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How to Keep Your Piano Keys Clean from Viruses?

The current Coronavirus pandemic brings questions to the fore about how to eliminate the spread of infectious and harmful microorganisms in our teaching or practicing spaces. One of the most burning ones is what can be done to sanitize or disinfect piano keys without harming them. Piano manufacturers advise against using any form of alcohol, but what’s the alternative? And during an ongoing pandemic when public health have higher priority than material concerns, do we need to re-evaluate the advice?

This article is updated regularly with the latest advice based on what’s know about Covid-19.
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Occasionally, we all carry viral and bacterial pathogens on our hands, disease-causing organisms that are likely to end up on keyboards. As a consequence, pianos in teaching and practicing spaces, played on by many different people, risk contributing to the spread of diseases.
If teaching, it is obviously a good idea to require effective hand washing or sanitizing before and after anyone plays your piano. But this will not help against, say, any coughing or sneezing that may happen during a lesson. And when faced with a new instrument not knowing who has played it before you – what can you do to sanitize the keyboard before touching it?

Alcohol based disinfectants

The most efficient disinfection would generally be to use some kind of alcohol such as rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol (methylated spirits), but be aware that this could damage the keys. It’s especially risky on an older instrument with ivory keys. But as a matter of fact, both ivory (a natural polymer) and synthetic polymer key surfaces can become discolored or cracked when exposed to alcohol or other harsh chemicals used in disinfectants.

Disinfectant wipes, warm water, or vinegar?

Some piano teachers wipe their piano keyboards with various disinfectants after each student. Is this because they are unaware of the risks of damaging the instrument, or is it that they see no alternative? Or that they have done so for years, and found that the potential health benefits outweigh the potential risks for the instrument?
Some recommend using a solution of water and vinegar, but science is still very scarce on vinegar’s effectiveness as a disinfectant. Clearly, it’s not nearly as effective as chemical products. And you need to allow at least a half-hour of exposure. Also, one would think vinegar a more gentle alternative for ivory keys, but this is not the case. If your keys are plastic, vinegar won’t hurt, but when dealing with ivory, avoid it altogether.
If you want to be really gentle on the keys, you could simply wipe them down with a damp cloth (NB. damp, not wet – nothing spells destruction for a fine instrument like moisture damage). This will not kill viruses and germs but hopefully removes them physically. It’s far less likely to damage the keys than disinfectants, but probably less effective.

The polymer chemist’s approach

John M. Zeigler, Ph.D., a polymer chemist also interested in music, has tackled the problem of disinfecting piano keys safely in his article “Piano Hygiene in the Teaching Studio”. Zeigler found that certain disinfecting wipes (with so-called ‘quaternary ammonium chlorides’ as active ingredients) should be safe for use on piano keyboards, because they contain mostly water and only a very small amount of the disinfectant. Nevertheless, he recommends wiping with a damp cloth afterward to remove disinfectant residues. He also issues a word of warning: Unless you can understand the nature, chemical reactivity and purpose of the label ingredients for a cleaning product, avoid using it on your piano.
Don’t forget to wash your hands!

New recommendations from PTG

Piano Technicians Guilds has recently published the document “Covid-19 and Piano Care”.
Their general recommendations are:

  • Use alcohol-based disinfectants, do not use bleach-based disinfectants or any product containing citrus.
  • If using a spray or liquid bottle, use a disposable towel like WYPALL L30. Put the disinfectant on the towel and not the piano.
  • After use, immediately put the towel or disinfectant hand wipe in the trash and wash your hands as the CDC recommends. Do not use reusable towels or cloths which could spread germs to your kit or the next customer.
  • Always follow up with a dry towel and never leave any liquids on the piano or keys.

What about coronavirus specifically?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives, on their page Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) > Clean & Disinfect, the following advice that can be relevant for disinfection, not considering possible harm on musical instruments:

“Current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.”

“For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.”

