teaching music




One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow,

and called out,

''Help me up! Help me up!''

A monk came and lay down beside him.

Chao-chou got up and went away.

- Zen koan

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is a reaction, both are transformed.

- Carl Jung


Teaching revolves around two dependent poles: generosity and selfishness. 


One of my conducting teachers loved to say, Show yourselves to be generous souls!  Generosity is the key to great artistry!  And how right he was. 

The first and obvious reason to teach is to give back what you’ve been given. You've been blessed with teachers and mentors who gave beyond the call of duty to your development, both personal and pianistic.  In these increasingly bleak days of classical music culture, those who have received training are needed to maintain a living tradition.  It’s not inevitable that the living music tradition could become extinct and need a Renaissance several centuries from now.


Every student is unique and needs a personal approach.  Teaching piano is rarely about teaching concert pianists or even professional musicians.  The path of the musician from a practical standpoint is often so difficult and demanding that many choose to follow other professions.  But many who leave serious musical ambitions for a time come back to music later in their lives for pleasure.  And many who have connected with music as children encourage their own children to study music.

My goal in teaching is twofold:  1) instill a life-long love and enjoyment of music – all music.  And 2) teach the student how to become a more mature human being through the study of music.

I’m always fascinated by the relationship between real life and the study of piano.  If you learn to overcome a problem at the piano, you will likely have overcome the same problem in your life, and vice-versa.  They’re ultimately inseparable. 


If I’m privileged enough to come across a student who might ultimately make music his career, the obligation is generally greater.   You need to create frequent opportunities for him to perform and test his abilities.  Goals need to be nearby, tangible and attainable.   But most of all, the joy and passion for the study of music must remain.  Otherwise all is lost.  Many teachers in their ambitions forget what really counts.

I sometimes wonder which of my students will be left with the most lasting impact and which will have impacted me the most.  I was the most talented and ultimately successful piano student of my first and most influential teacher, Patricia Reeve, at least from a professional musical standpoint.  She nurtured me from the time I first began lessons at the age of seven until I gave my first solo recital and debuted as soloist with orchestra at the age of twelve.  Then she had the grace to pass me on to a concert pianist who would be able to continue guiding me through me teenage years.  I doubt though that she feels she affected my life as profoundly as many of her other students, many of whom never became professional musicians or even possessed enormous musical talent.  She used music to teach people how to grow and express themselves, to better themselves.  Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal?

Seeing my talent immediately, she made me see the beauty of pursuing a career as a concert pianist.  She opened up a path to me and encouraged me tirelessly along the way.  With each student the path was different, and she encouraged each along his.

How do you know which student is talented?  Although you can usually see some kind of spark, you can never really know until you start seeing fruit, and even then, you don’t know how long the joy and drive will continue.  Life is too complicated to predict a young person’s future. 

But you have to always hope.  Hope not that the student will develop into a great artist, but hope that they have more potential than you imagine they might.  Hope that they will grow and become greater than you expect them to.  Give students the benefit of the doubt.  Sometimes being generous with your encouragement may produce results that surprise you!

On the other hand, how easy it is to kill talent!  Treat a kid with real talent as if he’s untalented, and soon enough he’ll prove you right.

Teaching is an enormous responsibility and a great joy.


They say, give and you shall receive.  In order to possess knowledge, you have to confess it.  You have to translate it into actions and words, and share it with people.  Few lessons go by where I don’t consciously realize that I’ve just learned something myself.  Teaching is a necessary part of growing as an artist.  The two greatest and complementary ways of claiming knowledge are performing and teaching.  One without the other suffers.


Walter Gieseking

Walter Gieseking


Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching



Debussy had a very curious approach to piano technique.  He taught that the keys shouldn’t be “played” – it’s the keys themselves that draw the fingers down magnetically.  That’s a very Zen-like approach to touch!  And it’s very revealing about how he might have interpreted his own piano works.  You would likely assume from his statement that his fingers would have a constant connection with the keys and that he might prefer the fleshy part of the fingertip for its less direct sound.  Except for an occasional martellato effect, he seems to desire a non-martellato sound, a sound devoid of hammers.  If this is so, he may have found one of his greatest interpreters in Gieseking.

Gieseking’s interpretations of both Debussy and Ravel are legendary.  They speak in a language of elves and fairies, pixies and water sprites. The first time I heard Gieseking’s celebrated recording of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, I felt as if I were hearing an unknown magical instrument, anything but a piano with hammers and strings. 

Gieseking has all the painterly qualities of Michelangeli, but the two couldn’t be more different.  Michelangeli’s approach is superior in so many respects:  it has a greater variety of color, it’s more precise in every way, more respectful of the score – you can take dictation from it!  Gieseking’s interpretations are free, full of unabashed liberties.  Many of the notes are so veiled that they would be hard to identify by any but the most gifted listener.  He mystifies the ears, confounds reason.  The notes often lack individual value; they’re grouped together for larger effect.  The unexplainable in what he achieves lends him the quality of a conjurer.  In the Impressionists, his special approach makes for enchanting, enthralling, unforgettable interpretations.


Gieseking had a facile memory, a large technique, and a vast repertoire.  He simply played everything, the 32 Beethoven Sonatas, for example.  The hardest thing about preparing the Beethoven Cycle was memorizing them.  Later in the same interview, he adds, humbly, memorizing them actually came quite effortlessly.  Unfortunately, they don’t say very much.  Much of his recorded legacy simply disappoints.  I would have thought his Rachmaninoff, for example, would be something quite special, but it’s played with little magic, little understanding.

While his discography is vast and varied, if he had simply left us with his recording of Gaspard de la nuit, he would have earned his place among the immortals.  And it’s this recording that I summon whenever I try to achieve an enchanting, hammerless effect on the keyboard.  How would Gieseking-playing-Gaspard realize this passage?  It may seem odd, but it’s a key that has opened my mind and ears to many magical possibilities throughout the repertoire.

Milan Kundera writes, eventually everyone is reduced to kitsch.  And this is what I do without apologies.  I reduce an artist to his greatest quality {or qualities} and use it as a tool.  On the other hand, I don’t hold their weaknesses against them, and I use what I take thankfully.  Sometimes I have to wonder, though, what will I be reduced to?

