A New Approach to Playing Piano

      Album Track Descriptions
            Recording Notes


(1)  Three Notes / Three Chords in E
(2)  ( aural sherbet I )
(3)  4 Parts in F
(4)  Pacific
(5)  India
(6)  ( aural sherbet II  )
(7)  Guitar Pick I
(8)  Glass
(9)  ( aural sherbet I )
(10)  A220 in F Minor
(11)  Pulse in G


Track 1)  Three Notes / Three Chords in E    (7:10)
This piece has two sections.  This first part has sort of a Blue Grass texture and is centered on a very simple melody spread among
only three distinct notes.  The second section shifts to E Minor and eventually focuses on a repeated three-chord pattern.
A unique aspect of this piece is the prominent use of middle (Sostenuto) pedal, which can be used to open up and sustain selected notes.
  Before the piece begins, this pedal is employed to open up the dampers on most of the bottom half of the keyboard, including
 the E below middle C which appears relentlessly on the downbeats.  The rest of the keys (most of the ones used here) are not
 sustained.  This creates three effects:

(1) The E on the downbeats sustains, in contrast to most of the other notes being played, which are short.
(2) Periodic low notes, far away from the repeating pattern, can be struck and sustained.
(3) The majority of the keys in the bottom half of the keyboard are open and though they are not struck, they vibrate
sympathetically to the struck notes.  This effect is employed in instruments like the sitar, and creates
a subtle natural drone and hum, which can be mistaken for artificial reverberation.


Track 2)  (sherbet I)    (0:55)
This is one of three short tracks on this collection designed specifically to NOT be Alternating Hands.  The purpose
 is to cleanse the listener's aural pallet.  More about Aural Sherbets can be found below.


Track 3)  Four Parts in F    (15:32)
As the title implies, this track is made of four sections.  It illustrates some of the most unique textures that are possible
 with Alternating Hands.  This piece begins and ends with the most simple motif : 2 notes, an
octave apart.  No pulse or meter is created.  This is an example of the drone sound that can be created with Alternating Hands.
Simple melodic lines are built on this drone, gradually working into a 3/4 meter created by a 3-note line in the left hand.  The principle
section (Part 4) is based on a primary and secondary  melody which are repeated many times, under the same drone
 of the 2 notes from the beginning.  The pulse is created by the melodies.
This section also introduces the concept of a "melodic flam".  In percussion, a "flam" is 2 separate strikes which are so close
together that they sound like a single "fat" strike.   The melody in this section is played primarily in melodic flams: the left hand plays
 the note first, and that is immediately followed by the right hand playing the same note an octave higher.  This emphasizes
 the melodic line without increasing volume.  The sustain pedal is held down for this entire section, which in combination
 with the drone and melodic flams, creates  a sort of cathedral like sound in which the piano at times sounds almost like bells.


Track 4)  Pacific    (10:24)
This is an exploration of physically interweaving the left and right hands while maintaining alternating strikes.  The basic
 pattern is made up of 6 notes.  The left hand handles the lowest and highest notes, while the right hand plays the
 remaining notes in the middle.  This piece starts at full speed, but with most of the notes of the 6-note pattern missing. 
Gradually each of the 6 notes is added until the pattern is full.  Once the pattern is complete the pedal is held
 down to create a smooth and wet texture.  The sustain pedal is removed for the middle section, creating an entirely
 different dry texture, even though most everything else stays the same.  The graceful rise and fall of the music near the
beginning and end mirrors the rise and fall of swells in the ocean.


Track 5)  India    (7:53)
More than any other track in this collection, this piece exploits the sympathetic vibrations of the strings which are not being
struck.  The sustain pedal is held down for most to the time, and that combined with the dissonant Indian influenced harmonies
makes the piano ring out completely.  For the first couple of years playing this piece, invariably at some point I would stop to answer
the phone, because I was sure it was ringing.   I would say to myself  "I may have been fooled before, but this time it really
IS ringing".   The overtones are wonderful.


Track 6)  (sherbet II)    (1:29)
Like Track (2) this track is not Alternating Hands.   The purpose is to cleanse the listener's aural pallet between
pieces.  More about Aural Sherbets can be found below".


