Tag: piano teacher

Sometimes Fundamentals Need to Come First

A.B.’s lesson on Thursday 7/25/19 Orientale (Albeniz)

A.B. prefers to “front-load” his practicing. His first consideration in learning a new piece is to decide on all the details: not only fingering, notes and rhythm, but things like crescendos, dynamics, which notes to feature in a phrase front loading, what touch to use on what note, etc., etc..

While there is much to recommend in this sort of approach, especially
when one is a good sight reader, it is a disadvantage when certain
more fundamental things are left unattended. In A.B.’s case the thing
that is most neglected is evenness, whether in the form of evenness of
touch, evenness of sound, evenness of note durations (when they are
supposed to be the same), etc.. For me evenness is in the category of
axioms: things that are given because of their obviousness. They are
not the later theorems that are built on the bedrock of the axioms.

When he puts the end results before the beginning requirements he
becomes frustrated that he cannot properly execute the details as he
has defined them for himself.

His analytical musical brain leads him directly to hear that one detail mars an otherwise perfectly rendered phrase (this reminds me of my mother, may she rest in peace).

The curative for A.B. is the one word mantra “details?”. If he is in the midst of figuring out the fingering for a measure, he should chasten himself by saying out loud “detail”, meaning “not yet” (for pursuing this too early leads to such an uneven playing field that the listener cannot discern any of his musical intentions).

Or, “which note should sound the loudness among these four notes” …
interrupt the thought with “details”, therefore not yet: “I don’t have
to wait very long, but first make sure the notes sound even”.

The same when playing a scale: “how should I connect this one
particular note to the next?” (so it is like all the previous
connections). “Should I start the crescendo on this note of the
phrase or the next?”, “Details!” – not yet. First get the notes even.

For A.B., premature concern with details leads to looking for a purely
physical solution to each problem as he perceives it, with the ear
playing little role in checking the results of these physical actions.  Details cause him to loose the overall impression rather than help complete the later.

What feels even may not sound even; what sounds even may not feel

Here is an example of how to attain evenness in a recalcitrant

In measure 32 the pinky of the left hand is required to hold a note
in the bass, while at the same time playing a scale upwards in the
baritone/tenor range which becomes more and more distant from the
pinky until it is beyond the hand’s span .

Right now he has decided to play the scale with just two fingers (one and two). I suggested he do the scale with just the thumb. It sounds implausible, but it came out perfectly even. I said: can you now, with the added luxury of having two (or more) fingers work with, imitate the effect in sound you just attained with one finger.

The moral is: it is hard to play unevenly a series of notes all with the same finger.

Here is a general example how to get evenness when playing a rhythmic

As you play the figure, convince yourself you are not playing a particular example of a more general version of that rhythm (a certain combination of
different note values), but rather that you are playing the very prototype of that rhythm. That any other conceivable version of this same rhythm, regardless of the pitches involved … and their are an endless number of them … should be a only a copy of the original prototype that you are now playing.

In music, always think of an instance of a rhythm pattern as the model on which any other copy of that rhythm, played any time in past or future, has to be copied. Thus the rhythm as we hear it now  must be a perfect model of that rhythm : an alive and “dynamic” sounding of the rhythm – abstract and specific at the same time.

The rhythm you play now, in the present tense of the artistic flow of
time, is the only one the listener can hear. It must be capable of acting as the only model available to the person of the essence of that rhythm.  From your model flows all other examples of that rhythm. As long as your model is perfect any copies made of it will be OK.

I enhanced this procedure for bringing a rhythm alive (and thereby
capable of reproduction) by pounding the rhythm on his shoulders as he
played. The idea was to leave his playing mechanism no choice but for
the notes to show up at their right times.

I sometimes amplified the pounding by speaking nonsense syllables, as
if I were tracing out or dictating to an actor on stage the dramaturgical curve of the meaning and action of what they are saying.

Further observation – on his fingering:

Joe: A lot of your uncertainty about what finger to use next, or more
basically, what note to play with what finger, may disappear sooner by
memorizing the notes when you first start learning the piece. Your
least fluent playing occurs at the same time when I notice your eyes
going wildly back and forth between the score and your hands.

It is important to pick a doable sized chunk of notes to memorize.
Doing that will ameliorate the difficulty many players have starting
up a piece from a randomly chosen spot in a score.