To summarize

It’s not as easy as you might think to find a quick, effective way to disinfect or sanitize the keyboard, which is also completely safe for the piano keys. At the end of the day, the best recommendation would probably still be for everyone to wash or sanitize their hands carefully, both before and after playing, since it’s unlikely that any keyboard will be 100% virus-free. While playing, avoid touching your face, picking up your phone, etc. Add to this a wipe down the keys with a simple damp cloth before and after every playing session.

For a more thorough disinfection of the keyboard, you could go about like this:
1. Wipe the keys with a cloth dipped in a solution of soap and warm water and wrung out well.
2. Remove soap residue with a damp cloth.
3. Use some kind of trusted disinfectant with a low concentration of the active ingredient.
4. Leave disinfectant residue for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes before removing it with a damp cloth.


Links and resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) > Clean & Disinfect

BBC Future: Covid-19: How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces?

BBC News: Coronavirus: How to clean your smartphone safely
(Gives a hint about how effective soap and water is on coronavirus.)

Steinway Los Angeles recommends 70% alcohol to clean the keys.

Steinway & Sons main Facebook page recommends hydrogen peroxide.

“Piano Hygiene in the Teaching Studio” by polymer chemist John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.

As user ardith in Piano Forum points out, it is difficult to get a clear answer about what chemicals to use.
Do disinfectant chemicals such as isopropanol damage piano keys?


Related reading:

Coronavirus Etude – A New Viral Piano Piece
A classic viral piano piece, “Dusting the Piano” has finally got a follow-up. While Dusting the Piano should be managable for players of ABRSM grade 1 and suitable for performances during less critical times, the new Coronavirus Etude is more complex (around ABRSM grade 5) and aimed to be more effective against viruses.


Reader question:

How do you keep your piano keys clean?
Please post your reply below!


/david

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The World of Piano Competitions – issue 1 2020

As a collaborating partner Piano Street is proud to present the third issue of The World of Piano Competitions, a new magazine initiated by PIANIST Magazine (Netherlands and Germany) and its Editor-in-Chief Eric Schoones. Here we get a rich insight into the world of international piano competitions through the eyes of its producers and participants.

Click cover to download:

Contributing Editors: Mark Ainley, Gustav Alink (Alink-Argerich Foundation), Patrick Jovell (Piano Street), Rudy Tambuyser

Free download!

Piano Street is happy to share the third issue of WOPC with our readers free of charge: The-World-of-Piano-Competitions-issue-1-2020.pdf

Content

Gustav Alink reports
Paderewski Competition, Bydgoszcz
Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition, Paris
Bartók World Competition, Budapest
The International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn

Interviews
Claire Huangci & Gerrit Glaner on Paris Play-Direct Academy
Gilles Ledure, Queen Elisabeth Competition
A conductor’s view: Gilbert Varga
A technician’s view: Peter Head, Maene Piano’s
Rob Hilberink, Liszt Competition Utrecht
A teacher’s view: Rena Shereshevskaya
A director’s view: Adam Gatehouse

In Profile

International Edvard Grieg Piano Competition
Bechstein-Bruckner Competition
Concours International Piano Val de Travers-Neuchâtel
ARD International Music Competition
Santa Cecilia International Competition
The International Schubert-Competition Dortmund
International Franz Schubert and Modern Music Competition

Behind the Scenes
Play it safe or commit to being personal?
Florian Riem, Interim Secretary General WFIMC
Virtual Reality at the Chopin Competition


Background

The piano enjoys a tremendous popularity worldwide and has the universal quality to be able to communicate through cultures, history and geographical borders. The value of piano competitions cannot be overestimated in terms of focus on the piano as an instrument and piano playing. The competition industry engages a multiplicity of concerns including hi-end piano manufacturing, media coverage and broadcast, repertoire spotlight and pedagogy, concert and lecture production and not least, career opportunity and exposure for laureates and non-laureates. All this contributes to a richer cultural life and can powerfully promote the aim we all share: to spread the joy and riches of the art of piano playing.

