Things I’ve Learnt About Piano Technique in the Last Six Months

Fingers should not be slaves. There should be a partnership between the brain, the fingers and the ear. So, you use logical thought to figure out how to do something, the best fingering or whatever, then fingers and hands try it. If it feels uncomfortable for the fingers, then it’s time for fingers and brain to negotiate a compromise. Then the ear has to have its say and this is important because the whole act of piano playing is for constant pursuit of the right sound. If it sounds good, do it. If not, brain and fingers must find another way.

“The tip of the fingers must always be alert”. According to the wonderful Mr. Boris Berman; “every instrumentalist or singer strives to achieve clarity of performance, and for each of them one or more parts of the body are responsible for enunciation. For singers as well as woodwind players these are the lips and the tongue; for string players it is the right arm that brings the bow into contact with the strings. For pianists, this function is performed by the fingertips”.

Elbows are reactive, not active. Your fingers go someplace, the elbow reacts. The elbow (and all of the rest of the arm) doesn’t get to lead. 

Rotations and circles are good. All human movement is circular (think about walking, for instance). We rarely move in a series of super-straight lines. Therefore it feels natural to incorporate circular movement in piano-playing. 

Your fingers are all different lengths so you have to compensate for that e.g. with rotation of the wrist. Also, thumbs are amazing.

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So I’m pretty glad I decided to go back to uni to do Honours this year because in a short time, I’ve really learnt a huge amount. Seriously, within my first few lessons I had more new information than I had after three years of doing my degree. What’s best of all is that I feel like I am finally getting to a stage where I can work autonomously, making my own decisions and doing my own problem solving to reach my desired result. And this is only the start! I have so much more to find out about and to learn.

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2 thoughts on “Things I’ve Learnt About Piano Technique in the Last Six Months

  1. Everything you say about piano technique is very good. One of 2 things I would add to your list is to recognize the role of gravity in terms of natural movements. Playing the piano has many parallels to walking or running in a sustainable fashion. If you fight gravity, you will get tight. Human anatomy plays a big role in all of this. Everything we do is in rotations and is a function of the intricacies of our anatomy. Our joints are the way stations through which “rotations” take place.

    The other thing to keep in mind is the absolute necessity of playing or practicing on a well regulated, quality piano that has enough tonal horse power to facilitate your technique and musical expression.

    Your piano does not have to be a Steinway, Bechstein, Sauter or Kawai or Yamaha. I am partial to Mason & Hamlin because I own a vintage AA about 100 years old that I restored a while back. I do however recommend a grand or baby grand piano over an upright if you can afford it or have the space for it.

  2. I totally agree, Eben. What you say about the importance of having a decent piano to practice on is something that resonates strongly with me, as until very recently I was playing an absolutely horrid piano! Playing a sub-par instrument really limits how far you can progress.

    Now I have a beautiful Yamaha grand which I totally looooove.

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