Ever wonder why some pianos say “play me” and others, well, you can’t imagine why anybody would ever want to play them?

Even if a piano action is regulated to an absolute perfection there can still be unevenness from one note to another. Regulation refers to the correct mechanical settings for various functions to occur, but it does not take into account one very important criteria to a smooth and even touch. The weight of various components has a profound impact on the touch of a piano. If you were to weigh each hammer and chart the results you would have a picture closely resembling the movement of the stock market!

How could the touch be even when one hammer weighs 1 gram more than its neighbor? You might think that one gram is not that big of deal, in fact you are right. A gram is equivalent to 2 ½ medium paper clips. Yet when that small amount of weight is acted upon by the leverages found in a piano action it becomes at least 5 grams at the end of the key.

With the typical down weight (the weight needed to depress the key with the damper pedal depressed) about 50 grams, a 5 gram difference represents a 10% variation! That is noticeable.

Difference in hammer weight also has a profound effect on the tone a hammer generates. All things being equal, a heavier hammer produces a darker, mellower tone and lighter hammers will give you a brighter tone.

All weight variations are evened out when a Custom Action Balancing is performed. In addition to hammer weight variations, key weights are also evened out and all leverage problems and inconsistencies are corrected. If you would like your piano to say “Play me” give me a call at 630-852-5058.

Andrew Remillard

1) Take your students to nursing homes to entertain the residents. Remember, the staff often has children or grand children who may be looking for a teacher.
2) Buy an ad in a play bill with a local arts organization.
3) Tell your students that you would happy to teach their friends.
4) Teach one or two days at a music school. You gain a lot of exposure by being part of a larger musical educational setting.
5) Distribute pens with your name on them.
6) Put an ad in the local newspaper. Believe it or not, the local papers are still read and their classified ads are usually available on line so you gain by the additional exposure.
7) Teach a secondary instrument or a different genre of music.
8) Write a blog. This takes time but after you have written extensively you begin to be viewed as an expert and gain a lot of credibility in the community.
9) Give a recital of your own.
10) Promote your students everywhere you go. Don’t brag about how good they are, but do tell of their accomplishments. Take pictures of their performances and put them up in your studio and post them on line (with their permission of course.)
11) Get to know the area elementary and secondary music teachers. Get on their lists of area teachers.
12) Accompany solo and ensemble contests.
13) Participate in an ensemble.
14) Do a fund raising concert for your favorite charity.
15) Promote, Promote, and then Promote some more everywhere you go.

Andrew Remillard

I say this as a lover of speed. I have worn out many metronomes in my life, not from throwing them out of frustration, but from use. I work meticulously to achieve my ambitious tempo goals and then exceed them by 10% to ensure ease. Yet all too often I get caught up on faster and forget there is more to music than speed. Many times there is a lot less music with more speed. Finding the balance between a tempo with brings life and one which crushes music is a constant struggle.

Andrew Remillard

Did you see that “p”? What does “senza sordino” mean? Did you see that accent? Some scores are full of performance instructions and others have no obvious markings. The details can include the obvious dynamic and expressive markings and also the much more subtle harmonic and melodic “markings”. Work to understand every word and symbol a composer uses and also look for the stuff “between the lines.” Every composer has a harmonic vocabulary which is unique to them. Harmony shows the ebb and flow of emotional tension. In order to understand the form and function of phrases you must start with the harmony; which chords contain the greatest emotional tension and where does that tension get released?

Andrew Remillard

This is another great myth of the piano. While cracks, or more accurately: breaks, are unpleasant cosmetically, they usually are meaningless musically.

But before we go any further we must be sure we all know where and what is a soundboard and why it cracks. If you look under your strings in a grand piano or at the back of your upright behind the posts you will see the soundboard.

This mysterious piece of vegetative product is the most misunderstood part of our favorite instrument. The soundboard is made up of fletches of quarter-sawn sitka (usually) spruce. Traditionally tight grained spruce is preferred but with the loss of such old growth trees wider grain spacing has been used more in recent years and increasingly multi-laminate wood products (plywood).