After memorizing it, see what happens if you play that ‘chunk’ with
your eyes remaining on your hands. When we tried this, the results
were very encouraging. Things were not perfect, but they were
substantially better.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Chopin Etudes Advice

“Chopin Etude in C Major, Op 10, No 1.


The way up:

Use the left hand as a ‘helping hand’ for the right hand, by placing
it under the right elbow. As you get to the pinkie note in the right
hand on the way up (measure 1, 3, etc.), have the left hand raise the
elbow of the right hand in an arc-like motion through space, and then
drop it back down on the keyboard, in such a way that the right hand
thumb makes contact with its next note. This action should be
repeated each time the pinkie is followed by the thumb; every time the
thumb begins another terrace of upwardly directed pitches.

The way down:

As you get to the thumb note on the way down (measure 2, 4, etc.),
have the helping hand lift the right elbow as before, up and over to
place the right pinkie on its next note. This action should be
repeated each time the thumb is followed by the inky; every time the
pinkie begins another terrace of downward directed pitches.


Op 10 / 1 continued: General: Three things:


There is an exaggerated action of the thumb and second finger of the
right hand causing them to move apart from each other – further apart
than they can normally diverge without additional help from the rest
of the hand, such as placing the third finger adjacent to teh second


In conjunction with number one, I allow each finger in the right hand
to make contact with its intended key at the most comfortable location
along the longitudinal axis of that piano key. For instance, given the
current physiognomy of my right hand, I placed the tip of my right
second finger near the lip of the white keys to compensate for a
strange twist that has become more exaggerated as I get older.


On the way ‘up’, I make a movement to the right, after I play the
pinkie, a movement that draws along with it the right thumb,
depositing it near to where the thumb needs to be next. In analogy to
this, on the way ‘down’ (usually in the next measure), the thumb moves
off to the left after it plays its note, which gently brings the
pinkie along with it to the left, to where the pinkie needs to be in
order to begin the next terrace of four descending pitches.

“Chopin Etude in A Minor, Op 10, No 2



My right hand feels awkward in the beginning of measure one (when it
plays the triad c4-e4-a4), especially if I am in any way already
conscious of having to move the right hand upwards from that triad to
to proceed to bf4. I did not notice this discomfort prior to today
when I practiced, but it was clear that it has always been there. I
found an interesting way to get rid of this discomfort. I dissect the
triad into two parts. At first I play just the upper two notes (e4
and a4(. Then almost immediately I tuck in the c4 with the thumb.
This makes it easier for me to transition from the triad to the ascending
notes bf4, b4, c4..

In contrast to this strategy, when the notes start back down, as in
measure 3, instead of first playing the middle and top notes of the
triads, I play the bottom and middle note and then almost immediately
tuck in the top note followed by the descending sixteenths.

“Chopin Etude in C Sharp Minor, Op 10, No 4


In case if I forget to pay attention, try to ensure that the palp of
the finger is the part of the finger that makes contact with each and
every sixteenth note regardless of the finger being used.

The thumb is not aligned with the other fingers in a way that makes it
is easy to have its palp come into contact with the key. I use some
‘stand ins’ for the regular palp. For instance, I can use the side of
the thumb adjacent to the side of the nail (on the right side of the
right thumb and on the left side of the left thumb). This is sort of
OK, but feels less palp-like than if I act as if I can twist the thumb
radially. and make contact with the key with the section of the side
of thumb that runs from the side of the nail to about half way to the
first knuckle.

Apart from to this attention to the palp of the fingers, I find it
useful, for each finger vibrate back and forth along the longitude of
the key, but just with an ambit of a half an inch or so, alternating
being nearer then farther from the fall-board, until after a fraction
of a section the finger settles down on the spot with which depress
the key lever.

`Op 10 / 4: Measure 1, et. al.

When I use a rotational action of the forearm, I tend to classify it
under a very different category of motion. For lack of a better term
I call the category “blob and deflect”. The blob parts means that the
palm of the hand sinks into the white notes of the keyboard further
from the fall board than the lips of the black keys. Once I’ve
established the presence of my entire palm on a continuous, unbroken
segment of the keyboard, I act as if I’m going to rotate the forearm,
but actually do something else. Let’s say it is the right arm and the
rotation is clockwise. I try to make a forearm rotation, but no
matter how strongly I try to make the rotation, all five finger tips
remain fixed in their place of contact with each key. The torque of
the forearm changes from one finger to the next but enough pressure
downwards remains that no finger tip looses its firm contact with its

Blog and deflect is a very powerful and balanced, or stabilized,
motion when we want to change the point of contact of the hand on the
keyboard from the thumb to the pinkie, for the purpose of playing a
very fast sequence series of notes that belong to a portion of scale
or an arpeggio.

