Question 20.

"Backwards technique", rhythm and music reading...




In your last email, you asked me to tell you the "entire problem" . . . do you mean the musical/piano struggles I have? They are many . . . are you sure, you want to hear them? =) If so, I would love to keep up correspondence with you.  Some of the struggles are things like this for example.



This is how my young American Friend, a piano student, Ms Jessica, begun her email I received for a couple of days. She continued as follows:


1) "Backwards technique". For years, I've been taught to use my body "correctly" first, tension, etc. with little or no discussion of the sound production. Now I realize that I LOOK relaxed, but I could play faster, higher, louder, clearer as a child because my BRAIN was doing the work and my body followed – my ear was the conductor and my body the instrument.


My teacher now teaches quite the opposite.

2) "The piano IS an orchestra." This myth has been drilled into my head for years.  I started to wonder after a while, if Beethoven's sonatas should all sound like a symphony – why did he not just write the things for symphony so I don't have to make my piano sound like French horns and violins??? Of course, I have discovered that unfortunately, this is a common problem among teachers. 


Now, after all this time I am rediscovering the joys of the PIANO sound, a unique instrument in itself.

3) Music reading. This has been a HUGE problem for me, still is. I learned entirely by ear as a child, couldn't really read for years. My teachers would play my pieces for me and I would mimic them – out of this came rhythm problems too. Not that I had no sense of rhythm (as my teacher now thought) but that I had LOTS of trouble reading it.

For years, I would mimic my teacher’s rhythm or use a recording because I didn't understand the notation of it.

Anyway, is this what you meant? If so, I'd love to ask you questions and address these things - these are just a few and I'd like to ask you questions about how to progress from here if you have the time!






The Teacher...





Thanks a lot, Dear Jessica, for so interesting and the truly essential questions! How a responsible duty to me, to answer them – besides! Well, after Socrates, all of us, teachers, should firstly become trained in the questions-giving than in answers-giving skills! Hope, the World would seriously be much easy-to-live-in if the teachers would rather like to wisely ask than to inform about this, they actually think they are conclusively informed about...! Am I right?



In any case, here you are my replies to the questions posted by Jessica. Welcome!



1) "Backwards technique"... Wow! Firstly, I thought, I will write, How a shocking coincidence! Once for years, I have experienced the same deeply confusing feelings. Actually, deeper considering the problem, due to this fact, I may only say at this place, "how a common coincidence"...!


Be sure, You are not sole. Of us, there are thousands, and counting to this event the contemporary China – of us there are millions, who share the same feelings. They belong nearly to all of us, former, actual and future piano students suffering from very strong impact coming from the outdated, still truly vivid tradition transmitted to us in the best will by our teachers. Here even no one sole crime had occurred yet, once the Godfathers and Godmothers of this mechanical tradition in our Art, were and are, humanly seen, the truly GOOD persons.


However it is only a waste of time, hundreds and thousands of them actively propagate such instrumental solutions, they possess rather slim knowledge about what they actually do. The sole misconception here consists in the blind faith in the few absolutely unjustified myths. The first of them is the strong conviction that all sorts of the instrumental technique have theirs roots and the future in the purely mechanical phenomena. Representatives of this direction act in accordance to such a truly naive basis: we can modify only THIS ELEMENT of the situation we are able to see with our own eyes!


Therefore they had never liked and they as well nowadays do not like to go deeper into the problems, which cannot just actually be seen with theirs own eyes... One can ask, why then, being in the last end The Musicians, they would not like to believe in this, which could so easily be heard? Yes, that only is the rhetorical question... As long as the model, my ear would be the conductor and my body, the instrument, would NOT come into the common everyday practice in the musical schools – starting from home-teaching up to the Academies of Music – so long the thousands of thousands of the piano students worldwide would suffer from the pains in theirs hands and from very unpleasant feelings in their hearts. Here does not exist any other way round.


The proposed solution: self-teaching, self-searching for the better solutions. All solutions should be considered, but only few could work well.



2) "The piano IS an orchestra."...


My Sincerest Congratulations, Jessica! Yours interpretation of this topic is astoundingly good! Creative! Modern! Fascinating...!


Frankly said, in my teaching language I very rarely use the associations related to different instruments, searching for – in my opinion – the adequate sounding result on the piano. Following Neuhaus, I am of the opinion, in teaching, it would yield good enough results if the student's fantasy would be focused on images and feelings belonging to the everyday life. Of course, the Arts, Philosophy, Technique and Nature belong to it, too. The problem is in the skill of SEEING and in the adequate TRANSLATION, so these feelings and images could fit the concrete musical situation we face studying particular part of the piece.





