Commandment #8 Thou Shalt Practice Thy Scales

These are the building blocks of all technique. Certainly in the “common practice era” scales were the basic building blocks of music however; the sequential finger work found in diatonic scales is most certainly applicable to more modern sequential patterns. Scales are actually very hard to play well and need the special attention they receive. I have known several adult players who had reasonably developed techniques, yet had never spent much time specifically on scales. This was very evident in their scale playing and other passage work. Smooth flowing scale passage involves a very high degree of technical mastery which is very hard to achieve without specific and extensive effort.

It doesn’t take hours of daily effort (though that is not a bad idea when one is younger and occasionally when one is older) but a lot can be accomplished by even 10 or 15 minutes every day, right at the beginning of the day. Plan out a technical regime of scales, arpeggios, chords, and etc. in all keys for the month, you will find that your progress becomes accumulative. The effort in learning D major will improve the performance incrementally of all other keys. After a couple of years of this effort you will find yourself with a great mastery of the basic building blocks of Western music.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com

 

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A Fellow Traveler

Recently I was visiting with a fellow traveler in the piano world. He is one of the few people I have met in my life who has traveled a nearly parallel road as mine. He is a piano tuner and rebuilder, teacher, and has a similar education as my own. What a treat! In the course of our conversation I shared with him my experience as a church musician. His reaction showed me some of the unique advantages I had gained from my time behind the keyboards.

A little over 11 years ago I took a job at the New Life Lutheran Church of Bolingbrook as their organist. Now I had a semester’s worth of organ lessons in college and had “played” the organ for a couple of years at another church but I was and am no organist. But, as someone always willing to do something new and challenging I jumped in.

As time went on I quickly learned the liturgy and ran through the limited amount of music for both the piano and organ I had for the preludes and postludes. After repeating myself a few times I began to get bored with the whole process. I knew I wasn’t giving or getting everything out of the opportunity. So I decided to use the opportunity of needing a steady supply of new piano music to create a need and motivation for me to greatly expand my repertory. Rather than doing a scatter shot approach to learning new music, I decided to play through more systematically the repertory of the piano.

I started very simply with the Clementi Sonatinas and much of Anna Magdalena Bach book. I moved on to other literature of Chopin, Mednter, Debussy, Beethoven, and Bach. A funny thing happens when you set out to learn 5 – 10 minutes of new music every week; after few years, you have really learned a lot of music.

I am not sharing this to brag, but to encourage those of you with a similar opportunity and need to take full advantage of the discipline such a situation can place you under. I have become a big advocate of learning complete cycles of music. I cannot begin to explain everything I learned about music, Beethoven, the sonata, or myself after playing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas or Bach’s 48. Even if the cycle is as small as Bach’s 2 Part Inventions, learning and playing them all will give you a unique perspective quite different from knowing only a few.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule 11) KNOW THE LANGUAGE.

Music is a foreign language and it has many dialects. There is vocabulary, grammar and syntax, meaning and context. As with any language, the better you understand all of its subtleties, the better you can express yourself in that language.

If you compare the harmonic language of Bela Bartok with Serge Rachmaninov’s you can see a significant difference in their use of dissonance even though they lived at the same time. The most stringent dissonances in Rachmaninov’s music would be almost consonant in Bartok’s music.

Understanding the syntax of music allows for a quicker and more accurate recognition of patterns and structure. Without this understanding everything is meaningless randomness which happens to sound nice. While French may be pleasing to listen to as a harmonious language, I have no idea of the meaning behind those sounds so my appreciation and understanding is severely limited.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Dear ANR #2 …

“Should I wait until the air conditioner gets turned on to tune my piano?”

The corollary would be waiting until you turn the heat on. Both reflect the futility of trying to time the tuning of your piano to some magical point in the seasons. The question does swerve toward the truth in recognizing that climate and environment have an impact on tuning.

There have been many studies done looking at the impact of various climatic and environmental changes upon the tuning of a piano. From my own experience I can tell you that tuning a piano for a concert without the hot stage lights on for an hour is a futile effort. As soon as the lights come on the radiant heat will quickly knock the piano out of tune. The heat is not affecting the moisture content of the wood in the soundboard as much as heating and thus lowering the tension of the strings. The soundboard will dry out some but this is a much slower process than heating the strings and harp.

If your piano is placed in the direct path of your HAVC air flow, especially if it is the air delivery vents, then every time your furnace or air conditioner comes on you will drive your piano out of tune.

It is not so much that a particular part of your climate control system is running, it is all a matter of stability. If you keep your piano out of direct sun light, and minimize the presence of sun light in the room itself, keep air movement across the instrument to a minimum, and maintain a constant humidity and temperature, your tuning will remain relatively stable.