I use just such a powerful deflection, anchored by the elbow*, for the
four notoes starting with bs4 (the third note of the measure), the four
notes starting on cs4 (the third sixteenth note of beat 2), et. al. It
is as if a mouse trap has suddenly sprang shut rightwards, the purpose
of the motion being to compress the pinkie against its note without
loosing contact with the notes the other fingers are playing en route
to the pinkie. The rotational motion is counterbalanced by a force
directed downwards.


Op 10 / 4 : measure 1, et. al.

Small rotations can always be treated as if parts of a larger, more
comprehensive rotation, which if allowed to continue would complete a
360 degree motion.

In the previous example the right hand deflected to the right to get,
for instance, from bs4 to e5. But one can widen that motion, whose
center is the second and third fingers adhering to cs5 and ds5, by
having the thumb start the upwards motion from an a4, and have the
pinkie end the rotation not on an e5 but perhaps an f5 or g5, or even
an a5. Rip the hand from left to right to play the series of ascending notes that now cover as much as an octave.

It is useful to demonstrate to the hand what a 360 degree rotational
motion is like. Start with the right palm resting on the keyboard but
facing upwards and the right elbow extending out to the right of the
torso, Then gradually rotate the arm until you execute as close to a
360 degree rotation of the hand as possible so that the palm is again
facing upwards. To do this requires great mobility on the part of the
elbow and the shoulder. The point of this exaggerated motion is that
any smaller rotation executed during the piece breathes the air of
this enlarged motion, making the smaller motion feel less constrained
in its potential of degree of rotation.


Op 10 / 4: measure 3 et. al.

Sometimes changing the order of the notes simplifies the execution of
a group of notes. We can then carry over that feeling of comparative ease into the original order of the notes.

In this measure we have four note groups, starting with this one:
cs5 gs5 e6 a5

Going up to the e6 (with the pinkie) from gs5 (with the second finger)
and then coming back down from e6 to a5 (with the third finger) can be
tricky. This awkwardness disappears if the re-order the notes as
follows: cs5 gs5 a5 e6. One can simplify the physical action even
further by completing the pitch shape, by adding notes after the e6 so
that there is a symmetric descent of pitches. This is done by
playing: cs5 gs5 a5 e6 a5 gs5 cs5. Sort of completing a circle.


Op 10 / 4 : measure 4 et. al.

Broken octaves in the right hand.

A sharp, slight, tremorous, jerking motion of the tip of the elbow
along an arc in space that brings the elbow inwards towards the
abdomen. Though this leftwards motion by the elbow is in the opposite
direction of the intended motion of the pinkie which is rightwards to
the higher note in the broken octave, one action coordinates with and
supports the other. Imagine that there is a pivot point located
midway down the forearm and underneath it, that translates any
leftwards motion by the elbow, and with it the upper half of the
forearm, into rightwards motion on the part of the lower part of the
forearm near the wrist.

This same motion can be used when it is desirable to move the right
pinkie rightwards away from the other fingers including the fourth


Op 10 / 4 : measure 5

Play through the gs2 and as2 but then simply hold onto the as2. Play
the next four notes very fast (fx2 gs2 as2 b2 with fingers 4 3 2 1).
Bring in the right hand chord, printed on beat two, but not where it
is supposed to be (which would be in conjunction with the as2) but
delayed by a sixteenth so that it comes out together with the b2. Do
a similar “mis-coordination” between the hands with four note groups
starting gs2 (the third sixteenth of beat 2), the as2 (the third
sixteenth of beat 3), etc.,

Then run the measure as a whole, always withholding the right hand
chord so that it coincides with the highest pitched note of the four
ascending sixteenths. Then, as an afterthought, restore the right
hand chords to their original position, on the quarter note beats.

Fingers 4, 3, and 2 launch themselves towards the goal of the first
finger, as if the first three notes are trivial grace notes to the
thumb note.


