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#2601146 - 01/04/17 10:15 PM Hammering...the amazing practice technique?  
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Valencia Offline
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Does anyone have any thoughts about or experience with this piano practice technique called "hammering"?

I found a blog post about it and it sounds amazing:

http://blog.twedt.com/archives/225

The said purpose of hammering is to gain evenness of fingers, control, and clarity. The author describes the technique as playing:

"...at the fastest tempo one can control with absolute perfection (which is always slower than the performance speed when the piece isn’t done yet), playing every note in both hands forte, clear, rhythmically even, hands perfectly together, all with relaxed arms/hands. All dynamics, balance and voicing are ignored. If it is done right, it makes it sound like a computer is playing (or perhaps like the pianist is angry at the piano, although forte suffices – playing fortissimo is unnecessary)."

The author says hammering (which he calls a magic bullet) produces 'instant results' that are 'dramatic', 'sweeping' and 'nothing short of phenomenal'.

and:

"Hammering absolutely works all the time for everybody, and if it isn’t producing results, then it isn’t being used correctly."

This all sounds really exciting to me. In fact it sounds like exactly what I need to be doing to gain control over my fingers. Has anyone tried this? And what does it mean to do it correctly? Reading the blog it seems the idea is to practice sections where you lack control not just slowly, but also loudly and firmly, ignoring any dynamics in the piece. Is that basically it?

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#2601148 - 01/04/17 10:34 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Initially I had a problem with this simply because of the term being used "hammering". I know it as describing a physical way of playing, where the fingers are "little hammers" which "hammer down with force" using "finger power", and I was somewhat horrified. But that is not at all what the writer means, thank goodness. What is being described is to play every note with the same volume, evenly and distinctly, before going (back) to dynamics and the rest, so that no note is muddy or gets lost. I think that's what you're seeing too, Valencia?
Quote
Reading the blog it seems the idea is to practice sections where you lack control not just slowly, but also loudly and firmly, ignoring any dynamics in the piece.

In fact, when I'm working on a new piece, this is a stage that I will do at least to some degree, paying attention to the notes and relative duration until their solid. If later on something slips, I'll go back to it. I never really thought about it that way, and appreciated reading the article. For me it was a matter of not adding the extras until the notes were right.
A decade ago when I was first attempting to learn violin, I got advice that was similar: to first play the notes with an even but strong sound "like vanilla pudding", then gradually add dynamics and expression, but if it gets muddy, go back to the vanilla pudding. This seems similar. Thank you for sharing the article.

#2601151 - 01/04/17 10:41 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Originally Posted by Valencia
. . .
"Hammering absolutely works all the time for everybody, and if it isn’t producing results, then it isn’t being used correctly."
. . .


That's a great "blame the victim" approach!


What problem, exactly, do you need to fix, that you think "hammering" might help with?


. Charles
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#2601154 - 01/04/17 11:07 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Charles Cohen]  
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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
Originally Posted by Valencia
. . .
"Hammering absolutely works all the time for everybody, and if it isn’t producing results, then it isn’t being used correctly."
. . .

That's a great "blame the victim" approach!
What problem, exactly, do you need to fix, that you think "hammering" might help with?

I had not noticed those words. As is my wont, I looked for the general idea, and think related it to things that were familiar, as I wrote in my previous post. I tend to be cautious about absolutes such as "all the time for everybody" - I was harmed by at least one teacher with that attitude: in fact, got blamed for "bad attitude" when the (inappropriate) measure did not work. That said, any methodology can be applied wrongly, and then there will be poor results as the author suggests. But the proper way for teaching it is in person, with the teacher observing the student trying the approach in front of him, to make sure it will be applied properly at home.

The idea of playing notes with even dynamics for control and to reinforce those notes (hopefully, I'm thinking, in sections or chunks) could be a good thing to try. Any tool can be useful. The idea of it being a panacaea would make me uncomfortable, as does anything that is formulaic.

Meanwhile as I read the article again:
Originally Posted by article
This is why we notice our students’ pieces will most naturally deteriorate in quality week by week after they “finished” their piece. The greatest pianists never stop perceiving the individuality of every note they play, even when they’re playing 10 or more notes per second, even when they finished the piece a year ago. But students who perform their difficult piece over and over again and never actually practice the piece slowly are doomed to muscu-blur.

