Robert Estrin - piano expert
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Music Theory and Piano
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About Robert Estrin
Robert Estrin is a pianist who truly lives his instrument. Not only does he play and teach with proficiency and passion, but he also knows just about everything there is to know about pianos - from their construction to their history. Music is "all in the family" for Robert, with his father, Morton, a concert pianist; his sister, Coren, a pianist as well; his wife, Florence, an accomplished flutist; and his daughter, Jennifer, a violinist of great acclaim.

Robert studied piano and French horn at New York City's Manhattan School of Music, and he also received a degree in piano performance from Indiana University. He performs with symphony orchestras, at arts festivals, for music teachers' associations, at museums, and on college campuses. His most unique performance experience, however, is his Living Piano: Journey Through Time. In this creative endeavor, Robert dresses in period costumes and plays historic instruments, from his own collection, to tell the story of the piano over time to a wide variety of audiences - not just piano enthusiasts.

Robert maintains a vibrant online presence, with countless videos on YouTube and through Virtual Sheet Music. His videos, which have been viewed by millions, are engaging, entertaining, informative, and sure to enhance the knowledge, skills, and overall playing experience of pianists from beginners to the most advanced.
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Peter Borgia on August 16, 2017 @7:30 pm PST
COMMMENTARY: We recently had a QRS PNO3 system installed on our Steinway L by the local Steinway dealer. I got interested in having the system after I learned that virtually the entire library of piano roll music made from about 1910 to the early 1930's is available as midi files that available for free on the web. Initially I was interested in the popular music of that time since it included much of the “great American songbook”’. I soon discovered the richness of classical and romantic period music pieces that were produced for rolls from 1905-1930's. The repertoire of solo piano recorded was extensive and favors the romantic period. Moreover, the absolute top concert artists of the era recorded rolls. I’m looking down at a playlist of Chopin and Liszt pieces that I assembled and among the pianists are Hofmann, Lhevinne, Levitzki, Rachmaninoff. Paderewski, Godowsky, Busoni, Cortot, Rubinstein, Horowitz and many other well known pianists. It’s really quite amazing! These performers recorded for the Welte, Duo-Art, and Ampico “reproducing piano” systems that recorded dynamics. The rolls were commercially viable at the time due to the popularity of player pianos and the lack of contemporary recording technologies that could rival the sound of a genuine piano. In the last 20 years enthusiasts have created roll scanners and software to convert rolls to midi files that can be played on a computer, keyboard, or modern player piano. The scanned roll files are available on the web with some minor detective work. The majority of the files are free and collecting them is much more cost effective and the repertoire more extensive than the music libraries available from the companies that make the modern player systems. In addition, these modern libraries don’t usually use eminent pianists and the repertoire is not nearly as extensive as the scanned roll files.

Playback of the scanned midi files on a piano has some limitations compared to live performance. Some files need to be played at or near “full expression” (loud) to appreciate the nuances of the performance. Some people claim that the files sound “artificial” but I don’t perceive that. I find these limitations to be minor compared to the benefits. The sound quality is outstanding and markedly superior compared to CD’s or MP3 files played on a quality stereo system, computer or hand-held device. The experience of 600-800 pounds of wood and metal vibrating in your living room to music ”played” by Paderewski is probably impossible to duplicate despite all the advances in recording and playback technology. No modern speaker can rival the sound of a high quality piano. The biggest problem with the files is going through the thousands available to separate the wheat from the chaff, listening to them and organizing them into playlists. I’ve spent many hours reviewing about 10,000 files but it has been worth the effort. It’s a good thing that I am retired.

I thought that I should write this to alert your viewers/readers of the existence of these resources. Keep up your great work and enthusiasm!
Jeff on August 5, 2017 @7:59 am PST
I'm curious about the use of the lid on a grand piano. Is it used only for volume, or is there practical use for tonal variation?

