The myriad differences are resolved by sitting,  all doors opened.

In this still place I follow my nature,  be what it may.

From the one hundred flowers  I wander freely,

the soaring cliff – my hall of meditation


(with the moon emerged, my mind is motionless).

Sitting on this frosty seat, no further dream of fame.

The forest, the mountain follow their ancient ways,

and through the long spring day,

not even the shadow of a bird.

Reizan (d. 1411)


Twenty years old and a new-comer to Manhattan’s daunting sky-scraped landscape and dizzying frenetic pace, I happened upon Zen in the Art of Archery.  Broadway was arrested by Japanese Peach Blossoms.  Twelve years later, I set out to write Zen and the Art of Piano and a companion work, Zen and the Art of Music.

I think of Piano as a modern Zen Art-form, and from long before I’d ever even heard the word Zen, my approach to Piano was imbued with its principles.  The present volume is not a philosophical Buddhist tract, but rather essentially a simple treatise on Piano technique – viewed as an art of orchestrating at the keyboard with all the possible colors of the Piano – and a guide to learning how to phrase according to a system of musical analysis based on balancing positive and negative energy.  A system seeking to understand the energy at play, it simplifies the musical page to its most essential notes and gestures, allowing the rest to fall naturally into place.  Different from traditional music theory, it is based on both the underlying large poles of energy and the surface energy – it’s musical analysis more for performers than theorists, and is relatively easy to learn.  And while the orchestration concepts presented as a whole are quite complex, broken down to their basic components of touch, they are not difficult to grasp and obtain.  The goals are lofty, the applications very much of this earth.

This performance manual does not claim to be a metaphysical guide to the universe or to parallel realities, nor is it a String-theory of musical energy in its countless dimensions (!).  However, the musician’s power lies in his ability to transcend time and space by evoking and balancing many dimensions of time, space and color at every moment.  There’s a mystical moment at the beginning of each work, movement or phrase where the performer imagines the music to come and somehow conjures into being an entire field of energy that immediately becomes reality, entering the actual world and leading the performer forward.  I call it the Point of Invocation.  Most musicians have felt this sensation but it would be difficult to define or prove.  This I leave to musical metaphysicians. 

One of the main goals in these pages is to give the reader hundreds of real tools to acquire greater sensitivity to the movement of musical energy and to gain a command over it so that he can then release command and flow with Zen-like ease.  To me, the energy of Music is part of Creation and is a natural link between the physical and non-physical worlds.  Some would call it Tao, and whether you believe in Tao as a spiritual energy force, most of its descriptions accurately describe the practical experiences of great musicians, artists, athletes and all sensitive human beings. 

It’s essential for the interpreter to imagine Music in limitless dimensions of time, space and color.   When I play a phrase, I search out ways to open up parallel dimensions and am constantly aware of balancing multiple dimensions at the same time, as if juggling.  Every phrase contains countless portals, but they are not always immediately apparent, even to the keenest eyes and ears.  Left unexplored, the interpreter and listener are trapped within two- or three-dimensional perceptions. 

It’s a bit like a riddle – until you know the answer, it's elusive, but once you figure it out, self-evident.  I hope the practical tools that I present here will have the same effect on the reader.


Because it is so very clear,

It takes longer to come to the realization.

If you know at once candlelight is fire,

the meal has long been cooked.

~ Mumon



I am not concerned at not being known;

I seek to be worthy to be known.

~ K'ung Fu-Tzu




I first penned Zen and the Art of Piano as a book, but I love trees... and publications of this nature now seem old-fashioned when it's possible to make content live and interactive, on whatever device you might have at the moment. I'm eager to lighten your step and inspire you to new heights, not weigh you down with yet another tome. Most of the posts can be read in a few minutes and serve as fuel to your own explorations. 

I'm happy to share these pages freely with whomever in the world might have an inclination to read and reflect, and hopefully react, respond, be reinvigorated.

Please be a part of the discussion. Vehemently fight against ideas you disagree with in the comments section of each post (to get to individual posts, simply click on links from the Table of Contents to the right); cheer for an idea that might give you just what you need today to take a step forward.

It's my goal and dream that this space might be a place for like-minded pianists – from passive fans to amateurs, pianophiles, piano majors, concert pianists, teachers and plain curiosity-seekers – to meet and share a pianistic journey. And maybe discover something about zen along the way. 

This is your space. 


There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth;

not going all the way, and not starting.

~ Buddha


The following pages describes my search to attain a complete pianism encompassing all the possible colors and color combinations of which the piano is capable.  I write about phrasing and transmitting musical energy – physical, emotional and psychological – with zen-like ease and purity.   Along the way, I discuss my personal approach to various works in the repertoire to demonstrate practical applications of the techniques.  You will quickly gain practical tools to transform the piano into an orchestra of infinite sonic and expressive possibilities.  And finally, I speak of my personal relationship to the great pianists of the past and present, of what each has taught me and represents to me. 

I must say upfront that I’m generally not a fan of books of this nature, although there have been a few along the way that have been meaningful and important to my own development.  I write partly for myself; as I chronicle a lifetime struggle to understand the nature and potential of the piano, I teach myself what I’ve learned and forgotten over the years, and somehow try to string it all together in my mind on a more conscious level, to form my own Theory of Everything Pianistic, if you will.  If I find a few readers in students, colleagues or pianophiles who discover something thought-provoking or are able to use a handful of ideas as points of departure for debate or further study and growth, I will be happy.

Zen, like music, is stillness and silence ignited, passions inspired, minds moved and moving, hearts and fingers in action, abandon unfeared.

The invitation is always now.


By the water, deep within the forest, you find traces. 

Leaving fragrant grasses behind, you study the signs. 

Following the tracks, you enter endless mountains. 

Distant sky – how can the tip of its nose be hidden elsewhere? 

~ The Ox-Herding Pictures, circa 800AD



Many years ago, I started keeping a log on my laptop of my daily piano practice sessions that I lovingly called “Confessions and Contradictions of a Practicing Pianist.”  The following opus has been developed through this process of self-analysis and continual search for the ever-elusive Piano Grail.  I often find that as I push each pianistic and interpretational approach to its logical conclusion, I contradict what I’ve just discovered a day earlier, and the following day often brings new contradictions – this is one of the great frustrations and beauties of the complex art of piano playing.  And I have to confess that I often fall victim to short-sightedness as I lunge after new realizations and revelations.  How many times have I discovered the Great Secret, only to tear it apart the next day as a mirage or half-truth!  But gradually, you wind round and round the mountain and slowly find yourself a little closer to the summit. 

And that’s the joy of this never-ending pursuit of a Parnassus that may not even exist but never ceases to beckon.  As zen philosophers would say, the mountain is yourself.

The book is divided into four large sections, echoing (yes, pretentiously!) the form of a Symphony –   I: A Zen Prelude and Allegro moderato, II: Andante con mosso, III: Scherzo, and IV: Fuga con Variazioni. 

The body of Part I, Filters, is an introduction to the concepts and techniques of orchestration and energy.  Each essay teaches a new filter or set of filters for processing musical information, the essence of practice.  I limit myself to a single musical example, the “A-section” of Rachmaninoff’s well-known Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2.  This is a page of music easily learned by an intermediate pianist and was carefully chosen to help make this work accessible not only to University Piano Performance majors and concert pianists, but also to young aspiring pianists and amateurs. 

Part II expands on the ideas in Part I in a less dense, more readable way.  It includes essays about all matters pertaining to the preparing and performing of a work. 

Part III consists of a collection of essays about great pianists and what I’ve learned from them.

Part IV, like a second-year foreign language text book, reviews all of the concepts presented in Part I, expanding and developing them.  It opens with Fuga, an exploration of the Music Theory behind Energy Pillars.  This is followed by Variazioni, in which five examples from stylistically diverse works are explored one at a time, following the path laid in Part I.  Examples from the entire gamut of the piano repertoire are included along the way.


Before I had studied Zen

I saw mountains as mountains, waters as waters.

When I learned something of Zen,

the mountains were no longer mountains, waters no longer waters.

But now that I understand Zen,

I am at peace with myself,

seeing mountains once again as mountains,

waters as waters.

~ Ch’ing-yuan (660-740)


Zen Prelude and Allegro Moderato

Part I


Zen Prelude


There are only two ways to live your life.

One is as if nothing is a miracle.

The other is as if everything is a miracle.

~ Albert Einstein



The Path to Zen

I first began thinking consciously about the flow of musical energy separated from its emotional wrappings and entrapments when I was eighteen.  Struggling with the dense, complex counterpoint of Bach’s passionate C-minor Partita, it occurred to me that an interpretation is not a man-made structure that can be built up – it’s a pre-existent eternal form, a sculpture longing to be freed from a rough slab of marble.  

It was a small epiphany for my young self.  I was the one keeping the music from escaping its encasement.  My own energy was working against that of the music, blocking it, negating it.  If I freed myself of my own will and allowed myself to follow the energy of the music, as if accompanying, it would speak and dance and sing of its own accord.  If I could disappear, it would take over — I would be a mere vessel of eternal gestures.

I became sensitive to blocks of energy, walls in my mind killing the line, separating one gesture from the next, and I began a process of eliminating excess thought, like clearing cobwebs.  The fields of energy beneath the emotions of musical expression began to be visible as arching lines of energy.  Slowly, Bach’s lines began to sing out uninhibited.  ~ zen flowed ~

My road to zen started however much earlier.  I remember once at around the age of nine or ten spending a solid four hours after school on the couch in the living room staring at my hand, trying to decipher the pathways of physical energy into my fingertips.  My brothers and parents walked by in disbelief, afraid to ask what I was doing!  I would spend my teenage years often hunched over the keyboard, looking at my fingers from inches away as I played, dissecting their minutest movements; I would stare into mirrors strategically placed around the piano, trying to rid my technique of excess movement and energy.  Natural, direct musical expression was inseparable from the perfect physical expression of technique. 

Later I would discover that the quickest way to rid the mind and body of excess energy and movement is to practice with your eyes shut.  Blindness heightens the senses; the fingertips develop eyes and the whole body feels the sound.  Recently watching a documentary about a deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, I was struck by one of her comments: The deaf musician has a distinct advantage — he can feel the music with his body, even after the sound has stopped being audible.  The physical sensation of sound and energy is often more pure than the audible perception; the body teaches if you’ll listen.


It is not the Path.

It is the Walking.

~ unknown




Self and the Eternity of Gestures


One Zen master said, "The whole universe is my true personality."

This is a very wonderful saying...

If you want to see what you truly are, open the window,

and everything you see is in fact the expression of your inner reality.

Can you embrace all of it?

~ Adyashanti


Not long after reading Zen in the Art of Archery, for my twenty-first birthday a friend gave me a copy of Milan Kundera’s Immortality.  In its first pages, the narrator describes his shock at seeing a sixty-year-old woman wave with a gesture belonging in his memory to a twenty-year-old girl from his youth.  And it occurs to him that gestures are not the definition of one’s personality but rather eternal entities of their own right which manifest themselves through unsuspecting humans.  And it occurred to me that the interpreter’s goal should be to acquire as large a vocabulary of gestures as possible so as to transcend self. 

There’s such a strong feeling in the world of Art of having to express one’s individuality.  If you sound or look like somebody else, you must be imitating, and imitation is a form of stealing.  But the greatest artists and thinkers of the past viewed imitation as the best way to honor one’s colleagues and teachers, acquire command of their language and attain greater completeness. I love Picasso's adage – Good artists copy; great artists steal. Isaac Newton said it perhaps more inspirationally – I reach for the stars by standing on the shoulders of the giants that preceded me.

Gestures are immortal.  They can’t be owned, but they can be collected.   Search them out, one by one, and learn to be used by them.  Only then will you truly possess them and they you.

Along the road to self-realization, to understanding interpretation and the art of orchestration on the piano, I have stolen and pillaged from every conceivable source, and intend to continue stealing and pillaging.  My journey is barely begun and this work can only ever be a draft. In the meantime, I’d like to offer up a share of the bounty to the reader.

I now look to you, friend and colleague, to teach me and others on this journey by offering feedback, positive and negative, advise in the comments below. And jest. Because what is piano good for if not play?


A journey of a thousand miles

 begins with a single step.

~ Lao Tzu


Allegro Moderato ~ The Filters

Allegro Moderato


The Filters


The Universe is saying:

Allow me to flow through you unrestricted,

and you will see the greatest magic you have ever seen.

