Friday, January 30, 2009

How to Keep up Piano Practicing While On the Road

An interesting question was recently posted to a piano forum to which I am subscribed. The question was "How do I keep up with my piano practicing while on the road?" I have a little bit of experience with this only because I lived in Japan for two years and didn't bring a piano with me :) So here is some general advice that I would give to piano enthusiasts who can't find a piano!
  • Find the local music stores
    Music and instrument stores are great places to locate pianos. I would not advise that you just walk in and start practicing though! Talk to the manager(s) of the store and explain to them your situation. Most music stores have a recital room and/or a practice room. I have been to several music stores that have been happy to let me borrow their piano for a couple of hours once a week or so. Some might ask for a small fee, but many of them will be happy to let you use it - assuming it isn't being used for a recital or for a paid lesson.
  • Find the local churches
    Many churches have a piano and some even have several. Churches are unique in that they have a lot of "down" time where their pianos are not being used. Speak to one of the representatives for the church and ask them if you could use their piano to practice on once in a while. If they agree, be sure to let them know in advance when you would like to use it so that it doesn't disrupt any meetings that they may have planned. I happen to be a Mormon (no - we are not polygamists - that group is a "break off" from the mainstream church :) ) and I know for a fact that many Mormon church buildings in the US house more than one piano. So if you aren't having luck with your nearest church building, try looking up the nearest Mormon (LDS) building and see if you can get in touch with somebody there.
  • Ask locals
    If you are travelling for work or are living in the area and just don't have access to a piano try asking your colleagues or neighbors. They may know of a location with a piano. While I was in Japan I volunteered to teach an English class once a week. I asked some of the class members if they knew of anywhere that I could practice the piano and one of the ladies in the class said that her daughter was a pianist and that she'd moved out and left her piano behind. She offered to let me practice for a few hours once a week. I became great friends with her and her family through the process.
  • Try the Schools
    I would suggest this more as a last resort, but you can also try the local universities and colleges. If they have a music program then they will also likely have practice rooms equipped with pianos. If you go during off-peak times you can frequently find a piano to practice on for a while.
  • Keep Your Eyes Open
    Lastly, just keep your eyes (and ears!) open for pianos around town. I once saw a piano in the lobby of a hair salon and I asked if I could play for a while. They ended up loving the live music and asked me to come back again. You never know where you might find a piano!

Improv on Bach Aria Dedicated to Haley and Her Family

Life is full of unexpected surprises and twists. Some of them are splendid, while others are dreadful. Some of us have experienced the unexpected injury or loss of a loved one. This morning I happened to be checking some of the statistics for my lisztonian music site when I came across a referring link that caught my attention. I typically do not take the time to visit referring sites, but I could not help be be drawn to the title, which was "". I visited the site and was deeply touched by the horrible circumstances that this unfortunate family has found themselves in. Their beloved sister, daughter, and mother was hit by a drunk driver and is currently in critical condition. It is not easy to watch a loved one suffer and to wonder each day if you will have another to spend together.

Haley, my heart reaches out to you and your daughter. Your life is in the hands of skilled doctors and ultimately in the arms of a loving God. We all will be hoping and praying for your quick recovery.

To her family, I know that no words can comfort and no gesture can heal your hearts, that are so deeply aching right now. Remain hopeful, watchful, and full of love - and miracles can happen. Life is fret with challenges and obstacles - all of which are for our learning and our good. Unite as a family and surround each other with hope and love and no matter what happens, your lives will be blessed.

I am dedicating a recording to Haley and her family that I was not planning on releasing for a couple of weeks. This recording is my own improvisation on a theme by J.S. Bach. It is the Aria to his Goldberg Variations. Bach experienced a great many sorrows throughout his life, and yet he always demonstrated a beautiful hope in the glory of God and a dedication to his faith. His Aria is a beautiful show of that hope and faith.

To Haley and her family, I hope that this music will offer some measure of hope and relief, if only but for a moment.

right-click here and select "save as" to download the MP3.
right-click here and select "save as" to download the WMA.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Glinka's "The Separation" Dedicated to Snowmen Everywhere and the Little Girls Who Love Them

Mikhail Glinka
Mikhail Glinka was one of the earliest Russian composers and is often considered the "father" of Russian music. He studied under John Field who developed the "Nocturne" form of music. This Nocturne in F Minor was composed in 1839 for Glinka's sister while she was away in St. Petersburg - thus the title "The Separation." He has produced several beautiful and memorable melodies of which this Nocturne is one.

