Jakub Metelka’s Modern Piano Studies is an educationally useful and thoughtfully produced collection of 30 miniature pieces which address aspects both of technique and notation-reading at upper intermediate level. The book is certainly novel, and may have what it takes to establish itself as a contemporary classic in the pedagogy literature…Continue reading Jakub Metelka: Modern Piano Studies
Please note: “Bernice” is not the student’s real name.
However, her story is told here with permission, and with my gratitude.
Bernice is a 76-year-old learner who took up the piano about 5 years ago. She has made steady progress, is now early intermediate level, and particularly enjoys playing traditional classical favourites.
Bernice’s Wrist Problem
Bernice has recently developed some physical problems in her wrist area. On the right wrist, she has a large ganglion close to the base of her thumb, which cases mild discomfort. The surgeon she has consulted is going to remove this soon.
On the left wrist she has a more chronic problem. Here there is a ganglion just below the fifth finger, not noticeable to the eye, and a scan has revealed that it is pressing against a nerve. There is possibly also minor swelling in the tendon. The medical specialist cannot operate, but has suggested that with care and anti-inflammatories the problem may dissipate.
The mention of tendons might be enough to convince some that piano playing should be avoided altogether. It is natural that we teachers don’t want our students to experience pain, and most of us will be aware of the real danger that tendonitis presents to pianists.
However, the medical advice here is that it is fine for Bernice to continue playing the piano, provided she is careful and exercises moderation. The hospital specialist has pointed out that such problems, as well as arthritis, might become an ongoing issue, but that these need not stop her from pursing her love for music (which is real and important to her).
Happily then, we can assume that Bernice’s medical problems are essential “minor” at present. But this doesn’t diminish the discomfort she reported when coming to her lesson, nor her fear that she might not be able to continue playing.Continue reading Simple fixes for easing piano pain
In my recent article Why Bother with Scales? I considered the many benefits that arise from regularly playing and teaching scales and arpeggios.
In this shorter post I’m going to hone in on one especially important advantage which is sometimes overlooked entirely:
Regular scale and arpeggio practice trains the brain and the fingers to develop precision in judging and playing all intervals up to a fourth, using any standard combination of shapes and fingerings, and in all the standard keys.
This significant benefit is certainly not to be sniffed at, and fosters a technical ability that is otherwise unlikely to develop during the formative stages of learning the piano.
Let’s consider how this works…Continue reading Learning to Play with Precision
This post is an exclusive excerpt from the new monthly online newsletter from the UK branch of EPTA, The European Piano Teachers’s Association.
In order to reach a wider audience, Chair of EPTA Murray McLachlan has kindly agreed to Pianodao exclusively hosting the newsletter for non-members, as well as picking a short piece each month to feature as a guest post here.
This month, I’ve picked this short but very helpful and thought-proving piece written by Murray himself… and below you can download the full newsletter for additional free articles!
Curved Fingers or Flat Fingers?
A big subject, but in essence I would say a lot depends on the style of the music…
If I want to play rapid semiquavers in pre-Beethoven repertoire then I naturally curve my fingers for more articulation.
If I wish to have more legato and sonority in the romantic repertoire, then they tend to flatten instinctively.
Of course, we should all try to find power, focus and physical control from the knuckles. It is fundamentally bad practice to collapse the first and second joints of the fingers.
However, pupils with hypermobility may well find it difficult not to collapse their finger joints inwards as they play. Perseverance, patience and awareness of what they are doing can help.
Stress, tension and stiffness should be avoided at all costs. It can certainly help to focus on the knuckles and visualize internally a mental picture of finger movement from the ‘bridge’ of the hand (knuckles).
But in terms of how curved fingers should be in terms of a default position, try experimenting:
To find a pianist’s natural finger curve, get them to pick up a pencil without thinking about it. Just say have the thumb on one side, and the fingers on the other. After this is done, look at the curvature of the fingers.
What is there is what is comfortable – the correct curvature for that pianist at that time in most normal contexts.
EPTA Piano Teacher Talk No.1 (September 2018)
This article is drawn from the EPTA Teacher Talk newsletter. If you would like to read more from and about EPTA UK, please download:
Special Thanks to Karen Marshall, Murray McLachlan and Liz Dewhurst.
Pianists and teachers tend to have a variety of views about the value of “studies”, some strongly advocating daily practice of finger exercises, others suggesting they have little value away from the context of specific repertoire, in which case bespoke studies developed around tricky passages are preferable.
Personally I’ve always taken a middle path here. As I wrote in my recent article The Three Treasures of Musical Learning,
“All aspects of playing need consideration, not merely finger independence, tone control, and fluency – important though these obviously are for pianists. Scales, arpeggios, exercises and studies can all be helpful, but must be executed with an understanding of why they matter, and what is being developed.”
I’ve never found it difficult to understand or explain the benefits of the enjoyable little exercises in the Dozen A Day books, and my students almost always find the Burgmüller Op.100 both musically engaging and inspiring to play (my recording of them is free to listen to here).
But I’ve never been a huge fan of Hanon, Czerny, et al, and have tended to agree with my teacher’s teacher, Ernö Dohnányi, who wrote (with irony, in the introduction to his own book of finger exercises!) –
“In music schools, piano tuition suffers mostly from far too much exercise material given for the purely technical development of the pupils, the many hours of practice spent on these not being in proportion to the results obtained. Musicality is hereby badly neglected and consequently shows many weak points.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that when Gayle Kowalchyk and E.L. Lancaster’s two books of Piano Studies for Technical Development landed on my desk for review, my initial gut reaction was to excuse them from the short-list for consideration. Until … I took a closer look.
Let’s find out why I changed my mind …Continue reading Piano Studies for Technical Development
We all have a “teaching philosophy”, whether we realise it or not. Mine strongly advocates holistic, personalised, life-centred education. My model of The Three Treasures of Musical Learning is a key component to complement these values.
Paying attention to all Three Treasures – and at all stages of learning, from the youngest beginner to the most advanced professional – leads to deeper learning, fuelling progress and fostering a lifelong love relationship with music.
In this article I will explain what the Three Treasures are, and offer some tips on how focusing on them can help us develop as effective teachers.Continue reading The Three Treasures of Musical Learning
Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall
As piano teachers or pianists, I am sure that you – like I – have ventured “with much love” through the pages of Edna-Mae Burnam’s A Dozen A Day.
These books continue to be standard issue in my own teaching, and indeed my students even ask for the next in the series (without prompting).
When I saw that A Dozen A Day All Year Round was available – published by The Willis Music Company and distributed by Music Sales, retailing with a UK price of £19.99 – I was keen to review it.
I haven’t been disappointed…
András Schiff – surely one of the most revered pianists of our time – made the following extraordinary observation in a recent interview with Pianist Magazine (No.76, Feb-March 2014):
“For me, it is breathing that is vital. You must breathe naturally, like a singer. Pianists and string players often tend to forget the necessity of breathing and they can become very tense; then they get back pains and wrist pains and so on. Usually it can be sorted out through the breathing.”
Breathing is a subject that I have rarely seen discussed in connection with piano technique, and even less so in the context of pianists’ injuries, their causes, cures and corrections.
So András Schiff is hitting on a point that it would seem is indeed too often overlooked. Let’s explore this further…Continue reading András Schiff & Natural Breathing