~ Klaus Joehle



Techniques are only abstract ideas until they’re put into actual use with your own two hands.  It’s a bit like driving — you often don’t really know the way until you’ve driven there yourself.   This is not a quick, passive read; it’s meant to inspire you to discover each paragraph with your own two hands so that you can possess the concepts fully.  I hope you'll work through it slowly and come back to it often over the years as a practical reference. Or perhaps you're like me and will devour the whole work in one or two sittings and then go back and think more deeply the second time through.

In Part I, I will focus on a single page of music — the “A-section” of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 3 No. 2.  You may have already studied the piece or likely at least have a strong familiarity with it.  We will apply all of the techniques of energy and orchestration to this single page of music, so if you are unfamiliar with it, I invite you to spend some time putting it under your fingers as you read on.  It is within reach of the intermediate pianist.  If you can put even the first system under your fingers, the following pages will be much more meaningful and instructive.

I approach learning a new work as a process of filtering, and over the years I’ve developed hundreds of techniques to filter music, each revealing it in a different light.  I always return to freedom, allowing myself to follow my own intuition to the nth degree.  But intuition is a curious animal — it is the sum of experience, prejudices and preferences, and is altered by your present physical/mental/emotional state as well as by a host of other often arbitrary influences.  It needs to be listened to, but also trained and guided.  Gradually your relationship to your intuition becomes more direct, and your intuition itself wiser and purer. 

The following filters are essential to developing a rich, multi-layered, multi-dimensional interpretation.  I recommend starting by using them in the order presented in the following posts, however it’s later possible to reorder them at will. 



The Vertical

The Vertical

Every situation,

every moment

is of infinite worth

for it is

representative of a

whole eternity.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Defining the Color Levels

Polyphony – Paul Klee. "I am color."

Polyphony – Paul Klee. "I am color."

I’ve always felt that the most effective performance edition of any work would be color-coded.  Can you imagine having a color-coded edition of the Debussy Préludes edited by French master himself!  Translating tonal colors into visual colors heightens your aural perception, sensitizes your imagination.  I hope the following visual exercise will open your mind to the orchestral choices and demands that confront the interpreter. 

Here are the first few measures of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor, in color:


You’ll notice that within the first two measures, no fewer than nine distinct colors are required, each also representing a distinct dynamic of sound.  (My choices are not by any means definitive, even for myself — they’re meant to inspire you to your own choices.)  I’ll list them here in order of importance:


Level 1 — red                                               Level 6 — light navy green

Level 2 — royal blue                                     Level 7 — light purple

Level 3 — dark green                                   Level 8 — light grey

Level 4 — dark blue                                      Level 9 — light yellow

Level 5 — turquoise


Each level represents not only a distinct timbre and relative dynamic level, but also a distinct expressive mood and a distinct temporal relationship to each vertical event.  And we haven’t yet even approached the movement of horizontal energy – it's enough to make you're head spin! But one step at a time …

(In learning a work, the notes come first, and I assume that they are starting to fall easily under your fingers as you advance into orchestrating.)

First, the most basic levels of sound must be defined.  Ask yourself: What is the most important line?  Every work has a single line from start to finish that the performer must latch onto and clearly define for the listener.  The primary level here is the melody in red.  Before trying to define any of the other colors, learn to demarcate this single line with brutal clarity from beginning to end.  Use a bright, clear, strong forte on every red note until a solid physical, emotional and mental path has been etched.  Contrast it with everything else in a pale, soft blue (a loose-legato, pianissimo, after-the-beat touch):


After the red level is well on its way, turn all of your attention to the second most important level, royal blue.  Try to create a single line from beginning to end in the same way that the red level was prepared.  Let the red level for now subside into our soft blue pianissimo level.  Play the royal blue as if it were red — bright, strong, intense:


Once you’ve learned to play the royal blue level as if it were the primary line, start combining the red level against the royal blue level, with everything else in pianissimo shades.  Now is the time to start clearly defining three layers of sound with distinct colors and dynamic levels.  The red level will be brighter, stronger and more expressive than the royal blue level (refer back to the first colored excerpt above).  The royal blue will be more water-based — it should float and glisten but still speak and be strong enough to cover seven more dynamic levels underneath it.  The accompaniment level (consisting for the moment of the remaining seven colors), should be felt as peripherally as possible, a non-espressivo, hovering mist.

Now turn your full attention to the third most important level, the dark green.  This is the melodic harmony (in 6ths below) to the royal blue level’s melody.  Follow the same procedure as before – prepare the dark green level as if it were the primary level.  Next, combine it with the red level separately, then with the royal blue level separately, and then try to balance out all three levels against the rest of the voices, which again form a vague, undefined accompaniment.  Now you’re juggling four objects.

The dark green level is played almost exclusively by the l.h. thumb.  It sings, but in a reticent way.  It has a slow, deep descent, while maintaining a floating effect.  It remains subservient, in the shadow of the soprano melody a sixth above.  Remember here too — it must sing enough to allow six more layers of sound underneath it.

The fourth level, dark blue, is the bass doubling two octaves below the primary red melody and sits in its shadow but should have an ominous, penetrating presence.  Prepare it using the same methods as before, first as if the primary melody, and then slowly coupling it with the higher levels.

The remaining five levels should all be prepared in like manner:

The fifth level, turquoise, is the octave alto doubling of the main soprano line (royal blue) and rests in its shadow.  It should have an even more floating, ethereal quality than the soprano, but should remain serious and have presence.

The sixth level, light navy green, is the octave underpinning of the tenor line and lies in its shadow.

The seventh level, light purple, is the octave doubling below the principal melody (red).  It rests in the shadow both of the red level and the dark blue (basso profondo) level

The eighth level, light grey, shadows the secondary level, royal blue, in parallel fourths below.  If not sufficiently hidden, the melody begins to sound oriental.

The ninth and final level, light yellow, shadows the tenor line (dark green) in parallel sixths below.  This level is merely mist.

With practice and persistence over time, most if not all nine levels become clearly defined to the sensitive ear. 

Do not try to master these exercises before moving on – just taste them. The next post explores my own technical translation of the colors mentioned so far.

    The one who is good at shooting

does not hit the center of the target.

~ Zen Saying


The Techniques Behind the Colors

The Techniques Behind the Colors


What is the color of the wind?

~ Zen Koan


I hope you’ll be wanting to ask: 

What do you mean technically by red, royal blue, dark green . . .?

Defining colors too mechanically, even if only for yourself, robs them of their transcendental potential.  While I have no definitive technique to achieve red or blue or green, I can give you specific technical solutions to achieve specific tonal color relationships in this work.

Level 1 — Red

For the primary melody here, I choose red for its solid, bright, penetrating qualities.  Rachmaninoff said that the melody in particular should descend below the key-bed.  I love this imagery!  It sinks in, piercing the earth.

As with most principal melodies, it’s best played from the arm — either the forearm or the upper arm.  Here I use the upper arm.  Use a firm but not rigid fingertip, and be aware of whether your wrist or elbow lock.  If you’re not used to putting this much weight into the fingers and arms, the sound at first will be hard-edged, but as the body adjusts, unused muscles awaking, the sound will become round, deep and plush.  Soon you’ll develop a full dynamic range from the upper arm, from ppp to fff.


Level 2 — Royal Blue

Fire against water, red is contrasted by blue.  In this Prelude, I think of the red line as down and the royal blue line as up; the former sinks and penetrates while the latter floats and hovers, ondine-like. 

This said, the blue layer still has to penetrate the key-bed and have a certain solidity.  Otherwise, the five levels directly in its shade crumble.  The arm, although weighted, gently defies gravity, and the fingertip bursts with expressive life.  As your emotional energy flows into the fingertips — even before they play — the blood surges into them, making them measurably heavier and more sensitized. 

Level 3 — Dark Green

This is the tenor line and is played almost completely with the l.h. thumb.  Both thumbs are instruments in their own right, but the l.h. thumb is more often entrusted with important melodies and responsibilities than the right. 

I choose dark green for its solidity and earthiness, but also for its submissive nature in relationship to the royal blue.   This line also sinks and penetrates while floating, and remains somewhat reticent, humming more than singing.  

The thumb has to insinuate itself into the key with expressive pressure rather than attacking it.  I think of pushing in a set, expressive thumb from the forearm.  Be careful though not to let the dark green compete with the royal blue — retain the hierarchy of colors.

Level 4 — Dark Blue

This is a dark, shadowy shade of blue and is perfect for the cavernous underpinning of the principle melody (red) two octaves below.  Because of its great distance from the melody, it can afford to have a real presence without competing with the melody.  The more this line is brought to the surface, the darker the overall effect.  I play it from the upper arm.

It should sink in and penetrate, but the attack should be calculatedly slow, defying gravity and sounding as if an army of double-basses were singing from over the hillside (summon the Bass section of the Vienna Philharmonic or the Concertgebouw). There’s a wondrously ominous quality to this looming shadowy presence.

Level 5 — Turquoise

I choose turquoise for its liquid translucence.  It’s the octave underpinning of the royal blue level and should support it without competing.  It’s played mainly with the overpowering r.h. thumb, so great care need be taken to make it weightless and indirect.  I try to disconnect the thumb from the arm and hand and simply caress the key.  Just touch it — don’t play it.  It still reaches the key-bottom, but it should evoke gently glowing, flowing water.

Level 6 — Light Navy Green

This has many of the same characteristics of Level 5.  It’s the octave underpinning of the dark green line and supports it without competing.  That said, I let it have more presence in relationship to the dark green than does the turquoise to royal blue because of its intervalic distance from the royal blue, in which general shadow it sits.  By pointing it up slightly, the mood of this secondary line (royal blue & company) darkens.  The fingertip is heavy with expressive energy, but the same advice applies: Don’t play it—just touch it.

Level 7 — Light Purple

This is the inner octave of the principal melodic line.  If given too much presence, it competes with both the red and the dark blue, destroying the effect.  It should simply fill in the space with warmth.  Still, because of the overall weight and seriousness of the principle line, it will have residual weight and energy.  Let this overspill happen more peripherally than consciously.

Technically speaking, it’s played more from the forearm than the upper arm.  The tricky part is that it must be played by the l.h. thumb in a passive way, but immediately afterwards the thumb must morph instantaneously into a melancholy Tenor to play the dark green line — this requires both physical and emotional virtuosity.

Level 8 — Light Grey

I hear this line as light grey because it’s a sort of dull blue, and rests well between the royal blue and turquoise.  It has many of the same qualities as Level 7 as it rests between two more important notes, offering gentle support.  But unlike Level 7, this light grey should be nearly invisible.  The note underneath an important note (or right before it or after it) is always dangerous; if not properly hidden, it easily competes and ruins the effect. 

Use only the fingertip, gently caressing the key, and imagine the sound floating up and evaporating into mist.

Level 9 — Light Yellow

Nearly identical in nature to Level 8, the light yellow line can have the slightest bit more glow because of its distance from the royal blue, in which shadow it sits.  It’s played with the finger alone, a gentle caress, as indirectly and floatingly as possible.  The slightest accent will throw the whole complex of colors out of alignment.

Don’t despair — to achieve all nine colors requires the highest degree of imaginative virtuosity.  How long does it take for an amateur juggler to deftly handle nine objects of differing size, shape, and weight?  Be happy in the beginning to manage two or three – or even just one! – and work your way up from there.  In the meantime, move on to the next filter because you don't want to lose momentum up the mountain.

Creating an Orchestral Sonority — Applying Vertical Hierarchy

Creating an Orchestral Sonority — Applying Vertical Hierarchy


Knock on the sky and listen to the sound!

~ Zen saying


Defining colors is the first step toward creating an orchestral sound.  The next is applying what I call Vertical Hierarchy, a method of establishing orchestral dimensions at the keyboard. High sounds tend to hit the ear first, lower sounds more slowly.  In the Orchestra, lower-pitched instruments tend to emit sound more slowly than higher-pitched instruments (as do Brass and Winds compared to Strings and Percussion).  A good conductor learns to bring every player and section’s peculiar speed of sound production into a homogenous beat.  A great conductor knows however how to take full advantage of a spread beat when the style allows it.  No matter conductor — be it a precision wizard like Pierre Boulez or a free-spirited troubadour like Leonard Bernstein — the orchestral beat is always more spread than the pianist’s.  This is an important aspect of what lends the orchestra its multi-dimensional, surround-sound effect.


