Ask Me a Piano Question!

Hello everyone!

Since I created this website about one year ago, I have received many wonderful comments from you guys – thanks a lot for your support! At the same time, some of your comments contained interesting questions which have guided me in choosing the subjects for my recent posts.

This page will be dedicated to your questions!

What’s frustrating you about your practice? Is there something you need help with? Are you worried about a certain piano issue and you can’t find a satisfying solution? Do you have problems with your posture, your wrist, the quality of your sound, your health, your repertoire, or maybe you have a certain fear that you can’t overcome by yourself?

It doesn’t have to be a serious, scientific, 100% piano-related question. It may touch other aspects of a musician’s life – physical exercise, diet, attitude, motivation, balance, concentration, exams, philosophy, history of music, etc. and so on.

No matter what it is, we’ll explore it together! 🙂

You can post your question in the comments below. Also, feel free to reply to other comments – you can help each other by sharing your experience and your personal strategies for dealing with specific piano problems.

I will try to focus my future articles and videos (yes, videos are coming soon!) on these questions.

I will also place an easy-to-access link to this page on the right sidebar of my site – so you’ll be able to ask questions as often as you want!

I believe that piano playing should be an enjoyable lifestyle, not a stressful struggle – yes, even if you’re a professional pianist who’s facing difficult challenges on a daily basis! The good news is that we can make such a lifestyle come true – we just need to have an open mind, to let go of stereotypes and not be afraid to look at familiar things from new, unexpected angles.

I also have a big dream: to create a community of pianists and musicians (professionals and amateurs) who are willing to look at their practice and their career from a new perspective in order to make their musical experience as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.

I respond to every comment and I am happy to help you however I can!

Have an inspired day and enjoy every step of your piano quest!


P.S. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Google + to stay updated!

If you enjoyed this piano tutorial, here are some other piano learning and practice tutorials you’ll like:

The Power of Perseverance in Learning to Play Piano: Why Musical Progress is Not Linear

350 Responses to “Ask Me a Piano Question!”

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  1. Alexandra says:

    Hi again, Ilinca, (this is kind of a worrisome question for me tonight—I just had my weekly piano lesson, and received some instructions on a Czerny exercise. I hope you have the time to give some advise on this.)

    The Czerny piece in question, has a continuing triplet in the LH, begins in simple Cmaj , CEG, CEG, CEG, CEG, BFG, BFG, BFG, BFG, and so on… The tempo is quite fast and begins in “Piano” with crescendo/diminuendos in RH.

    I had been practicing this LH part by sort of “rolling” my wrist slightly so as to, I thought, relieve any tension and keep my wrist flexible….although the LH is indicated “Legato” in the score…My “rolling” wrist and fingers causes more non-legato, I suppose. So, my teacher told me to stop the “rolling” and keep my wrist steady and “lean” on my 5th finger slightly, lift the wrist a bit, and just lightly “dangle” my 3rd and thumb on to the E-G as I play in turn, or “dangle” my 2nd /thumb on to the F-G, etc. Does this sound right to you???! My wrist is not strained so much, but I feel some tension since the LH’s 5th finger is playing from middle C or near there as the piece progresses, while my thumb and other fingers are busy moving .

    The second part of this same exercise starts out Forte, and in the LH, with a sustained note G (with 5th finger)for the entire bar, while playing other fingers 4-2-1-2-4 individual notes. For this, my teacher said to use strength from around my elbow (forearm?) for the sustained note (although now I want to feel it from my shoulder…), and again, “stroke” the other accompanying notes in that bar with my remaining fingers. Her suggestion FEELS stable, but this part is very awkward no matter HOW I play the LH ….Cannot find any comfort with this sustained-note requirement. Is there a “secret” here?

    On Bach, you kindly wrote to “Find stability in everything you play – avoid the ‘superficial’ approach which appears when we play only from our forearm or – even worse – only from our fingers. This type of technique leads to tension, a bad sound quality and lack of stability.”

    (I realize it is difficult to determine exactly the movements without actually seeing). My biggest concerns are muscle strain, wrong technique or more bad habits/losing the new relaxed feeling I discovered, and more delays in progress!!
    Ilinca, Thank you so much for all your advice. I hope you can answer these questions.

    Best wishes.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alexandra!

      I just posted a video (and written) reply to your previous questions – about scales, fast and slow practice, portamento, and also practice tips for playing Schumann’s “Hasche Mann”. The answer is here, on the previous comment page.

      I’ll answer your question about Czerny as soon as possible! 😉

      • Alexandra says:

        The new fingering from bar 9 feels right (3rd finger on the F# is more stable!) Thank you 🙂 It was so simple!! Will put my brain to work on fingering a bit more next time before asking; you’ve given great pointers in some older posts on fingering and having a comfortable position, etc. (—It is so hard to change fingering once the hands have “memorized”. But , on the bright side, some of my previous fingering is so awkward that my hands are happier,haha, and more relaxed with this new awareness and implemented changes.)
        Hope you are having a good day!!

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          Glad I could help with the fingering! I’m sure that with a little practice, you’ll begin to ‘feel’ the right fingering as well – it’s only a matter of time!

          I hope to write about Czerny tomorrow – now I’m trying to answer the questions chronologically, and today I answered some questions from the day before yesterday!

          I hope you’re having a nice practice! 😉

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alexandra!

      Super interesting question (the triplets from the Czerny Etude)! Below you’ll see why. First I will describe how I play this type of technique, and then I’ll tell you why and when it appeared and how is it different from the ‘heavy’ ‘walking hand’ approach that we have to use most of the time.

      I just tried to play the triplets you mentioned in your question. I think your teacher’s advice makes lots of sense!

      However, let’s take it one step at a time. I will simply describe my sensations and also explain what kind of approach we have to use here.

      I cannot tell you (without seeing how you play) if the wrist rotation you’re using is appropriate or not. If it’s a ‘horizontal’ rotation, then it’s certainly not useful here! Why? Because ‘wrist anticipation’ is used for simplifying our task when we play complicated passages with positions shifts, not repetitive patterns inside the same hand position! Wrist anticipation is also useful when playing the melody – it allows us to intone all the notes, to play them expressively and to soften the transition between them, this way building flowing phrases.

      That’s why all these ‘wrist tricks’ are not necessary in playing a simple, compact, repetitive accompaniment. You don’t have any ‘position shifts’ here and there’s nothing to stabilize! 🙂 In case of small distances (like C-E-G) we don’t need to make extra movements with our wrist. In such cases, all we need is to make sure that there is no tension in the wrist!

      So here is what I do: I keep my shoulders, elbows and wrists relaxed (this goes without saying!). BUT, I don’t channel any weight into the keyboard – not for an accompaniment that has to be played soft, in the background. Instead, I allow my fingers to move in a relaxed manner, making sure that all the notes are equal (as sound volume and as duration) and the character is very light.

      Yes, leaning (only a little, without making accents) on the 5th finger is definitely a good idea! While playing, I’ve noticed that I was doing the same thing! This is also especially helpful when playing a sustained note with one finger and many individual notes with the others. If you have time, watch my last video reply for Vicente – there I describe this ‘polyphonic’ trick – channeling the weight of your arm only to one side of your hand (or only into one finger) and allowing the remaining fingers to be light and ‘weightless’. In my reply to Vicente, the weight was channeled towards my thumb. You, on the other hand, will need to channel it to your pinkie – it will be like an ‘anchor’ that will allow the rest of your fingers to move like ‘small waves’ around the ship (if this comparison makes sense!) LOL

      I suggest to practice slowly in the beginning, in a very relaxed manner. At first, you can allow a little ‘arm weight’ to flow into your fingers – simply as a precaution against tension! Once you get accustomed with the layout and you feel comfortable and relaxed, gradually increase the tempo and lighten your key attack. This accompaniment should sound as a breeze, not as a hurricane! 🙂

      This way, you will learn a new type of technique (which is especially useful for playing Haydn, Mozart and Czerny): being relaxed without moving your wrist too much and without playing with heavy arms!

      There is a practical reason behind this technique: it is an ‘inertia’ that comes from the days when the harpsichord reigned in the musical world! The harpsichord didn’t have any pedals! So, it was impossible to sustain the sound while making big leaps! That’s why the composers kept the hand positions compact – this allowed them to make legato and to keep the sound under control. They didn’t move their wrists much because they simply didn’t have to – the distances were too small! Also, they didn’t need the ‘weighted’ key attack: the keys of the harpsichord were very light – it was much easier to play in a fast tempo without getting tired and tensed! At the same time, a ‘weighted’ key attack was pointless as far as the sound was concerned – the harpsichord didn’t allow to play cantabile, to intone the transition between notes or to have a deep expressive sound. So why bother? 🙂

      One more thing: do you know which are the origins of such repetitive accompaniments (like the one in your Etude)? Again, the fact that there was no way to sustain the sound – but there was still the need of a harmonic background for the melody! So the composers repeated the same notes over and over again so the sound will not fade! So this is what you have to play – a soft harmonic background!

      When the pedal appeared, it changed everything: suddenly, everything was possible: big leaps, passages and arpeggios with big distances between intervals (like in Chopin’s works) and so on.

      The invention of the modern piano was the reason behind the weighted, relaxed technique that I usually describe. Practically overnight, new horizons, new possibilities of expression appeared – and only a change of technique could allow performers to conquer these horizons.

      I will make a comparison that I just invented: imagine that humans can fly. Also imagine that, for learning how to fly, you have to master a special technique (the heavy, relaxed ‘walking arm’ technique in case of piano playing). Without this technique, it’s simply not possible to take off! Now imagine that in a certain piece, you don’t need to fly! You simply have to walk 100 meters! Why then use the special technique, why use your ‘super powers’? You can simply use your legs instead! LOL 🙂

      If for playing Bach (and Chopin, and Rachmaninoff, and Liszt, and Tchaikovsky, and Schumann etc. etc. and so on) a superficial key attack is dangerous and not ‘in character’, then for Czerny (especially if you play an accompaniment) it can certainly be used!

      In case of such accompaniments, the main thing we have to avoid is a heavy sound: it will sound amateurish and it will cover the melody!

      Again, playing with heavy arms is not a 100% recipe. It is the foundation of a correct (modern!) playing habit, but there are cases (like the one you’re describing) when we need to use more ‘economical’, ‘compact’ gestures – especially if we talk about an accompaniment which has to be in the background!

      You can also read my answer to Rodney about Mozart’s Fantasy in c minor. There are some similarities in the passages we’re discussing (considering, however, that the Fantasy is much more complicated :)).

      So, in such cases, we have to have ‘the wisdom to make the difference’ 🙂 (which comes from experience and lots of practice!) between these two types of technique: the relaxed light touche that helps us play soft accompaniments without positions shifts AND the relaxed heavy ‘diving’ into the keyboard, that gives us both technical stability and a beautiful sound.

      I hope you noticed that I’m using the word relaxed in both cases. No matter which technique we use (heavy or light, involving wrist rotation/movements or not), relaxation always remains the foundation!

      I wish you a great day and an enjoyable practice! 😉


      P.S. Notice one more thing: I never said that you should play ‘from your fingers’ or ‘from your forearm’. Psychologically, this approach leads to elbow and wrist rigidity, which is BAD!!! 🙂 Instead, imagine that you still play from your shoulders – but there’s no weight involved! Your arms are simply channeling weightless, light, warm energy. I hope this helps! 😉

      • Alexandra says:

        Hi Ilinca 🙂
        Thank you, thank you for your reply on Czerny!! Everything you wrote really makes sense: in my head! If only my hands and wrists would obey. I just had my weekly lesson, and played the Czerny etude. I’ve been practicing s-l-o-w-l-y this (difficult?!) piece this past week (busy week though, so not much practice time unfortunately). The piece is not difficult in terms of notes/fingering, etc., but this new technique for me, playing these compact, soft, triplets as an accompaniment, and simultaneously phrasing the RH is really hard to grasp…And, it is almost entirely on the white keys (Cmaj), which makes it MORE difficult than playing with black keys. I think I am playing my LH relaxed, then start paying attention to the RH phrasing (simple melody), then my LH wrist starts to get tense and rigid again. So frustrating!!! And because the melody is so simple, the practice is becoming very tedious. I suppose this is another time when patience is required (in fact, my family is walking around humming the melody lately…it is TAUNTING me!!!) But I truly love the piano, so it is ok.

        Your comments about the “harmonic background” really made sense. I’ve not heard that historical perspective before. That was especially helpful, as well as the images you wrote, “…breeze, not as a hurricane” and “…small waves around the ship” 🙂 So, with your ideas in mind and those of my (other) teacher here, I’ll keep pressing forward…

        On an up note, I was able to play more relaxed in general in front of my teacher today: a significant step forward for me. I was able to focus faster and get to the deep, meditative mind-space faster. Also, I forewent the strong coffee this morning, so less jittery. That may have helped a bit. 😉 In fact, she even commented on the change in my playing today.
        The Bach inventions really flowed!

        I’m reminded again that learning the piano really is a slow process in many ways. On the one hand, there is daily progress (the parts memorized or practiced the day before with no apparent improvement, sets in over night, and the next day plays out well). But,on the other hand, I want to move forward faster, play more pieces! My music “to-do list” is waiting/growing! I wonder how close I will ever get to my ideal playing ability and to all the wonderful music out there, when I get so hung up on something so fundamental as “relaxed wrists” as with the current Czerny piece. I often wonder how long will it take to get to the level of playing wtih complete freedom and confidence…

        Hope you are having a great day, Ilinca!! Autumn is so fresh and wonderful and colorful and inspiring. Looking forward to your future posts and replies.

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          I’m so glad to hear about your progress, especially the fact that you could play in a more relaxed and flowing manner in front of your teacher!

          As I usually tell my students: if you practice correctly, calmly, mindfully and if you really enjoy it – progress is inevitable! 😉

          Do you know why you’re tensing your LH in Czerny when you increase the tempo? Because, when you’re not controlling it 100% with your awareness (which goes to the right hand), then the ‘old habits’ of playing in a tensed manner take over. However, in time, the new habit will inevitably become stronger! 🙂

          When the text begins to feel more comfortable, you can start to combine slow with moderate practice and try to achieve that feeling of relaxed, flowing lightness in your left hand even in a faster tempo. In the beginning, gradually increase the tempo (while keeping your wrist relaxed) and play only the LH. Make sure that the new tempo feels comfortable and there’s no tension.

          Then add the RH, in a slow tempo. Increase the tempo gradually while playing both hands together – always make sure that relaxation comes first!

          Of course, I could tell you much more if I could see how you play! I’m curious if you’re usually tensing your hands in a ‘superficial’ or ‘brutal’ manner – the two main types of incorrect playing (each of them has its own specific ‘remedies’).

          Do you know what I recently discovered? The more I focus on a certain goal (for example, I’m really passionate about my trainings right now), the more this goal seems to be very hard to achieve and very far away from where I’m standing now. However, if I focus only on the present workout, if I enjoy every second of it, I don’t even feel how the time passes and one day I can do a really difficult stretch, a hard balance exercise or another challenging thing that seemed impossible only a couple of weeks ago.

          The same can be said about our piano practice: focus on the NOW, on the process of playing your current program. Of course, you have to keep your goals in mind all the time (all the amazing pieces you want to play!), but you’ll get there much sooner than you think if you take it one day at a time! 😉

          Have a wonderful weekend!

          Talk soon,

          • Alexandra says:

            (Hi, I hope your recordings with the orchestra are going alright? Would love to listen/watch what you and the orchestra do there! Is that possible at all?)

            Thank you for your reply above. It is informative and reassuring, as always! I’ve been re-reading Heinrich Neuhau’s book again and am absorbing some of his teaching points that did not sink in before (He wrote so much valueable information), especially in relation to playing with an awareness of arm weight and relaxed arms/wrists (along with your consistent affirmations of this truth!!) , the importance of tone/musicality, and appropriate fingering, etc. His insights and yours together are proving to be invaluable teaching in my personal pursuit of the art of piano playing. I really look forward to all your replies, Ilinca!

            You wrote: “Of course, I could tell you much more if I could see how you play! I’m curious if you’re usually tensing your hands in a ‘superficial’ or ‘brutal’ manner – the two main types of incorrect playing (each of them has its own specific ‘remedies’).”
            My reply: hmmm, I think, honestly, I am doing BOTH. I would say I have a tendancy towards ‘superficial’ when playing contracted P/MP/PP and with a stiff wrist to control the soft output, and ‘brutal’ when playing fast F/FF (as in the current Czerny LH in the 2nd part triplets in Forte). But I am becoming more aware of the brutal sound in general and am slowly learning to correct this habit…I can hear my playing sound changing overall and lately I have more awareness of my output. Not as ‘brutal’ (except for the current Czerny 2nd part in LH forte…My Japanese teacher demonstrated the wrong ‘brutal’ way to NOT play, especially with the crescendo, which perhaps she was trying to tell me I was doing?)
            I feel my problem with playing with tense/stiff wrists is more unresolved (I dont want to say ‘unresolveable’…!) Problem: I CAN’T FEEL this stiffness as I play the first 10-15 measures, until my wrist starts to actually get tired or ache, at which point I immediately stop playing! When I play LH only and literally watch my wrist, it looks straight, my shoulder feels loose and relaxed. All seems well…but then the tension accumulates again. And the small muscles that are inside my wrist I cannot see or feel as with larger muscles (legs, arms, back), so this tense-wrist dilemna is sneaky!….wahhhh.

            All that said, last week Thursday, I was practicing Czerny with as much awareness as possible, and got through it without strain a few times at a faster tempo. (It’s Saturday, just got back from a short trip out of town, so I will get back to the piano today and see if my Thursday breakthrough stuck) So, maybe it is getting better??…I just don’t know how exactly I am doing it yet. And of course, without knowing how, cannot replicate this technique in other similar passages in other pieces.
            Will continue to work further on this wrist-relaxtion dilemna and apply your advice!! When you have time, if you have more comments about this problem, I would love !!! to learn more.

            That is great that you are challenging yourself in some pursuit (is it Yoga??) Certainly your training with music is a wonderful foundation for learning other disciplines!! Good luck with your pursuits too. It is encouraging to know that you are ‘engaged’ with your own training and can relate to us piano babes 🙂
            Best wishes!

          • Alexandra says:

            Ilinca, (continued from message above): So, the wrist relaxation I felt on Thursday DID stick, it seems. I played the Czerny etude and it is almost completely tension free! I am still trying to stay aware , especially of my LH, while playing the soft triplets in 1st part of exercise. But I can almost forget about LH while playing both hands together now and still feel loose, thru the 2nd part, to the finale which is in forte LH triplets and RH crescendo. ha! great feeling! very encouraging… still have another 2 days or so to “lock in” this exercise and bring it up to tempo in time for next lesson. It would be nice to move on from this piece, maybe start a new Bach invention hopefully… Time for a new challenge.

            Also, still pushing forward with Schumann’s Kinderszenen suite, currently at No. 8 (Am Kamin-At the Fireplace)… the LH and RH criss-crossing in the middle is a new technique for me. I feel like my brain is “criss-crossed” as well while trying to memorize this piece! Interesting how Schumann is making use of thumbs overlapping, while requiring RH pinkie etc. to carry out the melody. (Do you think thumbs overlapping is essential to playing this piece??)

            This suite is so varied, each piece requiring different technique, that it is for me a set of etudes as well. I started it in January of this year, before I found my teacher here, because I initially really liked No. 1 and wanted to learn it… My goal was to learn one piece per month and finish the suite by January of 2012. But, as I study each piece, there are new technical ‘perspectives’ that come up (esp. No.3 Hasche Mann at full tempo…)

            Well, I hope all is well there for you and you are enjoying another lovely Autumn weekend! Looking forward to your next replies!

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          Yes, Neuhaus’s book is an endless source of inspiration! 😉 Each time we read it, we discover new things – the book is the same, of course, but our level of understanding changes as we evolve.

          I remember that when I was little, my main mistake was the tendency to tense my wrists in a ‘superficial’ manner. Yes, as you wrote, it happens when we try to control the sound with the purpose of playing as soft as possible – p or pp. The ‘remedy’ against this negative habit is playing with relaxed, heavy arms and feeling how our fingertips ‘dive’ all the way ‘through’ the key, reaching its bottom. In the beginning, we’ll produce a mp or even mf instead of piano. This is ok because our purpose is relaxation. Then, after we start to feel and understand the new sensation (playing with relaxed arms and wrists) we can slowly soften our touche until we reach the desired sound output in a relaxed manner!

          Please note that now I’m not talking about Czerny – I’m simply describing the solution to this problem – tension with superficial/brutal key attack.

          The main remedy against brutal playing is wrist flexibility.

          However, I just realized that I’m forgetting the most important thing: The main remedy, in both cases, is our inner hearing and our musical awareness. Your ears should never allow you to play with an ‘unaesthetic’ type of sound! No matter what you play, your hearing should be that ‘guardian’ that lets you know when you’re crossing the line and you’re stepping in the dangerous fields of – as Neuhaus says in his book – ‘not a sound yet’ (superficial attack) and ‘not a sound anymore’ (brutal attack) (my translation of his Russian terms).

          So, always make sure that your hearing and your awareness are ‘switched on’. In time, you’ll learn to make the reflex association between a quality, beautiful sound and the needed gestures for creating it (playing with relaxed arms). Ideally, it happens like this: first, you hear the needed type of sound in your imagination; then, automatically, you prepare and apply the needed gestures and key attack for making it come true. Such an ‘automatization’ comes only with lots of practice, so be patient – as I already told you – progress is inevitable!

          So, I was saying that brutal sound can be ‘counterattacked’ with the flexibility of your wrist. I’m currently working on a new video, about the correct key attack – there I’ll demonstrate how a flexible, relaxed wrist ‘softens’ the weight coming from our arms and prevents brutality.

          So, here are the formulas:

          Playing ‘only from your fingers’, without the weight of the arm + tensed wrists = superficial key attack;

          Playing with heavy arms (or hitting the keys with raw hammering force) + tensed wrists = brutal key attack.

          On the other hand,

          Playing from our arms and channeling their weight into the fingertips + softening the attack with the flexibility or our relaxed wrists = beautiful sound!

          Now let’s go back to our pieces! I’m so happy that you felt a real progress in Czerny!!! 😉 Little snowflakes, one by one, have the power of creating an avalanche (or a snowman, or a field full of snow – to talk about something less destructive! haha).

          When I was about 12 years old, I played Schumann’s Kinderszenen Suite in a concert. I had small hands then and I couldn’t reach a ninth, so my teacher allowed me to play the F (which I marked with red) in the left hand:

          So, it’s up to you! You can also simplify your task and play this F with the left hand, or you could try to play everything as written by Schumann. As you probably know, Schumann had many kids and he wrote for them his amazing music for children! So each piece is not just a beautiful ‘story’, it’s also a lesson on imagination, hearing, musical awareness and, of course, a certain type of technique.

          This piece – Am Kamin – is a very useful lesson on ‘multilayer’ thinking and playing. Schumann could easily write all the accompaniment notes in the left hand (the ones we should play with our thumb in the right hand). The musical results, in this case, would have been even better! However, he chose to make our task more difficult – this way teaching us to play two types of sound with the same hand AND, at the same time, to ‘criss-cross’ our thumbs (for an even more ‘acrobatic’ challenge!).

          So think of this piece as a lesson! Schumann knew that technical exercises are boring – that’s why he wrote pieces that would combine charm and meaning with all the musical and technical benefits one could get from playing exercises.

          Have a wonderful week and a great practice!

          Talk soon,

          P.S. Six or seven years ago, I began to practice Yoga because I felt that I really need to change my lifestyle and balance somehow my unilateral piano practice routine. Even before that, I started to practice meditation because I wanted to deal with stress better (there were so many HARD concerts and exams!). Now, every minute of my life, I’m so happy that I made those first steps – they DID change everything! 😉

          I don’t practice only ‘classic’ Yoga anymore because, again, I felt the need to balance it with something more energizing, more dynamic. I currently combine the following: running; a warm-up routine inspired from martial arts; force training inspired from crossfit (it’s a form of high-intensity interval training); energy exercises inspired from Taoist yoga; various elements taken from karate; stretching and balance positions inspired from ‘classic’ Yoga. This training takes me about 1 hour each day. I try to train every day (sometimes I allow myself to skip a day, especially when I have a very difficult day at work).

          Workouts, just like piano practice, are about enjoying what you do! I don’t know what exercises I’ll do next (I avoid doing the same things each day), but I’m sure that I want to move forward, become stronger and learn as many new things as I can!

          And yes – I ADORE always being a beginner in something! When my trainer shows us a new ‘karate’ kick, and I do it in a tensed, awkward manner, and he always repeats that we should be relaxed, I remember about piano practice! LOL I already know how much work it takes to achieve that relaxed flowing technique… yes, I do relate to how you feel! 😉

          I plan to record some workout routines in the near future – especially exercises that are helpful for pianists (back exercises, arm and finger stretches, ‘cold hands’ remedies etc.)

          Balance is everything – spirit, mind, body and emotions.

          • Alexandra says:

            Hi Ilinca,
            Thank you for the great tips on playing above. When playing scales, etc., I am making an effort to apply the techniques you outline above.
            Just wanted to let you know the ‘finger weaving’ in the Schumann pieace is coming along. Before asking you about this, I was trying to find the easy way out and not cross thumbs, etc. But No. 8 is a great prep for No.10 (Fast zu Ernst). Just started No. 10 and it is probably one of the most simply beautiful pieces I’ve ever played…

            Will check any recent posts just in case, but I wanted to ask you about playing OCTAVES! Gosh, I’ve been waiting to ask you this one. I’ve been reading and observing (virtuoso playing), etc. but I cannot seem to find a clear answer (or a comfortable position for my hands), and there seem to be conflicting opinions about this technique. eg. in his book, Neuhaus says to keep wrists lower than palms (if I understood him correctly), and some other opinions say “wrists up!” to create an arch for stability. If I keep my wrists a little up, then my fingers bump the back board of the keys. If I keep my wrists down (Neuhaus), then my forearms/wrists feel tense.