What else is going on here? Why are the students playing a piece week after week after finishing it? Is this like the preparation for perfect performance for exams, type of thing? How are these students being taught to practice at home (besides the hammering)? Because it sounds like they are playing pieces through from beginning to end at tempo, for way too long. Or something. Is it possible that the "hammering" is stopping that kind of automatism? There are other concepts, such as deliberate practice, consciously, and practice being practice rather than playing through.

(Thinking out loud)

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#2601164 - 01/04/17 11:42 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Yeah, my teacher has mentioned this helping sometimes, but I haven't used it very often. I have sensitive ears so playing unmusically is a bit hard for me...but I'm sure there's some merit to this. The way it is presented there gives it less credit though...

The fact that pieces deteriorate if they are just played for long is true. But there are also other practice techniques that help in these cases.

#2601174 - 01/05/17 12:09 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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"Hammering" sounds a lot like what Hanon was intended to be used for, and you don't have to suffer through "real" music being played in some messed-up way.

#2601184 - 01/05/17 12:59 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: David Farley]  
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Originally Posted by David Farley
"Hammering" sounds a lot like what Hanon was intended to be used for, and you don't have to suffer through "real" music being played in some messed-up way.


It's not quite the same though. Hanon is supposed to improve finger strength (which is more about control). So it's about playing technique. This is about learning and keeping the playing of one's pieces up in quality.

The other ways are returning to HS, going back to the score with memorized music, practicing in small sections etc. Seems that too much comfort and familiarity tends to gradually lower quality in whatever we do. With that "messing up" the music does indeed help.

Last edited by outo; 01/05/17 01:00 AM.
#2601189 - 01/05/17 01:15 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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I like to do this from time to time, as well as playing staccato passages legato. Playing softly allows for hesitations, doubts, and fears to creep into learning the notes. Playing forte doesn't let you hide behind them, and the passage ends up feeling more secure in the end.


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#2601216 - 01/05/17 05:23 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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To me it seems like a variation of other practice techniques where the point is to make a slight variation in order to force your brain to get out of auto-pilot and think about it. Other exercises in the same vein:
- playing legato passages staccato or vice versa
- doubling of notes or short passages
- pausing after each beat, half-measure, or measure


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#2601218 - 01/05/17 05:50 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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I do this sometimes. It may help me - results are not clear.

But I absolutely hate it, because it is so unmusical. Maybe because I hate it, it's not successful for me.

I would rather practice the movement needed to produce a musical sound, rather than hammer away at the keys.

Sam

#2601222 - 01/05/17 06:50 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Sam S]  
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My former teacher used to call this "ugly fingers" and had me use it for passages that simply refused to come out right. For me, it did work. It wasn't very pretty, but it helped to correct unevenness in runs and to cement tricky passages that my brain refused to accept.

#2601223 - 01/05/17 07:10 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Isn't this ONE of several practice techniques to improve technique? It really irritates me when there is a promotion for 'amazing' 'works for everyone', 'magic bullet'.

The internet (both videos and blogs) is full of these overstatements.... if there were a 'magic bullet', we would all own the gun. Nothing is an instant cure-all for learning the piano.

#2601225 - 01/05/17 07:19 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: dogperson]  
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Originally Posted by dogperson
It really irritates me when there is a promotion for 'amazing' 'works for everyone', 'magic bullet'.

Yes, very annoying in this case. Especially since it was coupled with "and if it doesn't work, then you are doing it wrong".

Hey, maybe I should market my own method of learning to play the piano, any piece that was or will be composed ever, in just five minutes: All you have to do is press every key on the keyboard once with each finger (so 88 keys x 10 fingers). After that, since you already know how to press any key with any finger, there is no piece you cannot play immediately. After all, all pieces are only different combinations of these 880 key presses. Works 100% guaranteed! What? Didn't work for you? Then you must have done it wrong!


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#2601228 - 01/05/17 07:26 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: JoBert]  
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Originally Posted by JoBert
Originally Posted by dogperson
It really irritates me when there is a promotion for 'amazing' 'works for everyone', 'magic bullet'.

Yes, very annoying in this case. Especially since it was coupled with "and if it doesn't work, then you are doing it wrong".