One of the peculiar acoustic qualities of the piano is that low sounds and high sounds seem to travel near the same velocity, hitting the ear at the same time.  Moreover, the modern pianist is trained to make the beat as narrow and precise as possible, resulting in a highly defined two-dimensional sound.  In order to obtain an orchestral feel at the piano, you must spread the beat, and it generally spreads most effectively by using this rule of Vertical Hierarchy — the higher the sound, the sooner it should be played; the lower the sound, the later it should be played. Furthermore, the greater the distance between notes, the more they can be spread (and vice-versa); and the greater the dynamic difference between notes, the more they can be spread (and vice-versa). 


Let’s return to Rachmaninoff’s Prelude and experiment with vertical hierarchy to show how it works.  Here’s the first measure-and-a-half again:




Applying Vertical Hierarchy to these first three attacks result in:



See how the beat has spread to about a quarter of a centimeter?  In traditional notation, you can imagine that the red level sounds as a tied 32nd note just before the beat, the light purple level on the beat, and the dark blue level a 32nd note after the beat, making the total spread the value of a 16th note:


This is a somewhat broad spread at this slow tempo, but with enough Dynamic Differentiation between the three levels, it could be made to work beautifully. 

A chord is like an atom — the enormous potential energy is only released as it splits. 

Experiment with this at the piano.  Begin by exaggerating the split, playing one note at a time. 

Gradually decrease the spread until it sounds like a single unit.  The normal listener will hear it as a single attack while sensing its orchestral effect.


Now let's discover why Vertical Hierarchy works top-to-bottom by spreading it bottom-to-top:



The spread becomes immediately apparent to the ear; even if tightly packaged, it sounds loose, open.  Open voicing indeed has its place, but closed voicing is the rule.  Note: closed voicing is not to be confused with 2-dimensional non-spread voicing.  Non-spread voicing (i.e. when every note in a chord is sounded at exactly the same moment) is used as an effect, as black-and-white can be used as an effect in a color film.


If you miss the present moment, 

you miss your appointment with life. 

That is very serious!

~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Vertical Phrasing – Packaging Vertical Solar Systems

Vertical Phrasing – Packaging Vertical Solar Systems


The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, 

can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.

~ Galileo Galilei


You will have noticed that Rachmaninoff neatly packages his sound levels into two parts: the red level, with its two supporting colors, and the royal blue level, with its five supporting colors.  He then sub-divides the royal blue level into two parts, neatly divided at the division between the hands into the royal blue level supported by two voices and the dark green level supported by two voices.  Each of these levels, in the practice room, needs to be isolated in order to develop differentiation of colors and balance of energy.

This is commonly referred to as the art of voicing, which sometimes translates in the interpreter’s mind as the painting of a chord in sound and color, but more often simply as playing the top note of a chord at a greater dynamic level than its downstairs neighbors.  But what of the expressive meaning of voicing?  And what of the remaining unvoiced notes?  What of the energy potential of unlocking chords and other vertical realities?  Is it possible to finitely define the meaning of a single moment in time? 


Watch the Universe unfold in front of you.

Sit in the Now.

~ unknown


A chord, or any moment of single- or multi-layered sound, contains the complexities of an entire phrase, an entire universe. 

Perhaps the terminology gets in our way.  Organizing and shaping a horizontal line is called phrasing, a term of much greater nobility and import to my sensibilities than voicing.  Yet the two are really quite similar, which is why I prefer to call the organizing and shaping of the vertical line — its colors, energies, dynamics, time dimensions, spatial dimensions, conflicting desires and directions — vertical phrasing.  (And I suppose that renders phrasing horizontal voicing!)  This at least hints at its potential complexities, while implying the movement and direction of energy through time, vertical and horizontal.

How does sound organize itself vertically in terms of energy? 

In every vertical moment, the energy centers in a single note, what I call an Energy Pillar.  There are then often secondary energy sources that revolve around it.  In the first attack of the Prelude, for example, the red is the primary, positive energy source (Pillar) which balances against the other two voices, which are negative.  However, the dark blue is the secondary energy source which on a smaller scale acts as a positive center balanced by the negative light purple.  The light purple in turn belongs to the dark blue, and together they belong to the red. No need to comprehend this all at once, but it will come.

I imagine the negative energy revolving around and feeding off the positive energy, creating a solar system of energy — moons revolving around planets revolving around other planets revolving around the sun.  Is it farfetched to believe that a single split-second vertical moment in time might invoke an entire Universe of energy relationships and meaning?


All of the universe it but a moment in time.

~ unknown


Horizontal energy, as we will see, works in exactly the same way, only sideways and over a longer period of time. 

I even wonder whether in Einstein’s world, where time is relative and hidden dimensions of time and temporal meaning lurk in the shadows, the passage of time in the vertical dimension might even flow infinitely more slowly and potently than in our horizontal time reality.  Is it possible that the vertical dimension might compete in importance and meaning with the horizontal dimension? 

This much I know:  If you allow yourself to believe in the existence of hidden, complex vertical realities at every moment of musical time, you will search them out and they will slowly reveal themselves to you.  

Your discoveries will bestow exponential power, meaning and expression to your interpretations.

The Horizontal

The Horizontal

The universe has no restrictions.

You place restrictions on the universe with your expectations.

~ Deepak Chopra


Establishing Horizontal Hierarchy 

Defining the Energy Pillars

Balancing vertical effects with horizontal effects is the eternal puzzle of the pianist.  Rachmaninoff said that every work culminates in a single point, which if missed, destroys the entire performance.  This is equally true of every vertical slice of sound.  The climax of a work or movement or phrase or miniscule gesture — horizontal or vertical — is its fundamental Energy Source.  It acts as a pressure point.

The masterful interpreter is an acupuncturist. 

But where are these mysterious points of energy hiding?  As a rule, the emotional journey experienced when performing should follow an architectural logic formed from the actual energy of the work, not from a superimposition of the interpreter’s will, but how to distinguish between the two? 

For the moment, rely only on your intuition and see if you can locate the pressure points in the primary melody of our Prelude excerpt.  Map out where you feel the harmonic and emotional energy center.  Shortly, we’ll work through them together (and in Part IV, we’ll examine in greater detail how to establish where these pressure points lie and explore the music theory behind them), but it’s important to try to discover them first on your own. Each gesture will center around one moment in time, a single note; these Energy Pillars will have a precise, predetermined relationship with one another, and in each phrase, section, movement and entire work, they will culminate in an apotheosis — a single note. 


At first, as you identify them, one by one, put an accent over them.  Then play through the passage several times, exaggerating the accents with a burst of sensitive, expressive energy until you begin to feel them throughout your being as solid Energy Pillars.  You are both the patient and the doctor; apply expressive pressure to the pressure points in order to realign the energy to its unadulterated pathways.  There’s a fine line between force and passivity; as you stop resisting the flow of energy in and out of these Pillars you’ll be able to release yourself fully to them and let their energy guide you.  This is how Zen takes over. 


It is not the pointing finger.

It is the direction.

~ unknown


The system of Energy Pillars governing Horizontal Hierarchy applies not only to Romantic music, but virtually all music, from the Renaissance surprisingly through most Modern music.  Take down any score from your bookshelf if you’re incredulous, as I was when I was first struck by this realization:  Palestrina, Bach, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Prokofieff, Schonberg, Rochberg!  Every phrase has a single note that acts as its axis, its energy center, its pressure point, its Energy Pillar, its appoggio

Feel your way through any phrase, first defining every note of emphasis, and then from among those notes, choose the most important.  You may run into instances where the choice at first is ambiguous.  Simply choose. Later you can redefine your choices, but don’t leave ambiguity and needless artistic improvisation in the air.  Music is fluid enough as it is — define as much as possible.

And then go back and redefine when your ready with wiser choices.


When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

~ Yogi Berra 


Let’s now examine together the nature and interplay of Energy Pillars in the red and blue levels. 

Level 1 — Red

The first three notes (A, G-sharp, C-sharp) make up the primary gesture of the work.  Which is the energy center?  First, you can rule out the G-sharp for three reasons — it’s not on an accented beat, it’s not melodically or harmonically dissonant, and it’s not a long note.   The A makes a possible candidate because it’s potentially dissonant against the G-sharp if treated as an appoggiatura, and it’s on the strong 3rd beat.  But I vote for the C-sharp because it’s on the strong downbeat and it’s very long.  If you agree, C-sharp is the strongest, followed by the A followed by the G-sharp; the G-sharp belongs to the A, and as a pair they belong to the C-sharp.  (As this gesture repeats over and over again throughout the piece, it’s possible later to vary it, but in its first appearance, I recommend giving it its purest form.)  The following shows the direction of energy:


Notice how the arrow begins after the attack of the A.  This is because the A is the secondary energy source of the three-note gesture and needs to have its own little burst of energy before being drawn into its positive pole, the C-sharp.  Notice also how the line thickens as it gains intensity.  Just like a magnet, the closer you get, the stronger the pull.

The second gesture of the red line is identical to the first, except that it’s pp rather than ff, so the mood and effect is completely different.  This is what’s fascinating about studying the underlying energy of musical gestures — the same movement of energy can produce limitless results.  Yet if the definition of the underlying energy is not pure and simple, the overall effect becomes blurred and confusing.

In virtually any work, the main melody is the primary substance.  It has to be brought out with a special color, dynamic level and energy level that clearly separate it from the accompanying material, no matter how complex.  Within the primary melody, the notes where the energy centers are key.  If you manage nothing else, be sure to play these notes with conviction — they’re the Energy Pillars that hold up the structure.  If you allow your mind to wander to lesser details during performance and fail to observe any of them, the structure and effect weaken considerably, possibly even to the point of crumbling.


In the universe,

there are things that are known,

and things that are unknown,

and in between, there are doors.

~ William Blake


It helps to notate the Pillars into your score.  Connect the centers of each gesture, trying to clearly feel and show their relationship to one another.  Here’s the first page of the Prelude with the positive energy poles of the principle level linked:


These nine lonely notes form the key to the interpretation of the first page.  But how to connect them logically?  Now we’re getting to the essence of the larger movement and form of energy!  I treat the first three Pillars as a double echo.  There’s a typical Rachmaninoffian outburst at the outset (the subject for another essay . . . ).  An enormous amount of energy is thrown out there — simply relax and ride it out.  The first Pillar is ff, the second p or mf and the third a real pp.  It gives the sensation that time is moving backwards, that we’re reaching into the past.   If you feed in too much fresh energy, the mood becomes very present and the effect is ruined. 

Then comes an important turning point — try to catch it without breaking the line.  (Surfers should have little trouble following the present argument.)  As one wave weakens, another stronger one spins you in a new direction, drawing you toward a new destination.  Just after you’ve played the third Pillar, the vision and expectation of the fifth Pillar enraptures you.  Suddenly the energy starts edging forward again with palpable expectation.

The fourth Pillar is played in crescendo and the fifth Pillar releases a small climax of energy, mf or even f.  The energy again begins to float backwards riding the fifth Pillar, and the sixth through ninth Pillars (as well as the tenth at the top of the next page) are played in diminuendo.


“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.

When you swim you don't grab hold of the water,

because if you do you will sink and drown.

Instead you relax, and float.” 

~ Alan W. Watts


Level 2 — Royal Blue

In the first page of the Prelude, the movement of energy in the red line is identical to that of its two supporting layers, light purple and dark blue.  Likewise, the royal blue line has five supporting layers that move in sync.

The first gesture consists of a 3-note gesture followed by a 2-note gesture.  First, ask yourself, Where does the energy center?   If you look at the first three notes — C-sharp, E, D-sharp — the energy clearly centers on the E, which is on the beat and acts as an appoggiatura to the D-sharp.  The C-sharp is merely a preparatory note.  Therefore, the C-sharp is negative, the E positive, and the D-sharp negative.  The fourth and fifth notes, D and B-sharp, form an echoing appoggiatura (despite being separate by an 8th rest), D being positive and B-sharp negative.   The 2-note gesture acts as the negative pole to the preceding positive 3-note gesture. It's easier to grasp through this image:


Each time this 5-note pattern repeats itself throughout the Prelude, the energy flows in the same way.

Notice the backwards energy arrows.  Forward motion and forward momentum are commonly understood musical concepts; time and energy are drawn forward through currents, like a river, right?  But how then can energy move backwards?  Perhaps rather than a river, understand it as a wave or tide: once it comes in, it must return to the sea.


“Take the backward step

that turns the light and shines it inward.”



Panima — Mother of all Gestures

Every musical gesture, like a wave, has three parts — the negative preparation and buildup of energy, the positive release of energy, and the negative riding out of that energy.  The first part of the gesture looks into the future with expectation; it’s drawn forward into a hidden energy source.  The second part, the climax, is the moment in time that exists purely in the present; whether large or small, it’s an explosion of positive energy.  The third part, the negative post-climax, looks backwards in time toward the climax.  It can best be understood as a relatively short period of elated nostalgia.