Variation I

Variation I:  Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 2 no. 1 {excerpt from the beginning of the 1st movement}


Beethoven’s first Piano Sonata screams out genius and originality from the first note to the last.  That’s not common for many of the great Sonata composers.  It’s a form that takes experience to conquer.  What’s even more astonishing is that Beethoven published not one, but three Sonatas together in this early Opus, all unique, groundbreaking, and equally ingenious.  You know immediately that you’ve come upon an inspired, inspiring, humbling force of nature.

Its opening bars have been analyzed from virtually every conceivable angle by composers, theorists and pianistic thinkers alike.  But I hope to offer a few fresh insights.  The absolute compactness – architectural, emotional and motivic – is extraordinary.  It’s passion bound by the strictest of classical rigueur – not a superfluous note.  The four-movement Sonata lasts all of twelve minutes, but it contains the music of an entire Opera, and is indeed quite operatic.

Beethoven, often more than even Mozart, is difficult to come to terms with and play naturally and idiomatically.  His scores are so precisely notated and so demanding emotionally and pianistically that it’s hard to feel like you’re not being constantly forced by his firm hand.  Liszt tends to sound harder than it is; Beethoven sounds easier than it is. 

Emotionally it’s challenging because every phrase has to be shaped with absolute emotional precision, and not only this – the emotions that he demands are often counter-intuitive.  He’ll lead you into a wonderfully satisfying peak, only to suddenly break it off and leave you and the audience hanging, frustrated.  The audience has time to react and adjust, but the pianist has to adapt immediately to a new emotional reality.  This is not as easy as it might seem.

His subito dynamic changes, often jolting, can often only be performed effectively by giving yourself over to the emotion and mood of one side of the cliff.  Either stay with the forte, for example, all the way to the breaking point and then begin the subito piano with almost no emotional involvement, painting for a few beats until you begin to recover; or detach yourself from the end of the forte passage so you’ll be emotionally ready to sing from the first note of the piano.  You can’t have it both ways and not lose your balance. 

This is one of the great secrets to performing Beethoven successfully; not taking this advice results in a performance that constantly builds up residual tension from being jolted back-and-forth.  You’ll never feel completely balanced and you’ll likely fall.  It’s the equivalent of a singer stacking her breath by repeatedly forgetting to exhale before breathing.  Her shoulders gradually begin to arch, she leans forward, and it’s not long before she begins shouting, even in pianissimo.


After you've put the notes of the following passage under your fingers, begin working through the 27+ filters from Part I, one by one.  A few of them are linked together, but they’re presented as before.




Defining the Color Levels

Defining colors is the most complex of the filters and requires working through countless filters before arriving at concrete solutions.  In practice, I begin defining the color levels by simply as relative dynamic levels, exaggerating the contrasts.

Rather than redefine specific colors for each example, I’ll keep the same color levels from the Rachmaninoff Prelude for easy comparison.  Define and redefine the colors for yourself as you develop your own interpretation.

Most music can be reduced to four-part harmony, chorale-like, so let’s start by defining the first four layers of our excerpt, the first twenty measures of Beethoven’s First Piano Sonata.



The first and last step in interpretation is to clearly define the primary line.  Practice the excerpt with the Red layer in a solid, bright forte and the other layers in a combined hazy, pp Light Blue.

Now take the Royal Blue line, the Bass line, and play it as if it were the most important line, the rest in Light Blue.

Next, combine the Red, f, against Royal Blue, mf, with the rest in Light Blue, pp.

Now separate the Tenor line, Dark Green, played almost exclusively with the l.h. thumb.  Play it as if the principal line, f, the rest pp Light Blue. 

Combine it against the Red line and then against the Royal Blue line, and then combine all three, layered with dynamic contrast, the rest in Light Blue.

You’ve essentially defined all four layers now, but approach the fourth layer individually so it will start to have a consciousness and emotional life all its own.

Play the fourth layer, the Dark Blue line, as if the principal line.  You’ll notice that it occasionally splits into two voices when the texture of the harmonic thickens by a degree.  This is essentially the fifth layer in this excerpt.  Play it through once, always staying on the higher voice when it splits.  Then play it again, taking the lower voice.

Combine each version at will against each of the other three layers and in various combinations.


Knowing which specific pianistic color you want for each note in your interpretation will only come to you with clarity once you’ve worked through the other filters at least once.


Creating an Orchestral Sonority – Applying Vertical Hierarchy

The principal of Vertical Hierarchy applies to all types of music.  It’s an acoustic principal which relates to time and space.  Many pianists define their space minutely and send their music out to the audience from the smallest of boxes.  But music is larger than this.

Think of an Opera stage – there’s the music coming from the pit, the stage, and backstage.  Each of these three sources is complex by itself.  The conductor’s job is to unify the varying sources of sound originating in spread-out acoustically contrasting locations so that the audience perceives a unified vision.  This means balancing several different beats all at once.  The choir singing backstage needs to be given a beat well before the beat so that by the time their voices reach the audience they won’t be so behind that they belong to another beat altogether.  Brass in general also needs to be invited in slightly earlier than the rest of the orchestra because their sound production generally requires more time.  The singers onstage notoriously love to ride the backside of the beat, but by the time they’re on the stage, forcing them onto the beat is often wasted effort…

The beauty of the overall effect of Opera when properly realized is the spaciousness of it; it approximates real life experience.  When you walk down the street, everything is happening in real time, yet you hear sounds now that originated several seconds earlier from far away.  There’s a big difference between a loud sound that comes to you softly, delayed by distance, and a soft sound originating right next to you that reaches you immediately.  Do such effects belong only to Romantic and Modern interpretation?  Did not Bach and Beethoven also express the real sonic qualities of nature?

These are questions for you to resolve on your own as you develop your relationship with each piece, composer and style.

They relate to how much you allow yourself to spread the beat, either according to Vertical Hierarchy {downward arpeggio}, Reverse Hierarchy {upward arpeggio}, or Free Placement.  No matter what the style, don’t make your beat so narrow that it won’t allow for special sonic effects.  Art represents life; it shouldn’t be its caricature or exist for its own sake.


This said, stylistically Bach, Mozart and Beethoven generally take less well to large spreads of the beat than Chopin or Liszt.  But it depends how it’s done.  If the spread expresses intense emotional longing of a willful nature, it likely belongs more to the Romantic vein.  However, if in Beethoven, you strive for the spaciousness and universality of his Symphonies, you would be justified in indulging in larger spreading of the beat.  Likewise in Bach, if you wish to evoke a Baroque Organ in a large Cathedral, you’ll never achieve it unless you spread the beat considerably and use the pedal generously.  This can be done with expressive nobility, and not romantic fervor!

