Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can You Play the Piano with a Pencil?

A useful tip to improve your piano technique

In this video, Robert gives you some new, interesting tips to improve your piano technique by "using a pencil."

Released on November 27, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. This is Robert Estrin at, your online piano store. Today's question is, "Can you play the piano with a pencil?" Now, that sounds like a crazy idea, and indeed, it is a little bit wacky, but I'm going to show you some interesting things that have profound implications about producing good tone on the piano. We've all been trained. Anybody's taken lessons about arm weight and finger position and all of that, and you wonder, "How important are all those things for producing a good sound on the piano?"

Well, of course, they're important, but ultimately, your ears are the most important thing. So, first thing I'm going to do... There's a lot of things you can do with a pencil. I remember one time somebody showed me this little trick. You put the pencil between your fingers like this, and voila. You can play chords on the piano easily. Well, that's a party trick for people who don't play the piano. What I'm going to show you today has much more profound implications.

Well, growing up, I studied piano with my father, Morton Estrin, and truth be known, I didn't practice as much as I should have. Yet, I always wanted to strive for certain sounds I heard in my head. So, even though I didn't have the power... I had naturally weak fingers growing up, and I didn't practice a great deal, so I would contort sometimes in order to get the sound I heard in my head to make my weak floppy fingers that the joint would bend the wrong way. It was a nightmare.

I don't know how my father put up with me. Nevertheless, and particularly, in slow movements, I was able to achieve some really gorgeous sounds even with my technique, which was not as proper as it should have been because I didn't have the strength. I hadn't developed my technique. So, the question is, "What can you do if you haven't zero technique?" If I were to just play, for example, a Chopin prelude using a pencil, I wonder, "Can I actually achieve a decent sound?"

Well, I'm hearing this piano, which hasn't even been prepped yet. So, if I can get a halfway decent sound out of this piano using a pencil, it will show something. Let's see what happens here. On the Chopin, let's do the prelude in E minor because obviously, there are some pieces that are way too fast to play with a pencil. But if I can achieve a good sound with this, with a pencil, we'll talk about what that means. Here's some Chopin for you.

So, what is my point? The point is if you hear something, that is the single most important aspect of technique not just for the piano. But for any instrument, you must hear something in order to create it. So, it's not a matter of going into certain positions and learning that first. The sound must come first. The sound is primary, firstly, secondary, and always strive for the sound you're after.

Now, that isn't to say you shouldn't try to get a better technique to be able to handle things with a relaxed manner and something you can control and not do any damage to your hands. There's many reasons why you want to develop good technique. But remember, the lesson for today is if you hear something, that is the most important aspect for creating it on the piano or any musical instrument.

I hope this has been interesting for you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at Thanks so much for joining me.
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