This recording came about due to a special and unique circumstance. The dedicatory title may seem a bit strange, but this recording is in fact dedicated to snowmen. More appropriately it is dedicated to my daughter's first snowman, Frosty, who she built all by herself about a week or two ago. She was so proud of her snowman; she took great care to make it just right. The weather became unusually warm over the last week and even yielded occasional rain. Unfortunately the snowman did not fair well in the weather and my daughter bore the sad realization that her snowman was melting. She looked out the window yesterday and saw that the snowman was just a small pile of snow. I watched as she dressed in her winter clothes and went outside to bid farewell to her dear friend. My wife and I watched from the window as she sobbed in front of a small pile of snow. As tears streamed down her cheeks she lovingly caressed the snowman one last time; and with a gentle hug she suffered the reality that her friend was lost.

My wife had to gently coax her to come back inside. After she came in I played her this Nocturne as a memorial to her departed friend. So with all of the tender emotions and delicate expressions of a father I recorded this Nocturne for my little girl.

You may listen to this recording by using the embedded media player below. You may also subscribe to my free iTunes podcast or visit my Lisztonian site to download any of my recordings. I hope you enjoy my interpretation of Glinka's "Separation" Nocturne.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Add Classical Music to your Blog or Webpage!

Have you always dreamed of having the soothing sounds of classical music play on your blog or webpage? Probably not, but now you can do it anyway! I spent some time over the weekend creating a "widget" (or "gadget") so that people could add music to their iGoogle homepage... as it turns out, they (Google) also have made it easy to turn this into something that you can add to virtually any webpage including a blog. Here is a preview of the free classical music player from my iGoogle Homepage:

You can also see an example on the right-hand side of this blog :) So if you'd like to help promote good classical music then click here to see how to add the free classical music player to your site!

Chopin's Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2

Another famous Waltz by Frederic Chopin... This one is in C-Sharp Minor and is Opus 64, Number 2. Typical of Chopin, he has some tricky fingering with the left hand in several places that I didn't spend enough time mastering - hopefully it won't be too noticeable! I almost abandoned this one, but I've told a few of my listeners that I would be putting out another Chopin recording this week and so here it is!

This Waltz is labeled as "tempo giusto" which translates in English to "strict time". When I picked up this piece I interpreted that to mean that I should limit any rubato to within the scope of a single bar.... but I have since learned that I was probably wrong :(. It was more than likely intended as a warning to avoid the Viennese-style of Waltzes, which is to rush into the second beat slightly. So this piece markedly lacks the freedom with tempo that I probably should have employed.

I hope that you enjoy my recording of Chopin's famous Waltz in C-Sharp Minor. You can use the media player below to listen to this recording online or you may download the MP3 or WMA versions to your computer or other media device by clicking here. I also encourage you to subscribe to my free iTunes Podcast so that you can easily download all of my recordings and stay up to date when new ones are released.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Blog Format

This is probably of little interest to most people, but I've finally upgraded my blog so that it uses blogger's new layouts. This was quite a project because I was previously hosting my blog on my Dreamhost servers. However, I felt it was about time that I moved over. So I hope you enjoy the slightly different format to the blog! If you have any trouble or notice that there are broken links, please be sure to contact me so that I can get it fixed!

Oh, the URL to the blog has changed as a result of this upgrade. The new URL is Please update any links/bookmarks that you may have.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Few Tips on Piano Practicing

I received an email today from one of my site visitors, Candace, who asked for some general advice on practicing and also asked what a typical practice session is like for me. I thought this was a question worth posting on the blog, so this is in answer to that email.

The first thing I would mention is that everybody is different and so effective practicing will be different for each person as well. Play around with some different methods for practice and over time you will find what seems the most effective and enjoyable for you. Definitely make it enjoyable :) So many people have the conception that practice is boring and mundane - it should be quite the opposite! So find ways to make it fun for you.

The following is a list of some thoughts/tips/suggestions for improving your piano practice sessions. These are in no particular order and are in no way intended to be comprehensive.

Practice Tips

  • Always practice something to improve your technique. Hanon is GREAT for that! Czerny is also another great resource for technical exercise. Find ways to make this fun - maybe try new things, like all staccato or legato, or right hand staccato and left legato, etc. Mix up the dynamics (loud/soft) and maybe even play around with different rhythms. Again, Czerny is a great way to work on technique and combine some more interesting sounds/music than Hanon (although I would never abandon Hanon altogether). Also, if you are able, try playing Hanon in different keys - get your fingers familiar with the geography of all 12 keys. Oh - and always slow and with a metronome!

  • I was taught to always play something old and something new. This keeps your mind active on learning while also improving your abilities on refining. Both of these are important. Also, I've noticed that at times when I am discouraged, playing something I'm familiar with helps re-boost my confidence.

  • Don't overwhelm yourself. Unless you are preparing for life as a competitor or performer you will likely need to adjust your practicing schedule to what you have time for. Some days you may just spend a few minutes on technique and "something old" so that you have more time to work on your "something new". Balance according to your allowed time, goals, and personal enjoyment.

