Bob Long
 
 
 
Keep On Pedaling
 
The concept of finger pedaling is of great interest to me. When teachers tried to teach me legato playing, I always had trouble getting it. Like I was trying too hard or something. I couldn't get to that beautiful place that legato playing leads to.
 
In recent years, however, I have accidentally started really getting some good legato, or finger pedaling sounds. I call it a "singing" tone. And it starts in my brain, just trying to relax and create the beauty that I hear in my head...with my fingers. For example, take the first two notes of the Chopin Nocture in E flat: B flat to G natural above. I find lately that I am releasing the B flat very slowly, kind of late, and letting it ring or sing while the G is coming down. Does this make any sense? Of course, there is some pedaling in that first measure as well, but the finger pedaling really makes the phrase shine. That is true in much of Chopin, and Schumann. Debussy and all the impressionists lend themselves to this sort of thing, too. Sometimes I do it with Beethoven and Mozart, even Bach, just for variety.
 
I really don't think that finger pedaling and legato are the same thing, since true legato playing involves releasing a note, or notes simultaneously with the note or notes coming down. In finger pedaling, we're actually holding certain notes down, letting them ring harmoniously against the new notes being played.
 
It's fun. I enjoy doing it, and it helps my playing sound more beautiful.

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Bob, what's the best way to get a job playing piano?
 
An easy way to get gigs is to find a place, somebody's beautiful house, a hall, a restaurant, or whatever, and invite prospective buyers to see you. Schedule a night or afternoon well in advance. Invite agents, party planners, and friends (make sure and have a good audience of friends and tell 'em in advance to clap and to just love you to pieces - oddly, the invited guests won't realize that you've stacked the audience). And when you do get that steady gig, invite them there as well. Invite everybody, all the time, to everything.
 
I was playing at the Fishouse West in San Diego, and I heard that they had built a new Hilton a mile away. I wanted the Hilton (more nights, more money, more prestige) so I simply asked the Fishouse people if I could come in one Wednesday night and play for free, because I had some people for whom I wanted to play. That's all that I said. They said sure, and I planned the night big-time. I had a friend who was a limo driver and he was able to get two limos parked by the door, so that it looked like I had some affluent fans. I got pretty, well-dressed girls to sit in front near the piano and act involved and impressed (it was my girlfriend and her friend, by the way), and even the regular patrons got into it - there was just a handful of them. They couldn't tell what was going on, but it appeared to them that something exciting was happening. There were three Hilton executives, and man, was I nervous. But I got the gig and stayed with Hilton for three years. During that time, I got lots of casual gigs, and I met my wife, whom I'm still with. Many more blessings came my way. But boy, was I nervous when I saw the Hilton people walk into the Fishouse that night! This was in the nineties when there "were no gigs." I have repeated this process through the years with similar success.
 
So, to sum up, collect the names and addresses of everyone that you want to invite. Call them two or three weeks ahead. E-mail them, but also phone them a couple of times. Send a snail-mail invitation with a picture of you, more of a flyer, actually, to the really important folks. Make sure and have pictures. Photos, good ones. Not necessarily at the piano either. Have head shots. They already know that you're a pianist. And smile a lot. Both in the photos and live. Most people that hire don't know anything about music. Let me repeat that: Most people who hire don't know anything about music, especially piano music. Some do, but most don't. They hire you because they like you, and they think that their guests will like you. So make sure that you're likable! And look likable in your photos.
 
I never got a gig from an ad. Once or twice, in 20 years I got a gig from my stack of business cards on the piano. I usually got them by word of mouth, or direct conversation with someone on the gig. But I worked a lot as a pianist and my exposure to the public was enormous, so I met a ton of people.
 
I'm speaking in the past tense now, because even though I still have a career, it's in larger venues and more concert/comedy type stuff. But I sure have worked a lot of lounge, corporate, casuals, special events and one-nighters.

