Friday, October 31, 2008

The Importance of Scales Practice

I am writing this as I am listening to the artistry of the D Major Mozart Piano Concerto, No 26.

In my twenties, I was so fortunate to have had the leisure in my life to study all 27 of them and perform a few. The music is so fantastic – simple, pleasing, yet with an amazing depth of emotion, very true to my core heartfelt emotions.

And I am, once again reminding myself of the importance of scales practice. I am hearing scales and more beautiful scales woven in this piece. Even when practicing scales, the sounds need to be played like pearls, smooth even, exacting and yes, musical.

Just today, one of my students was playing scales and I could feel my hair start to stand up – in Halloween anticipating mood. Let's briefly discuss: "good scales" and "bad scales":

How do bad scales sound? Wow, you mean you never heard bad scales???? The majority of scales I hear unless rehearsed right, are horrendous: Fingers 2 inches above the keys, snapping, slapping down on the keys, harsh, undefined, uncontrolled sound, forced, too loud, too soft, notes missing, unsteady beat, tempo not in control, note definition never considered, over lapping notes, uneven leggiero (even light almost staccato touch), too clumsy and slow; simply ugly, unmusically performed; thumb turns jerked, wrist locked, flat finger scales (I call these: dry your nail polish scales, hot dog fingers,…)

Now, that we more or less defined "the bad", let's take a look at how scales should be performed: Yes, you guessed right, they should sound absolutely fabulous: even in touch, perfect note definition (each note should have an equal sounding duration, the lift of each finger AFTER playing each note, should be clean, not delayed unevenly).

How do you get evenness in fingers as all our fingers are uneven in length, strength and mobility? Since I have relatively small hands, good, solid technique did not come natural and easy; I had to put my mind to it. In my teens, the forever same answer would have been "practice, practice, practice". But there IS a simple answer that works for anyone's hands, large or small:

Try to play with your fingers as little as possible, leave them relaxed, just get them on the right key and then use your arm to depress the key. With good dedicated practice, you will see results coming little by little; effortless, arm floating beautiful and fluid playing is not acquired over night (no, it takes a little – or a lot – of elbow grease – not exactly the "American Dream" – but absolutely worthwhile) – it is so satisfying to sit down and play beautiful scales and you know, that next Mozart Piano Concerto is not that far away and will sound great as scales are mastered.

Good luck

Eva Martin


The importance of correct fingering

Oh, not another day of bad practicing,…. In my Studio.

When are my students going to learn?

How many more grey hairs should I get from bad practice habits?

I often feel like being the bad witch badgering my students: "You must write in the finger numbers! Each note needs to be exactly defined! You must make a definite decision which finger plays which key!"

Mind boggling, that there are teachers who preach that you should NEVER write ANYTHING into the music book. Maybe, I should refer to Alfred Cortot's study series of Chopin's Op 10 and 25 with sets and sets of fingering advice and rhythmic exercises.

Maybe I should refer to Arthurs Schnabels' edition of the Beethoven Sonatas with fingering and practice advice.

It is so simple and clear, if you do not define the fingering pattern, how can you train your muscles to follow the necessary extension / contraction patterns? How can you leave all this work to the spur of the moment? No wonder, the piece is NEVER FLAWLESS! No wonder, there are memory glitches like you know no tomorrow!!!

If we understand that practicing piano is a physical action that requires to place the correct finger on the correct key to play the correct note – now doesn't that logically require a decision of which finger goes where? Correctly!

Maybe I should bring up some comparisons to gymnastics: in each routine every single detail is mapped out, each step, each hand movement; no detail, movement or step is left to the spur of the moment. Why would piano, being a physical, artistic activity be any different?

Excuse me, I just would like to hear great music making in my studio. Not mess up after mess up; maybe I am allergic to wrong notes – or better yet, bad decisions bringing about wrong notes as a logic consequence.

This post was inspired by one of my students leaving her Lecuona book in the Studio – I love Lecuona and started practicing the piece, myself. Needless to say not one single finger number was written in the book. First thing, I started defining the melody laying out the fingering strategy, writing my fingering choices and options into the book. Well, if it could be done, I would practice for my students, but I had already years of practicing 8 hours a day, now it's about sharing the conclusions of my dedication.