Even Mozart spreads more than you might at first realize if done within the style and in imitation of his orchestral and operatic works.   What makes Mozart sound unidiomatic is misplaced romantic accents and exaggerated willful rubato.  Even Böhm or Muti’s clear-cut Mozart has a rather spread beat because of the nature of the orchestra itself. 


In certain repertoire, if you spread the beat to the point that the common listener discerns the spread as a double-beat, you will have gone too far.  Mozart is generally tighter than Beethoven, which is tighter than Chopin.

Also, you can always get away with spreading the beat more using Vertical Hierarchy than Reverse Hierarchy because Vertical Hierarchy naturally hides the spread, whereas Reverse Hierarchy highlights it.  Remember also that the spread depends on dynamic and tonal range, as well as tone color differentiation.


Let’s look at the first few bars in terms of Vertical Hierarchy.  Except for exceptions where I package the chords in the l.h. outside of Vertical Hierarchy, it is respected throughout.



Work through the example as we did with the Rachmaninoff Prelude, exaggerating the spread as much as possible.


Notice now the packaging of the l.h. chords in the diagram above.  I place the Alto and Bass almost together, followed by the Tenor.  This is a matter of Chordal Packaging.  I want the outer part of the chord to be weighted and stand out.  The inner part is filler and requires a completely different color, which supports the outer part of the chord but doesn’t interfere with it or weight it down.  This small violation of Vertical Hierarchy in the inner parts goes unnoticed by the common ear and is completely stylistic and orchestral.  It’s covered by the difference in dynamics and in tone color.  Remember also that it happens in a split second.

Technically, this is an example of two-pronged weight.  The hand usually centers over a single note for greatest definition and color contrast, but it can center over two or more notes, played in the exact same moment or slightly separated, depending on the effect desired.  Rachmaninoff is the master of packaging chords in this way.


Establishing Horizontal Hierarchy – Defining the Energy Pillars

You will discover that the Energy Pillars in the Red Level, with a small amount of effort, will be easy to define:



Now look at the remaining layers which make up the accompaniment.  You’ll notice that they have contrasting Pillars which never line up with the Red Pillars.  Here in the first eight measures, I notate only the Red and Blue Pillars, letting the Blue represent Green and Yellow as well.  Then in bar 9, the energy divides in three as the Yellow line begins to assert itself independently:



Now let’s look at the inner flow of energy, the balance between positive and negative poles.  This is a very rhythmic excerpt, heavily rooted in meter.  Notice the intricate balance between positive and negative energy already in the first short phrase in the r.h.:



Level I here represents the miniscule fluctuations of energy, and as you move up, the energy is measured in broader strokes.  Notice how the high A-flat is positive in all four levels.  That’s of course because it’s the first Energy Pillar.  If however, I were to show Level V as well, this pillar would become negative, because it’s negative in relation to the second Energy Pillar, the high B-flat in m. 4.

Work through the energy levels in the full excerpt from the miniscule to the tectonic.  Focus on each level individually and then combine two of them, then three, and so on.  Eventually you’ll be able to consciously maintain several layers at once.


At this point, you may wonder how much difference to make of each positive and negative note within a line.  As a general rule, if the desired effect is free-flowing and relaxed, you can afford to make a greater on a local level, but not to the point of making it sound choppy.  If however the effect you desire is more intense and sustained, you’ll make only a minimal difference.  This is because every note, except the single climactic note of a work, is both positive and negative – it’s a matter of balance, percentage.  Equality of positive pull in two notes side by side sets up magnetic competition between them, and this causes emotional tension.  When this is the effect you desire, evening out the energy between positive and negative notes in a line will do that for you.  Beethoven often requires this sort of approach because of the sustained, expressive quality of many of the emotions he conveys.  The exceptions are less common, and miraculous, like his Pastorale Symphony, seen here in it opening bars: 



This is a more Mozartian work, where the opposite applies as a rule – observe carefully the balance between positive and negative energy and don’t let the tension be sustained at equal levels between two notes side by side except in exceptionally expressive passages.  Observe the free-flowing lyricism of the principal theme from the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto, K. 488, for example: 



This is typical Mozart, flowing and pure.  The energy level is less intense, more up, and the positive and negative notes are gently but clearly balanced and contrasted.  Man flows with nature rather than against it. 

Contrast this melody with the theme from the second movement of the same work:  Each note has a relatively intense chiaroscuro color, and the short notes are nearly as heavy and present as the longer ones.  The actual Energy Pillars have a sustained, penetrating quality. 


Returning to our Beethoven excerpt, experiment with various ways of balancing the negative and positive notes, noticing how the line becomes more intense and personal as they become more even, and more flowing as you again relax, somewhat dance-like if you make the difference slightly greater, and finally choppy as you cross of the threshold.


Consider here the nature of Romanticism.  Each gesture can be nearly flat or wildly curvaceous, subtle or romantic, or even violent, insane.  Romanticism partly defines itself by extremes.  An individual gesture is romantic if it swoons from p to f, for example.  A larger section or work can be considered romantic if it spans from pp or ppp to ff or fff.  The scope of a gesture, sweeping or miniscule, defines its romanticism.  Romanticism taken to an extreme reaches into violence and insanity.  (This same argument can be applied to Tonality.)

As you define the scope of each individual gesture, keep the larger gesture in mind and remember that ultimately smaller beauties often need to be sacrificed or reformatted for the greater beauty of the large gesture. 


Play through the excerpt, exaggerating the romanticism of each small gesture.  Once this becomes comfortable, approach the entire excerpt as one single gesture, making it as romantic as possible.


Dynamic Differentiation

Dynamics need to be differentiated both horizontally and vertically.  The biggest mistake the pianist can make regarding dynamics is to assume that if Beethoven wrote p, every note must be piano, be it the melody or the least significant note in the harmony.

A piano melody in Beethoven should be full and vocal; a vocal piano is twice as loud as a pianistic piano but they both emit the mood of piano.  All dynamics in Beethoven should be approached with this mentality.  Beneath the melody, grade the dynamics as far down as you dare, keeping in mind however that the bass in Beethoven is structural and should rarely be veiled – it must either ground you or lift you up.


