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Piano Technique Reviews: Thomas Mark: What Every Pianist Needs to Know About the Body
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How To Learn To Play Piano ♬ The Ultimate List For Beginners
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At very least, some ruleouts may be possible. There are a few things that are clear from history and experience without much learned searching: The real question is what kind of work? What are the signs or criteria for good, which is say, effective, practice? I don't seriously think that I know all that will be physically good for any given student of piano, since that depends on too many factors.
I don't and can't give a method, in the sense of a recipe; I don't believe that such a recipe exists. Putting experience, neurology, psychology and little logic together does seem to give a clue as to what is involved and what criteria a dedicated student might consider as a metamethod or system of criteria for determining what to do and how to do it, or perhaps more simply put, how to recognize and solve the technical problems that arise during the process of learning.
The metamethod, in distinction from most piano methods, will focus not on physical processes, but on mental processes which are much harder to communicate: Clear examples cannot be given for things mental. Nevertheless, I will try using analogy and metaphor, and see what comes of it. First let's collect some facts of life by history and observation. An initiate not only could not start by playing Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata or Liszt's B minor Sonata, but would probably not be able to make any sense of it anyhow.
It takes experience and practice in listening to hear all the voices of a four voiced fugue; it is not something humans are born with. If you can't hear them, can you play them properly?
Here, I confess a bias in taste: Playing music is all about expressing or projecting the form inherent in the score. However, a good sightreader, can play any score within technical limitations.
I've known musicians who are playing wonderfully on stage, but whose mind is also considering what to get for food after the concert, weighing whether pizza would be a good idea. I somehow doubt that this was the case with Gould, who was so completely engrossed in what he was doing that he was even oblivious to the fact that he was conducting and singing at the same time. By direct observation, Rubenstein was either absorbed in what he was doing or paying attention to the audience as much as they were paying attention to him.
Each has a unique mental pattern; but, the interesting point is that neither full consciousness of music nor of physical execution is apparently necessary. I am using inferential logic here based on observations, and my assertions must looked at circumspectly and questioningly. It is normal for people to walk, talk and think at the same time; however, note the impairment of thinking and even talking if the walking is done on a crowded street where one has constantly to avoid collisions.
The act of walking has acquired a complication that some people adjust to by exposure and practice. Activities and thoughts can superpose, but there is an individual and circumstantial limit to the degree to which such superposition is successful. To the present point: Position sense in the hand is redundantly give. There are sensors in the joints and there are also sensors Golgi tendon organs in the tendons of the hands.
The Golgi organs as well as the joint sensors fire or respond to changes, which is to say movement. With stillness, regardless of conformation, the sensors will stop firing and stop feeding back information on position to cognitive faculties. This situation is not unique to the hand. This information of position is constantly being fed back to the brain or spinal cord during motion, and yet, we use very much our visual cues to accomplish proprioception.
A pianist does things that are of such complexity and rapidity, that normal ocular visual cues are not enough. What must be refined in practice in a pianist is the brains decoding of the sensory cues as well as an internal visualization that can operate with greater rapidity and complexity that a vision that uses the bulky ocular vision.
This is metaphorically using the speed of a CPU of a computer rather than processing in some slower peripheral device. Ocular vision is necessarily stuck in the present moment while an internal vision is not only not stuck in the present moment, it is not even stuck in a single moment, but can be spread over an anticipated time. Entire passages, pages or even movements and pieces can be grasped and anticipated with internal vision.
The trained ability to do this is clearly also a form of memorization. Does the brain actually superpose cognitive tasks or activities? From the above examples, the answer is yes. Are tasks categorized so that different categories can be superposed but, two tasks in the same category cannot?
Or, is this just harder and another task to master: This is a special a task as sightreading or transposing while sightreading. Even people who are genuinely bilingual or multilingual have difficulty doing this unless they have trained themselves to do it, so as to act as translators in informal situations where the speaker whose words are being translated is oblivious to the ongoing translation, e.
Alternatively, does the mind act line a computer's CPU in a time sharing system, which actually only does performs one task at a time but which switches between tasks do a little bit of all required tasks in such a scheduled way so it appears that all tasks are being served simultaneously?
