The Peter Principle in Musical Performance

The Peter Principle in Musical Performance

In this article, I explore the belief that different branches of knowledge often correlate, and, in our case as pianists, can potentially show us how to perform the piano.

The notion of morality, for instance, which is amongst others a philosophical and cultural subject, not only can it help us excel in our everyday endeavours but also, through our human predisposition for higher moral values (my opinion), somehow, can assist us in becoming better, more fulfilled pianists.

So, let’s dive in and see what that Peter Principal is, and how can it make us understand musical performance, and therefore, make us better performers at this dreaded instrument we wrestle every day, the piano.

What is the Peter Principle

 The Peter Principle entails that a company employee will inevitably reach their “plateau” of competence and will become incompetent. According to Laurence. J. Peter (deviser of the Principle) this happens, because a competent employee will often be promoted, and after a certain number of promotions and position changes they will reach a job position that will demand skills that they won’t have, and thus render them incompetent.

That’s why we often wonder why such-and-such “incompetent” individual reaches a high-paid position in a big corporation or such, even though (always according to us) they are incompetent. That’s not always the case, of course, as we see in family organisations, for instance, but the Peter Principle is indeed a subject worthy of serious study, not only because it can make us appreciate the various dynamics in the corporate sphere but, dare I say, because it can shed light on how the environments that employ hierarchical structures, operate.

How the Peter Principle Affects Musical Performance

Now, in musical performance, the Peter Principle is equally present, since musical performance entails the element of a personal hierarchy on what we improve as artists.

What I mean by “personal hierarchy” is that our artistic achievements depend on many factors, amongst others, our personality traits, idiosyncrasy, artistic goals, and, of course, our core technical proficiency in our instrument. That means performers (similar to the aforementioned employees of a company) can become incompetent by reaching an interpretational plateau they can’t overcome, because they have subconsciously established in advance a hierarchy on the technical aspects they wish to improve in their performance.

For instance, a lot of pianists enjoy the music of J.S. Bach and thus, by performing Bach, subconsciously (and consciously), they become better in interpreting the works of the Baroque era — I’m dumping down. Others adore performing Beethoven’s sonatas or Schubert’s lieder and, thus, they would inevitably develop an affinity for those composers’ music.

However, when you ask a Bach aficionado to interpret the Rachmaninov’s second piano sonata, they might, by and large, produce an inferior result — compared to that of a performer who specialises in the neo-romantic trends of the early twentieth century music. So, pianists will become incompetent the more they move through composers, because they will reach a point where they won’t possess the skills necessary to interpret convincingly the next composer.

How the Peter Principle Affects Famous Pianists

 So, that’s why we often claim that Pollini plays Chopin well, or Gould is a specialist on Bach, or this pianist possesses a Mozartian feel and the other pianist is good on French music.

In all honesty, professional pianists may produce satisfactory results in many pianistic styles, but, sooner or later, they will fall victims to the Peter Principle too, and will find themselves excelling in only a composer or two and, maybe, in a couple of musical styles. That’s why we say that some pianists play all composers “the same” – because those pianists have developed a specific sound signature they transfer from composer to composer.  The Peter Principle will deeply affect their art here, because, by being human beings, they are incapable of absorbing the vast number of technical skills necessary to successfully interpret the ever-changing musical styles and composers’ particularities.

And so the Peter Principal is King, and will render the performer incompetent — incompetent to play a particular composer due to lack of specific pianist skills, incompetent to be a good manager of oneself, again, perhaps due to lack of a specific set of communications skills, etc.

How the Peter Principle Affects Us, Lesser Pianists

We “blame” the Peter Principal for the progression of our musical career, since:

  1. We won’t be able to play beyond our technical capacities — we have developed a specialist set of pianistic tools hard to change as the years go by.

  2. We won’t be able to teach beyond a certain level — some of us have developed a specialty in teaching young children, whereas some others can produce the next Alfred Brendel. (And yes, nice wordings, chemistry and such are not applicable for all piano levels – some pianists need real teaching of technique, and not game cards). I know, I’m horrible.