”Piano music, especially live, is incomparable and can be a great source of joy for players and listeners. We all should strive to allow as many people benefit from it as possible. For that, this edition of The World of Piano Competition is an excellent form of encouragement. I hope its message spreads widely! I wish everyone much joy reading it and, later on, attending a concert!”
— Guido Zimmermann, President Steinway & Sons Europe

THE WORLD OF PIANO COMPETITIONS
is published twice a year by PIANIST, as a part of the regular edition, and also worldwide as a separate magazine.

PIANIST (regular edition) is published four times a year in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and Belgium.
www.pianist-magazin.de
www.pianistmagazine.nl


/nilsjohan

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Piano News on Instagram

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/nilsjohan

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The Thelonious Monk Journey – Interview with pianist Jed Distler

Fearless Monk is an album completely dedicated to compositions of the great jazz icon Thelonious Monk by pianist Jed Distler, whose insights as classical music critic have been held in high regard by both musicians and fellow writers for decades.

It’s easy to get the notion that American pianist Jed Distler is everywhere. Called by the New York Times; ”a witty, genial and adventurous pianist and composer”, Distler has premiered works by Frederic Rzewski, Lois V Vierk, Wendy Mae Chambers, Simeon ten Holt to name a few. He also launched a project with all the songs of the jazz icon Thelonious Monk in a unique concert and has also conceived ”100 Portraits for Virgil”, the first complete performance of all the Virgil Thomson piano portraits in a one-day multimedia festival. We also know Jed Distler as an ardent radio host and producer at ”Between the Keys” at WWFM.org.

At the last fall edition of Cremona Music, Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell was happy not only to hear Distler perform from his Thelonious Monk album ”Fearless Monk: 29 Songs by Thelonious Monk”, but also to sit down and talk to the multifaceted musician.

Piano Street: Jed, you have a background in jazz and contemporary classical music and as a composer. You were asked by legend Bill Evans to transcribe his solos for publication and you also produced a book with Art Tatum transcriptions. So when approaching Thelonious Monk’s material, which was the driving force in you; the pianist, composer or the transcriber?

Jed Distler: That’s a great question. Let me give you a little context: The Evans and Tatum books were straightforward, note-for-note transcriptions taken from recordings, as accurately as I possibly could do them at the time. When I transcribed Evans’ solos for French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s 1997 release Conversations with Bill Evans, it was a mixture of straight ahead transcriptions with selections that used Bill’s voicings, yet were more freely edited in terms of structure and duration. In that case, my experience as an arranger was just as important to my transcribing skills.
By contrast, I did NO transcribing whatsoever for my Monk project, although I do retain Monk’s original voicings in certain instances, albeit as the basis to embellish or embroider with my own material, such as in Locomotive or Coming on the Hudson.
So what was the driving force? Overall, the composer in me, in terms of the big picture (pacing, running order, etc.). Yet each song on the CD and in my performances hopefully showcase a different side of me. For the most part I’d say that the composer in me dominates, or, more accurately composer/arranger, certainly in the songs where there is no improvising in the traditional “theme and variation” template. Within these, I might improvise embellishments differently each time, but the basic structure is notated, or, at the very least, fully formed in my little brain.

PS: Since you completed your Monk project in 2012 it has taken you all over the world for performances. However, your way into Thelonious Monk´s music and playing style has not been straight or born from an ambition to absorb and imitate the artist. Can you tell us about your fascinating journey?

JD: When I was 14, a friend and I spontaneously went into New York City, and went to the Village Vanguard purely by chance, no planning at all. It happened that Thelonious Monk was performing. I only knew Monk’s music casually from a few recordings, and they had not particularly impressed me. We descending the Vanguard’s staircase. My only memory of Monk’s playing that night was that he seemed diffident, uninvolved, plunking a few notes here and there. It basically went in one ear and out the other. The following year, however, I heard his earliest trio recordings for the Prestige label, and I loved them right away. I never aspired to play like Monk, but many aspects of his composing and pianism intrigued me, and still do.
I definitely went about my Monk project looking for ways to reimagine each song, although, in certain cases, I do play them pretty close to how he did. However, I certainly did LEARN each Monk composition “straight” before I went about arranging, or, more accurately, “de-ranging” it!

Thelonious Monk

PS: Can you tell us about the journey?

