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Piano Technique - Theory

Introduction

How to play the piano easier...

0.1. Objectives of this site
0.1.1. Certain excerpts from many remarkable works written about piano technique are too subjective. They often describe the movements of the pianist’s hand in an incomplete way, or on the contrary, are too scientific, thus fairly uncommunicative.

He who knows does not need a manual.
For those who do not know, detailed explanations are required.
0.1.2. Today, even Chopin’s method must be examined with a more critical approach. Chopin’s approach of making technical progress through the study of artistry contrasts with the mechanical exercises of Czerny or Kalkbrenner (the latter, for example, advised to practice exercises while reading a book!). Chopin’s conception was certainly very innovative, but do not forget that he was a genius with an intuitive approach to piano technique. Who would agree today, for example, with his certitude that it is sufficient to practice only three hours a day (Dubois / Niecks*)? In addition, each pianist knows that the mid-nineteenth century instruments were very different from those of today. It is sure that some of Chopin’s expertise still remains valid today (cf. touch - Chapter 8), but other parts of his knowledge have nevertheless been refined from more objective study, as is seen by the opinions of more recent theorists (cf. the comments by Sielużycki and Matthay in the two boxes below).
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*Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger - “Chopin: Pianist and Teacher as Seen by His Pupils”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986
[…] Technical problems can rarely be solved in an artistic way.”
James Ching           
Czesław Sielużycki - “The pianist’s hand” p. 16, Polish Music Edition, Cracow, 1982

0.1.3. The purpose of this site is to present - in the most concise and easy way to understand - the mechanical processes that govern the motor apparatus of the pianist when he plays. I will take into account the practical application of existing methods, but will also share new input and clarify their eventual inaccuracies. We will discuss the subject of the pianist’s conscious actions upon his motor apparatus in order to obtain the best possible musical effects. This site does not offer, however, ready-made solutions that can be imitated without thought and a more advanced experience at the piano will be required. That is why it is primarily intended for students having attained a certain proficiency, although each piano lover who, even in a theoretical way, wishes to deepen his knowledge of this instrument will find food for thought.


0.2. Theory, practice and the virtuosos...
0.2.1. A genius’s work...
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The translation will be completed at a later date.
Available complete versions:
FR and PL
[…] the genius, himself, may also save years of time and feel surer of his ground by taking the trouble to master the facts thus intellectually, as well as by ‘intuition’.”
Tobias Matthay - “The visible and invisible in piano technique”, p. X (Preface), Oxford University Press, New York 1947
“What very gifted pupils achieve by instinct (though, of course, with the help of hard work) - a complete coordination of the fingers and hand, the whole locomotor system, with the demands of the ear, the musical intent - can, to a great extent, also be explained to and developed in much less gifted pupils.”
Heinrich Neuhaus - “The Art of Piano Playing.”, p. 72, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York 1973
0.2.3. Learning to play the piano, even as a student of a great pianist, is a very complex process and not often totally “real”, because even the best professor is incapable of transmitting the movements that the student must himself feel on the inside of his body. Let’s take the following example: I have someone with me who cannot keep his balance on a bicycle. Even if I know how to ride, I cannot explain to him how to arrive at the necessary balance, for how do I describe something with simple words that does not depend on my own senses? And it is even more complicated to explain the way to attain balance at a keyboard! In reality, the pianist’s technique at the keyboard relies by large on the agility of the hand, which weighs almost 4 kg*.
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*Czesław Sielużycki - “The pianist’s hand” p. 120, Polish Music Edition, Cracow, 1982
Moreover, certain pedagogues are not always concerned if their students understand the lessons they try to teach.
[about L. Godowsky] numerous young pianists from all over the world flocked to him, mainly in the hope of getting his recipe for attaining ‘virtuoso technique’. Alas for them! Godowsky hardly ever said a word about technique in the sense in which these youngsters understood it.”
Heinrich Neuhaus - “The Art of Piano Playing.”, p. 12, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York 1973

0.3. The paradox of the piano’s mechanism... [...]

“The more speed in the string, the louder the resultant sound. Only by making the Key (and the String therefore) move quickly can you produce loudness. There is no other way.”
Tobias Matthay - “The visible and invisible in piano technique”, p. 6, Oxford University Press, New York 1947
[…] if I can embody my ‘idea’ in my performance, it is a matter of utter indifference to me to know how my elbow behaved at the time, what my good friends the supinators and pronators are doing or whether my pancreas has a part in my work or not.”
Heinrich Neuhaus - “The Art of Piano Playing.”, p. 98, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York 1973
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