The Piano Puzzlers book is available in the O’Connor Music Studio library if you’d like to give any a try. Piano Puzzlers as heard on American Public Media’s “Performance Today.” Includes 32 tunes with songs by Gershwin, Berlin, Arlen, Porter, Rodgers, Fats Waller, Lennon & McCartney, and others disguised in the styles of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Janacek, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, and Copland.
Includes an introduction by Fred Child, host of “Performance Today” as well as background info by Bruce Adolphe. “Bruce Adolphe has taken a common musician’s party game and elevated it to high art and truly funny musical slapsticks. The Piano Puzzlers are a unique combination of extraordinary insight into the styles of many composers subtle, expert workmanship and great, great fun!”
If you’re a music geek (like me), I have a program for you. Now, let me be clear, to fully qualify as a music geek…you must have a fond appreciation for classical music (no, Poison, Quiet Riot, and Zepplin do not count as classical music). So, if you’re a “music geek” without an appreciation for classical music…well, I hate to burst your bubble…but, you’re not truly a music geek. Instead, you’re a music appreciator, but not a geek. So, if you just listen to indie music and scowl at anything on a label larger than Matador…don’t bother following the link I’ll provide…the fun will be lost on you…And, you probably won’t have a chance.
Every Wednesday night, on my way home from WNL, I turn on my local NPR station to listen to Piano Puzzlers on Performance Today. It’s absolutely incredible. A pianist/composer (Bruce Adolphe) takes a familiar folk or pop tune and sets it inside a classical masterpiece (or in the style of a particular composer). Sometimes it’s easy…sometimes it’s ridiculously difficult. There are days when I say, “got it” on the first pass. Then there are days when I say, “what the heck?” And, more often than not, I’m able to get either the popular/folk tune or the composer.
This is sad to admit, but there are nights when I’ll slow down on the drive home or sit in the car in the driveway to finish an episode. In fact, I get a little worked up if someone stops me after WNL…as I might miss the beginning of Piano Puzzlers (it usually hits around 8:20pm on our local station).
Take a listen to some of the archives and see if you can figure it out! It’s really cool…but probably only appreciated by music geeks (the kind of people that listen to NPR for their musical programs and not just the snipets of cool indie rock between segments on All Things Considered…which is a great show too).
Many homeowners don’t realize that there are movers available to them who specialize in the transportation and storage of pianos. A piano is a delicate instrument and not something you want to take risks with. By trusting this major job to a piano mover, you can rest easy knowing that one of the most valuable items in your home is being transported with the care it deserves.
But It Weighs 1500 Pounds. How Delicate Can It Be?
This is exactly where many homeowners go wrong. Sure, that piano in your living room is heavy enough to throw out the backs of four or five of your best buddies as you wrestle it out the door and up into the truck, but don’t let that fool you. Despite its bulky appearance, it is also a precision musical instrument with over 1000 moving parts and 200 finely-tuned strings, any number of which can be damaged and require repair if your piano isn’t handled properly in a move.
Your Piano Mover Understands Pianos
These intricate inner workings of a piano are exactly why hiring an expert in piano moving is so important. These professionals understand pianos and moving them, from the safest way to lift and twist a standard upright piano to get it out the door, to how to properly disassemble a grand piano and transport it without causing any damage. And even more importantly, a piano mover understands that when your piano is delivered to your new home, you expect to be able to sit down and play it right away. It’s why many piano movers keep tuners and repairmen on staff, and why the rest will have a trusted list of professionals available on request if you need it.
Each year on May 22 we observe National Buy a Musical Instrument Day. The day is all about playing music. If you are a musician, it might be time for a new instrument. Maybe you can learn to play a second or third one. If you have never played an instrument before, National Buy A Musical Instrument Day might be the motivation you need to start.
• 1655 ~ Bartolomeo Cristofori, Italian instrument maker, inventor of the piano. He was credited with designing the first pianoforte, which he called “the harpsichord that plays soft and loud”.