  3. We will reach a managerial ceiling on how to progress our performing or academic career — Some of us are better managers because we have developed the art of management, but others struggle to present ourselves to the world.

So, it’s all down to skills; unique skills, different successes.

How the Peter Principle affects us psychologically

But, the Peter Principle affects us psychologically, too, and can be the factor that makes or breaks our musical career. It is why we often feel sad and unsatisfied about ourselves as musicians. And that feeling of sadness and discontent is not ephemeral. It might hamper our development as human beings and, of course, as artists.

Sviatoslav Richter, in one of his final interviews, was deeply reflecting about his life as a pianist, and guess what? He wasn’t satisfied one bit about himself as a pianist. He, lo-and-behold, called himself a “failure”! Who? Richter. One of the world’s most accomplished pianists. A pianist that his legend will live forever. So.

 Do you feel better now about judging yourself all the time?

Unfortunately, though, Mr. Peter cannot travel around the world telling you and me why we shouldn’t constantly judge ourselves. He cannot come and tell us to let go of our musical predicaments. He is not around to show us that the reason we often feel incompetent on the piano, is because, naturally, we cannot acquire all possible technical skills to play all musics in perfection. By moving through the various musical positions of our career, we are sure to find fitting places for our talents, but also places that are not meant to be for us — so we need to start being content.

Because we are all truly incompetent is some things. Yes, I’m telling you. We are inco-mpe-tent. You are an incompetent reader (in some things, at least). As if you didn’t know. I’m not in the business of stroking egos, as in all the rest of musical websites where their writers pretend that they cannot see the misfortunes and ignorance of their readers. I know that most of my readers are poor performers with a horrible sense of musical taste and, often, I have to read their extraordinary gibberish and pretend that they have a point to make. But, what can I do? Should I write for Rubinstein and Gilels? No. Those people know their art, but you don’t. You are an incompetent reader! That’s why you are reading my gibberish in this website! But you can do something about your vast incompetence. As long as you care about music, maybe one day you might just shave off a little bit from your complete and utter musical incompetence. As you may see, I am very considerate of my readers because I care about them, and I try tactfully to show them that they might need to improve, because there might be a chance in a billion they’re not monumentally perfect.

Just so you know, I am an incompetent writer and musician, too — don’t worry about it. I know that. But that doesn’t deter me at all from telling my stories to you through my imperfect ways. The reason I’m confident about my pompous writings is because I couldn’t care less about your opinion as my reader. Your opinion has zilch importance to me! I just write because I just have to express myself. But, I also know that even the musicians we consider important today are prey to the Peter Principle too, and they are incompetent in some thing or another — but, they just know how to hide it well. Well, their selected incompetence is not only because of the Peter Principle (that would be a preposterous claim to make) but that’s another story. So, who am I to pretend that I know my craft?

Finale

I hope you, being a budding pianist, got the meaning of the Peter Principle and what it could teach you. But let me tell you something. It’s all nice and good to read articles and that, but know that you’re wasting your time, really. Just go and do some practising if you want to improve your piano playing, and stop reading nonsensical writings, like this article of mine. You know, piano is not only nights with cheese and wine talking superfluously about things that we think we know. Piano is about practising. If you don’t sit, you won’t succeed (cliché).

Off you go. Your piano is waiting for you!

 

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Copyright © 27th August, 2021 by Nikos Kokkinis

I am indebted to Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash, for her strong image I used for the composite image you see at the top of this article.

 THANK YOU

Sharon McCutcheon. Visit her art on Unsplash 

Ethical Performing in Music (part 2)

Ethical Performing in Music (part 2)

As in everything we do in life, ethics can make or break our plight.