Op 10 / 4 number 4 : m8, et. al. (right hand)

This is a place where I use a procedure which I call “extreme” speed.
It involves playing faster than the fastest I seem to be able to play.
It bypasses, literally hops over, the barrier I encounter when I
gradually speed a passage up, little by little, or by bigger chunks,
until I’m playing as fast as I can. It is at that point that I need
to say to myself: “now play it much faster!” The previous limit I
approached like a curve in math that works its ways towards a vertical
line but never gets there. I seem to get nearer and nearer to the
speed that I have set as a goal, goal but the increments by which I
get nearer to it shrink in size, so I never get to it.

The disadvantage of getting closer and closer method is that the same
muscles are always being called into action, they are just being asked
to flex more rapidly. What if these muscles cannot simply flex faster
and faster? What if muscles that one would never have thought of
using need to come into play? How do I discover what they are? How
do I learn to activate them? We can answer these questions simply by
attaining our limit and then determining by sheer dint of will, to a
good deal faster. I know of no other way to discover this new
arrangement among the muscles unless they are already functioning.

I gave a long distance lesson to a student at the Oberlin Music
Conservatory. It was Op 10 / 8 in F Major. She had to play it in
twenty minutes at her piano class, but she could not get it up to the
suggested quarter note equals 178. I asked her if she had a metronome
with her. She said yes. I said: set it to 220! She said, Joe, if I
can’t play it at 176 how am I supposed to be able to play it at 220?
I said: humor me; just try it. One page into the etude she stopped
and said: Oh, I see what you mean. I said: it is actually easier to
play it at that speed than at the slower 176, because you have
spontaneously engaged, without planning it ahead of time, different
muscles…in fact you had no choice but to do that.

In a few days I will publish the second part of my advice for solving
technical difficulties inn the Chopin Etudes. Please be patient.

* Which may as a result make a spasmodic motion in the general
direction of the torso.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Fusion of the Hands

A.B. playing Albeniz: Orientale


As a general principle the left hand should always be playing with and encouraging the right hand.  When nothing is written for the left hand in a particular measure, then, for practicing purposes, the left hand can either provide notes that support the right hand harmonically, or make gestures as if playing these notes but without sounding them – as long the physical effort involved is tantamount to or greater than the effort that would be made to sound the notes.

In the section where A3 is held and the remaining fingers play a series of parallel triads in inversion, AB’s right hand feels insecure; he says that it doesn’t feel balanced; the fingers feel awkward trying to play the exact notes of the triad. I asked him to play the octave a2-a3 in the left hand, and to re-play with each triad in the right hand.  “Miraculously”, his right hand no longer felt out of balance.  The reason that it is best when both hands are lending mutual support to each other is because we are bilaterally symmetric creatures – our arms and legs are mirror images of each other.

If we interlace the fingers of our two hands and then move our hands conjointly around in space (up and down, sideways, it doesn’t matter), we are no longer automatically conscious of what one hand is doing versus what the other hand is doing. They have lost their individual identities once fused together in a larger, single, natural entity. Starting with this larger unit, we can then farm out assignments to each hand.  There is a ‘pulse’ generated by the center of the body that travels like an electric current down both arms in concert.  This pulse can also cross from arm to arm in analogy to how the optic nerves crisscross on the way from the eyes to the brain.  We should assume, in both cases, that each gains support from the other.

The hands form a unity such that each hand suffers when that unity is broken.


A chord is the same regardless which hand plays it:

In the same section of the piece, where a sequence of parallel triads occur over a held a3, A.B. says that if he uses his right hand to play all three notes of each triad, his ear is more able to be aware of the chord that is formed by the three notes.  I said that ideally, we want to reach a point where what we hear is not dependent in any way on which hand is playing which notes of the chord.  The chord exists as a single sound unit regardless of which notes in the chord are played by the right hand and which by the left hand – it’s always the same chord with the same sound. Physical differences are secondary.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. I am so glad to hear it! Always feel free to respond to blogs with any questions or feedback, it is always welcome.

The Principle of Nested Parentheses

In simplifying algebraic expressions, one starts with the innermost
pair(s) of parentheses, simplifies and reduces it, then works
gradually outwards to the outermost parentheses, i.e. the full

Today, I want to advocate the opposite process for piano
practicing, one that begins, figuratively speaking, with the outermost
parentheses and works inwards until all the details are presented.