            When you have time, would you mind writing about this topic?
            Looking forward to your reply on this topic!! I hope you are enjoying each day, and progressing with your training! (sounds so great! I love running and yoga. 🙂 ) Take care.

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          Good luck with Schumann! Before you know it, you’ll be facing the ‘relief’ of the last piece – The Poet Speaks. This piece is easy from a technical point of view… but it is so challenging to create deep, meaningful, speech-like phrases out of those chords! 🙂

          No. 10 is not easy, but its beauty is definitely a strong motivation for playing it properly! You have to feel that ‘horizontal red wire’ in the right hand – the melody that connects the entire piece. It has to ‘hover’ above the entire harmonic structure like a clear, shining light. In playing this piece, we have to combine our phrasing skills with our ability of creating several layers of sound intensity. And, above all – relaxation and channeling the weight of the arm into the melody, into the 4-5 fingers.

          Again, Schumann is being ‘useful’ and ‘tricky’ – he makes the right hand play simultaneously the melody and pieces from the accompaniment – which is a wonderful, meaningful exercise. Just like Chopin, he understood how important it is to combine technical challenges with expressive tasks!

          Octaves! A subject that is definitely worth recording a video tutorial! I’ll write the idea in my ‘to-do’ video list :). In the meantime, I’ll share a few thoughts on this topic. I’ve been taught to play octaves in a Neuhaus-like manner (in fact, it’s the classical Russian approach): the hand (the knuckles) should form a dome even when playing big intervals. This way, the wrist is inevitably a little lower than the palm.

          You can also read my reply to Helen from August 31 (under the article about hand injuries and muscle pain) – there I describe, with pictures, the correct and incorrect hand positions, including when we play octaves.

          However, I must admit that the position I’m describing is only an ideal ‘draft’ for playing octaves. Yes, we should strive to keep it all the time, because its very structure is a tension-antidote (when the knuckles ‘collapse’ too low, tension appears automatically!) Sometimes, tough, we come across really difficult passages (especially successions of octaves in a fast tempo) when it’s not possible to maintain this hand position ideally. In such cases, we should not forget the golden rule: relax your wrist! Even if, for some reason, your wrist goes slightly higher than the knuckles, it should still be relaxed! No matter what you do, avoid tension!

          For avoiding tension, we have to apply the good old ‘slow mindful practice’ recipe: put the difficult passage under the microscope and study your hand positions carefully – make sure that everything feels comfortable! Allow your hands to memorize the correct, relaxed positions in a slow tempo, and then gradually increase the tempo, while maintaining the flowing, relaxed gestures and the rounded dome of your hand.

          For playing Schumann and other similar pieces, this practice method is more than enough. If you have a specific passage with octaves in mind – I’ll take a look at it and tell you how exactly we can improve it! 😉

          Talk soon,

          • Alexandra says:

            Hi, I forgot to mention about octaves. Been trying out your advice posted above. Again, makes perfect sense. I have been experimenting with how to stretch out my thumb and pinkie without tensing my wrist. I’ve noticed though that in reaching an octave, I cannot create or maintain any dome shape (perhaps only my palms underneath are slightly ‘cupped’?) . My hands are small that I am really stretching my palms/fingers to play the octave clearly and evenly. (a 9th is just reachable for me beyond the octave).
            Good news: For now, I found a position to reach an octave comfortably, no wrist tension for the most part—wrist-breathing at appropriate “support points” or “rests” during playing the piece—but
            Bad news: No dome! With this ‘flat’ hand position, my wrists are quite low (I’m trying not to unnecessarily raise them), in order to keep my wrist relaxed as possible.
            Finally, even though wrists are relaxed, my forearm muscles get strained fairly soon.
            The piece all this desription is mainly referring to is Kinderszenen No. 5 ‘Important Event’ (loud f-mf & ff with octaves and chords in both hands throughout). The notes and dynamics/phrasing are memorized, so I’m mainly concerned now about how to learn to play octaves properly!
            Would you add my question to your To-Do list? 🙂 Thanks as always, Ilinca.
            Best wishes.

            Does this all sound right??

    • Ilinca says:

      Hello Alexandra!

      I can understand, theoretically, the challenges you’re encountering when playing octaves. However, it would be perfect if I could actually see how you play – maybe we’re missing something in written form which could be obvious in ‘video’ mode! 🙂

      But it’s great that you can play the octaves in a more relaxed manner – this is the first step in mastering this technique. The ‘dome’ comes gradually for those with small hands. Every time you play an octave in a slow tempo, make sure you also pay attention to your knuckles. At first, simply don’t allow your knuckles to ‘collapse’ downwards. A ‘flat’ hand position is much better than a ‘collapsed’ one! Then, in time and with awareness, you’ll see that a dome-like shape is beginning to form.

      For example, I have small hands as well (I can barely reach a ninth) – but I can play octaves without ‘collapsing’ my knuckles. It’s simply the result of many years of relaxed practice – so you’ll get there! 😉

      As I wrote yesterday in a reply to Vicente (about Beethoven’s Sonata op. 31 No. 2), some pieces/fragments seem more complicated than they really are. By approaching them logically and understanding their structure very well, the following happens: we eliminate, one by one, all the things that only ‘seem’ complicated. This way, we create clarity and we reach the ‘core’ of our problem by identifying the most difficult element – the real one! Then we concentrate on that element, and mastering it gives us a stable support point on which we can build our entire musical ‘structure’.

      So, let’s put our ‘magnifying glasses’ on and take a closer look at Schumann’s “Important Event“. First, look at the right hand: no octaves there! We have only chords in the right hand with the maximum ‘stretch’ of a sixth. The only place where we have octave-stretch chords are bars 10-11 (after the repeat sign) – but they are quarter notes and you have all the time in the world to prepare them.

      With octaves, the rule is very simple: the more time you have for ‘preparing’ them (and relaxing your wrist after playing them), the easier it is to play this type of technique! Consequently, the most difficult is to play octaves very fast!

      When practicing the right hand, play all the chords on a relaxed, deep portamento – making sure that each finger memorizes its place. Again – it’s the same practice method I describe in most of my answers! Avoid playing them staccato – after all, the name of the piece is “Important Event”, not “Merry Event” LOL. So the character of this piece should be majestic, important, somewhat ‘royal’ – but not too dramatic. Just imagine that children are playing pretend and they are imagining the court of a king – it’s not a real king, but the children believe in their story! 🙂 So my opinion is that we should avoid making short staccatos, and play each chord/octave on a deep, relaxed portamento. The accents should be played portamento as well – only slightly deeper and with a more precise, direct key attack (without ‘softening’ it too much).

      Now let’s take a look at the left hand. Yes, here is the core of all our problems – we have octaves from beginning to end. 🙂 On the other hand, these octaves are, again, much easier than they seem.

      First of all, you don’t have to practice in a fast tempo! Practice the octaves slowly – so you’ll have time to prepare each octave, play it properly and relax your wrist after playing it! Play all the octaves on a deep portamento, on a profound and relaxed forte. Then, notice that you have quarter notes and eighth notes. Of course, it’s much easier to play the quarter notes. Most of the time, quarter notes are also accented, forming ‘support points’ where you can relax your wrist and arm. In the beginning, play the eighth notes with a similar key attack – deeply, relaxing your wrist after each octave.

      Then, keep the feeling of relaxation, but add another element: when playing the eight notes (which are always situated close to each other) anticipate the ‘outline’ of the ‘design’ with slight horizontal movements of your wrists. This should create a feeling of motion and continuity between the eighth notes – being also extremely helpful in phrasing.

      Another challenging element are the sixteenth notes after the dotted eighth notes. Here, the approach is a little different: you don’t have time for vertical wrist movements after the sixteenth note – so you have to ‘combine’ the sixteenth note and the following quarter note on a single movement of the wrist – ‘gliding’ horizontally with your arm. But, again, this is not difficult, because the distance between the two is tiny – only a semitone! Do you see how smart Schumann was in introducing gradually all these technical challenges? 🙂

      This way, by practicing slowly at first and then gradually (only when feeling comfortable) increasing the tempo (but not too much!), you’ll be able to master the technical challenges of this piece.

      Good luck and have an enjoyable practice!

      • Alexandra says:

        Hi Ilinca,
        Thank you for your in-depth reply above.
        While quietly waiting for your upcoming tutorial on pedaling 🙂 I am still working on No. 10 of Kinderszenen. The layering of notes in this piece really is tricky as much as it is so captivating to play. I just dont get tired of practicing it! I’ve committed it to memory, but am trying to manage the pedaling of overlapping notes and dynamics, phrasing , etc. So hard to repeat a successful rendering…hard to master this!
        Also on octaves: now, I am practicing the correct hand /wrist position, in fact all your pointers. I have so many old and bad habits… What you wrote above helps also to explain a bit more about how H. Neuhaus described proper hands/wrists/knuckles when playing octaves.
        Your magnifying glass instructions are in my practice notes—am following them with great results in terms of wrist comfort with octaves. Yes, I wish I could video my playing so that you could see first hand. I’ll try to ask around for a digital recorder to borrow…

        I cannot believe how long I have been playing piano without ANY realization of what it means to be relaxed and tension free, until finding Piano Career. Every time I sit at my piano now to practice, “relaxed” “mindful” “play from shoulders/back” “loose wrists” are all terms that pop in my brain! It’s so GREAT!! Now, if only I can also remember “patience”.
        Hope you are doing well, Ilinca!! Take care!

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          Thank you for such a wonderful comment! 😉

          Good luck in mastering Schumann’s Suite – I would love to see you playing it someday in the near future!

          The editing of my piano pedals video is almost done and now I have to write the article – so I hope to publish the entire tutorial these days.

          Just as you said, I have to remember all the time to have patience – because I have so many interesting things to share but there are only 24 hours in a day! 🙂 Making, editing and uploading videos is a tricky process (from a technical point of view), but I’m slowly getting better at it (and also faster, I hope).

          Have a great week, talk soon!

  2. Ilinca says:

    Hi everyone!

    As you have probably noticed, our “Questions and Answers” page has been divided into two sections – it became too long and I programmed it to host only 50 root comments (the replies are not counted) per page.

    So, the more questions and answers we have – the more comments pages under the “Ask Me a Piano Questions” article!

    Alexandra, you did everything correctly! Your last question is the first post on the second page.

    In order to see the older comments, simply click the “Older Comments” link :). My answers to your older questions will be on the previous page as well – so check them out starting from tomorrow morning (I still have to write them :)).

    I had a buuuuuuuusy day at work today so I just got home! It feels great to see all your new questions! 😉

    I hope that this evening I’ll post the videos I recorded yesterday – I have a video reply for Alexandra and another video for Vicente (regarding Bach’s Capriccio from the Partita No. 2).

    From tomorrow, I’ll start answering the new questions – for Agustin, Vicente and Alexandra! 😉 And I also didn’t forget that I have to reply to Rodney’s question about Mozart’s Fantasy in c minor!

    Have a wonderful day and an enjoyable, inspired practice!

  3. Rodney James says:

    Hi Ms Vartic!
    Actually this is not a question, just a quick comment. Today I watched a DVD of the pianist Russell Sherman playing the Liszt Transcendental Etudes. It was amazing to see! I mentioned this because I could actually see the concept of shifting hand positions! He played these difficult pieces
    with hardly any hand
    contortions or stretches. His hands kept that perfect shape and just shifted laterally from position to position. Very eye opening experience, to say the least. I immediately went to practice and tried this in some of my pieces, and it seemed to work out pretty well!
    Another thing was the way he handled the shifts and jumps in Mazeppa. As you know the jumps here come pretty fast. Even at that speed he didn’t leap and play. He actually made his leaps so quick that he actually paused over the notes before he played them. I probably would not have noticed that before. Because of your posts, I’m seeing and noticing a whole lot more now!
    Thanks again for your insights!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      Thanks for sharing with us your impressions about Russell Sherman’s playing style! 🙂 I’ve just watched the beginning of Beethoven’s Sonata op. 109 (which I played myself recently) in his interpretation: he has an amazing power of expression and I really like his vision of this Sonata. It’s fantastic that he can have such a beautiful sound while keeping, in places, his wrist below the level of the keyboard (which is something we usually try to avoid!).

      Now let’s get back to Mozart’s Fantasy in c minor.

      Here I have two recommendations: the first one concerns the technical aspect, while the second is about Mozart’s style.

      We don’t know exactly how Mozart played and what type of key attack and arm/wrist technique he used, but we can assume that he was still thinking in terms of the old harpsichord technique – playing with small, compact, economical gestures, without the ‘wide brush strokes’ that were introduced first by Beethoven. The keys of the first hammerklaviers were much lighter than the keys of the modern pianos – that’s why it was much easier to play small, fast passages with a repetitive character (like the beginning of the Piu Allegro from the Fantasy).

      This does not mean, however, that we have to play Mozart’s works with the same type of technique that was used in the XVIII’s century. We have to be smart and combine the positive aspects of both the old ‘finger’ harpsichord technique and the modern weighted relaxed approach. After all, let’s not forget that we have to play the Fantasy on a modern instrument with heavy keys – and only by playing ‘from our arms’, with a relaxed wrist, we can ‘tame’ the modern piano!

      The heavier the keys – the harder it is to play this type of technique. Why? Because we need to apply more force in order to produce the sound! It’s very easy to play such passages on light keys – have you ever tried to play them on a simple synthesizer without weighted keys? However, when we apply more force, our hands get tired very fast. Tired hands = tensed hands. Tension, as we know, makes it impossible to reach a good velocity.

      That’s why we have to make use of modern technical secrets – especially wrist relaxation.

      Basically, the first 6 bars from Piu Allegro are the most complicated. After that, everything gets much easier. So our objective is to master these 6 bars.

      As always, keep your arms and elbows relaxed and make sure that the uncomfortable repetitive pattern does not lead to a gradual accumulation of tension.

      The second problem is coordination, especially in the first bar, when we have to play Bb-A-Bb with our 5-4-5 fingers (which, again, is a very uncomfortable position because these fingers are the weakest and they are the least independent).

      When practicing slowly, you can use your thumb as support point and also use the ‘doorknob’ type of wrist rotation – it will help to relieve tension and will make coordination easier.

      Don’t play too loud, with heavy, well-articulated fingers. Rely mostly on the weight coming from your arms and allow your wrist to move your fingers.

      And one more thing: some types of technique are individual. For some pianists may be easier to practice like I suggest, while others may find another approach. And, of course, it’s not always possible to master such a type of small technique without lots and lots of correct, mindful practice.

      I also wanted to talk about Mozart’s style, but this post is already getting too long and I think we’ll discuss this subject some other time. Until then, however, remember that Mozart composed LOTS of operas. Even when he wrote for the harpsichord, his thinking remained operatic-orchestral. For example, I think that in the beginning of the Piu Allegro section he heard a duet of the violins and cellos. It’s more comfortable, I think, to play this type of technique with slight movements of the bow on string instruments (while holding the notes in a fixed position on the strings with the left hand)!

      One more thing – avoid playing statically – proper phrasing is extremely important in Mozart’s works! It can transform a piece by Mozart from a ‘childish’ and ‘naive’ work for beginners into a true masterpiece with a very deep meaning.

      These are only some thoughts about this fragment – frugal and incomplete. Mozart’s style is an endless interesting subject that would require lots of articles, videos, questions and answers :).

      Have a wonderful day and good luck with your practice!

      • Rodney James says:

        Thanks Ms Vartic!
        I love the fact that you mentioned that Mozart thought in a orchestral manner. My teacher brought this to my attention, and it changed my interpretation completely! I see the second section in d major as a piano interlude. The orchestra comes back at the allegro. Second half of allegro is back to the piano and also a cadenza. My thought was that the piu allegro was another piano interlude, but your suggestion of a duet between violin and cello really changes things. I had conceived it totally differently! Now I am hearing it differently, and somehow it technically became easier because of this! Thank you for that brilliant suggestion!

        • Ilinca says:

          You’re welcome, Rodney! Glad I could help! 😉

          Another quick comparison about this Fantasy: the beginning sounds like an opera Overture – a dramatic presentation of the main characters. Then, yes, the D Major section is a piano interlude, and then, in Allegro, another Overture-like fragment which presents several contrasting characters. Always try to hear the unique timbre of orchestral instruments when you play this kind of music – you’ll see that after a while this kind of visualization will considerably enrich the quality of your sound!

          However, as I said, the complexity of Mozart’s works is an endless subject. We’ll definitely return to it! 🙂

          Have a good week!

  4. Ilinca says:

    Hi Vicente!

    I’m publishing my answer to your last questions here, on the second page of our “Questions and Answers” – so it will be easily accessible for everyone! 🙂

    On Monday I recorded a video where I show you how to practice the left hand in Bach’s Capriccio. In the video you will also find the answer to the first question that you posted yesterday – regarding the necessary finger stretching when playing the tenths from bars 10-15. As you can see in the video, it’s best to maintain a moderate stretching that feels comfortable. Playing with a ‘tenth’ stretching is not good, and you should also avoid keeping your fingers together – this way it’s harder to ‘land’ on the correct notes and you’ll be only complicating your task.

    Enjoy the video and don’t forget to switch its settings to 720p (to watch it in HD):

    In your second question, you asked me about the correct fingering for chromatic scales. Yes, there is a classical fingering that helps us play chromatic scales in a very comfortable, ‘ergonomic’ position. In C Major, it goes like this (ascending movement): 1-3-1-3-1-2-3-1-3-1-3-1-2 (for the following notes: C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C). This fingering remains the same for descending movements. It applies to ALL SCALES – the only thing that changes is the first note! 😉

    In pieces, however, chromatic scales are played differently, depending on the situation. Sometimes, it’s better to use the classical ‘ideal’ fingering, other times it’s recommendable to use a slightly modified fingering.

    In Bach’s Minuet c-moll (Anh. 121) there are two objectives (which will help us play this piece with the needed expression): a quality sound and proper phrasing. Fingering, of course, is important as well. Before talking about fingering, however, I want to tell you a few tips about playing with musicality and expression.

    As I already mentioned several times in my video, when playing Bach we have to avoid having a brutal, superficial sound and a static thinking. Just follow the steps which I describe in my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing” 😉 This Minuet is easy, yes, but playing it smoothly, on a single breath, with a proper phrasing, is more complicated than it seems.

    Avoid playing one note at a timethink horizontally, seeing the entire phrase in front of you even before you press the first key! I just listened to some amateur recordings of this Minuet on YouTube (I didn’t find a professional one!) and I must admit that these performers are not phrasing properly – they are simply playing the correct notes, without thinking about the quality of the sound – which is the foundation of playing Bach expressively!

    So – phrasing is the most important aspect when it comes to playing this Minuet nicely. You should also not forget about arm and wrist relaxation and the resulting deep (and smooth!) sound.

    Now let’s talk about fingering:

    In the first bar, you can start however you want. You can place your thumb on the first note (C), then slightly lift it, make a nice non-legato and then play the second C. Or, you can play as advised by most teachers – place the 2nd finger on the first C and your thumb on the second C. Changing fingers on repeated keys is useful for beginners – this motion helps them to achieve a good articulation and to avoid ‘gluing’ the finger on the played note. However, once you master playing a quality non-legato, it’s not mandatory to change fingers on repeated notes – just play how you like! ;). Personally, I don’t like to change fingers. The same can be said about bar 9.

    So here is the score of Bach’s Minuet:

    First, check the editor’s fingering in my score – maybe there are some differences with your score. I wrote with red my fingering suggestions (for bars 11-12 and for bars 17-22). Personally, I think that the editor’s recommendations for bars 11-12 (and similarly for bars 15-16) are very comfortable as well! Play both versions and choose the one that suits you best! 😉

    I can say the same about bars 17-22. The editor’s suggestions are also logical and comfortable. I wrote another fingering version (sometimes with two options – the second option is placed in parenthesis), so compare and choose!

    The left hand in bars 17-22 doesn’t have to be played legato, so the situation is much easier. I recommend following the editor’s suggestions (from my score!) – they are ergonomic and very comfortable. If you don’t like them, I will invent something else :).

    Yes – if you can’t see all the details, click on the image to enlarge it!!!

    This is the ‘lesson’ for today – I hope it was a helpful one! 😉

  5. Ilinca says:

    Hi Agustin!

    I’m posting my answer to your question here, on the second page (instead of posting a reply under your questions) – so it will be easier to access and read!

    First of all, don’t worry about listing your entire repertoire! 😉 I never thought that you wanted to impress someone – I simply thought that (just as you wrote) you’re describing what you have to play so I would understand the situation better and give you a good advice!

    So, again – welcome to PianoCareer – I’m very happy to see you here and I’m so glad that you like my articles and my perspective on music and life!!

    In your first post, you said a brilliant thing. I quote:

    I consider that technique is a consequence of working with music itself….so I study the music and the sound that I want; not my finger movements.

    I agree with you – music and meaning should always come first – they are the reason we play the piano in the first place!!! Technique is only the means of sending a message, of developing our potential and – of course – of doing something we really enjoy! However, there are certain technical secrets that can considerably simplify our practice and allow us to play with more musicality – and I always try to share them as well :).

    Now let’s return to your problem. After reading your first question, I had the feeling that you’re simply suffering the consequences of information overload. However, after reading your second post, I began to think that it is not the only cause. There may be other causes as well – all connected to each other.

    You wrote:

    I find it more related with my muscular tension-and anxiety of course, and with a default in the organization of my daily studying program.

    Yes, tension, as I always write, is our enemy No.1! Mental and physical tension (including anxiety) affects not only the quality of our playing, not only the expressiveness of the meaning ‘encoded’ in the pieces, but also our health, our well-being – and the list can go on!

    If you don’t have a ‘smart’ practice schedule, it can affect you as well. I have a strong feeling that you’re overworking yourself, that you practice too much and you simply need to rest more every day!

    I remember that every time I was preparing for a solo concert (meaning, I had to study MANY pieces for one performance), I never played all of them every day – I simply didn’t have the time to do such a thing (especially during the learning process)! I played all the program only when I was performing for my teacher, or when I was rehearsing on stage. This is the classical approach we use in the Russian piano school.

    I practiced half (or a third) of the program one day, and the rest the next day. Also, if I had the feeling that my mind and my arms/fingers are too tired and overloaded with information, I certainly allowed myself to take a day off. If you practice correctly, mindfully, in a state of relaxed concentration, with a positive attitude (you can read more about this topic in my article Work Smart! Tips for a Productive and Enjoyable Piano Practice), then you will feel one amazing thing: after taking a day off (sometimes you can even afford taking 2 days off if you’re really exhausted!) your playing will considerably improve! You will feel like you have reached a new level of understanding, a new depth in your perception, a new quality of sound and you will feel more relaxed!

    Let me make a comparison: imagine that you’re swimming in a lake. If you touch with your legs the mud on the bottom, it will begin to swirl and it will make the water look dirty – you won’t be able to see anything! However, if you allow the water to ‘rest’ for a few minutes or hours, the mud will ‘settle down’ and an amazing clarity will appear! The same can be said about piano playing!

    So, we have returned to ‘information overload’: don’t overload your daily practice routine! It’s better to practice 2-3 pieces per day with awareness and concentrate on the quality of your practice, than to play the entire program mechanically, simply because you have to play everything every day.

    Now we have reached another important possible cause of your problem: automatic playing.

    Let’s go a little deeper:

    When we repeat something for too long, it tends to become automatic. It’s inevitable. But, unfortunately, it can severely affect the quality of our playing.

    The first step in dealing with this problem (we ALL experience it – so I’m SURE that it is an important part of your current situation) is awareness. As often as you can, be mindful of what you play. Pay close attention to every detail of your performance. Try to look at the music, at your sensations with fresh eyes, from new perspectives. Try to listen to yourself ‘from a distance’ – it’s a skill that has to be mastered as well. Notice the dynamics, the fingering, the expressiveness of the phrases, the feeling of relaxation in your arms.

    Instead of PLAYING the entire program automatically, it’s better to PRACTICE one piece mindfully, calmly, with a good concentration.

    You also said that your hands feel more rigid lately – yes, that’s another consequence of ‘information overload’, practicing too much and ‘playing automatically’. Learn from cats – look how relaxed they are, how flexible and elastic their paws are, how they live in the moment without being tensed or worrying for the future. But, at the same time, notice how strong these animals are – they can transform from ‘sleepy harmless creatures’ into ‘fierce hunters’ during 1 second!

    As I write in my article Freedom – the Foundation of the Pianistic Art – you should be like water, not like rock. The water is extremely powerful, but at the same time it’s adaptable, flowing and relaxed.

    I quote some other questions that you wrote:

    Should I stop playing the repertoire?? Should I start to read more repertoire??

    No, you should not STOP playing the repertoire. However, you should definitely change your approach and modify your practice schedule. After all, it’s not wise to keep doing the same thing and expect different results!

    Reading more repertoire could be a way of ‘changing your perspective’ and looking with fresh eyes at the old repertoire. However, I don’t think it’s a good solution: you can read 1 or 2 new pieces (especially if you really like them), but don’t start practicing them as well – you’ll overwork yourself!

    I recommend another approach: go out, engage in other activities! Compensate your static practice routine with dynamic activities (training, walking, socializing etc.) – it’s the best way of reaching a sense of harmony and offering our mind and our body the much-needed balance. After all, this is why I created this site: not only to share the playing secrets of the Russian piano school, but also to tell all pianists that true fulfillment can be reached only by having a holistic approach and living a harmonious life!

    One more thing: if you’re dreaming about being a concert pianist, you should definitely believe in your dream! ‘Pretending’, as you say, is not always a negative thing: only by visualizing our goals, only by having faith in everything we do, we can make our dreams come true!

