the technique of piano playing? WELCOME!




Question 14.

What the technique of playing the piano is all about?

(Lang Lang as the truly good sample…)

  My Friend – X. – asked, "It is often said that technique is developed by each player. So the core is, according to you, what technique is all about? How can it be obtained?"


* My answer: We can go into the good direction using many different ways. One of them, for sample, could be of the kind described below:


1. Let you imagine, please: here, in front of us we see the concrete human being...


2. That concrete human being possesses certain mental and corporal abilities; all of them could be developed and this should happen via various forms of education and training. As the result, the concrete human being would obtain certain skills – mental and corporal as well. All of these skills we can define as the operational devices; they are of the truly sophisticated character, remembering software as well as hardware, too...


3. Our operational devices could not be used in any other way, apart from this accurate one, they were completed for. Look at the sample: swimming skills are rather useless in kitchen, and piano playing skills are rather useless in driving the car.


4. The operational devices' quality could nearly endlessly be improved, still via their persistent and competent usage only (look at the point 3, think about the problem and keep smiling, please!).


5. Competency (or not) of operational devices' usage, thinking about the technique of playing any musical instrument, strictly depends upon artistic needs the concrete person might experience. The real technique, unfortunately, could not be formed if the concrete person does NOT EXPERIENCE any greater artistic need...! The best samples, which could approve this opinion are the jazz musicians, especially these from the past: many of them could even been the "musical analphabets" in the modern understanding of that problem; as well many highly talented folk musicians even cannot read the musical scores, while they do not understand the musical notation. Such limitation yet not obviously must reduce their potentiality of music-making. As well, such samples as Godowski or Hofmann (Josef, originally - Józef) approve above presented opinion in full: having SO MUCH to say and possessing nearly infinite memory, these both masters even did not have to practice a lot; especially Hofmann. To him it was nearly enough to hear or even SEE the piece (sheet music) twice and the appropriate IMAGE of the piece became "ready to work" in his remembrance.


"No wonder Rubinstein [Anton] called him a phenomenon such as the world of music had never before seen. Rosina Lhevinne (1880-1976) loved to tell the story of Hofmann's visit to Tbilisi, where her husband Josef (another all-time great pianist, 1874-1944) was teaching before World War I. They spent the afternoon together. At one point, Lhevinne played a piece that Hofmann did not know. Lhevinne told him it was the Liszt 'Lorelei'. "Play it again, please" said Hofmann. They then had dinner and escorted Hofmann to the concert hall. "He played wonderfully," recollected Rosina. "For his first encore he came out, winked at us, and played 'Lorelei' exactly as my Josef had done."


6. For the best understanding of the very nature of process of obtaining the piano playing technique, one should observe HOW the greatly talented people work and play, and observe as well, HOW practice and try to play they, who actually have truly less talent. The Greatest Talents are used to pay out very less time for THINKING about "how this or that should be done" – they just are READY to do it. Their processors do need as less time to prepare the whole system to the action – that for us all, who represent the standard level of musicality, it seems to be nearly zero.  When the size of talent goes smaller and smaller, so, when the COSCIOUSNESS of the musical object becomes more and more incomplete, proportionally, the musically less talented adepts must start to deliberate "how this or that could be realized" within actually long time.


Polish violinist, Prof. Tadeusz Wronski, who was a member of the Jury of many international violin competitions, in one of his very interesting books (The Problems of Violin Teaching; talented and untalented students. PWM Krakow, 1979) described the way Mr. Charles Treger, the first American violinist who won the Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poznan/Poland, practiced a one of the Caprices of Paganini: at the first time he played the whole piece in a proper tempo, still with incredibly large amount of the false notes; after then he played the same piece much better and in the proper concert tempo. For the third time he played the whole piece with crystal-clear intonation, freely and putting in it the truly marvelous emotion. The whole process took less than the half of an hour.