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On Memorizing
 
I have to understand the harmony of the piece if I'm going to be safe. Besides that, I can always think linearly as well, i.e. track the order of the phrases. Another "trick" that helps me is: Listen to a recording of me playing the thing from start to finish, and listen to the recording over and over again, picturing as I listen, the hand positions, the structure of the piece, the phrases, and the harmonic content. I'll play it hundreds of times, in the car, in the kitchen, at night as I lay in bed reading. Sometimes not listening too proactively, but just having it on and letting it sink in. Then when I play it without the music, it becomes second nature to know what's coming next.

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Playing Different Volumes With Each Hand
 
I have always been a big fan of Artur Rubinstein. It blows my mind just how soft he could get his left hand to go as it accompanies his right, especially in his recording of the Liszt Consolation #3. I try to get my left hand to go at a whisper like his and it's really hard. Yikes! But one thing that is working for me - when I'm playing my scales and exercises every morning, and I'm locked into a scale or exercise that I know so well that the piano is just about playing itself - is to try different stuff, like varying degrees of staccato or differing the volumes of the hands. I mean the only way we're going to improve on it is to experiment and practice with it. There's no shortcut. Bach is good for it, even easy Bach, because the left hand has to do pretty much everything that the right does. While the left hand is stepping out, the right has to take a side seat for a measure or two. Yes, easy Bach would be a good way to alter the different hands' volumes.

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Have a seat
 
Here's a topic that might interest all piano players. Try experimenting with how high or low you sit at the piano. This has always fascinated me, because years ago when I was playing and singing rock in the clubs, I used to sit up quite high in relation to the keyboard. Now that I am playing more classical and jazz, I find it preferable to sit low. I frequently ask others piano players how high they sit, and the vast majority, especially the singing pianists, sit high. I think that it gives them a feeling of being "on top of things." It's easier to breathe well, project your voice, facial expressions, demeanor and body language when you sit up high, especially if you're surrounded by band members who are standing. But if you are playing solo, of course that is not a consideration. For non-singing pianists, it might be worth a try sitting a little bit lower.
 
When I sit low I seem to have more leverage with the arms. The keyboard is closer to my face and feels more like a "work table" to me. It seems easier to focus my ideas on the keyboard with my mind, and focus visually on my hands. I don't know about you, but one of the many, many things I love about playing the piano is the biomechanics of it. I love the way my fingers are like little hammers, and the way my arms are like levers, I love feeling my shoulders work as I play. So all these mechanical things are easier to focus on when I sit low, looking more directly at my "work table," and not looking down at it from afar. Having said that, however, I must admit that many fine pianists sit rather high, not the least of which is Rubinstein. But look how low Glen Gould sat!
 
There are probably many factors that come into play which determines how one sits at the piano. But I suggest that it might be fun to try different heights. You might discover that the execution of your ideas is easier at a different height of bench. It might change your perspective, broaden your horizons. Best of luck to you in all of your musical endeavors.
 
If there is anything I can do to help you reach you pianistic goals, please write to me via this website. If you are a pianist, and I can help you, I will always make time for you.

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Pianists That I Admire
 
I have had many piano idols during my life, and I'd like to tell you who they are, and what I most admire about them and why.
 
Peter Nero - Here's a man whose love of classical music, as well as swinging jazz, comes through in his lively, sophisticated arrangements. He is exhilarating to listen to. He is enthusiastic!
 
Ralph Sutton - If you like stride piano and early jazz, I strongly exhort you to study this great artist. His every nuance is captivating and delightful! Here is syncopation at it's best!
 
Oscar Peterson - Of course, he is the last word in jazz piano on this planet. To those who are in the know, this man is an immortal legend. He is an incomparable technician. His harmonic ideas are wonderful, and he throws in just enough blues to give it spice. He never goes too far "outside" with his improvisation, and yet he remains unpredictable and interesting. Some of my colleagues say that Peterson sometimes copies from himself, but I would like to point out that so did Michelangelo!
 
