Colorado Power Piano

Music Notes

Archive for October, 2014

Arm and Hand Movements

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

One of our students asked us to watch a video and “explain it to him”. Here is our response to his request.

We watched the video you referred us to where he talks about hand and arm motion and his “Whole-Body Approach” to piano playing.  Not to be rude, but this whole approach is nonsense.  Howard would say, “No, that’s bullshit”.  He is completely wrong about this.  His hands move WAAAAY too much.  You should have a relaxed arm, shoulder, wrist etc, but then your hand should be as quiet as possible.  The less movement you make, the more control you have and the less effort you will have on your body.  Of course, if your hands and arms are relaxed, they won’t be completely still, they will move easily and naturally as necessary to play the music.  But, the good players don’t purposely make specific arm and hand motions except for show business purposes (visual flourishes).

When you are playing really easy stuff, like he demonstrates in the beginning, it’s possible to do any sorts of motions.  As the pieces become more challenging and have more notes, you don’t have time for all that motion.

I went to a week long workshop one time and the main teacher was teaching everyone to lift their wrist up high and then drop it and use arm weight and gravity.  We spent the week practicing that way.  But then he did a concert for us and he didn’t do ANY of that stuff.  He played with a very quiet hand, very little movement at all.  Even he didn’t follow his own rules.

When I began watching the intro to this video and watched what Doctor Keys was doing with his hand it just looked ridiculous to me.

Here are a few videos to check out of famous pianists playing.  Watch their hands.

Emanuel Ax

Vladimir Horowitz (probably the best pianist ever)  start at 7:00 minutes on the video.

Elton John
There is an extended solo starting at about 4:15 that he improvises.

Billy Joel and Elton John duet  close up of Billy’s hands at 3:30 or so

Here is a video of Howard jamming blues with one of his old students.  Watch Howard’s hands especially

Here is Howard and me playing a two-piano piece I wrote called Rondo Andalusia.

Til next time,


Rondo Andalusia

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

In the 1970s, Howard wrote a piece for two-pianos called, simply, Rondo for Two Pianos. He has been collecting royalties for it since then. It is still being played all over the country. A few years ago, he was invited to a large two-piano concert event and the final piece was of two people playing his Rondo for Two Pianos. They asked him to stand and he got lots of applause and recognition. As we were walking into the reception area, I turned to him and said, “they loved it, you should write another one.” He answered, “I wrote mine, YOU write one.” So I did.

Here is the performance of Rondo Andalusia – my two-piano rondo. Howard is on the keyboard and I’m on the grand piano. We’re in my music teaching studio.

Til next time,




Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Today we had our monthly Soup Group gathering of piano players. One of the players had an interesting comment. He said that when he started coming to Soup Group 2 years ago, he thought he had to have his 3 pieces all practiced up and perfect or he couldn’t play them. But now, he has settled into the idea that he can come and play and expect to make a mistake or two and it’s okay. The idea is to be able to actually play for people.

That got me thinking about how much we can let the search for perfection stop our development in music. One of my students considers a piece an absolute failure if she makes one tiny mistake, plays one single note wrong. She thinks you must play to perfection every time. She’s not making as much progress as she could.

That notion has come along, I think, because of the many recordings we now have available to us. Almost all the music we listen to is on a recording or mp3 file, or some sort of media. And they are all perfect! Not because the players played them that perfectly, but because they were edited to make them perfect. So we, as players, think we must be just as perfect. If you listen to live performances, you will hear the mistakes that even the best players make; mistakes that are not on their published CDs.

I discovered this first hand when I went into the studio to record my first set of original compositions back in 1996. The sound engineer told me that if I made a mistake while I was playing, to just keep on playing. We recorded each piece 3 or 4 times. Then I went into the control room with him and watched him work his magic on the editing machine (all digital now). He took the beginning of one version and the middle of another and the end of still another and seamlessly edited them together to perfection. I apologized to him and said I was sorry he had to do so much work for my pieces and that I would work harder on the next batch before coming into the studio to record.” He said, “We do this for EVERYONE. Why should you be different. You’re fine.”

Just like the model you see in the magazine doesn’t look as perfect in real life, the music you hear on CDs isn’t that perfect either. Don’t strive for perfection, strive for excellence.

Til next time,