JD: Back in 2011 my first wife died after a long illness. During her last months, I thought about how I would continue on, trying to reinvent my personal and musical life. I deliberately regressed, growing my hair, traveling, and, most importantly, going back to my youthful roots in jazz, which I had never really done in public since focusing on contemporary classical music as both performer and composer. I started sitting in at local jam sessions to see if I could still play jazz. To my surprise, I could hold my own, but what was coming out was not the usual derivative “fake Bill Evans, fake Oscar Peterson, fake… well everybody” of my past.
Instead, I seemed to be merging jazz song structures and jazz time keeping with my own compositional voice. It felt great and sounded fresh, at least to me! So I decided that I needed to make a big artistic statement as a performer that would get attention, after those last few years of enforced retreat. I remembered a three-CD set by Alexander von Schlippenbach called Monk’s Casino, where he and his musicians basically played Monk’s complete songs. I thought to myself, why don’t I play the complete Monk in a single solo piano concert?

PS: So, how did you approach the material?

JD: I started working on a few songs, and gradually I began putting my arrangements together as a continuous entity, where one song flowed into the next, with one intermission. I didn’t improvise on each and every song, of course. Some songs lasted but a few seconds, but that would buy me time to stretch out and improvise on certain songs where I thought it would be nice to do so, such as Blue Monk and I Mean You. In one instance, I took (I think) six blues “heads” and I simply played each one straight at a fast tempo, once or twice through, connecting them in medley style. That took care of six “songs” in a couple of minutes!

PS: How did you work while in recording the album?

JD: For recording my Monk interpretations, however, producer Virko Baley wanted to approach my project a different way. Rather than think about reproducing my complete Monk evening as I’ve done it in concert, he suggested that I record each song individually, although certain “medleys” were retained. In the process, I spontaneously rethought my approach to certain compositions. Most of them amount to short arrangements, almost like bagatelles, although there are a few vehicles for more extended improvisation. We wound up with a good two and a half hours of music, from which Virko asked my to select around 77 minutes worth for a single CD; the remainder we could offer as download extras.
So not only did I select my particular favorites, but I also put a lot of thought into running order, amount of time between selections, and so forth; in other words, creating a smaller version of my Monk program, and with a different overall trajectory. I performed this smaller version for a High Definition live concert webcast from Las Vegas as an adjunct to the studio recording (which also took place at Doc Rando Hall at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas), albeit with a few additions and re-orderings.

PS: I guess this has created an opportunity to create different sized concert programs.

JD: Yes, so now when I perform my solo Monk program, I have several options: either all the songs, or half of them but often in longer renditions… it still adds up to 90 minutes of music onstage. Or in a recital, I might include a twenty minute Monk group alongside contemporary classical selections.
Although my interpretations speak for themselves, if you check out my Fearless Monk CD, my booklet essay describes them in detail. Some pieces are specific stylizations: for example, I treat Monk’s “Reflections” in the manner of a loping swing ballad in the manner of pianist Ellis Larkins, while “Brilliant Corners” is all brooding left hand tremolos and the melody slowly sung out in the manner of one of the darker Shostakovich Preludes. On the other hand, “Criss-Cross” imitates no one, it’s pure Jed Distler abstraction! “Let’s Cool One” is transformed into a silly children’s television theme that quickly materializes into some frighteningly intense counterpoint. I impart very different characters to three blues selections: “Misterioso” is all polyrhythmic counterpoint, “Blue Monk” maintains a basic shuffle rhythm against lots of quirky syncopations, while “Straight, No Chaser” is just me letting loose, starting with a single improvised line to which another eventually is added, and the textures slowly fill out and build. In certain ways I’ve used Monk to create my own autobiography at the piano, reflecting my creative life as well as the music that shaped me growing up. Except I’m still growing up at 63!

PS: You are very creative person and we will have a chance to hear more about you as a radio person and critic here on Piano Street in the near future. Which projects are you working on now?

