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#2978334 05/12/20 03:20 PM
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Hello,

I hope this is the right forum and this question hasn't been answered already. I used the search function but didn't see any results.
Today I had a test lesson with a new teacher. He is russian and uses the old russian technique teached by Joseph and Rosina Lhévinne.

Basically, what I understood from this one short lesson, is that the fingers remains straight, you use the flesh of the finger instead of the tip, and the wrist & shoulder remains soft and mobile. The elbows should be placed very close to the body.
It felt so unnatural at first, because all the years I was taught to keep the fingers curved, use the tip of the finger, and so on.

Now I am really confused - has anyone of you experience with this kind of playing? Should I pursue lessons with this teacher or does it prove unreliable in the end?

Thanks, I appreciate any input!

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You should use what feels comfortable to you. If your teacher insists you should do something uncomfortable, you should look elsewhere.

Lhevinne wrote a book which has been reprinted by Dover. Actually he says that the elbow extends very slightly from the side of his body. He talks about different ways of playing and what the results will be from them. The book is inexpensive. You should read it.

Much of what the teacher said could be true, but it might depend on how he said it, or how he understood it. It could be a matter of his teaching style, and if it does not suit you, maybe you should look for someone else.


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I think it's hard to make a judgement without knowing, for example, how curved your fingers were before the lesson and with what degree straightness your new teacher wants you play?

Any big change in your basic technical approach will take a while. Whether you should stick with this teacher and the change is worth the effort I cannot say but perhaps at least a few more trial lessons would make sense. Do you feel comfortable discussing your feelings about this new technical approach with your teacher?

How long have you been playing and what are a few of your recent repertoire pieces? What went into the decision to start with a new teacher and this one in particular?

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John Browning spoke of something similar with the elbows when he studied with Rosina Lhévinne. I think that even when adherents to a "school" appear to be overly prescriptive, when you actually see them working things make more sense.

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Playing with straight fingers all the time is not a good technique. A few famous pianist do it, but most don't. Curved and straight fingers positions are both useful, don't restrict yourself to one position. Here is an extensive explanation :
http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/1.III.4.2

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Sounds good to me. Any change is going to feel awkward initially. This sounds like your fingers will be more relaxed which is important.


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Give it a chance. It's too early to make judgments after just one lesson. Everything that we are not used to do seems unnatural in the beginning. Serious technique change requires at least a couple of months to bring results.

Besides you might have got a wrong impression. Nobody plays with flat fingers all the time, not Horowitz, not anybody else. I saw Lhevinnes photos playing the piano, his fingers were nicely curved, too. Flat fingers is a technique that is used only in certain places. Most probably your teacher started to teach you that just to break your bad habits and in order to teach you to use intrinsic hand muscles properly. You won't play with flat fingers all the time.

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Originally Posted by ErfurtBob
Playing with straight fingers all the time is not a good technique. A few famous pianist do it, but most don't. Curved and straight fingers positions are both useful, don't restrict yourself to one position. Here is an extensive explanation :
http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/1.III.4.2
I think it's worth to note that according to opinions of several forum members, myself included, the author of this book is not a pianist and had absolutely no formal training. I don't want to say that all what he writes is wrong, he writes many sensible things actually, but still a bit of caution is needed. (I didn't read that part about flat fingers, too lengthy.)

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Most probably your teacher started to teach you that just to break your bad habits and in order to teach you to use intrinsic hand muscles properly.
This is certainly a possibility. I think the OP should ask the new teacher to be more specific? like, how flat? Did you suggest this because I tend to us extremely curved fingers even when much/somewhat flatter fingers might be more desirable? etc.

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Thanks for all the replies, I appreciate it. I think you are right, I have to ask more specific questions to him, and I believe he will clear things up. I've decided to agree to a two month trial period.
The reason I've created this thread was because the lesson was so strange, he really over did it with the flat fingers. And I thought maybe someone made similar experiences. But I may report how things develop in the next lessons!

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One of the senior piano teachers around here died in January, and I mentioned it to one of my customers who studied with him for a while. The customer said that this teacher told him that he needed to relax his wrists when he played. He later tried out with another of the old Berkeley teachers (another former customer, long dead) who asked him why his wrists were so loose! Really, the moral is that you should try a variety of things, and develop your own style.


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John Browning talks about the Lhevinnes' approach in this vid:



I don't recall gleaning quite the same approach from the slender Lhevinne book reprinted by Dover, but it has been a long time since I've read that book.

One thing that I can't agree with is the bit mentioned in the vid about holding the elbows in to direct more force automatically to the 4th and 5th fingers of both hands. But I'm a much beleaguered Matthay-ite when it comes to elbows and forearm rotational freedom. laugh


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Yes right, this video sums my experience from the first lesson up pretty well! I was really surprised. Then I opened this thread only to know if it was worth pursuing this technique- maybe it would have shown itself unreliable or unpractical, in some sorts.