Horizontal dynamics in Beethoven have to be approached with the greatest of care.  Never go beyond the boundaries of the stated dynamics in Beethoven – the architecture and meaning depend on their strict observance.  More than any other composer, each dynamic level for Beethoven represents a spiritual sphere.  Pianissimo is a mystical, mysterious realm.  Piano is the human level.  Mp is a heightened human level, an elevated state of being.  Forte is universal; it comes from the heavens.  Fortissimo is either the rage of heaven or its ecstasy. 

What of mf?  Look carefully through all of Beethoven’s scores, orchestral and instrumental, and you’ll notice that mf rarely exists.  He passes through mf occasionally in crescendo or diminuendo when a human ascends to heaven or the heavens descend to earth, but it hardly ever exists as a solid plane.  Never play mf when it’s not called for!  That’s the death of your Beethovenian interpretation.  This is no easy task - it takes absolute instrumental mastery and emotional restraint to keep from stepping unintentionally into the middleland of mf.

Let’s examine the dynamics of our Beethoven excerpt.  In the first eight measures alone, there are no fewer than ten dynamic indications: p, sf, cresc., sf, <, ff, >, p, >, and finally, p.  Notice their abruptness and severity, their romanticism bordering on insanity.  The ff outburst is volcanic, subsiding as suddenly and unexpectedly as it erupted.  Notice also that there’s no mf, not even a mp or a f.  The canvas is stark and wonderful.  Be demanding of yourself as you struggle to maintain the dynamic levels throughout our excerpt, and throughout your entire approach to Beethoven.


As you do this, however, remember that complexities and freedoms bubble underneath the surface.   A dynamic marking represents the overall effect of the texture, not of each individual note:


Try out this interpretation of the inner dynamics of the opening gesture, then make up your own throughout the excerpt and realize them.


Applying and Removing Gloss

The most famous of Beethoven interpreters, Artur Schnabel, was a student of Leschetizky.  Like all of the legendary Polish pedagogue’s great students, he possesses a warm, translucent, somewhat acquatic tone, quite un-Beethovenian in the modern sense.  It lacks the Sturm und drang edge that all of the most well-known modern Beethoven interpreters possess, from Rudolph Serkin to Alfred Brendel to Richard Goode.  The modern approach appreciates a certain metallic polish to Beethoven, and I think this is not completely misplaced.  Adding a certain polish to the outer edge of Beethoven pianistic creations lends them a certain Fortepiano feeling, and makes the overall effect strong and powerful.   

This quality can be achieved by slightly holding the forearms and hardening the fingertips, not so unlike the approach to imitating Horowitz, except that underneath that sound will be more weight than in a typical Horowitz sound.  (Remember again that touch involves three parts: the surface of the sound, its body, and its release, which itself can often be separated into the release of the finger and the release of the pedal.)

Try playing the entire excerpt with the sensation that a sound originating in the fingers and hands but connected to the weight in the upper arm, even in pp.  Imagine that your fingertips are coated in gold.

Once you become comfortable, remove some of the gloss from the accompanimental layers, but keep the melody in high gloss.

Don’t leave Beethoven without experiencing the other side though.  Listen to a Schnabel recording and see if you can imitate his sound.  He uses a translucent, matte finish, and the fingertips are warm and breathing.


Defining the Pedaling

Beethoven was the first composer to really begin to understand the Piano and experiment with the realm of its pedals, even as he continued going deaf.  Sometimes he errors in his pedaling markings, especially in his latest works, or they’re simply not practicable on the modern Piano with its much greater sustaining power.  The spirit, however, of his dynamic marking must always be respected.

The edges in Beethoven need to be clearly pronounced and delineated.  The pedal comes up completely quite often.  Don’t milk the pedal with a deathly legato; balance dryness with warmth.

The pedaling in our excerpt is very scarce and quite delicate because of its staccato and explosive nature.  Even when one could use a quick, deep pedal, such as on the downbeat of the second measure, show restraint because the color of that A-flat needs to ring out clean and clear.  You can use a slight brush of pedal on the end of the first beat to briefly warm the sound, but more than that should be avoided.

The first real pedal doesn’t come until the very end of the first large phrase as the melody F descends to E, and even then the pedal should come late so as not to accent that E, which is the resolution of an appoggiatura.  Remember always that the Sustaining Pedal is also called the Loud Pedal with good reason.

The following passage should be contrasted with very shallow, more continuous pedals to give a warmer, more feminine and compassionate quality to it.  Don’t make the mistake of most pianists though by exaggerating this difference with deep pedals, making it suddenly sound like sentimental rubbish.


Linking and Separating

The driving quality of the initial eight bars precludes the possibility of breathing between the smaller phraselets that make it up.  This is because of how Beethoven has realized the accompaniment, constantly thrusting the momentum forward between melodic gestures.  The first real pause, the fermata in the eighth measure, is a dramatic one.  It needn’t be long for the effect to be strong.

The next phrase begins immediately in tempo, as if nothing had happened, and the accompaniment, although more lyrical, continues to push the melody forward, almost against its own will.  Slight punctuations can take place before any or all of the three E-flats in the melody in these five measures (include measure numbers here -  mm. 17-20?).

In practice, however, break up this passage into its individual gestures with commas so that each gains its own identity and mental/emotional tightness.  Then link them back together.  Do this not only for the principal melody, but for the inner layers as well.


Defining Rubato

Rubato in Beethoven is a very tricky subject.  Glenn Gould, a bit of a purist when it comes to rhythm, meter and rubato despite his peculiar ideas about tempos, complained that Schnabel equates crescendo with accelerando and diminuendo with ritardando.  The modern concept of Beethoven interpretation is to allow as little tempo fluctuation as possible.  Wagner, Furtwangler and all the great Beethoven interpreters would have strongly disagreed, lamenting the convent-like approach to modern Beethovenian interpretation.  The answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle.  Beethoven would have assumed that the sensitive interpreter would gently alter the tempo and exhibit a refined taste for rubato. 

This is a delicate and very personal subject, but I’ll offer a few possibilities of rubato to consider as you approach this excerpt.  First of all, Schnabel’s inclination to speed up in crescendo and slow down in diminuendo is not childish – it’s completely human and natural.  Overusing it belies immaturity, but denying its existence and importance reveals a certain negation of one’s own instincts.