JD: As a pianist, I’m embarking on a cycle where I perform each of Mahler’s symphonies and major works in piano four-hand transcriptions, each symphony with a different collaborator. This should take me around ten years to accomplish, God-willing. I just had a first reading of a new chamber opera called Tools, and my librettist Luigi Ballerini and I are now making revisions and looking for presenters. The big piano composing project is a series of 1,827 Bagatelles of various lengths, with each bagatelle dedicated to a different pianist, composer/pianist, or close colleague. I’ve completed around 400 so far, but the project will be presented complete in 2027, to mark the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s death, hence the 1,827 amount, corresponding to 1827, the year of Beethoven’s death. The pieces can be played separately or together, in any combination, small or large. I consider the Bagatelle project my gift to our piano community, as a way to connect everyone. As I get older I seem to be befriending more and more pianists, composer/pianists, piano mavens, piano connoisseurs, piano concert presenters, piano label producers and piano manufacturers, and I want everyone I meet to get to know and love each other!


Resources

Listen to the album at bandcamp.com:
Fearless Monk: 29 Songs by Thelonious Monk

Jed Distler’s piano piece “Birthday Bagatelle” from 250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven:


/patrick

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News From the Past: Can We Play Like Schubert Did?

Christina Kobb is a Norwegian pianist and researcher, specializing in Viennese fortepiano performance. Her research now focuses on practically reconstructing piano technique from the early romantic era. How did Schubert, Chopin and the other masters manage before the free-arm-technique became the norm?

It was different 100 years before when Mozart was making a world tour as a youngster. Instead of being hunched over the piano crashing one’s weight down upon it, performers were required to sit ramrod straight and keep their arms and elbows at their sides. Most playing was finger-driven with supple wrists that were raised and lowered with great delicacy. Tchaikovsky’s racing octaves, Rachmaninoff‘s gigantic block chords and Liszt’s monumental tonal constructions were notably absent from pieces composed at that time.

Christina Kobb, who is heading up a project to promote 18th-century playing, such as might have been practiced by Mozart, notes that it is easier to play running 16th notes faster. It’s also simpler to play chords more accurately and smoothly. She maintains that pianists should, at the very least, familiarize themselves with the techniques to get better in touch with the thoughts and aspirations of the composers of the time.

Piano Street met up with Christina to talk about her research.

Piano Street: Since we last spoke about 18th century piano playing your continuous research has been dealing with the execution of basic motions in piano playing from the early 19th century. Can you tell us a little bit about your work?

Christina Kobb: In 2008, I began my PhD project on historic performance practices at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. I had already been specializing in historical keyboard instruments for several years, and was eager to understand more about piano playing in the 1820s – one of the most successful decades in the history of the piano! In a quest to find out more about how Beethoven, Schubert, Hummel and other great pianists of the early 19th century may have played, I studied the piano treatises of this time. Penned by leading pianists like Johann Nepomuk Hummel, these pedagogical works offer insights into ideals and preferences for performance. What I did differently than most other researchers, however, is that I focussed on the instructions for basic body posture and arm/finger motions.

PS: Which were your conclusions?

At first, it seems rigid and exaggerated to follow obsolete rules like sitting bolt upright, keeping the elbows close to the body while playing and moving the fingers only from the middle of the finger. Nevertheless, since even my very first attempts produced a much better tone in the fortepiano – and even in the modern piano. In the years since, I have reconstructed the basic piano technique described in Viennese sources of the 1820s and used myself as a lab rat by retraining my body to comply with the old instructions. Most interestingly, though, these changes have also encouraged a change in how I play the music – even how I shape each phrase. To me, this is the most fascinating discovery: How a pianist’s body, hand and finger motions directly translate into sound. Does this mean that I now play exactly like Beethoven? Probably not! However, one might well argue that a piano technique reconstructed from the sources of his day will bring us much closer to the ideals of his time than what any modern piano technique will.

PS: When listening to historical instruments performances, I have a feeling that we forget the professional and social context of the keyboard player. The ”concert pianist” – in the sense that one player is on stage playing works by other composers – isn’t really invented until Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann. Also concert halls were smaller. Which were the requirements for functioning as a pianist performer in the 1820s?