More information about Cristofori
• 1886 ~ The first practical phonograph, better known as the gramophone, was patented.
• 1920 ~ The Symphony Society of New York presented a concert at the Paris Opera House. It was the first American orchestra to make a European tour.
• 1928 ~ Maynard Ferguson, Canadian jazz trumpeter and bandleader
• 1930 ~ Roberta Peters (Peterman), American soprano, Metropolitan Opera, Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards in Performing Arts in 1997.
• 1931 ~ Ed Cassidy, Drummer
• 1945 ~ June Christy sang with the Stan Kenton band on one of the most famous of all big band hits, Tampico.
• 1951 ~ Jackie (Sigmund) Jackson, Singer with The Jackson Five
• 1956 ~ Gene Vincent and his group, The Blue Caps, recorded Be-Bop-A Lula for Capitol Records in Los Angeles. Interesting note: Vincent had written the tune only three days before he auditioned in a record company talent search that won him first place. The record was rush-released just two days later and became a rock and roll classic.
• 1959 ~ Randy Travis (Traywick), Singer
• 1996 ~ Alanis Morissette started a six-week run at No.1 on the UK album chart with Jagged Little Pill. The record produced six successful singles, including ‘You Oughta Know’, ‘Ironic’, ‘You Learn’, ‘Hand in My Pocket’, and ‘Head over Feet’. Do you have a favorite track from the album?
When it comes to tuning, every piano is different, even two pianos of the same style and make are different, and the humidity of the room makes a big difference, he said.
High humidity causes the sound board to swell, stretching the strings and causing the pitch to go sharp, while low humidity has the opposite effect.
In Minnesota, humidity can easily range from 80 percent in the summertime to 10-15 percent in the winter, if the home doesn’t have a humidifier. Wood-heated homes tend to be especially dry, he said.
“Pianos like it between 40 and 50 percent humidity in the house,” he said.
Even places that are supposedly “climate-controlled,” aren’t always. The heat might get turned down substantially evenings and weekends, for example.
A new piano needs a few weeks to settle into its new home before tuning, Fry said.
“If they get a new piano, generally they call us the day before it gets in the house,” he said. “It should sit in the house a couple weeks just to acclimatize it to its new surroundings … brand new pianos stretch for a while. They go out of tune quicker. The wire stretches and they settle into themselves.”
Some people think they have to let a new, or recently moved older piano, sit six months or a year before it gets tuned. That’s not true, Fry said, but it does need a few weeks.
He recommends that pianos be tuned at least once a year (he tunes his own piano once a year, even though he no longer gives lessons) and the busiest time for him is before the holidays — September through December.
“Piano-tuning is something people can put off,” he said. “We noticed a real drop in tuning when gas got over $3 a gallon. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it did.”
Fry said he is looking for some kind of work to do in the summertime when his other businesses are slow.
He doesn’t give piano or guitar lessons anymore, but does enjoy tuning all types of pianos.
“It takes me a couple of hours. I have time,” Fry said. “I’m going to do the job that I like to do, and do it right.”
The Gershwin family donated the Steinway to the University as part of the George and Ira Gershwin initiative that is focused on research and study of the brothers’ music.
According to Marc Gershwin, George and Ira’s nephew, “I wanted the instrument to be accessible to the students and faculty who would be preserving the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin’s music… I’m delighted that the piano will once again be in regular use [by students and faculty], and am thrilled that it has been restored to performance condition.” [Two other Gershwin Steinways are in museums.]
From what I know of George he would have wanted it this way. Unlike some composers George was a gifted pianist. He had a rich social life and enjoyed playing his music for anyone who would listen.
There’s a lesson in that thought. If you have something valuable, sometimes it becomes more valuable – or at least more appreciated – when people can see it and use it. If you look at the piano as an instrument of technology that is it, then it makes sense that organizations give people access to technology – as well as resources – to do their work.