We constantly make decisions in our own everyday lives — from the smallest, trivial matters, such as which carton of milk to buy from the supermarket, to the more important ones, such as which is the best nail salon for our friend’s wedding. We take simple decisions, like when is the best time to call our friend without waking them up, and more serious decisions, such as whether it is wiser to buy an $1K mobile phone or an $1K second-hand upright.

Every decision has its merits, and, arguably, its importance is a fully subjective matter. For example, I would gladly spend five grand to buy a secondhand grand piano, but I equally understand the individual who would spend the same amount of money to go on holidays in the Bahamas. I completely understand and respect their needs.

Just kidding! No, I DO NOT understand their needs! What? And then they would complain to me that they cannot afford the finer things in life, such as a piano. Holidays in the Bahamas? What? Crossed out! Buy a second hand grand, instead!

But you knew I was kidding, of course — Don’t forget that this is a piano practising website, that wants to instill as much guilt as possible to its readers in order to ensure they culture themselves.

I have no sympathy when people park outside my studio in a BMW, come inside wearing Prada, to tell me they are in serious thoughts about buying a better electric piano for their son, but they cannot afford it at the moment. If you look at my face when I encounter them, you would think that I am Fats Waller in his most elaborate of stone-faced grimaces. But I have to make money and I nod to them with fake compassion.

“Yes, yes, I perfectly understand,” I would say.

“And you know Nikos, we are trying our best here.”

“Of course! I know!”

“The everyday expenses are enormous.”

“I know, poor parents… how can they do it.”

“Let’s see how it goes, Nikos. We might buy that piano by Christmas. Music is such a wonderful thing!”

“Ba-hah. Yes, say that again.”

“Ok, will see you next lesson then, Nikos.”

“Fantastic!”

“Oh, I forgot we’re going to be away to Malia for the weekend. We’re going Go-Karting with Makis’s brand new Go-Kart!”

“Excellent! Will see you in a couple of weeks!”

 Too many questions and too many decisions to be taken. And behind those decisions, lurking, is always the ethicality of the whole thing.

 

Music

Similarly, in music, we have straightforward questions to answer, we have harder ones, we have pivotal decisions to make, and some not so tough decisions.

And, of course, the importance of those musical decisions lays upon us (or our teacher) and they can be subjectively approached.

“Is my playing too soft right now?” “Is my current tempo leading me smoothly to the climax?” “Is this trill appropriate on Cimarosa?” “Am I ready to tackle this ètude or shall I give my technique a bit more time?” “What my friend is going to think of my playing at tomorrow’s concert?” This and that — Too many questions, and who knows the answers? Certainly not me.

The good news is that the more you’re in the game, the more you simplify things and get to find appropriate solutions. Because music questions, and especially questions that challenge our ethics, are never-ending. Nobody has all the answers — least of all me, who sport a pompous and pretentious website on piano practising, of all things, ludicrously telling you what to do on pianism. The audacity of me having a platform like this is, to say the least, monumental. You see? Anybody can have an opinion on serious and non-serious subjects, no matter how capable they are, and anybody can decide at some point in their lives to tell you what and what not to do! Unbelievable, isn’t it? 

But, the final decision (be it ethical, practical or musical) is always yours to make. You are your own performer and you really have to spell out your plight to your audience; you have to show with conviction why you play the way you play, and you should feel no guilt about it.

The ethics of our performance should come from within and we should never feel intimidated. Every performer has their own ethics, per se, and they see composers, pieces and individual notes through their own perception. This perception is created through their own musical provenance and has nothing to do with our own. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter — Everybody has their own performing ethics and cannot force them upon you.

The performers who succeed (as with the prominent world leaders who took their people on their own journeys) are the ones that have an eloquent or even eccentric musical plan and they serve it to you, expecting you to accept it. I’m not fond of any type of dictatorship but in musical performance we should play like dictators; we know what is right for us, and we show it to our audiences with conviction, without caring if it is right or wrong, or whether they are going to embrace it — we simply do not cave in. We listen to ourselves, to our own ethics, and we plough on regardless.