Liberace - Speaking only musically now, he delivered refined classical music into millions of average American homes. His recorded selections reflect exquisite taste as well as a light-hearted joie de vivre! What a character! There was so much else going on that people tend to overlook the fact that he was a fine pianist. He played all styles of popular music, imbuing each with his signature embellishments. He loved what he did, and that made us love him, and his music.
 
Jerry Lee Lewis - The average person tends to think of the Killer as a singer. I like to savor his piano playing! At the root of his style is a love of driving boogie-woogie. Decades of glissandos, and rockin' country-chording and vamping, have developed in him a certain "feel" that I find delightful and satisfying.
 
Arthur Rubinstein - Every note he played was golden! Flawless technique, coupled with gentle, sparse pedaling, gave clarity and immense beauty to everything that he played and interpreted.
 
Dinu Lipatti - A perfectly balanced and measured approach, yet highly emotional. He is one of the greatest classical pianists of the 20th Century.
 
Ray Charles - Once I played a piano duet with Ray Charles. It was one of the high points of my life. He could play a standard blues lick and give it a certain "kick" that made it his own. Like some of artists above, his singing and other factors overshadow his piano playing in the mind of the public. But in my mind, for blues and gospel, Ray was tops!
 
I have other favorite pianists, but these are my main ones. We would all do well to study them and their individual approaches to the piano as an instrument.
 
When I consider these, my top players, a couple of things come to mind:
  1. Be yourself. Be inspired by your idols, but don't copy them note for note. Emulate their feel and love of their instrument. But make sure you develop your own feel, based on your own love of your instrument. You have the right to play the piano any way you want. Play it YOUR way!
     
  2. Don't practice stuff you already know. Sure, it's good to run through your repertoire for the purpose of keeping current pieces "alive and kicking," but don't leave it there. All of our favorite piano idols became great by trying new stuff. They were constantly striving, learning, growing. So move forward! Set piano goals, even little ones. You'll be glad you did. Your playing will be fresh and exciting and you'll be enthusiastic about your piano playing.
If you want to consult me on this, or any piano-related topic, please contact me here.

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Like many of you, I love all kinds of music, so the things that I have to say here will be of interest to boogie-woogie players as well as classical and popular pianists of every description. Even though some of us play by ear, and some of us rely on the printed note, we all have a lot in common. We find it exhilarating to play the music that we love. We all have technical challenges to overcome, and we all enjoy sharing our music with others.
 
People often ask me what they can do to help their child or grandchild stay motivated and enthusiastic about their piano lessons. My answer is always the same: Expose them to as many different types of piano music as possible. Take them to hear live pianists in action! And play a variety of piano music at home and in the car. Whether you buy my CDs, or someone else's, be sure to provide them a wide range of piano styles and colors. Something that they hear will light their fire and inspire them! Make sure that they become aware of what the piano is capable of. If you don't, who will?
 
Here's some advice for teachers. Once, I was giving a piano lesson to a famous Hollywood celebrity who now has his own show in Branson, MO. He told me that he was nervous and tense because I kept staring at his hands as he played. So we tried an experiment. I got up and started looking out the window. He relaxed and his playing improved noticeably. As teachers, we feel that we need to watch the student's technique very closely so that we can pinpoint flaws and help make adjustments as needed. But that is not necessary all of the time. Try putting your students at ease by looking out the window, reading something, or just focusing on something else for a while.
 
Now here's some advice for students. If you want to play fast, practice slow. Real slow. Make each note count. I don't care if you're mastering a Liszt etude or jammin' out some Fats Waller. Play as if every single note was vitally important. Polish each and every note as if it were a diamond. Playing fast is the easiest thing in the world. Anybody can play fast. But to play fast and squeaky clean, you must practice slowly.
 
If there is anything that I can do to help you achieve your pianistic goals, contact me here.

 
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