1. The objectives of this site
1.1. Some extracts of numerous remarkable works about piano techniques are a little too subjective. They often describe the movements of the pianist’s hand in an incomplete manner or, on the contrary, too scientifically, and thus little communicative.
For those who don’t know, detailed explanations are essential.
1.2. Nowadays, even Chopin’s method must be subject to a more critical approach. Chopin put in contrast his conception of artistic work on technique with the mechanical exercises of Czerny or Kalkbrenner (the latter, for example, recommended to do practical exercises while reading a book, which is already complete nonsense!). Chopin’s conception was admittedly very innovative, but it should not be forgotten that he was a genius with an intuitive approach to the techniques of piano. Who would agree, for example, with his affirmation that training only three hours a day is sufficient (Dubois/Niecks*)? Moreover, every pianist knows that the instruments of the 19th century half were very different from today’s. Certain truths proclaimed by Chopin will always remain relevant (cf. “the touch” on this page), but others have since been clarified in a more objective way, as testify the opinions of more recent theorists (cf. the remarks of Sielużycki and Matthay in the two frames below).
* Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger - “Chopin: Pianist and Teacher as Seen by His Pupils” p. 49, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986
1.3. The objective of this site is to present in the most concise and easy to understand manner the mechanical processes which rule the pianist’s motor apparatus when he is playing. I will take into account the practical application of already existing methods, but shall also give new inputs and clarifications about their possible imprecisions. We will tackle the theme of the pianist’s conscious action on his motor apparatus in order to obtain the best possible musical effects. This site will, however, not propose ready made solutions which could be imitated without thinking, and a certain experience of piano will be necessary. That is why it is, before all, intended for pupils or students with a certain level, but also for all piano amateurs wishing, even only theoretically, to deepen their knowledge of this instrument.
2. Theory, practice and virtuosos
2.1. Young pianists often assert, wrongly, that it is not worth to waste time in studying the theory and that it suffices to practice a difficult piece during a long time in order that it “plays on its own” ultimately. In the same way, one has a tendency to minimize the importance of the theoretical aspect in the learning of a piece . Yet, already in the first half of the 20th century, Tobias Matthay noticed that:
2.2. The work of a genius progresses, without a doubt, easier and more rapidly, but:
* Czesław Sielużycki - “The Pianist’s Hand” p. 120, PWM, Cracow 1982
Moreover, some pedagogues do not always worry about the good understanding of their lessons provided to their students.
And this phenomenon goes beyond the framework of pianistic alone! As I am told by students from other disciplines, similar problems during the transmission of precise informations by the professors occur also in other fields, such as medicine or architecture, which is even more worrisome.
2.4. Certain elements and technical means may be observed in good pianists and we may try applying them in our own manner of playing. Others, however, are visible neither from the front row of the hall nor the hands filmed in close-up, as some forces operate invisibly (it is this observation that gave birth to a remarkable work by T. Matthay, titled “The Visible and Invisible in Piano Technique”). Moreover, the more experienced the pianist the more he spares his movements, and thus it is even more difficult to “spy” on how he proceeds. Better yet, even by taking lessons with a famous virtuoso, it is not certain that he could solve our technical problems, as since he himself plays flawlessly, he could simply ignore the solution to a problem he has never known. Indeed, the virtuosos possessing their innate technique play instinctively and do not always realize their predisposition’s origin. That is why the didactic advices they suggest often omit very important details.
2.5. Let us note at the same time that the term “virtuoso” inspires respect and admiration, even if all types of virtuosity do not deserve really such a consideration. The pianist’s technical agility should give life in the most faithful way possible to the composer’s conception. Yet, even famous pianists misuse their ease of movement and play far too fast, not only in relation to the notes, but also in relation to good musical taste. This tendency to overplay to impress an uninformed public, musically speaking, can be compared to the way that some singers lengthen excessively the longer high notes uniquely to “give voice”. These two attitudes are just a claptrap distorting the original musical text.
3. The paradox of the piano’s mecanism
3.1. Coming back to the complexity of piano techniques, I shall recall here, like Czeslaw Sieluzycki, two quotes:
● According to F. H. Péru*, Chopin obtained different sonorities from the same key by striking it in twenty different ways.
● Leopold Godowsky Leopold Godowski asserts that “only a good pianist knows at least ten ways of striking a key”.
* F. H. Péru (1829 or 1830-1922) – French pianist and composer. He claimed to be a pupil of Fryderyk Chopin, but there is no evidence to confirm or deny this claim. Together with Jules Massenet, he contributed to the construction of a statue of Fryderyk Chopin in Paris’s Jardin du Luxembourg.
3.2. One of the greatest paradoxes in the field of piano is the fact that all this diversity of movements (Godowski) allowing to obtain a wealth of sonorities (Chopin) is determined only by a s i n g l e physical parameter: the speed at which the keys are struck, and thus the speed at which the hammer strikes the string!
3.3. in his capacity of doctor, affirms that the “hand” (a member in its own right) contains almost 50 muscles. In his work, “The Hand of the Pianist”, he describes moreover some 40 kinds of movements susceptible to be used to play the piano. I personnally do not think that it is necessary to master all these movements to play well the piano. Especially since, as the author affirms, these methods prove little effective in practice. It is certainly more judicious to understand the general rules which govern the motor apparatus (which is what I suggest in this site) and then form one’s own arsenal of technical means based on these foundations. That should be the primordial objective of the apprentice pianist.
Let us thus work reasonably, keep a right measure and suitable proportions!