My interview with Vladimir Horowitz

On the 6th of November 1982, I had an audience with Vladimir Horowitz. I entered his room reluctantly, feeling the gravity of the situation in the air. I was to meet one of the greats. He stood up, shook my hand, and asked me to sit in the golden chair.

He sat on his piano (yes, that one), placed his flappy hands on the keys and pressed a chord. The chord felt unfamiliar, but not the complexion of his instrument – I knew that piano, I have heard it countless times. Then, he played one more chord followed by a final one before turning to me with a smile on his face.

“So, Nikos, did you like those chords?”, he said.

The question came out of the blue, felt important and I thought I somehow had to give a correct answer.

“Yes, very much.” I answered, immediately regretting my reply.

“Why? Is it because I am Vladimir Horowitz?” He said calmly.

“No. Well, yes, but also because they actually sounded nice.”

“Really? Three chords?”

“I mean, in the right context they would sound good.” I said.

“Were they not in the right context?”

“Um, forgive me maestro, I… I do not know.”

“In the right context… such a tired expression, don’t you think, Nikos?”

He looked at me in contempt. I felt his inner condemnation for my musical incapacity. He knew immediately I was an amateur musician, that all I wanted was to brag to my friends about my meeting with “Horowitz” later on in the cafeteria. He’s had enough with people like me — People that couldn’t appreciate his art, but just craved for a photo or a word with him, just for the sake of it. I was, once again, one with the masses. I wouldn’t be able to hide my well-deserved obscurity, no matter how hard I would have tried. 

Was I there to learn from him? Was I to feast upon his musical knowledge? I wasn’t sure. What I knew, though, was that I was definitely there to make myself important in the eyes of my peers. I knew the time would come that I would hold a glass of wine at a party, sneakily mentioning my meeting with Vladimir Horowitz to an amazed group of partygoers.

He looked at me once again and said:

“Nikos, do you know why people like my piano playing?”

“Well, yes, because you play amazingly,” I said obsequiously.

“No, it is not as simple as that. Many people dislike my tone or my pianistic imperfections, but still they keep coming to my concerts and talk fondly about my career.”

“True.”

“Audiences like my playing because they know I have ethics — they may disagree with them, but they now for sure that I am fully behind them on my every pressing of the keys. They know I couldn’t care less about their feelings and the way they perceive my playing. I play for myself, and I demand my audience to get my gist. I once said to a reporter who asked me about the brilliance of my octaves, that…”

“… I’ve read it.”

“So what are you doing here, Nikos?”

“I came here to learn.”

“Okay. It was nice meeting you. Off you go now, and be an ethical pianist, okay?”

“Sure I will. Thank you, Mr. Horowitz.”

Epilogue

My meeting with Horowitz taught me so much… I’ve learned that sometimes in life you should stand for your musical ideals and perhaps advocate them to the world.

Anyway.

What shall I do now that this article is over?

Well, since I’m starving and I haven’t yet read any books on human nutrition, I suppose I’m off to MacDonalds.

 

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Copyright © 29 July, 2021 by Nikos Kokkinis

I am indebted to the following artists the images of whom I used to create the composite image used in this article:

 THANK YOU:

For more visit the artists’ pages on Unsplash:

Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

Ethical Performing in Music

Ethical Performing in Music

“Grub first, then ethics”

Bertolt Brecht

 

 

Ethical performing… “Really, Nikos? What? Is there even a notion like that?” I hear you ask…

 

Well, almost twenty years ago, I was playing to Oxana Yablonskaya Liszt’s 10th transcendental étude in f minor. My performance? Not too horrific. As a matter of fact, I remember it wasn’t that bad at all. But, that’s almost all I remember from this occurrence, I’m afraid. I don’t remember the professor’s facial expressions, I don’t remember any specific details on how to improve the piece, I don’t remember my mood at the time.

But I remember one very crucial thing she told me. I remember what she said to me about bar 24.

