice is to play today before you leave." I realize that the question of "making" the children practice is not the most important issue about the kids, but it's there nonetheless. I "pick my battles," and this is one I choose not to "pick" and will somehow force the kids to practice. The question here is how do I "make" the kids practice when they're at my home? Sorry to be so long-winded.

Yes, piano playing does have to come from the heart, but kids that age need a push; they can't be expected to go to the piano on their own. Well, maybe your 12-year-old has a glimmering that this is something he should take responsibility for! Your younger child can't be expected to remember to play, however. We look at things from the perspective of our brains; kids' - - and even up until they're 20 - - brains are still plastic. They can be impulsive. Their choices often are not good!

I suggest you talk over the problem with their teacher. He/she knows them well in a piano setting and probably suggest some things you can do with them.

In the meantime, here are some ideas.

Something that often works for my pre- and teen students is to set a time; and that's piano time, period. I emphasize that homework always comes first. Then piano.

I feel "practice minutes" is not very good, as it encourages clock-watching, as well as inattention and perfunctory playing. I don't know how the kids' teacher does it. (My method is to work with the student on "how many times each day?" They help me choose, based on how difficult the piece - or part of the piece - is. When they've done it x times, they've fulfilled that part of the assignment. This also makes it convenient to break the piano time in half/thirds/whatever.)

Speaking to my previous point, and, again, I don't know how their teacher does it, but I believe in isolating the tricky parts of any song and giving more attention to that/those than the rest.

I ask all my families to call it "playing piano" rather than "practice" - this makes it feel less onerous. I see from your letter that you see the difference between the two, also.

Last, your younger child (or even both, since they've recently undergone an upheaval) will want you in the room while they play. Read a book (do something without clicks and beeps!) and let them know you're there in case they need help. Don't make comments or offer opinions while they are playing. Be non-judgmental. Compliment them at the end for something specific. ("I like the way you concentrated so well on ______" or "____ sounds much better!" or "I love to hear you play _____")

I like your idea of telling them they'll have to deal with their dad, rather than shaming them. Having to deal with Dad is a statement of fact they cannot dispute. And they probably have a very good idea what's going to happen because (I gather) this is not the first time they aren't playing while they're with you.

In any event, talk to the teacher right away!! She/he will have strategies for you. Perhaps the teacher doesn't know there's a problem, so immediate consultation is needed!

The fact that your ex is controlling isn't helping the situation. This dicey dynamic between the two of you isn't helping. I think your idea of "picking battles" is a good one.

Anyway, the teacher may find it helpful to talk/e-mail him to clarify his expectations and, if necessary, gently guide him toward more realistic ones.

Continuing the current way will have no positive outcome! Don't wait! (And maybe have the kids do their own vegan cooking.)

PS. Incidently, being dismissive about the vegan meals you prepare is just a case of their exercising what little power they have: the power to criticize and to refuse to eat. Everything in their world is akilter now, and they feel powerless to do anything about the chaos. Things like these are pretty much all they have control over....and, of course, exercising their power not to cooperate with your reminders to get to the keyboard is the same thing. Hang in there. You are carrying a very heavy burden.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Submit a question for this page.

Read questions and answers about pedagogy, business practices in the private music studio, music theory,
or interpretation or performance practice.

copyright 1996-2014, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.

Contact me for reprint permission.

Piano Home Page | Pedagogy | Business | Copyright and Music
Consumer Topics | Music Links | Biography | Home Page
Last updated April 8, 2014.