Forgive me if it sounds like I’m describing sex.

One might postulate that every gesture stems from a single, eternal, nameless gesture, itself rooted in sex.  Or is sex perhaps merely one of her more obvious manifestations?  Whatever the case may be, I call her Panima (Pan+Anima).  Her shape surrounds us and defines so many of life’s experiences that it’s difficult not to notice her once you become aware of her.  Naturally, her permutations also find their way into Life’s echoes, Art & Music: the realization of a goal, big or small; a good joke or story.  Take, for example, the exposition/development, climax and coda of the traditional western novel:  Do its shape and that of sex really differ?  Are the movements of their energies dissimilar? 

Or a more mundane example — late-night hunger leads to the ordering of pizza.  A long wait culminates in the delivery of said pizza and its rapid, voracious, delicious consumption.  A short period of elated satisfaction or regret ensues. 


Panima breathes life into infinite manifestations and variations of the following physical form:


Look into the deep past:  even the Biblical account of creation — culminating in the 6th day, the 7th decreed as a day of rest and backwards contemplation — depicts this gesture.  Not to leave out the Big Bang, an even more classic definition of a prolonged cyclical buildup of energy, climaxing in a great explosion of energy and followed by its relatively rapid dissipation.  With every passing day, the Earth comes one spin closer to its eventual demise — it’s simply riding out former glory.  After all, the seed of dissipation and death is present at birth. 

Look to the Far East:  The Art of Archery. The Japanese Tea Ceremony.  The Buddhist Monk’s Pursuit of Illumination.   All depictions of the nameless gesture.

And what is their defining characteristic?  They all culminate in a single moment in time — a single, energy-laden, explosive note. Forgive the repetition, but if you acknowledge this mother of all gestures, you will start to see it everywhere, you will learn to master it, and it you.

Most Western music (and much Eastern as well) can be reduced to infinite variations, couplings, and constant permutations of this single nameless gesture, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. 

Take a typical 8-bar phrase of music, which tends to split into three smaller gestures — 2 bars + 2 bars + 4 bars.  The Pillars most often fall on the downbeats of mm. 2, 4, and either 6 or 7 (occasionally even on the downbeat of the eighth, a Beethovenian delight) and they grow in intensity, culminating in the third Pillar.  The phrase graphs as a triple wave:


Some of you may ask yourselves: Must the interpreter translate music into graphs and patterns? Doesn't that take away the magic, the emotion, the meaning? 

This seemingly dry graph bursts with living energy and expression!  Energy must travel through vessels and shapes, because without them, it disperses and becomes meaningless.  Understanding the shapes and patterns of energy is as essential as understanding its substance and movement.  If you learn to recognize them, you’ll be well on your way to finding the ideal physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual approach to allowing that energy to flow.   

Explanations of Zen and Tao generally emphasize the movement and quality of energy. But energy means little without form, which is why Zen may only be learned by studying a discipline (archery, piano, painting, etc.). The discipline gives form to both the energy and its study; the substance and movement of energy gradually come to be understood as if they had no form. Once this level of "enlightenment" is reached, Zen comes to be understood as an entity unto itself and may be more easily applied to other disciplines, such as life. It’s a two-sided coin — the understanding of the technique of a discipline frees the flow of energy (Zen/Tao); the freer flow of energy facilitates greater comprehension and acquisition of the technique of the discipline. A virtuous yin-yang circle.



Returning to our discussion of the blue level, in a 2-note gesture like the 4th and 5th notes above, the negative preparation into the positive Pillar is silent, yet it exists.  Trying to release energy without gathering it together first is like singing without breathing.  Occasionally you’ll even come across single-note gestures with silent preparations and silent releases, such as a staccato outburst.  Just because the preparation and release don’t find their way into black dots on the page doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 


Here’s the Panimanean notation of the entire 5-note phrase just above: 


Now let's look at the second energy pattern in the royal blue line is in mm. 6-7.  There are countless ways to subdivide this two-bar phrase, but the simplest and most effective is to divide it in two equal parts centered on the third beats, bar 7 echoing bar 6 as its negative counterpart. This is a double-panima, a burst with an echo riding in its wake, like so:


Can you see how the energy arrows translate into a mountain silhouette, how its peaks reveal the Energy Pillars?  Notice also how a secondary Panima is embedded as an echo inside the primary one. Also, see how rapidly Rachmaninoff’s gesture surges into its climax, followed by a meandering, nostalgic melancholy!  This is unusual in typical music, but a favorite gesture for Rachmaninoff.


Be soft in your practice.

Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.

Follow the stream.

~ Sheng-yen


Now let’s examine the Energy Pillars of the royal blue line for the entire first page.  Each Pillar represents a panimanean peak.  As you read through the following realization of the blue energy Pillars for the first page, can you translate them into the peaks of a long, complex strand of Panima, an undulating energy horizon?


There are twelve primary Pillars and nine secondary (notice in the secondary Pillars that the stem doesn’t quite reach the beam). 

Work through each Pillar on the local level, following the flow of energy to and fro, giving an extra burst of expressive energy on the Pillar notes to help them settle into your system.  Then begin tentatively defining the relationships between Pillars.  Who among us is the greatest?  Is this one greater or lesser than the previous one?  How do more distant Pillars relate to one another?  Which is each phrase’s Primary Pillar?  Among these, which one marks the climax of the section?  Unraveling complex structures often requires little more than answering a long series of simple questions.

Once you feel somewhat comfortable with the flow of energy and expression in the blue level, you’re ready to consider the red and blue layers superimposed:


Try playing it and see if you can keep track of the Energy Pillars of both lines at the same time.  At first, simply put an accent on all the Pillars and then gradually grade and shape them.  Let all the other notes fall into the background.


If at first you feel as if your mind is bending and you find yourself forgetting to breathe, that's normal.  Jugglers have the same sensation when they add in another ball for the first time.  If you feel like you played better by simply following your instinctive approach instead of applying yourself so consciously and artificially to a page of music, this is also normal.   Be patient.  Don’t expect immediate mastery.  There’s a beauty in coming to the realization that emotion has its own architecture and order.  And there’s power in the slow mastery of your own intuition.

You, yourself, are the eternal energy which appears as this universe.

You didn't come into this world; you came out of it.

Like a wave from the ocean.

~ Alan Watts


Panima vs. Energy Pillars

You may not immediately fully grasp the difference between the graphs of Panimanean silhouettes and those of Energy Pillars with energy direction lines/arrows.  As you have seen, they can be overlapped and both clearly explain the same energy peaks.  The main difference is that the silhouettes highlight the shape of the energy in and out of the peaks, as well as relationship between peaks, whereas as the Pillars emphasize the sources of energy and the direction of energy in and out of them.    

It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question: Which came first?  Which generates the other?  Does the source of energy create a gesture around it, or does the movement of a gesture center its energy at its peak, creating an energy center, like a mountain transformed into a volcano by seismic activity?  I cannot say, but they seem to represent two types of energy operating at the same time, not unlike the nature of Light.

Scientists were long confounded in their search to adequately explain light:  Is it formed by waves or particles?  Heated arguments raged over centuries.  Ultimately, it was discovered that both waves and particles operate at the same time, a phenomenon called wave-particle duality.

Whether or not the languages of Panima and Pillars describe the same or differing energy is not essential to the interpreter; becoming fluent in both will lead you to greater command of the flow and communication of musical energy. 


To pierce through the illusion of separateness,

to realize that which lies beyond duality —

that is a goal worthy of a lifetime.

~ unknown


Combined Horizontal and Vertical Effects

As you develop a storehouse of techniques to alter the effects of your interpretation, it feels almost as if you’re sitting at a soundboard manipulating levers.  Sound delay here, extra reverb there, brighter here, louder there.  This may sound superficial, but effects often form the content itself.  It’s related to the age-old question: Which is more important, the prose or the content?  Substance envelops both.  When effects become as beautiful as the work itself, heightening its affect, the interpreter has entered the realm of true mastery.


It’s not life.

It is living.

~ unknown


Dynamic Differentiation



Stop acting so small. 

You are the universe in ecstatic motion.

~ Rumi


Dynamics is one of the most misunderstood concepts in music-making.  As the 20th century progressed and we entered the Urtext Age, the concept of dynamics became more and more boxed-in and distorted.  If the score says mf, every note must sound mf.  Taking liberties outside of the designated dynamics still occasionally prompts critics and colleagues to question one’s interpretive seriousness, especially in Europe.

When listening to a great pianist like Rachmaninoff, one is struck by the grand scope of the dynamic range.  His piano begins where most pianists’ forte stops.  Yet it SOUNDS piano and IS piano!  And this brings us to an important point about dynamics and energy — dynamics are only indirectly related to decibels of sound; they’re related to relative decibels of sound, but more importantly, they’re defined to the listener’s ear by the relative level of the performer’s energy and the quality of that energy.   A piano can sound forte, for instance, if it’s forced.  Simply stated, dynamics represent mood, color and relative energy levels. 

One’s energy level changes from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, and the performer must be sensitive to this and counterbalance it when necessary, without forcing.  Rachmaninoff plays piano with a big sound but a calm mind and relatively relaxed joints, so the effect is piano.  Yet underneath the melody, there are seemingly infinite layers of dynamics, which lends his accompaniments a rich, orchestral effect.

Dynamic differentiation has to be sculpted out to the last detail, both vertically and horizontally, and the two are always fighting for supremacy.  The most stunning vertical effects often have to be called in check because they destroy the horizontal dynamic landscape.  Likewise, breathtaking dynamic scope in a small gesture or phrase often has to be toned down for the sake of the larger horizontal architecture.  It often feels like chasing your own tail.


Zen is not an art,

it’s not a religion.

It’s a realisation.

Gene Clark


Start by defining the vertical landscape moment by moment, exaggerating the dynamic contrasts as much as possible.  Remember that it’s easy to make gestures smaller but effortful to make them larger. 

Take any chord and see how much dynamic contrast you can attain with each note.  How many distinct dynamic levels can you achieve with only one hand?  Even two is a great point of departure. 

Explore your own perceptions.  When you play a three-note chord with three distinct dynamic levels, what is the general dynamic level that the chord projects?  It’s possible to maintain the effect of a pp even with one of the notes standing out in a muted f.  This sort of effect is often notated in orchestral scores but extremely rarely in piano scores!  On the other hand, sometimes a single note played forte in a chord is enough to create the impression of a full forte for the entire chord, whereas if the same chord is played with every note forte, it sounds, dull, thick and heavy.

Next, returning to the horizontal, try to define each gesture with enormous, romantic sweep.  Begin pp and swell into a large f that then disappears into nothing.  The process of exaggeration is always purifying.

A general recommendation about dynamics:  try to increase your dynamic range daily.  It’s a process of gaining strength and sensitivity, but more than this, it’s about gaining access to the strength and restraint that you already possess.  And it’s equally a matter of psychological growth and self-mastery.  You need to learn how to take your normal self and grow expressively in superhuman ways.  It’s a long process to learn to feel big and actually become big.  Remember also that in Art, as in most things, nothing ever stays static — it either grows or shrinks.

Applying and Removing Gloss

Applying and Removing Gloss


For the love of God, 

unless you’re prepping for Rigoletto at the Met, 

go easy on the eyeliner.

~ Cheryl Cory


This may sound like makeup or nail polish terminology, but what I refer to as gloss in sound is more related to photos.  Do you want glossy or matte finish?  Most people choose glossy but there’s an old-world beauty to matte finish. Tone production employs every degree of finish, from extreme matte to ultra-glossy. Essentially the finish of the tone-production of a note affects primarily the surface of the sound, but the surface often leaves a stronger impression than the body of the sound itself. The picture underneath remains unaltered, but the effect of the substance changes entirely.

Few pianists or critics distinguish between the three basic aspects of tone production: the attack, the body, and the release.  We will later go into some detail about each of these aspects, but Gloss refers specifically to the attack, both to the quality and speed of the attack, and to the mallet (i.e. which finger and which specific part of the finger – ball of the finger, side of the finger, point of the finger, fingernail – is employed.

What is not obvious to most pianists is the distinction between the surface (the initial attack) and the body. As a result, they take on the same expression/color. The body of the sound depends on the predisposition of the hand and arm and how the attack is released into the hand and arm, even shoulders and torso. The attack, for instance, might be rather bright, and if the arm is held tightly at the point of release, the body of the sound will also be bright, creating a brash, uncultivated sound. There are places for such an effect, such as an occasional note in Stravinsky’s Petroushka. The puppet’s vulgar wit translates into an artful, peasant-like expression.