  • Sometimes it helps to take a break from a certain piece. Especially if you are frustrated or discouraged at your progress. Take several weeks off from that piece and start a new one - you might be surprised at how much easier it is the second time around!

  • Practice hands separately and SLOW... Oh, and use a metronome!

  • As your work becomes more refined try recording it so that you can listen to it. I've learned quite a bit about my own weaknesses through recording myself.

  • Be patient and give yourself credit for your successes. For example, if you've successfully learned some of the Chopin Preludes, you should be pleased - these are difficult works!

  • Don't be afraid to tackle the works that you want to, even if they are difficult. Just go about it slowly, methodically, and enjoyably. Again, practice hands separately and slowly. I would rather say I tried and failed, than say I never tried at all. Also, you can always take a break from that piece and come back several weeks or months later with a new perspective. Did I mention practicing slowly and with a metronome?

  • Break each piece into sections and practice by those sections. Don't practice the entire work at once. Focus on one section and then move onto another. Make the sections as small as they need to be. I usually divide my works by musical phrases or change in style/tempo/etc. If a section is particularly difficult, then break it up even smaller. If you aren't sure how to do this, contact me and let me know which piece you need help with and I'll give you some suggestions on how I would divide it up.

  • Be sure to pay careful attention to fingering. In fact, I recommend writing in the fingering before you ever begin to practice so that you don't train your hands incorrectly. Learning something incorrectly the first time can be hard to correct. So be extra careful with this.

  • Learn about the work you are studying. Great art is deeper than even the original artist typically comprehends. Study the work inside and out - gain an appreciation for what makes it unique. Personalize it; this will give it deeper meaning to you and will make it that much more enjoyable to practice and perform.

A Practice Session

Having given a few tips, now I'll answer the other question - what a typical practice session is like for me. Those of you who have followed my blog or read a bit of my background will know that I am an engineer by education and career. Next to that, I have a family. I also am very active in my religion. So my music typically takes a back seat to all of these things. I very seldom have time to have a great practice session and usually just sit down at the piano for a few minutes and study something. Sometimes I'll pick a key and play through Hanon (ex 1-31); other times I'll sit and improvise to work on my chords; fortunately there are also those times when I can actually pull out a work I'm studying and give it some good practice. However, those extremely rare times when I can still get in a good practice session it goes something like this:

  1. Start with some technique - either my Liszt technique book or Hanon. Always alternating keys throughout the exercises.
  2. Get my brain going with some improvisation or transposition. To do this I will often pull out a church hymnal because these are excellent for basic chords with melodies and will attempt to transpose the hymn into various keys. Or for improvising I will just sit and start to play or will improvise on an established melody or chord progression. For example, I love the chord progressions in Bach's Aria to the Goldberg Variations. So I will put that in front of me and improvise on just the chords he uses.
  3. I will cycle through each of the works that I am studying - both old and new. I usually start with the "old" because it keeps my anticipation up for the "new." For "old" works (one's I have performed previously) I will start at the end and practice each section until I reach the beginning of the piece. Sometimes I'll treat myself by playing through the whole thing once I'm finished. Then I move onto the next work. For "new" works I will start at the end and go slowly through the sections I have already studied and then start just one or two new sections. I'll work on those until I feel good about them.
  4. Once I've gone through all of my pieces, my brain is usually too tired to keep going - a good practice session for me is anywhere from 3-7 hours (now you can see why I hardly ever get these anymore!). So at that point I just enjoy the wonderful feeling of my hands and forearms burning with fatigue and excitement and peel myself off of the bench. You know you've had a good practice session when it takes you a couple of seconds to get your feet to remember how to walk again ;)

I hope that this information helps and isn't too overwhelming. Feel free to contact me with any follow-up questions or feedback.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Inside Look at Lisztonian Site Statistics

I thought that some of my listeners/readers might enjoy having a little insight into some of the key statistics for my Lisztonian website. So here you go:
  • I am currently averaging over 2,000 new music downloads per day
  • The Lisztonian podcast is currently ranked #51 among the top music/audio podcasts in iTunes (down from #32 a few days ago - this ranking changes frequently but it is always in the top 75 and usually in the top 40)
  • Total cummulative downloads since January 2008 as of 6:57 am Mountain Time is 539,567 with 532,016 of those being MP3 and the remainder being WMA
  • Selections from the Lisztonian site have appeared in at least three amatuer films that I am aware of and in several online advertisements/marketing reels/etc
  • There are 57 recordings on the site representing 17 different composers
  • The iTunes podcast has recieved 12 reviews, each being 5 of a possible 5 stars