CK: I love this question and your very good point, which I find is asked way too seldom! The problem is, unfortunately, that I do not have a satisfactory answer. But to name a few things – firstly, it would have been unthinkable to play just one instrument. Professional musicians could sing, conduct and play strings and keyboard instruments. Secondly, the theoretic schooling was extremely thorough (in the German-speaking area), and the integration of aural skills a matter of fact. Just think about it, many composers never got to hear their greatest works! Yet, they knew exactly how it sounded and how to orchestrate. Their musical imagination must have been so fine-tuned and highly developed that we, “mere pianists” of today, would probably be regarded amateurs in their eyes. To make it as a pianist composer in the 1820s, you would have to compose pieces in your own unique style, and sell copies of the scores to your fans – who would do their best to play it at home. And to really win the hearts of your audience, you had to show great improvisation skills. It was highly valued to create something for the moment – be it in improvisation or in the rendering of a composition. But sadly, the art (or even attempt!) of touching the listener is often lost in modern music making, even on historical instruments. Personally, I find this loss far greater than missing a few slurs or playing a “wrong” ornament. Lack of emotional depth makes us lose interest in actual listening. It would be both historically correct and of timeless value to re-emphasize touching performances of classical music!

PS: How can ”modern piano playing” benefit from knowledge about old style piano playing?

CK: First of all, playing historical pianos makes us aware of diversity of sound. This is quite an experience, compared to the current “standardized” sound resulting from the Steinway-dominated market. Nevertheless, we all know that a piano can sound strikingly different under two different pairs of hands. How a piano is played is at least as important as how it is built. Pianists nowadays typically play with much weight, passion and brilliance, – qualities encouraged by big concert halls, large sonorous grand pianos and modern repertoire. Nevertheless, the core repertoire of most pianists (and most concert programmes) still tends to be classical and romantic piano works. The intimate feeling often required in these pieces thrives on a lighter touch, elegance of phrasing, exploration of sound colours and softer dynamics. My reconstruction of the old Viennese piano technique offers all of this, and can, to a great extent, be used in modern piano playing as well. Knowing how piano playing once looked like, and what kinds of sound and phrasing it fostered, will enrich interpretation. Performing solo piano works is demanding, and we need all the tools we can get! I do hope that my research can make people aware, once again, of what we have nearly lost, and use it to create more beautiful, more interesting performances. I should also mention that one important bonus of the upright posture required in 19th-century technique is disappearing pain. Unfortunately, many pianists struggle with arm and back pains, and I was no exception. However, a decade of improving my posture seems to have solved the problem completely! Good posture simply allows for more practice without ruining your body.

PS: You have investigated historical piano playing and the development of the piano as an instrument is a consequence of how it was needed to be played. In your opinion, what was gained and lost in our musical conception during the trip from the fortepiano to the modern concert grand?

CK: The question of changes in musical conception is probably the most important question, and the instrument change may only be one indication of the overall change in aesthetics.

I’m afraid we have lost improvisation, and with it, the touch of creation while performing. We have gained standardisation in keyboard building as well as in playing, but sadly, lost delicacy and nuance, as well as clarity of tone and phrase. We might have gained exactness in the metronomic sense, but I’m afraid we have lost rhythmic definition and the ‘speaking qualities’ for which renowned masters of the fortepiano once were known. Intimacy was lost with the big concert halls – volume was gained in the attempt of filling them.

For me, so enthralled by 19th-century music and pianos, I must admit that I feel we have lost more than we have gained. But even so: During all of this, we have really established the piano as a solo instrument as well as the instrument for music lovers all over the world. This is something that Mozart and Beethoven could only have dreamed of! For us pianists, it is a major gain that so much of the music we play is commonly known. And if we really want to, we can bring back the elements that have been lost and bring about a new era of beauty in piano playing. I do think it is possible, even on the modern piano – which I attempt to demonstrate in this video:


PS: Thanks for the conversation and good luck with your continuous work!

CK: You are welcome!

Read more on musicandpractice.org


/nilsjohan

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