Piano Technique IV

[anti-rclick] With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music by Seymour Bernstein.
New York: Schirmer Books. 1981.

Seymour Bernstein is a prolific composer, pianist and sought-after piano pedagogue. He also keeps himself busy with book writing on the subject of piano playing, and the book “With Your Own Two Hands” is certainly one such great product. The tone of the book is compassionate and the readers can simply feel the sincerity of the author, who shares without preservation his learning experience, teaching philosophy and methods.

The best thing I have ever learnt from this book is the use of arm weight. The method of weight training introduced by Bernstein revolutionized my way of playing and it gave me such freedom on the keyboard I had never experienced before and still remains today. I am greatly indebted to such practice. And now I want to share with all of you as well the magic and beauty of this method.

This arm weight training method is presented in Chapter 7 of the book, “You and the Piano”, on the second page of the chapter, under the sub-title ‘Arm Weight” (p.128-9). In the chapter, Bernstein mentions about his early experience of using weight for his piano practice when he was sixteen. Supplied by his father, Bernstein got some small steel balls and sewed them inside the leather pieces. He then attached the pieces around his wrist and practised on the piano. With such experiment he immediately felt the sensation of heavy weight from the arms and the fingertips to the keyboard with less effort, more control of touch and better control of sound.

Bernstein suggests using weight straps from athlete supplies store, using one pounds to five pounds. So I did, during my graduate study at Indiana University, buy a couple of similar products from the store and try out his method. They are some weight straps of around 3-5 pounds each with magnetic stripes originally for leg training strapping around the ankles, then used by me strapping around the wrists instead. I followed Bernstein’s suggestion quite strictly in order not to hurt my hands, so at first I started with using one weight strap wrapped around my wrists alternately, each hand practising for no more than five minutes. Initially the weight was very heavy, but I definitely felt and heard the difference in the fingers and the sounds I was producing. After I got used to it, I extended the practice time to longer period of perhaps 10-15 minutes. I also compared the difference in feelings between using the weight and not using it, and the thing is, once I got used to having some weights on my wrist, there was much more feeling of the weight in the fingers to the keys, more control of the touch and sound produced, and thus more freedom in my playing, even when I was not strapping the weights around my wrists.


My Weight Straps


And the best of all? This technique still stays with me today, with the combination of what I have learnt from Gyorgy Sandor’s book, “On Piano Playing”. (See Piano Technique II and Piano Technique III).

Until the next post,
Teresa Wong.
Feb 23, 2010.

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