Excerpt from my piano method book: about weight training

I’ve been re-typing my piano method book recently – what a task! I don’t know how I lost the first draft in the first place, although I do feel like re-writing some part of it.

While it’s still in the process of completion, I would like to share some paragraphs with you from the draft as I was getting to where I mentioned about the weight-training method with which I acquired my technique a decade ago. This is an excerpt from chapter four, on Seymour Bernstein’s “With Your Own Two Hands.”

Bernstein’s Weight Training Method

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 has given me such freedom on the keyboard that I have never experienced before which still remains to date. I am greatly indebted to such practice. And now I want to share with all of you the magic and beauty of this method as well.

This weight training method is presented in Chapter 7 of the book, “You and the Piano”, under the subtitle “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 practice 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 of weight. So I did, during my graduate study at Indiana University, buy a couple of weight straps of around three-five pounds each with magnetic stripes originally for leg training to strap 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 around my wrists alternately, each hand practicing for no more than five minutes. Initially the weight was very heavy on the wrist, but I instantly felt and heard the difference under the fingers and the sounds I was producing on the piano. After a while I got used to it, I extended the practice time to a longer period of ten-fifteen minutes. I also compared the difference in feelings between using the weight and not using it, and the thing was, once I got used to having some weights on my wrist, there was much more feeling of the weight under 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. I also used both weights on the wrists at the same time to work on not only the sensation of weight, but also for the weight transfer and the five techniques analyzed I am going to mention in the next chapter, as well as for the pieces I was working on for the different techniques etc, while still limiting the duration of each weighted practice to no more than fifteen minutes in order to protect my hands.

For you, my readers, who really want to adapt a new way of playing, the way that uses weight instead of force, you should definitely try this experiment. Just try the method with weight on your wrists and you can immediately feel the difference. Nonetheless, you have to be very careful with such weight training. First of all, don’t fight against the weight. Let the weight sink naturally unto your arms and wrists so that you can feel the heaviness under your fingertips down into the keys. Secondly, use a lighter weight, e.g. three pounds, or even just one pound to start with. Begin with practicing on one wrist first for a couple minutes, then the other wrist for another couple minutes. Practice it with scales or even just five notes back and forth (C-D-E-F-G and G-F-E-D-C). It is not important what you practice it with. Most importantly it is the weight you should feel in your fingertips and the transfer of weight from one finger to another. It is like Tai-Chi, there is only one energy and the energy is flowing back and forth, left and right.

Notice that when we say weight transfer, it means there is only one weight being used and transferred from one finger to another. For instance, when you are playing with your index finger on the right hand, you only feel all the weight under the index finger to the keyboard, while all other fingers are quite light and relaxed. Then when you play with the middle finger next, the weight is completely transferred from the index finger which is now relaxed. You can stand on the middle finger under which fingertip the weight is transferred to the struck key. There should not be any tension under the finger and in the hand. Remember, firmness and strength is different from tension and tightness. And only a fraction of energy is necessary to hold one finger on the key to keep the sound sustained when required.

For all the experiments in this and following chapters, please try them one by one with utmost patience and focus. Observe each of your movements very carefully. Analyze and enlarge every little detail like you do with a microscope. Practice each exercise with focus and confidence. Trust that each experiment and exercise is helping you move one little step towards gaining freedom in your piano playing. Only with such faith and confidence will this book work for you.

Teresa Wong

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