    Everything is possible! The distance between failure and success is really short – it lies in the way you perceive yourself and the world. Don’t forget that the world is your mirror – it always reflects your attitude and your beliefs!

    Have an enjoyable practice today and also an enjoyable rest! 😉


    P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list and read my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing” – it’s dedicated to the art of achieving a convincing, meaningful expressiveness in everything we play!

  6. Agustín says:

    Hi Ilinka!!

    Thank you so much for everything that you’ve wrote in answer to my questions!! You seem to be a realy special person; and I admire your devotion to shearing freely with everyone what ever you think is good for people.
    It has been very helpfull to read your answers and I’ll probably come back to them this weekend to remember and refresh the ideas.
    You know what? I’ve made myself a study of my carpial tunel nerve (I don’t know how to write it right) and I have it “trapped”. The medic told me that I should have surgery….but I don’t think so. Do you have any advice for curing this problem?¿? I am swiming 3 times a week, and I’ve stopped studying for some days…..But I don’t know if that’s enough.
    Thank you very much for encouraging me to follow my dream. I many times have doubts about it, and reading your words gives me energy.
    Thank you once again….Oh! What do I have to do to subscribe to your mailing list?? bye bye

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Agustin!

      I’m sorry to hear that you have a ‘carpal tunnel’ problem! I’m not a doctor and I can’t give you a ‘professional’ medical advice, but as a pianist and piano teacher (and also as an ‘incurable’ follower of a healthy lifestyle) I can certainly tell you the following:

      Our body has amazing healing powers. I certainly recommend trying natural, holistic healing methods first!

      You can begin by reading my article How to Deal with Piano Practice Related Hand Injuries and Muscle Pain? As I write in the article, most injuries happen when you practice too much and you force your hands to go beyond their comfort level (especially if you have an irregular practice schedule). However, I don’t think that you practice irregularly – and I certainly don’t think that you suffer from the ‘lazy student syndrome’!

      But I’m sure that you’re practicing too much, this way overworking and exhausting your arms and hands. And I also have the feeling that you practice very often in a state of tension – because you want to progress as fast as possible! 😉

      As I often write in my articles – the more we hurry, the less we achieve. Our body is smart (and so are the laws of the universe). If you try to do something faster than naturally comfortable, your body will find a way to ‘slow you down’: you will get sick, or your carpal nerve will start to hurt etc. It is a warning sign that you have to take it easier!!!

      I will say again that all hand injuries (including the carpal tunnel syndrome) happen when we practice incorrectly. Repetitive tensed incorrect motions are considered both by doctors and pianists the main cause of such dysfunctions. And I have to add that physical tension has two main causes: lack of information (when the pianist simply doesn’t know how to practice correctly) and stress (which is always reflected in the state of our health).

      As I told you, I am not a doctor and I won’t even try to describe in my answer what a ‘carpal nerve’ is.

      But I believe in the healing power of a holistic approach and I know that by having a healthy and balanced lifestyle, we’ll be able to gradually treat our current dysfunctions and prevent future problems.

      Believe in the fact that your body can heal itself! Yes, surgery could solve the problem very fast, but it’s also extremely risky!!!

      Natural remedies, on the other hand, cannot offer instant results, but their effect is long-lasting and they don’t have any negative side-effects!

      So, you can start by following my advice from the “Hand Injuries” article. Monitor your sensations. If you don’t feel any progress after a few days of rest and several days of relaxed, slow and mindful practice, you may need to move further and incorporate other elements in your ‘recovery schedule’.

      First of all, you have to understand that everything is connected in our body. Even if the main cause of the ‘carpal syndrome’ is an incorrect, tensed and exaggerated practice, we have to be aware that our hands are directly connected to our arms and shoulders, to our spinal column and to our brain! Our spine, at the same time, is directly connected to our legs… and so on!

      In order to activate our natural healing capacities, we have to harmonize all these things: a relaxed, calm, positive attitude; lack of hurry, stress and tension; the ability of ‘living in the moment’ and not worrying about the future; the ability to laugh and take things easy :); a healthy diet; correct breathing; dynamic lifestyle; proper oxygenation (a result of correct breathing and spending time outdoors); a balanced daily regimen.

      In my articles, you can find many tips on being healthy and having a balanced, harmonious lifestyle (go to the Archives and check out the articles which seem most helpful to you). In time, I plan to write even more on this subject, which is extremely important for musicians!

      Swimming 3 times a week is certainly great! 🙂 At the same time, it’s very important to ‘warm up’ every day by exercising all the ligaments and joints in your body – starting with your feet and reaching the neck. I plan to record a video tutorial with these exercises in the near future – they are especially beneficial for pianists!

      As the ancient healers used to say, “we can’t treat the part without treating the whole“. Being healthy and avoiding tension-related injuries is not a one-time recipe: it’s a lifestyle that we have to follow every day by creating new, smart habits!

      Again – take it one day at a time, start slow and avoid extremes! You don’t have to do everything at once! You have to take one small step today – it will be enough for transforming your life!

      With a positive attitude and some patience, we can move mountains! 😉


      P.S. I saw that you already subscribed to by email list – but you didn’t activate your subscription! Check your email, open the ‘Confirmation’ mail and click on the link to activate your subscription! In case you accidentally deleted the Confirmation email, you can subscribe one more time – just make sure that you enter your first name with a simple, not-accented i – I think that the email service does not recognize this character :).

      P.S.S. We should have a ‘Zen’ state of mind more often. I strongly recommend Leo Babauta’s blog ZenHabits – a guide on simplicity, minimalism and true peace of mind.

      • Agustín says:

        Hello Ilinca

        I’ve been out of the “worldnet” conection for sometime.
        I red today your answer to my questions.
        Thank you very much for your advices. I totaly agree with your way of focusing problems and finding solutions for any “physical” problem. Our mind is so powerfull that it can cure you or it can kill you to,jeje.
        I know that my problems have been caused by an overloaded desire of playing perfectly at a great level….. So, as you said, I have to go step by step…I thought and felt that I had reached a very high step, where I could control my sound and musical intentions at a very meticulous way. And in fact I could….but studying passionately and every day at the same intensity and the same repertoire has made my “studying” (and my hands) counterproductive.
        So now I’ve been studying very little and resting more, and focusing in the present. I’ve been playing also more relaxed and without to many expressive pretensions. And I thnk that I don’t have to play everything everyday, and that I should keep reading new repertoire. Because I don’t have nothing else to play!
        I also beleive that we can cure our body ourselves, and I’ve made contact with an osteopath that can help me with the carpal tunel. Curiously with some more peace and less pretensions my hands are much better. I asked you about the carpal tunel because as you said in your article, a lot of pianists can have this problem and I wanted to know if you had a more specific treatment, besides the general advices of a healthy way of living, that I’ve put in practice myself since I’m a kid, jeje.
        So, thanks again for your help!
        I’ll try to aply to your mail list agains.
        Bye Bye

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Agustin!
          I’m soooooo glad to hear that your hands feel better after a little rest and a more peaceful practice! 🙂

          I’m sure that you can make your dream come true – you just need to learn to listen to yourself better and to balance your practice and other activities so they will be not only productive, but also extremely enjoyable and stress-free! In the end, true achievements and a real sense of fulfillment in life come as a result of discovering ourselves and having a harmonious, mindful lifestyle!

          As I often write in my articles – good pianists sometimes feel that they’re stuck in their practice and they look for answers in the way the play… Most of the time, the answers can be found outside their practice, in the way they think and see the world, the way they live and the way they react to different things.

          Being a good pianist does not mean setting a goal and achieving it. It means enjoying the process of getting there! 😉

          Keep us posted! I would love to hear more about your progress and also, if possible, see some recordings of your playing!

          Have a beautiful Sunday!

          • Agustín says:

            Hello Ilinca

            Thanks for your help and advices.
            I’m now more conscious of what my “problem” was. And it’s the anxiety of pretending to play at a great level in this very short period of studying seriously that I’ve had. So now I know that I have to go more carefully and more calmly.
            I’m not studying that much right now, because I want to feel able to play and my hands free of any contraction or tension. So I simply go and play what ever and sometimes play a bit of the repertoire. The osteopath that is going to help me with carpal tunel problem is to busy yet, but I also want him to look at me before restarting my practice seriously.
            Thank you very much for asking for some recordings! I would enjoy very much sending a recording of my playing to you; not that I want to show myself, but to hear any type of advice that you could have to give me.
            In order to send some material I want to feel comfortable with the piano; so I’ll have to wait some time before I can send you something. But I promise that I will send you something!!
            I’ve been watching your videos, and they are great in order to learn and refresh the fundamentals of piano playing. Very clearly explained.
            You know that over here in Córdoba, at the University where I study, there is a Russian piano teacher from Odessa called Tatiana Sundrovskaia (I probably wrote wrongly the last name) and It’s funny to see and hear a lot of examples that the both of you use to explain (refered to Neuhaus for example).

            Thank you very much.
            Have a nice day!


        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Agustin!

          Everything happens when the time is right and when we are ready for it. That’s why forcing ourselves to accelerate our progress is often a bad idea.

          Taking it easy, being relaxed, working smart and balancing everything, on the other hand, is the only approach that can help us progress rapidly without affecting our health. This is what I always recommend to my students! I’m sure that your hand will get better soon!

          Yes, I would love to see some of your recordings! Take your time and make them when you feel comfortable! 🙂

          I’m really glad you enjoyed my video tutorials. I’m currently working on my next one – about the art of piano pedaling.

          It’s great to hear that you have a Russian piano teacher in your University! In fact, if she’s from Odessa, she’s Ukrainian (not Russian), but in Ukraine, just like in Moldova – they follow the traditions of the Russian piano school. The world is so small! 😉

          Take care, talk soon!

  7. Vicente says:

    Hi our Zen Piano Teacher!
    I’m delighted with the things you told us and your precious videos. Thanks again. Some more questions again:
    First about: “thinking horizontally”. If I see “an entire phrase even before I should press the first key”, I feel a kind of dissociation in my mind: now I pay attention to the keyboard, now to the phrase I just read or to the following, now I loose this, and now that, now I forgot some detail . And yet more. For instance: if I play some of Bach’s fugues, the process becomes more and more complicate: there are 3 or 4 different voices, with many phrases in many directions, at different places, one in crescendo, the other in diminuendo, there are too different touches for each one of the fingers, meanwhile I must think vertically too, in order to coordinate my hands, and so on……I know Romans used to say: “Divide et impera”, Zen people would perhaps say something like “a little step at once, be Zen”. I feel like hearing 3 or 4 people speaking together and must pay attention to all them at the same time! This complexity seems to surpass the human craft.: however we all can hear very impressive performances by great artists. I already red many of your marvelous articles and they’ve been very useful to me. However I’d like you to say something more about “thinking horizontally” and “being able to conjugate” this already hard mind process with so many……………………….. other details to look at in piano playing. Summing up: how can we organize our head with so many things at the same time?
    Second question: please, give us an example with Bach’s Minuet c-moll (Anh.121moll), for instance, or another easy piece, applying these processes together. It would be fantastic if you take a very short piece and “think aloud” what comes “pianistically” to your mind! (My God: this time, I exaggerated…). “Muchas gracias”, in Spanish or “Muito obrigado”, in Portuguese. ( how does it sound in your language?) Vicente.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Vicente!

      Usually, when somebody asks me a short question, I like to write a long answer because I want to describe as fully as possible the needed topic. Now, however, your question is really complex, but my answer will probably be a little shorter :):

      I understand perfectly well what you mean when you describe your dilemma of phrasing properly and at the same time thinking about all the other elements of the musical text – especially in a polyphonic piece! When I was little, I had the same problem – it was difficult to keep under control the myriad of elements involved in piano playing! I remember asking my teacher the same question! 🙂 In fact, ALL pianists are facing this dilemma, especially when they begin to learn a new piece.

      What you’re trying to achieve is called coordination or synchronization. And, as a much as I would love to give you a magic recipe that will instantly solve this problem, the only thing I can give you is a simple Zen advice: PRACTICE :).

      Follow the 3rd step from my report – “Practice Makes Perfect“!

      With little steps, day after day, you’ll learn to synchronize your thoughts and your gestures better and better. Just like you can’t become a Kung Fu, Karate, Jiu Jitsu or Yoga master overnight, it’s not possible to achieve a good coordination AND a proper phrasing just by reading about it.

      Only by lots and lots of relaxed, correct and mindful practice (I describe how we should practice in my report and in many of my articles and answers as well) we can achieve a high level of synchronization – when we are able to keep under control our mind and our posture, our relaxation and our gestures, our fingering and the pedal, the dynamics and the character, the dramatic content and the phrasing (and the list goes on and on!).

      However, I will spice up my Zen advice 🙂 with some suggestions that I hope will be helpful:

      Achieving a good coordination of mind and body takes time.

      Be patient.

      Take it one step at a time.

      When practicing a piece (for example, an Invention or Fugue by Bach), begin by following the first step from my report – build the mental image of the piece so you’ll know where you’re heading. With this image in mind, start deciphering the text.

      Don’t complicate your tasks by doing a hundred things (thinking a hundred thoughts) simultaneously! Simplify! Do one thing at a time, and then do the next. In case of polyphony – master one layer, and then add the next one!

      Practice hands separately. Notice all the details, slowly incorporating them in your playing. Don’t hurry, play very slowly at first so your mind and your arms will gradually get used to the new ‘landscape’. The practice method is the same I showed you in the video!

      Find stability in every finger. Make sure you respect each dynamic indication. If this is too hard while learning the notes – it’s ok! Learn the notes and the fingering first and then gradually add the dynamics. Repeat each bar (or phrase), hands separately, until you feel that your mind and fingers have ‘assimilated’ it. As you master detail after detail, they will start to become ‘automatic’ in a good way. What does this mean? It means that you’ll be aware of these details, but they won’t require your full attention. You’ll have enough RAM left for the next steps! LOL

      Little tip: don’t become discouraged if, after practicing a piece very well, the next day it feels ‘raw’ again and it seems that you forgot everything. It’s perfectly normal!!! Again, the musical text is not easy to assimilate – it takes time!!!

      As more and more details become comfortable and ‘automatic’, you can switch your attention towards new elements: character, emphasizing the Theme, dynamics, meaning, phrasing etc. Phrasing, however – or the meaning, the ‘outline’ behind each musical sentence, should always be in our peripheral vision.

      For example: imagine that you’re practicing the first two bars from a Fugue, right hand only. Well, when you practice those two bars, in a slow tempo, try to make a poem out of them! Intone them properly! SING them and create a beautiful phrase! That’s all you have to do – play two bars with the right hand with a proper sound and expression! Then do the same thing with the next bars. And the next ones. And them connect them. And then the left hand. And so on.

      If, for example, you have two voices in one hand – very well! Do the same! Practice that hand, like I showed you in the video, until you master playing one voice with a different key attack and a different type of sound than the other.

      In a slow tempo, it’s easier to coordinate all the details – correct fingering, beautiful sound, proper dynamics, convincing phrasing (and don’t forget about the second step from my report, where I describe HOW to shape phrases on the piano!).

      As all these details will gradually become automatic, you’ll be able to increase the tempo and connect bigger fragments WITHOUT losing ‘something’ on the way and without losing the quality of your performance.

      By following this step-by-step ‘Zen’ system you’ll gradually reach the so-called musical enlightenment (well, I call it like this anyway! :)). A moment will come when you’ll feel how all the pieces of the puzzle are magically connecting and forming a bigger picture not only in your rational mind, but also in your spirit, feelings and fingers! This is when, as the Buddhists use to say, ‘the wave realizes that it is water‘.

      In the end, instead of seeing a million of different things, you’ll simply see, feel and understand the beauty of the piece as a whole.

      I didn’t forget about your suggestion of making a ‘Bach step-by-step practice tutorial’! I’ll certainly record it as soon as I find the time – it is a wonderful project and I LOVE Bach! But, again, little steps in everything we do :).

      Have a wonderful, inspired and mindful practice!

      Talk soon,

      P.S. De nada! 😉

  8. Alexandra says:

    What an important question by Vicente above. I too would very much appreciate your comments, Ilinca, on “thought organization” when playing complex pieces, (many voices)! …when you have the time 🙂

  9. Vicente says:

    Hi Ilinca!

    I liked your “Zenian” answer very much. Obrigado. I’m facing Bach’s Capriccio very peacefully, almost sleeping! (I like kidding, as you probably noticed… if you allow, of course) Now, when practicing some of Bach’s 3 voices pieces, we use to alternate the hands to play one of the voices, normally the second. Suppose it’s possible to play the first voice only with the right hand, and the third, with the left. So we need to divide the second between both hands. How to handle this voice when you begin to study it? Do you play it already with both hands, forgetting the first and the third voices (at the best the fingering seems too clumsy, like somebody beating an old writing machine with only two fingers…) Or do you play each hand with its own exclusive voice plus its second voice chunk, breaking it, I mean breaking the second voice into little pieces? ( at the best it seems a stuttering voice) or do you play the second voice with only one hand without a rigid fingering so that you would figure out its particular flavour? (now the other voices demand their finger rights; it’s hard to please everybody. of course…) or something else? Gratias tibi ago. Vicente.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Vicente!

      A very good question! 🙂

      Here is how you should practice a fragment where the middle voice is divided between the right and the left hands:

      After listening to the recording or at least deciphering the text and figuring out how the piece (including the mentioned fragment) should sound, you can play the middle voice once or twice separately, to understand better its ‘layout’ and meaning. However, this is not mandatory – you can proceed directly to practicing as I describe below.

      So, after the ‘preparatory’ stage – only correct practice! What does it mean? It means deciding which is the most suitable fingering and practicing by using ONLY this fingering. Playing polyphony is not easy and you certainly don’t have to complicate your task by constantly changing your fingering.

      When practicing hands separately, play everything as written, even if it means playing the first voice with chunks of the middle voice. Don’t worry about this – playing ‘hands separately’ is a temporary practice method – soon enough, in a day or two, after mastering each hand, you’ll be able to play hands together and listen to the middle voice properly.

      So, a ‘rigid fingering’ is important, especially for beginners, because it stabilizes your playing and facilitates a good muscle memory, which is crucial for attaining a very plastic, relaxed and expressive performance.

      All the best,

  10. Hoa says:

    Hello Ilinca ! I’m new to piano. My current problem is that I can’t maintain a correct tempo, so I have to play the piece with the metronome. But I find it’s hard to listen to the metronome and keep playing at the same time. What should I do now 🙁 Thank you !

    • Ilinca says:

      Hello Hoa!

      Welcome to! 😉

      Playing rhythmically and keeping the tempo without noticeable fluctuations is a skill that develops gradually. All beginners are experiencing this problem, so don’t worry – it’s normal to have difficulties with maintaining a correct tempo in the beginning!

      In order to give you a better advice, I would like to know what pieces you’re currently practicing. I also need to know if you’ve only started to learn them or you’re already playing them on a more advanced level.

      In the meantime, I’ll give you a few practice suggestions: The metronome is not the only way of ‘checking’ if your rhythm and tempo are correct. In fact, it’s much more important to learn how to feel the correct rhythm without the metronome.

      Here is what I recommend: For example, when starting to learn a piece, you can count out loud – this way making sure that all the durations are correct. Practice slowly at first, so you’ll have time to think about the notes and the tempo simultaneously.

      Don’t play the piece from beginning to end – take a small phrase (2, 4 or 8 bars) and practice it until you feel that the tempo is more stable.

      Gradually, as you increase the tempo (in case you play a fast piece), you can ‘connect’ bigger fragments and count only in your mind.

      With practice, you’ll start feeling more comfortable when you play and you’ll be able to stop counting without affecting the stability of your tempo. In time, your arms and fingers will start listening to your ‘commands’ very well without strain or effort. This way, it will be possible to check your tempo, from time to time, by using the metronome – you’ll be able to play and hear it at the same time.

      An uneven, unstable tempo can also be an indication of tension. If your arms and wrists are tensed when you play, it’s very hard to make your fingers listen to you – they often do what they want.

      You can read more about the benefits of a correct, mindful and relaxed practice in my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing” and also in many of my articles and answers.

      Have a wonderful day and don’t forget to tell me what you’re currently working on – this way it will be easier for me to give you an exact advice about keeping a stable tempo. 🙂

      Talk soon,

  11. Hoa says:

    Hello Ilinca ! Thank you for your reply 😀
    I’m working on this piece Piano Sonata in C major No. 16, K545, 1st mov (Mozart). I could play first two pages, then my teacher requested me to play it in correct tempo and put the metronome in. And I’m stuck now 🙁 Uhm… could you explain for me what called “count out loud”. Is that mean I have to count 1 2 3 4 while playing ?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hello Hoa!

      Yes, counting out loud means reciting out loud the beats of the bar. So, if you practice in a slow tempo, you should count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”, making sure that you count evenly – and distribute the musical text according to your counting.

      When you increase the tempo, you can count only ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ – and again – try to count as evenly as possible to make sure that you play rhythmically.

      However, even when you practice in a slow tempo, with counting, don’t forget that you should avoid static playing: the left hand plays the accompaniment and it should be much softer and lighter than the right hand. Also, don’t forget about phrasing – bring out the melody in the right hand and try to ‘unify’ on a single ‘mental breath’ at least 4 bars, playing them flowingly even in a slow tempo. If you read my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing” you know what I mean :).

      This Sonata is not difficult. However, its difficulty depends on the tempo. If you’re a beginner, you don’t have to play it in a 100% Allegro. When played in a fast tempo, the piece becomes automatically a little more complicated.

      For example, you can listen to this recording: Richter plays Mozart’s Sonata No. 16 in a fast tempo, a real Allegro, at the same time not forgetting about expression, dynamics and phrasing.

      Claudio Arrau plays this Sonata slightly slower than Richter – I think that his tempo is more appropriate for you.

      Listening to great recordings is a wonderful way of creating a ‘mental image’ of the piece and ‘training’ your mind to feel the rhythm and the needed tempo better!

      For the time being (especially if you haven’t ‘conquered’ all the technical difficulties yet) you can still remain in a slow practice tempo, but make sure that you play rhythmically. In time and with practice you’ll gradually reach the needed tempo, at the same time keeping the correct rhythm and avoiding unnecessary fluctuations.

      I hope this helps! 😉

      Good luck and have a nice Sunday!

  12. Rodney James says:

    Hi Ms Vartic!
    Another brief question about a specific passage. This concerns the Beethoven Appassionata sonata. Basically, how many repercussions do you play on the trills? When I play it to speed I think that I usually nail it. When I’m practicing at a slow tempo I can’t seen to nail it. How do you measure this trill, if you measure it at all?
    When I play up to speed I count 4 beats per measure. At my practice speeds, I count 12 to the measure. In your opinion what is the best way to approach counting the first movement?
    Thank you in advance.
    Wishing you all the best!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      My approach to trills is very simple – I usually don’t measure them! 😉

      I measure the trills in rare cases – for example in some pre-classical pieces where it’s important to play a trill ‘well-integrated’ in the rhythmical structure.

      Personally, I would play the first trills in Beethoven’s Appassionata rhythmically (of course), but without counting the repercussions. Logically, when we practice slowly, there will be more repercussions. When we practice in a fast tempo – less repercussions. You can also practice the trill itself slowly – especially if you have the tendency of tensing your wrist on the trill.

      However, I’m not saying that this advice is a general rule. It’s my personal approach and I like it because it creates space for our musical intuition. Do you remember how you once asked me about playing cross-rhythms? It’s the same approach! 🙂

      About counting the first movement: Because I play in an orchestra, I always have the tendency to think like a conductor. 🙂 So, I would definitely conduct the beginning of this Sonata ‘in 4’ – certainly not ‘in 12’!!!

      After all, thinking ‘in 4’ is extremely beneficial for our phrasing, while thinking ‘in 12’ will interrupt the natural flow of these brilliant phrases. So, at least 4 bars on a ‘mental breath’! 😉

      When you practice slowly, however, you can try to think ‘in 12’ (but only once or twice!) to make sure that your rhythm is exact. Even during such a ‘microscope-type’ practice, don’t forget about your phrasing!

      Have a wonderful Sunday and enjoy practicing this breathtaking Sonata!

      P.S. By the way, your current repertoire is amazing!

      • Rodney James says:

        Thank you once again Ms Vartic!
        It does make sense! When I play at tempo, I don’t measure my trills and it works. When I slow down to my practice tempos for some reason I try to measure them. I don’t know why I do this, but I will concentrate on playing the trill freely, at a slow tempo! Also counting in 4 does hold the movement together. I was counting in 12 to avoid major tempo changes between the different sections. I’ll practice in 4 and check contrasting sections with the metronome. By the way, the black key etude is coming along nicely. Still at practice tempo, but it is taking shape!
        Thanks again for sharing your insights. It’s making a huge difference in my work habits.
        Hoping you have a wonderful week. Take care. Talk to you soon!
        In gratitude,

        • Ilinca says:

          Rodney, I’m really glad to hear about your progress with Chopin’s Etude! 😉

          And yes – in playing trills we should trust our musical feeling more and allow it to take care of the number or repercussions – this approach always worked very well for me!

          In music it’s very important to find the golden middle between reason and feeling, calculations and intuition.

          All the best,

  13. Ilinca says:

    Hello everyone!

    We’re having some difficult recordings at work (the orchestra) this week, so I’ll answer your new questions as soon as I find a little time! 😉

    Have a productive practice and stay tuned!

    Talk soon,

  14. Ilinca says:

    Hello Patricia Miguela!

    This is my comment to the video you showed me (Schubert’s Impromptu op. 90):

    Again, let me tell you that I’m really happy to ‘meet’ you and hear you play! 🙂 Congratulations for learning this beautiful piece (which is not easy, by the way!).

    You have mastered the text pretty well – good job!