And what’s so significant about that bar? Well, it is the bar that defined (for me, at least) the ethics of that étude. Let me elaborate:

As you can see from the image below, bar 24 has the left hand playing the descending passage, continuing the same motif from the previous bar. The right hand awaits comfortably in anticipation to starting the main “tune” in octaves. As you can imagine, the temptation to make the bar’s descent with both hands is immense. Who could have resisted? John Falgtwich, for one, couldn’t.

ethical performing in music

He played the part with both hands in his televised performance in the film My Gift. No-one can deny this — he didn’t resist. So, who am I to judge his genius? Who am to say that you are not to play the passage with both hands? I (conveniently) chose to “follow” John Falgtwich’s lead and perform this passage with both hands and with no guilt. Falgtwich was my excuse to sin.

But Oxana didn’t buy it — at all. She looked at me in contempt and was too kind not to slap me through my face — well, if it was the seventies, she really should have done it, I tell you, and everybody would have applauded excitingly. But, it’s 2021, and smacking on the face is for some bizarre reason not an appropriate reaction from a pedagogue — It’s also not politically correct, of course, so for that reason I’m not supporting smacking faces! Ok? [This is humour guys! Physical violence and/or any kind of violence has no place in this world].

But, let me tell you, she should have slapped my face really hard on that occasion, and with her strong English accent, she should have said:

“Shame on you, Nikos,” *slap on my face*

“But, I just wanted to…”

“*slap on my face*”

“But John Falgtwich…”

“*slap on my face*”

“Oh, all right.”

“You are a horrible pianist, Nikos.” “A dreadful copy-paster.” “A pianistic disgrace.” “But most of all, you are an unethical pianist!”

“…”

This is how the legendary Oxana Yablonskaya should have reacted to my performance of the 24th bar.

But she was too kind — A true pedagogue. And hidden behind my drivel from above (in my effort to create yet again a good read) is my eternal admiration to her highest of pedagogical standards. Because, the laconic Oxana Yablonskaya changed my performing to the good. Read on.

So, what did Prof. Yablonskaya say to me about bar 24? She said (I’m paraphrasing):

“It is an étude, after all. You should treat it like an étude. This bar is to improve your left hand, so you should play it with your left hand only.” Well, she said all the above, but more elegantly.

Oxana Yablonskaya wanted to teach me that the purpose of an étude is to honour its plight; to follow the composer’s intentions, and thus, making us betters pianists. This transcendental study by Liszt is arguably a piece of prestige (compared to the perception we have about studies being lesser works), but it still lingers in the sphere of the traditional “étude”. It should be treated first and foremost as an exercise to improve our technique. This is what Oxana was advocating for me.

And thus, the question of this article: Was my playing “honorable”? Should I cut corners to play a piece? Did my playing possess the right performance ethics? And, ultimately, am I an ethical pianist? All these questions tantalised me for a long time.

Of course, some people would say that I shouldn’t spend a second’s time thinking about those trivial things, and just play the piece. They would argue that the end justifies the means, and, perhaps, rightly so; we should perform a piece properly in the first place, and then care about ethics, notions and the rest of mambo-jumbo. In the case of the Liszt’s transcendental étude in f minor, some pianists would simply argue that instead of risking stalling the flow on bar 24, we should just follow the well-trodden road of musical “cheating”. We should forget about how Liszt may have wanted this bar to be delivered.

Maybe Liszt liked the challenge of playing it with one hand, or, even, he might have longed for the imperfect rendition of an “inferior” (left) hand. But who am I to judge that? In my poorest of opinions, Liszt just preferred a minimalistic “tail” to that phrase to remind us he doesn’t just write pompous musics, but that he is also a master of thinner structures — One might look in the score of his b minor sonata to feast upon the fighting between calm and storm.

Ethical performing is when we perform music honourably. When we research the composer and his intentions, when we leave no stone unturned in our quest to grasp the essence of a composition, and when we are not cutting corners to hide our interpretational ineptitudes.