7. To them, who are gifted poorly, belongs the lazy finger syndrome. Only teaching the deeply ungifted piano adepts one could understand at last, where such syndrome could come from: it becomes indisputably apparent in the very short time that the lazy finger syndrome is exclusively caused by inactive hearing, slow thinking and poor imaging. Having nothing to offer to the fingers, one becomes fully disabled for any efficient instrumental action. 


Everybody could do such simple test: let you take a pencil and ask your hand to write down the proper result: 2 + 5 = .....! For how long time you must wait for adequate result? For small part of a second, I suppose.


But now: 23.599,7 x 16.834,2 = .....! And what? Wow, our hand becomes stiff and the fingers become non-working at all. Why such problems suddenly have occurred? Such count is still trouble-free to them, who mathematically are highly gifted. Let you have a look at fascinating book of Prof. Sylvia Nasar! Reading A Beautiful Mind one could found much more information that would enlighten his understanding of real possibilities and impossibilities in music, too; maybe even more, than after reading several books "professionally" clarifying the problems related to very old question: how to teach the piano efficiently?


8. Believe me, please: in certain kind of musical internal inactivity, even most simple melody causes the actually big piano instrumental problem. The FINGERS become non-working in the full extend. Getting NO PROPER SIGNALS from the brains, the fingers become unable to realize even one sole rational motion. All the possible intermediary forms of the matter would happened on the exactly same basis: more musicality = less piano instrumental problems; less musicality = more interest in purely technical solutions.


However the majority of teachers and students strongly believe in possibility to obtain the virtuoso-like instrumental technique just working, working and working in strong, stronger, strongest way, I would rather like to say that NOT ONLY duration and intensity of practicing decide the final quality of playing. Of course, in certain period of their life, many future masters have practiced in uncommonly huge extend. For instance, Paderewski before his first American tour practiced for 17 hours daily. The same has happened to Arthur Rubinstein. Young Liszt worked extremely strongly as well. One must take into consideration yet, WHO worked in such a style...? They did not become Liszt or Paderewski, or Paganini, Hofmann, Horowitz, Lang Lang – BECAUSE they practiced so much. They WERE just Great and they MUST work on their instrumental technique, because the things they wanted to EXPRESS, forced them to such uncommon attempt.


That is how I see the problem of "the technique that is developed by the each one player".


9. Within the time of my autumn master-classes in Poland (2005), I experienced the real shock: I saw and heard the DVD containing recorded recital given by Mr. Lang Lang in Carnegie Hall (2004; live recording)! Wow! Such natural, beautiful, full-bodied piano playing I have never heard before! As I suppose, his piano talent could remember the genius of Franz Liszt only. Observing his incomparably great art, I have – nearly – got an illumination...


 Lang Lang - Chinese pianist, born in 1982 in Shen Yang, China; he began studying piano at the age of three and won the first of numerous awards at age of five. He studied in China in the China Central Music Conservatory by Prof. Zhao Ping-Guo. In 1995 he won first prize in the 2nd Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians Competition in Japan. In 1997 he started his studies in Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia by Prof. Gary Graffman. Mr. Lang Lang played with such great orchestras as London Philharmonic, NHK Symphony, NDR Symphony Hamburg, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Houston Symphony and many, many others.


Attention, please: I am actually speaking about Mr. Lang Lang's playing recorded in 2004, so - after his studies in Philadelphia. Just for a while I listened to his recordings available in Internet and I have to say that these mp3 present a pianist who is light years afar from the Liberated Master named Lang Lang, who appeared in 2004 in the Carnegie Hall and offered such jewel as Wanderer Fantasie of Schubert...! We do not even must speak about his interpretation of the Liszt's Réminiscences de Don Juan (Don Juan Fantasy)! The most interesting in the matter yet, is to me the Lang Lang's incomparably great artistic growth...!

This sounds very optimistically: development is possible!