Hey, maybe I should market my own method of learning to play the piano, any piece that was or will be composed ever, in just five minutes: All you have to do is press every key on the keyboard once with each finger (so 88 keys x 10 fingers). After that, since you already know how to press any key with any finger, there is no piece you cannot play immediately. After all, all pieces are only different combinations of these 880 key presses. Works 100% guaranteed! What? Didn't work for you? Then you must have done it wrong!


JoBert
It would be a big seller.. just self-print, put it on Amazon, with no 'look inside' feature. Call it 'learn any song on the piano in 5 minutes'. And sell for $29.95 (plus 19.95 shipping and handling)

I've seen actual piano books that do exactly that. Caveat emptor!

#2601230 - 01/05/17 07:33 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
To me it seems like a variation of other practice techniques where the point is to make a slight variation in order to force your brain to get out of auto-pilot and think about it.
Bingo!
I get over the issue by seldom playing my pieces through until all the little sections are up to snuff, accurate and memorised. Likewise, when I revisit my repertoire pieces I go slow and in smaller units over three or four weeks.

The Dr. Brent Hugh page has a lot of practical methods for this.



Richard
#2601238 - 01/05/17 08:37 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Some students have a sort of twitchiness in their hands, where some notes are played very intentionally and with a good tone, but other notes are played with light twitching jerky motions. Either the right note but with a weak tone and poor timing, or the wrong note and the student didn't even mean for that finger to do anything.

I find that for students like this, playing a few repetitions (ONLY a few) of certain passages as loudly and slowly as they can, even if it's completely unmusical, goes a long way toward curing the twitchiness and increasing control.
I don't have them go as fast as they can. Otherwise it seems the same technique.

You would not want to do this all day long, or even for a whole piece, for obvious reasons.

I like his description of "muscular blur" especially in fast pieces the student has had for a long time that gradually become sloppy. My preferred solution (for myself as well as students) is just to include occasional slow practice in one's practice of those pieces. Even if it's not to solve any particular problem, slow practice helps maintain clarity in playing and thorough knowledge of the piece.


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#2601374 - 01/05/17 03:32 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: hreichgott]  
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Originally Posted by hreichgott
I like his description of "muscular blur" especially in fast pieces the student has had for a long time that gradually become sloppy. My preferred solution (for myself as well as students) is just to include occasional slow practice in one's practice of those pieces.


Thanks -- I'll have to try that on my sloppy Charleston.



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#2601440 - 01/05/17 07:36 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Something we may be losing track of is that Valencia found something in this that helped her. If you find something that helps, it works, and it makes things easier or helps you overcome problems you are having - then go for it. In that case the way you are applying the idea is probably the right way.

#2601441 - 01/05/17 07:40 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: keystring]  
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Originally Posted by keystring
Something we may be losing track of is that Valencia found something in this that helped her. If you find something that helps, it works, and it makes things easier or helps you overcome problems you are having - then go for it. In that case the way you are applying the idea is probably the right way.


I believe that Valencia only found this blog and is asking about the practice technique-- rather stating this is something that has helped her.

#2601446 - 01/05/17 08:01 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Thanks everyone for the great discussion! It sounds like some people have found a version of this exercise helpful, but maybe it isn't the magic bullet for everyone like it came across in the blog post.

Charles you asked what I was struggling with that I thought hammering would help? Mainly it's rhythmic unevenness. For example I'm learning the Holberg prelude, where I have to play groups of 4 sixteenth notes repeatedly throughout the piece. And sometimes my fingers might play some of those notes a little too fast so that it becomes uneven. Lots of times the unevenness is slight and I find that especially hard to fix.

The important part of this hammering technique it seems is not just to play slow but to play loud (hammering, ugly fingers, playing like you are angry....). I tried it today with a section of the Holberg. The loud requirement was hardest with my weakest fingers 4 and 5.

The other part of the technique seems to be to play all the notes at the same dynamic level. Honestly I'm not sure I am advanced enough at the piano to be able to discern and control slight dynamic differences of notes for example a 7 versus an 8 out of 10. Hope I can get some benefit from this technique even if I'm not quite that sophisticated.

Good questions keystring. Part of the technique seems to be aimed at mitigating automatic playing. Perhaps the muscular blur occurs when people just keep playing pieces over and over time depend more on muscle memory rather than engaging more thoroughly with the piece?

