PIANO TECHNIQUE REVIEWS

Untitled Document

Charles Aschbrenner and Pulse Patterning

 


Charles Aschbrenner has studied Dalcroze, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method, and brings his experience of all these ‘body modalities’ to bear on his understanding of piano technique. He zeroes in on rhythm as a key element of piano technique, and has discovered how the whole body involves itself in a specific way to generate the regular pulses underlying a healthy and musical pianistic performance. Healthy pulse originates in the pelvis (the body’s center of gravity and the point at which all the body’s most powerful muscles attach).

In well-organized sitting, as the pelvis rocks slightly forward it lifts the spine into extension – the spine straightens up. As the pelvis rocks back again, the spine becomes more flexed, the back rounds itself. These whole torso movements are profoundly related to the generation of rhythmic pulse. In Aschbrenner’s experience, a subtle rocking of the pelvis forward transmits through the torso, arm, hand and fingers and enters the key as a rhythmic impulse. This pulse has an organic, integrated quality totally different from what you get by merely banging the key to make an accent. Accents generated locally have a superficial character to them. Pulse generated with the whole body is a powerful musical force: listeners can almost feel the rhythm physically moving them.

Ask a student (one who has a natural physical relationship to the piano and is not overly tense or overly phlegmatic) to play a series of slow, strong chords with a rhythmic accent on each one. Observe closely and you will see the student’s pelvis moving forward to generate the pulse even if she or he doesn’t think about it – the body naturally organizes itself to produce the pulse in the most efficient way. If you now ask the student to make a strong impulse on only every second chord, you should see the corresponding pelvic motion also on only every second chord. It’s not necessarily a huge movement but definitely visible.

If by chance the student doesn’t do this pelvic rocking, try gently placing your hands on the upper ridge of the pelvis along the student’s sides and back, and gently encourage the rocking to happen. Subtly coax the movement into being instead of forcing it. Did you notice that in the moment when the student gets the connection, the sense of pulse in his or her sound becomes more palpable?

When I first read about this and tried it, I used fairly big movements – I noticed the powerful relationship of the pelvis to rhythmic pulse generation, but I felt kind of awkward. When I tried to involve my pelvis that way, I tended to overdo it. Then I had the chance to witness Charles demonstrating this technique (MTNA-CFMTA Joint Annual Meeting, Toronto 2007), and it was totally different to what I had done. The movements of the pelvis were so small as to be invisible from a distance – but the profound change in the piano sound when he did the technique is something I shall never forget. A phrase that had been distinctly mundane and prosaic became sinuous, poetical, an utterance of sheer beauty. And Charles explained that the tiny movements of the pelvis are not just forward and back, but also side to side and all around the circle, similar to the movements of the classic Feldenkrais ‘Pelvic Clock’ Awareness Through Movement lesson. Thus the entire choreography of a phrase can be ‘mapped on’ to the pelvis or reflected in its movement. In the end it is not even clear whether the pelvis is actively generating phrase pulse and shape, or whether it is simply responding passively to the ‘shape intention’ manifested by the player. There’s a synchronicity between the parts, a unity of intention and a physically organic way of manifesting that intention that makes other efforts seem pale and ordinary by comparison…

Many now recognize the important role the body plays in performance, but the torso’s extravagant swaying and dipping we see so often actually works against effective body involvement. So much effort is needed to counteract the destabilizing effect of the swaying, that in the end little or no body movement is transmitted through to musical expression. Here unfortunately ‘body shaping’ does not equal musical shaping.

Aschbrenner’s Pulse Patterning offers the performer the combination of core stability and moveability that gives the body’s flexible involvement in the subtle gestures of advanced phrase shaping real integrity. Pulse Patterning never claims to be a comprehensive or complete approach to piano technique. But it does offer the pianist a crucial missing piece of the overall puzzle, a piece for the most part not discussed in other approaches.

Price/Value Quotient

Good news! Prof.Aschbrenner iscreating a DVD about Pulse Patterning! Filming is complete, and as of April 2015 the editing process was in full swing.

We eagerly await the release of this film!

In the meantime, find out more about Pulse Patterning at

http://faculty.hope.edu/aschbrenner/
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