Ethical performing requires artistic bravery of the highest order and the ones who have it are the artists we admire today.

Some questions remain to be answered though, such as, are the ethical artists, well, totally ethical? Are we all unethical performers to some extent? Would the composer exonerate an unethical performer?

I now know that my opting to play the ending of that phrase in Liszt’s wasn’t a wise choice — it wasn’t by far an honourable performance. I know I tried to conceal my lack of skill. I tried to cheat my way through a piece I wasn’t ready to tackle and in the way I deceived my audiences too. As for John Falgtwich? John Falgtwich is John Falgtwich and can do whatever he wants. He could have played this passage with his pinky, and it was his choice to play it with both hands.

But I’m not Falgtwich — and for that reason, I should have tried my best to play to my capacities.

However, there’s still redemption I suppose. I guess, as long as I teach my pupils to play ethically, one day I will be salvaged.

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Copyright © 30th of June 2021, by Nikos Kokkinis

 

 

I am indebted to the following artists the images of whom I used to create the composite image used in this article:

 THANK YOU:

For more visit the artists’ pages on Unsplash:

Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

What Is Good Pianist in Classical Music

What Is Good Pianist in Classical Music

Reader Discretion is advised

Who’s your favourite pianist? A very common question amongst piano afficionados, wouldn’t you say? When you ask this question to someone, they will mention some of the normal names that come up in the everyday pianistic lists: to all those questioned, all these famous pianists will possess some of the following characteristics:

  1. They will be musical
  2. They will be expressive
  3. They will be virtuosic
  4. They will play a particular composer “amazingly

All those above could make the list of the most desired characteristics of a favorite pianist. But, when it comes to what is considered good pianist in classical music, it depends on who you ask.

 

Audiences

 

Audiences almost invariably, never attest that their favourite classical pianist plays slow music well. They never say, “Oh, I loved the way she played the dotted quavers in the second movement of Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 2.”, or, “he is my favourite pianist because he plays amazingly the andante from Mozart’s Facile sonata” and just stop there.Well, I’m lying — as an eye-wash audiences might mention a slow piece or two their favorite pianist plays to their taste, but they know full well that their favorite pianist is their favorite because she plays like the clappers. She plays fast.

Audiences — i.e. the people who sit and watch a concert, and 95% of them are amateurs (at best) — will often mention slow and lyrical playings, and how they adore the performer’s touch, eloquence, and interpretational hocus-pocus, but they really want nothing to do with it. Inside them they don’t support slow playing at all. Subconsciously to them, a good pianist is the one that plays maniacally fast.

The worst appreciators of music are the audiences! Unfortunately, we have to play to them, even though they know zilch about the pragmatic side of our art and how to appreciate it. I wish we could only play to musicians — some of them are better at understanding what we are trying to do with this massive block of wood with strings we are wrestling every day. However, audiences are very useful because they gullibly pay us their hard-earned cash. So, we have to smile at them, nod our heads at them, listen to their mysterious gibberish often with stone-faced expressions, marvel at their colossal gullibility, and generally suffering a lot just to steal their cash. Go figure.

 

Performers

 

The show continues when it comes to performers. As performers, we think we are self-entitled to know what good pianismand particularly “good pianist”is! We are masters in talking nonsense all day long and can virtuosically hide our titanic musical ineptitudes through our proficiency of eloquent expressions.

See, we are all day long in the company of artistic peers who are equally masters in finding niche ways to describe their nonsensical art, so there’s no surprise there. Words, such as “expressive”, “flair”, “challenged”, and “feelings” occupy massively our everyday vocabulary and are the bread and butter of our artistic quiddity. That means we are extra careful when we express important notions, such as the musical quality of a pianistAs you may have noticed through this website, the use of considerate, graceful expressions that show respect and understanding for our fellow pianists are the kernel of a successful musical career and, dare I say, of good writing.