Nature is filled, and human minds are filled with illusions of perception. Computer software continues the trend. The brain has a division of labor that goes beyond division by hemispheres, so that many primitive activities that are highly localized can be coordinated to form complex activities that are also servomechanistic. Some long term memories are actually encoded at the molecular level; you can't much more local. Superposition of neurological activities is not the same thing as superposition of cognitive activities, and yet there is also indication of of just such superposition.
From the localization of neurological activities one can infer their superposition in time. From experience and observation one can infer similar superposition of cognitive activities.
What seems to be the case in cognitive functions is that while the can be superposed, there is a necessary prioritization that goes with that superposition, which is to say they are also coordinated. One and only one cognitive activity is dominant at any given time. One and only one cognitive state is dominant at any given time. Here the concept of time sharing comes into play.
The important thing for a pianist is develop a wide repetoir of cognitive activities and states which involve bihemispheric connections and activities. If every act of a pianist were indeed sequentially volitional, in a simple sense, piano playing would be quite impossible: That each note is a separate and independent volition is an untenable hypothesis.
I have not even taken into account the complexity required in the performance of complex counterpoint. There are two ways to alter this hypothesis: Reality always involves limitations, which is why thoughts of magic, however unrealistic, are often emotionally preferred, and unfortunately believed.
No matter how useful volitional or reflex acts are parsed neurologically, the resulting model is overwhelmingly complicated and it is obvious that the act is not expressed in an act that controls the maze of complication in detail.
There is instead a neurological cascade effect where something triggers a chain reaction or cascade of neurological firing that ends in the desired complex effect. The intermediaries of the cascade are established through practice and training. But, there must be that initial neurological event that is the trigger.
Reflex is relatively speaking, easier to understand than a volitional act, which may or may not have a physically discernible result: There are physical and mental reflexes that have as trigger some fairly simple physical or mental trigger.
Some reflexes are essential hardwiring of the nervous system and others are learned. Many mental and physical activities have at the end of their neurological cascade, reflexes, which when physical are mostly monosynaptic therefore fast reflexes that involve the spinal cord directly and not the brain.
What is missing in this picture is the trigger for a complex task. My assertion on this is that mind uses a simple, but carefully nurtured metaphor with which it can deal effectively and usefully, often that metaphor is an internal image. Some voice teachers teach their students to visual their voice. Students of meditation are often taught to center or balance themselves.
Concepts of center, balance, focus and rootedness are involved in the proper teaching of martial arts. Yoga students visualize the power of the kundalini shakti rising to excite the chakras. Mandalas and their cognates exist as explicitly geometric metaphors used in meditative forms. Images and sound appear in all human cultures where a change of consciousness or of mental state is involved. I have difficulty seeing this over and again and thinking that it is an accident.
Images, our most powerful metaphors of knowledge, are so powerful that we internalize them as the trigger metaphors for complex thought and physical action. These are the internal things that we can deal with, and do deal with, even in such seemingly simple acts as picking up a fork or a glass.
The idea of explicitly using internal visualization in the practice of acquiring piano technique should, at this point, seem completely obvious, as if I have said nothing new or interesting, but merely excited an old memory. There is, however, a little more to the story that just saying visualize internally. The existence, in music, of vertical events in the senses of confluent contrapuntal lines or chords suggests strongly that the notion of "instantaneous" pattern plays an important part in playing, therefore in technique and therefore in the practice that is to produce the technique.
Patterns of music are multidimensional and not merely vertical but involve dynamics, relative relationships to precedent and antecedent patterns, etc. It appears that for simple volitional body part movments, there is discernable potential rise in EEG as long as a half second before any actual movement. Training the prepotential and facilitating neuronal pathways: There are plateaus in learning in general and there are plateaus is learning to be a pianist.
If the plateau turns into a block, there is some problem to solve which will involve defining or understanding what the problem is and then finding a way through proper vivualization, and practice of mental and physical preparation to solve it. Like most knowledge, pianism and musicianship is quasihierarchical, and builds expands from some fundamental foundation, sometimes altering extending and replacing the foundation itself.
There is, of course, no secret to the existence of the seemingly impossible: The secret is a general understanding of a metamethod by which the seemingly impossible is achieved; and, this is the subject at hand which I am trying to make as scientifically reasonable as I can. There is a long way to go for a "proof". The question and answer that I'm trying to get at here is just how this training and honing can be accomplished Physical Preparation: Occurs after the mental preparation To try to give bones to the theory, I'll give a series of exercises, starting with the simplest, that can be applied with suitable changes to working at any musical material.