However, one of my primary rules for the care and feeding of your piano is that you enjoy it! If that means putting in front of the window and playing with the sun in your eyes and the window open because that is what you enjoy, then by all means DO IT!! Enjoy your piano, we can fix everything else!

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



The Dark Side of Social Media

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

We have all heard about how “social media” is going to change the way we do business and organize our lives. While this may be true I have had the unfortunate experience recently of seeing personally how this new media can be very destructive to one’s business and reputations.

I have always found it tacky and unseemly to solicit referrals and complimentary letters. I figured I would let my work stand or fall on its own merits. After being in business for 25 years and growing pretty steadily even through some very difficult years in our industry, I assumed I was correct in my practice. Then along came these new social media. As any of you who have been practicing your art and business for any length of time have learned you cannot please everybody all of the time and there are some who are impossible to please no matter what you do or say. In the past, we could just let these people go their way and be glad they were out of our lives. Not anymore.

Now these people have a large public forum in which they can veritably scream their displeasure and not be bothered with truth or fairness. And folks, you are defenseless against such an attack. They can say anything they want and give you a low rating with unsubstantiated accusations. This becomes a permanent record of your business for the whole world to see.

As we all know complainers are much more vocal than those who complement, so in the normal flow of life they will leave a much larger mark. In these new forums, if those who would compliment your business don’t bother to do so, all you are left with are the complainers. And it doesn’t take many to make you look very bad.

So, here I am now asking you, if you have ever done business with ANR Piano, and whether you were 100% satisfied or not, would you mind sharing your thoughts? After seeing how much damage a few negative, unbalanced comments can make, I have made it a point to spread as much good rating as possible, especially among the small businesses which would be hurt the most by these professional complainers.

Even if you have some honest complaints, I would love to hear about it. I know as ANR Piano has grown rapidly over the past several years we have not always been able to live up to our standards of customer service. We have often become over whelmed just trying to manage our growth and too often things slip through the cracks.

I think the take-away from my experience with these impossible-to-please folks is that regardless of the challenging people we encounter in our journey we need to stay focused on our goals and continue to serve our fellow humans as best we can. We cannot worry about those disturbed souls who would prefer we were all as miserable as they. None of us are perfect, nor do we always provide perfect service, but our humanity and occasional failings do not diminish all of the good we otherwise do.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



The Ten Little Idiots

Allow me to venture into a slightly un-politically correct analogy. Back, many years ago, when I was just a child there was a children’s song with a colorful and history: “Ten Little Indians” whose original title was: “Ten Little Injuns”. I have often used the phrase “10 little idiots” to describe my fingers. I complete the analogy with the idea that the 10 little idiots were controlled by the Chief Idiot. As I have worked my way through the rehabilitation of my left hand I am seeing the legitimacy of this idea. The initial surgery was followed by a very difficult staph infection which necessitated two additional operations. My left hand was in pretty bad shape when I began my occupational therapy. It wasn’t until about 5 weeks after the surgery before I began to tentatively play the piano again. I had about 40% range of motion in my fingers and probably about 30% in my thumb. In terms of strength my guess is my left hand was 20% of my right hand.

After a few days of 15 – 30 minutes of playing I had be able to move my hand enough to play Bach’s inventions and simple Haydn Sonatas. Once I felt comfortable enough with the physical act of playing (learning where the limits of range of motion were mostly and what motions were painful) I began to turn my attention to musical expression. To my great joy I found that even with this sad excuse of a hand I had no difficulty in doing whatever I wanted to do expressively. Granted speed was and is still limited (but getting better every day) my ability to express music did not reside in my little idiots, it was all up to the chief.

You don’t have to train the fingers; you have to train your mind.

The ability to imagine YOUR fingers, wrists, and arms doing something is the critical issue. Just because you heard someone else play something means nothing if you cannot imagine your own fingers doing the same thing.
I have found one of the best exercises to learn chord voicing is to split the chord between the hands. Play the important note in the right hand and everything else in the left. Work at it until you have the color you want and listen very carefully to the dynamic level of each note. Now repeat the chord with just one hand. Now that you have heard your hands playing the balance you wanted, even though it took two hands, you will arrive at needed physical solution to your musical dilemma. It wasn’t because you drilled your hands into submission, but rather you taught yourself the proper amounts of weight to put into each note and even though the lesson was taught with two hands, it provides enough information to make a one handed effort much more successful.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Rule #10) DO IT RIGHT, NOW!