A.B. is playing a piece called “Orientale” by Albeniz. We set up our
first, our outermost parentheses, to surround 5, 6 and 7 of the piece.   We left the parentheses empty except for the first chord of measure five
and the first chord of measure seven. Everything in between was omitted. We tried to effect a connection between just these two chord/islands in time, a connection that was crafted to make those two chords in sequence sound musically self sufficient and meaningful. Bear in mind that, as with any good parenthetical statement, the words (notes) inside the curved brackets are of less importance than what lies outside the brackets.

We next subdivided the outermost parenthesis into two two nesting
parentheses. The first nesting parenthesis goes from the beginning of
the fifth measure to the beginning of the sixth measure, the second
from the latter to the beginning of the seventh measure.

Each of the new, nested parentheses is of less importance than the original, surrounding parentheses. Thus the chord at the beginning of measure six is of less importance than either the chord at the beginning of measure five or the chord at the beginning of measure seven. The presence of the sound of the chord at the beginning of measure six should in no way interfere with the way that the chord in measure five connects with the chord in measure seven. This inner chord is not quite trivial, but it is at a different order of magnitude than the other two. This difference in magnitude should be noticeable both in terms of the amount of physical action and exertion used to sound it and in terms of its musical importance.

We continued the process by further dividing each sub-parentheses into
more numerous shorter parentheses. This process continued until, at
the last stage, every note in the original passage is present and
sounding. Gradually all the chords and melody notes appear.* At each
stage the full, or final, picture becomes more and more fleshed
out. The new material added by way of detail is, as in the stage prior
to it, stepped down in terms of the magnitude of physical action and
exertion made to execute it.

In this system the final details, including all the individual notes
in the score which we insert at that last stage are, strangely
enough, the least important. At each stage we discover that we can
make a convincing musical phrase out of just the material constituting
that stage.* Though eventually there will be more notes present, the
notes that are there in each each level sound entire and musical, as
if nothing is being left out – no note or chord missing, each should
note in no way depends for its musical character on any implied notes
we will hear in the future.**

At the final stage, when all the notes are sounding, all the other steps which we have previously enunciated are still “there” in some sense, enriching the overall texture of the passage.

* In one possible stage, we discover, for instance, that playing just the first two of each group of right hand triplet notes, creates its own independent melody without requiring the third note.

** Generally speaking, it is too easy to make connections between two
things that come one right after the other in time. It is their very
proximity that calls our attention to the relation between them. But
who is to say that the current music note in time should not form a
relation with a note that occurs two or more notes later, or later
still. And if there are such medium and long distance relationships,
they are the building blocks of nascently growing organizational
units of the piece until the whole piece is interconnected. As these
units grow longer in time the beginning of the unit is only partially
retained in memory, first as an ‘after image’, and then deeper and
deeper in memory, until they back to mind if they are in some way
reiterated or altered.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How to Tackle Difficult Pieces, Practiced Simply

A.B.’s lesson on 4/3/19 on the first prelude from Book One of the Well Tempered Klavier

Balancing memory with freshness:

Be surprised and delighted with each new chord (which is to say each new measure).  This is to balance out the impregnation of the piece by memory, from having heard and/or played the piece many times.   Instead create a “beginner’s mind” for whom the new chord is fresh, unexpected, and bathed in morning light.  You just don’t know what’s coming.  Memory doesn’t go away but a proportional balance is attained between memory and the unforeseeableness of the future.

The persistence of a single chord through an entire measure:

In this piece it helps that you were formerly an organist, for as long as you hold the keys down on the organ manual the sounds continue unabated, persistently, and without the piano’s ‘decay’.  Hear in your “inner” ear of imagination the five different notes of each measure as a simultaneous ensemble, which continues unbated as a totality from the beginning of the measure to the end of the measure.

A.B. is not satisfied with his control over the evenness of the sounds in a measure:

Take a single measure out of the flow of the piece.  Reiterate the first note of the measure over and over until it “sounds like you want”.  Do this without thinking of the other notes and whether they will match the first note in sonically – in other words this is not yet about evenness between notes).  Then switch to the second note.  Play it ever and over, until, as before, it sounds how you want.  Repeat this procedure for each further note in the measure.  When you play the measure as written you will notice in retrospect that all the notes were even, although you were in no way trying to match them, but instead having each note have its ‘ideal’ sound.  A musician with a  good ear will always be able to tell when a sound has reached a certain ideal perfection, but not through analysis, through an intuitive sense of the sound.