The first significant question to ask yourself is whether to play the first five quarters absolutely in time.  Here the answer must be a resounding yes because the listener needs to be brought into the rhythmic nature of the work immediately.  Let your rhythmic resolve here be like a rock emanating electricity.

The second question to be resolved is whether to play the triplet figure in the third measure absolutely mathematically.  It seems to me that each time the figure appears, it calls out for individuality, without turning it of course into gypsy music.  It can be absolutely precise and militant, spread out slightly for emphasis, or clipped excitedly.  Listen to what the context tells you.

The third question to consider is whether to make the l.h. accompanying chords absolutely rhythmic, or free.  Again, considering the rhythmic, motoric drive of the passage, the rhythm should be emphasized and heightened, not negated.  Still there’s slight room, if you’re so inclined, to play with the rhythm, speeding it up impetuously or playing a chord slightly early or late for emphasis.

The fourth question to consider is whether to slightly hold back the downbeats of the fifth, sixth and/or seventh measures to build tension leading into the climax on the downbeat of the seventh measure.  The opposite approach can also be taken for a more driven effect. 

The next phrase (beginning on the upbeat to the ninth measure) is often taken under tempo.  This is dangerous because it’s not easy to get it back successfully in the twentieth bar, the end of our excerpt.  My approach is to begin absolutely in tempo with the theme in the l.h.  I feel the music wanting to relax and slow, and I give in ever so slightly until it reaches a turning point on the downbeat of measure fifteen.  Here it starts to look forward again and wants to gain momentum, in the accompaniment figure especially.  I allow myself to gently and gradually take back the slight tempo I had sacrificed in the previous six bars.  By the time I reach bar twenty, I’ve hopefully arrived back at the original tempo, even a hair faster. 

Try notating rubato into your score using forward and backward arrows, as before.


Differentiating the Texture of Touches

Now your interpretation should be coming into much sharper focus.  Each note you play has a certain solidity, depending on how long you hold it in your finger and/or how long you hold it in the pedal.  Rather than try to change what you’re doing with your fingers, simply become aware of how long you’re holding your fingers to achieve the effects you want.  Notate into your score lightly in pencil above or below each note or group of notes the percentage of held length relative to the length of the note.  { If it’s a sixteenth note, for example, and your holding it for have of its value, write .5 . }  Remember that you have more leeway in the accompanying figures to play with less solid sounds.  As a rule, the more solid the sound, the more it attracts the ear to it; the less solid the sound, the easier it is to hide it in the texture.  If you notice that the talea is somewhat monotonous despite great diversity of touch and dynamics, experiment with varying it to create a convincing structure with talea alone.  It may help to eliminate your colors and narrow your dynamic spectrum so that the talea comes into relief.

In this Beethoven excerpt, as already mentioned, because of the sparseness of the pedal, what the fingers do is basically what the ear hears – the pedal only occasionally adds in the second dimension of talea, wet talea.  In dry talea, even more than wet talea, the precision of the solidity { length } of each note has to be precise and varied.  Don’t fall into the trap of many urtext players, making all staccato uniform.  Make it your goal to make no two staccatos exactly the same length – let them vary slightly or greatly.  Even pizzicato can be short or long, dry or wet.


The Dry Pedal – Finger-pedaling

Continuing the same argument, define your finger-pedaling as precisely as possible.  Because of the purity and starkness of much of these twenty measures, especially when it becomes wetter and more expressive in measure eleven, the fingers need to be able to imitate the effect of the pedal and not depend on it; in this way, the pedal can dip in and out shallowly for the sake of color alone, not to help with the legato.  The fingers need no pedal at all in this passage.  The more you can capture with your fingers alone the real and magical way the pedal blends harmonies and passagework together, the more your pedal will be able to act freely and create numerous additional layers of sound and color that would otherwise be impossible.

As an experiment, play it through without any pedal, trying to imitate the effect of heavy pedaling.  Once this becomes comfortable and your right foot stops wanting to suck on the pedal, add in the pedal again.


From the Key Surface or From the Air?

You’re probably already including a certain amount of Height in your attacks, so play through the excerpt simply being aware of the distance between your fingertip and the key-surface on each attack.  Which notes do you attack from the air?  Which from the key-surface?  Which from within the key?

Now experiment with attacking everything from at least a centimeter in the air, but aim for several inches or half-a-foot.  Allow yourself to miss notes unapologetically, and think big like Paderewsky or Rubinstein.  Don’t show off with the large gestures – rather, embrace the piano with open arms; walk with it in full stride.

After spending even fifteen minutes playing like this, you’ll feel your inhibitions start to fall away.  Beethoven, because of his demanding qualities, tends to make the performer crawl in on himself in fear, physically and emotionally.  This exercise will open you up again and return you to your fearless nature.

Like before, at first, you’ll miss a lot of notes and your sound will harden, but after a couple days, it will clean up and the sound will round again.


Applying Height Vertically and Horizontally

There are many ways to apply Height vertically and horizontally, and rather than repeat them, I’ll refer you back to the exercises in the corresponding Essay in Part I.


To the Key-bottom or Beyond?

Beethoven requires depth – real penetrating weight from the arms.  If you have been only playing to the key-bottom until now, it’s time to dig in deeper.


Applying Depth Vertically and Horizontally

Remember that although relative Depth is not necessarily equivalent to relative dynamic level, it can be helpful to think of it in this way at first.  Take your present interpretation of the Beethoven excerpt as is and turn your attention to the Depth.  For each note, descend beneath the key-surface, in relationship to the volume desired.  For pp, for example, descend one centimeter, for p, one inch, mf three inches, f, six inches, ff, one foot.  You may need to use a combination of dropping weight and pushing in strength.

Now try another approach to Height, differentiating color layers.  For the moment, set aside the dynamics on the page, and play the top layer, Red, at one foot depth, Royal Blue at six inches, Dark Green at three  inches and Dark Blue at one centimeter.

Use the various exercises from the corresponding Filters in Part I to build these layers up gradually.

Now approach it from a strictly horizontal point of view, intensifying your connection with each of the Energy Pillars.  Separate the energy into two levels for the first ten measures – r.h. and l.h., then separate the l.h. into two layers from bars ten through twenty.  Play everything at one centimeter, except the Pillars themselves, which should be as deep and penetrating as possible.  The Pillars should be energized physically and emotionally, and be careful to remain sensitive – otherwise, you’re overdoing it and have lost your balance and focus.