Your subconscious mind records your actions without judgment. It doesn’t know you missed the F# again, and AGAIN! Every mistake becomes part of your learning. That repeated mistake will to take on a life of its own, like a monster from a horror flick; it never dies and has a hundred lives to torment you with.

Slow, careful practice is the only route to success, to speed up before you have cleaned up will simply give you a fast mess.

There is no time like the present to be perfect!

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Escapement, Getting Out From Under

Recently we had the rare opportunity to have an 1860’s Erard in the shop for a brief period. These are exceedingly rare pianos and this one was in fantastic shape. It had been rebuilt and restored to original condition by a very conscientious rebuilder. I was very excited to open the piano and examine the action which dates from very near the invention of the double escapement action built by the inventor of that very action, Mr. Erard. His action design is what all modern grand actions are based upon.

The term “double escapement” refers to the mechanisms ability to “reset” the hammer jack relationship without having to return the key to the fully upright position. You can re-strike a key on a grand piano after returning the key to about the ½ way point. On almost all uprights, and the 1897 Broadwood grand we had in the shop not too long ago, you must allow the key to fully return before it will play again.

The double escapement allows for a much faster repetition and much more subtle soft playing. This is accomplished by a second lever, sometimes called the “balancier” which is attached to a spring. The spring applies a positive lift to the hammer knuckle and when the key is released and the hammer is freed from the back check it is able to lift the hammer, allowing the jack to slide back under the knuckle before the key has fully returned.

There are a few examples of “double escapement” like upright actions. Fandrich & Sons has developed an action with an extra spring connecting the hammer butt and jack which pulls the jack back under the butt, allowing for a quicker repetition. And as the preacher said: “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are just finishing the complete rebuilding of a 1912 Mason & Hamlin upright with a spring designed to push the jack back under the butt also. If you want an upright which plays and feels like a grand… here you are! The Mason & Hamlin will repeat with even less key return than a grand piano. You can get the key to re-strike with the key less than ½ way returned.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



15 Ways to Promote Your Piano Studio

  1. Make or update your business cards and distribute them every place you can.
  2. Develop a simple website and be sure that it is easily searched for on the web.
  3. Put your name in other online music teacher directories.
  4. Put up ads on grocery store bulletin boards.
  5. Take lots of gigs.
  6. Get to know a lot of teachers in your area. They may refer people to you if their studio is full.
  7. Get to know homeschooling groups. You can schedule lessons during the day time and have your evenings free.
  8. Be a part of various musical organizations like MTNA or the local music club.
  9. Be in touch with music teachers at your local schools.
  10. Get a sign for your lawn or your car advertising your music studio.
  11. Your word of mouth – spread the word at your church, job, or at your child’s soccer game that you are looking for more students.
  12. Make a brochure about your piano studio.
  13. Tell everyone on Facebook.
  14. Whenever you email your current students, tell them you have openings for their friends.
  15. Create a YouTube video about your studio.

Special thanks to Sarah Flanagan.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



#1 The Reality of Failure

An Open Letter to My Children

Now that you are well on your way into adulthood, I would like to take a moment to share some thoughts with you. I have enjoyed those many occasions when you have come on your own to seek my counsel, what parent wouldn’t! However, I think there are some things I would like to share with you which transcend those issues we have talked about from time to time.

The one constant I know you will face throughout your life, since you are MY children and I can see already how you have modeled your own life after the example your Mom and I have set, is that you will fail often and even spectacularly many times throughout your life. Many of your peers and even other family members will not experience the level of failure you will get to enjoy because most will never choose to live life in the deliberate and goal oriented manner you have chosen.

As I am sure you know, every year starting in mid-December through early January I spend a considerable amount of time reviewing the previous year and planning the next year. If you looked at the records I have kept for most of the past 25 years (which you never will get to see) you will notice right away how badly I have done year after year in meeting my goals. You could rightly say I have failed in just about every endeavor I have undertaken. However, the irony is that despite missing most of my goals, I have accomplished more than I could ever have dreamed.

The best part of failure is that you will very seldom fail utterly. Each goal you set, each project you start will, by the very act of pursuing it, will take you further down the road of life than if you had done nothing. Even failing spectacularly often result in the important lessons on what NOT to do in the future and what maybe what to do next time.

And there will always be a next time. You must always be planning your next endeavor. It is very easy to wallow in self pity when you have the wind knocked out of you. If you stay there long enough you may never get up again.

The vast majority of people tolerate failure long enough to find a place where they can coast through the rest of their life. What a mediocre way to live! It is better to seek out challenges which push you to grow, accept each set back, and then… “wait upon the LORD (who) shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (One of our favorite verses.)

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com