Joe's Blog


November 18, 2020


Singing, enthusiastically, any upcoming ornament, just before I play is
frees my body to execute the ornament in a very clean and clear way.
Whatever it was I captured (more easily) by singing it carried over
into my physical piano playing moments later.  We know how to use our
voice, singing or speaking, to express the shape of a phrase, the
rhythm of a phrase, the emotion of a phrase.  This comes naturally to
us, even if we have the worst singing voice in the world.

This sing-then-play procedure can be extrapolated beyond just
ornaments, and any next note, or coming up notes, chords; to the
feeling of any next empahsis of the beat.  IT is as if we are singing,
identically, twice in a row.  Only in one case, we activate our vocal
cords and in the second case, we activate the piano keys.


In a conversation with my physical trainer – who was a Buddhist monk
in Thailand for ten years, I described the process by which I ask a
student to put their hands on their lap turns their palms upwards,
and close their eyes so that any feelings about what is going on in
the hand is coming from within and is not being compared with what the
eye’s see and measure.  Then for a moment, the student focuses her
awareness on the presence of her fingers, but then suddenly switches
the awareness from the fingers to the ‘spaces’ between the fingers.
And notice, passively, without trying to “do” anything, that over the
next few minutes the fingers seem to float further and further apart
from each other into the spaces between the fingers.  The eyes are
closed so that nothing contradicts this feeling, though what you are
feeling may not tally with the geometrical properties and restrictions
of outward space.  And when the feeling has taken root, when for
instance the pinkie feels inches, feet, even miles away from the
thumbs, then the student is asked to do the following three steps: 1.
remain in the same position and just open the eyes and make sure the
internal feeling in no way alters, now that you are getting a new type
of sensory input from your eyes. 2. gradually float your hands up to
the keyboard – again without altering or losing the internal
sensations you have from the meditation. 3. this is the hardest to
achieve but thrilling in its results: start playing the piano WITHOUT
losing the sensation that has been in your hands, fingers, and bodies
for the last several minutes.  The fingers are still feeling like they
are floating in an invisible space further and further apart from each
other; in no way being forced into any other physical alignment by the
presence of the keys you are activating, and the relationship, in
objective or visible space, of where one key is in relation to another
and therefore of where one finger is in relation to another.

My trainer responded: I see no difference between what you do with
your students and what I did when meditating in my monk’s cell.  I was
amused because I’ve never considered myself any good at meditating.
In fact, I always considered myself a failure at it whenever I would
try it.  There was no end to the thoughts that entered my mind to
replace the previous thought even if I let go of it and let it pass.
So, very pleased with myself that maybe I can meditate, I said to my
friend, my trainer, you and I are like an example of “convergent”
evolution in biology: two organisms not closely related, evolve
independently, to have similar traits.


The only real test if some practice procedure is working is not
whether you are following the procedure correctly, or you have more
technical and physical control over a difficult passage, but whether
using the procedure produces an immediately noticeable change in the
sound quality of your playing: a difference in tone that pleases you,
or a difference in how sounds seem to flow by.  Always sound, and not
the physical movements you are doing to produce the sound.


General procedure. Take a group of notes you want to articulate
cleanly.  With long arcing flexures of the fingers push each note down
in turn, but only to the ‘balance’ or ‘aftertouch’, of the key dip.
Try to do this in the rhythm and tempo of the group of notes.  Then
try to play the group for real.  You will probably notice that the
hammers strike the strings without your doing anything superfluous
that impedes the spontaneous motion of the hammer shank in its
movement in space towards the string.


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