    At the same time, there are several things that need to be improved:

    1. The quality of your sound. This is the most important thing in the tradition of the Russian piano school. Your sound is a little bit ‘tensed’ and rigid – try to keep your wrists as RELAXED as possible when you play, this way ‘softening’ your key attack and creating a more beautiful, deep, soft and expressive sound. In a day or two I’ll publish a new video about the secrets of a correct key attack – make sure you watch it! 😉

    2. Phrasing. Now that you learned the text it’s time to move to the next level – making a beautiful flowing legato and a good phrasing. On this subject, you can read my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing”. Also, your left hand should sound lighter, softer that the right hand – make sure there are no accents on the bass and the following chords. When you play the left hand with such accents, the flow of the phrase is inevitably interrupted – and you need to avoid that! This piece is all about creating a flowing, continuous line on a beautiful legato!

    3. The middle section of the Impromptu. In this fragment, your playing is rather brutal and this also affects the flow of the melody and the phrasing. Here is what you should do: first, make sure you hear the melody – it’s the ‘top’ voice in the right hand.

    It should be played deeper than the other voices. When playing the melody with your 4th and 5th fingers, make sure you ‘dive’ into these notes with the entire weight of your arms, connecting them into a continuous, flowing line. Imagine that you’re SINGING this voice, not ‘hitting’ it with your fingers!

    The middle voice (also played by the right hand) should be played 3 times softer and lighter than the melody!

    Even if the bass offers us the harmonic foundation, it should not be played too loud or too brutal. It is (just like the middle voice) subordinate to the melody. The left hand and the middle voice form together the accompaniment – it should not ‘interfere’ in the melodic line!

    Ideally, you should strive towards this ‘hierarchy’ of importance (reflected in the sound volume – or how loud you play each voice):

    1. The melody is the most important – it should be ‘in the foreground’, being played louder, deeper and more expressive then the other voices.

    2. The bass in the left hand (and the following chords) offer us the harmonic foundation: it should be played on a moderate forte (not fortissimo!).

    3. The middle voice should be played mp – this way it will not ‘cover’ the melody!

    Then, when the same material is repeated on piano, it means that the melody should be played on mp, the bass on p and the middle voice on pp!

    4. The dynamics. It’s probably because of the piano and the quality of the recording – but, just as you say in your description – it’s hard to hear the dynamic contrasts.

    5. The pedal. I think the quality of the recording is again to be blamed, but sometimes I had the feeling that you’re not changing the pedal accurately and swiftly. This is a skill that comes with practice – just make sure that you ALWAYS control the accuracy of your pedal with your hearing!

    Never play mechanically – always try to be aware of the quality of the sound, the dynamics, the flow of the phrase and the pedal.

    However, considering the fact that you’re studying piano only for 2 years – you did an amazing job!!! I’m sure that in time, with correct practice, you’ll become a very good pianist!

    After all, the skills that you need to improve (relaxation, the quality of the sound, the ability to create flowing phrases and so on) cannot be mastered overnight – they come only as a result of experience.

    So, don’t worry – you’re on the right path! Take it one step at a time! Make little improvements every day and don’t forget to enjoy every second of your practice! 🙂

    Again – it’s great to hear you play! Thanks for sharing this recording!


    P.S. Don’t worry about ‘missing some notes’ – this is not so important! Accuracy comes with experience as well. The quality of the sound and your ability to use your imagination and your hearing creatively remain, always, the most important things!

    • Hello Miss Vartic! Thank you very much for the lovely comment. I will surely take note of everything that you have said.

      With regards to relaxation, i am still having a very hard time maintaining a relaxed state when i play. there are some passages that make me stiff. Maybe i am doing something wrong. =D

      Impromptu 90 is not a very easy piece. LOL you are very right. I studied it for almost a month =D

      again thanks!

      • Ilinca says:

        Hi Patricia Miguela!

        You’re welcome! 😉

        As I once told you, you’re tensed (especially when you play complicated passages) because you’re studying piano for only two years, but you play pieces appropriate for intermediate and even advanced students! Your mind is ready for new challenges, while your arms and fingers have some ‘catching up’ to do :).

        Don’t forget about the benefits of a slow, relaxed and mindful practice!

        When you practice, pay attention not only to the text, the pedal and the fingering, but also to the relaxation of your arms and wrists and the quality of your sound.

        In time, you’ll get used to the new sensations and you’ll be able to remain relaxed even when playing difficult passages in a fast tempo.

        Good luck and keep us posted! 😉

  15. Pauline says:

    Hello Ilinca

    Thank you for the two fantastic videos which were very helpful to me. I would like to know your ideas on using the pedals, please. There is a lot of controversy about when and how to use them when playing, and as I am not very experienced on piano, it would be good to have some advice.
    Many thanks.


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Pauline!

      Thank you for your comment! I’m really happy that you liked my videos! 😉

      Recording a video tutorial about using the pedals correctly is a great idea! I will try to do it as soon as possible!

      Have an inspired practice today!

  16. Rodney James says:

    Hi Ms Vartic!
    Surprisingly I have no question about technique! I just received my Alexander Siloti collection a few days ago. He has some marvelous transcriptions. I played through a Bach/Siloti G minor organ prelude that I had never heard and got hooked. It is so beautiful and the last page is the most majestic thing I have ever heard! It has been in my head nonstop for 3 days! My only goal when I awoke this morning was to get through work so I could get back to the piano. I’ll admit that this piece has me consumed!
    I was just wondering if you have ever run across music that had this kind of effect on you? It’s almost throwing my balance off! The beauty just draws me in!
    As always, I hope you’re doing well. Talk to you soon.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      I’m listening now to the Bach-Siloti Prelude in G minor – it’s a new piece for me as well! It’s amazing – thanks for sharing it with us!

      By the way, such pieces (organ works transcribed for piano) are really challenging from a pedaling point of view – they require a specific technique that I’m also going to demonstrate in my next tutorial!

      Now I’m listening to the culmination – it’s fantastically beautiful! 🙂

      I can totally relate to the feeling you’re describing. I have been always fascinated by Bach’s organ works. I remember ‘discovering’ Bach’s organ Preludes and Fugues and then the Chaconne in Busoni’s transcription when I was still in lyceum. I was little then and I couldn’t play these pieces, but I fulfilled my dream when I was in the Academy – playing several Preludes and Fugues and then the Chaconne. I love and cherish the works of all great composers – baroque, classical, romantic, impressionists and so on – but Bach (especially his organ works) is a separate chapter.

      I have always been amazed by the transcendental sonority of the organ and by the feeling of serenity and power that Bach’s organ works inspire… What’s even more interesting is to bring the piano sound as close as possible to the sonority of the organ – to create the illusion that the sound is really powerful, deep, that it doesn’t fade away and that we can switch between many registers and timbres as it’s possible to do on the organ.

      I also remember ‘discovering’ Vitali’s Chaconne in g minor – I was listening to the violin/organ version for days! 🙂

      Good luck with learning this new piece (I think I’ll look for the score as well and learn it when I have time – that ending is magnificent!)

      All the best,

  17. Vicente says:

    Hello Ilinca,

    Thanks and thanks again. I feel I’m progressing with your help!
    In your answer for Patricia about Schubert Impromptu, you wrote: “the middle voice should be played 3 times softer and lighter than the melody”. In this case, I suppose the whole weight of the arm falls over the melody keys. If so, where should we gain energy from in order to play the middle voice? Only finger action or some other weight distribution?
    A second somehow related example: how to play and practice the middle voice bars 21-40 from Beethoven’s Tempest sonata, first movement? How to achieve a pianissimo without loosing some notes? Summing up, which tips help to play this voice pp and very fast?
    Besides, what would be a good fingering to this voice considering the needed speed? Is it advisable to change the fingers constantly or not ?
    Finally, Beethoven specifies the continuous use of the pedal along the bars 91-95. How to do that properly without melting bewilderedly so many sounds?
    I’d welcome your marvelous tips for a good interpretation of this piece, too, if possible. Sturm und Drang?
    Muchas gracias. Vicente.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Vicente!

      I didn’t forget about your questions – I’m simply too busy now working on my next tutorial. 🙂 I’ll answer them as soon as I find some time, hopefully tomorrow or the day after tomorrow – so stay tuned!

      You asked me a lot of questions, and you know that I like to give complex, helpful answers, so… it might take some time! 🙂

      Have an enjoyable practice and talk to you soon!

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Vicente!

      Once Beethoven was asked to explain the meaning of his Sonata op. 31 No. 2. He said: “Read Shakespeare’s The Tempest“. However, we cannot be sure nowadays that he really said these words – it is only the claim of one of his associates, Anton Schindler. Anyway, this is where its name “The Tempest” or “Der Sturm” comes from.

      I could write many pages about the dramatic content of this piece, but, as you know, it would take me a lot of time! 🙂 Instead, I will simply say that in this Sonata we need a wonderful mental, emotional and technical flexibility – it will allow us to swiftly transform the apparently peaceful chords on arpeggiato (which, in my opinion, represent the calm before the storm or the muffled sound of the approaching thunder) into expressive recitativos, and then, gradually, into a raging storm that represents so well the ‘demonic nature’ of Beethoven’s personality, the powerful dramatism of his style, and, at the same time, the majestic verticality of his moral values.

      Now let’s move directly to your questions:

      1. When playing two voices with one hand, where one of them is the melody (or the main voice) and the other is the accompaniment (or the secondary voice), here is what we should do: yes, the weight of our arm should be channeled into the main voice. It is our support and it allows us to play with relaxed arms and wrists. So, because we already play this voice deeply and relaxed, we don’t have to worry about tension. This is why we can play the secondary voice by using only the relaxed movement of our fingers. If we want the second voice to sound really soft, we should avoid articulating it too much. We don’t have to raise the fingers playing this voice too high – we have to keep their movement to a minimum, imagining that the fingers are simply a relaxed continuation of our arm – and not ‘separate entities’.

      2. In practicing the bars 21-4o from Beethoven’s Sonata op. 31 No. 2 (and all similar places), we should follow the same system I usually describe in my articles: practice slowly at first, until your mind, your arms and your fingers get ‘accustomed’ to the ‘layout’ of the fragment. In fact, this fragment is much easier than it seems: we don’t have polyphonic structures, and we don’t have two voices with different character in the same hand. Please pay attention:

      In the bar 21, the middle voice is played by the right hand, while the bass is played by the left hand. In bars 22-24, the right hand plays only the melody, while the left hand has a reasonably easy task: holding the bass note for three bars (however, it should be pressed deeper than the middle voice at the beginning of bar 22) and play the middle voice softly at the same time. This is much easier than, let’s say, playing the middle voice AND the melody with the same hand. So this fragment is not as challenging as it seems. We just have to be smart and simplify our task by having a logical approach! 😉

      So, practice slowly at first. You can play hands separately at the beginning: make sure the melody in the right hand is played deeply, expressively, by allowing the weight of the entire arms to be flowingly transferred from one finger to another. When practicing the left hand, increase the tempo only when you feel comfortable and there is no tension in your wrist – and not before!!! Channel the weight of your arm in the 4th finger (which plays the bass note) – this will be your support point which will allow you to relax your arms and wrists. The 2nd and 1st finger (which play the middle voice) should be always in contact with the keys, without being lifted too high! Again, avoid unnecessary movements and keep your wrist relaxed. At the beginning, you can practice on piano (even mp), not on pianissimo – for making sure that you’re not losing any notes. Speed and lightness will come naturally, after lots of practice! 😉

      3. The fingering here is extremely simple. Don’t change the fingers – you don’t need unnecessary complications. Respect the fingering recommended by the editor and maintain it throughout the entire passage:

      Click on the image to enlarge it if you can’t see all the details!

      4. Yes, the pedaling indicated by Beethoven is perfect. Please pay attention that in these bars all the notes which are played on a single pedal belong to the same harmony. First, we have a D major chord:

      Then, we have a diminished seventh chord (starting from B #), and then – a F # major chord (in the 3rd inversion of the triad):

      Personally, I prefer this kind of pedaling. However, there are pianists who like to change the pedal on the recitativo notes, thus giving them more importance. I respect their opinion, but I think that if we play the arpeggiato chord really softly and then the recitativo notes deeper, with more emphasis, we can achieve the same effect on a single pedal!

      Enjoy your practice! This Sonata is definitely a challenging one – so good luck!

      One more thing – I can reply much faster if you ask me only one question at a time! Otherwise, I have to find a big window in my schedule for answering all the questions at once. 🙂

      Talk soon,

  18. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    I have observed that you often mention about following the Russian system of learning piano. I am curious and wondered how it compares to other methods. Is the approach different; or do you follow a specific structure of study until you are experienced enough to go your own way? I would be grateful for your reply, please.



    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Pauline!

      Thank you for your question! Below I’ll try to describe the piano teaching/learning system in my country as best as I can:

      The Russian piano school is a very complex system. It is focused on developing simultaneously all the musical skills of a future pianist – hearing and sense of rhythm, rational understanding and in-depth theoretical knowledge, imagination and feeling, technical and expressive skills and so on.

      I think that the main difference between the Russian and the Western piano school is the fact that in Russia and in all the countries that follow this learning system (including my country, Moldova) professionals are prepared from an early age – usually from 6-7 years old. From a musical point of view, another difference is our focus on expression. We have this approach: technique goes without saying :). Without expression, however, without making the piano SING, how can we send the message of the piece to the audience? We learn, in depth, how to create emotions, how to control musical images and characters, how to create phrases and so on. I try to cover all these subjects in my articles! 😉

      Now let’s go back to the learning system.

      In fact, in our countries there are two kinds of musical schools:

      1. Simple musical schools, where children of any age (sometimes even adults) can go and study a musical instrument (and related theoretical musical subjects) for 8 years (8 grades), thus widening their artistic horizons and following their musical passion :). These schools are not professional, but they allow people to enrich their musical experience and to play fairly well a certain instrument (including piano).

      2. Professional musical lyceums (like the one I went to). Here, the situation is different. Children begin their journey towards becoming a professional musician from the age of 6. Each child studies his/her instrument of choice (piano, violin, cello, oboe, flute, trumpet etc.) – it’s called our ‘specialty’. Specialty classes are individual. We also have individual musical classes: ensemble (we play duets, trios, quartets and even quintets and sextets with string and wind instruments), accompaniment (for pianists only – we learn how to accompany singers and instrumentalists). Plus we have many group musical classes: solfege, harmony, history of music, polyphony (from the 1oth grade), theory of music, form analysis, choir etc.

      Besides musical subjects, we also study regular subjects: mother language and literature, foreign languages (I studied French in school and learned English by myself), math, physics, biology, chemistry, geography and so on.

      Because of this complex approach, the usual schedule of a ‘professional little musician’ is extremely challenging: we have 5-7 group lessons per day – languages and sciences are alternating with group musical subjects like solfege and harmony. We also have 2 ‘specialty’ individual lessons per week, 1 ensemble class and 1 accompaniment class per week. Those who play string, wind and percussion instruments also have 1 ‘orchestra‘ class per week – they play in a children’s orchestra. They also have 1 class per week of ‘auxiliary piano‘ – they learn to play piano, but they play easier programs than their colleagues who have piano as their specialty. At the same time, they don’t have accompaniment lessons.

      So we basically have 8-9 classes per day – and then, in the afternoon, we have all the homework plus 3-4 hours of instrument practice.

      We study in the lyceum for 12 years. We graduate when we are 18-19 years old and then we go to the Conservatory, nowadays called the Academy of Music, Theater and Fine Arts in my country.

      At the Academy, they study 4 years nowadays (it’s the new, Bologna-inspired system). I studied 5 years, following the classical Russian system (they introduced the Bologna system 2 years after I graduated). Then, you also have the option of studying two more years for taking your Masters degree – which I did. With a Masters degree, you have the right of teaching at the Academy and having professional adult students.

      At the Academy, we don’t study sciences any more – only the ‘specialty’, the ensemble, accompaniment and orchestra classes, and we also have group classes of solfege, harmony, theory of music, history of music, polyphony, form analysis, folklore, history of interpretative art, pedagogy etc.

      In total, I studied piano for 19 years :).

      Yes, this system is indeed hard and challenging. It has its advantages and disadvantages. It has very good results, but often we have to make many sacrifices for achieving these results. For example, we never have the option of choosing our classes (which, as I heard, is possible in the US). All classes – in lyceum and in the Conservatoire – are mandatory. Also, nobody teaches the little musicians how to compensate the long hours of practice with healthy activities and a dynamic lifestyle. Nobody teaches us about anxiety control, energy channeling or the powers of a relaxed, positive approach. Nobody tells us how important it is to take good care of our health or to protect our spine from deformation (which happens all the time with musicians!). But they do teach us how to play beautifully – this is true! 😉

      So, this is the purpose of my site (and I also use this approach with my students): to share all the wonderful secrets and achievements of the professional Russian piano school; at the same time, telling you all the things I learned the hard way: that everything has to be balanced in our life; that a positive attitude is extremely powerful; that we need to work smart and take things easy; that we need to stay healthy and enjoy every minute of our practice; that we have to work out and compensate a good piano technique and a convincing piano expression with a strong body, a strong mind and calm, positive emotions. All these things are extremely important for all musicians, especially professionals! It’s the only way of successfully coping with all the challenges which I described above, and, of course, having time and ‘mental space’ for enjoying and appreciating the beauty of the music we’re playing! 🙂

      Because, in the end, it’s all about sharing the beauty and the deep messages of the music – thus enriching our life and the lives of our listeners! Music should bring freedom, light and heal spirits! Many students, however, being ‘caught’ in the difficulties of their daily ‘deadly’ routine, often forget about this, thinking only about achievements, competitions and contests etc.

      So, it’s important to breathe, to smile, to relax and to look at things from new perspectives!

      I also want to describe the structure of a classical exam program. Regardless of grade, age and skill level, our students have to play a program which consists of 4-5 pieces (we have exams 4 times per year: 2 big exams – in winter and in summer; and 2 smaller exams – also called ‘academic concerts’ – in autumn and in spring; at the ‘academic concert’ it’s possible to play only 3 pieces; and we also have a technical exam per year, where we play scales).

      So here is the structure of a ‘classical’ exam program:

      1. A polyphonic piece (Inventions for beginners, The Well-Tempered Clavier for advanced students, Organ Preludes and Fugues for more advanced levels, etc. We also play polyphonic pieces by other composers, not only J.S. Bach).
      2. A Sonata (or a movement from a sonata – again, depending on skill level: easy Sonatinas for beginners, complex Sonatas for advanced students).
      3. One or two Etudes (starting with Czerny and reaching Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin – and everything in between!).
      4. A romantic and/or virtuosity piece.
      5. Sometimes, a piece by a Moldavian/Romanian composer.
      6. Advanced students can play a piano concerto instead of the Sonata.

      Scales are mandatory during the lyceum years and optional at the Academy :).

      This is, shortly, the main outline of our professional musical teaching/learning system here. I also described, in detail, our scale system in my reply to Rodney from September 9. If you have other questions about the Russian piano system, please ask!

      All the best,

    • Pauline says:

      Hi Ilinca

      Many thanks for your excellent description of the Russian piano learning/teaching system. It is certainly a well thought-out, comprehensive system, yet very challenging from a young age for those, like yourself, who want to study music. I also liked the idea of the Simple music school where both children and adults can study music, without necessarily wanting to become a professional musician.

      I am left wondering what happens to a child age 6 who enters the Professional musical lyceum and then a) changes his/her mind about wanting to study music seriously; b) doesn’t make the grade that the teachers/professors require; or c) lacks the motivation, or ability to study his/her chosen instrument, theory, etc?

      Also, is there any time left for the students of all ages to have fun? I don’t mean that in a critical way; but you state that the students have to make many sacrifices for achieving the desired results. I think it’s important that alongside the hard work of many hours of classes, homework and practice, that children are given time to play, which is essential for their development, and that there is a balance of “me” time, as well as socialising with friends and family.

      I really liked the way in which the Russian piano school focuses on the musical skills of a future pianist to include the beauty and expression of creating emotions in depth. It is a shame though that they do not let their students have freedom of choice in their classes and teach holistic health.

      So I admire the way in which you have enriched your life by achieving your desired wish to be a professional musician and at the same time to balance your life with all the healthy approaches that you have personally chosen.

      I’m also deeply moved and grateful for your courage and your willingness to share your secrets, professional achievements and for creating your fabulous website for people to participate in their learning. I know I have learned/am learning a tremendous amount. Thank you.


      • Ilinca says:

        Hi again, Pauline!

        You asked me:

        I am left wondering what happens to a child age 6 who enters the Professional musical lyceum and then a) changes his/her mind about wanting to study music seriously; b) doesn’t make the grade that the teachers/professors require; or c) lacks the motivation, or ability to study his/her chosen instrument, theory, etc?

        Fortunately, there is a very easy solution to this problem: the child simply transfers to a normal school, where he/she continues to study all the subjects included in the official curriculum. As I already said, in our professional lyceums we study, besides music, all the other subjects that children usually have in normal schools – so there is no problem in transferring to a simple school/high-school and continuing the education there. There are lots of such cases because it’s not always possible to determine at 6 years old if the child wants or not to become a professional musician! 🙂

        Also, is there any time left for the students of all ages to have fun? I don’t mean that in a critical way; but you state that the students have to make many sacrifices for achieving the desired results.

        Now this question is trickier. I don’t know how is the situation in the Western countries, but here, sadly, the curriculum is too difficult on purpose – and it’s impossible to complete all the needed homeworks in 24 hours, especially in higher grades. The reason behind this strategy is a totally different story – one that has to do with politics, being an inappropriate subject for my piano site :). But in the end everything depends on the child – on how indifferent he/she is to bad marks and criticism.

        For example, I was always a perfectionist – I liked not only to practice piano 3-5 hours per day, but also to do ALL my homeworks. This way, I NEVER had any free time, but I still couldn’t manage to do ALL the homeworks – it was physically impossible! It was very frustrating, but my teachers were very happy, saying that I’m an excellent student! Sadly, they did not see how much this kind of schedule affects a child’s well-being. I always had the feeling that I never do enough – when in fact I was doing too much!

        On the other hand, the majority of my colleagues were intuitively ‘smarter’. They were practicing their instrument very seriously, but they payed little or no attention to the general subjects, and they rarely did their homeworks. Still, they had almost no time for having fun and relaxing as well (which, I agree – is fundamental for a child’s development)! Most of them became good musicians, but they had bad marks at languages, math etc. They were criticized by their teachers and parents all the time, but they didn’t care!

        In the end, they were right – those marks were just symbols on a piece of paper and nobody really needed them!

        It is a shame though that they do not let their students have freedom of choice in their classes and teach holistic health.

        Yes, besides the super busy schedule this is another big problem. Freedom is our most fundamental right – and every person has the right to decide which subjects to study! Also, how can we become true professionals without being healthy and happy?

        For these reasons, I created my site – to show that there IS a way of combining effective piano practice with a relaxed, calm, free approach on life and with healthy habits.

        In one phrase – it’s a new perspective on piano playing, on everything we had been taught, and its purpose is making pianists live enjoyable, stress-free, healthy, positive lifestyles!

        Thank you for your comment and your support! 😉

        Talk soon,

        • Pauline says:

          Hi Ilinca

          Appreciative thanks again for explaining further about the Russian piano learning/teaching system. It certainly has its advantages and disadvantages as you’ve described before and obviously doesn’t suit every student. The stringent teaching method sounds too difficult and more balance is certainly needed within the curriculum to allow for freedom of choice.

          I was saddened to read about your lack of free time while trying to achieve the impossible. It’s like infinity – it can never be attained. I’m glad you now recognise your need to balance your life in a holistic way in order to maintain your busy working schedule and to enjoy it. I have an inherent tendency to be a perfectionist too; but after many years of giving myself a hard time, I slowly learned to be more selective. Now I’m in what I call “The Select ‘Be Perfect’ Club!” I can now choose what I strive to perfect – like practising piano! Awareness is the key note here. Awareness develops insight and insight creates choice.

          By the sound of what you said, I’m not sure that your colleagues were intuitively ‘smarter’. If they were then they would have found time for fun if they were not doing their homework in their general subjects, and if they were ‘smarter’, then their marks would have been excellent too. So I was sad that you always felt that you were not doing enough when in fact you later recognised that you were doing too much. But well done. You were excellent and certainly proved to be a lot ‘smarter’ than your colleagues could ever hope to be.

          And out of all your hard work and experiences – good and not so good – you created your wonderful unique website for yourself and for people like me and your other readers. We are all greatly privileged and benefitting from your kindness, willingness to share, wisdom and expertise. Thank you.

          Take care and have a happy weekend.


          • Ilinca says:

            Hi Pauline!

            You’re right – awareness is always the key! It can (and should) be used on all the levels of our existence, including in playing piano and balancing our life so it will be as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.

            Awareness also means transforming every experience in a chance for learning and becoming stronger :). It means understanding that everything is connected in our life and that, especially nowadays, we need a new perspective on things. one that will help us see the forest as well, not only individual trees :).

            It’s great that you selected to perfect your piano playing! 😉 I think that this is a great approach to perfectionism – selecting one thing to improve and not exhausting ourselves by trying to achieve the impossible. For example, now my priority is this website – ‘perfecting’ it and making it as useful and interesting as possible. In a few days another video tutorial will be live! 😉

            Thanks you for your comment – I hope you’re having a great Sunday!

            • Pauline says:

              Great Ilinca. I’m glad you are aware of being ‘aware’!

              I think your website is very interesting and certainly useful. Although I’m not as advanced as some of your readers when they ask you for help on specific areas of their pieces; I do read their questions and your comments. It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand the technical side of the pieces now, as one day I will; but I can comprehend the psychological aspects.

              I’m looking forward to more video tutorials and I hope you enjoy making them too.

              Take care


              • Ilinca says:

                Yes, it’s amazing how much awareness and access to correct information can change our life! So often people are fumbling in the dark not because they don’t want to improve their life (or their playing, or something else), but simply because they don’t know HOW!