Another note might be played with the same bright attack, but be backed up instantaneously by a weightless, very expressive arm that smoothly absorbs any tension. The tone will speak with expressive clarity.

Or perhaps a crystalline, shimmering, watery effect is desired. The same bright attack will give way instantaneously to a weightless hand and arm, creating an effortless, ringing and glistening sound color.

Or do you desire a bright sound that will sink into the earth and take root? Then begin with the same bright attack, but then instantaneously release that sound from the finger into a relaxed, dropping arm, with a relaxed elbow. The moment of release of energy from the finger into the weighted arm is split-second, because as the arm then sinks down, its weight pulls immediately down on the fingertip and must be effortlessly sustained, almost solely by the first joint.

There are piano pedagogues out there here and there who teach vibrato on the piano. Their students swear that if you listen carefully, you can actually hear the vibrato.  One such teacher came to my University to give a recital, and I watched the beautiful vibrato for two hours, and admit that my sensitivities were not keen enough to decipher any. Still, there was an expressive warmth to the sound, and a penetrating expression. What at first seemed laughable began to intrigue me.

There were lively discussions among piano majors during the next several weeks. The general consensus was that since the hammer escapes contact with the key before it hits the string, there’s no possible way to affect the sound after that point. It defies physics!

But I argued that that’s like telling the batter that the home-run ball won’t know whether you stopped swinging or not, so why not relax the bat immediately after contact?

How the ball knows and how the hammer knows is beyond my meager comprehension, but they know.  That’s not to say that I’ve come around to the notion of creating the illusion of vibrato with a single note, but I do know that whatever happens in your arm within about a second of the attack will necessarily alter the color of the body of the sound. Learn to listen to the two distinct qualities of sound that the attack and the body produce — listen both with your ears and your body.

(The third part of tone production, its release, will be discussed in depth later on.)


The notion of Gloss refers to the brightness or shininess of the surface of tone.  But how to achieve it?  How can I add or subtract gloss from the surface of the sound? 

The primary agent of Gloss is perhaps the speed of the attack.  A faster attack from the finger creates both increased volume and increased brightness, but the increased volume can be negated by the quality of the body of the sound.

The second agent of Gloss is the mallet employed. Just as a piano with brittle felts on the hammer tips sounds brighter, the sharper or pointier the point of contact of the key to your finger or fingertip, the brighter the sound.  We will discuss this at length later as well. In the meantime, experiment with your fingers, fingertips, fingernails, etc., and see how the gloss changes.


Gloss can be applied to great effect vertically and horizontally, and again, the two often contradict one another.  Many pianists apply it to every single note, leaving a shiny, superficial, shadowless impression. Apply with care! Like make-up, less is more, provided it’s applied in the right places and in the right degree.

Returning to our Prelude, begin by applying gloss vertically.  Apply an ultra-shiny gloss to every single note in the red line, leaving the rest of the colors in a dull matte finish. Remember that the surface gloss should not affect the body of the sound, its basic color and weight. Gloss attaches itself to the front side of the sound, to its surface, as an effect. Remember also that the most basic form of gloss is achieved by speeding up the finger’s descent into the key.

After you achieve a degree of proficiency applying gloss to the red line, begin again by applying gloss ONLY to the royal blue line. Then the dark green line, etc. The process by now should be familiar.


Once you’ve worked through all nine colors and with gloss, you will have begun to know where you’d like to finally put it.  Generally, high gloss applies most effectively to the principal line.  In the level or two below that, lesser degrees of gloss are still effective, but below that, beware of using too much gloss because its shininess will distract the listener from the primary material.  Exceptions, of course, abound and sometimes the most stunning effects defy logic.  Experiment and take note when you happen upon something unexpectedly beautiful.


Now let’s approach gloss from the horizontal perspective. 

Because gloss attracts the listener’s attention and makes the object seem more important, gloss can be applied quite effectively to highlight points of emphasis. Try playing through the excerpt below, applying high gloss to each of the red pillar notes. You’ll notice that without altering the volume, weight or the level of compression, the movement of the line will become crystal clear to the listener. 

Now try the same thing, but gradually alter the level of gloss as you approach and move away from the energy centers. Even without changing the actual color, every note will seem to have a slightly different color because of the effect of the everchanging gloss. And the phrase will have real persuasive power.

So which approach to gloss should I apply, horizontal or vertical?!

I can only tell you to master both and never stop experimenting.  The two approaches are equally effective.  Ultimately I find myself alternating between them and combining them in every imaginable combination.

And we’ve been looking just now at gloss as an isolated event. When gloss is employed with the possibility of changing dynamic levels or the colors themselves, the ground rules change and gloss can and must be recalibrated. But alas, this is true with every aspect of orchestration at the keyboard.

Defining the Pedaling

Defining the Pedaling


Paint anything you want on the canvas.

Create your own world.

~ Bob Ross



I like to notate pedaling choices into my score with a certain degree of precision because pedaling affects every aspect of touch and even dictates interpretation.  I became more aware of my pedaling techniques as some of my advanced students would ask me to notate exactly what I did with the pedal to obtain a certain effect.  Traditional notation doesn’t even come near the complexities of subtle pedaling!  It captures it but fleetingly; even words like half-pedaling, quarter-pedaling or flutter-pedaling only begin to hint at the techniques employed by a virtuoso pedaler.  Horowitz went so far as to say that pedaling is a greater challenge than touch itself.

Pedaling is very closely related to the concept of pause and separation in phrasing (the subject of the following post).  Silence is not always necessary, of course.  Cleaning of the pedal anywhere clarity is sought is a powerful architectural tool.  The student separates ideas and breaks them up unaware, unintentionally, but a master breaks things and separates them deliberately for the greater good.  At the end of phrases, I often find myself very slowly lifting the pedal over a couple seconds or more, gradually dampening the overtones and clarifying the end of an idea.  This is often followed by a brief silence, catching a quick breath of air as I move forward.

Breathing between ideas is of course vocally-inspired and is typical of great pedaling.  Horowitz is the master of this.  Whether in the melody or in any of the inner voices, he manages to clarify with a quick catch of air each entrance of a new voice or phrase. This often negates the need for a special touch to grab the listener’s attention.  A simple flick of the foot creates the negative space on which to begin painting again.

Delineating phrasing can be achieved with a break or clearing of the pedal, and/or a rhythmic pause.  It’s important to be aware which of the two you're doing.  In practice, combining these two techniques and exaggerating them helps to solidify the phrase-capsules (ie smaller phrases or gestures within larger phrases/gestures) and tighten the phrase units.  Even as ideas are later re-linked, something of the separation naturally remains, and this is essential.  Don’t connect things that aren’t meant to be connected!  Doing so makes connecting ideas that ARE meant to be connected more difficult and less meaningful.  Constantly strive to clarify and simplify your phrasing.

What’s quarter-pedaling?  What’s a half-pedal?  Do you measure from the top of the pedal or the bottom?  Every piano is different and every space is different.  Just as you are the piano, the piano is the space it occupies.  Yet it’s sometimes surprising how intact a well-conceived pedaling plan travels.  Usually only minor alterations are required to adjust to the piano and the acoustic.  The rule of thumb is to always pedal with your ear, but one of the purposes of these pages is to encourage you to move beyond vague precepts into precise thought, and then forget again.

If you’re like most pianists, you probably haven’t given much thought to the relationship of the pedal to the dampers and the dampers to the strings.  It’s never an all-or-nothing situation, wet or dry.  In resting position the dampers are pressed against the strings with enough pressure that they won’t sound when other notes are depressed.  The piano technician has to be careful to establish enough pressure to achieve this while not creating so much tension that the dampers elicit a sort of plucked sound from the strings when they're lifted.

The pedal is the seashore.  Where does the shore end and the sea begin?  The sand twenty yards from the lapping water is so arid that taken out of context it could pass for the Sahara.  Yet at a certain point not always obvious, it becomes slightly moist.  Dig down even a couple inches and you’ll find mud.  Walk a little closer and the surface sand becomes visibly moist.  Not yet wet, but cool.  Great for making sand castles.  A couple feet closer and the remains of waves past will lick your feet.   Finally, after infinite gradations, you’ll reach water, that is, water that flows above the sand.  Still, it only touches the soles of your feet.  With every step into it, the effect of the water is new.  Can waves brushing against your feet compare to wading in up to your waste or neck?  Can wading compare to the full plunge or underwater explorations?

Discover the pedal again as if for the first time.  As you ever so slowly depress it, the first stop is not a quarter pedal!  By even depressing it 1%, the pressure against the strings decreases and you begin to hear a glimmer of magical overtones that weren’t there before.  The haze of overtones increases dramatically as you approach 5% and an obvious pedaled sound should be evident as you approach 10%.   Through this level and far beyond, depending on pitch and volume, the strings vibrate at various heights and brush against the dampers.  Because of the cleansing and dampening effect of this brushing, it’s possible to change the pedal by bringing it up to the 10% or 5% level, when a subtle punctuation is desired, but not a full comma.  On a more subtle level, the slightest change of pedal, from 54% to 51% say, is enough to change the color and inflection.

So what does change the pedal mean?  Try thinking of it as a simple movement up or down, down-and-up, or up-and-down.  And think of it in terms of decimals – .1 up, .65 down, slowly ascending to .0 and then plunging quickly to the depths of .9, etc.  Beyond all-or-nothing primary piano, pedaling is about precise, fluid movement more than about mere changing


The second aspect to be aware of in pedaling is the speed of the movement of the dampers and the length of the change, be it full or partial.  Moving to shallower water or out of it completely is not always enough to dry you out immediately.  Depending on the texture, volume, range and quantity of sound, a long and complete break of up to a couple seconds might be needed to completely clear the air.  Big bass sounds in particular need more time to dry out.  This can be used to your advantage in certain passages where the bass ought to remain, but the treble harmonies need to clear.  A quick change will leave most of the bass resonance and clear most of the treble resonance.

Another phenomenon of the pedal is that the higher the sound, the less it sustains, hence the lack of dampers in the highest octave-and-a-half of the keyboard.  Higher sounds require less rigorous changing, even between dissonant harmonies.  Experiment with leaving the pedal down or changing it only partially in higher-lying passages. 


Now return to our Prelude excerpt and play it through being keenly aware of the movement of your right foot.  You’ll probably be surprised by the complexity of its movements.  Try notating your pedaling into the score as if onto a scientific graph measuring precise depth in time.  This may take longer than you imagine.  The result will look like the reflection of a sweeping, jagged mountainous landscape etched with the clean simple outline of a Japanese print.

Using this as a point of departure, find points where partial or complete clearing of the pedal could heighten contrast and delineate the punctuation of thought.  Find other places where a full change might be substituted by a partial one or a quick subtle shake of the pedal.  The pedal remains in constant movement; don’t let it become static or neglected.


Another name of the damper pedal is the loud pedal, and indeed a full pedal does increase volume by about 20%.  This in itself could be the subject of a longish dissertation.  An ever-fluctuating pedal therefore requires and ever-fluctuating touch to accommodate.  Otherwise the line will be uneven and lack all subtlety.  Many amateurs use the pedal to increase the volume and create vagueries.  The fingers get lazy and let the pedal work for them.  Such milking pedaling is quickly addictive.  Find out if you’re an addict by playing a passage of Bach, say, with no pedal, and see if your equilibrium collapses, your right foot constantly returning to the pedal.

Instead of always using the pedal to ornament your finger-work, try shaping the pedal first and letting your fingers adapt.  It’s quite an opposite approach and may open your mind to the real, untapped power of the pedal. 

One last word of caution: the best pedalers use deep pedaling rarely and for special, lush effect.  Try not to descend beyond 75% unless the texture really demands it.


You need the dark in order to show the light.

~ Bob Ross


Linking and Separating

Linking and Separating


There is a Zen story about a man riding a horse that is galloping very quickly.

Another man, standing alongside the road, yells at him,

"Where are you going?" and the man on the horse yells back,

"I don't know. Ask the horse."

~ unknown


One of the most difficult challenges of Zen energy is getting out of your own way and letting the energy flow freely.  What typically happens, even among good performers, is a constant pushing-forward of the energy so it doesn’t fall flat.  It remains constantly present, slightly leaning into the future, even in ritardandos and dimuendos.  There’s a great piece of advice for conductors that applies just as well to all musicians – It’s like holding a bird in your hand.  Hold it too tightly and you’ll crush it; hold it too loosely and it’ll fly away.