Founded in Manhattan in 1853, Steinway & Sons is widely considered to be one of the greatest piano makers in the world. Its grand pianos grace the world’s grandest stages and are played by the best pianists.
These are some examples of pedal marks in piano music:
An older style of pedaling. The symbols can be between or below the staves.
This type of pedaling is more commonly used today.
Another type of pedaling
Pedals on a grand piano:
There are two standard foot pedals on the piano: on the left side is the una corda pedal and on the right side is the sustain (damper) pedal.
The middle sostenuto pedal is only standard on the American grand piano, and is very rarely used.
With pedals, the pianist can add resonance and color to the music and thereby bring out its inherent emotion. At the same time, over-pedaling or improper pedaling can drown the listener and the performer in a miasma of overlapping sounds.
This pedal has various names. It is sometimes called the damper pedal (because it lifts all the dampers inside the piano), or the forte pedal (because the result of lifting all the dampers is a fuller sound), or the tre corde pedal (because it allows the three strings of each key to vibrate), or the sustaining pedal (because when you depress it the note will continue to sound even if you take your fingers off the keys).
Damper Pedaling Guidelines
Here are some guidelines pedaling. As with everything in art, they can be ignored under certain circumstances.
Avoid pedaling notes that move in a stepwise or scalar pattern. Adjacent notes are dissonant, and when pedaled, they sound smudged.
Do pedal notes that skip and form a nice harmony.
Change your pedal (i.e., lift it up and put it down again) at each change of harmony.
Avoid pedaling through rests (i.e., silence), at ends of phrases (at which point we would need to breathe and that split second of silence takes care of that), or staccato notes—although this is commonly ignored, because we actually can hear the disconnection through the pedal. This is why we do not depend on the pedal to achieve a beautiful legato.
Keep your heel planted firmly on the floor, and pedal with either toes or the ball of foot, depending on your shoe size.
There are several manipulations possible with the damper pedal, each affecting the sound slightly differently.
For the cleanest sound, the syncopated (or legato) pedal will give you the most control. This is an action where the foot is put down immediately after the note is played. This may take some getting used to, but you can practice it by playing a C scale.
Play C, and then lower the damper pedal.
Hold the pedal down until you are just about ready to play the D.
As the D’s finger goes down, the foot goes up, and then down again immediately after the D is struck.
The sound is clean. Continue up the scale the same way.
As an experiment, try putting the pedal down as you play a note, and notice the difference in the sound. Since the damper pedal lifts all the dampers, when you strike the D, not only are the three strings of that note free to vibrate but so do all the other strings vibrate sympathetically. You have a sound that is full of overtones.
There are times when you will want that effect and so will keep your foot down until the accumulated sound needs to breathe.
You can practice the syncopated pedal away from the piano by sitting on the bench or a chair and lifting your right knee at exactly the same time as your right hand goes down to tap the rising knee. This is the same action at the keyboard. The foot goes up when the hand goes down and then returns to the pedal.
There are half and quarter pedals too, which are used when you don’t want full vibrato. Rather than depressing the pedal all the way down, you lower your foot halfway so that the dampers are lifted only slightly off the strings, without allowing them to vibrate fully.
The quarter pedal gives even just a hint of pedal. It will take a while to feel these various distances on your piano. Also, you will find that each piano has its own pedal feel, which you must get used to before attempting to perform on that instrument.
Then there are times, usually in scale passages, where touches of pedal can be very appealing and then the foot goes up and down rapidly and shallowly, and that is called the “flutter” pedal.
Choosing the Pedaling
The different types of damper pedaling techniques are for you, the pianist, to decide. But what determines which choice you will make?
Two things will control that: your very important ear, and your understanding of the music—the composer and the era in which the music was composed.
Your pedaling approach following the composer’s style depends on your knowledge of what instruments were available during the composer’s lifetime and how the pedal or lack of pedals would have made the music sound. This way, your interpretation will have authenticity.