Combining and Contrasting Height and Depth

Now you’re ready to combine Height and Depth into one powerful attack.  Start from your interpretation as is, following the same principals as above; that is, attack from as high above the key as you intend to descend beneath it.  Let your intentions in terms of dynamics guide you.

You will miss more than a handful of notes along the way, but as you gain command of this powerful combined touch, you will possess a penetrating sound with high definition, and you will rarely actually miss once you gain both the skill and the trust in yourself to use it.


Remember, Beethoven is not the antithesis of virtuoso music; it’s not as if his music is pure and Liszt’s, for example, shallow virtuosity and effect.  Beethoven was a great virtuoso for his time and his music is often quite virtuosic.  Don’t apologize for using a real virtuoso technique to approach his colossal visions.


On Conducting and Studying the Score Away from the Piano

In Beethoven, more than any other composer, the expressive markings are as important as the notes themselves.  Every dynamic marking is of crucial importance; every sf is elemental to a good interpretation, every slur key to proper phrasing.  I’m an exceptionally careful score-reader, but every time I work through a Beethoven score away from the piano, I discover something I hadn’t ever fully noticed or absorbed before.

There are so many ways to analyze a score, to breath it in and sing it out {Yes, really sing each line in the privacy of your home or the practice room.  You needn’t sing loudly, but a real vocal connection to each line in the music is transformational.}  When you look at the page without playing, you can easily see the music from a distance and notice certain correlations and contrasts that you might otherwise be too absorbed to notice.

I leave you to the score.


Imagining Real Orchestration

Beethoven, Mozart and Bach are the three composers who were equally comfortable with the Keyboard as they were with the Orchestra.  In all of their Keyboard music, there’s a synthesis of the nature of the Orchestra with the nature of the Keyboard.  And Beethoven is the only of the three that wrote for the Piano. 

If you’re preparing a Beethoven Sonata, take it upon yourself to listen to any of the Symphonies with the score in hand, and notice how the colors are laid out.  Listen with the recording until you feel you can work through the score without it.  I only recommend using a recording at all for those of you with less-developed score-reading skills.  Take the time to read through it singing and gesturing freely at least ten times.  Then take it to the Piano and see if you can realize even a phrase or two with your fingers.

Now return to our excerpt and make a few thoughtful choices about certain instruments and instrumental combinations that each layer of sound in each phrase makes you think of.  Write your choices into your score.  They don’t have to be ideal; don’t fret over them.  Assuage your doubts with the Zen adage, first thought, best thought, and see if you can realize your choices away from the Piano in your inner ear, and then at the Piano with your finger-tips.  Refer to the Essay in Part I about the techniques used to achieve given sounds. 

You will only be able to make the Piano sound like an Orchestra if you have a basic understanding of the actual colors of the orchestra and have developed that understanding to the point that your inner ear can produce the individual sounds and combined sounds that your imagination dictates.

This is a lifelong process – be content with slow progress.


Zen, Circular Energy, and the Four Time Dimensions

Awareness of your own Energy and thought processes is one of the most difficult things to achieve.  How do you observe yourself thinking without stopping thinking and acting altogether?  The key to self-knowledge of course is experience and practice, but some practice their whole life without meeting themselves or having but a glimpse of their real musical thought processes.  Knowing beforehand, however, what you ought to be thinking if the machinery is working properly helps a great deal.  This is one of the things I hope this book will help you understand more fully.

Try playing the opening measures of the Beethoven excerpt on a table or on your lap.  If you breathe music into it, you’ll have a musical, emotional experience.  If you do it dryly, it will only be tapping away.  The reason for the difference is simply the breath of musical life.  Although it may seem at first that your emotions move in sync with your fingers, you’re actually feeling and hearing the music first, then tapping your fingers in response.  Take this to the Piano now.  As you play, the first two time-dimensions in place, let your ears open and experience the music singing out of the Piano.  Hearing is the Third Dimension.  Again, because it happens so fast in a small space, you may have the sensation at first that it’s happening simultaneously, but they are separated in time.  If you can, take your experiment to a large space, a larger hall or even a cathedral.  The goal in performing is not to listen to the sound of the Piano as it moves out into the hall, but to hear the sound as is bounces back at you.  There’s a discernable time difference.  The returning sound is much more true to the real sound that the audience experiences. 

This also forces you to go beyond yourself.  Your first goal is to become the Piano.  The second goal is to become the room.  The third goal is to become the audience, to absorb them and become one with them.  Next allow yourself as you hear the music to let it sink into your being and become a part of you.  This is the Fourth Time-Dimension, and I refer to it as the moment after.  The danger here is to dwell on it and reflect.  The audience has this privilege because they don’t have to keep playing and remain present.  You can indulge yourself insomuch as you’re able to continue to be present and keep looking forward.  It’s a matter of balance.

The Fifth Time-Dimension, if you will, is the extension of pre-hearing, the Conductor’s dimension.  If you’ll recall, the conductor has to inhabit a pre-dimension of time in order to inspire his players to inhabit real-time.  He beats about one-sixteenth note before the Orchestra’s real beat, but it’s not a fake beat – he actually inhabits it.  At the same time, he listens to the Orchestra and remains with the Orchestra as well.  It’s not unlike playing an Organ from the front of a Cathedral which has the pipes in the back.  The sound delay can be over a second, yet you can’t wait for the sound to come before you move on; otherwise you’ll indulge in a perpetual ritardando.  Instead, you have to inhabit both beats simultaneously.

If you can reach this level of pre-hearing, you’ll literally feel your brain expand beyond its normal limits.

Approach our Beethoven excerpt, challenging your conscious mind to become aware of several dimensions of time-perception at once.  See how long you can maintain your awareness without dropping all of the balls.  Over time your skills will develop to the point where all the time dimensions seem to return to center, forming one complex, wide beat.


The Four Principle Mallets

To review, the Four Principle Mallets are: the fingertip, the sides of the fingers, the fleshy ball of the finger, and the fingernails.  The last of the four, granted, is for special effects, but it’s valuable as a practice tool.  The more comfortable you get with it, the more likely you’ll feel comfortable enough choosing to use it in performance.