A great deal of music-making is crushed – it’s given to the listener already half-dead.  The danger in approaching music from a Zen perspective is the opposite – you relax so much that it flies away free but meaningless.  As always, balance is the key.

When I feel the line breaking, I often experience what I can only describe as a vertical line in my head blocking it.  Once I identify the blocking energy, I’m able to remove it and the music flows again. 

My first goal in purifying the energy is to unify each individual gesture, starting from phrase segments, then working up to whole phrases, then phrase groupings.  Once I’ve cleared away the excess energy blocking the lines, I go back and deliberately enter punctuation marks to separate gestures and clarify their meaning.  It was only around the middle of the 19th century that some composers (Liszt and Chopin, for example) started inserting commas and other punctuation marks beyond the traditional musical notation. 

How does one gesture connect to the next?  There are as many possibilities as there are in written language, and more, but here are the five most common punctuations between gestures and phrases:

1) and




2) , and

, but

, or

3)   .   . . .

4)  ?  …

5)   !   . . .

In the first group of examples, there’s no comma, simply a conjunction.  In the second, there’s a comma followed by a conjunction.  In the third, a full stop (period).  In the fourth, a question mark.  The fifth, an exclamation mark.  This subject alone is material for a full book that’s surely already been written and I won’t belabor it, but it’s important to realize that it’s usually the interpreter’s responsibility to insert punctuation marks into his score as specifically as possible because the composer generally leaves it up to us.

And how often a simple punctuation mark, the slightest pause or lingering, clarifies the architecture and meaning of an entire section, sometimes even making or breaking an entire work! 

Let’s look now at a few examples from our Prelude.  Imagine it for a moment from a Verdian perspective.  The heroin has been condemned to death for killing her own brother as she rescued him from certain death.  There’s a great chorus of monks chanting in Latin from inside the Cathedral, “Eternum!  Eternum! Eternum!”

From her cell she laments, in Italian, her wretched state: 

“Pietà, pietà!  Mi senti,?  Pietà!  Maria,  pietà!  Mi senti?  Pietà!
Pietà di me, di me pietà!  Amor fatal, pietà di me!”

Sing and play your way through it a couple of times.  Do the words and their punctuation affect the way you play the passage?

Try creating your own operatic scenario and lyrics.

Defining Rubato

Defining Rubato


Time is an illusion. 

~ Albert Einstein



Rubato literally means stolen, as in stealing time, but it traditionally means the giving and taking of time.  Richter said of the metronome, “It just is.”  And I love that! 

But it isn’t.

All music must be balanced between four pillars – song, dance, painting and architecture.  The dance-derived element is linked to music's meters and rhythms and must always be present.  And these often near the disciplined evenness of the metronome.  But try to put a metronome on any great recording of the 20th century.  How many beats does it last?

Great dance is not metronomic.  I’ve worked with many wonderful dancers, but the greatest is the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov.  I came to our first rehearsal of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke prepared to mold the musical energy to his every whim.  But within the first few bars, I realized he was following me!  It was pure chamber music.  We discussed different phrasing possibilities and defined the underlying energy so that we would be in perfect sync.  And it wasn’t metronomic – it pulsed with rhythmic life, it breathed, it sang.

{I’ve always believed that the underlying energy of a work of art can be faithfully translated into other art-forms.  This experience and many others have proved to me that this is possible.  Dancers, painters, actors, musicians and all artists work with the same energy principals and energy spheres, which can be translated into code using the methods presented in these pages.  Something magical happens when two or more people move in sync, especially when more than one art-form is involved.  Even among celebrated chamber groups, it’s rare to find artists that succeed in truly breathing and moving with the same energy.  If they were to have a more conscious understanding and agreement about the movement of energy, this could become less rare.}

Horowitz described rubato as spice – too much and it’s in bad taste, too little and it’s boring.  He had a way of speaking like Confucius out of a fortune cookie.

Rubato is generally thought of as manipulating the flow of the beats, but it also involves manipulating time within the beats.  It can become extremely complex when 3-4 levels of rubato are happening at the same time.  Let’s return to our Prelude and I’ll show you an example:


Rachmaninoff rarely plays with anything resembling metronomic pulse.  In a group of four sixteenth notes, each has its own unique length.  His pulse as well varies from beat to beat, breathing, expanding, surging, lingering.  And his tempos often change markedly every few bars.  His markings in his scores often negate his own recordings, yet the premise of expressive fluidity remains.

In the above, within these eight bars, I’ve added four tempo indications.  It begins with Rachmaninoff’s Lento marking, then in measure four I take a poco rit. e cresc., only to surge ahead in the following measure with a Più Mosso.  The following bar, I relax the tempo with a poco rit. and in bar six return to Tempo I for the restatement of the theme.  This level of rubato is formed from the will of the larger gestures.

Underneath this you have the constant pull and surge of the beat, exacerbated by the juxtaposition of two opposing themes occupying the same temporal space.  The Red line tends to want to slow and look backwards.  When it doesn’t actually pull the beat backwards, it falls slightly after the beat in objection.  I begin each of these gestures with a comma, heightening its emphatic nature. 

The Blue line begins each gesture boldly, leaning forward against resistance, only to resign herself to fate and gently slow, looking backwards regretfully.  In the eighth notes you can observe the constant movement of time within the beats, the micro-world of rubato seldom examined.

Underneath all of this, and this is the subject of a more advanced exploration of rubato, you have the relationship of vertical chords entering the horizontal landscape through the placement of each note in relationship to the others within the chord, and the placement of each chord in relationship to the beat. 

And beyond that, there are more complex questions to explore – what is the difference between a chord placed on the center of a delayed beat and a chord placed after a centered beat?  This is not a philosophical difference, there’s a real difference that a common listener can feel!  What’s the difference between a chord placed on the beat and one placed before a delayed beat?  Experiment on your own.

Don’t underestimate the microscopic elements of rubato – sometimes the slightest displacement of a note is enough to change the mood from hope to despair, even alter destinies.


When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. 

When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. 

That's relativity.

~ Albert Einstein



Differentiating the Texture of Touches

Differentiating the Texture of Touches


It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. 

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,

tied in a single garment of destiny. 

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.



Talea is a Renaissance term meaning texture or pattern.  I use the word talea to define the pattern of touches employed at any given time, based on their length in relationship to their printed note-value.   Talea is the sum total of articulation patterns, and is requires the precise definition of the length of each note. For example, a quarter note held the length of a full quarter note has a value of 1.0. A non-legato touch might vary between 0.3 and 0.8, and a legatissimo could measure 1.2, due to overlapping touches. Talea touches can be viewed and organized, again, either vertically or horizontally, and as being dry or wet.

Because of the generally pedaled nature of the piano and the sustaining pedal’s intimate relationship with touch and virtually every aspect of interpretation, talea holds a special place in the technique of piano playing.  I refer to talea with minimal or no pedal as dry talea and to pedal-based talea as wet talea

Dry talea is the earth-bound side of talea and is comparable to the use of articulation on virtually any other instrument.  Wind players, perhaps oboists most of all, have a highly developed sense of articulation.  They are trained to develop every possible shade of staccato, portato, non legato, legato and legatissimo, so great wind players tickle the ear with constantly varied articulation.

Whenever I play the organ, itself essentially a wind instrument, I’m vividly reminded about how talea affects the listener’s perception of energy.  On the organ, provided you leave the stops in place and don’t use the crescendo pedal, the line stays exactly the same volume no matter how hard you press.  The fingers can’t vary the air pressure to shape the phrase as they can on the piano by striking with less or greater speed/weight.  When I first sit down at the organ, my pianist fingers fight to shape the line at first but gradually adapt to talea-based phrasing.  By varying the length of the notes played, you can create the effect of a crescendo or diminuendo, or even of an espressivo.  Also, in seemingly complete contradiction to this pseudo crescendo/diminuendo technique, non legato on the organ often sounds louder and more energized than legato or legatissimo, even though longer, more sustained sounds release more accumulated sound.  The reason for this is that the clarity of the attack against a slight moment of silence can have the effect of making it seem louder to the listener.

The greatest dry talea artist in the history of 20th pianism was Glenn Gould.  One of the greatest Romantics of the keyboard, he channeled his vocal passions into a largely dry, classical articulation-based art-form.  In his approach to Bach in particular, he constructed skyscrapers with almost no pedal and a small dynamic range.  How did he create the illusion of largeness and expansiveness while using such a small dynamic and interpretive range?  The answer lies mainly in his command of rhythmic energy, architecture, and his unprecedented approach to dry talea.  He deliberately limited his dynamic scope and use of large crescendos/diminuendos in an attempt to recreate the effect of a harpsichord.  Ironically, his playing sounds nothing like the pedal-less but wet and resonant harpsichord, but it sounds like no other piano-playing either!  He lifted rhythmic inertia and talea to the fore with a finger-based technique employing 100 shades of staccato and non-legato.

To briefly describe it, under Gould’s fingers, every line has its own inner life defined largely by the articulation.  And each vertical moment is calculated to maximum effect to show varying lengths of touch.  He uses talea structurally, both vertically and horizontally to maximum effect and in perfect balance.  This effect becomes pure substance and begins to define form and architecture.  He redefines the way you perceive music and form.  Pure genius!  Oddly, when Gould moves into repertoire that demands command of the pedal, the genius quickly fades. {see  post on Gould in Part III}


Wet talea is indigenous to the piano and often has mystifying qualities.  How is it that you can tell, even when the pedal is fully depressed, how long a note is held in the finger?  Once you release a note to the pedal, it shouldn’t matter any more whether the finger actually holds the note down or not.  But it does!  Could it have something to do with the proximity of the hammer to the vibrating strings?  Unlikely.  Or simply with following through?  It’s a mystery – the piano seems to sense your intentions and reveal even what should logically remain hidden.  A well-known NY piano technician said it best – The more I get to know the intricacies of the mechanics of the piano, the more mysterious it becomes.

The greatest wet talea artist of the 20th century was Vladimir Horowitz.  And this in spite of his avoidance of a real finger-legato.  What a paradox!  Horowitz’ technique is based almost exclusively on a non-legato approach (and by this I mean every shade from staccatissimo to near-legato), inside the pedal and out (and every shade of wetness in between), to create the most orchestral sound in recorded history.

The traditional terms for articulation don’t seem to suffice – staccatissimo, staccato, portato, portamento, tenuto, non legato, legato, legatissimo, etc.  Besides being often imprecise and having overlapping meanings, they are too few.  Staccato generally mean anything from about 10% of the actual note value to around 85%.  That’s an enormous range!  Even non legato can mean anything from around 50% to 99%.  And legatissimo can mean anything from 101% to 1000% and beyond!  As an interpreter seeking definition of intent, wouldn’t it be more logical and more precise to apply raw percentages to designate length of attack?  -– this note .5, this passage .8, these notes .1, this note 1.3, etc.   This is how I often notate articulation in my score.  It’s extremely efficient and helps heighten my awareness to the limitless possibilities of articulation and its uses in defining talea.


Let’s return to our Prelude and look at a few examples of how this works.   Let’s look first at the blue line alone and experiment with varying possibilities:


Try playing this through several times until you can approximate the relative note-lengths.  Can you hear the color and the emphasis change as you alter the talea?


Now turn your attention to the vertical:

Try coming to terms with these talea decimals.  Don’t worry at first about being absolutely precise, but listen to the orchestral colors that result by simply altering the length of the attacks.  Experiment writing in your own decimals for the entire excerpt, as well as in other repertoire, and take in the resulting colors.   What I find particularly interesting when I apply talea vertically is that the notes that I let ring out into the pedal (such as the .1 thumb in the lh above) not only offer striking, contrasting colors, they free the hand up of unnecessary tension.

We will examine Dry Talea further in Part IV, as well as in the following post.

The Dry Pedal – Finger-pedaling

The Dry Pedal – Finger-pedaling


Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

~ Albert Einstein


Finger-pedaling is an aspect of talea and relates directly to pedaling but is complex and autonomous enough to stand on its own.

Art is never perfect – this troubled me a great deal as a young artist seeking for perfection.  Everywhere you turn, there are compromises and tricks, incomplete thoughts and visions.  And this is especially true of the piano.  With only ten fingers and one sustaining pedal, the effects that can be achieved at any given moment are governed and limited by the choices you make.  The pedal can only be at one degree of depression at any given time and this affects every string in the piano. 