                I’ve been there, my colleagues have been there and I want to help other pianists find their path faster and have an enjoyable piano journey :).

                I’m sure that soon (maybe sooner than you think) you’ll be able not only to understand some complicated technical details which other readers mention here, but also to perform them on the piano :).

                Yes, I really enjoy making the video tutorials – it’s a new experience for me. After all, I’m learning so many new things – including video editing (which is not easy) – it’s a great experience and it’s also extremely fun!


  19. Ilinca says:

    Hello everyone!

    Thank you for your latest questions and comments! 😉

    I’ll try to answer them during this weekend, if I find a little free time. I’m also working now on my next tutorial – which will be again a set of video+article :). I hope to find a free ‘window’ in the schedule of our big studio next week so I’ll be able to record the video on the Grand piano!

    In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend everyone!

    Talk soon,

  20. Ilinca says:

    Good morning (evening) everyone!

    As I told you yesterday, now I’m working on my next tutorial and I need your help: I have a question regarding the correct English terminology! 😉

    As you all know, there are two ways of pressing the right pedal:

    1. Simultaneously with the playing of a note or chord, which is called simultaneous pedal.

    2. After the note is played – and here is my question: I’ve found in different books various terms for this type of pedal: ‘syncopated‘, ‘following‘, ‘retarded‘. In Russian, this type of pedal is called ‘?????????????’ (oops, it seems that my WordPress platform does not recognize Cyrillic characters), which can be literally translated as ‘delayed’ pedal (in Neuhaus’s book it’s translated as ‘retarded’), but I don’t think this term is appropriate.

    So what English term do you currently use for the second type of pedal? Also, do you use the same term in US and Great Britain?

    Thanks a lot! (As you see, sometimes we can reverse the roles and you can answer my questions!)


    • Rodney James says:

      Hi Ms Vartic,
      My teacher, who trained at the Moscow Conservatory uses the term delayed pedal. It makes sense because it’s self explanatory! My former teacher used to tell me plainly, pedal after the note. But I have adapted the term delayed pedal because things are easier to remember if they are titled! So in the past my teacher would have to explain, whereas now my current teacher just says delayed pedal on that note and were on the same page! Also easy to write a D under particular note that needs it on my score!
      Best wishes,

      • Ilinca says:

        Thank you for your help, Rodney!

        It’s great to know that your teacher uses the term ‘delayed pedal’ as well – I thought that I just invented it, trying to translate as best as possible the Russian word used for this type of pedal. 🙂 I’ll use this term in my article, then, and also mention the other terms – so there will be no confusions and everyone will understand what I mean.

        Notation is another interesting topic – in my article I’ll post examples of pedal notation as well as directions on how to ‘decipher’ these notations depending on composer, style and genre.

        It already seems that I’m gathering enough material for a small book, not an article! LOL Well, we’ll see! 🙂

        Thanks a lot and have a great Sunday tomorrow!

  21. Alexandra says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    With regard to your question above, (I am from the U.S. and am NOT formally trained in music by a conservatory, etc.), the word “delayed” seems appropriate in this case. As to HOW MUCH “delayed” requires more specific explanation.
    My dictionary defines “syncopated” as relating more to a beat in time, specifically “to shift a regular musical accent to a beat that is normally weak”. (?)
    “Following pedal” sounds awkward to me. “Retarded pedal” (Neuhaus) sounds outdated…although grammatically correct.

    Other possible adjectives might include: “postponed” or “late” pedal.

    Hope this helps!

    • Ilinca says:

      Thanks, Alexandra!

      The word ‘delayed’ is my own translation of the Russian term – but I think that there should be another term commonly used in English-speaking countries. Yes, I agree that ‘retarded’ sounds as a really outdated term!

      I just found another 2 terms: ‘legato’ pedal and ‘overlapping’ pedal. They all describe the same type of pedal – when you change the right pedal on the chord or note, pressing it immediately after pressing the keys – this way creating a continuous line between notes/chords that can’t be objectively connected only with your fingers.

      It’s the main type of piano pedaling – our main aid in creating a smooth, beautiful legato! I’ve been doing some more research on terminology and it seems that the most widespread is still the term ‘syncopated’.

      Yes, your dictionary is right – syncopating means ‘accenting the weak beat’. On the other hand – that’s how this pedaling technique works – we raise the pedal slightly on the note, pressing it immediately after playing the note, this way ‘catching’ it and making sure it does not fade until we press the next note/chord. However, I agree that this term makes us think about rhythm, not about pedal :).

      I’d be grateful for some more opinions – I hope to identify the correct term today and move on with my article and video! 😉

      Thanks a lot!

  22. elwyn says:

    “legato pedalling” gets my vote….

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Elwyn!

      Thank you for your help!

      Yes, ‘legato pedal’ is a good term because it expresses the way the notes or chords that we’re connecting with the pedal should sound. At the same time, it does not not tell us when we should press the pedal.

      This diversity of English terms is very interesting – as I told Rodney, I think I’ll mention all of them in my article and use ‘delayed pedal’ as the main term.

      Thank you and have a wonderful day! I’ll answer your question about Grieg’s piece as soon as possible (hopefully tomorrow) :).

  23. elwyn says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    Pedalling to me is one of the ‘black arts’ and I’m looking forward to your video and article.

    So a pedalling question for you: How are you supposed to pedal a section of a piece when it has a “Ped” at the start (to engage) but no “*” to release? An example of what I’m thinking of is in Grieg’s lyric piece No 2 “Waltz” from Op 12? I’ve checked three versions of the score and I’m clueless as to what to do 🙂

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Elwyn!

      Very good question! This is a classical example when the ‘pedal goes without saying’, being ‘implied’ by the genre itself. As I will show you in my next video, in playing Waltzes we usually have to use the simultaneous type of pedal – we press the pedal on the first beat and we release it on the second.

      Grieg wrote ‘Ped‘ on the first beat of his Waltz to tell us that in this piece we should use the pedal. In rest, he had confidence that we know that type of pedaling to use in a Waltz :).

      This is how you have to use the pedal in this piece:

      More details about why we need such a pedaling technique in Waltzes in my next tutorial!

      Good luck! 😉

  24. Alexandra says:

    ‘Delayed Pedal’ or ‘Legato Pedal’ sounds good to me.

    I like how you describe it as “catching” the successive notes; the timing of the pressing of the pedal and the degree of pressing-down. (‘Overlapping Pedal’ ? Never heard that one, but it is the same idea as ‘Legato’ to me.)

    P.S. I have the same question as Elwyn’s above about “Ped” indicators without “*”.
    For me, pedaling is purely instinctive, and has been since I can remember playing simple pieces as a child (I would add my own pedaling for my interpretation of “depth” or beauty) , and then sight-reading Chopin’s Preludes (“Ped” indicators in the print) as a teenager. None of my previous teachers ever said anything about pedaling, that I can recall, even though later I was playing pieces that required it. Chopin’s music helped me refine my hearing as to proper pedaling and legato. It was very clear to me what sounded terrible, in terms of pedaling, eg. I noticed some pianists “smudged” their sound and it was always annoying/disappointing/frustrating to listen to.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alexandra!

      Check out my reply to Elwyn’s question! 🙂

      Having Chopin as your main pedaling instructor is not bad! 😉 Jokes aside, Chopin was the first composer who fully used all the expressive possibilities of the pedal, so ‘training’ our hearing and pedaling skills by playing his works is extremely effective!

      You’re absolutely right – our hearing is the most important factor when it comes to musically appropriate pedaling. At the same time, there are some pedaling ‘rules’ and techniques we all should know. Theoretical knowledge is an indissoluble part of piano playing. Any art, as I already wrote in my phrasing report, needs to be based on several pillars: intuition and creativity, knowledge and awareness, feeling and perception, technical skills and practice. So we need good instincts, proper knowledge and good skills in order to use the pedals properly :).

      More about this interesting subject in my future article! I can’t wait to record it – I hope to find the time this week!

      Talk soon,

  25. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    Is ‘sustaining’ pedal the same thing, or is that something different, please?


    • Ilinca says:

      ‘Sustain’ is the name of the right pedal, its function. It means that when we press the right pedal, the dampers are being raised and the sound is ‘sustained’.

      ‘Simultaneous’ and ‘delayed’, on the other hand, are two different ways of using the right pedal. The first technique means pressing the pedal simultaneously with the note/chord, while the second technique means raising the pedal on each new harmony and pressing it immediately after, as if ‘catching’ the note on the pedal, this way creating a connection with the next note/chord/harmony.

      More about pedaling functions and techniques in my future article! 😉

  26. Ilinca says:

    Hi everyone!

    Thank you very much for your help with my English terminology dilemma! 😉

    If you have other questions about using the pedals properly, please wait until I publish my next article and video – we’ll discuss all the pedaling problems that may arise during your practice in the comments under my future post!

    I hope you enjoyed this weekend!

    Talk soon,

  27. Ilinca says:

    I’m still working on my next video about the pedals, and I just came across two other terms:

    It’s direct pedal instead of simultaneous pedal; and indirect pedal instead of ‘delayed’ pedal. Do these terms sound familiar to you? For me, they make perfect sense but, again, I’m not sure how ‘popular’ they are in English speaking countries.

    Again, thanks for your help! 😉

    • Rodney James says:

      Ms Vartic, the direct makes sense. You take the pedal with the note. It’s the indirect wherein lies the problem. All of the terms relate to timing, more specifically when to depress the pedal. Simultaneous means together, also direct means together, directly with the note. Delayed means after the note. Although indirect is the opposite of direct, it does not belong with the others! I don’t think we are looking for opposite effects! I guess its clever and easy to remember opposite words, but indirect really doesn’t fit! Also all other term explain their function in its title! Indirect does not! I think direct, delayed and simultaneous all refer to the act of pedaling whereas indirect seems to address the effect of pedaling a certain way!
      So in my humble opinion use direct and simultaneous interchangeably! It’s the same, but indirect in no way resembles delayed! There is a very good reason that in your translation, you came up with delayed!!
      Hope this helps, talk to you soon

      • Ilinca says:

        Thank you for your help, Rodney! 🙂

        What you say makes perfect sense and I agree! Still, I was curious to know is these new terms which I found are being used on a regular basis or not.

        Talk soon,

  28. Alexandra says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    These two terms, direct and indirect, for describing pedal usage are unfamiliar to me. I’ve only heard, sustaining pedal as the pedal is called. But unfortunately, nothing about how a pedal is operated. It makes sense verbally to say ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in terms of pressing the pedal directly ‘on ‘ the beat or indirectly ‘just after’ the beat, if I am understanding that correctly…(?)
    Also, it seems there are degrees of pressing down the pedal (fully down vs. halfway down, or slightly down), and the speed of pressing which is applied to the pedal (‘fast’ down, pedal-pumping, etc. etc.)?

    I wish I could be more help! But the words ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ are appropriate, with a bit more explanation needed about what is being referred to “directly”. 🙂
    Hope your week is going well, Ilinca.

    • Ilinca says:

      Thank you for your reply, Alexandra!

      As I told Rodney, I simply wanted to check if the terms which I came across yesterday are being used on a regular basis or not! Thanks for conforming that for me! 🙂

      Yes, there are several other types of pedal technique besides the simultaneous and the delayed. I will cover all of them in my next tutorial!

      Have a good week as well!

  29. Grace says:

    Hi Ilinca, I can’t seem to be able to read your report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing”. Could you please email me the link because the webpage has expired/can’t be loaded any longer?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Grace!

      Welcome to!

      Please check your email – I sent you detailed instructions on downloading my report 😉


  30. Hoa says:

    Hello Ilinca ! I still working on Sonate C major Allegro (Mozart). Uhm… My next problem is when I increase the tempo, my fourth finger is too weak to do tr 3 4 3 4… and there is a interruption here. What should I do to strengthen my finger to do this 🙁

    • Ilinca says:

      Hello Hoa!

      In this Sonata (K 545 in C Major), you don’t have to play the trills with your 3-4 fingers. Use your 2-3 (or 1-3) fingers instead – it is much more comfortable!

      For example, here:

      Play the trill on F-G with your 2nd and 3rd fingers, then play E with the thumb and F, as written by the editor, with the 3r finger. It’s very comfortable!

      For this place – bar 15 (and similar places), here is he fingering I recommend:

      Play the trill with the 1-3 fingers – again, it’s very comfortable. Then place your second finger on F# and play the second F# with the 3rd finger, as indicated by the editor.

      Playing a trill with the 3-4 fingers is indeed very difficult – it’s not a technique suitable for beginners. In time, you’ll learn to do that as well! For now you don’t need to use this fingering because it can create tension in your wrist – and you should avoid that!

      Good luck, I hope this helps!


  31. Pauline says:

    Hello Ilinca

    Here I am again! I would appreciate your help on improving my dynamic range, please. Are there any exercises, or specific techniques that I could do? Does it eventually improve with time, practice and experience? I have been playing for nearly two years and am doing the ABRSM Grade 4. Many thanks.

    Best as always


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Pauline!

      Another extremely interesting question! 🙂 ‘Dynamics‘ is a word written in bold in my ‘to-do list’ for the near future. It’s a complex and interesting subject and there are many secrets that can can help us diversify the intensity of our sound!

      Until I find the time to make a detailed tutorial on this subject, I will tell you 2 tips about dynamics that my Academy professor always repeated (and for which I am forever grateful to her!).

      There are two main things to keep in mind when it comes to mastering a wide range of dynamic gradations:

      1. Your hearing and your capacity of hearing yourself objectively – as opposed to what you wish to hear.

      Let me give you an example: when I was studying at the Academy, I remember playing something to my professor and thinking that I’m doing a great job :). But she would stop me and say: “I can hear no contrasts! You’re not making a good forte (piano)!” Shocked, I would say: “How can that be? I’m certainly playing forte this fragment, and then I DO make a subito piano. My professor would laugh and say: “You’re only thinking that you’re making these contrasts. They are in your imagination, not in the objective reality of what comes from the instrument. You have to learn how to listen to yourself objectively – to be able to make the difference between what sounds in your mind and what sounds objectively on the piano'”.

      As I often write in my articles, piano playing begins in our mind, in our imagination. We cannot achieve good results and play a piece beautifully without imagining first how it should sound. At the same time, we should learn how to listen to the objective sound of the piano and bring it as close at possible towards what we have imagined.

      So, when you practice, you should always be aware of the intensity of your sound and try to listen to yourself ‘from a distance’, making sure that you ARE, in fact, making contrasts and your dynamic range is indeed wide. Activating our hearing is one of the main pillars of piano playing!

      This tip was a theoretical one. The next tip will be a technical secret:

      2. Mastering the correct key attack – which allows you to modify the sound intensity according to your wishes.

      Again, let me exemplify: if you’re playing only ‘from your fingers’, in a tensed and superficial manner, it’s physically impossible to create a deep, powerful forte! On the other hand, if you play brutally, without softening the sound with the flexibility of your wrist, it’s impossible to create a soft, delicate piano.

      So, besides activating our hearing, we also have to develop the technical skills that will allow us to make the instrument obey our wishes:

      – playing from our arms

      – keeping our wrists relaxed

      – ‘diving’ into the keyboard instead of ‘hitting’ it

      Also, you should be aware that the power of the sound is created by our gestures. As Neuhaus used to say, there are three main factors which determine the intensity of the sound: weight (of your arm), height and speed :). The heavier your arm is (achieved by various degrees of ‘arm relaxation’) – the more powerful will be the sound. The higher you lift the arm before pressing the key – again, the more powerful the sound. A low ‘landing’ speed of your arm equals a softer sound… and so on!

      Playing with these factors and their different combinations and not forgetting about the basic principles of a correct key attack we can explore and master an amazing dynamic range!

      And one more thing: it’s all a question of practice! Small daily steps – this is the invincible recipe for any art or activity! 😉 You’re playing piano for only two years – in time, you’ll inevitably get better and you’ll reach new levels of mastery and understanding.

      Good luck and have a wonderful practice today!

  32. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    You’re fantastic! I admire your wisdom, knowledge and a willingness to share. I didn’t expect such a wonderfully detailed answer to my questions on dynamic range. I read your answer carefully – more than once – so that I could comprehend the many different facets in what goes in to producing a beautiful sound. It reminds me of an uncut diamond – raw at first – and it takes much work to cut and polish it until the finished product is sparkling and spectacular. Anything less is cloudy and dull.

    I can relate to what you wrote about thinking and imagining about making contrasts in sound to not being in the objective reality of what comes from the piano. I may not be able to do it very well in practice at the moment, but with your sound advice, I will endeavour to keep trying. I realise it will not come overnight, but that doesn’t matter. Your professor sounds as if she was an excellent teacher to explain the principles of hearing to you.

    Grateful thanks for your help and kind support. Have a creatively happy week!


    • Ilinca says:

      Pauline, I’m really happy that you found my advice helpful! 🙂

      You’re right – we can certainly compare piano playing with polishing a diamond. It is a lengthy process, it takes time, patience and perseverance, but one day it will become indeed sparkling and spectacular! Beautiful metaphor!

      The ability to create a wide range of dynamic gradations is a skill that we should ‘polish’ all the time, day by day, with enthusiasm and patience. With such an attitude, improvements are inevitable!

      Good luck, talk soon! 😉

  33. Hakki says:

    What is the proper finger-hand-wrist-arm-body technique to study Chopin Etude op.10 NR.2 ?

    Should we use arm weight?

    How high should be the wrist?

    Should we play to the bottom of the keys?


    • Ilinca says:

      Hello Hakki!

      Chopin’s Etude op. 10 No.2 is one of the most difficult pieces ever written – and definitely THE MOST complicated among Chopin’s 27 Etudes!

      It seems easy on the first glance (or when you listen to Valentina Lisitsa’s fantastic performance!) However, once you start practicing it, you notice that playing chromatic scales with the 3, 4 and 5 fingers is definitely a challenge!

      I played this Etude for an exam about 10 years ago – and I remember how much practice and dedication it required :).

      So, let’s take it one step at a time:

      The main challenge in this Etude is avoiding forearm and wrist tension, which is a consequence of playing chromatic scales with the 3,4 and 5 fingers. These fingers, being the weakest and the least independent, tend to cause our arm muscles to get tired soon.

      Playing 1 or 2 bars at a time is not difficult at all! The problems arise when we want to play the entire Etude without any stops – that’s when we feel this muscle tension the most!

      So, I would say that playing this Etude is like long-distance running: it’s not difficult from a technical point of view on the first 100 or 500 meters… but it requires training and resistance to reach the finish line!

      So our entire attention should be focused on keeping our arms and wrists relaxed.

      Here is what I recommend:

      1. Chopin was a very wise composer, who knew perfectly well how to use the piano ergonomically! The 3, 4, 5 fingers technique is difficult, but Chopin also offered us the solution: it’s hidden in the structure of the right hand part! Why do you think he wrote those intervals in the right hand, below the chromatic scale? Many would think that the intervals are complicating our task even more – when in fact they are simplifying it.

      These intervals offer us the much needed support points where we can relax our arms and find stability. Without them, we couldn’t be able to play more than 4 bars without getting tired!

      2. So, relax your entire arm on each support point (I marked them with red arrows in the score below). You don’t have to accent each beat, but you DO have to feel how all the tension accumulated in your wrist and forearms goes away on these support points.

      If you want, you can also use a trick I learned from my first teacher: playing certain notes from the RH with the LH! I marked them with red as well! This trick is especially useful for pianists with small hands.

      Now I’ll answer your questions:

      Should we use arm weight? Yes, but not in the classical sense: your arms should not be too heavy, they simply have to be relaxed – there should be no tension in your shoulders, elbows and wrists!

      How high should be the wrist? Notice how Valentina Lisitsa is playing. Avoid keeping your wrist too low in this Etude – it should be slightly higher than the knuckles. This way, the wrist functions like a ‘navigator’ – it anticipates the movement of the fingers, keeping them relaxed and ‘showing them the way’. If you keep your wrist too low and you’re moving only your fingers, then your playing will be heavy and tensed. The fingers are simply continuations of your arm – and not independent ‘entities’!

      Also, don’t keep your wrist immobile! Yes, you should avoid exaggerated movements or rotations, but at the same time you should allow your wrist to make small ‘relaxing’ movements whenever necessary.

      Should we play to the bottom of the keys? No – but you can use a ‘deep and steady’ technique when you practice in a slow tempo and your wrists are entirely relaxed. This type of practice will ensure that all the notes will sound evenly and there will be no ‘gaps’. When reaching the real tempo, you should strive towards a light (yet exact) key touche – and create the feeling that your fingers are effortlessly flying on the keyboard! But don’t play fast too soon – this way you risk tensing your wrists!

      Short conclusion: the secret to mastering this etude is relaxation. Keep your wrists relaxed, by smartly using the support points, from the first day of practicing this piece!

      Good luck! 😉

      • Hakki says:

        Thank you very much Ilinca for the very detailed answer.

        Just one more question.

        Do we use any pedal ? If so how ?

        BTW, your last videos about pedaling are excellent.



    • Ilinca says:

      Yes, we need to use the pedal in this Etude – but it should be barely noticeable.

      That’s why we have to use the simultaneous type of pedaling – it allows us to enrich the sonority without affecting the lightness of the music. Even more – we can use the simultaneous HALF pedal – pressing the pedal only halfway down, in a very light, effortless manner. A deep, heavy pedaling is extremely inappropriate for this Etude. When pedaling, you should have in your mind the image of a butterfly which is barely touching a flower with its wings.

      This is how I pedal this Etude:

      I noticed that Valentina Lisitsa is using the same pedaling – it is the traditional pedaling we use for this Etude in the Russian piano school. There are other options as well – playing with less (or no) pedal, but I think that a light half pedal (the way I indicated in the score) will considerably enrich this piece.

      Again – don’t forget that the pedaling I indicated is appropriate ONLY if you use it wisely – press it halfway in a very light manner. This way (as I explain in my tutorial about the pedals) the sustained overtones of the bass notes will not affect the transparency of the sixteenth notes in the right hand.

      Good luck!

      • Hakki says:

        Ilinca, thank you very much for the detailed answer.

        I am planning to play 10/1 and 10/2 back to back. And I have already read your excellent comments about 10/1 in the older comments section.

        You have created a wonderful site.



        • Ilinca says:

          You’re welcome, Hakki – glad I could help! 😉

          Good luck in mastering Chopin’s beautiful Etudes!


  34. Rodney James says:

    Hi Ms Vartic,
    My question is about practice time, specifically how to divide up practice time when working on multiple pieces. My pieces are listed under the pedaling section. Also, how do you put a recital together? Thank you in advance.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      The biggest challenge in putting together a recital is keeping ‘under control’ many pieces simultaneously – usually around 1 hour of music. I prefer to use this method:

      When there are several weeks left before the recital and the pieces feel ‘almost ready’, the practice time should be divided so you could practice each piece at least once in 3 days. You can divide your program in half or in 3 – depending on its complexity.

      I always preferred to practice each piece ‘in depth’, even a week or so before the concert. When we practice in depth, stopping for correcting any errors and ‘polishing’ each phrase, dynamic, technical difficulty etc. it’s not possible to practice all the pieces every day – this would take forever! Moreover, practicing in depth 1 hour of music each day is intellectually and physically exhausting, that’s why it’s recommended to divide the program in half or in 3 parts.

      This way, you can practice only 3-4 hours per day with maximum benefits! 🙂 However, this ‘dividing’ is not something rigid – it’s not necessary to group the pieces into ‘practice blocks’ once and for all. The more flexibility, the better!

      At the same time, you should combine the ‘in depth’ practice with ‘performance-like’ playing. For example, when I was still studying (meaning, when I still had a teacher :)), I used to have piano lessons two times per week – on Monday and Thursday. So I would divide my program (even a big one, for a solo concert) in 2-3 parts. I would practice half on Tuesday and half on Wednesday (mindful, accurate, slow-when-needed practice) and then, on Thursday, I would perform the entire program for my teacher – in the needed tempo, without stops. Then I would do the same thing for the next Monday. A day or two before the concert I would play the entire program in the needed tempo on the concert instrument (in the concert hall) – while at home I would practice slowly, without any tension, the fragments that feel ‘shakier’. When you reach this moment, you should be able to feel for yourself where your focus must go.

      This way, combining the ‘practice’ mode with the ‘performance’ mode, we achieve a good balance in our schedule and we progress nicely without overworking our brain and our hands :).

      In-depth ‘practice’ mode alone is dangerous because we are not training our ‘endurance’, our concentration, our ability to keep ‘under our fingers’ the entire piece, of playing in the needed tempo and creating a unique ‘dramatic script’ from beginning to end.

      ‘Performing’ mode alone is dangerous as well – it inevitably leads to a gradual decrease in the quality of our playing: constant fast uninterrupted practice creates tension, mechanical playing, loss of expressiveness, superficial key attack and unevenness in passages, not to mention all the other unwanted consequences! 🙂

      So, strive for balance and make sure you always feel comfortable and relaxed. Mastering the ‘relaxed concentration‘ technique (when we are not tensed, but we can control everything we do with serenity) is a must for putting together a recital!

      Good luck and keep us posted on your progress!

  35. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    Another question, please! When I’m practising a particular phrase, or say, a couple of bars and it’s difficult to master the technical aspect of it, I then try many different ways of practising it until I have got it – or think I have got it! But then it’s frustrating because each time I practice the same bit, day after day, I make the same mistake(s) again.

    Also if I’m tense, or I have to play the piece under pressure, I then make the same mistake, or mistakes, again in the same place. I wonder if unconsciously, that I’m expecting to make the same mistake(s); or whether I’m unconsciously setting myself up to fail, to be criticised, or to be judged?

    Your thoughts and help would be much appreciated. Many thanks.



    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Pauline!

