Question 16.

The question posted by Eric is truly the general one: "the technique of playing the piano – what does it LITERALLY mean?" This question had been caused by the "jelly effects" that appeared in his fingers...

My Answer:

§ 1. When we are speaking about "the technique of playing the piano" – we truly do not have to speak only about "manners, the FINGERS have to be moved in"! Why nobody asks about the true content of this notion? In my opinion, we rather have to consider another problem: exactly WHAT causes such unpleasant "jelly-fingers" effect? Or better: WHICH elements should be build into the process to make our play technically sure?

Look at this analogy: do the listeners come to the Concert Hall to observe HOW the pianist's fingers deal with the keys?

Nonsense, of course not! However, I am a little bit afraid, here exist the LISTENERS who rather would like to SEE the performance and OBSERVE the SHOW, than to LISTEN to performed music. Similarly, here exist the pianists who are stronger interested in the manner their fingers are moving on the keyboard - than in the artistic meaning of music they (likely) are trying to perform.

To the model then: the process of listening to the pianists' play could be interpreted as follows:

- The artistically FORMED idea (its existence is fully IDEAL) HAS to be TRANSMIT by performed sounds (the fully MATERIAL existence) from the pianist's FANTASY (meta-physical actuality formed by the bodily factors) to the listener's UNDERSTANDING (meta-physical actuality formed by the bodily factors).

According to this model, the meaning of notion "technique of playing the piano" must include such skills as below:

Firstly: The ability to create the ARTISTICALLY interesting IDEA of the concrete piece of music.

Secondly: The ability to COMPRESS this idea into the sounds in such way, which will equip them with the emotional DISTINCTIVENESS - easily readable for the listeners.

Thirdly: The psychophysical ability to the fluent public realization of the whole process.

It must be very clear that the "speed and agility of fingers" truly cannot be interpreted as the sole and one, likely WHOLE meaning of the piano technical complex. Essentially seen: just this side of the matter represents the peripheral aspect of the whole question; the practice strongly approves my supposition. The Greats really do not experience the "jelly fingers effect" and this happened NOT due to EXTREME power of their fingers; they were just able to act excellently in the PHYSICAL meaning too, because they absolutely have NO doubts relating to the ARTISTICAL REALITY they created using the piano.

§ 2. Wanting to develop and improve the real artistic technique of playing the piano one must focus ones attention on truly fundamental elements of the matter. Only such a work will bring the positive effects. Going along the right way, besides, is much more easy, interesting, and funny then producing the meaningless "side effects" (as increasing the hands' power, for instance) – do you agree? The main question now, is: how to establish the entire thing correctly?

Up to this moment we have not considered the key role of our hearing. Generally, pianists must be interested in a little bit different aspects of the sound than these, who played string or wind instruments. It should be as natural as is the fact of differences between the nature of the piano and nature of string and/or wind instruments. Each specialty must check up such aspects THAT decide the accurateness of the concrete instrument's usage. For example: pianists do not must be interested in the sounds' pitch because they cannot affect it at all. Reversibly: the sounds' pitch must be the center point for violinists - if not, they would play false.

 § 3. To the matter, again: which aspects of the sounds decide quality of playing the piano?

Let us draw the certain specification:

A. Stability and particular IMMOBILITY of the piano sound: pianists cannot play using even very discrete "vibrato" effect that makes the sound alive (as can be done in singing as well as in playing on the string and wind instruments).

B. Greater differences in time of continuance especially between lower and higher piano tones; as well hereby exist greater differences between the dynamic possibilities of lower and higher sounds. Unlike as other players can do, the pianists CANNOT positively affect on the piano sound's length (make it longer) – the piano sound just disappears...

C. Specific OBJECTIVITY; mechanic character; easiness in mechanical articulation: even dropped stone can produce the piano sound (which is impossible on violin or oboe). Truly said, the pianists can play strictly formally very well, being still psychically (emotionally) likely absent. It is ashamed, but according to several piano masters' advice (of XIX Century), the pianists should practice scales or studies, simultaneously reading books (just for entertainment). Happily such bits of advice become definitely "out of service" today.