But the pedal is also the master of illusion, making you believe that the vision was perfect.  And to become a real master of the pedal, you also need to become a master of the dry pedal, also known as finger-pedaling. 

In my opinion, pedagogical thought about pedaling and finger-pedaling generally only touches the surface of the nature and relationship between them.  The ways dry-pedaling and wet-pedaling can be contrasted and combined opens up the door to seldom-heard orchestral effects, as if there were two pianists at two pianos.

Try an exercise: take out a Mozart Sonata and play a couple phrases as you normally do, with pedal.  Now take your foot off the pedal and begin again, this time trying to recreate the sound of the pedal as much as possible.  Repeat several times, once with pedal, once without.  Now, using your pedal-less version as the starting point, add touches of pedal here and there for color effects.  See how lush and romantic the pedal sounds now?  And what contrast and clarity! 

There’s nothing essentially new to this approach – many practice early Classical and pre-Classical music in this way.  What’s new is the extent to which you can take it.  Finger-pedaling is generally carried out in a much more conservative way than normal pedaling.  Even for the most restrained pianist, normal pedaling gently blurs harmonies and even passagework, such that even in Bach or Mozart, several notes of a scale passage might fall into a single pedal. Harmonies blend together not legato, but legatissimo.  Use that same freedom in your finger-pedaling! 

Next, experiment with a passage from Bach.  See how wet and romantic you can make it sound without any pedal.  Let the harmonies and the passagework blend as if in a subtly pedaled interpretation.  The results may astonish you.  At first it will seem like your fingers are working much too hard, but once you get used to it, provided you don’t push yourself into extreme yoga hand-poses, you’ll discover that it requires little extra physical or mental effort.  Gradually it will become second-nature and completely effortless.

Having a strong conscious command of dry-pedaling will be essential when you enter more heavily pedaled repertoire.  The number of orchestral effects you can achieve multiplies exponentially when you have two pedals to choose from and combine.

From the Key Surface or from the Air?

From the Key Surface or from the Air?


The soul has illusions as the bird has wings: it is supported by them.

~ Victor Hugo



This manual is not meant to give you definitive answers or teach you my interpretations – it presents you with ideas and tools to form and renew your own working habits.  I hope that as you work through these filters, you will be enlightened by fresh realizations about the potential of the piano but also struggle with the contradictions; quite often, one filter cancels out another.  In your final interpretation (which is of course ever subject to growth and revision . . .) you have to choose between individual filters and combinations of filters.  This happens largely on a less-than-conscious level, but the more aware you are of your choices and techniques, the more successfully and convincingly you’ll be able to present them.

When using extensive finger-pedaling, your hands will feel glued to the keyboard and the idea of attacking from the air probably won’t occur to you.  So you may need to clear your mind of sticky fingers to approach the following argument.

Should I attack from the key-surface, from just above it, or in grand style from several inches above?  Attacking from the air was much more common in the Golden Age of Pianism.  The aplomb, the massive orchestral effects achieved — where are they now?  Why do most Pianists nowadays play everything from within an inch of the key surface?  The answer is obvious but perhaps not often enough discussed.  As we entered the Recording Age, musicians gradually tried to make their performances note-perfect, to the point of now nearing insanity.  Did anyone ever hear a note-perfect Richter performance, a note-perfect Rubinstein performance, Horowitz?  Can you imagine Liszt playing note-perfect!  These were all risk-takers.  Not that they were irresponsible or wonton, but they knew that certain risk levels were acceptable for the greater good of the interpretation. 

Any attack from the air has innate risk involved.  It’s much easier to miss a 3-pointer than a lay-up.  And each has a distinct value.  What would basketball be without 3-pointers!  Yet that’s what the music world has come to.  Let’s hope that as we enter the 21st century, the tide will turn again.

It’s all about the free flow of energy and thought.  Something special happens in the psyche when you give yourself permission to fail – this is one of the key points of Zen.  Your emotions free up, your mind expands, your body simultaneously relaxes and becomes alive, alert.  All of this free energy finds its way into the sound and transmits directly to the listener.

Learn to accept a greater degree of risk in your approach to music making and your language and power will expand.  Limits can of course also be positive, but don’t box yourself in so tightly that you can’t breathe and sing.

Learning to play from the air will enormously expand your dynamic range and tonal palette.  You simply can’t attain the exact same color from the key-surface as from the air.  You can literally feel the life-giving oxygen in the sound when even half-a-centimeter is at play.  And dropping from a couple inches away gives yet another distinct color, not to mention greater volume.


Applying Height Vertically

Let’s try experimenting with our Prelude.  Try playing everything on the first page from at least a centimeter above the key-surface.  An inch or two would be even better, although messier at first.  Don’t be discouraged if everything flies out the window and half the notes are split or full-out missed.  Try it four or five times.  By now you’re probably splitting a much smaller percentage of the notes.  Over time and with practice, the feeling of insecurity and enormous distance that even two inches inspires will disappear and you will reclaim your direct connection to the keys.

At first, even as it becomes cleaner, the sound will still be hard-edged and uneven.  It takes time to adjust and certain dormant muscles need to be awakened and welcomed into your energy pathways.  Gradually,  as you gain greater comfort and command, the sound will become rounder and more varied.

You probably feel like your playing for thousands and not simply for yourself in your living room.  You can feel the fresh air of the outdoors.  There’s the legend of Gottschalk living in Central America up on a mountain with a piano that overlooked the plains below.  He would play for the birds and the great expanses.  When you let a little oxygen into your sound, you start to feel like you’ve entered the outdoors.

It’s possible to establish orchestral levels simply but varying the height of the attack (just as it’s possible orchestrate based on the depth of the sound, our next chapter).  Let’s take first our Red level.  Play it from about 2 inches above the key-surface and play the other eight levels from the key-surface.

How does it feel?  It should give you the sensation of accompanying a singer at the piano, you being the soloist and the accompanist.  This is a powerful language in its own right.

Now try the same technique, but from the Royal Blue level.  Because this level is connected in the r.h. to two other levels, they may be brought along for the ride.  Later you’ll learn to separate them.

Next, apply the technique to the Dark Green level.  Again, because of the two levels connected to it in the l.h., at first you’ll need to bring them along.

Next, try to play the Red level from 2 inches above and the Royal Blue and Dark Green from 1 centimeter above.  This will sound more complex and balanced.

Now kick it up a notch.  Try the Red level as before from 2 inches, the Royal Blue level from one inch, and the Dark Green level from 1 centimeter.  Repeat several times until it becomes comfortable.  You should be getting glimpses of glorious sounds.

Work through these steps again now from the beginning, until you begin to feel command over them.  Experiment with inserting height into the other color levels, separately at first, and then in various combinations. 


Applying Height Horizontally

Like with many other techniques, Height can be applied structurally, either vertically or horizontally.  Now let’s examine its horizontal uses.  Because Height lends extra definition and usually extra volume to the sound, it’s effective to define horizontal lines by varying the degree of Height. 

Let’s explore this concept through our Prelude.  Take the first three notes of the Red line.  Play the first two notes from the key-surface, but the third, the Energy Pillar, from an inch above the key-surface.  Try it a few times until you gain command.  Now do it again as you try to remain sensitive to the movement of energy.  Can you feel a burst of energy streaming out on the C-sharp?  It has added clarity, extra volume, more oxygen, and a very special color in relationship to the other two notes. 

Try now playing the entire first page a few times (turn back to the diagram of Red Energy Pillars above) playing all of the Pillar notes from an inch above the key-surface, and the rest from the key-surface.  Can you feel the architecture becoming more clearly defined?

Now try to repeat the process ONLY from the Royal Blue line.

Now from Only the Dark Green level.

Next combine the three so that every Pillar (and Secondary Pillar) has a one-inch-above-the-key-surface attack.  (Remember that the energy Pillars for the Royal Blue and the Dark Green are identical.)

Now you’re ready to differentiate the levels.  Play the Pillars in the Red level (and two supporting levels) from two inches above the key-surface.  Play the Pillars of the Royal Blue Level (and two supporting levels) from one inch above the key-surface.  And play the Pillars of the Dark level (and two supporting layers) from one centimeter above the key-surface.  All other notes should be played from the key-surface.

You’ll need to play the first page several times like this before you begin to have command over it.

If you’ve come this far and you’re willing and capable to take it further, try now isolating the three individual principal Colors (Red, Royal Blue and Dark Green) from their accompanying levels such that the accompanying levels will be played exclusively from the key surface.  This in itself is a virtuoso act, but is possible by turning the hands as needed and repositioning the fingers.  The Red level, of course, presents no difficulties here because its supporting levels are played by the l.h.  Can you hear the colors coming into increased definition and differentiation?

Now let’s approach it from an even more complex proposition.  Begin again focusing only on the first three notes of the Red line.   Play the first note, A, from an inch above the key-surface, the second note, G-sharp, from a centimeter above the key-surface, and the third note, C-sharp, the first Pillar, from two inches above the key-surface.  Try it a few times.  Can you hear how dynamic and alive that sounds!  Apply the technique to the Red line on the entire first page, any increase in energy or volume echoed by the degree of height of the attack.

Now approach the Royal Blue line in the same way, leaving all other levels flat in our hazy Light Blue. 

Now try to combine the Royal Blue (and its five supporting levels) with the Red (with its two supporting levels), without trying for the moment to differentiate them from one another in terms of hierarchy.  Try to remain sensitive to the inner energy of both lines at the same time and shape them simply by varying the Height of the attacks.

Now try to play the Red level at a higher general energy level with greater relative Height in the Energy Pillars.  If you can manage this while grading and shaping the notes around them, you’re approaching real mastery of Height.

I’ll leave you here with this concept to your own experimentation.  But for the most advanced and ambitious among you, I challenge you to take it a step further.  It’s possible to employ both approaches to Height – Horizontal and Vertical – at the same time, but it becomes EXTREMELY complex and daunting.  Beware: contradictions abound.


To the Key-bottom or Beyond?

To the Key-bottom or Beyond?


As a student, you often hear, Play to the key-bottom.  This is generally good advice, although many ghostly echoes can be achieved by skimming the surface of the key or descending only partway down.  After all, who plays glissandos to key bottom!  (It only takes a few of those to draw blood…)  Glissandos float and enchant us – why shouldn’t such ethereal sounds be part of a virtuoso pianist’s tonal palette?  But that’s the subject for another Essay…

I return to Rachmaninoff’s advice about playing the piano, “Don’t play to the key-bottom, play beyond it.”

Your first reaction might be, But isn’t that wasted energy?

Perhaps, but some of the most spectacular and stunning effects on the piano are achieved by expending a sliver more energy than absolutely required.  I don’t mean to knead the key-bed or add finger-vibrato to the sound, as some colleagues teach.  It has more to do with hitting a baseball.  (What did Yogi Berra say about this . . . it’s ninety percent mental and the other half physical…?)  To hit a homerun, or even a double, you have to follow through with your swing.  Even after making contact with the ball, you have to keep swinging.  It’s as if the ball, at the moment of contact, senses what you will from it.  There are many such mysteries in Physics. 

Once I became conscious of following through with my stroke, I began imagining, even measuring exactly how far my finger penetrated beyond the key-bottom, from just below the surface all the way down to my toes.  Forte and fortissimo begin to feel a bit like chopping multiple pieces of wood in half with your bare fingers.  If your timing’s off even slightly, or you lack faith, you might experience a forced sound and a tight arm, but with a little practice, you gain the ability to throw your energy beyond the key-bed and gradually attain subtle control over the depth.


What is firmly rooted cannot be pulled out.

~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


Applying Depth Vertically

Let’s turn to our Prelude and experiment with this technique.  First, begin each attack from the key-surface so that you can isolate the sensation of depth separate from height.  It helps me to think of Bruce Lee’s famed Short Punch.  He could concentrate his energy so powerfully that he could seriously wound a man from only one inch away.  Careful!  This is not a Level 1 touch (from the fingers) – it’s Level 3 or 4.  The fingertip needs to be set and used as a mallet by the forearm or upper arm.

Play through the first page a few times, everything mf or f, and imagine punching beyond the key-bottom.  How far can you reach before you begin over-exerting yourself?  Be careful not to let your elbows lock, and allow your wrists to remain flexible but supported.  Now play through it again with the dynamics as marked, in a more relaxed way, simply being aware of your fingers piercing beyond the key-bed.  You may likely have just discovered a new way to perceive of touch and acquired a new orchestration tool, because by varying the depth of a note’s sound, you can change not only its volume, but also its color, or both.

