PIANO TECHNIQUE REVIEWS

Untitled Document

The Disempowerment of the Hand &
the State of Piano Technique Today

 

The 250-year history of the piano has seen many approaches to technique, but two main "schools" can be noted. In the first, the finger action school, the arm and hand stay quiet as the fingers provide the main impetus to move the key. This evolved from the harpsichord, whose lighter keys demanded far less energy to be moved. Eventually, as pedagogues found more and more pianists getting tight and playing with harsh tone, the arm weight school evolved which says the weight of the arm must be involved to warm up the tone and relieve the fingers from overwork.

Effective Finger Action

Various approaches remain more or less faithful to one or the other of these two camps, but there has been less effort to synthesize the best aspects of the two (the Russian school is a notable exception). The finger action technique can work well when the hand is not divorced from the arm. Just because an arm is quiet does not mean it is stiff or dysfunctional. If the sound is good, the arm likely possesses an inner freedom that allows the fingers to move effectively without much visible arm movement.

Ineffective Arm Weight

Arm weight technique works well when the arm doesn't supercede the fingers' right work but only facilitates it. But arm weight is often not taught this way. In fact, in the arm weight camp there is an almost universal disregard for the fact that the fingers must continue to fulfil their basic task of moving the key: instead, it is thought that the sole job the fingers now possess is to be adequately fixed so the arm's weight can move the key by being transmitted through the finger.

Effective Arm Weight

It is not surprising that this bias developed - arm weight technique was devised to relax an overly tense hand, and succeeded notably in this. Often it proved a wonderful cure for actual physical disability: performance injury. The hand and fingers must work to play the piano, but if they work in the wrong way, to improve the situation this wrong work must first cease, and arm weight technique is a beautiful, effective way of achieving this.

Disempowerment

Unfortunately, when arm weight technique has succeeded in this first step, it tends to then leave it at that. It tends not to take the crucial next step of rehabilitating movement in the hand and fingers, restoring the vital activity which is so necessary for agility and the creation of a wide variety of pianistic colours.

Context for the Reviews

This roughly speaking is the context for our reviews of several current approaches to piano technique. We are lucky to have video clips from many of these approaches, allowing us to zero in and define with real precision just what works well in each one and exactly which aspects could perhaps use a little bit of modification to better achieve the synthesis we mention above.


Welcome to Reviews on Piano Technique.org,
a site devoted to comparing and evaluating the various approaches to piano technique available today. 100 years ago Germany, France, Russia and England each had their version of the finger action school, and were developing uses of the arm - the arm weight techniques of Breithaupt in Germany and Matthay in England, a more active use the arm to produce rich tone in Russia. Pianistic lineages had evolved stemming from the great pianist-composers: the Beethoven-Czerny-Leshetitsky-Essipova line in Germany, the Chopin-Émile Descombes-Cortot line in France, and Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein and their descendants - Samuel Goldenweiser, Grigory Ginseberg, Heinrich Neuhaus, Tatyana Nikolayeva et. al. - that formed the nucleus of the Russian school.

Since then dozens of new branches have appeared, each attempting to codify the practice of the colossal virtuosi and to bring more mortal pianists a little closer to their heavenly achievements. Please browse the review pages to get a handle on some of the new techniques have evolved since then, and what new ways have been dreamed up to explain old pianistic truths.

The present compilation is by no means comprehensive, and Reviews on Piano Technique.org welcomes submissions. Please send any material for inclusion on this site to

submissions@pianotechnique.net/reviews.

Piano Technique Reviews is a division of Piano Technique.net, a site owned and operated by Maple Grove Music Productions, the company devoted to developing the pedagogical materials - books, DVD's, online video lessons and live piano institutes - associated with Canadian pianist Alan Fraser's Craft of Piano Method.