For evenness when one note, occurring between two other notes, is not balanced sound-wise with the others:

In the measure that begins : f2 f3 a3 c4 e4, the c4 was not balanced with the a3 and e4.  I suggested that he hold down the a3 and e4, and while they are being held, repeat c4 over and over.

Another path to evenness: the written notes are part of a larger whole:

In measure one, for example, turn the measure’s notes into a rapid arpeggio that starts, with the highest pitch, e5, descends through the notes of the chord until reaching the bottom note (c4) and without pause re-ascends to the top note.  This creates a more cohesive and integrated motion in your hand.  Once you have this gestalt, you can remain silent during the first part of this arpeggio and start playing in the middle of it, at the note that is supposed sound first in the measure.  Eventually there is no need to pause or mark time for the first half of the arpeggio, it can occur in the inner feelings of the body in just a split second.

Yet another path to evenness:

When a baton twirler causes the baton to make a circle, it is the result of a sequence of different motions all blended together in a one overall fluid motion.  I’m ignorant of the breakdown of those motions, but you can still imagine, yourself as twirling a baton, one cycle every half measure (as the note pattern repeats).

I would sing a sustained line for A.B.:

Sometimes I would sing a sustained melody, one note per measure, starting at the beginning of each measure, made up of the top note of each measure.  Maybe I thought of doing this because I Gounod’s Ave Maria flitted through my mind.  That Gounod may have felt that the Bach begged for a continuous line (adumbrated by Bach made tangible  by Gounod).  The effect that my singing had unconsciously on A.B. was each note of the measure was instinctively made to balance, or fuse sonically, with the sustained note I was singing.

How to bring out the dramatological curve of a piece, even though it was originally played on an instrument of a constant degree of loudness: 

There are not many overtly dramatic moments in the piece that stand out from the monotonous (sic) patterns that repeat every half measure.

And even if we become aware at a certain time of these moments, they will afterwards fade into the background due to the abrasion or erosion of constant playing of the piece.  So  make the most of these moments.

Here is one example.  Chords outlining diminished chords, for instance, happen only a few times in the piece, but each time it does, try to react to the sound of the chord as being jarring, intense, dissonant.  This effect can be gained even without making any change in the loudness of those measures versus the surrounding measures. One can intimate a dramatic curve merely with intent and adumbration in the flow of the notes.

One of my other students, while playing through the Adagio from  Beethoven’s Op 13, came across of a few measures of diminished chords in the passage leading back to the second A section of its ABA form.  She said “diminished chords are ugly”. I said: that’s great, can you make them sound as ugly as possible!

Another example. When an interval of a minor second in the left hand, treat it as an astonishing, unexpected dissonance.

One more example, this time a longer passage:

In the second half of the page there is a long dominant pedal point in the left hand playing g2 (lowest line of bass clef).  As he went from one measure to the next I repeated: “long … long endeavor … never stops … we’re not ‘there’ yet”.

Matching two sounds that are separated in time:

When you play the first half of a measure and get to the highest note, consciously hold its sound in your ear’s memory, so that when you play the same note in the second half of the measure you can match it with the first.

Sometimes a “group” of notes is just one note:

In the last few measures of the prelude, I find that it is not useful to think of groups of four notes, or even two notes, the measures are too ambiguous compared to what has preceded it throughout the piece. My way around this is to play these last measures in “groups of ONE” note.  To promote this I say out loud as i am playing: “One”, “one”, “one” …. “.  Every note bears little allegiance to every other note except when though of in retrospect.

Remember that your pinkie is part of your hand, not a separate appendage:

Often your pinkie seems to be out in right field, detached from the rest of your hand as if it were a separate appendage.  Hold the pinkie in the unity of your whole hand.

Isolating Variables: the sequence of fingers as against the sequence of pitches:

This is in line with what we just said about the pinkie being “held” in the hand.  In measure three A.B. is using fingers 1, 3 then 5 to play g4 d5 and f5.

I asked him to cover the notes g4-a4-b4-c5-d5 with the five fingers of his right hand.  Play it as a cluster and hold it.  And while holding all five notes try to lift the thumb and replay the G, then again while still holding all the notes, raise the third finger and replay the d5, and similarly with the pinkie for f5.  Just focus on an awareness of the identity of which finger you are playing, as if to say “these are the fingers I’m going to use: 1 3 and 5”.  Then use the same fingers but for the written notes (g4 d5 f5).  You hopefully will feel an interesting transference of the awareness of which fingers to use, now mapped onto a different set of fingers.