Track 7)  Guitar Pick I    (7:54)
Finger picking on guitar can create some energetic and infectious rhythms.  This piece is modeled on one of the
most well known patterns.  The first part sounds like a folk or blue-grass piece that might actually be played on a guitar.
The second part ventures away and although the Guitar Pick rhythm pattern continues, the harmonic content changes.
Much of the wide range of the piano is traveled, and the result is a sound that is quite distant from folk or blue-grass.


Track 8)  Glass    (6:55)
Repeated arpeggios fall naturally from the Alternating Hands approach.  This piece of repeated arpeggios was created
with the minimalist sound of Philip Glass in mind.


Track 9)  (sherbet 1)    (0:55)
Like Track (2) this track is not Alternating Hands.   The purpose is to cleanse the listener's aural pallet between
pieces.  More about Aural Sherbets can be found below.


Track 10)  A220 in F-Minor    (8:28)
The title here references the rhythmic pattern forming the context for the second part of this piece.  There is a section in
"An Introduction To Alternating Hands" which describes the notation used for Alternating Hand rhythms.  In
short, "A220" describes the binary pattern of notes which stand out from the other notes to create the rhythm.
The first part is based on a drone created between two notes with fairly dissonant melodic lines laid on top.
The A220 rhythmic pattern emerges in the 2nd part underneath the drone from the first section.


Track 11)  Pulse In G    (8:26)
Although this has a kind of Boogie Woogie flavor, the physical technique used is completely different.  In Boogie
Woogie the left hand is completely responsible for the rhythm and root harmony.  As with all Alternating Hands
pieces, the rhythmic drive is shared between both hands, even when the pulse falls on one hand.  This is an
experiment is generating a straight groove. It centers on a low G on every beat, creating an unmistakable pulse.
  The alternate sections retain this pulse in the left hand with a moving line which becomes almost a melody.




A Note About "Sherbets for the Ear"

The constant stream of notes of an Alternating Hands piece can sometimes be somewhat "filling"
  to the ears, particularly if the energy and intensity is high.   I discovered that after such a piece I sometimes
 felt like hearing notes that simply ring out and  make use of the rich tones of the piano - something
 that was not at all percussive.  I call these short pieces "Sherbets" because they are analogous to those small
dishes designed to cleanse your palate between courses of a large meal.   This album contains
 8 Alternating Hands pieces and 3 strategically placed Sherbets for the Ear.



A Note About the Recording of this Album

This album is intended to present of a new approach to playing piano - as opposed to being primarily
a presentation of a set of new compositions.  Because it is the general approach itself which is most
important for this recording, I wanted the recording process to be as "normal" as possible.  I did not want
 to use any tricks or effects to make the approach seem more unique sounding than it actually is.

Alternating Hands can sound quite different played on different pianos, so the choice of instrument was critical to
achieving a recording that fairly represents the sound of this approach.  My own piano is a small (5 foot)
1927 Steinert grand which is currently very bright.   Although this accentuates percussiveness and is wonderful
for Alternating Hands, it is not representative of any sort of piano norm.   I went in search of an instrument  which had
 a balance of brightness, sensitivity and power.  After auditioning about a dozen of the finest pianos around I selected a
late model Steinway B (7' grand).  While this is hardly an average piano, it has the balance I was seeking.  Additionally,
if there is a standard of piano sound, it would have to be the Steinway sound.

I also wanted the recording process to be as neutral as possible.  In the past I have generally opted for placing the
microphones fairly close to the hammers.   While this produces an intimate sound, the energy of Alternating Hands is
too much for this arrangement.   We ended up using the following setup:

- The piano was is large room with a high ceiling (not a hall).
- The top was completely removed.  This opened up the sound.
- 2 microphones were placed approximately 6' directly above the strings.
- The microphones used were an AKG 414 and a Neuman T103.

The only post-processing of the sound was a small amount of equalization (+1.5db at 12k, -1.5dat 80).
There is no reverb, echo, or any other effect.   All tracks were recorded in a single session, with the
same microphone setup.

In several of the pieces the piano may sound like it has been altered in some way.  This is not the case - all of the tracks
 were recorded and processed as described above.  A careful listening to the two Sherbets from this session will
 confirm that the recording is more or less normal piano sound.



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