Anyway I'll give hammering a try. Its not the only thing I'm doing to work on evenness and control. I'm trying to do more slow practice and to understand what that means (that also works magic and helps everyone all the time, doesn't it?). I've also been working on scales and arpeggios, and on trying to relax my fingers, especially the 4th and 5th because they very often carry a lot of tension which screws up my playing. but relaxing those fingers is hard to impossible sometimes!

(and yes, dogperson is right, I haven't really tried hammering, until today. We'll see if i can get any benefit from it, assuming i can figure out how to do it correctly!)


#2601449 - 01/05/17 08:08 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Hi Valencia
Not sure if you have tried the variation in note length practice tip? this is where you play the notes UNevenly such as dotted quarter followed by eighth notes instead of the written eighth notes?

You would practice first LONG short short short
then short LONG short short
then short short LONG short
then short short short LONG

I think this helps me work on getting passage work more even

#2601451 - 01/05/17 08:11 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: dogperson]  
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Hammering doesn't make much sense to me, but I don't have twitchy fingers or hands. I use other practice methods to get a run or passage even and up to tempo. I work on dynamics and bringing out the melody when I practice, so hammering the keys seems like it would defeat the whole purpose of making music.

If someone finds a video on this, please post it.



#2601455 - 01/05/17 08:33 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: PianogrlNW]  
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The use of the word 'hammering' is off-putting, but now that I've read the article, it seems to be very similar to what I have done in my own practicing, and still doing it for select passages in certain pieces. It just seems logical as a way to 'drill notes' into my fingers, and I don't think anyone taught me it, nor did I learn it from a book or website. (Well, the internet was still decades away from birth when I first started using the method wink ). I term it 'deliberate loud practice' grin.

It's definitely useful for intricate passages like in Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu and (especially) Ravel's Ondine, where tricky torrents of notes in both hands have to be perfectly smooth, even and synchronized.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
#2601468 - 01/05/17 09:38 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Big problem . Playing unnecessarily loud and mechanical causes stress and ugly sounds from the piano. Playing unmusically also has it's permanent problems . Oddly enough playing softly, and of course slowly with controlled counting out loud and proper flexible wrist moments has done wonders for me over the past few months. Playing controllably softly is harder at first but really developed my ability to play faster due to less tension and louder with out banging again because of less tension. Also playing soft allows me to think and hear my self count so better focus thus leading to better memory. This is not my idea, I have been recently studying with an old school Eastern European /Juliard grad teacher who led me down that path. You'll find the same technique in a lot of piano instruction literature from the greats like Hoffman, Llevine, Neuhaus and Rachmaninoff.







#2601535 - 01/06/17 05:56 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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I just saw this Josh Wright video where he talks about this - practicing a piece at a forte dynamic:
https://youtube.com/watch?v=asvNyKKE9NE


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#2601562 - 01/06/17 08:32 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: dogperson]  
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Originally Posted by dogperson
Hi Valencia
Not sure if you have tried the variation in note length practice tip? this is where you play the notes UNevenly such as dotted quarter followed by eighth notes instead of the written eighth notes?

You would practice first LONG short short short
then short LONG short short
then short short LONG short
then short short short LONG

I think this helps me work on getting passage work more even

^ that's incredibly helpful.
Other variants are Stephen Hough's where you play a group of notes at tempo followed by the next group at half tempo, the next group at tempo and so on; and what someone here calls "hiding behind trees", choosing certain notes to be held for an extremely long time and playing the notes in between as fast as possible. With both of these you then go back and do it again with different notes serving as the long notes. I use the Hough approach all the time with metronome (a 16th note passage becomes 4 16ths, 2 8ths, 2 8ths, 4 16ths etc.) and it helps a lot.


Heather W. Reichgott, piano http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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learning: Fauré, Preludes Op. 103
preparing for performance: Dvorak "Dumky" trio, and four-hands program of Mozart, Corigliano, Schubert and Barber

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#2601564 - 01/06/17 08:42 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Miguel Rey]  
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I use this to get better accuracy and control of the notes. It helps enormously.