      Thank you for this interesting question! 😉

      In the Russian piano school, we have one saying: ‘don’t repeat your mistakes – this way you’ll learn them!’

      Most of the time, we ‘learn’ our mistakes when we’re not aware that we’re in fact making them. For example, we cannot hear that our pedaling is dirty, or we cannot see that our dynamics or phrasing are improper – but when we play in front of our teacher, he/she can clearly see these mistakes and shows us what should be improved. In this case, it may be difficult to correct the problem because we have already learned everything incorrectly and we have created a bad habit!

      In your case, however, it seems to be a problem of incorrect/insufficient practice. I think that you’re used to ‘play through’ a certain difficult fragment without using the ‘magnifying glass’ method for identifying and solving the ‘core’ problem that’s causing our mistake(s). You think that you’re correcting the mistake, when in fact, by repeating over and over again the fragment without the ‘targeting’ method I will describe below, you simply ‘learn’ your mistake and transform it into a ‘reflex’.

      Here is what you should do: the ‘targeting‘ or ‘magnifying glass‘ method means identifying, in a certain difficult fragment, the core problem. It can be anything – a difficult jump or position shift, a passing under the thumb or an uncomfortable fast run. Usually, by concentrating on the little (yet tricky) ‘core’ problem and correcting it, the rest of the fragment will improve as well.

      Don’t ‘play through’ the fragment. Take ONLY the core difficulty – it may be one bar or even less – and ‘train’ your mind and your fingers until you master it. Slow practice is always effective. Make sure there is no tension in your arms and wrists and play slowly, with a relaxed wrist and a deep key attack until the difficult place feels comfortable. Then increase the tempo gradually, without losing the feeling of relaxation and comfort.

      Yes, this may take a while – that’s why I wrote that insufficient practice may also be the problem. Usually, here is what happens: for example, you practice a certain difficult passage for 30 minutes (or even an hour) – until you think that you ‘got it’. Then, the next day, when you return to it, it feels ‘raw’ and uncomfortable again. Discouraged, you think that you’re not doing something correctly. In fact, this is normal!

      Our brain and our fingers need time for assimilating the new material. No matter how much we try to accelerate our learning speed, things will still follow their natural way of happening. So don’t hurry, be aware that relaxation and ‘comfort’ come only after lots and lots of correct practice and be patient! By taking small, mindful steps each day you’ll progress much faster than you think! 🙂

      Also, by learning to control your state of relaxation, you’ll gradually improve your ability of playing ‘under pressure’. Yes, sometimes ‘silly’ mistakes can happen simply because your arms are too tensed and you can’t control them properly. The more we play for someone, the more we start to enjoy sharing a beautiful piece with the audience – the more confident we begin to feel and the less tensed we are! Less tension equals more control and less mistakes!

      So, use the ‘targeting’ method for ‘identifying’ the core problem and solving it the way I describe. And, no matter what you play and for whom you play, remember that relaxation is the foundation of a good playing habit – so always try to make it your priority!

      I hope this helps! 🙂

      Talk soon,

      P.S. By the way, I have another great video idea: demonstrating this ‘targeting’ or ‘magnifying glass’ practice method in learning specific pieces. I’ll certainly do it in the near future – I just hope to find the time – I’m having a tough week at work! 🙂

      • Pauline says:

        Hi Ilinca

        Brilliant! Thank you very much for your help in explaining how I was practising incorrectly. I like the ‘targeting’ and ‘magnifying glass’ method of practising, although it seems hard to master. If you have time during your busy working schedule, then a video demonstration would be wonderful.

        I also need to work on learning to control my state of relaxation when I feel tense, or when I play a piece under pressure, which I’m not finding easy to do. I’m aware that it’s very important, so it’s definitely a priority for me.

        I also need to keep reminding myself that it takes a great deal of time, patience and constant mindful practice to learn to play pieces well. With that in mind, I reassure myself that as I haven’t been playing for very long, that small steps gradually lead to greater progress. I’m always appreciative by your encouragement and kindness too.

        I’m very sorry that you’re having a tough week at work. Keep smiling through it in the light and knowledge that I (and I’m sure all your readers) wish you well and support you too. Take care.

        Speak soon


        • Ilinca says:

          Glad I could help, Pauline! 🙂

          By the way, the ‘magnifying glass’ practicing method is not hard – you simply have to know how to do it, that’s all! As soon as I find the time, I’ll definitely record a tutorial on this subject!

          Yes, relaxation comes with mastery, with daily practice and patience :). So don’t worry – you’ll definitely get there! In fact, the more you worry about it – the more tensed you are, so let go of all your worries and simply enjoy the music and the time you spend at the instrument. Mental relaxation, a positive attitude and awareness (keeping in mind the basics of a correct practice) – this is the road to constant improvement!

          By the way, my week is not tough in a bad way – it’s tough in a ‘very busy’ way :). So many things to do and only 24 hours in a day! I really enjoy making new tutorials, but it is a process that takes lots of time! I have sooooo many new ideas and I have to remind myself each day that (just as I always tell you) I have to be patient and take it one step at a time :).

          I hope you’re having a great week!

          • Pauline says:

            Thank you very much again Ilinca for your help. I’m pleased that you are not having a bad week. Sometimes when we have so much to do (even good things) that there isn’t enough hours in the day – that’s when our awareness needs to be foreground to say that it’s time to SLOW DOWN! It sounds paradoxical to say that; but we are not machines and we cannot run on overdrive. It becomes harder when we enjoy what we do and want to do more and more so that we end up giving ourselves a hard time!

            I appreciate your advice on the way to practice difficult fragments in pieces. It’s good that you explain it so well that I can comprehend it, as sometimes it’s not easy to grasp a lot of techniques all at once, without giving myself time to go away and to think about it. I mostly know when a specific technical aspect – or even a piece that I have recently learned – is in my head, but is not in my body, because I haven’t had enough time to ‘digest’ it. It’s a different feeling when it’s in my body because it becomes part of me; whereas if it’s in my head, it stays there.

            I’m also grateful for your help on the art of relaxation which I will endeavour to improve. I’ll let you know how I get on if that’s okay with you.

            My week is not going too bad thanks. I hope you enjoy the rest of your week!


            • Ilinca says:

              Pauline – you just wrote a very wise phrase!!! I quote: 🙂

              I mostly know when a specific technical aspect – or even a piece that I have recently learned – is in my head, but is not in my body, because I haven’t had enough time to ‘digest’ it. It’s a different feeling when it’s in my body because it becomes part of me; whereas if it’s in my head, it stays there.

              Yes, this is absolutely true! When I was still studying and my teacher was explaining a difficult technique, I used to tell her: “Objectively, I understand perfectly. Now I have to practice and to allow it to sink in so your objective explanation will become my subjective reality.” She would laugh and say that I got that right! 🙂

              The ancient sages always had a holistic approach on life. They used to say that we can reach happiness, calmness, even enlightenment, by balancing all the aspects of our life: spiritual, mental, physical and emotional. Have you noticed how sometimes you understand that logically you are right, but your feelings tend to disagree (or your body is too tired to do a certain task – for example exercise?). When there is ‘disagreement’ between our mind and our body, or our mind and our feelings, we cannot concentrate and harmonize the needed energy to accomplish what we have planned.

              Piano playing works the same. Usually, our mind grasps faster the needed information (may it be a certain technique or a musical idea) and our body (posture, relaxation, arms, wrist, fingers) has to ‘catch up’. However, there may be exceptions: sometimes, the body is faster in mastering a certain technique, but the mind still has to understand the meaning or the dramaturgy of the pieces; other times the body and the mind are in perfect sync, but our playing lacks emotional depth and sensitivity – and we have to improve this aspect.

              This is why mindful practice is golden :). With patience, it creates a good harmony between our musical understanding, our hearing, our emotional sensitivity and our body – so our performance will be ‘whole’, convincing, deep and will leave a meaningful impact on the audience, sending as best as possible the message of the composer.

              Thank you for your encouragement and for reminding me to take it easier when there are many things to do! Here the situation is the same – logically I know that a minimalist approach is more productive than working on 100 things simultaneously, but spiritually I always feel the drive to do as many interesting things as possible! 🙂 It’s the same as when we learn a beautiful piece: we know how it should sound, we can hear it in our mind, but we still have to be patient and go, slowly, through all the needed practice ‘phases’!

              Good luck and enjoy your practice today! 😉

              • Pauline says:

                Thank you Ilinca for your kind words. Yes, it fascinates me each time I notice when my mind and body don’t always work in harmony together. At the same time it can be frustrating when I have to wait for my mind, or my fingers to catch up. And sometimes it’s amusing to notice when my mind, my fingers, or my body is “out of sync”. Patience becomes a virtue here! That’s not always easy either. Going slow is the fastest way of learning!!

                I’m always encouraged by your mindful explanations which I value. I hope you’re work is going well and you’re having a good week.

                Take care


            • Ilinca says:

              “Going slow is the fastest way of learning” – that’s very well said!!! Have you noticed that when you’re not hurrying, the time has the tendency to ‘slow down’ as well, allowing you to do more things than when you’re trying to be ‘fast’?

              It’s amazing how many things we can do if we have a calm, positive, relaxed approach! 😉

              • Pauline says:

                Hi Ilinca

                Thanks. Your comments are well said too! It’s not always easy to recognise, or to maintain the calm, positive, relaxed approach when under pressure, or the feeling of being under pressure – not the same thing. That’s when awareness needs to be foreground, rather than not being present at all.

                Have a happy week.


  36. Michael says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    First of all, congratulations on your website and my sincere appreciation of the generosity with which you share your piano mastery.

    I have been working on Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major (K. 493) for some time and just wonder what would be your right hand fingering in the first 3 bars on page 17 (below is the link to the PDF file I am referring to to make sure that we are both on the same page, literally).

    With kind regards,


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Michael!

      I played Mozart’s E flat Major Piano Quartet during my Academy years – it was a very enjoyable experience! I have always loved the ensemble class – we used to play amazing quartets and quintets – Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Franck, Shostakovitch etc. 🙂

      Here is the fingering that I use for the bars you mentioned – I find it very comfortable:

      If you can’t see all the details, click on the image to enlarge it!

      I also marked with red slurs the hand positions. It means that the passages under one slur can be played without position shifts – and it is extremely comfortable! Once we identify hand position in fast passages, everything suddenly becomes easier! 😉

      However, don’t think of my markings as real legato slurs – they are simply visual aids for understanding hand positions – nothing more. They have nothing in common with the real legato slur written by Mozart. Don’t forget to follow it, to create a convincing phrasing and make a good crescendo (which I erased for creating space for the fingering LOL).

      Good luck and enjoy practicing this beautiful Quartet!

      P.S. By the way, you can subscribe to my email newsletter and receive a complimentary copy of my report “A New Perspective on Piano Phrasing” :).

      • Michael says:

        Thank you, Ilinca.

        I was mostly concerned about the optimal fingering and didn’t pay any particular attention to the hand positions, so your recommendations are very helpful.

        My very best regards,


  37. Ilinca says:

    Hello everyone!

    I’ll start answering your latest questions (for Rodney, Pauline and Michael) from tomorrow – so stay tuned!

    Michael – welcome to – it’s great to have you here! 😉

    Have a wonderful week! 🙂

    Talk soon,

  38. Huy Phuong says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    – How do I relax my arms when I execute a fast run? Most of the times, my arms and elbows get rigid. Sometimes I can relax but I still oscillate my elbows, which hinder my runs’ movement and speed. So how do I fix that too?
    – How do you know when you will be ready for a performance?
    Yours sincerely,

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Huy Phuong!

      Welcome to our community – it’s great to see you here! 😉 Thank you for your interesting questions!

      1. For playing a fast run with relaxed arms, you have to master first playing the same passage with relaxed arms in a slow tempo. Tension occurs when you’re technically not ready for the fast tempo, or when you practice incorrectly. Correct practice means beginning to play slowly the needed fragment, making sure that your arms and wrists are relaxed and your key attack is correct – deep, gradual and stable (I describe the basics of a correct posture and a correct key attack in my recent video tutorials).

      When you master the fragment in a slow tempo and you feel comfortable and relaxed, increase the tempo gradually, without losing the feeling of relaxation. If you feel that you are tensing your arms, it means that you have to return to the slower tempo again, practice some more and then try to play a little faster. Also, be aware that this may take some time. Our brain and our fingers cannot assimilate lots of new material overnight – so we have to allow it to ‘sink in’! It is a skill that develops gradually, with regular practice – so keep making small, mindful, positive steps every day – progress is inevitable! :).

      You also said that sometimes you can relax but you still ‘oscillate your elbows’. I’m not sure I understand what you mean! As you saw in my tutorial about the Correct Piano Posture, it’s necessary to keep our elbows flexible and relaxed – so they ARE supposed to move freely! The movements of the elbows should not be exaggerated, but you also have to avoid keeping them rigid and immobile! After all, you should allow the energy and weight coming from your back to reach freely your fingertips and the instrument – any ‘immobile’ joint will immediately create a ‘blockage’! (On this topic, check out my article The Piano Posture and The Energy of the Sound).

      2. When we’re still studying, our teachers help us to feel when we’re ready for a performance. I know that you have a very good piano teacher, that’s why I will first explain how to reach ‘performance level’ with a teacher, and then – how to reach it on your own.

      During the first years of studying piano, our teacher is our main ‘motivation’ in bringing our program to ‘performance level’, also being our main ‘reality check’. After all, during each lesson you try to perform your pieces as best as you can before your teacher – in the needed tempo, with the proper expression, dynamics, phrasing etc. This way, it’s easier to feel when you’re ready! The teacher is also our first audience – and we all know that it’s easier to play alone than in front of someone! Playing for our teacher helps us to overcome our natural ‘beginner’s anxiety’ and to feel more confident. That’s why a teacher’s guidance is so important – not only for teaching you HOW to play, but also for helping you to ‘upgrade’ your playing and mental state from ‘playing alone’ to ‘playing for someone’ (which is more difficult, but also more rewarding!).

      Now let’s see what ‘being ready for a performance’ really means:

      Being ready means feeling comfortable playing a certain piece in the needed tempo without stops, without losing the quality of the text and all the expression elements. It means achieving a good balance between expression, emotional content and technique. It also means knowing the piece by heart and feeling confident when playing it. It means having a clear image in your mind about the meaning and the atmosphere of the piece, of its ‘dramatic unfolding’, its characters and contrasts – in other words, knowing what to communicate and being able to communicate it. It also means mastering (as best as possible) the relaxed concentration technique – when your mind and arms are relaxed, but you’re at the same time alert and ‘in the moment’, keeping under control the piece.

      When trying to reach the ‘performance level’ without the help of a teacher, you could record yourself with a video camera and watch how you play. Believe me, the difference between your subjective perception and the objective ‘eye’ of the camera is huge! This technique is very helpful for understanding how you REALLY play and how your performance sounds ‘from a distance’.

      You can also play for your family and friends – this time for getting used to the feeling of playing for someone.

      At the same time, don’t forget that you have to pass through several necessary practice ‘phases’ before being ready for performing. These phrases are:

      – creating a mental image of the piece and deciphering the text (as I describe in my ‘Phrasing’ report);

      – practicing the program for a certain time the way I describe in the beginning of my reply (usually 1-2 months, but it depends on the complexity of the program) until you master ALL the elements of the text, including a quality sound, a good phrasing, dynamics, articulation, technical difficulties etc.;

      – and – finally – the last stage, when all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled and you can create a convincing image of the piece on the mental, emotional and technical levels.

      You can also read my reply to Rodney on a similar subject – dividing our practice time and putting together a recital.

      Good luck and enjoy your practice!

      Talk soon,

  39. Dave says:

    I am a n00b trying to teach myself to play piano for fun, am kind of unsure I am playing this correctly.

    What exactly do I do with each hand when the D overlaps then has a tie after it?
    What I’ve been doing is just continue holding the D down with my right hand then playing it again with my left after the tie, is this correct?

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Dave!

      Thank you for your question and welcome to!!! 😉

      When two identical notes are connected with a slur (tie), it means that you don’t have to repeat the second one! You should only play the first note once and hold it.

      So, you should release the D in the right hand just before pressing the same note with the left hand (I marked the place where you have to lift your RH with a ‘bird’ symbol). Then, when you play B with the right hand, keep holding the pressed D in the left hand, without repeating it!

      Good luck! If you have other questions, please ask! 😉

  40. Winston says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    It has been long since I visited, because I have an Important secondary school exam coming up in a fortnight. The Etude improved a wee bit, but it is just okay(not excellent or anything). I saw that you liked the bach-busoni chaconne and I supposed you learnt it:D.. So I wanted to ask how do you do the fast, quiet, semi staccato octave part nicely? I suppose it’s practice, and yes, it did improve after (quite) some practice, but the fast and quiet is really..unattainable. I used a rigid and rather fixed hand shape( I wonder would you approve) and only ,er, kinda pulled my thumb and pinkie in a liiiittle bit every time it bounces to the next octave.I don’t really know how to describe it. But it gave me increased accuracy and less slips. But is there a better way you may suggest? Please and thanks, have a brillante day. p.s.- I might not be online for..a month. “talk soon”:)
    winston poh

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Winston!

      It’s nice to hear from you! 🙂

      Yes, I played Bach-Busoni’s Chaconne a few years ago – I really love this piece! It is not easy, of course, and it takes maaaaaaaaaaaaaaany weeks to master, but for me it was a very enjoyable and powerful practice!

      Now I just sat at the piano and played through the fragment with octaves you’re describing. Even if I didn’t practice the Chaconne for 4 or 5 years, the octaves still go smoothly – it means that I practiced it correctly in the past! LOL

      Here are my practice suggestions:
      Begin to practice this fragment slowly (left hand only). Make sure there is no tension in your arm and wrist. At first, you can use the relaxed weight of your arm behind each octave BUT make sure you don’t use a ‘vertical’ movement, but a horizontal one (details below).

      Yes, it’s necessary to use a fixed hand shape (hand stretch), but it should not be too rigid or tense. Maintain the ‘octave’ hand stretch between octaves (this saves time and helps us to increase the speed!), but avoid lifting your hand/wrist too high. Simply ‘shift’ your hand horizontally, from octave to octave. In a slow tempo, avoid playing staccato and avoid ‘jumping’ from the keys. Instead, play ‘into’ the keys, allowing your fingers and hand to memorize the layout of the music.

      You can also let your arm and wrist to show your hand ‘the way’, by slightly ‘anticipating’ the layout of the ‘octave melody’. Gradually increase the tempo, at the same time reducing the arm weight going into each octave. So, basically, the ‘acquired’ relaxation will remain, but the ‘practice’ weight will no longer be necessary.

      Here is what happens in a faster tempo (I’ll describe it as a ‘slow motion’ movie): you press and ‘fix’ the first octave, then swiftly shift your hand horizontally towards the next one, you fix it and then you repeat the movement.

      You said that you’re pulling your thumb and pinkie in on each octave. I’m not using such a movement because I usually keep my thumb slightly pointing inwards (towards the palm) when I play octaves and I don’t feel the need for more ‘fixation’. So, for me the ‘fixation’ is mostly pointing ‘downwards’. But this depends on the individual form of your hand, so, as long as this movement is tension-free, I guess you can use it! (In this case, seeing how you play could help me understand if the movement is appropriate or not).

      In a faster tempo, when you’ll begin to feel comfortable and you’ll use this ‘horizontal’ relaxed technique I describe, you’ll notice that the sonority will be reduced as well.

      Here is why:

      A powerful sound comes from combining arm weight + fast ‘landing’ speed + ‘landing’ on the keys from a high altitude. Neuhaus gave a simple formula in his book: mass+speed+height=a loud sound.

      As I already said, in a fast tempo you’ll not be using your entire arm weight – so we have little mass. Also, because of the ‘horizontal shift’, there will be no ‘altitude’. Yes, there will be some speed, but this speed will be horizontal, and it will not affect the sound too much.

      This is the method I used (even if back then I was not thinking about such formulas 🙂 – I simply practiced by using my professor’s method.

      Good luck in practicing this amazing piece! 😉

      I hope your exam went great!

      Talk soon,

      • Winston says:

        Thanks for the advice Ilinca! I hope I learn it right too..but i might not be able to finish this piece for a loooong time.

  41. Michael says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    I found the film below quite informative even though it doesn’t go too much into depth (which was hard to attain, given the scope of time and the number of great pianists it narrates about) . I am certain that you have seen it, but I think it will be of a great value to the’s community.

    Also, I decided (and it was not an easy thing to do) to send to you a recording of Bach’s Prelude in C Major I made about 4 months ago.

    I know it is not perfect, that the piano would have benefited from tuning, that I have a long way (a very long way) to go in polishing my piano technique (timing, smoothness and evenness of sound, pedaling, etc.) and that the interpretation probably doesn’t have a right to exist. I know that – we are the strictest judges of ourselves, aren’t we? But, who knows, maybe you could give me even very general recommendations what should be done – books read, exercises practiced, video watched and so on (doesn’t sound like very general; oh, well) – to improve my playing.



    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Michael!

      Thank you for sharing with us your recording of Bach’s Prelude in C Major and the movie “The Art Of Great Pianists Of The 20Th Century”!

      All readers are encouraged to download and listen to your recording 🙂 and, of course, to watch the movie!

      I listened to your recording carefully and I really like the way you play! 🙂 Of course, it would have been even better if I could see your hands in a video recording (then I could also give you posture advice).

      The most important thing is that you play musically and you can feel the sound – on this foundation, we can build anything we want!

      Yes, we’re always our strictest judges :). Your performance is very nice – the rhythm is good and even, the pedaling is almost perfect and I like the quality of your sound!

      My suggestions
      1. The pedaling is good, but in some places it could be changed more smoothly and unnoticed :). The pedaling technique is appropriate – the delayed pedal.

      2. The dynamics. Here, the situation can be improved :). This piece sounds simple and unilateral at first sight, but when we study its harmonic structure carefully, we notice an amazing potential for various shades of dynamics. Of course, the main dynamic ‘dramaturgy’ is in the second half of the prelude – the continual crescendo that passes through different harmonies, with each bar becoming more and more intense (even tensed – in a psychological way) and reaching the culmination.

      Modeling this crescendo on a single breath is an art – it has to be gradual, approaching slowly and implacably, gaining strength, light and power with each new bar, without interruptions, without looking back. If performed properly, this crescendo creates an amazing dramatic effect – it makes the audience hold its breath! 🙂

      You can click on the image to enlarge it.

      Please notice that my dynamic suggestions are not always the same as the editor’s. However, I didn’t remove the editor’s dynamics – I only added my own recommendations in red. The culmination and the following gradual diminuendo are the same in my interpretation and the editor’s :). Until the culmination, you can follow only one version of dynamics (because they are mutually exclusive).

      In the first half of the Prelude, there are also many ‘micro’ dynamics that can enrich the piece tremendously – they are dictated by the harmonic structure.

      3. The phrasing and the tempo. Proper phrasing is the most important thing in this Prelude. As I already said, at the first glance this piece seems to have a unilateral structure – the same ‘design’ repeated over and over again. However, when we learn how to FEEL and play this piece flowingly, on a single breath (like I explain in my “Piano Phrasing” report) – the Prelude becomes transcendentally beautiful (I don’t know what other metaphors to use! :)).

      Each bar should be a continuation of the previous one and an ‘introduction’ for the next one – it should sound like the flow of a river – calm and even, but without any mental interruptions. Technically, this should reflect in the evenness of the musical flow and the smart manipulations of the sound intensity. The first note of each new bar can be slightly deeper than the 16th notes, but at the same time it should not be accented or played TOO deep – this will interrupt the phrasing.

      The phrasing is especially important in playing the crescendo towards the culmination (which I describe above) – again, it should be played on a single mental and emotional breath, like a gradual accumulation of musical tension that will be relieved in the last bars of the Prelude. These last bars should be like the sun rising after a storm – full of calm, luminosity and serenity. (By the way, I had the impression that your pedaling was a little awkward in the last bars).

      The tempo – I prefer to play this piece with a little more movement. It should not be faster and it should maintain the calm atmosphere, but a tiny increase in the tempo can be beneficial for creating convincing phrases. By the way, I play the beginning of this Prelude in my next video tutorial! 🙂 The video is already edited and ready for uploading, but I still need to find some time and write the article that has to go with it. It’s about pedaling stylistic and notation.

      One more thing: as you probably know, there are many opinions about the proper interpretation of Bach’s works. Just as Rubinstein says in the interview – nothing in music and art can be the ‘best’. All these opinions and interpretations deserve to live – because we’re all entitled to our perspective and our opinion. Great pianists play this Prelude differently – some play it slower, others – faster; some use the sustain pedal, others play it without pedal. I’ve even heard a performer (I don’t remember his name) who played the entire piece on staccato! My advice is to listen to several performances of great pianists and apply to your own playing what feels right to you, to the way you feel this piece.

      And – I’ll say it again – you have the wonderful ability of feeling the quality of the sound! In some places you create some very nice delicate effects (I don’t know if it’s intentionally of intuitively) – the kind of effects that can grow into what’s usually called ‘making music’, ‘feeling the music’, ‘being inspired’ etc.

      If you have more questions about Bach’s Prelude (and other pieces as well), feel free to post them – I’ll gladly reply as soon as I find the time!

      Good luck, it was very nice to hear you play!!!

  42. Michael says:

    Hi Ilinca,

    Thank you very much for your detailed response and suggestions.

    The edition of the Prelude I used has only three (believe or not) markings “p – f – p”. It, on one hand, if followed, may result in a plain (even boring) playing, but, on the other hand, it left me enough room for interpretation.

    There are 16 repeating Gs in the left hand in the last four lines, which I really wanted to emphasize to make them sound like a church bell or, on the smaller scale, like a chiming clock (for some reason, this music makes me think of a quiet snow – it is peaceful and stunningly beautiful, yet at some point it gets so heavy that there is nothing else around but a wall of snow with no way of seeing the direction, until a church’s bell is heard and the traveler safely reaches his destination), but at the very last moment I thought that it would be too bold and toned them down.

