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#3217874 05/20/22 12:23 PM
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hello,

I'm struggling a bit with my piano lessons and I can't put my finger on what it is: just me being insecure, or that the style of my piano teacher doesn't fit what I need.

Some background: I started with lessons as a six-year old, and continued until we moved when I was 12. When I was in my twenties I picked it up again and had two more years of lessons. In the 25-ish years since then I have kept playing the piano, but also other instruments. But I noticed that I found it hard to progress beyond a certain point by myself, and just before the Corona-lockdown I decided to take lessons again, and that's still ongoing.

My current piano teacher is a great performer, mostly as an organist. I learned a lot from her. She assured me I improved in those two years - that is not always easy to tell by yourself. But the thing is - she sometimes just confuses me. Maybe I best give an example.

I struggle somewhat with playing evenly. Sometimes it is as if some fingers won't do what I want them to do - or do it a bit too early or too late, too loud or not at all. As if there's a bit of noise on the line.
When we first discussed this she came with some exercises from Alfred Cortot's "Rational principles", the ones where you rest some fingers on the keys while playing a pattern with the others. I worked on those for a while, until she told me some lessons later that I shouldn't focus overmuch on those, because the most important thing is to "make music", not some mechanical exercise.

And sure, I agree. In general, at least ... but what if there are simply some muscles that need to be made stronger?
I don't know if that is the case, but it sure feels like it at times.

Maybe the essence of it is that she interprets playing the piano mostly as finding the right mental attitude, and from that the rest will follow - while I can't help feeling that "the rest" can sometimes get in the way of arriving at that right mental attitude.

But I do recognise that the attitude is very important as well. For instance, if I am frustrated, trying harder will usually not work. It will mostly make it even worse, because I am just getting more frustrated and upset, until I feel I cannot play one note right.
And she's absolutely right that "making music" is for a very large part a matter of attitude and intention.

It has happened a few times that I was just idly playing some chords that I felt sounded pleasant, and then she'd say - "well NOW you are making music!"
"But I was just playing some chords!"

There's some sort of truth hidden there, but how can I find it?


And while I'm at it - something else that confuses me to no end is that I can't find out what amounts to a good approach to teaching and learning piano technique. As a child, I had the same teacher who taught my father - a most charming gentleman, but distinctly "old school" in his "Hanon-style" approach. My current teacher lent me her Cortot book, and I got a secondhand copy myself. My first thought was "well, that seems a lot more thought-through than Hanon" - but then I come across yet another, more current book somewhere online, and that author dismisses Cortot for being in the same "Age of Exercise" category.
My teacher also came with a book based on Tobias Matthay's approach. I read it was enthusiastic about it because it makes it very clear how arms and hands work (which I was only faintly aware of). Only to, sometime later, read someone else dismissing all that.

And the same about the role of the interosseous muscles. There seem to be a lot of opinions out there, but they often contradict one another.
But surely, arms and hands are arms and hands - and people haven't evolved that much in the past 100 years - so it should be possible to arrive at a shared understanding of what amounts to good piano practice possible, you would think.

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Originally Posted by Lúthien
There's some sort of truth hidden there, but how can I find it?
If there was a universal truth, we would have solved the problem of the Universe by now (how it began, how it would end, how to survive black holes etc).

The solution? Most definitely not all this:
Quote
And while I'm at it - something else that confuses me to no end is that I can't find out what amounts to a good approach to teaching and learning piano technique. As a child, I had the same teacher who taught my father - a most charming gentleman, but distinctly "old school" in his "Hanon-style" approach. My current teacher lent me her Cortot book, and I got a secondhand copy myself. My first thought was "well, that seems a lot more thought-through than Hanon" - but then I come across yet another, more current book somewhere online, and that author dismisses Cortot for being in the same "Age of Exercise" category.
My teacher also came with a book based on Tobias Matthay's approach. I read it was enthusiastic about it because it makes it very clear how arms and hands work (which I was only faintly aware of). Only to, sometime later, read someone else dismissing all that.

And the same about the role of the interosseous muscles. There seem to be a lot of opinions out there, but they often contradict one another.
But surely, arms and hands are arms and hands - and people haven't evolved that much in the past 100 years - so it should be possible to arrive at a shared understanding of what amounts to good piano practice possible, you would think.
Think about it: all those virtuosi playing Gaspard effortlessly at age fifteen, winning the Tchaikovsky at sixteen, world famous at seventeen. Do they know what interossei are? Do they care?

Nope, they are too busy learning and mastering new rep, new concertos, and conquering the world. Does their technical facility depend on them knowing which muscles they are using (or meant to be using)? Nope - they just need to find the right fingerings for whatever they are learning which suits their hand shape & size. The right movements follow.