The function of the soundboard is to take the energy from the string through the bridge and transduce that energy so that enough air is moved we can hear the sound. It doesn’t amplify the sound. Amplification implies energy being added to the system. The soundboard actually increases the rate in which energy is used. Without it, the string would vibrate softly for a very long time, slowly using up its energy. The soundboard uses the energy given to the string by the hammer at a faster rate allowing a large enough mass of air to be moved to produce an audible sound.

The soundboard has three primary components; the bridge receives the energy from the strings and provides contact with the soundboard. Underneath the soundboard panel are the ribs which move the energy across the grain of the panel and support the crown or upward bowing of the panel.

There are two methodologies for constructing a soundboard, for today’s purposes we will ignore the more modern method and look at the traditional method of soundboard construction. Traditionally the soundboard panel is dried to a level between 4% and 5% EMC (equalized moisture content) which is simply a measure of the water present within the wood. The panel shrinks in this process. The ribs are then glued onto the panel, perpendicular to the direction of the grain. As the panel absorbs moisture it expands and literally bends the ribs. The ribs prevent the panel from expanding across the grain on the bottom of the panel. The top side is freer to expand and expands more. The effect is the crown of the soundboard. The crown provides the soundboard positive resistance to the downward pressure of the strings.

Both the top and bottom sides of the panel will be in a permanent state of compression. Through the normal environmental swings the levels of compression will rise and fall with the relative humidity. Two things will occur over time from this situation. The first is compression set. While initially the wood fibers expanded and contracted within their compressed state, eventually they will take the compressed state on permanently. After being compressed one too many times during a damp season, during the following dry season the soundboard will release its excess moisture but because the wood had suffered compression set, instead of relaxing intact it breaks along the compression. Sometimes you can feel a compression ridge on your soundboard. This is a grain of wood which has been pushed up during an excessively high compression period. It does relieve some of the compression but you are looking at next winter’s crack.

So that is where cracks come from, what do they mean? Initially they mostly represent just a loss of surface area on your soundboard. In most cases we are talking about a .1% loss. In other words it means nothing. As more cracks develop the soundboard will lose more if not all of its crown which usually sounds like a warm, long sounding piano without much punch. Even a very bad board will still act as a transducer.

However if the ribs break off of the panel, you can see this as a gap between the rib and the board from the bottom or a raised portion along a crack on the top, you can develop some very loud buzzing as the rib, panel and glue residue vibrate against each other. This condition is very repairable and the soundboard can continue in service for many more years.

If you have any questions about the condition of your soundboard or piano, just drop me a note.

Andrew Remillard

Recently I have had the opportunity to help several teachers develop marketing material in an attempt to attract new students. A common error they all made was to start their efforts from the perspective of why they were such good and qualified teachers. They wanted to list all of their professional qualifications and certifications. One even wanted to list all of the orchestras she had played with. I hated to break it to them but, for most of their prospective students, these things were completely irrelevant.

We all get satisfaction from receiving recognition from our peers and peer organizations, however the average person doesn’t know these groups exist, what their various alphabet soup designations mean, or most importantly, care about any of it.

Instead of starting with your qualifications, start with your student’s/customer’s needs. It doesn’t matter that you received the highest whatever in anything. If you do not meet the needs of your students they will find someone who will meet their needs in a teacher.

Professional marketers will break the needs of the consumer into several categories: convenience, price, and quality are usually the top three. The consumer will balance their relative needs in these three areas. If their highest priority is price, then they will be willing to sacrifice some convenience in exchange for a lower price. If their priority is convenience then they may be will to pay more even if the quality is lower.

The other critical consideration you must make when trying to attract students is the fact that there are more available customers at the lower end (beginning players) of the spectrum of demand in the areas of price and quality than at the higher end of these categories. If you want only those willing to pay the highest price and demand only the most qualified instructors, you will have a very small group of potential students. Sam Walton figured this out decades ago. The great majority of people want a low price and great convenience more than the highest quality.

So as you design your marketing material, think of what your prospective students might actually want in a teacher and offer that to them.