    I am going to practice this piece with your suggestions and video record it when I feel ready – you and’s community will be the judge if I have done my home assignment well.

    Have a wonderful weekend.


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Michael!

      Wow, what an original and interesting metaphor for this Prelude! A quiet snow which gradually transforms into a snow tempest and the church bells which are showing the traveler the way! 🙂 It’s certainly an extremely interesting perspective and you can definitely explore it when you practice – and see where it leads you!

      When I play this Prelude, I don’t see any images, but I always follow the harmonic ‘colors’. The specific color and atmosphere of each harmony (I have a perfect pitch and sometimes I see tonalities in ‘colors’) dictate me how ‘intense’ or ‘delicate’ should be the sonority.

      In the second part (the crescendo towards the culmination), I emphasize the harmonic colors as well – I try to see how each amazing harmony passes into the next one, creating a new layer of intensity and power. Yes, I use the bass notes as a ‘foundation’ (a deep, expressive key attack), but I focus on the ‘harmonic layers’, bringing them in the ‘foreground’.

      There is a certain type of key attack – it’s difficult to describe it in written words – which I use when preparing the culmination: gradually, I make the sound become deeper, more intense, more expressive and vibrant – it’s like feeling a certain ‘power’ in the gradual ‘diving’ into the keys. It’s like the resonating, vibrant ‘hum’ of a powerful airplane – it’s really hard to pick a good metaphor, but I hope you understand the idea. From this perspective, the ‘church bells’ are also extremely appropriate – but make sure that you don’t lose the beauty of the harmony because of them! 😉

      Good luck and I’m looking forward to seeing your video recording!!!

  43. Rodney James says:

    Hi Ms Vartic!
    Hope things are still going well for you. I just wanted to get your opinion on something! I was going through my library and pulled out my Dohnanyi, essential finger exercises for developing a sure piano technique. I blew the dust off of it and took it to the piano. There are some difficult exercises in this volume. Dohnanyi even says there is no claim of beauty in these exercises. They aren’t melodic but effective. He says these can be played as opposed to etudes. In doing so you have more time to devote to pieces..
    I was wondering if you heard of this book? Also I was curious if you ever made use of finger exercises? I kind of enjoy his exercises. Of course I still do my scale regimen, but no etudes. Even as beautiful and ingenious as the Chopin etudes are, I have never been thrilled with performing them in concert. Somehow they make me feel like I’m playing them just to make the audience go wow! I know I’m probably in the minority, but I have always felt that way.
    Your input is greatly appreciated! Hope to talk to you soon.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Rodney!

      I hope your practice goes well! I had a good week, but definitely a very busy one! 🙂

      My piano teachers never used Dohnanyi’s finger exercises you’re mentioning. I also never heard about them being used by other teachers in our country. This is why I never had the chance to play them.

      However, I’m sure that there is a lot to be learned from these exercises – of course, with the condition that you practice them correctly: whole arm action, relaxed wrists, correct key attack etc. (you know how it goes :)).

      I remember playing some basic finger exercises when I was 6-10 years old (my teacher used to write them in my copybook, sometimes inventing them ‘on the spot’, depending on which element of my technique needed to be improved). Then, I focused on scales (in all the varieties which I already described) and pieces. When I was ‘old’ enough for playing Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff – they gradually became an ‘all in one’ practice, combining technical and expressive benefits.

      However, my case is not ‘classical’ for my country. Usually, the technical ‘education’ depends on the individual qualities of each student. I always had an ‘innate’ finger velocity, that’s why my teachers insisted that I should focus on developing a powerful sound (which I couldn’t do properly during the lyceum years), a wide range of dynamics and expressive possibilities. So technique somehow ‘went without saying’, being ‘implied’ by the performed pieces.

      However, there is always room for improvement! I certainly agree that finger exercises can do wonders with our technique, increasing our velocity, agility and flexibility – again, as long as we practice correctly and we don’t exaggerate! 🙂

      For example, now I play a lot each day (at the orchestra and for my students), but I have NO time for practice with two jobs and this site 🙂 – and I certainly miss those times when I could simply sit at the piano and gradually work my way through a certain difficult passage, scale or exercise, ‘polishing’ it and bringing it as close as possible to perfection. I could definitely use playing some ‘in depth’ scales or finger exercises! LOL Because of the lack of time, I compensate with Bach (I try to play, for at least 3-4 minutes before the orchestra rehearsal, a difficult fragment from his Organ works).

      By the way, there’s nothing bad in making the audience go ‘Wow’. There is a catch here, however: We should not try to impress with our technique – we should simply try to send to the audience, as best as we can, the message and the beauty of the piece! As Rubinstein said in his interview, “making music is our priority, not virtuosity. Music should come from the heart”, it should send a message – and virtuosity is only a means to that end.

      So think of Chopin’s Etudes as ‘spiritual and expressive exercises’, not as ‘technical’ ones. Try to see ‘beyond’ the technical challenges and use the virtuosity as a ‘vessel’ for the message of each Etude. This way, we can train many skills at once: musical understanding, awareness, spirituality, insight, feeling, sensitivity etc. AND technique.

      Have an enjoyable practice and good luck in preparing your recital!!!

  44. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    This may sound rather odd, but have you heard about people who learn music and whose aural training skills are not good, because they were taught to walk too early in infancy, thus cutting short their crawling time? I wondered if crawling for at least 15 minutes a day for about 3 months might improve their aural training? That would have to be done in the privacy of their own home, of course!! It’s a peculiar, but an interesting concept, I think?

    I hope you’re having a great week.


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Pauline!

      What an interesting subject! Honestly, I never heard about a connection between walking too soon and hearing! 🙂

      However, I know that usually children begin to walk when they’re ready, no matter how hard you push them or ‘train’ them.

      By the way, where did you hear about this concept? Is it some kind of medical research or maybe an observation of music teachers? 🙂

      You’ve definitely triggered my curiosity!

      • Pauline says:

        Hi Ilinca

        I heard about this concept from a music teacher some time ago, but at the time I didn’t question it further. I’ll try to find out more and let you know.


  45. Jake says:

    Dear Ilinca

    I’m doing a project in school on Professional Pianists and I was was wondering whether you would be able to answer these questions. If so I would be very grateful.

    Thanks Jake Nicholls

    1. What Qualities and Skills does it take to become a professional Pianist.
    2. How did you become a professional pianist.
    3. What inspired you to become a professional pianist.
    4. What advice would you give a young Pianist.
    5. How often do you practice the Piano

    If you could answer these I would be very grateful.

    Thanks again Jake Nicholls

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Jake!

      Welcome to and thank you for these interesting questions! 🙂

      I’ll answer them in detail by the end of this week!

      Have a great day!

      • Jake says:

        Hi Ilinca

        You don’t have to go into to much detail.

        Sorry to sound desperate but would you be able to answer them before Monday.

        If you could that would be great 🙂

        Thanks Again Jake

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi again, Jake!

      Here are my answers to your questions:

      1. What Qualities and Skills does it take to become a professional Pianist.

      You must love music, especially piano music. Without passion for what you do, it will be extremely difficult to progress and improve your pianistic skills!

      You must have a positive attitude and believe in yourself! The power of our mind is limitless – a positive, calm and confident attitude is a guaranteed ‘productivity accelerator’!

      You must have patience, and understand that it’s impossible to become a professional overnight. It took me 19 years of studying to get all my degrees :). However, I suggest taking it one step at a time and enjoying today’s practice! This way, you’ll achieve your goals much sooner than expected!

      You need a healthy dose of curiosity – it will help you learn as much as you can about the history and theory of music, the life of the composers etc. Theoretical knowledge is very important for developing a deep musical understanding.

      You have to understand that we need balance for being successful: a static, unilateral life (practicing piano all day without any other activities) is extremely dangerous and it cannot lead to a happy, fulfilled life! You have to take care of your health, work out on a regular basis (to compensate the long hours of piano practice) and eat healthy foods. A piano career is extremely demanding, and you won’t be able to cope with all the exams and concerts without being strong and healthy!

      A good hearing is also a big advantage (though you don’t have to have a perfect pitch in order to become a good pianist!). The hearing can be improved during your practice! Passion and perseverance are more important than natural talents!

      A good sense of rhythm is another advantage – but it also can be improved and ‘polished’ during the years of practice.

      A good imagination will help you to bring out all the images and characters ‘encoded’ by the composer in the pieces you’re playing.

      Correct, mindful practice is also important. We all know that we need to practice a lot for improving our pianistic skills. However, if we practice incorrectly, in a tensed, mechanical manner (or with a negative attitude) – than we’ll only ruin our health as a result!

      Playing piano is not about pressing the right keys in the correct order, it’s not about having a good technique – it’s all about SENDING A MESSAGE, helping people see the beauty of this life, bringing light, motivating people to become kinder, better, stronger! You can watch this amazing interview with Arthur Rubinstein to see what I mean ;).

      With practice, you can develop all the other qualities and skills that a pianist needs – sensitivity, a beautiful sound, a good finger velocity, an accurate pedaling, a convincing phrasing, good sight-reading etc. So, you see, I’m not writing that you ‘need’ these skills for being a good pianist. I’m simply saying that if you want to become a professional pianist and you love what you do – these qualities will inevitably be developed during your practice :).

      2. How did you become a professional pianist.

      I started to study piano professionally at the age of 6 – I went to a professional musical lyceum. After studying there for 12 years and graduating the lyceum, I went to the Academy of Music from our country (it’s a Conservatory). After 5 years of Academy and getting my degree in piano performance and teaching, I also did 2 years of Master. This is (shortly) my road towards becoming a professional pianist :).

      3. What inspired you to become a professional pianist.

      I was 6 when I began to study piano and I don’t remember all the details :). I DO remember, however, that I really enjoyed music and that’s what inspired my parents to ‘enroll’ me in a professional musical lyceum.

      4. What advice would you give a young Pianist.

      Do what you enjoy!
      Be positive, calm and confident!
      Be free, learn to think for yourself, get out of the box!
      Never be discouraged by failures and mistakes – failures are simply stepping stones towards success!
      Take good care of your health!
      Be active – spend time outdoors, work out, allow yourself to have other passions!
      Practice with awareness! Practice regularly and correctly – this way you’ll avoid unnecessary stress and hand injuries.
      Always be relaxed – mentally and physically!
      Be mindful of your posture and always keep your back straight! A deformed spine is very difficult to ‘correct’!
      Remember that technique should be subordinate to a beautiful sound and a meaningful performance!
      Never forget ‘why’ you’re playing a certain piece. What is its message? What are you ‘saying’ to the audience?
      Explore 😉 – I hope that my articles and video tutorials will give you a better understanding of this fascinating activity – piano playing.
      Learn from the best, go to good concerts, watch professionals on YouTube, read good books on piano playing. At the same time, don’t forget to be yourself – make a synthesis out of what you learn and apply the ‘mixture’ to your unique needs, your unique personality.
      Smile and enjoy each moment of your life (and your practice)! Otherwise, what’s the point of it all? 😉

      5. How often do you practice the Piano

      When I was studying, I was practicing for about 5 hours per day (each day). Now I’m working and I don’t have time for ‘practice’ in the traditional sense of this word, but I play a lot at work: I’m the piano soloist of our country’s National Symphony Radio Orchestra and I also teach at our Academy.

      Your questions are extremely complex and I tried to answer them shortly. For answering them in details, however, I would have to write a book! 😉

  46. Jake says:

    Thank you so much Ilinca I presented my assignment to my class and the teacher said i did very well. Thank you so much for all the information.

    Thanks Again Jake

  47. Pauline says:

    Hi Ilinca

    I would be grateful for your advice, please. Instead of ploughing through endless piano exercises to develop various techniques (some of which are tedious), I wondered whether it would be better to sight read, or to study pieces that would progressively develop my technique and musical expression? If so, what would you recommend for my level – Grade 4, please.

    I hope you’re well and having an enjoyable week.

    Best as ever


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Pauline!

      A very good question indeed! 🙂

      Yes, there is a way of avoiding endless boring technical exercises and developing simultaneously our technique and musical expression.

      In the Russian piano school, we concentrate first of all on expression and meaning. Of course, we dedicate lots of time to technical exercises as well (especially scales), but we try to play them with a beautiful sound and a correct touche. And we also try to avoid mechanical exercises with a unilateral, technical character!

      My teachers always recommended me to play pieces by great composers instead of technical exercises. But, as you can imagine, they selected more dynamic pieces for this purpose :). This way we can achieve two goals at the same time – improving our expressiveness AND our technique (along with all the other mental, spiritual and physical skills a pianist needs).

      In all our exam programs for beginners, we play 3 basic pieces (plus 1 or 2 Etudes, depending on the level of the student). The 3 pieces are selected as following:

      1. A polyphonic piece
      2. A Sonata/Sonatina (or an easier piece with a similar form).
      3. A romantic piece (Walter Caroll’s Alone at Sunset which you’re currently playing is a good example of such a piece).

      For your level, I would recommend beginning with some easy pieces by J.S Bach. Even the most simple Minuets can improve our polyphonic thinking, coordination, the quality of the sound and, of course, our technique (especially if we talk about more dynamic works).

      Please check your email – I have just sent you many scores, among which you will find 7 easy works by Bach. Don’t try to learn them all at once! Keep them in your computer and learn only one at the time, depending on which you like more :). I assign these pieces on a regular basis to my beginner students, because they (the pieces) are both beautiful and extremely useful.

      I recommend starting with the Minuet in d-moll and/or the Minuet in G-dur (which is a little more ‘technical’). I didn’t select difficult pieces because I saw that there are not many polyphonic pieces included in the ABRSM syllabus – and you have to take it one step at a time: first – some Minuets, and then – easy Preludes and Fugues and Inventions.

      When learning these pieces, don’t forget that there are many goals to reach besides playing the correct notes with the correct fingers: the main voice always has to be deeper than the other voices, the sound has to be relaxed and expressive, the phrasing – as convincing as possible, the dynamics – in their place, and so on. That’s why these pieces may seem easy on the first glance, but in fact there are so many things to be mastered in learning them!

      Let’s move to our second compartment – Sonatas/Sonatinas.

      Real Sonatas are too complicated for your grade, that’s why I sent you an easy Sonatina by Beethoven. Sonatas/Sonatinas (also called pieces of ‘ample form’) are useful for developing our ‘large scale’ thinking, allowing us to connect with our mind and our fingers larger structures + of course, they are useful for our technique. If you think that this Sonatina is too easy, I will send you something more challenging :).

      I’m also sending two other classical pieces from the ‘ample form’ compartment – Haydn’s Arietta with Variation and Mozart’s Fantasy in d minor.

      I played the Fantasy in the 4th grade, but I must warn you that it is a very challenging piece for this level (it’s usually played by more advanced students, being also present in the repertoire of professional pianists). This piece is amazingly beautiful, but it has many difficulties – both technical and expressive. You can try to read and learn it now, step by step, or you can begin working on it after several months – it’s up to you :).

      Now we have reached the 3rd compartment – pieces with a romantic character. Here, our choices are limitless! Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album comes first to my mind – I really love these pieces with different characters and different ‘stories’, having, of course, enormous benefits for our technical skills. If you want, I can send you the entire album and recommend what pieces to learn first.

      However, I already gave you many pieces – please don’t start learning all of them at once! LOL Information overload can be dangerous, so I recommend working on your present ABRSM program + 1 piece from my suggestions. After learning this piece (for example, the Menuet in G Major by Bach), move to another one (for example, Beethoven’s Sonatina). This way, you’ll always practice your exam pieces + 1 extra piece for fun and many technical/expressive benefits!

      I hope you like my suggestions! 😉 If you have any questions regarding all these pieces, please ask! As I told you before, in the Russian piano school we don’t follow specific lists for selecting our programs – and we can always choose between thousands of pieces! 🙂 I simply selected a few which I use in my teaching on a regular basis.

      Good luck and talk soon!

      • Pauline says:

        Hi Ilinca

        Brilliant! Grateful thanks for your kindness, time and thought into selecting pieces appropriate for my level, both technically and musically. I looked at my e mail and was amazed to see so many wonderful pieces to try out that I felt like a child in a sweet shop!
        I have printed them out and will make a file. Although it’s tempting, I’ll heed your advice about not trying to learn them all at once, as I agree with you that it’s more than just playing the correct notes with the correct fingers. I will start with either of the two easy Minuets that you’ve recommended, keeping in mind the Russian piano school’s method of meaning and expression. Oh, how I’m going to enjoy myself!!

        I like the idea of a J S Bach “diet”! Like you, I adore Bach’s music. In my dreams I have many pieces that I would like to play – one being Bach’s Allemande from Partitia No. 4 in D Major – BVW 828. And the Chaconne in D minor, of course! I hope my dreams will become a reality one day, LOL. But in the meantime, I’m content with the pieces that I’m currently learning. My favourite piece in my current ABRSM Grade 4 is Walter Caroll’s “Alone at Sunset”, which is beautiful.

        Technically, I incorporate scales, arpeggios and broken chords into my daily practice which I love playing!! LOL

        It’s so exciting to embark on a journey of starting with easier pieces knowing that there is the added bonus of progressing at the same time. Solid houses are not built with rocky foundations, so I think it’s the same in music, languages, or anything that is studied.

        Your students are very lucky to have you as their teacher. Many thanks again for your great suggestions and guidance. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on with the first piece.

        I hope your work is going well and you have an enjoyable week.


        • Ilinca says:

          I’m really glad you liked my recommendations, Pauline! 🙂

          You’re right – we need to build a stable foundation before building a beautiful and durable house – and what could be more ‘stable’ and ‘fundamental’ that Bach’s works?

          The pieces which you mentioned, The Allemande and the Chaconne, are fantastic – each in its own unique way! I remember how during the lyceum years I wanted to learn the Chaconne and my teacher told me that it’s too complicated for me… I remember my disappointment! LOL

          Then, when I was at the Academy, I learned it and played it in a concert – it was one of the most fulfilling experiences ever – and I don’t mean only the performance, but also the practice!

          For me, practicing Bach is like doing an intensive workout which combines yoga with meditation, martial arts, force training and many other useful elements: it is beneficial from all points of view, starting with our spiritual growth and musical understanding and reaching our technique.

          Yes, start with the little Minuets – they shouldn’t take you more than a couple of weeks to master (maybe even less) – and then ‘dive’ into a Little Prelude (these pieces are on a higher difficulty level).

          And, of course, don’t forget that relaxation and a correct key attack should always come first: a deep, beautiful and expressive sound should be our priority, being that ‘solid foundation’ on which we can build anything: convincing phrases, a good finger velocity, a wide dynamic range etc.

          Enjoy your practice – I hope you’ll have a wonderful “Bach” time! 😉

          • Pauline says:

            That’s really good Ilinca! I like the idea very much that practising Bach is like an intensive workout! So it seems that Bach is holistic? I wonder if he had that in mind when he composed? – although he may, or may not have consciously known that – and I suspect that the term ‘holistic’ wasn’t used, or known about in his time. But whether it be little Minuets for elementary players to the most advanced works for professionals, Bach has managed to encompass an integrated way of practising and playing that is both technical and musical.

            Ahhhh! I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment when you wanted to learn the Chaconne and it was too difficult for you at the time. It must have been a wonderful experience for you to finally learn it and to perform it well in a concert. Now you can play it to your heart’s content.

            I have started on two Minuets which are lovely. I’ll keep in mind all your excellent help and advice – it will be like a mantra very soon, I hope! Many thanks and I’ll certainly have a fantastic ‘Bach’ time!

            I hope your week is going well and you’re having an enjoyable time with your work outs too.



            • Ilinca says:

              Hi Pauline!

              We can’t know for sure if Bach was aware of the term ‘holistic practice’ or not, but I tend to believe that, even if he used other terms for describing this phenomenon, he was very much aware of many things about life, music and practice – things that we’re yet about to discover.

              His works (especially the more advanced polyphonic pieces) are so complex on many levels, that many musical researchers often make the joke that Bach was not from our planet, or that he was enlightened. I tend to agree with the last opinion :).

              Good luck with your practice and enjoy the Bach quest! It’s definitely going to be a fascinating one! 😉

              • Pauline says:

                Hi Ilinca

                Thanks. I agree with you: I think Bach was enlightened as well. I’ll certainly going to enjoy my Bach journey!


  48. Andy says:

    Hello Ilinca,

    I read your book and I found it very interesting. You gave a lot of hints I try to use. But my playing grew so twisted that it’s very difficult to straighten it up now, after so many years! All the bad things you talk about, I have them! … bad posture, wrong use of the pedal, dirty sound, brutal “attack” of the notes, stiff wrist, etc. etc. It’s so frustrating…!

    But my question would be in that moment of another type. I’ve never been able to play in front of people, and this is even more frustrating. Just two days ago, some friends asked me to play “something”, so I wanted to play a very easy piece, but I was really stressed to feel their presence, my mental started to focus only in their observation, and then I couldn’t play one single chord right! and after a few seconds, I said sorry but I can’t!
    I’d like so much to give to other people some nice playing, that would be so rewarding to me too… but I just can’t.

    If you have a little spare time, would you have some hint for me please?

    Thank you very much anyway for all your videos and your wonderful book. I hope you’ll put some more soon!

    Best regards from France.


    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Andy!

      Thank you for your comment!

      I’m really glad that you like my tutorials! 🙂 A quick advice – don’t allow all the present bad playing habits to discourage you! Every piano skill can be transformed and improved (no matter how many years it took you to ‘twist’ it): patience and correct, mindful and relaxed practice can do wonders! Just take it one step at a time! 😉

      Playing in front of someone is not easy (but it’s much easier than we usually think!). It’s a psychological barrier that we have to overcome – and the surest way of accomplishing this is by doing the thing we’re afraid of as often as possible! You have to understand that everything begins in your mind – your fingers are simply following your thoughts and emotions!

      You can start by reading my article Studying Piano – How to Cope With Exams? 7 Basic Steps. Of course, in your case we’re not talking about real exams, but the psychological training is similar :).

      You can also read my reply to Pauline from April 18 and other comments under the article about exams – I describe why it is more difficult to play in front of someone than to practice alone (when nobody is listening) – and how to overcome this!

      Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain”. The more you play for someone (a friend, even a relative), the more you’ll get used to the new sensations involved in this process. With a little practice, you’ll notice how your self-confidence and your control are gradually increasing! Instead of worrying about ‘what your audience will think of your performance’, you’ll simply enjoy sharing with them the beauty of the piece!

      When you play for someone, concentrate on how much you enjoy playing the piano. Passion is the best antidote to anxiety!

      Also, allow yourself to be human. We’re not robots or computers and we all make mistakes from time to time. Making mistakes is normal and it’s a natural part of the learning process.

      Learn how to relax. Mental and physical relaxation while playing are very important for increasing your control and being able to stay calm regardless of circumstances.

      Take things easy and learn to pay less attention to criticism! Performance anxiety is in fact the fear of failing, the fear of being criticized. If you give less importance to what others think about you, you’ll notice a magic thing happening: the less attention you pay to criticism – the less mistakes you’ll make and the less criticism you’ll receive! 🙂 Did you notice that small children (6-9 years old) do not suffer of performance anxiety? It’s because they don’t care about criticism (they don’t even understand what it means!). They’re simply enjoying the moment and having fun!

      I could write many more pages on this subject! 🙂 As a bottom line, I will simply say that practice makes perfect (play for someone as often as possible!) and that awareness and relaxation are the main steps towards a convincing, enjoyable performance! 😉

      Good luck and keep us posted on your progress!

      A bientôt,

      • Andy says:

        Hi Ilinca,
        Thank you so much for your answer which, as usual, is very clear. I was unable to read the comment to Pauline made in April. I can only read comments beginning in september.
        I read your section on how to cope with exams and it was very interesting.
        I find it very hard to encounter the balance between concentration and the passion and pleasure of playing. If I abandon myself to the melody I’m playing, I find an intense pleasure, and then I totally fail because it’s as if my hands “knew” what to do but not myself. It’s like in a dream. Sometimes you make a marvelous dream with fantastic things happening!!! But then you feel so great that your mental is starting to think “I must be dreaming! because that’s too great!!!” and then BECAUSE you’re thinking that, suddenly you wake up, and then raging (!) because you lost the fantastic dream you were living!!!!

        I know some piano teachers are doing one-week intensive piano classes for a small group of persons. Are you doing this too anytime in the year?

        Thank you for everything, your nice advise, your time, and all the great quotations with are so enthousiasming!
        Kindest regards from France.

        P.S. Sorry for Pauline if my English is not so correct. Sometimes, it’s easier between speakers of English as a foreign language to understand each other because the language is more “pictural”!

        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Andy!

          If you want to read my answer to Pauline which I mention in my previous reply, simply click here! 🙂

          You’re right – it’s not easy to find the balance between mental concentration and passion. For achieving this balance and not ‘waking up in the middle of a fantastic dream’ we need practice – constant mindful daily piano training.

          As I often write in my articles and my replies – progress is inevitable as long as we practice correctly, we keep positive and we make small steps every day!

          One-week intensive piano classes? Like a seminar or a master-class? Yes, sometimes we have such events in our Academy, but they happen rarely – mostly when a foreign professor is visiting. We (the local teachers) simply follow our normal schedule – individual lessons with all our students twice per week. And, of course, before the exams we can have individual daily lessons :).

          Take care and have an enjoyable practice!

    • Pauline says:

      Hi Ilinca

      I’m very sorry to hear of Andy’s problems with his playing; but what does he mean when he said that his playing grew “twisted”? I’m intrigued! Please enlighten me. Thanks.


      • Ilinca says:

        Hi Pauline!

        It’s simply a figure of speech. I didn’t know it’s not used in the UK! 🙂 Andy meant that over the years he developed many incorrect playing habits and it’s difficult to correct them now.