These all aspects specified above, DETERMINE the way the pianists must go along, trying to change their work into easy, joyful, and effective procedure. Factually, pianists might get much help using at least such technical element, typical for another musical specialties - as (visualized) bow that greatly integrates the hands' acting.

§ 4. Ahead of all, we have to say some words about hearing: it is astonishing that before and after Chopin only Neuhaus (1888-1964) has had so explicitly written about hearing that doubtlessly must play the most important role in any musical activity. The hearing must DIRECT the fingers and it must be finally sure that the quality (preciseness and stability) of created musical images, productivity of musical fantasy - this all must HAPPEN in the musicians' hearing - differentiates our population, dividing it into more and less talented, so - into these WHO CAN, and those WHO CAN NOT play well. Therefore, if we truly want to improve our abilities - technical, mechanical, instrumental as well, we HAVE to focus our attention on question that belong to this CHIEFLY IMPORTANT side of the matter. Such EXTERNAL values as possibility to play fast, stable, loud as well as ability to memorize better - will appear as very welcomed, pleasant, fantastic - still SIDE EFFECTS of our factual musical growth.

Yes, we have some concrete indications hereby and they become presented for a while.

§ 5. Of course - the purely physical, habitually most exciting side of the problem also exist, and now it comes its time, but - PHYSICAL - cannot mean "related to the hands only":

Our GOAL: easiness through wise usage of the weights and ENERGY, but not – mainly – POWER! We need the sound's power only, but actually the brutally acting hands cannot produce this one.

Our GOAL: such hands' activity that would fully be directed by Fantasy - therefore Fantasies cannot be indistinct, cloudy and/or indifferent.

Our GOAL: such HEARING that would be able to act as the effective transmitter and synergist between PSYCHICAL and MATERIAL elements of the whole thing.

The QUESTION: which elements of the piano technique should be defined as the PHYSICALLY most difficult?

The ANSWER: the keyboard's resistance, which makes the high-speed tempi difficult, sometimes causing even physical pains. The FEARS related to "the keyboards' resistance" causes "the jelly finger" effect, disturbs memory, and brings at last a kind of an artistic apathy.

The QUESTION: which element of the matter causes majority of technical problems?

The ANSWER: the hands' inefficient work is being fully erroneously interpreted as the REASON for all the PSYCHICALLY perceptible plagues. However, FACTUALLY, the hands' inefficient acting is being CAUSED by all these reasons that have been presented in all of the former paragraphs of this message.

§ 6. Therefore everybody, who truly likes to improve his/her piano skills - should change the point of maximal interest from "strengthening the fingers", which has enough strong been approved as the non-profitable experimenting, and start to go another way along.

Honestly say, however actually the D. Oistrakh's method gave me the most important impulse that definitely changed my thinking about mechanical side of the piano technique, just watching the video "Horowitz in Vienna" I have finally understood WHAT must happen in pianists HEARING and FANTASY - to assure his hands' action. Well, I have experienced David Oistrakh's method accompanying hundreds master-lessons given by Prof. Valery Klimov at his summer-classes in Germany; Prof. Klimov was the Oistrakh's successor in the Moscow Conservatory of Music.

§ 7. WHAT exactly I have detected in the Horowitz's EYES and WHICH elements of his sound-forming manner become the final-measures to me?

The first thing I have discovered herein, watching the TV screen, was the endless, stable MOTION, working inside of HIS MIND like an engine in the car or better - as the wind working FOR the sailboat. It became once again clear to me that only pianist Fantasy's agility could DEFINITELY WIN all the piano sound's typical weaknesses (look at § 3.) changing our playing device into fully musical, singing instrument. Such sound-forming habit (as Horowitz's own one) must be practiced starting from the first contacts with the piano: no one sound may be taken up from the keyboard purely mechanically and never the student's attention could be FULLY focused on the NOT-MUSICAL objects (as PURELY fingers or hands).