What books did they use? Whatever their teachers used. Ask three excellent teachers, and you get four different opinions. Maybe ten. How come they all produced decent pianists? Because they taught well, and their students followed their advice.......and didn't keep second-guessing everything they were asked to practice or do.

My advice to you is: desist from over-thinking (the bane of adult learners), use Cortot (or whatever your teacher recommends) and stick with it if it works for you - but like all technical books, do not overdo things, and listen carefully to what you are playing and don't rush. Or - don't bother with any of that stuff, and just practice your scales and arpeggios. They are the bedrock of all classical piano technique.

FWIW, none of my four teachers (during the ten years I had lessons as a kid) ever used Hanon or Cortot or whatever. In fact, I never heard of any of that as a kid, and none of my fellow piano students (with other teachers) used them either. The only technique book I ever used was a slim book of very short (non-musical) exercises - each just a bar or two long -, recommended by my last teacher, to iron out any remaining weaknesses prior to my diploma exam. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than pure technical exercises, so that instead of pages and pages of repetitive stuff, you can find where your problem areas are very quickly, and work on them. The only prose in it is brief succinct advice on how to practice them, nothing on what muscles or joints you are meant to use. Is it better than Hanon or Cortot or whatever? Nope - but it does the same job, with far fewer notes to read smirk - so it works for me. After all, I'm a pianist, not an exerciser.......

If you have trouble playing runs and passagework smoothly, concentrate on your scale technique rather than anything more esoteric. Remember - get the basics right first, and everything else will follow in time.

And before I forget: I don't use Hanon or Cortot with my (child) students either.....


"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."
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Bennevis offers very sound advice.

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Can't say I agree completely with bennevis, though he raises some good points. My scale technique only improved once a teacher showed me inefficiencies in my playing technique, which I had to train. My fingerings were right all along. The right movements didn't just follow. That said, maybe I'm just not talented enough...

Piano technique is hard to explain, and sometimes stuff which seems contradictory in text actually isn't when you perform it. For that, you need a teacher who can do and demonstrate what they're doing. They should also be able to observe and correct. I don't think all this philosophical waffling does much.

Videos are a better source imo, especially for a beginner.

There may be some role of the interossei, but there's no point in you thinking about it as a beginner. It's not the limiting factor. Finger strength is not the limiting factor. What limits you is stability and balance. Those other factors are possibly relevant, especially when it comes to virtuosic technique, but you really shouldn't consider yourself about them before a lot of other things are established.

Check this out re stability of the various fingers.


Also, bennevis, serious question: Do you think lessons like the one above are pointless, because the teacher goes into arm mechanics (and is it hence overanalyzing)?

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Originally Posted by ranjit
Can't say I agree completely with bennevis, though he raises some good points.

I do agree with bennevis but with a very large caveat.

Students differ significantly in their learning styles. If your learning style is like bennevis's he is absolutely right, there is no better way. If not, you'll crash and burn, get frustrated and quit, and the teacher may be left with only students who succeed, and remain firmly convinced this is the only approach that works.

Ideally we would match student learning style to teaching style. But it's hard enough to find a good teacher for any approach, let alone one that matches your personality.

Some students are very intellectual and analytical, and do well with that style teaching. Others prefer a goal oriented style like Inner Tennis or the famous Think system.


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Originally Posted by David-G
Bennevis offers very sound advice.

The advice rests on the premise that the teacher is teaching well and appropriately. This may be so, or not.

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Thanks for the responses! I’ll give it some thought first.

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Originally Posted by Luthien
. . . But I do recognise that the attitude is very important as well. For instance, if I am frustrated, trying harder will usually not work. It will mostly make it even worse, because I am just getting more frustrated and upset, until I feel I cannot play one note right.
And she's absolutely right that "making music" is for a very large part a matter of attitude and intention.

It has happened a few times that I was just idly playing some chords that I felt sounded pleasant, and then she'd say - "well NOW you are making music!"
"But I was just playing some chords!"

There's some sort of truth hidden there, but how can I find it?

You might want to read (or re-read) "Zen and the Art of Archery", by Eugen Herrigel. It has a lot of relevant material, written by a German philosopher, trying to figure out how to follow the non-instructions of his Japanese instructor.

My suggestion -- FWIW -- is that you should stop hunting for "the truth", because (with apologies to its source) "the truth that can be found, is not the truth."

Instead, just keep playing some chords. Don't try to copy yourself, don't try to figure out what pleases your teacher. Just keep playing chords. When your teacher says "That's nice music!", don't think about what notes you were playing:

. . . think about how you were _feeling_ when you played them.

_That's_ what you should listen to, and try (very, very gently) to practice.


. Charles
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PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq

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