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#2128289 08/05/13 01:12 AM
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I was taught from the beginning to align my belly button with middle C.

For the last three or four months, one of the pieces I've been working on is "Ole Buttermilk Sky," which is vintage American pop by Hoagy Carmichael. (I know, I know... I'm still working on the Bach and the Handel, and I even have two Brahms intermezzos in the hopper... But right now, I have an "event" to prepare for, and this one is on the playlist.) "Ole Buttermilk Sky" is in the key of Eb maj. No great shakes. Lot's of things are in Eb maj. But this piece has two crazy ?passages? crazy that have been driving me crazy. The wrist position to get to the black keys has been incredibly awkward feeling, and I have rarely nailed it. You know how some things just fit under the hands? Well, this one just hadn't fit under the hands, wrists, or arms, at all!

Until now.

Let's say for the sake of 1) storytelling, 2) cowboy tunes, and 3) poetry, that the compass point at the piano bench when your nose points toward the piano, is north. Away from the piano would be south. Right is east. Left is west.

I do not know *how* this "Ah-ha! moment" came to me (other than noticing that this piece is very, um, *baritone*--an epiphany in itself, I guess), but tonight, I found that if I scooted my butt to the west, and lined up my belly button with middle A, everything in this tune lined up comfortably, and, with one slight fingering change (RH4 instead of 5, which feels quite casual and not at all formal), the two troublesome passages fell easily into place.

But, wait! There's more!

Even through the excitement of solving my problem this-a-way, I took the thought a little further. (Git'a'long, little thought-doggies!) In the title area of the sheet music, it says, "As sung by Hoagy Carmicheal In the Walter Wanger Production 'Canyon Passage.'" I've seen pictures and vids of Hoagy at the piano, a-singin' while a-playin' (click on the clickable link in paragraph 2, above), and I thought, "I wonder..." So, I scootched NNE a tad, as though I were facing an audience to the open lid side of a grand and guess what? The tune was even EASIER to play!

I guess the questions to all of y'all who play virtuoso pieces would be, "how often do you scoot east or west to facilitate a work, or, a passage? Are you usually rooted? How often do you travel along the bench? Can you please, for fun and edification, give specific examples of pieces for which you have felt the need to scootch."

--Andy

Last edited by Cinnamonbear; 08/05/13 01:19 AM.

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I guess I started out sitting in front of middle C, like you did. Once I started getting serious about playing, I stopped being 'standard' about it but just sat wherever it felt most logical and comfortable, without having anything systematic and without worrying about it. In more recent years, I realized that the most comfortable place for all pieces was invariably somewhere between the E-flat and F above middle C. That made it easier to figure out exactly where to sit for anything: Just put myself in front of the E, and be ready to shift a tiny bit this way or that way according to the piece. And if I'm not exactly right on my first guess, I can't be more than an inch off anyway and I'll figure it out soon enough. smile

I do scoot a little bit to the left or the right beyond that little range for certain passages, but not much, and even when I do, I don't 'plant' myself there; I'm leaning (or, as they say in some sports, 'cheating,' like when an infielder leans in anticipation of a play) back toward the basic spot, to be ready to come back there and to reinforce the musical sense that I'm just in a little digression.

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Originally Posted by Mark_C
[...] (or, as they say in some sports, 'cheating,' like when an infielder leans in anticipation of a play) [...]


Thanks, Mark! That makes perfect sense! Don't know why it took me so long to figure this out. It's definitely another step in the "freedom" direction--relax and PLAY!


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I was actually thinking about this recently.
I recently started working on Paganini/Liszt Etude 2, and a portion of it involves super high descending runs with both hands. As I've been practicing, I've felt my torso twisting uncomfortably, so I've had to move on the bench to be more comfortable. This leads me to conclude that it depends on the piece! I want to be a little higher than middle C- maybe even a G above- for this section, but other sections involve rather low notes. In the Prokofiev Sonata I'm working on, a lot is super bass heavy- then I want to be lower (surprise!).
Basically- if you feel like you're twisting instead of moving parallel to the keys, you need to move on the bench.
Enjoy that interesting piece! smile


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Originally Posted by pianorigami
[...]I've felt my torso twisting uncomfortably, [...]