Originally Posted by Miguel Rey
Big problem . Playing unnecessarily loud and mechanical causes stress and ugly sounds from the piano. Playing unmusically also has it's permanent problems . Oddly enough playing softly, and of course slowly with controlled counting out loud and proper flexible wrist moments has done wonders for me over the past few months. Playing controllably softly is harder at first but really developed my ability to play faster due to less tension and louder with out banging again because of less tension. Also playing soft allows me to think and hear my self count so better focus thus leading to better memory. This is not my idea, I have been recently studying with an old school Eastern European /Juliard grad teacher who led me down that path. You'll find the same technique in a lot of piano instruction literature from the greats like Hoffman, Llevine, Neuhaus and Rachmaninoff.


It's not banging. It's controlled forte which should be used. Every note you play with thought and determination. Playing like this should also not involve stress, always keep relaxed and flexible in your wrists.
Never bang the piano since that will not help a thing.

I also find it useful to play on a flat surface like a table or the closed fallboard of your piano, hearing your fingers hit the surface with an even sound. I notice when doing this that playing on the keys is easier and more controlled.

All this is of course just a part of other practise techniques. Soft playing is also something I use, listening carefully to the played notes that they are even. And playing dynamics (exaggerated ppp to ff and back), bringing out the melody, play through the piece at tempo (no rushing), etc.


Paul

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#2601942 - 01/07/17 11:42 AM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
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Miguel Rey Online content
500 Post Club Member
Miguel Rey  Online Content
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Feb 2013
Posts: 878
Wonderfull blog from a wonderful teacher Graham Fitch.

Pianissimo




#2602035 - 01/07/17 06:30 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
Joined: Dec 2011
Posts: 574
Valencia Offline
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Valencia  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2011
Posts: 574
Thanks everyone for your posts!

Qazsedcft the link to the Josh Wright video is exactly what we are posting about here! Its nice to see him actually do the technique!

Dogperson and Heather thanks for those ideas about how to practice to get even fingers. I tried them both at the piano today and they are great but very challenging! I'm excited to keep working with them and to see what comes of it.

Also Paul I will try playing evenly away from the piano. smile

Miguel Rey, that blog post on Pianissimo by Graham Fitch is also excellent! Like I said above, my gradations between different dynamics aren't great so I need to work on that a lot. I know i have a hard time controlling my fingers when I try to play softly. I will give it a try!

#2602212 - 01/08/17 03:15 PM Re: Hammering...the amazing practice technique? [Re: Valencia]  
Joined: Feb 2013
Posts: 878
Miguel Rey Online content
500 Post Club Member
Miguel Rey  Online Content
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Feb 2013
Posts: 878
Too bad there is no silver bullet or "new" secret to piano technique. Believe me I searched for it over the last 3 years as a once struggling returning student from 20 years away from the piano (studied for 20 years in my youth). If hammering is at all useful, based on my research and trial & error I would first master playing very softly and controlled before "hammering".

It's very important that everyone research and verify through literature and experienced teachers to make sure you cause no harm, especially physical. Especially for youtube finds. Always need to ask yourself what experience and credentials do the demonstrators have and of course how well do they play themselves. More important for me is if there is additional corroborating information to back up their claims. I would find it hard to believe that 1 or 2 people can somehow discover a new revolutionary method. One thing I found from my research is that soft practice was a common theme in most of the literature I have read from noted historically acclaimed teachers including Chopin. Essentially validating everything my current teacher has been telling me.

I can't stress enough that everyone should to take youtube and even advice on this website with a grain of salt- do plenty research and more important if you can afford get a qualified teacher with credentials. You should be asking: where did they study? who did they study with? Listen to them playing and very important if you can listen to their students.

Here are some interesting excerpts found on P.25 from a book on my list for future reading by George Kochevitsky


..." soft playing should prevail since in forte the unavoidable participation of the playing apparatus (big muscles) would overshadow finger sensations."

..." Each finger then presses with light downward movement only, never leaving it's key. And playing proceeds very slowly,pianissimo, with the whole attention concentrated on fingertips "

..." Such practicing is tiring to our central nervous system , as it requires finest tonal control along with control over accompanying sensations , and it is especially hard at pianissimo. But the consequence of such practicing is a feeling of strength in the fingers."

Excerpts of the book
Art of Piano Playing


Last edited by Miguel Rey; 01/08/17 03:16 PM.



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