Try now playing the Red layer and its two supporting layers with a 3-inch-below-the-key-bed punch.  On the remaining 6 layers, use a one-inch-below-the-key-bed punch.  Play through the first page a few times like this until you gain a certain degree of control over it.  Now try it again with a more relaxed approach (more sinkingly penetrating than punched) and open your ears to the sounds coming at you.  Do you feel a foot taller?  There’s something gigantic about the sensation, as if your hands have grown to the size and strength of a 7’6” basketball player’s.  And the sounds are big and spectacular, as if the Red layer were played by an entire full orchestra String Section and the other six layers by the Winds.

Try now adding in a third degree of depth for the Dark Green layer and two supporting layers.  The Royal Blue layer and two supporting layers will remain at one inch, the Red and supporting layers at 3 inches, but play the Dark Green and supporting layers at one centimeter.  Play it through a few times until you gain comfort and conscious command.  Now relax and play it again with more passive command and greater sensitivity to what you’re hearing and feeling.  Can you hear the effect of three distinct orchestral sections, each with body and mass?

If the Red triple layer is the Strings and the Royal Blue triple-layer the Winds, let’s call the Green triple layer a Trio of French Horns, the hybrid section between Winds and Brass.  Now let’s add in Brass.  Keeping everything else as is, change the single Red Layer from three inches to six inches, giving it the effect of three or four Trombones.  Play it through this way several times now until you become comfortable.  Can you hear a massive Brucknerian Orchestra singing Rachmaninoff?

If you’re brain isn’t spinning from this exercise, try now substituting the basso profondo line, the Dark Blue, with a 6-inch attack and the Red Line with an as-deep-as-you-can-go-without-over-forcing attack.  If over time you manage to achieve this, you’ll be walking among giants without needing to look up.


Applying Depth Horizontally

Applying Depth Horizontally works in virtually the same way and to very similar results as applying Height horizontally.  Follow the instructions in the previous Essay, step by step. 


Combining and Contrasting Height and Depth

As with many of these filters, it took me many years, even decades to understand how they connect and inter-relate.  Some of the most obvious links eluded me and I wish I’d had this manual in my hands from the age of nine or ten to guide me and spare me countless hours chasing fruitless shadows.  One of these simple truths is the ying-yang bond between Height and Depth.

Simply, the most complete touch begins with great height and descends to great depth.  All other touches are contained within this single long stroke.  When I was a teenager, I viewed height as superficial and frivolous, and depth as wasted energy.  Indeed, when you try either of them for the first time, like jogging, they feel wrong.  It takes getting used to before they feel comfortable and right.

Awe-inspiring orchestral effects can be obtained by contrasting height, depth and height+depth touches.  I’ll leave you now to your own experimentation.

On Conducting and Studying the Score Away from the Piano

On Conducting and Studying the Score Away from the Piano


Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.

~ Zen Saying



What could be more Zen than practicing the piano without touching the instrument!  To become a master of energy at the keyboard, a magician of orchestral color, you must distance yourself from the 88 keys. Discover your inner conductor.

Once I remember as a teenager having an hour to practice right before a lesson, and there were no practice rooms available, so I went to the library and opened my score of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and began reading my way through it.  Suddenly my interpretation became clear and I went up confidently to my lesson to play it.  Same as before, if not worse.

Nothing replaces working at the keyboard.  That is, the fingers, hands and arms have to possess the interpretation.  But what struck me and remained with me was that experience of near-genius comprehension of a score when I breathed and sang and analyzed my way through it without having to waste any energy or thought on the banalities of moving my fingers or be distracted by the sound coming out of the instrument.  It was an hour of absolute lucidity. 

Through the years I continued to study scores away from the piano, but only when there was no piano available, which was rare.  I generally studied scores in trains and airplanes.

When I was twenty-five, I moved to Rome.  Within my first few months there I happened upon a wonderful conducting teacher and decided to take up the baton, a lifelong ambition.  Within a short time, my ability to absorb music without the aid of a piano changed drastically.  I learned how to absorb scores with my inner vocal instinct by connecting every note to my voice or at least to my inner voice.  I stopped touching the keyboard for months at a time and started becoming a real walking orchestra.  My inner hearing became more intense and I started to hear the specific colors of the orchestra in my head.  This is when I started to become a more powerful, aware interpreter.

I would spend most of the academic year with baton in hand, but return to the piano as summer approached and spend a few months rediscovering myself as a pianist, doing concerts and competitions.  Studying piano scores away from the keyboard became a powerful tool to come to terms with my own interpretation and really learn the details of the printed score.  What surprised me and continues to surprise me is that no matter how many times you breathe your way through a score, you always figure out something new.  There are so many different ways to analyze a score, from the smallest details to the largest design, noticing phrase lengths and the ways bars group together, becoming aware of large and small harmonic movements, discovering recurring rhythmic and melodic units, and simply gaining real command of the dynamics, accents, phrasing and pacing.  Also, you become more conscious of the specific emotional colors that are being experienced, and try to understand why they affect you the way they do.  The process of analysis and assimilation is endless.  And then each time your fingers come into contact with the keys, they feel out these new realities and reveal a greater depth of understanding.

As a conductor, this process is all the more intense and studied because you develop tools to help you translate scores into a new physical and mental understanding that a mere pianist has yet to know.  The translation of thought from one language to another is a most revealing process. You discover what is unique to each language, and what is shared by both, what is universal.  Both are important. 

The piano is capable of certain colors and expression that the orchestra is not, and vice-versa.  Imagine the vulgarity of an orchestra playing a Chopin Waltz or Ballade, or a Beethoven Piano Sonata!  The piano rendering a Beethoven Symphony is equally unsatisfying and unidiomatic.  Every instrument has its own inner laws that give it its unique expressive potential, yet all instruments and instrumental combinations share certain universal qualities of expression.

What’s the ideal balance between study at the keyboard and study away from the keyboard?  I venture to say about 50/50, provided that if you're a professional pianist a minimum of at least a couple hours per day is maintained at the keyboard because of the physical aspect that has to be continually kept up.

Imagining Real Orchestration

Imagining Real Orchestration


As a Pianist turned Conductor, I can recommend nothing more strongly to the Advanced Pianist than learning how to conduct.  Even learning the basics of score-reading and baton technique is transformational.  And with a little effort you can learn to transcribe orchestral works into pianistic creations, one of the greatest ways to come to terms with the relationship between specific orchestral colors and their pianistic equivalents.  Transcribing also teaches you essential truths about what the piano is not.

Learn to use each instrument and instrumental combination as a filter.  There are countless possibilities: a Violin with unlimited range; a ‘Cello with unlimited range; a String Quartet/Quintet or String Orchestra; a Flute with unlimited range; a Wind Ensemble; a Brass ensemble; a Percussion Ensemble; a French Horn Ensemble with unlimited range; a String and Wind Orchestra; a Brass and Percussion Orchestra; various Chamber groups.  It’s often useful to give a face to your players.  I generally use Casals or Rostropovich on ‘Cello, Heifetz, Perlman on Thibaut on Violin, and so on.

You’ve just gained hundreds of new filters, each with something quite special to teach you about the Piano, your specific interpretation, and your relationship to both.  Treat orchestral transcription, even if only virtual, as a serious Art-form; it will add new dimensions to your pianistic language.

Each instrument demands a special technique at the keyboard.  As you perfect your inner ear’s perception of each instrumental sound, you will find it easier to imitate that sound on the keyboard.  If you want to get to know the Violin better, take out a Bach Violin Suite or Tschaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, for example, and play the Violin part either with one hand or both.  Try to capture the peculiar qualities of both the sound and the way the instrument encourages you to phrase and breathe, either because of technical considerations or sonic inspiration.  Take note of how you are technically achieving your pianistic transcription of the sound.

Work through each of the orchestral instruments and sections in this way.  Your results may be very personal, but the following guidelines from my own experience will be helpful:


All Strings, while employing active fingers capable of vibrato, are driven by the bow and bowings.  Pianistically, the bow refers to dropping and lifting the weight from the forearm and/or upper arm in and out of the keys.  One bow often contains several notes.  At first, don’t worry about up-bow and down-bow – simply play each phrase or gesture with one long, endless bow.  Never forget to move the bow against the strings; the moment the bow becomes inactive, the weight becomes dead, the fingers start to work too hard, and the String quality disappears.

Each of the individual String instruments has a sound all its own, and within each instrument, each of the four strings has a peculiar color.  These subtleties I leave to you to discover; the basic concept of sound production and sound transcription remains the same.  To gain a deeper understanding of bowing, study the nature of up-bow and down-bow and watch videos of the great string players, noticing how they use their bows.  Also, nothing compares with actually putting a string instrument in your own hands and experimenting.


Flute:  Use clear pointed fingers coated in metal to bring out its translucent, water-like quality.  Generally, play from the fingers, even in forte, although the hand can help for accents and certain heavier, sustained colors.

Piccolo:  Also played from the hand, but with even brighter fingertips.  It should have a pointed, super-clear, and sometimes even piercingly bright sound.

Clarinet:  Use expressive fingertips that connect to the forearm and sink in.  Don't play on the hard part of the fingertips, even in forte.  It should generally have a warm, felty, milky cantabile quality to it.

Oboe:  Like the Clarinet, but with more pointed, violinistic fingers.  Use slightly compressed, expressive forearms to imitate the effort and pressure that goes into the embouchure to produce the sound.

Bassoon:  Like the Oboe, but with more edge, in the fortes especially, and with more body to the sound and less compression in the forearms.


The entire Brass Section should be played from the forearm or upper arm.  The hand can help, but the fingers must be set, even in p and pp. What separates Brass from Voice is how the fingers are used.  When imitating Brass, abstain from using the fingers to obtain expressive effects.  Also, the illusion of legato is achieved through non legato.   Don't play legatissimo – that would involve finger-legato and create an unrealistic sound.  Brass parts can often be played quite effectively with all thumbs, for example; the fingering is not important.  Related to this, don't bow Brass instruments!

French Horn requires a slower attack and should use a softer mallet (the fleshy ball of the fingertips).

Trumpet requires a quicker attack and a harder, more pointed mallet, except in piano espressivo.

Trombone can be thought of as a cross between Trumpet and French Horn in terms of the general sound quality, but it requires more depth { the sound lies beneath the key-bed, a la Rachmaninoff}.

Tuba is like Trombone, but sometimes with more edge in the lower register, and is closer to the French Horn in the higher register.


Percussion generally requires pointed or slanted fingers used as mallets, played from the hand, forearm or upper arm.  It’s difficult to generalize about Percussion, however, because its instruments are so vast and varied.  Remember that the Percussionist’s goal is to transcend the percussive nature of his instruments, letting them sing and dance. 


I won't generalize about each vocal category here, but all voices combine the power of Brass (played from the arm) with the expressive attributes of Strings and Winds (espressivo in the fingers, especially fingertips).  If you accompany good singers, you’ll know that the Piano cannot compete with the carrying quality of the human voice.  It takes all you can muster to approach it with full chords, let alone single notes.  Any pianist but a Horowitz would have trouble filling a space like the MET in a satisfying way.

{For those of you who want to take your understanding of Orchestration to the next level, I recommend first and foremost acquainting yourself with the masterworks of the instrumental and orchestral repertoire, and learning to read and transcribe from orchestral scores.  Secondly, study Piston’s celebrated manual, Orchestration.  Thirdly, for the most die-hard among you, try your hand at transcribing, arranging and composing for Chamber Ensembles and Chamber Orchestra, even Full Orchestra.  Learn to become the Orchestra; the Piano will not be able to help but speak and sing as an Orchestra.  And of course again, I strongly recommend to any of you to gain at least a basic command of the Art of Conducting — see Part IV.}

Stylistically, the overall color of the Orchestra will vary tremendously, but the essential tonal qualities of each instrument or voice and how they’re reproduced on the Piano should be respected as much as is feasible.

With each interpretation, as you experiment with various orchestral filters, take note of what works particularly well and notate it into your score, just like orchestral reductions often include specifications about the actual instruments or instrumental combinations being represented.

The final step of Real Orchestration is to GIVE IT BACK TO THE PIANO.  Don’t let your imagination get the better of you!  Remember to take out excess energy and physical movement that produce no actual result on the Piano, such as vibrato (!).  Listen to the sounds you’re achieving with an open ear and with a pianist’s ear, and choose only what works pianistically.  Then use the technique that is most natural and efficient to realize your vision. 

When you perform, don’t imagine the Orchestra – imagine your pianistic representation of the Orchestra.  Only in this way will you be able to communicate your orchestral vision effectively to the listener.