Another "Ah-ha!" This begs the question--would stretching help, as well? I mean warm-up stretching as athletes do. I work a fairly physically demaning job, and often stretch after work. That's when I think, "You dummy! You should'a stretched BEFORE work!"

I can see how working at being as limber as possible, along with the right bench position, could really facilitate playing.

Thanks for the thought, pianorigami!


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There's nothing like a good epiphany from time to time to keep things fresh !! grin

A recent "ah ha" moment for me came when I realized I could play the opening bars of Chopin's Heroic Polonaise with less tension and greater accuracy if I simply planted my rear west of middle C at the beginning of the piece. Once I get through the intro I gravitate slightly to the east to play the rest of the piece.


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Originally Posted by carey
There's nothing like a good epiphany from time to time to keep things fresh !! grin

A recent "ah ha" moment for me came when I realized I could play the opening bars of Chopin's Heroic Polonaise with less tension and greater accuracy if I simply planted my rear west of middle C at the beginning of the piece. Once I get through the intro I gravitate slightly to the east to play the rest of the piece.


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Middle C isn't the middle of the 88-key keyboard. (I think the middle is the gap between E and F, but I can't verify it at present...).

I plant myself at the exact mathematical middle when I play, except when I don't... grin

Actually, for some pieces, it's almost impossible to play properly if you sit right at middle C, because there's so much stuff at the high end to reach (as in Ravel's Ondine - with the LH over the RH).


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Originally Posted by Cinnamonbear
Another "Ah-ha!" This begs the question--would stretching help, as well? I mean warm-up stretching as athletes do. I work a fairly physically demaning job, and often stretch after work. That's when I think, "You dummy! You should'a stretched BEFORE work!"


YES!

I plant myself in the middle of the bench when I play, but I can reach pretty much everything. I'm a reasonably healthy/fit person and do a lot of stretching (I play golf.)

I've experimented with moving for different pieces, but it throws off my sense of place at the keyboard, which I find very important for accuracy, especially when reading.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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If both hands are reaching far to one end of the keyboard, it also helps to move the foot on the opposite side of the body away from center for balance. Then it can take the extra pull instead of keeping it all in your shoulders and back.


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Andy, I really chuckled over the way you wrote the OP. I also really like your compass directions and I am sure we will all adopt this way of referring to position because it is so clear!

My first teacher never made a big deal about position so neither did I. I move where I need to.

An additional thought about position is wrist/elbow angle. It's pretty astonishing how a tiny adjustment in either one, (east or west), can make a difficult passage much easier. The same goes for moving your hand north or lifting your wrist.


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Well, I sit somewhere in the middle. But I lean all over the place if I have to go up high or way down low. What works really well is if I can hook a knee under the front edge of the piano, I can maintain my balance wherever I am and not fall off the bench while people are looking. I've only done that once.

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I've certainly seen professionals move to the left or right on the bench if the particular passage required this or if this made it easier. Of course, moving this way extensively back and forth would probably look silly. I think it's 100% reasonable, unless there are other reasons that trump it, to even start a piece(like the List Etude)seated further to the right than one normally sits.

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Eduard Hanslick! Where in the world have you been! grin Thank you for those links. That was very interesting reading!

Thank you, everyone, for your replies!

--Andy


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Originally Posted by Cinnamonbear
Eduard Hanslick! Where in the world have you been! grin Thank you for those links. That was very interesting reading!

Thank you, everyone, for your replies!

--Andy


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Earlier this year, my teacher gave me the Khachaturian Toccata to learn, just for a bit of fun, mostly. There was one little passage which is repeated a couple of times in the piece, where both hands play this little figure at the top of the piano and then come down. I was struggling with this for a while, to get them even and clean... until one day when I decided I would play it for a school performance. While I was warming up for this, I was going through the infamous passage and suddenly realised it was much easier if I sat slightly due east of where I normally would sit; and thus the passage was satisfactory: according to several accounts, I gave a good performance that day.


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