Using one mallet at a time, work through the Beethoven excerpt.  Notice where certain notes or groups of notes sound particularly effective with a given mallet.  Go through the score and orchestrate it based solely on the mallets to be employed and see if you can realize your intentions.

The greatest of string players use their bows in the most flexible, expressive ways.  If you’re unfamiliar with bowing technique, watching a video of Heifetz playing is an excellent starting point.  Watch how he constantly turns the bow and varies its speed and weight. 

The mallets correspond to the contact point between the bow and the string.  If you turn the bow, the contact point is thinner and more focused.  This is like playing on the sides of the fingers.  Using full contact of the bow-hairs with the string is like playing with the fleshy ball of the finger.  Playing on the fingertip is akin to playing somewhere between these two extremes.  In actual performance, the mallets you use will constantly, subtly shift, just like Heifetz’ bow.  

Don’t discriminate – all four mallets are Beethovenian.


The Four Physical Levels

Few pianists have even minimal awareness of the separation between the four primary joints that define piano technique.  Much attention is given to developing independence of the fingers, but little to independence of the joints.

Take the Beethoven excerpt and play everything exclusively from Level I, the fingers.  Next, from Level II, the hand (wrist).  Then from Level III, the forearm, and finally from Level IV, the upper arm.

Many approach Beethoven with a finger-and-hand technique, supported by the forearm, but with a passive upper arm.   They believe Beethoven’s language ought to be respected through physical restraint.

Where this idea came from I cannot say, and although I must admit that it can be effective in its own way, Beethoven can be so much more if you invite the forearm and upper arm to play an active role.  Half of the Orchestra resides in the forearm and the upper arm – why should they be excluded!

As a rule, not only for Beethoven but for all composers, when in doubt about the color desired, use the upper arm.  Quick notes obviously can’t be articulated from the upper arm, but even when not using it directly, be sure to leave the elbow unlocked and the upper arm breathing.  Remember that it’s always easier to move down in Levels than up.

Another rule of thumb when in doubt: the louder the sound desired, the further up in Level it should be played.  This is a less advanced form of Orchestration, but it’s a very natural one and yields consistently orchestral results.

The most advanced form of Orchestration in terms of Levels alone involves the cultivation of each Level separately, from ppp to fff, respecting the individual qualities of that Level in its full dynamic range. 

Work through the Beethoven excerpt from each of the Four Levels.  Then combine them at will in various combinations.

Finally, work through the score at the Piano or away from it, notating the Level that you intend to use for each note.  Again, I use f. for finger, h. for hand, f.a. for forearm and u.a. for upper arm.  Practice your Level transcription, making adjustments as necessary.  Notating Levels into your score is often as important, even more so, than the actual fingerings.  As you increase your awareness of the Four Physical Levels, most technical problems will disappear.

Here’s a simplified example to guide you:



Mimicking Masters ~ The Imitation Filters


To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master,

walk with the master, see through the master, become the master.

~ Zen Proverb


How would each of your Masters interpret the Beethoven excerpt?  Add to your list all of the great Beethoven specialists that you know – Schnabel, Kempff, Brendel, Goode.

Let each one of them speak through you.  Take what you like and remember that anything that filters through you is you.  Claim it.

Come back next week…


The Weight-bar, or the Hand of Karajan

The main significance of Karajan, besides being an important Master filter, is his relationship to the bow and bowed weight.  Bowing takes on special significance in Beethoven because he often writes bowing into his Piano scores as the fabric of the phrasing.  Obviously Beethoven felt the Piano to be capable of bowing.  Beethoven is not alone in this – Mozart and Haydn and other Classical masters also write bowing into their piano scores.  Bowings should be bowed! 

Remember the difference between bowing and other weighted attacks.  A simple weighted attack involves dropping weight into the key(s), letting it sink in, and then pulling it back out in preparation for the next attack.  Bowing, on the other hand, begins the same way with dropping weight into the key(s) and sinking in, but then the weight shifts smoothly to the next note and the following, not lifting up until the phrase comes to a lift or an end.

Like good bowing, the weight never remains static; it constantly varies according to the demands of the phrasing.  At the same time, the speed of the bow fluctuates as does the angle of the contact of the bow with the string.

The first bowing over several notes in our Beethoven excerpt is on the downbeat of the second measure in the r.h.  Let the A-flat drop-and-sink-in.  The three notes of the following triplet are played within that weight and the F on the next downbeat lifts the bow off the string.

Even staccato can be bowed.  Instead of thinking simply of a quick drop in-an-out, imagine the horizontal movement of the bow as it deftly makes contact with the string, sinks in, and then lifts out.

Play through the excerpt as if a String Quartet, four musicians bowing away.

At this point, it might be help to touch briefly on the concept of up-bow and down-bow.  It’s enough for the moment to try to use up-bow as an upbeat or for preparatory gestures and down-bow on strong beats.  In an up-bow, as you move from the tip of the bow toward the base of the bow (the frog), there’s a natural tendency to crescendo.  Likewise, as you move from the frog toward the tip in a down-bow, there’s a natural tendency to diminuendo.  A good player can naturally compensate for those tendencies, maintaining an even tone if necessary in up-bow or down-bow, but good bowing generally respects the basic nature of up-bow and down-bow as much as possible. 

Up-bow is traditionally notated [ \/ ]and down-bow [┌┐].  Pretend for a moment to have a violin in your hands and air-bow your way through the Beethoven excerpt, as if reading the 1st Violin part from a Beethoven Symphony or String Quartet.   Try to imagine the tension of the bow cleaving to the string.  Notice where there’s an obvious up-bow or down-bow and notate it into your score.  Try it a few times and notice that it gets a little easier.

Try out the following simple bowings to give you an idea:


Now return to the Piano and try to bow it through with your fingers.

As you gain greater command of bowing, your Beethoven will gain greater authority.

The Hand of God – Using Hammers and Chisels

What composer captures the spirit of Michelangelo’s artistry and genius more than Beethoven?  Beethoven, likewise, takes quite well to sculpting.

Take your interpretation as is, letting your fingers turn into chisels, and carve it out of marble.  The colors will brighten, the volume increase, the edges sharpen, and your life-size concept will take on epic dimensions.

The first purpose of using the Hand of God is to achieve an interpretation with a mild amount of force that might not come to you naturally.  Forge out a solid, broad, focused energy pathway.  After the third or fourth time through, relax and play without forcing at all.  The sound will round but the dimensions, with almost no effort, will remain grand.