Close your eyes and let the hands relax as much as possible. The fingers are just barely touching their keys. Visual a focused attention on each finger starting at one side and working slowly, finger by finger to the other side. All the while, move absolutely nothing; only your point of attention will move. If you keep this up, you should become of aware of two things, 1 As you focus your attention on one finger, your mental image of the others will fade.
If 1 does not happen, two things are possible, a you have already learned how to expand and superpose attention states and are probably a pretty good pianist already, or b you are fooling yourself into thinking that your attention and visual imaging is the best you can do.
With such completely internal subtleties it is very easy not to see what you don't see. Try harder to see the holes, lapses, droupouts or fadeouts of you internal imaging. If 2 does not happen, you are cheating in absolute stillness. If you move fingers or hand, even ever so slightly, you will be exciting the proprioception sensors of both joints and tendons that will send signals to the brain about where fingers and hand are in space.
If you remain absolutely still, these sensors will loose excitation and not feed back the proprioceptive information; that's just neurological reality. Perform this exercise with various hand positions in scale and passage segments and chords. Although, physically, you are doing nothing observable, which is the point, you are developing a mental foundation, and becoming aware by experience of proprties of mind and body. Discounting problems 1 and 2this should have been relatively easy.
The ease is partially associated with the cultural ease of point centered attention and left hemispheric dominance. The next exercise complicates the first, by adding an action. Only now the notes will be played. As before focus attention on each finger separately, but for each finger, after attention is focused, visualize as clearly as possible what you would do if you were to play the note under that finger.
Unhurriedly, rehearse several times what you would do, each time looking to clarify the image of the independent playing of this finger. You will reach after 6 or less such mental rehearsals a point of dimishing returns where no further internal visual clarification is had.
Now, play what you just rehearsed, noticing how it conformed to your final best rehearsal. Just drop the finger and retract it; slowly, we're not going for speed here but rather clarity of purpose. Does the hand otherwise remain still? Is the action of the finger smooth?
Without hesitation on your volition? If not try to get it as good as you can noticing once again a point of dimished returns. When that happens, move on to the next finger.
For a variation, use other sequences of fingers than simply up and down. While single finger attention is not hard, the eventual object is to have full unwavering attention to and visualization of both hands together and superposed, also supposed with simultaneous clear visualization and control over each of your ten fingers.
I propose to get there by entending the point attention slowly by building ever more inclusive pictures and dragging new objects of attention into successive pictures as the building progresses. So we can start with uniting two finger attention states into one while maintaining the original individual pictures. This gives three supeposed states of attention. Pick two adjacent fingers, and work like exercise 1, focusing attention first on one and then the other, but alternate just between the two fingers.
Remember this is eyes closed and there is no movements of eyes involved; it is all internal. Slowly increase the frequency of alternation, but while one finger is being focused upon, try to increase the attention and internal visual clarity of the other finger Perform the same with all 10 posible combinations of two fingers for one hand and then expand the set of fingers to both hands with 45 combinations.
It's a very simple exercise and you can make a lot of soundless work for yourself. Expand this then to actual playing as in exercise 2, with two possibilities: The hands are mirror images of one another and by playing mirror-symmetrically, and new kind of refinement of attention and criterion for internal clarity arises, namely the difference between what each hand is doing.
PIANO METHODS AND TECHNIQUE
The image of each hand is automatically a clarifier for the other. This is almost a sneaky trick to work on internal clarification. Work as in exercise 3, but pull a third finger into the picture so that the three fingers are pulled into a consolidated picture while attention is also simultaneously on each of thne individual fingers.
Use the method of switching back and forth beteen fingers and combinations of them fuszzing the isolated pictures until there is a smooth solid image. It is important to prepare both mentally and physically, every action. Different combinations of fingers will be more difficult than others. Continue the prococess pulling in an additional finger until there is a complete picture of both hands together with each hand seprately and each finger seprately.
This is much easier said than done. Patience, attention and time. When things start to slip in your mind, go back to something easier. Playing notes without strengthening the internal control images is a mistake and more than a waste of time. The following should be performed first slowly, by looking in order to establish references and gauges; second by looking away and stealing quick glances to restablish orientation when the internal images fail; third with eyes closed and no visial feedback at all.
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