10. Apart from Mr. Lang Lang's perfectly tuned hearing, apart from his fantasy that suggests him such surprisingly beautiful musical solutions fulfilled with genuine musical and human wisdom, we should not disregard the level of his neuromuscular reactivity and of his physical and SPIRITUAL elasticity, which give him entirely phenomenal potential to DO anything he might want to do on the piano. Consequently, thinking about the problem from the pedagogical point of view: we SHOULD seriously work and definitely improve our own neuromuscular reactivity as well, as our mental and corporeal elasticity.


11. Having today NOT such unique skills and abilities as Mr. Lang Lang got from the Nature and developed within years of professionally well-oriented work, we still can go forward AFTER him and try to use his great sample as a "traffic sign" to our work. We should, of course, practice using much slower tempos than he does. Especially, playing in the very slow tempo, we could try to accelerate the fingers' motion up to borders of our possibility, still persistently WATCHING for the perfect physical comfort, smoothness and precision of acting. The fingers' energy should be placed in the proper level of the keyboard's depth, if needed – with very great speed, if not – much slower, but always absolutely freely and without any shadow of brutality. The time the finger could rest after just realized sound should become truly much longer then it formerly, habitually happened. Of course, the finger's energy should NOT become just simply thrown down: it should be virtually rounded up and virtually, come back to our use again. As I think, some additional valuable comments could be found under this link, too.


12. To become ready for such experiments we should persistently remember: one cannot be able to properly use the weight and energy of his fingers and hands up to the moment, he would get the ACTUALLY full awareness and certainty of the artistic purpose, which elements – according to his deepest will – should be carried forward by the each one produced sound as its real content. As long the pianist (violinist, singer, percussionist, etc.) is not fully convinced how factually looks alike the artistically valuable THOUGHT, he has been born to proclaim it to all the countries and nations worldwide..., he must suffer from many afflictions and to a lot of ways.


Focusing the interests of all of them, who just begin their piano studies, on manual – not musical, not related to the musical expression aspects of using the piano must guide to definitely poor consequences. Saying "poor", I have in a view all the possible aspects of the matter, firstly: misusing of the hands, which must be forced to work being all the time devoid of primarily important bits of information that could exclusively been shaped by our brains in closest co-operation with the anticipative internal hearing. Consequences could consist very many levels of poverty: from light, still unexpected tiredness up to tendonitis and the truly large range of the truly painful illnesses. Secondly: lack of confidence! The not enough developed hearing skills must cause the chronic uncertainty: where am I, what the sound I should take as the next one? Thirdly: lack of a joy and satisfaction...


As Goethe said, "True music is for the ear alone..." Why for we should try to produce the empty sounds thinking about our suffering muscles, bones, joints, notes, scores, keyboards that are too hard or too soft, etc, etc?


Goethe's aphorism, I would say, not unexpectedly, so well correspond with the Prof. Neuhaus' famous sentence, "Music lives within us, in our brain, in our consciousness; its "domicile" can be accurately established: it is our hearing." As well as painting must be started from SEEING and the entire process of schooling in it must persistently be based on the eyes', on perceiving the reality with the eyesight, the piano professional schooling cannot be successfully realized in FACTUAL isolation of the entire hearing-complex.


You don't believe me or don't like to agree with my diagnose? Well! I truly cordially suggest examine all the actually most 'modern' piano methods, ideas and systems. Hearing is maintained herein as something of absolutely marginal importance. In addition, it is very clear, why it happens so? The Authors of these Methods, Ideas and Systems just do have no foggiest image about how to train it in the professionally high level. If we start to discuss the professional ear training related to the pianists, we have to be sure that the general solfege is the absolutely another thing. Due to the very specifically unmusical character of the piano mechanism, the pianists should be equip with the very special hearing skills the "general solfege" unfortunately has totally been not informed about.


At the last end I would like to stress once again: the real technique fully depends upon realization of personal artistic needs and would never become ready, being grown on any artificial ground or in any artificial way.


That is the first and last thing we should been aware about if we really want to gain some more joy from practicing, playing and teaching the piano.



Your comments - maybe?



Actualized: 2006-12-12