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The Women of Classical Piano: A Brief History and Overview

As musicians, our preoccupations in study and performance trend towards the compositional side of notoriety. When we think of the ‘greatest’ musicians, the names we tend to utter first are the composers: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev… This is not unreasonable, as without these masters of compositional craft we would not have their music. However, in consistently leaning on these gargantuan names, we tend to overlook the vast and storied history of the practitioners who have so brilliantly brought the works of these master creators to life. To be sure, many of these composers were … Read more

Discovering Keys: From Then to Now

It’s easy to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of studying music. Intervals, scales, chords, key signatures, chord progressions…once we dive into the deep pool of musical fundamentals, it can take some effort to recall that our ultimate objective is to create and play music. Indeed, it’s important to remember that the study of music as a formal, institutional affair will always be a biased sort of learning—we may treat our scales and chords and other wonderful musical basics as gospel, but they are derived from a fairly specific musical tradition, and not every practitioner of music will … Read more

Discovering Keys: Minor Keys

We’ve already covered a lot of ground in this article series on keys, however there is one important area that we’ve largely avoided in our studies thus far: minor keys. Please note: if you haven’t had a chance to check out our previous articles in this series, particularly our article on scales (What are Keys?: Learning Scales) and Parts I and II of our Discovering Keys articles, now would be a good time to check them out. Much of the information in this article will assume some familiarity with the material from those articles, so now is a good time … Read more

Discovering Keys: Part 2

Applying Scales and Chords to the Study of Keys Part II In Part I of this article series, we illustrated how some of the most basic tools in our musical tool-box could be employed to achieve a functional, foundational understanding of the the concept of ‘keys’ in music. By reinforcing our knowledge of scales and chords and then distilling that knowledge for the purpose of understanding keys, we were able to able to reveal the infrastructure behind keys as a product of the common musical devices we know and use everyday. To further summarize: At the core of all keys … Read more

Discovering Keys: Part 1

Applying Scales and Chords to the Study of Keys From the beginning of this series, we set out to achieve a succinct but comprehensive understanding of what keys are and how they can help us in our musical pursuits. We started by presenting a common musical scenario heavily dependent on keys for its construction and learning potential (in this case, a snippet from Mozart’s Sonata No. 16 in C major, K. 545). We then highlighted some of the most basic infrastructural components we find in music (chords and scales) for the sake of reinforcing the knowledge base we’ll need to … Read more

No Need to Give Up! Special Tips for Small-Handed Pianists [Part I]

“How can you play the piano with such tiny hands?!” I have been asked this many times in my life. Yes, I do have small hands; my maximum reach is just an octave. It’s not even a comfortable reach – I barely reach one octave. After years and years of trying different methods and techniques to reach more notes comfortably, I have come to the conclusion – I have to adjust the techniques according to my hand size. I have to find what works for ME, not simply following what is “believed” to be a good technique. The more challenging … Read more

What are Keys: Learning About Chords

What are Chords and How Can They Help Us Learn About Keys? Chords have been a staple device in the music of the Western world for, well, a long time. Prior to the Baroque Period (approx. 1600—1750, the musical era of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi), European music was generally based on linear material, that is to say, on melody. Harmonies, the likes of which we might think of as chords or chord progressions, were the result of multiple melodic lines woven together. The Baroque Period witnessed the rise in popularity of a simple and effective manner of providing accompanists with … Read more

What are Keys: Learning about Scales

What are Scales and How Can They Help Us Learn About Keys? Have you ever had conversation with someone about their bygone days of learning a musical instrument? Often the conversation begins with them remarking, “You’re taking music lessons? Nice. Yeah, I took some piano lessons when I was younger. I really liked it, but I wasn’t really any good. Think I learned Fur Elise and some Mozart and, you know, did scales and stuff…” It seems we’ve all heard of–or practiced–scales at some point. In terms of learning our instruments, practicing scales serves as an accessible method for improving … Read more

What are Keys and Why Should We Know About Them?

In the Key of… “In the key of…” — we rarely get far into our musical endeavors before we find ourselves faced with this phrase. Minuets in the key of G, Sonatas in the key of A, Nocturnes in the key of E minor, Fugues in the key of F#, and so on. But what does it really mean to be “in the key” of something? As beginners, we learn that it in some way refers to the number of sharps or flats (accidentals) we encounter at the beginning of a piece. We learn that this key signature indicates which notes … Read more

Ultimate Injury Prevention: How to Gain Body Awareness for Pianists

Piano playing requires extremely repetitive muscle movements. For example, if you play quarter notes consistently at 120BPM, after an hour, the repetition will require your muscles to contract and release 7,200 times…with eighth-notes 14,400 times… with sixteenth-notes 28,800 times! This many muscle movements add a lot of stress to your body and there is a high risk of injury if you do not pay attention to your physical needs. Musicians need to take care of their bodies, just like athletes do. Sadly, however, most of us do not listen to our body until we experience pain or discomfort. Take some … Read more