I'm a 57 year-old beginner on the piano, and I really enjoy the depth and breadth of what you share. Listening and watching you play and teach is a real treat. Thank you.
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Robert - host, on August 5, 2017 @2:46 pm PST
How you position the lid effects the volume and the tone. When the piano is completely closed, the tone is more muted. Generally, the fly lid (front part of the lid) is folded over to allow the music rack to be used. This opens up the sound considerably in regards to tone and volume. Raising the lid to the short stick and long stick increases volume and projection.
Peter T Borgia on August 3, 2017 @6:32 pm PST
Robert

Did you inadvertently miss my question of July 30?
Andreas Schloesser on August 3, 2017 @12:55 am PST
Dear Robert,
thank you for your beautiful expert videos. I watched each of them for a year.
Especially your last video ‘How to Sight Sing Intervals’ reminded me of my childhood. That time I’ve been instructed playing akkordeon, singing, and music theory for kids. Additionally I was a child opera singer in Berlin (The Magic Flute, Albert Herring…). We leanrned about syllables (system Do Re Mi Fa …, as well as system bi to gu su la fe …) in our theory lessons but we never used them in singing, even not in the opera training.
Now I have a granddaughter of 10 years playing clarinet and she uses syllables only. She has serious problems understanding me when I say: “please, play Fis instead of F.” Her clarinet teacher is French. So I am a bit confused.
My question and proposal for one of your next videos is:
When are syllables better to use than the C D E F G system? And do prefer different countries different systems?
I never heard about a sonata or symphony written in Mi major or su minor even not by French composers.
Best greetings from Germany
Andreas Schloesser
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Robert - host, on August 3, 2017 @4:16 pm PST
You are right. In different areas of the world notes are either referred to by letter name or by solfeggio syllables. There is no fundamental difference between these systems.
Archishman Ghosh on August 1, 2017 @11:14 pm PST
In Mozart pieces you will often find a cluster of notes that goes like this, a sixteenth note appoggiatura, followed by an eighth note and then two sixteenth notes. Yet people mostly play this as four sixteenth notes.

An example is the rondo alla turca. Lots of other examples in piano concertos. Why do people play it as 4 16th notes and if that is the norm then why is it written like it is? More importantly, how did Mozart play them?
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Robert - host, on August 2, 2017 @11:23 am PST
Appoggiaturas, trills, turns and other ornamentation are expressive indications in the score which give the performer creative license to some extent. In some instances (like the Alla Turca movement of Mozart Sonata in A) there is nearly universal agreement on how these are executed. However, there are many instances where there is a wide range of interpretation of ornamentation depending upon skill level as well as personal preference.
Archishman Ghosh on August 3, 2017 @12:35 am PST
Could you be a bit more clear? You're saying playing it as 4 16th notes is universally agreed upon. Then why is it not notated as 4 16th notes? Why would Mozart go through the hassle of writing what he wrote?

I've heard Andras Schiff and some period instrument player NOT play it as 4 16th notes. They basically play it as 8th note-16th note-16th note with an ornament in the front.

Thanks for replying.
Peter T Borgia on July 30, 2017 @6:18 am PST
When should the soundboard on a vintage piano be replaced? We have a 1927 Steinway L that was recently rebuilt by highly regarded technicians with a new pinblock, strings, Renner action and Steinway hammers. We kept the original soundboard which was in good condition and had only one minor crack that was repaired. The rebuilt piano sounds great with good sustain throughout including about 5 seconds in octave 6. I'm just hoping that we made the right decision about the soundboard and that it doesn't go bad in the near future. There seems to be many strong but contradictory opinions in such cases about soundboard replacement among technicians/rebuilders and I was wondering about your opinion. Your video comments on soundboards suggest that you might prefer original soundboards. I realize that there are no guarantees. We live in Florida so we have high humidity but nearly year round air conditioning (except in the drier winter) and the piano has a Dampp-Chaser system. So I would say that the humidity is well controlled. By the way your YouTube videos are great and I am a former resident (70's) of Santa Ana!
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Robert - host, on August 7, 2017 @5:12 pm PST
If you relied upon expert piano technicians, you should be fine with a repaired soundboard. Sometimes a soundboard is beyond repair if there is warping or many cracks and separation of the ribs. Also, there are situations in which the architecture of the soundboard is compromised. It is essential to maintain crown in order to have good tone in a piano. Rebuilders can rework soundboards to enhance crown in some situations. Here is an article and video on this subject: http://livingpianos.com/questions/email-question-does-an-old-soundboard-in-good-condition-need-to-be-replaced/
Peter T Borgia on August 8, 2017 @9:03 am PST
Thanks Robert, I value your opinion
Adria Rose Taylor on July 26, 2017 @4:39 pm PST
From someone I had spoken too recently, she had taught herself to play piano. But she had taken guitar & violin lessons previously. I can see why she would be able to learn piano, as she already had training in music/music theory and could apply that to piano playing.

But I don't see how that applies to me as I don't have previous training in music/music theory. It can't be the same for everyone. Just because one had previously taken lessons and taught herself to play piano doesn't mean it will work apply to me as well.