The second purpose is to let you embrace brighter and stronger colors unapologetically.  You may discover things you would have been too passive to stumble upon otherwise.

The third purpose of Hand of God is to encourage you to view interpretation as living, breathing sculpture.  The more you can define your interpretation as a solid rather than liquid form, the greater freedom and control you’ll have onstage to realize your vision effectively.  Performing should be defined as breathing life into an existing form. 

A Jazz musician (orchestrators and sometimes arrangers à la Art Tatum aside) has a different performance ideal – part of the beauty of Jazz is the creation of a new mold from a skeletal frame in front of your eyes.  The audience is thrilled by the improvisational element.  What Jazz musicians lose through the demands of their Art-form is polish and depth of intention.

The body and mind, through layered practice, build up a complex structure that could never exist the first or second or third or twentieth time through.  You build up a mold that in performance needs only be filled with mind and emotion, not improvisation.

Improvisation tends to weaken the structure much more than it strengthens it.  Save improvisation as much as possible for the practice room and give your audience the best that you have to offer.

If you haven’t found the mold to breathe into with your conscious mind, fully backed by your intuition, you’re not ready for peak performance.  But remember that performance itself is a part of the purification process – let the stage form you.  My point in delving back into this argument is to encourage you as strongly as possible to know where your mind should be once you’ve attained mastery.  The vision of interpretation as marble inspires definitive choices; the indecisive sculptor ruins countless pieces of priceless rock.


Beethoven demands high-definition in every respect.  Play through the excerpt being aware of every release., not only of exactly when you release the note, as you’ve already done above with Talea, but of how you release it, the speed of the release.  Is it matte or glossy?  The release of a note could have a dynamic marking just as its attack, from ppp to fff.

Play through the excerpt several times, exaggerating the release with a high-polish glossy finish.  The fingers need to be trained out of their often unaware laziness to release decisively.  Once you get used to it, they’ll begin to release more actively without conscious thought.

Look through the excerpt, and for each note ask yourself what kind of finish it requires.  Work through it again trying to realize your intentions.

Is Percussion Beautiful, Zenful?

Know, understand and respect tradition, but don’t let it rule over you; tradition is your servant, not your master.  This applies as well to any thought or sense of duty that rules over you.  Fear of making a less than beautiful sound hinders grand interpretation.  Fear of moving beyond the bounds of what’s acceptable, even within the privacy of your own practice sessions, makes you small and insignificant.  Dare to claim freedom of expression.

Beauty is defined by the overall experience of a work of Art, not by its individual details.  Beauty requires constant sacrifice; smelling all the roses along the way is the fastest way to destroy any prospect of beauty.  Smell them all one by one, slowly and deeply, in the practice room, but make architectural choices with the larger gesture always in mind.

As Horowitz for one proves, making the color of the melody brighter and less beautiful often enables the texture to be more beautiful and the scope to be greater.  Beethoven often invites a mildly percussive edge to the sound, particularly in the main line.  The material underneath can be more sensitive and feminine, but the melody needs to resonate strength and nobility.

If you look at Beethoven’s orchestration of his Symphonies, you’ll see that Brass and Percussive have an important role.  Whenever you want to know when Beethoven has reached an important architectural point, look for Brass and Timpani.  Use the same principal at the Piano, using Brass and Timpani to underscore the architecture; don’t burden the Strings and Winds alone to force out the important points.

This said, the role of Brass and Percussion in Beethoven’s Orchestra are of secondary importance to the Strings and Winds with respect to the modern Orchestra.  The Strings and Winds in Classical orchestration are its bread-and-butter; Beethoven’s orchestra was still in an undeveloped state.  For any number of technical reasons that a good Orchestration manual like Piston’s will explain, the Winds and Brass in particular had a long way to go through the 19th Century and into the 20th until the Orchestra could grow into its modern state.  If Beethoven had in his hands the Orchestra of Shostakovich, you can be sure that his orchestrations would have been quite different!

Let Beethoven’s piano works be orchestrated with the colors of the modern orchestra while respecting his original intentions. 

Orchestrate the Beethoven excerpt with an all-brass ensemble, then with an all-Percussion ensemble, then with a mixed Brass and Percussion ensemble.  Return to your own interpretation and see if it hasn’t changed.

Speed, Weight and Compression

Great Beethoven interpreters have proved that it’s possible to interpret him with any of the three approaches to energy and sound.  Contrast is one of the keys to great artistry; mastery of all three approaches and then their tasteful combination produces the most effective interpretation.

{As always, if you need to re-read the corresponding Essay in Part I to clarify the difference between Speed, Weight and Compression, do so before reading on.}

Work through the excerpt using only Speed.  Next, using only Weight.  Then Compression.  Combine them in various ways.

Work through the score and make decisions about each note, notating them into your score like so: S (Speed), W (Weight), C (Compression), or use combinations like SW, WC, SC, or SWC.  Remember that any touch is necessarily a combination of all three but that the percentages vary.

A typical Beethovenian sound is equally balanced between the three (SWC) but he loves contrast and embraces every extreme.


The first and final step in preparing an interpretation for performance is defining its principal line.  Ninety percent of your mental and emotional energy should funnel into that line alone during performance; the rest happens on its own and is experienced peripherally.

This is no less true for Beethoven.  Despite his egalitarian, brotherly ideals, he’s a monarch and his compositions are ruled by hierarchy, not Democracy.  Just because every note in Beethoven is important doesn’t mean that they should all be played importantly.

Clearly redefine for yourself the Red line of our excerpt.  Be aware of where your eyes look and where your mind and voice wander.  Discipline yourself to stay on task until it no longer requires discipline.  I find that using the Hand of God filter on the melody alone helps to carve it out with solidity and focus all of my energy on it. 

Once you get used to playing with focused melodic intent, it will become a habit and you’ll become addicted to the expression of the main line.

Playing Blind

Although this is the final filter of the 29 from Part I (with hundreds more embedded within them), this is by no means the final step!  Keep returning to filters that have been especially useful to you until you can reclaim them instantaneously. 

Playing blind is a tool I use as soon as I’ve begun memorizing, which I try to do from the get-go. 

You’ll never really know yourself or your interpretation until you’ve experienced it with your eyes shut.  Only those who have never taken the time to become comfortable playing blind would deny this.