        All the best,

        • Pauline says:

          Thanks Ilinca. I’ve never heard of the term “twisted” before. It’s interesting how people use different figures of speech! I’m sure if Andy follows your excellent advice, he’ll be able to improve his playing and in time “untwist” himself. I wish him all the best.


  49. Alexandra says:

    Hi Ilinca,
    I wonder if you would give your opinion on Memorization. Not so much “how”, rather “when”!

    I have read several good sources that say memorizing a piece is the first step in learning it! So, that’s what I have been doing, with everything!, even the Czerny “etudes.” To put it simply, I have been “memorizing to master”, as one writer put it (Can’t remember who, sorry.)
    Also, this allows me to actually see what’s going on with my hands and finger placements.
    But this past week, my teacher mentioned about my memorizing. And I know she is trying to help or teach me something.
    Sometimes, especially while still learning a piece, I do forget specific fingerings or specific dynamics and that I am not referencing the score for navigation of phrasing, etc., much at all when I present my piece at my lessons in front of her (I do of course reference the score at home, but when I play the piece for her, I just dont want to stop and keep looking up and down from the score to my hands for reassurance. I suppose I’m trying to present the “final production” at the time, even though it is not perfect yet. And to me, that has meant memorizing the piece! )

    Then she said, “Memorizing is the final step. It’s ok to read the music…” (We were working on a new Czerny exercise so maybe she was talking about that in particular), “…and also develop a sense of where your hands and fingers are going, without watching them.” (This made sense to me in terms of developing a sense of location of keys without looking, and would be helpful in Sight-reading, for example. She knows that one of my dreams is to play accompaniment with a trio or duo —cello, in particular! love it! )

    At this point, I think I understand what she was encouraging me to do. But I still feel that Memorizing is the first step for really “FEELing” the keys and movements required for the piece, and then refining the piece to its final output. BUT, I would like to be better at sight-reading also and sort of “KNOW” where my fingers are going. What I have been doing is first memorizing the piece, then going BACK TO the score and playing it while reading it, WITHOUT looking at my hands, in order to feel where my hands and fingers are going. (Sort of like playing a simple scale, both hands, with eyes closed).

    I would love to hear from you on this question—When to memorize a piece: at the very beginning or as a final step? Or does it not really matter!!??? 🙂

    I hope all is well with you there, Ilinca. Take care.

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Alexandra!

      A very good and interesting question! 😉

      Your teacher is ABSOLUTELY right: in the learning process, we have to look at the score as often as possible and pay attention to all the details of the musical text . This has many benefits: it improves our sight reading, it makes us see new details as our musical understanding deepens, it doesn’t allow us to forget and it also (like your teacher said) helps us to play without looking at our hands so much.

      For me, memorization has never been a ‘task’. It simply happened at some point during my practice. Even after memorizing a piece, my teachers still advised me to keep looking at the score – otherwise there is a big risk of losing the quality of the text.

      Our mind has a natural ability to forget. Without constant reminders (provided by looking attentively at the score on a regular basis) we forget very soon lots of important details.

      Moreover – the more we practice a piece, the better we understand its meaning. If at first a certain articulation mark or dynamic indication did not make any sense, it can become really clear in the bigger picture after some practice. However, if you’re looking at your hands at that time and playing the piece by heart, you’ll not be able to notice the new meaning of that particular detail!

      I’m having the same problem with my students – it’s so frustrating! LOL They come to the first lesson with the pieces already memorized (I certainly like their enthusiasm, but let me describe the downsides). They play the text pretty well, but there are so many things missing: incorrect (and uncomfortable) fingering, missing dynamics, inappropriate articulation marks, inexact rests etc. and so on.

      Do you know which is the remark I make most often during a lesson? “Please look at the score!” :)))

      So this is my advice: allow the memorization to happen naturally, without giving your brain a specific ‘memorization’ task. Simply practice the pieces by looking at the score 90-95% of the time and be mindful of all the elements of the text. After a while, you’ll notice a great improvement in your sightreading skills (and I don’t mean only reading the notes; you’ll be able to ‘pick up’ quickly all the elements of the musical text, integrating them into your playing) and soon you’ll be able to play duets and even trios – where looking at the score and seeing simultaneously 2 or 3 parts is mandatory!

      Good luck, I hope this was helpful! 😉

      • Alexandra says:

        Hi Ilinca,
        Thank you, yes, your advice and insight is always helpful and inspiring!

        Ok, so I am trying to simply read and play the new piece (I am now starting Bach Invention 9. Before my recent advice from my Japanese piano teacher, I memorized the first 8 or so bars…the rest is “raw”.) But, now I am sooooo frustrated!!! Every time I play it, (just practiced for 90 minutes or so today and a couple hours each day the last several days on this one piece!), it just sounds the same: same bloops, mistakes every 2 or 3 notes, I dont know where and what I am playing fast enough, if that makes sense. And the RH ornaments in the middle of the piece is making me crazy!!! My brain is not processing with any speed. It just sounds like a mess. …Except for the first 8 bars that I memorized…wahhhh.
        In other words, the part that I memorized I can play passably while reading the music, but the rest is just “not happening”… 🙁 So, no progress as far as I can tell…

        As a note: I do spend some time sight reading for practice with other simpler pieces.

        Anyway, my teacher was saying that I would naturally memorize the music with time after playing it over time. But I feel like maybe my brain doesn’t work that way! Example: I played last year, the 2nd mvmt of Beethoven’s Sonata No.1 just by reading the score, probably over 100 times or more. I did not attempt to memorize it though. I just liked playing it. It never got perfect, but it did flow, for the most part. And then, at that time, I DID try to just play it from memory. But after the first 2 bars, then all went blank. Nothing. But if I read the score, then I could play it.

        Sorry for whining about this… I value your advice and opinion very much. Also, I trust that my teacher is guiding me correctly and of course I want to learn properly for the long run, especially to be able to read music faster and with more accuracy/reliabilty.

        I guess my question is: In your opinion, is it “wrong” to memorize a piece first, at least so that I know where my fingers and hands are going?? And then, read the score for accuracy of dynamics/phrasing, etc. as I am polishing the piece? Or should I suffer through this new way of learning music??!!
        I am seriously discouraged this week. Playing the piano and music is such a big and important part of who I am since I can remember (My father was a professional pianist). I cannot imagine life without the piano, but this week I feel like “What am I doing wrong? Or am I just talentless and will never progress to a level that will satisfy me?” (btw, my mantra this week has been your previous advice: “Progress is inevitable; be patient”.) I am willing to work hard as long as I know that I am not just revving my engine but actually my tires are stuck in mud and I will never get anywhere! And that’s how I feel now. (And the piano keyboard cover fell down on my hands today while I was playing. Owww. Is that not a devine message of some sort??!!!)

        oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that I am starting a new Czerny exercise with lots of Alberti Bass patterns in LH and then some in the RH. Can you suggest any method for developing a smooth rhythm with this technique? This is also a frantic mess for me right now as I must play the exercise quite fast (Vivace).

        Thank you for your input, Ilinca. It really really helps to know that I can communicate this frustration and that you can understand. I look forward to any further advice/encouragement you can offer.)

        Always with best wishes and much gratitude,

        • Pauline says:

          Hello Alexandra

          I’m sure Ilinca will give you your much needed encouragement and excellent advice; but I just wanted to support you by saying that it’s okay to get frustrated at times and to have moments, or periods when nothing seems to go right. Often change comes when you’re not aware of it, as it can be so subtle that you don’t notice it. But in time you will notice it. It’s the same with memorizing. The less you try, the more you’re free to learn, as it’s about letting go.

          I’m not as advanced as you; but it sounds as if you’re doing well and I admire the way in which you encounter a new piece, as well as play pieces you do know well and the Czerny exercises too. Your question on memorizing and Ilinca’s reply was very helpful to me, so thank you for that.

          Take care and keep going even in the frustrating times. It shows a shift is occurring – so something is happening, which is not the same as nothing! I’ll now leave it to Ilinca to give you her invaluable guidance.


          • Alexandra says:

            Thanks so much, Pauline (I love your name—one of my absolute favorites!!), for your kind words. Yes, “a shift”; I hope that is what is happening… Some days feel so great and progress is steady, but these days just feel , well, pointless. And another factor is not having enough consistent practice time lately—lots going on. I will keep going, just keep pushing through this, whatever it is. I feel really stuck.
            Good luck to you as well, Pauline! Your questions are always interesting.
            We are so lucky to be able to appreciate the profound joy of making music and sharing our love of the art with similar souls.

            • Pauline says:

              Good to hear from you Alexandra. Thanks also for your kind comment about my name which I appreciate! I love your name too.

              I’m very sorry you’re having such a hard time and feeling really frustrated and stuck. I thought you might feel encouraged if you knew that there are two kinds of stuckness: One is when nothing is happening, and the other is waiting. From what you say, it sounds to me as if it’s the latter, because you write that some days feel great and progress is steady. Waiting can be frustrating, but it can also be a period of rest before the next shift to advancing on to creating something new.

              Keep your chin up and wait with curiosity and the anticipation of knowing that you’re in a new dawn. I think you’re doing well, so you don’t need to give yourself a hard time, as that will slow you down even more. You know the first 8 bars of your piece well, so practice that to your satisfaction and leave the rest of the piece until your “stuckness” starts to shift. In the meantime you still have other pieces that you play well too.

              Thank you for wishing me luck Alexandra. I often need it too! I wish you the very best. Your questions are always invaluable to me and we are lucky to be able to have Ilinca’s excellent guidance and expertise, as well as her kind wisdom. I loved your last sentence about making music and sharing our love of the art with similar souls – wonderful!

              Thinking of you with love and light


        • Ilinca says:

          Hi Alexandra!

          I’m having a busy Sunday today and I don’t want to give a quick and careless reply to your question, that’s why I’ll write a more detailed reply as soon as I find a little more time!

          Pauline, thank you for your wise advice to Alexandra – you’re absolutely right – such moments of apparent frustration are normal, being a part of our fascinating ascension towards new pianistic peaks :).

          I will write more tomorrow, but in the meantime I’ll remind you two quotes that I really like:

          “Rome was not built in one day” :).

          “The darkest hour is before the dawn” 😉

          More about memorization, learning and practice habits tomorrow!

          • Alexandra says:

            Thanks, Ilinca! Looking forward to your jewels of wisdom. I have my weekly lesson tomorrow morning (Tuesday, JPN time), which hopefully will be time well spent even though not much has been accomplished these past couple weeks (minimal practice time lately, and that is such precious time gone for good. so frustrating to not be able to play. oh well. can’t be helped). Will be gone for a couple days out of town. Please take your time, but if you do find time, that’s great!! Will check back in on this post tomorrow, then jump into things from Thursday onward.
            Thank you for your quotes: I like the “darkest hour before the dawn”; very ‘Buddhist’ to me because there is the proverb: “Spring always follows Winter, so do not lose faith in the powers of the universe. Things are as they should be…” (rough translation). Although, my version is a bit more passive and I dont want my playing to “be as it is” LOL.
            Take care. Hope you are doing well, though busy!

            • Ilinca says:

              Hi Alexandra!

              It’s finally Saturday and I can dedicate some time to my site! 🙂 For musicians, the Christmas season is probably the busiest of all – we’re preparing several concerts at the orchestra and the exams are about to begin at the Academy… that’s why I haven’t been able to answer your question sooner :).

              So let’s take a deeper ‘dive’ into your current problem:

              Piano playing (especially polyphonic music) is an extremely complex task for our brain. In fact, I consider that playing polyphonic piano music is one of the most challenging intellectual activities ever invented on our planet! 🙂

              Even playing a two-part Invention is similar to calculating advanced mathematical equations and at the same time coordinating your movements, not to mention the artistic part of your performance! LOL

              So it’s normal to feel frustrated from time to time when learning a polyphonic piece – ‘adapting’ to the complexities of such a piece requires time and patience – and temporary phases when it seems that you’re stuck and there’s no progress are normal.

              Now that we’ve determined (at least approximately) the complexity of polyphonic music, let’s approach your problem from another angle:

              Our brain usually works in ‘patterns’. We get used to a certain way of practicing, to a certain way of perceiving the music we’re playing – and we become accustomed and attached to these patterns even if they are not the most productive or the most enjoyable.

              Memorizing the piece first is your pattern, your comfort zone. And we all know that in order to get to higher levels in everything we do, we have to get out of our comfort zone. Yes, it’s not always easy, and it may feel awkward and frustrating at first, but it’s the best way of taking that quality leap that separates one level of mastery from the next one.

              Here, Pauline is absolutely right: you’re about to overcome a barrier and reach another level, and this ‘shift’ can sometimes cause discomfort and self-doubts.

              You asked me:

              I guess my question is: In your opinion, is it “wrong” to memorize a piece first, at least so that I know where my fingers and hands are going?? And then, read the score for accuracy of dynamics/phrasing, etc. as I am polishing the piece? Or should I suffer through this new way of learning music??!!

              Piano practice is not about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’! It’s simply about what works best! Most beginner and intermediate students prefer to memorize the text first – so your case is certainly not an exception! Moving from this type of practice to the methods suggested by your teacher (and me) is in fact a rather unpleasant process that all pianists go through.

              For example, most of my beginner and intermediate students prefer to memorize the text first as well – it offers them the comfort of (as you say) ‘knowing where their fingers are going’. Unfortunately, this approach always results in a superficial reading of the text and all its details and after a few days/weeks of such practice the entire playing becomes mechanical, being based on the ‘movement of the fingers’, not the indications of the mind.

              By the way, which Invention No. 9 you’re playing? The two-part one? I like it a lot, and my students are often playing it!

              One more thing: it seems to me that you have fallen into a small trap of ‘mechanical practice’. If you’re playing the same place over and over again with the same mistakes, it means that you play instead of practicing. Can you feel the difference? Awareness, being in the moment with your mind (not only your fingers) is the best solution to such problems!

              Your memorization preferences seems to have the same origins: when memorizing the text, you allow it to become automated, mechanical, and you enjoy the comfort this ‘automation’ brings. Your fingers play alone without causing you too many worries :).

              So, when practicing Bach’s Invention, don’t forget the golden rule: relaxed, correct, mindful practice! This way, it’s impossible to repeat the same mistakes over and over again! Do you know why? Because in a slow tempo mistakes happen only when your fingers are playing ‘on auto-pilot’. When you guide them with your mind and you are mindful of where your fingers are going – then it’s impossible to repeat such mistakes!

              Believe me, we’ve all been where you are now. It’s an absolutely normal phase in the life of a musician – it’s when real awareness awakens and ‘automation’ is not an option anymore :). Yes, ‘automation’ brings us the illusion of comfort and ease, but unfortunately it cannot takes us farther than this apparent comfort.

              So: play with your mind, not your fingers! At the same time, be aware that your brain needs time for assimilating polyphonic music.

              Yes, it’s impossible to play without a certain level of technical automation, but at the same time your playing should never get mechanical! (Writing these lines, I remember myself struggling with the same problem, not to mention that for 6 years already I teach my students how to overcome this dilemma – as I said, nobody is immune to this!) 🙂

              However, you have to understand that what I wrote until now is not a law or a mandatory practice procedure. Music and piano playing, in the end, are about enjoying what to do – not about following rules!

              In my advice, I simply described the ‘mental techniques’ which are more effective and which, I’m sure, can help you overcome your current situation.

              I also suggest making this transition slowly and gradually. Alternate memorizing with looking at the score, or you can still memorize first but then try to look at the score as often as possible and be mindful of all the details of the text – at the same time figuring out how they belong in the bigger picture – the meaning of the played music. In other words, figure out how each tree belongs in the forest! 🙂

              This way, the transition period will be less frustrating and more enjoyable!

              I hope this helps and I also hope that you already feel better (after all, we didn’t talk for a week!) 🙂

              Take care, keep positive and don’t forget that progress is indeed inevitable! 😉


              P.S. Spring always follows winter!

              • Alexandra says:

                Ilinca, gosh, you just really know exactly the right thing to say every time! I always feel so amazed at how accurate your assessment is of my situations.

                So, this current challenge is going to bring a change in my awareness! I can feel it now, after reading your reply. (As Pauline put it aptly, ‘a shift’.) Ilinca, you have written over and over warning us about not playing mechanically, and to be mindful. I thought I was doing so, as much as possible. But, well, it is pretty clear to me, after reading your reply, that I was not actually mindfully playing; rather “mindfully mechanically playing” maybe? 🙂 It is always so surprising to suddenly be aware of the truth of what someone has been advising for so long, but only just finally realizing it! Wow.

                You wrote: ‘Automation brings us the illusion of comfort and ease’. Yes, I HAVE been memorizing to feel more comfortable and automated, mistaking this reliance on “muscle memory” for “knowing” the piece. If I am being honest with myself, I suppose memorizing made me feel like I was learning the piece faster, when actually I was only familiarizing myself with the piece, at best. Nuts. I just cannot wait to play all the beautiful music there is…

                Yes, I am working on the 2-part invention No. 9. It is so beautiful and so satisfying to play in terms of the music. Technically, this piece is another story! I’ve been working on it for about 30min. to 1 hour /day for the past 10 days. (So busy here, and no quality time lately for practicing more than 2hours/day if lucky.) This No.9 is very dense and feels a bit like untangling a bundle of necklace chains! Progress is slow and the ornaments in the middle are tedious, but not irritating so much anymore (I’ve calmed down since last week 😉 ). I am reading the score and playing it slowly: Doing my best to change my playing habits. If I come across a particularly tricky bar, I’ve tried memorizing the fingering first, then going back again and watching the score while playing that bar again. That seems to be helping.
                Since your students are studying this piece too, if you have any general advice on this one, I’d love to hear about it from you!

                But meanwhile, please let me say:
                Ilinca, thank you for making the time to reply to my posts. Since I’ve found your site, and received such incredible advice from you and read your other insights you’ve shared with other students, my piano playing and my appreciation has changed tremendously. I love checking in on and reading new posts/questions/your replies—always educational and inspiring! Next year should be really interesting, with progress!!! Can’t wait.

                Thank you for creating this forum to learn and share. I hope you take care of yourself, keep healthy and warm, and have a very nice Christmas season filled with peace and love! Good luck with your busy schedule, and best wishes for the New Year!!

            • Ilinca says:

              Hi Alexandra!

              I’m really happy I could help you understand the difference between ‘mindful playing’ and ‘mindful mechanical playing’ LOL. Yes, as we progress in our practice, new and new levels of awareness are being reached – and each time we acquire a higher, deeper perspective on seemingly familiar things.

              I can promise you one thing – this is definitely not the last revelation you’re going to have! 🙂 We’re always in a learning process – and it’s not only about getting new information – it’s often about acquiring a deeper understanding of the old one!

              Yes, the Invention No. 9 has a very dense structure. I like what you wrote: “it feels like untangling a bundle of necklace chains” LOL. Because of its complexity, this Invention is very useful on all levels: sound, technical, expressive etc. I would suggest to imagine (instead of untangling chains) – an active dialogue between a violin and a cello – and try to imitate at the piano their deep, vibrant and continuous sound.

              Learning how to think ‘orchestrally’, to imagine that you’re imitating timbres of different instruments is a very useful skill in piano playing!

              Thank you for your comment and for your warm words! It means a lot to me to be able to help you discover new interesting things in your piano quest!

              I wish you a wonderful Christmas season as well!!! I’ll certainly try to make the next year as interesting as possible and create many new tutorials on!

              Warmest wishes,

              • Alexandra says:

                Hi Ilinca, I hope all is going well this busy year-end.

                Just an update and some quick thoughts: The sight-reading method of learning a new piece is actually going much much better! Something has clicked in my brain, sort of a ‘letting go’ of watching my fingers and hands. I’m sure this is just the beginning, but there is a definite change in my sense of playing the piano. Maybe confidence? (Instead of watching my feet where I am walking, I can hold my head up and walk and appreciate what is around me, so to speak.)
                Sometimes I do glace down at my hands but it is really just for a fraction of a second.

                Also, my teacher made an interesting comment yesterday at my lesson: She modeled playing ‘at the keyboard’ and playing ‘as one with the whole piano’. In Japanese, she said to imagine being inside the piano, that my fingers where just an extension of the hammers inside. This is quite an interesting idea, I think. To be “one” with the piano, rather than someone sitting in front of the keyboard striking the keys with head down and watching one’s fingers. So, then we tried to apply this mindset right away with the Bach invention 9. The result was a fuller sound, more sonerous, less shallow and less “dinky-dinky” sounding. Interesting experience.

                Your advice from above: “Play with your mind, not with your fingers,” is really great. It is in my mind a lot. Trying to make that mindset a habit before playing. This way, I am responsible for my playing, not my fingers or something outside myself. (if that makes any sense).
                Also, you wrote that some amount of technical automation is necessary. So, with that in mind (I’m wondering HOW MUCH automation is enough…), I wanted to ask you with regard to the psychological study of piano, what do you think of Liszt’s famously controversial advice about practicing technical passages repeatedly, while reading a book!!? From what I understood, it is a way of disconnecting the conscious mind and therefore creating the muscle memory on a subconscious level thereby making ‘room’ for emotional interpretation after the piece has become automated in the fingers/hands. The effect should be similar to practicing a passage for a long while on one day, sleeping, and the next day that same passage has set in the mind and has become more manageable. Only, Liszt’s method is supposed to be more time efficient? (no need to ‘sleep’ on it to let the music set in).
                Ilinca, what do you think about this, based on your own experience and study???
                (I have read this about Liszt several times in different sources, and that he was a tremendous teacher, although was very ‘cerebral’ in his teaching methodology. I read that he often simply discussed piano theory, rather than sitting at the keyboard with the student and studying. )

                If you have some free time, please tell me what you think about this! I’ll check back here occasionally and see if you got a chance to write a reply! 🙂

              • Ilinca says:

                Hi Alexandra!

                I’m really glad that you have felt the first improvements in your quest towards a better sight-reading and a better score-mind-fingers coordination. Yes, we can definitely compare such a playing habit with walking and seeing at the same time the destination before your eyes – and not walking blindly, by watching your feet alone :).

                The advice of your teacher – becoming one with the piano – is extremely useful and profoundly Buddhist :). I totally agree with her – and I also agree that, as I always say – we should never ‘strike’ the keys, but try to ‘dive’ into the keyboard, creating a deep, soft and expressive sound. However, imagining that you’re one with the piano is not enough. On a psychological level it’s very useful, but this ‘state of mind’ does not (and cannot) replace the professional playing reflexes – and our awareness of these reflexes.

                Here’s what I mean: for example, while imagining that he/she is one with the piano, a certain piano student can forget about the correct posture or the specific ‘technology’ for creating a relaxed, correct key attack; they can also make the mistake of ‘leaning’ into the piano too much or playing with tensed arms – and the list can go on!

                So, for good results we have to combine this ‘wholeness’ mindset with all the technical tricks that allow us to feel comfortable and relaxed at the instrument. Both these aspects are equally important!

                Technically, your goal is to learn how to produce that fuller, more generous sound (which you created at the lesson) by knowing exactly how to adjust your gestures and how to ‘manipulate’ the keyboard :). It’s not only a mindset, it’s also science and technology!

                In fact, piano playing comprises all the aspects of our existence: intellectual and spiritual, physical and emotional. By keeping all these aspects in balance (and subordinated to the meaning of the piece) – we can achieve wonderful results!

                How much automation is needed? We need automation for ‘taming’ complicated passages, for making the piece feel comfortable, for learning how to press the needed notes with the needed gestures without any tension. All new things in life are uncomfortable at first. By repeating them many times, they become more and more easy to perform, more comfortable – and our gestures become more relaxed. The same can be said about playing a musical instrument!

                So we have to ‘train’ our gestures until the played piece/fragment/passage becomes an indissoluble part of us, of our mind and our body – and we can play it in a relaxed and comfortable manner. This is what ‘automation’ means and it certainly does not exclude awareness! In fact, awareness can always act as a ‘catalyst’, increase our productivity and help us learn a piece much faster.

                Liszt’s method is marked by his ‘virtuosity’ approach :). He was a brilliant composer and he has amazingly deep and beautiful pieces – but let’s not forget that in his youth he was Europe’s first virtuoso. For many years, he put virtuosity and technical brilliance before meaning and awareness – and that’s why some of his pedagogical advice is marked by this mindset. I can also feel in this advice a sort of ‘statement’ – “Look how start I am – I can do many things at the same time and do them well!” LOL. We can feel in this a certain ‘Napoleonic’ influence – researchers claim that Napoleon was able to do many things at once.

                I also have the feeling that Liszt’s advice is connected to the ideals of the epoch, when ‘multitasking’ was considered a sign of some sort of ‘intellectual supremacy’ LOL.

                Nowadays, we know that our brain cannot really multitask – it can simply increase its ‘switch’ speed from one task to another. We also know that the best way of accomplishing something is doing only one thing at a time – and being mindful of only that thing.

                So we can be certain that focusing only on our practice and being mindful of every note, of every expression is the best known way of improving our pianistic skills!

                Less is more – and by slowing down, by increasing our mindfulness and reducing the unnecessary ‘business’ we are in fact not only more productive, but happier and more centered! 😉


  50. Vicente says:

    Hi Ilinka,

    Your help with Beethoven has been very useful for me. Now I’d like you might continue your advice on octave playing. It’s one of my greatest troubles, since my fingers are short.

    Thanks again. Have a good week-end, too! Vicente

    • Ilinca says:

      Hi Vicente!

      It’s really nice to hear from you! 😉

      Octaves – this is indeed an interesting topic! You might find useful my replies to these two similar questions about octaves:

      My reply to Helen from August 31.

      My reply to Alexandra from October 13.

      If after reading these replies you still have questions about octaves – please ask, I’ll be happy to help! 😉

      Have a good week and an enjoyable practice!