Andrew Remillard

Here is a new way to look at understanding human memory: the memory unit. I consider the basic functional memory unit to be the amount of material which can be played or studied six times and then played by memory the seventh.

This is based upon the limitations of the short term memory. These limitations are 10 – 15 seconds and 5 – 7 “chunks”. A chunk is a single idea which can be made of many individual bits of information. A one octave C major scale can be looked at as either 8 chunks, where each note requires a new idea. Or a single chunk, the entire scale being conceived as a single idea which contains all of the note and fingering information.

The short term memory only lasts about 10 – 15 seconds before information is dumped. If the memory is re-heard (read: rehearsal) within this time limitation and the content can begin to be moved intact into the long term memory.

This is a critical point. I once had a student tell me that they always got lost in a particular passage in the middle of a rather long phrase. They had attempted to memorize this passage working in sections which exceeded the capacity of their short term memory and the information was not moved intact to the long term memory. They simply had no idea of what was in the middle of the phrase.

I know this sounds rather technical and mechanical, however, our brains are chemical machines and consequently do have a predictable pattern of behavior at a certain level. Try this experiment: Select one measure of music, play it 6 times, close the music and play it again. If you are successful, you stayed within the contents of the short term memory. If not, either you played really slow, taking longer than 15 seconds, or didn’t group the notes into any chunk or pattern. Next expand to a two measure passage, and then three and four measures. At some point you will reach your limit; that is your memory unit.

Andrew Remillard

The only way to eat an elephant is also the only way you can learn a 30 minute concerto: one bite at a time, any more and you will choke on it.

Andrew Remillard

Though there are some artists who regularly bounced around on their benches, I don’t think this is a mannerism suitable for most players. Your playing levers (arms, wrists, hands, and fingers) need a stable fulcrum in order to operate with maximum efficiency. Moving around reduces the stability of the primary fulcrum (the torso) and can be spatially disorienting. I think the best models for our students are not the young stars who emote and gyrate as they play but rather the really old timers who sit with great repose and make the least extraneous effort.

Andrew Remillard


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This is the second installment of Sarah’s wonderful words of wisdom.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
(Or… What Every Potential Music Major Should Know)
By Sarah Flanagan

“Majoring in music is a marathon – not a sprint!”

This isn’t rocket science, but when Andrew told me this, it geared me up for the years of majoring in music that I was about to face back in 2002. Before college I felt like I could do just about anything with only a little bit of work. Once I started though, I felt like I couldn’t do ANYTHING without a LOT of work. My how perceptions change when you are in the heat of the battle, but remembering that it is a marathon and not a sprint gave me the gumption to suck up the difficulties and hold out for the end. Few runners run a marathon to come in first place, because there is only one first place to be given out. But all marathoners run to finish the race and finishing such a great distance makes you a marathoner. Not finishing just makes you a runner. I was so happy to finish my musical marathon and thankful for this wonderful piece of advice.

My freshman class started the year with over 50 music majors. By the end of 4 years of college, I believe only 30 were left. I was proud to be one of them.

“Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time!”

I think this is actually a proverb of some sort that Andrew likes to pass on to students. Without actually looking it up, I might guess it was originally from Africa or someplace exotic like that. I can just imagine sticking a fork into the tough hide of an elephant and imagine how long it would take to just chew one piece of elephant, let alone eat the whole beast. What an overwhelming task without even considering how it might taste!

What Andrew was referring to were the elephants in our piano practice though. Our elephants can be difficult passages, extremely long and involved pieces, our struggle to make ends meet, or anything we feel overwhelmed with at any given time. We all have elephants we need to get past and if we don’t realize the right way to get past them, we might just find ourselves trampled by them.

I have learned that big and difficult things take time, effort and patience, but they are well worth it in the end. The elephant is not impossible to eat! If I take a bite at a time and take those bites regularly, I know I can overcome it. The added benefit is that much patience and perseverance is learned in doing so.

“…Wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Prov. 13:10

What words of wisdom were given to you along your musician’s journey? Which wise words remain important parts of your life even today? I can think of so many more wise words from so many other people in my life. I’m thankful I have them and I am thankful now as a teacher I can pass them along.