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Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
I don't recall gleaning quite the same approach from the slender Lhevinne book reprinted by Dover, but it has been a long time since I've read that book.
I used to have a copy, which I've since misplaced, but I recall being disappointed by it. At one point there's this enticing buildup along the lines of "Now I will tell you the secret of a beautiful, ringing, singing tone on the piano", followed by an unintelligible sentence that reads as if some words were omitted -- and that's that.

Many years ago my teacher was Sherman Storr, who was a student of Lhevinne. The main thing I remember him telling me was to play with arm weight, which I think is pretty standard advice. Nothing about flat fingers, though he tended to play that way himself.

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Hey Everyone,

Just wanted to chime in with a few thoughts.

In most cases, I would think it's probably good to give it at least few lessons with a teacher before deciding on whether to stay with them or not. It takes a little time for the teacher and student to get to know each other. Also, it takes some time for a student to get a sense of a particular teacher's approach.

As people above have noted, there are some differing approaches and views to technique and which physical motions and hand shapes are best in a given situation, as well as how and in what order these ideas should be introduced and developed. I think it's good to be aware of this when you are considering which teacher or approach to choose. It's not a bad idea to look into some of the different options at some point before investing all of your time and energy into one specific approach.

When we are talking about flat vs. curved fingers, I assume we are talking about fingers 2-5, as the thumb tends to work differently than the other 4. For 2-5, I think flat fingers (or slightly curved fingers) on black keys and playing with the pads of your fingers instead of the tip can work really well sometimes, but not in all cases. At any rate, I don't think playing this way at times is wrong or altogether uncommon. I usually play with 2-5 in a more curved position and more with the finger tip on the white keys, though, for example with a C Major scale. I think this is probably more common among other pianists, too, for the white keys. For me, it all depends on what the music calls for, though. I tend to apply different hand positions and motions to different passages and musical situations.

There is a passage in Chopin's unfinished 'sketch for a method' (reproduced in Chopin, Pianist and Teacher, by J.J. Eigeldinger, p. 194) where Chopin discusses the right hand B major hand position. He writes:

"Find the right position for the hand by placing your fingers on the keys E, F#, G#, A#, B: the long fingers will occupy the high [=black] keys, and the short fingers the low [=white] keys. Place the fingers occupying the high [=black] keys all on one level and do the same for those occupying the white keys, to make the leverage relatively equal; this will curve the hand, giving it the necessary suppleness that it could not have with the fingers straight {curving it to the degree most comfortable to its shape, a suppleness that it could not have with the fingers straight/ deleted}. A supple hand; the wrist, the forearm, the arm, everything will follow the hand in the right order."

I think this passage is really interesting and gives us an idea of how Chopin might have approached hand position or might have taught it, although I doubt he always kept his hand in this position - it wouldn't even be possible.

Anyway, hope this helps out a bit.

Last edited by davelongmusic; 05/17/20 05:04 PM.

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I think it's important here not to conflate flat and straight fingers.

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Originally Posted by MathGuy
Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
I don't recall gleaning quite the same approach from the slender Lhevinne book reprinted by Dover, but it has been a long time since I've read that book.
I used to have a copy, which I've since misplaced, but I recall being disappointed by it. At one point there's this enticing buildup along the lines of "Now I will tell you the secret of a beautiful, ringing, singing tone on the piano", followed by an unintelligible sentence that reads as if some words were omitted -- and that's that.
I've read and made an abstract of this book. There is nothing particularly interesting in it, it's pretty standard Russian technique, but I found no nonsense in it either. A book is very clear and very exact, probably one of the most clear books I've ever met.

To sum it up:
1. Use the arm weight.
2. Use the wrist as a shock absorber, let it sink even below keys level.
3. For beautiful tone use as much flesh of the fingertips as possible and make sure that you reach the bottom of the keys.
4. Move the fingers from the knuckle joint.
5. Keep the arms loose, try to get the sensation as if they were floating in the air.

Last edited by Iaroslav Vasiliev; 05/18/20 01:58 AM.
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Originally Posted by johnstaf
I think it's important here not to conflate flat and straight fingers.
I didn't know there is a difference. What is it?

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by johnstaf
I think it's important here not to conflate flat and straight fingers.
I didn't know there is a difference. What is it?

I'm not sure I understand what the difference would be either, especially when talking just about the shape of the fingers (2-5). I'm wondering if johnstaf might have been thinking of the fingers in their relationship to the body of the hand?

It's sort of difficult to describe this stuff sometimes without the aid of pictures, video, or in-person demonstration. Also, the Chopin excerpt is a translation. I think the original was written in French, but I'm not sure on that.


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Originally Posted by davelongmusic
There is a passage in Chopin's unfinished 'sketch for a method' (reproduced in Chopin, Pianist and Teacher, by J.J. Eigeldinger, p. 194) where Chopin discusses the right hand B major hand position. He writes:

....

I think this passage is really interesting and gives us an idea of how Chopin might have approached hand position or might have taught it, although I doubt he always kept his hand in this position - it wouldn't even be possible.

Anyway, hope this helps out a bit.
Sadly no one listened to him!


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