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Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139320
12/03/07 10:47 AM
12/03/07 10:47 AM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 290
Massachusetts
Guy Offline OP
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Massachusetts
A few years before Kenny Werner wrote "Effortless Mastery" he wrote the following essay "Playing For The Right Reasons".

I first heard about Kenny Werner from a recording of a lecture he did for the 1991 International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) annual conference. The lecture was called "Channeling the Music" (the cassette recording might still be available from the IAJE).

Then I learned more about Kenny from my jazz mentor. Bob was one of Kenny's roommates when Kenny was at Berklee in the early 70's. Bob's best comment was that Kenny was one of the hardest working pianists he's ever seen. One year, for New Year's, Kenny had six different gigs in 24 hours.

Kenny wrote this essay for publication in an obscure jazz journal called "Letter from Evans".
------

Playing for the Right Reasons
by Kenny Werner

I played for all the wrong reasons. I played to impress and to manipulate. I played to create self-esteem where there was none. I lived and died by my last solo. These reasons still exist in some part of me today, for the old self doesn't die easily, and I need love and approval as much as the next person.

But today something more sustains me: I play to love and nurture myself, to discover my higher self. I celebrate life when I play, often thinking while the music is going on, that all thanks goes to the spirit that makes this possible. I'm so glad to be one of the ones chosen to carry this message.

Recently, I've become more and more aware of the true purpose of the music and the people who play it: to heal and unite the planet. Music is one of the most tangible manifestations of spirit today. And in a technological world driven by intellect and ego, spirit is a hard thing to comprehend.

At concerts I see people who have come to be entertained and who leave just a little enlightened. It is the widening of the eyes in wonder, the melting of the heart, and the opening of the soul that is the true purpose of the musician. But to be this kind of vehicle, the person playing the music must put his own house in order. He must prepare by emptying himself of personal goals and self will so that the music may fill him and spill out of him again. To be able to let whatever wants to come out to do so -- that's the thing. (You see, such spiritualism is possible, even for an American on a straight salt-and-sugar diet.)

It is a simple path for complicated people. The piano is a mirror that reflects the temperament and spiritual condition of the player. If one witholds love and approval from oneself, then the piano is an unforgiving, complicated machine with too many choices and no owner's manual. The player feels a wave of anxiety just by approaching this instrument. If you could watch him making his approach without the piano in view, you wouldn't know whether he was about to play music or defuse a bomb; the look would be similar.

But when Horowitz plays the instrument and the camera shows him from the shoulders up, he looks like a kindly old man waiting for a bus.

The fact is that if music is approached with commitment to effortlessness over excellence, it is possible through the years to develop an ease that is truly marvelous. I like to say that I have more trouble tying my shoes than making music, and the piano chair (I gave up that bench business a long time ago: too much effort to sit up straight) is the most comfortable chair in the house.

I can remember when this was not so. I would contort my face and body and do any damage that was necessary to squeeze some little extra juice out of the music. Had I not met two people, Madame Chaloff and Juao Assis Brasil, I would have continued down that destructive road.

Madame Chaloff was a legend among music students in Boston. She was supposed to have taught Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock and other luminaries at one time or another. But what she was mainly revered for was some secret mystical approach to playing the piano. I went to Madame Chaloff, a woman in her 80's with the demeanor of an angel. Her golden hair had a halo quality, but I've always been susceptible to those kinds of visions. "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" were two of my favorite movies. But, as all who knew her agree, she was one God-inspired lady.

Until I met Madame, I thought you pushed the music out by the sweat of your brow. I thought that if you didn't practice at least two to seven hours a day, you weren't accomplishing anything. This belief was a major problem for me: I had problems practicing two to seven minutes a day. Music was a burden. And in Boston, where I was studying, the popular saying was, "I gotta take a semester off and get my head together!" The implication was that there was so much material to absorb that one needed to isolate oneself completely and do nothing but woodshed! Of all the material being taught, very little was actually showing up in anyone's playing. Of personal musical expression, there was none at all. But when I heard Madame Chaloff speak of "the secret of playing music" and how it centered around learning to play just one note correctly, I was greatly intrigued. Being basically a lazy person with no discipline whatsoever. I was hearing what sounded a lot more realistic than those hours and hours of practice. But it turned out to be much more difficult (or simple, perhaps?) than I had thought. Her concept of playing a note correctly was to "defy gravity," as she put it. This was to be done with complete effortlessness. The concept baffled me. It made perfect sense in light of her presence, but as soon as I got back to my room, I scratched my head and wondered what had really just taken place.

At the time I met Madame Chaloff, I was hardly ready to surrender to the meditative study of one note. It just seemed beyond me. We worked together for six months and I couldn't get it. Also, Madame was coming from such a high place that she didn't take into account all my neuroses, the head trips that got in the way of effortless concentration.

But this lady was definitely a prophet, a mystic, and a forebearer of my goals in music. Even though I missed the message of Madame Chaloff, it seems the powers that be wanted me to get this thing because they sent not one, but two guides to help. That was pretty amazing when you consider that her point of view is so rare.

A year after my experience with Madame, I had the good fortune to play in Brazil, where I met my second guide, Juao Assis Brasil, brother of the great saxophonist Victor Assis Brasil. He had been a concert pianist. His story was that he was really showing promise as he toured through Europe entering piano competitions when, suddenly, he had a nervous breakdown. Over-achievement (eight hours a day of practicing) had finally taken its toll. They sent him back to Brazil, where he lived with his parents and recuperated. He was in therapy five days a week and was practicing from scratch, just trying to do five minutes at a time of "effortless non-goal-oriented playing" (a phrase that rolls off the lips rather nicely). He had a little exercise: a teacher in Vienna had showed him how to relax completely his arms and fingers and just drop the fingers onto the keyboard, one through five. He talked of effortless piano, but his head wasn't in the clouds, as Madame's was. Because of his own pain, he could relate to mine; he knew that the torture of piano neurosis is mentally damaging and, if not dealt with, physically also. I have since come to believe that it is also the result of a spiritual malady. He was well versed in the ways a person could beat on himself trying to make music. He knew the obsession involved.

One day we were listening to Horowitz play on record. Juao was sitting there conducting in the air and enjoying himself. I was sitting with eyebrows furrowed, obsessively biting my fingernails as I suffered over Horowitz's greatness. I was thinking. Yeah, wow, that's great playing. I feel horrible. I'll never play like that. But wait. If I start practicing now, five hours a day maybe, by the time I'm X years old I'll be able to --- Juao must have been reading my mind, or I was probably much more transparent than I thought, but just at the right moment he startled me by putting his hand on my shoulder and saying, "kind to yourself. Enjoy the music." This was nothing short of a revelation. I instantly relaxed my whole body, which I had been unaware was tense in the first place. I've since realized that I had trouble listening to good music because it hurt so much. Oh, I could listen to the immortals and hang with that OK, but when a contemporary of mine really sounded good, man, that was hard to take. That sense of comparison had blocked me from much beauty. It took me years to detoxify myself of the belief that I had to be the greatest pianist in the world or nothing at all. You really have to avoid listening to a lot of music to believe this fairy tale about yourself.

Juao told me that after his breakdown he had to use the words "be kind to yourself" many times each day. Sometimes, in a fit of expectation, he would have to retreat into the bathroom and with clenched lips repeat to himself over and over, "I must be kind to myself, I must be kind to myself."

At the time I met him he had been practicing this philosophy and the five-finger relaxation exercises for a couple of years. He was able to take it easy on himself mentally while practicing with grace at the piano, and it all blended beautifully. What I observed was a loving, comfortable, and productive person who could now practice for ten hours with more ease than I could for fifteen minutes. He told me that if I practiced five minutes a day of effortless concentration, those five minutes would become ten; ten would become twenty, etc., until I could practice as long as I wanted. This was another revelation. Also, at times, it was hard for me
to believe it. But I realized that my life was dysfunctional because I expected so much from myself. These five minutes a day could reprogram me to focus on whatever I was doing and not about the overall result. I had thought that I was on some sort of timetable that was crucial to my success. But this concept contradicted that.

He had me try an experiment that would convince me once and for all that this was the path for me. He told me not to play anything but the five-finger exercise for no more than five minutes at a time. The exercise, which I have since shown to many people, requires just sitting at the piano, unloading all the excess baggage that you're carrying, and dropping each finger onto the keys. (I have described the exercise in greater detail in my last article for "Organica"). But he wanted me to do this for two weeks. I thought he was insane. Sit at the piano for only five minutes and then walk away? I had to prove my pianisthood every time I sat down. I had to convince everyone of my worth. But he was telling me to release the whole game and relax my mind and body and just sink into the key. I was sure I was going to lose my chops and forget everything. But because it was his home I was living in and because I was greatly influenced by him, I decided to give it a try. It was an uncomfortable feeling, on the one hand, because I felt I was doing nothing at all. But, on the other hand, I had never succeeded at fulfilling any other teacher's practicing requirements.

I finally broke down and played at a party of some friends. When I got there I had no idea what I would sound like, since I had done next to nothing (or so I thought) for five days. Then the miracle happened. My playing had gone through a complete metamorphosis. My sound was totally different, something like Bill Evans' touch. My lines sounded fresh and tasty and very economical. My chords were either completely changed, or they just sounded that way. There was a balance and control in my playing that I seemed to little to do with. It was as if I had swallowed some magic pill that transformed me into perfection. And the tape confirmed it. Right then and there I became a believer and disciple. It's been about fifteen years since that experience and as I continue on that simple path, the freedom and joy continue to grow, and to flow through my life, widening my view of life itself.

As the years have passed, the concept has changed to reflect my experience with it. Now it goes something like this: I am an empty vehicle, ready to be loaded with music which I let flow through me unobstructed so that it may reach its intended parties. The joy I receive more than compensates for the apparent loss of control. I try to stay in a state of gratitude. This I do quite imperfectly, but I try nonetheless, because in that state, the responsibility to play great falls not on me but on God. And just who is God? For me, God is the groove, the wind at my back, the life energy that envelops me and nurtures me if will simply fall into it. Although it's just an earth groove, I can tense it up and shake it off, or I can kick back and let it flow.

What could be easier for a lazy guy like me?

***************
[Kenny Werner lives in New Jersey. He is a pianist/composer who frequently
writes articles on music.]

>From "Letter from Evans", May/June, 1990

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Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139321
12/03/07 12:11 PM
12/03/07 12:11 PM
Joined: Aug 2005
Posts: 18,348
Lexington, Kentucky
Monica K. Offline

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Monica K.  Offline

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Joined: Aug 2005
Posts: 18,348
Lexington, Kentucky
What an inspiring essay! Thanks, Guy! I don't think I could put myself through the "play only the five finger exercise for 5 minutes and nothing else for a week" regime, but I appreciate the point he was trying to make.

Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139322
12/04/07 12:08 AM
12/04/07 12:08 AM
Joined: Mar 2007
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Glendale, Ca.
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Dave Ferris Offline
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Kenny is a monster player and composer.
Any one here interested in learning more about modern
jazz piano today, should check out Kenny's music through his recordings or performances.


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Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139323
12/04/07 01:31 AM
12/04/07 01:31 AM
Joined: May 2004
Posts: 1,864
rintincop Online content
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rintincop  Online Content
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Kenny Werner became a talented pianist at an early age and has suffered from tremendous neurosis throughout his life. Werner has since found some comfort in Siddha Yoga (Meditation) which is a new religious movement that is based in part on Hindu spiritual traditions. According to the organization itself:

The movement's teachings are summarized in 4 aphorisms:[3]

1. Honor your Self, Worship your Self, Meditate on your Self, God dwells within you as you.
2. See God in each other.
3. The heart is the hub of all sacred places; go there and roam.
4. Nothing exists that is not Shiva.


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Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139324
12/04/07 08:32 AM
12/04/07 08:32 AM
Joined: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,192
Torquay, Devon, England
cruiser Offline
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cruiser  Offline
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Guy, thank you for posting this wonderful, inspiring essay for us. I've printed it for future reference smile

cruiser (Mike)


Michael
Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139325
12/04/07 09:02 AM
12/04/07 09:02 AM
Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,674
Spokane WA
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gmm1 Offline
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Spokane WA
Quote
Originally posted by Guy:
The exercise, which I have since shown to many people, requires just sitting at the piano, unloading all the excess baggage that you're carrying, and dropping each finger onto the keys. (I have described the exercise in greater detail in my last article for "Organica").
Hey Guy, I did a google search and could not find this article. Do you have it or know where I could get a copy? Thanks


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139326
12/04/07 09:42 AM
12/04/07 09:42 AM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 290
Massachusetts
Guy Offline OP
Full Member
Guy  Offline OP
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Joined: Oct 2007
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Massachusetts
I'm really sorry...years ago, I tried the same search, but couldn't even find Organica.

Letter From Evans, which was published by a Bill Evans superfan (and bassist) named Win Hinkle, also is long dormant. I contacted him once or twice, because he's a friend of my jazz mentor, but I was disappointed he wanted (as I recall) a pretty hefty fee for reprints of Letter From Evans.

I also toyed with the idea of formally contacting Kenny, but then I thought he's pretty much published a good share of his thoughts in Effortless Mastery. He used to reprint Playing for the Right Reasons on his own website, but since has removed it. I think that's too bad...it's a wonderful essay, and if it helps to sell even one copy of Effortless Mastery (as it did with me), then it should be easily available.

Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139327
12/04/07 10:11 AM
12/04/07 10:11 AM
Joined: Jun 2006
Posts: 1,674
Spokane WA
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gmm1 Offline
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Spokane WA
OK, thanks...Looks like it's off to the book store for me.


"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself." Johann Sebastian Bach/Gyro
Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139328
12/04/07 10:29 AM
12/04/07 10:29 AM
Joined: Jan 2002
Posts: 1,464
Chapel Hill, NC
Stanza Offline
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Chapel Hill, NC
Kenny's "Effortless Mastery" is a great read. It is like a bible for musicians. You don't just read it once. You can return to it repeatedly and find guidance on virutally any page. The above essay is in the book verbatim.


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Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139329
12/04/07 10:42 AM
12/04/07 10:42 AM
Joined: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,192
Torquay, Devon, England
cruiser Offline
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Torquay, Devon, England
Quote
Originally posted by Stanza:
Kenny's "Effortless Mastery" is a great read. It is like a bible for musicians. You don't just read it once. You can return to it repeatedly and find guidance on virutally any page. The above essay is in the book verbatim.
My copy's on its way smile


Michael
Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139330
12/04/07 11:09 AM
12/04/07 11:09 AM
Joined: Nov 2006
Posts: 3,462
Western Canada
Diane... Offline
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Diane...  Offline
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Western Canada
Quote
Originally posted by rintincop:
Kenny Werner became a talented pianist at an early age and has suffered from tremendous neurosis throughout his life. Werner has since found some comfort in Siddha Yoga (Meditation) which is a new religious movement that is based in part on Hindu spiritual traditions. According to the organization itself:

The movement's teachings are summarized in 4 aphorisms:[3]

1. Honor your Self, Worship your Self, Meditate on your Self
Don't think I would sell my soul just to play the piano better! No, I take that back, I wouldn't sell my soul to play the piano better!

Life can be heck, but I'm not sure I want an eternity of it!

Think I'll just continue to celebrate "CHRISTmas"!

Just my take!


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Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139331
12/04/07 12:24 PM
12/04/07 12:24 PM
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Puyallup, Washington
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Betty Patnude Offline
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Puyallup, Washington
Guy,

I find this an incredible essay, not many of us arrive at the spiritual part of making music.

This is the first time I have heard of Kenny Werner, but I'm going to be looking for more of him, and the path to music that he describes here.

I post about removing yourself as the obstacle, (ego), having a quiet mind, and having gratitude when things work well for us as musicians. I am still very much on a path of discovery about making music, but I feel I have made lots of progress in this path, and I'm grateful to have this "knowing" within myself be in my life as well as in my music.

But, this essay, goes so much further. It is many years of 'enlightenment', being transferred from other musicians, as well as developing uniquely in Kenny Werner. I have never met nor read an article with this tone of voice and attribution - the spiritual connection to music.

I want to read in this vein all that I can find. And, I consider it to be part of the veil of what we do not understand. The writings of Wayne Dyer, PhD, are suchlike, in human spiritual development but do not have the vehicle of music specifically as Kenny Werner does.

The peace of mind I feel reading this essay is incredible.

Please don't hesitate to share more!

Betty

Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139332
12/04/07 02:47 PM
12/04/07 02:47 PM
Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 290
Massachusetts
Guy Offline OP
Full Member
Guy  Offline OP
Full Member

Joined: Oct 2007
Posts: 290
Massachusetts
When I was "developing" and striving towards the next level, I caught on to the fact that if I kept the attitude of "I can't" (which was manufactured in my own mind, of course) it was a hindrance. Meeting several "guides" helped me recognize what was going on, including my jazz mentor and a close friend that gave me a tape of Kenny's "Channeling the Music" and told me about a pile of books he found helpful.

In any case -- I haven't heard all of Kenny's recordings (nor have I heard all of Bill Evan's recordings), but I do have one particular favorite: Kenny's volume from the "Live At Maybeck Recital Hall" series, on the Concord Jazz label.

Concord recorded a bunch (I think over 50) of solo piano concerts in this recital hall. I've heard about 5 or 6 of them, and they've all been great.

I'm sure others here will have their favorites.

Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139333
12/04/07 07:32 PM
12/04/07 07:32 PM
Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 7,203
So. California
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So. California
I'm a big Kenny Werner fan and consider him one of my influences. I've been transcribing some of his stuff and mostly the uniqueness of what he plays is rhythmic. The notes are more easily figured out. He is melodic like Keith Jarrett and likes to do outside stuff too although not lately. He likes layering two different melodies together. He has a very nice touch on the piano. Very legato but little pedal. Very hard to emulate.

He has a new album out from Blue Note called "Lawn Chair Society", which he has been heavily promoting.

Some of his spiritual stuff can be kind of far out but his advice on actually doing stuff is very real and instructional. When I attended a master class of his last year, he also pointed out a resource on his website that has videos and music. A lot of it is a video of his master classes and also some recordings of him teaching some students. A lot of good stuff. I subscribed to it for I think $9.95 or something. I don't remember now. It's cheaper than attending a master class.

I saw him perform with a set list based on his "Peace" Album. It was one of the best jazz performances I have ever been too. I like his Copenhagen Calypso album and all his earlier stuff like "Form and Fantasy" and "Introducing the Trio".


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Re: Kenny Werner, "Playing For The Right Reasons" #1139334
12/04/07 07:50 PM
12/04/07 07:50 PM
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Looking for someone to help me in this labyrinth. Believe have already made an "amateur" start. Is anybody out there?


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