So, “good pianist” for us performers is, definitely, the one that plays both slow and fast music well. Good pianist is, of course, the one that through his lyrical and precise technique the desires of the composer are revealed. Good pianist for the pianist is the one who is a “pianist” in both mind and body and has the ability to lift the minds of an audience to great heights. Blaah. Just kidding, of course.

Can you spot the pretentiousness? Can you spot the… dare I say, nonsense? You must be out of your mind if you think performers think of anything else other than fast playing! We couldn’t care less about slow movements and Yasashii demeanours — we breathe fastness in our world of false priorities.

You don’t believe me?

Well, show me one pianist that is considered great by only playing slow piano music and has played no fast. Mention just one! You can’t. I know. ( Again, I’m not making any friends with this article).

 Okay. I’m off to practice the Flight of the Bumble Bee.

Copyright © 1st of June 2021, by Nikos Kokkinis

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I am indebted to the following artists the images of whom I used to create the composite image used in this article: This image tries to convey false priorities and meaningful things in life. The reader is invited to choose which of the three images is closer to their idiosyncrasy. THANK YOU:

Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

 Juan Goyache on Unsplash

Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

What Is a Piano Student?

What Is a Piano Student?

Reader discretion is advised.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn the tuba?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn to paint?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn to play the piano?

A: Yes. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn to play the piano of his own free will?

A: Yes. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn to play the piano because his parents made him do it?

A: Yes. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn something else rather than the piano?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who needs to be told what to do in life?

A: No. 

 

Q: Does a piano student go to piano lessons to learn the meaning of life?

A: No. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants an identity mentor rather than a piano teacher?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who seeks for a psychotherapist rather than a piano teacher?

A: No.

 

Q: Does a person who needs phycological treatment seek for a piano teacher?

A: No. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants a piano teacher rather than a counselling mentor?

A: Yes. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants a piano teacher to teach him how to play the keyboard instrument that is called “piano”?

A: Yes. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who seeks for a friend to pour his heart out?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who knows everything about the piano?

A: No. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who knows everything there is in life?

A: No. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who knows what he wants in life?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to know what to vote in the next general election?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to be told what to follow as a career path?

A: No. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to learn to play the piano?

A: Yes. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who wants to know right from wrong?

A: No

 

Q: Is there a science today that can tell us what a piano student really wants?

A: No.

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who will find out about his life through the words of his piano teacher?

A: No. 

 

Q: Is a piano student someone who will find out about his life through the act of playing the piano?

A: Yes.

 

What is a piano student? I wish I knew…

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Copyright © 1st of April 2021 by Nikos Kokkinis

 

Many thanks to the Wonderfull artist Matese Fields for his image used in this article. I downloaded the image from Unsplash.com for free. To see more of this artist’s great images click below:

Online Piano Lessons Setup

Online Piano Lessons Setup

Reader discretion is advised.

 

I feel ashamed. I feel sad and I feel the worst possible piano teacher on Earth — Not that I am not, but that’s another story.

This online lessons charade has taken me by storm — I feel I am currently at my most pompous and self-important mood, living in a most melodramatic stage of my bumpy educational career.

 I haaate online lessons — In case you haven’t noticed, read my previous article

 However, here am I, talking about online piano lessons, following their caprices to the letter, and do them with a massive (albeit fake) smile on my fat face. So massive is my fake smile, that if casting for the movie Batman Begins was to take place today, I sure would be snatching the part of the Joker in a jiffy. 

 But, once again, I digressed…

 So, let me talk about online pianistic equipment. Who would have thought after more that than ten years, I would write another article on pianistic equipment, but this time on the online pianistic equipment — The lowest of the low.