Happy Halloween!

Eva Martin Hollaus


Beethoven Sonata Op 27 No 2 “The Moonlight” and Andras Schiff: the lectures Classical and opera Music

Hello all:

What a FABULOUS SITE!!!!,,1943867,00.html


An absolute MUST LISTEN to.


Andras Schiff speaks about every single Beethoven Sonata!


I told my students, if you are planning on playing any Beethoven Sonata or the very famous "Moonlight Sonata" Op 27 No 2, you need to listen to Andras Schiff lecture about it. An eye and ear opener.


However, since most of my students enter events judged by judges who may not be familiar with this lecture, I take a more conventional interpretation over this very unconventional approach. But you see I DO AGREE WITH ANDRAS!!! Suddenly this Sonata MAKES SENSE!!!

I am not giving the secrets away; I would encourage everyone to listen to this lecture series.


When I was studying the first movement of this Sonata, I am sure, EVERYONE does at some point in time, I came to prefer an actual Alla Breve tempo, an actual half note Adagio beat, not as often is interpreted as slowly as possible. On the other hand, I do enjoy a well performed and well thought through extremely slow half note beat, but find that an Alla Breve Adagio half note beat is more accurate. But it really all depends how the artist can make the slow beat work for the movement in itself and then for the entire sonata. I grew up with Friedrich Gulda, Buchbinder and Arrau recordings.


In a nutshell: Teaching this piece, I always suggest a beat that is not to extreme either way and that sounds good with the student playing. We start counting as 4/4 then implement the 2/2. Difficulty of this movement is breathing with the cadences, definite triplet accompanying pattern (broken chords) need to be softer, yet dynamically following the melody and placed into the harmonic frame of melody (RH little finger) and LH bass. A good way of practicing is to play the triplets in block chords, analyze the chords a little to help with the memory.

Recordings I suggest to listen to:

Wilhelm Kempff

Vladimir Ashkenazy


Eva Martin Hollaus

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Hello all and hello to everyone who loves to create piano music:

I decided to name this blog Piano How To, giving many, many helpful hints regarding practicing, playing, performing and preparing performances.

My background is Classical Piano Performance, Coaching, teaching K-12 and Adult, all levels and abilities. I teach a very successful Classical Piano Studio in Perris, CA and am expanding my Piano Studio on the web, sharing my life's dedication with anyone who is interested.

My life's path has taken me from Vienna, Austria (Conservatory of Music) to the USA, playing recitals, accompanying soloists, and participating in International Piano Competitions.

I am often asked: Ms Eva, why are you not concertizing right now? I feel I have a greater value as a teacher, being able to resolve more questions and bring more JOY and HAPPINESS into individual lives by communicating what I have accomplished. All the years of searching for answers HOW TO PLAY PIANO, HOW TO PRACTICE PIANO, HOW TO WORK PIANO TECHNIQUE, what works and what doesn't.

First I always begin with PIANO BASICS. There just is no way around it.
I remember, teaching beginning piano to an adult student. He just could NOT WAIT to get somehow to the end of the book in order to play The Entertainer. He had a the firm belief that no piece was worth while playing or spending time with, until he would be playing The Entertainer. It was difficult making him understand, that even the first note ANYONE ever plays is MUSIC, just by itself. Usually I get this across easily, but somehow, this student was more insisting on quickly skipping through the book. We got through the book in record time. I cannot vouch for the student being able to play each piece note perfect, but at least we started learning what he so much desired. Then, once this piece was more or less out of the way, we could start practicing and working PIANO BASICS.

Many years ago, when I started teaching in the US, I felt it was more important to start PLAYING right away (but correctly) than learning a solid foundation, BEFORE commencing playing.

I still share the same views, just like a baby learns to speak first and read second, I like a similar approach for piano lessons and piano playing.

But teaching 10 years, has taught me, to finally sit down and WRITE DOWN my teaching! It has helped, my students definitely without exception have improved in their piano scales, their chords and arpeggios and through understanding solidly the concepts of TONALITY, their understanding of theory also skyrocketed.

To the best of my ability, I will try to express my conclusions, so they will be available for others.

Good luck to everyone in your journey finding and expressing the enjoyment you have in you through playing the piano. Learn, how to project yourself, your inner feelings into your music.