The two faces of the same Figure; the two artistic variations on the same theme...


Nevertheless, as I think, if NOT overused, we should rather not resign from the right to use such an excellent psychological instrument. On the other hand yet, if this particular pedagogical appliance becomes the nearly unique verbal device, the teacher is able to activate the students' imagination with, it must become actually ineffective in the very short terms. This must happen according to the similar rules the bacteria are stopping react to antibiotics familiar to themselves, and granddaughters stopping to react on the shouts repeatedly coming from, otherwise, the saint mouths of their Grandmothers...


You are totally right: the piano actually is the music instrument possessing its personal, individual, intimate and brave, soft and powerful voice of its own, which cannot be imitate by any other instrument, even by the human voice in its best...! No one other instruments could copy such smallest, likely inexistent sound's quality changes completed by Josef Hofmann in his interpretation of Creisleriana or by Paderewski, Cortot, Friedman, and Horowitz, Horowitz, HOROWITZ...; even Montserrat Caballe in Bellini...


All of the piano instrumental & coloristic features become more and more valuable if we would like to discuss such aspects as – for instance – possibility to perform the more complicated figurations in the fast tempi, still keeping the greater clearness in articulation. Such features are truly indispensable when discussing not only the Studies or other virtuoso pieces of Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel or Rachmaninoff, but as well all the polyphonic-like, Allegro or even Presto pieces of Baroque, Rococo and even modern music (as Hindemith, Shostakowich, Shchedrin and many, many others). Yes, you are definitely right, Now, after all this time I am rediscovering the joys of the PIANO sound, a unique instrument in itself. In the very special meaning of this word, I am truly proud of you... Hmm, I am just very pleased getting as brave and intellectually so sharp and creative Correspondent!



3) Music reading (rhythm)...


OK. It should be very clear to you, your actual troubles with rhythm are easily removable and you could improve them just by yourself. The next point of this diagnose is, that because the fundament of your musical rhythm has not be grounded firmly enough, you must do it as soon as possible.


One could ask, HOW this might happen?


Here is the answer! The first thing is to understand the core of the matter. Music is the strongly Beloved Daughter of The Time. And, The Time – flows... Music must flow as well. What is naturally flowing in string and wind instrumentalists or in singing, this could unfortunately be STATIC in the piano practice. The note-signs are motionless and heartless, much worse than photos, if compared with movies. The first medicine against mental and emotional immobility is to find even smallest shadow of PERSONAL WILL to come nearer to the Life in Music and it must happen via Fantasy when you are going to produce the sole longer note on the piano. Let you have a look at this file, please!


Let you compose by yourself or take, no matter from where, the one, as easy as possible rhythmical motive and do it by any kind of the hands' motion, but – walking! You should walk in such way, your legs would actively DO the most important rhythmical units [as fourths or eights for example] when yours hands will CARRY OUT the exercise moving in that kind, you might like for the most; you can conduct, you can hit the hands, all the motions are allowed. The most important here: you must love this job and do the task as precisely as you can.


After, you should sit at the piano and try to do this rhythmical shape in playing, just improvising the melody. If you can – you can add an accompaniment. The Main Feeling should be present in your Soul within all the Time: I'm moving, The Rhythm moves on inside of my INTERNAL VIRTUAL SPACE.


You should be ready to take and do several rhythmical short motives every day and systematically increase the level of difficulty of the taken exercises. In your mind & body you will create the tough connections among such values as following below:


- the seeing

- the understanding of what we see

- the creating of mental patterns related to oncoming rhythmical events

- the will to complete them using possibly precise physical motions

- the will to control the entire process intellectually, but NOT without putting into this practice the very many, emotionally and imaginationally interesting backgrounds, like commonly happens in a good ballet performance.       


Of course, we need our fingers, sometimes even in the dramatically large extend, but firstly we need to understand very well, WHAT exactly we are doing, when we are sitting at the piano. This must become very clear that our role is not in the mechanical re-copying of any inactive prehistoric reality after signs, but our role is in the alive re-creation of the always active Musical Spirit hidden under material surface of the signs. Music is the strongly Beloved Daughter of The Time. The Time – flows...


Understanding of how the divine stream of musical ENERGY flows forward inside of the each one re-created sound – is the first step toward actual understanding of the musical Rhythm. Believe me, it would not be too difficult to you! Absolutely!


Any question? I am ready to write the answer if not immediately, still within relatively short time...


Thank you for your patience, Dear Jessica, Dear Visitor!

Yours very friendlyS. K.








Actualized: 2008-03-18