She had mentioned to me may be i should teach myself to play piano, as a suggestion. That I know enough to and I just have to follow the lesson in the book. But just cause I know enough doesn't mean I have the capability to teach myself. I'm not afraid to make mistakes, but you think there'd be a higher risk of someone like me creating bad habits instead of learning correctly teaching themselves. But I can see if someone had the natural skill of it to teach themselves to play piano.

What are you thoughts on someone teaching themselves to play piano? is it a good idea or a bad idea waiting to create bad habits? would sure like to hear what you have to say on this. Thanks.
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Robert - host, on July 27, 2017 @11:46 am PST
There are many different approaches to learning a musical instrument. While developing a relationship with a great teacher can be invaluable for someone wanting to develop abilities on an instrument, some people get pleasure from learning piano in more casual ways. So, the important thing is to make sure your strategy for learning an instrument is in alignment with your goals.
Adria Rose Taylor on July 27, 2017 @8:46 pm PST
Thank you for your response.

Guess it all differs according to person and what they expect of themselves learning the instrument. Thanks again for the response.
Daniel Tsukamoto on July 12, 2017 @2:12 pm PST
Hello Mr Estrin! I saw you on YouTube, where you explained how to properly play section A of Polonaise, Op 40, Nr 1 by Chopin. As a pianist receiving a Master of Music in piano performance almost 22 years ago, I never thought about using the arms in conjunction with the wrists. What is the easiest way to memorize this piece without experiencing blackouts during performances? I am curious.
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Robert - host, on July 13, 2017 @1:27 pm PST
One of the best ways to solidify memory is practicing away from the piano. Here is an article and video on this subject: http://livingpianos.com/how-to-play-piano/how-do-you-play-the-piano-with-your-mind/
adria taylor on July 10, 2017 @6:25 pm PST
Hi. Robert. A few questions for you.

Whenever i sit at my keyboard, I always find I'm either too far or too close. But I am relatively short, just 5'0" How do I find that in between position of not being too far or too close?

Also, I am learning tetrachords in piano lessons.I know tetrachords are a scale of four notes, the interval between the first and last being a perfect fourth. What more can you tell me about tetrachords? Could you made a video on tetrachords in the future? Thanks.

A little feedback. I've always liked it when you did videos from a bird's eye-view, it made it easier for me to see how it's done and made it easier for me to understand it compared to from a side view. Thanks.
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Robert - host, on July 13, 2017 @3:05 pm PST
Here is a video which shows how to sit at the piano: http://livingpianos.com/how-to-play-piano/how-to-sit-at-the-piano-best-piano-sitting-position/

Tetrachords are more important to understand for string players since the two halves of the major scale have the same whole-step/half-step arrangement. I will consider making a video on this subject.

We utilize bird's eye view when seeing which notes are depressed is important. The side view is better to understand the use of the wrist in piano playing which is difficult to discern from above.
adria taylor on July 14, 2017 @10:16 pm PST
Thank you for replying.

OK. I did watch the video. I will have to take what was shown in the video and use it to find that in between position at the keyboard.

Thank you! really appreciate it. really hope you do.

Thank you!

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my posted question, means a lot to hear from you.
Osama Elkhawad on July 5, 2017 @10:53 am PST
Hi Robert

I found two contradicting statements with regard to counterpoint in Mozart Sonata # 16.

one time you admitted that there is a "counterpoint" when you wrote:
Yes, there are many examples of counterpoint in the Mozart Sonata in C major K 545. The development section of the first movement (after the double bar and repeat sign) has some back and forth musical lines between the hands which is one example of counterpoint

but in a different place, you denied that, when you wrote the following:

However, not all polyphonic music utilizes counterpoint for example, if you’re playing Mozart you have a clear melody and harmony. In the famous C major sonata K545 you have a melody in the right hand but only broken chords in the left hand. The left hand by itself doesn’t really have much of a melody to it, it’s simply an accompaniment to the right hand melody. The same is true in Chopin’s E minor Prelude – you have clear delineation between the parts in the right and the left hands – one is the melody and the other is the harmony which supports it. These are not examples of counterpoint even though they are polyphonic (more than one note at a time).

How can we make these contradicting statements consistent?

Respectfully
Osama Ahmed
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Robert - host, on July 6, 2017 @12:13 pm PST
Yes, the Mozart Sonata K. 545 in C-major has parts that demonstrate counterpoint well and other parts that feature polyphonic music which has clearly delineated melody and supportive harmonies which are not classic examples of counterpoint which have competing melodies of equal importance.
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