So, here is what I use and what I generally suggest you, the piano teacher, should aim to have in your studio to make this online journey less painful:

 

 SETUP

 

  1. A Good Microphone: A microphone of excellent quality will convey your instructions more clearly to the student. As of the early February 2021, you will be probably having your online lessons with one of the major communication platforms, such as zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc., And that means, you are connecting your microphone to a laptop, or a desktop computer or, (hopefully not) a mobile device, such as a tablet or mobile phone. An external microphone will “offload” the CPU (central processor) of your computer and allow it to work optimally. Here, you need to remember that internal recording sound-cards are not optimised to record with high fidelity. This is the job of an “external” sound card that has been specifically designed to reproduce and receive sound to the highest of qualities — I would strongly recommend that you invest in an external recording device/microphone. For example, an external USB microphone that connects directly to your device, or an external sound card with an extra microphone that it also connects to your device — I use the zoom H6. It is perfect for online lessons. You can do almost anything with it. You can record your playing, you can use it as a sound card and connect to it microphones though XLR, and you can record your live concert to the highest standard. The H6 is also great in the field, in filming, for interviewing and simply on every imaginable live-performance situation. I strongly recommend it.
  2. And talking about computers, you need a Good Computer/Device to make the most of your wonderful microphone. There are zillions of laptops, desktops and tablets around, but only a fraction of them are capable for prime-time. I am not an expert and I couldn’t suggest which is the best computer that will flow naturally with your equipment today, but I go with the flow and I am currently using a MacBook Air. Very good choice and works perfectly well with all cables and bits and pieces. Ideally, however, you would have a desktop computer connected to big external monitor and avoid the laptops and the mobile devices altogether.
  3. A Good Camera: A good camera would compliment the audial side of your studio setup, allowing the students to see in clarity your illustrations. I currently use a Canon M50 DSLR camera connected to my laptop. The advantage of having a DSLR camera, as opposed to a web-camera, is that it can zoom in & out on your fingers, and it can produce HD video that has unparalleled quality compared to any present-day webcam used by consumers. Plus, again, it disengages the internal webcam of your laptop, which is basic, and suited for less demanding applications.
  4. A Good Set of Headphones/Monitors: If you are working with subtle sound nuances though the medium of the internet, you are not in luck, I’m afraid — you would need to hear the piano clearly. Dogs barking, birds chirping and cars passing by do not help in this respect. Through my use of both studio monitors and headphones over the years, I have come to realise that both fit-for-purpose. However, I am currently using the Marshall Major 2 Headphones since I live in a city and the noises of the passing vehicles can be distracting. So, unfortunately, I cannot use my studio monitors and need the headphone ear-pads to seal my ears as much as possible in order to hear my students through their often mediocre recording setups.

Other secondary equipment you might need to compliment the above list:

  1. Α camera tripod to adjust the shooting angles of your playing with greater flexibility. 
  2. A secondary camera to show your fingers from above (placed right above the lid to show your demonstrations up-close). A second camera can also act as a means of simply making your footage more arresting and less rigid — I use my iPhone or my Nikon D340.
  3. A second microphone placed in close proximity to the piano for even higher sound fidelity — In that case, you might opt for a “lavalier” microphone (I use the Rode SmartLav+) on your sternum, so your voice is not picked up too much by the piano mic. For the piano I often use a pair of AKG Perception 100 mics when things get savvy…
  4. Good Lighting: Since the available light is not always sufficient, I would use a spotlight with varied colour temperatures so you can adjust it depending on the season and part of the day — that is, however, when you have windows in your studio, because if you don’t, your lighting conditions cannot be affected, anyway.
  5. Quality cables!

That’s all for now. This I believe is a most basic setup a decent professional piano studio should have.

Now, what about the students and their equipment? Who knows — I care about their equipment and constantly make suggestions, of course, but then again, it’s their life.

Most of the students’ parents prefer to buy a Mercedes and have lessons through their android phone, so good luck to them!

 

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Copyright © 1st of March 2019 by Nikos Kokkinis

 

All images where used from the Wikipedia.com website. Many, many thanks to all contributors the images of whom I used to create the bold composite image above. 

 

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