Position of the Sustain Pedal:
The Sustain Pedal is Played With:
Damper pedal, forte pedal, loud pedal
Effects of the Sustain Pedal:
The sustain pedal allows all of the notes on the piano to resonate after the keys have been lifted, for as long as the pedal is depressed. It creates a legato effect, forcing all of the notes to echo and overlap.
History of the Sustain Pedal:
The sustain pedal was originally operated by hand, and an assistant was required to operate it until the knee lever was created. The creators of the sustain foot pedal are unknown, but it is believed to have been invented around the mid-1700s.
Use of the sustain was uncommon until the Romantic Period, but is now the most commonly used piano pedal.
How the Sustain Pedal Works:
The sustain pedal lifts the dampers off of the strings, allowing them to vibrate until the pedal is released.
Sustain Pedal Marks:
In piano notation, use of the sustain pedal begins with Ped., and ends with a large asterisk.
Variable pedal marks, seen as __/_/__, are placed under notes, and define the precise pattern in which the sustain pedal is depressed and released.
Horizontal lines show when the sustain pedal is depressed.
Diagonal lines indicate a quick, temporary release of the sustain pedal.
Position of the Una Corda Pedal:
The Una Corda is Played With:
Soft pedal, “piano” pedal
Effects of the Una Corda Pedal:
The una corda pedal is used to enhance the timbre of softly played notes, and exaggerate a low volume. The soft pedal should be used with notes that are already played softly, and will not produce the desired effect on louder notes.
History of the Una Corda Pedal:
The una corda was the first mechanism to modify the piano’s sound, and was originally operated by hand. It was invented in 1722 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, and quickly became a standard addition to the piano.
How the Una Corda Pedal Works:
Most treble keys are attached to two or three strings. The una corda shifts the strings so that the hammers only strike one or two of them, creating a softened sound.
Some bass keys are only attached to one string. In this case, the pedal creates a shift so that the hammer strikes on a lesser-used portion of the string.
Una Corda Pedal Marks:
In piano notation, use of the soft pedal begins with the words una corda (meaning “one string”), and is released by the words tre corde (meaning “three strings”).
Interesting Facts About the Una Corda Pedal:
Most upright pianos use a “piano” pedal instead of a true una corda pedal. The piano pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings, preventing them from striking with full force
Position of the Sostenuto Pedal:
Usually the middle pedal, but is often omitted.
The Sostenuto is Played With:
Effects of the Sostenuto Pedal:
The sostenuto pedal allows certain notes to be sustained while other notes on the keyboard are unaffected. It is used by hitting the desired notes, then depressing the pedal. The selected notes will resonate until the pedal is released. This way, sustained notes can be heard alongside notes played with a staccato effect.
History of the Sostenuto Pedal:
The sostenuto pedal was the last addition to the modern piano. Boisselot & Sons first showcased it in 1844, but the pedal didn’t gain popularity until Steinway patented it in 1874. Today, it’s primarily found on American grand pianos, but is not considered a standard addition since it is very rarely used.
How the Sostenuto Pedal Works:
When the sostenuto pedal is depressed, it keeps the dampers off the selected strings, allowing them to resonate while the rest of the keys’ dampers remain down.
Sostenuto Pedal Marks:
In piano music, use of the sostenuto pedal begins with Sost. Ped., and ends with a large asterisk. Notes meant to be sustained are sometimes marked by hollow, diamond-shaped notes, but there are no strict rules for this pedal since it is hardly ever used.
Interesting Facts About the Sostenuto Pedal:
Sostenuto is Italian for “sustaining,” although this incorrectly describes the pedal’s function.
On some pianos, the sostenuto pedal only affects the bass notes.
The middle pedal is sometimes built as a “practice rail” pedal instead of a sostenuto. A practice rail muffles notes with felt dampers, allowing for quiet play.
Sostenuto pedal markings are rarely seen in sheet music, but can be found in the works of Claude Debussy.