§ 8. Of course, we have to speak about fingers and hands, still focusing the attention on truly important aspects of their usage. I mean, on managing their energy and weight - showing the students proper DIRECTIONS the hands and fingers have to be moved in, and simultaneously presenting HOW their usage influences the sound's quality. Exactly, the two sound's qualities have to relentlessly be watched up when practicing and playing the piano:

- The pianist has to be sure that his fingers do not crush the sound's VISUALIZED surface. The proper dynamic degree (level, range, ZONE) has to be defined, imagined, achieved, and controlled. And it should be very clear that we cannot practice using any acoustically weak sort of the piano sound!

- The pianist has to be sure that the IMAGINABLE sound's internal energy flows forward. The energy of the sound cannot be retarded or stopped, which MUST OCCUR if steely fingers just physically crush the sounds. Normally, the pianists are not used to observe HOW the sounds might be managed by their own hearing and fantasy. Only The Greats realize such control automatically - their mind & body UNITY just play the piece, not their hands - in better or poorer help of the memory (mental, aural, kinesthetic, etc.). This is the first task to all them of us, who dream about better quality FOR our piano playing.

Even if you celebrated your 7th Birthday 70 years ago and have played for this time using your fingers in fully unmusical way, you still are probably be able to play the piano very well within at least the next 30 years! It is rather much TIME to improve your piano art...! Let you consider it seriously!

§ 9. Why these all psychical, motional and emotional aspects of the piano technical schooling are so important to us?

In the whole theory of the piano only few Masters have seriously consider the INVISIBLE ROOTS of the visible piano technical effects. Among them on the first positions I see the pedagogically grown-up old Liszt and the MUSICALLY always full-grown Chopin and his great follower - Prof. Harry Neuhaus, who has studied not only by Godowski's in Vienna, but as well by Blumenfeld, like Horowitz. As well Prof. György Sandor's great book and deeply interesting articles of Abby Whiteside present the very similar point of view as works of these both giants, Chopin and Neuhaus, do.

Still the most exciting to me are today the results of strictly psychological modern researches: according to them the EMOTIONAL RESONANCE has to be more and more seriously taken into consideration in our comprehending of any public success. And however neither Neuhaus nor Chopin could add any data relating to such new aspect of the matter, their GREAT INTUITION – seemingly – actually told them enough much about real roots of the COMPETENT technique of the piano and about principles of its development. The listeners (including the Members of the Jury of all piano Competitions worldwide) must react on the EMPTINESS that obviously will arise from performances made by the steely fingers, still offering zero EMOTIONALLY INTERESTING thoughts. Additionally, "steely sounds" much easier could be done by the more humanly schooled hands (link).

§ 10. At the end I would like to say some words about strictly manual aspects of the piano practice:                   

- Dynamic discipline (that depends of the artistic needs) must regulate the energy usage in practicing the piano on any schooling degree.

- Motional controlling must regulate the physical side of playing the piano. Let you ask: does the sound live? Does the sound's visualized way ends upwards? In the very short time one, who observes the sounds flowing (if happens...) will experience some nice changes in his technique: the first of them – is the easiness in tempo, the second one - no more symptoms of the physical exhaustion, the third one - more interest toward played music, the fourth one - better memory, etc., etc.

- Fingers cannot brutally push on the keys - theirs action MUST be persistently corrected according to heard and evaluated sound's qualities; look at the Zone.

- The pianist must be informed that the most natural direction for the down-going hand and its elements is "down and slightly back." Attention: the sound's surface cannot be crushed! Attention: sound's internal energy must flow forward! (Look at this link.)



I will try to enlighten the peripheral aspects of the matter in the next Answers on the personal Questions.


With my Very Best Wishes – Stefan K.