Isolating Variables: The sensation of evenness as against any physical actions taken to instill evenness, especially when there is a new set of notes:

There is an ’emotional’, a generalized physical sense in the body as a whole, of ‘balance’ among the notes of the keyboard that are played together and in close succession.  As with any feeling, this emotional state can be reproduced at will under different circumstances.  Rather than the details of how to play the next measure evenly, try to reproduce the experience of having this feeling.

This distinction applies to many situations in playing.

For instance: there is the sensation we get of playing an ascending set of pitches.  This feeling can be conjured up even if we are playing a descending set of pitches.  Sometimes doing this is very useful in a Bach fugue to help homogenize two different voices, so that what a second voice is doing does not sound too dissimilar from what a first voice is doing.

Or, a sense of enlarging and getting louder can overlay a series of notes that are getting softer.

Or, a sense of wide space between the fingers in the hand can overlay a passage that involves a series of notes only one half step apart from each other.

Or, the sense of energy that we get from one very dynamic piece or passage from such a piece, and overlaying that feeling of energy onto all passages, slow or fast, loud or soft.

Making a clear connection between two non-adjacent fingers:

There is a measure in the first part where the pianist plays this sequence of notes: b3 c4 e4 g4 c5 … .

Notice that I tapped your fourth finger when you went from your third finger on g4 to the fifth finger on c5, It was meant to show the hand the focus of the ‘connection’ between the fingers playing g4 and c5, more at being located at the connection between the 3rd and 5th fingers.

At another point in the lesson I slid a pencil between his second and fifth finger.  The pencil passed over those two fingers but passed underneath the fingers in between them.  This helped him sense that those two fingers don’t act separately, but more at being the two ends of the plank of a see-saw, and thus the result of one single action.

More about see-saws:

Regardless of what two fingers play one after the other, and regardless of the distance between the notes they play, always an imaginary see-saw plank between the current note’s finger and the next note’s finger.  Add to this image an almost felt, pivot point, midway between the two fingers.  Now pretend you are a very strong person who  can make the two ends of the plank move reciprocally move up and down just by leaning first on one side and then the other side of where the pivot.

Once you are on the second note resulting from the first see-saw, move the see-saw’s location so that it connects this second note with the note that follows it.

To develop the sense of this see-saw, and the ability to relocate it quickly, it may help (using measure one as an example) to do this exercise:

Go back and forth between c4 and e4 (something which I notate as |: c4 e4 :|.  Once that see saw is functioning organically do the same for |: e4 g4 :|, and so on.

Addendum to the previous section:

It is your tendency, when you encounter a problem in a measure, to  just play ahead for quite a long time, and then tend to the problem later.  It is good to balance that tendency out with the ability to not move ahead, maybe only as far as the end of the current measure, and then focus in on tiny details.  Focusing entails a greater degree of  awareness of what is  happening physical and sound-wise, plus  reiterating that tiny detail until it sounds how you want it to sound.

Don’t rob the last note of each measure of its full duration:

A.B. usually tries to rush into the new hand position at the beginning of the next measure.  He feels that he may not have enough time to do it in, and compensates by holding the last note of the current measure a little shorter than the other notes of the measure.  I said “it is always good to try to hold longer whatever note sounds just before a leap, a skip, or a change of hand position.  One can deal with this near the end of the note by continuing to hold it when your hand tells you it is time to let go of it.  There is another way that is just as effective, that is more at being located time-wise at the beginning of the note rather than near the end.  Start the note with the “intention” of holding it longer.

We reached the goal of evenness:

Joe: in general today we have accomplished one of your goals: the sound is now even throughout.  During the attempt to make each note sound clear and close to its ideal sound, you were finding it easier to do this when playing all the notes a little louder than usual.  Often two variables get tied together, “entangled” as it were.  On the hand playing more evenly, on the other playing more loudly.  The latter helps achieve the former, only at some point, you want to separate the  former from depending on the latter.  Once you have effected this separation, the evenness and clear-speaking-ness of each sound, no longer depends on loudness and can occur at any dynamic you choose.

General comment #1:

 Notice that while you tend to try to solve things with specific actions of specific fingers, I almost never suggest a solution that involves the fingers, but relies instead on a more integrated motion of all the parts of the arm from shoulders to hands.

General comment #2:

I think you are evolving from one species of musician into another species: from an organist to a pianist.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *