People talk about ‘using the music of Bach’ to accomplish some technical purpose in a perfectly heart-breaking manner. They never seem to think of interpreting Bach, but, rather make of him a kind of technical elevator by means of which they hope to reach some marvellous musical heights. We even hear of the studies of Chopin being perverted in a similarly vicious manner, but Bach, the master of masters, is the greatest sufferer.
It has become a truism to say that technic is only a means to an end, but I very much doubt if this assertion should be accepted without question, suggesting as it does the advisability of studying something that is not music and which is believed at some future time to be capable of being marvellously transformed into an artistic expression. Properly understood, technic is art, and must be studied as much. There should be no technic in music which is not music in itself.
- ‘The Perversion of Studies’ in Great Pianists on Piano Playing. Cooke, James Francis. (1913) p.70
My lesson today followed the pattern that’s been established thus far. I think I went in under-prepared (despite the extra week to practice) and I feel like I didn’t play my best. My teacher seems pleased with my progress and assigned new music and exercises. Second verse, same as the first.
Now that I have a small amount of music that I’m comfortable with, my teacher is starting to get nit-picky about technique and hand position. In the beginning, he pointed out that I had “finger splaying” where I tended to exaggerate my motions when I pressed keys… like I’m the Tennessee Walking Horse of pianists. He assured me that this was something new pianists did to compensate for lack of strength and that if I did my exercises like I was supposed to, this would go away. It mostly has, but it’s been replaced with a new problem.
I tend to play with my hands flat… sort of like I’m typing at a computer keyboard. This is especially prevalent in my ring, middle and first fingers and I do this largely because I’m afraid of hitting keys I don’t mean to. My teacher explained why this is bad and gave me a mini anatomy lesson. He pointed out what muscles were tense and why preserving the curvature of my hand and fingers was important. Easier said than done… any time I start thinking about things like hand position, all ability to actually play piano goes out the window. It’s like flipping a switch and it’s frustrating.
These lessons have all had a largely physical component to them. My teacher has been showing me the rudimentary motions of piano playing… things like wrist motions for phrase shaping and this interesting concept of leading with my elbow when I’m playing scales which has helped a great deal. It’s all incredibly fascinating. In lessons, I keep catching myself just soaking in all this knowledge and then I suddenly think, “Crap! I actually have to apply this! Can you show me that again? I was paying attention… just not the right way.”
This week, I’ve been assigned new material from For Children by Bartok. I’m supposed to do pace drills to fix the hiccups in the Bach… and we’re going to start *gulp* memorizing it. I’ve been given the F major scale to learn, with cadences. The fingerings are different. I may die of brain-melt. And lastly… he added an exercise that a mutual friend of ours calls “The Terror Thirds.” And rightly so…
But you know what they say. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
StockhausenIsMyCat has built a great YouTube playlist of “memorable moments” showcasing various bits of technique at the keyboard. I think I’ll be spending some time here!
Josef Lhevinne, on his book “Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing”, pp. 43-44.
(If you still had any doubts… :-))
- The Piano Blog - Tundras
The ups-and-downs of practicing make for some pretty interesting self-study.
After 15 years away from making music, I inherited my grandma’s piano last fall, and I’ve spent the winter diligently plowing through Clementi sonatinas etc. to redevelop some kind of technique. With that behind me, now I’m finally working on some stuff that is approaching “real” music, but it’s been a struggle.
BUT, yesterday and today I walked away from the piano with this exhilarating feeling that I think I’d almost forgotten. It’s SO rewarding to have the spirit of a piece finally start coming together after putting in the work to get it there. All those triplet scale passages and accompaniment in the Beethoven sonata I’m working on were so boring and stupid while working them out, but now that the tempo’s up I keep having these little thrills as I play. Hopefully the gaps between thrills will get smaller!
I mostly writing this down so that when I hit the opposite end of the practice roller coaster I’ll have something to remind me to keep pressing on!