Month: November 2015

[:en]The Five Basic Patterns in Piano Technique (Part I)[:]

[:en]Reference Book: “On Piano Playing” by Gyorgy Sandor

In his book “On Piano Playing”, Sandor identifies five basic technical patterns in piano playing. And he lists them in the following order:

1. Free Fall
2. Five-Fingers, Scales and Arpeggios
3. Rotation
4. Staccato
5. Thrust

Here I would like to explain no. 1 Free Fall and no. 5 Thrust together, with the following passages selected from my upcoming book “Piano Freedom”. (to be published in 2016).

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FREE FALL

Free fall is all about gravity.

As I repeatedly say to my students, it only requires us two ounces to hold a key down. So what is all the fuss about hitting a key so hard with a lot of force and continuing to hold it with tightening fingers and arms?

Although free fall uses gravity, it does not mean we do not have to do anything as we play. We still have to play the right keys at the right time, right? That means we have to control the use of gravity accordingly.

According to Sándor, there are three steps in this free fall technique:

Lift, Drop, Land and Rebound.

 

1 . Lift

From the term “lift”, it is obvious that we have to lift something up. But we have to lift with the following order: from upper arm, then the forearm, followed by hands and finally fingers.

There should be some distance for the fingers to drop from to the keyboard. Sándor suggests around ten inches. I don’t think one needs to measure the distance too precisely but approximately a considerable distance from above the keyboard as Sándor suggests would be just fine.

Another thing to notice is that the joints – meaning the shoulder joints, elbows, wrists and finger knuckles – should be “resilient and firm”, plus are “fixed only at the instant the fingers depresses the key”. (42)

2. Drop

Such action is in fact quite passive as the active parts go to the lifting and rebounding. You should feel your whole arm, hand and fingers being completely relaxed right after the drop. Pay special attention to such feeling in your slow practice of the technique as it would be the most difficult part of the whole action to get right.

3. Land and Rebound

This is when the keys are executed and notes sounded.

“This fixation causes the transference of energy into the keys and a slight rebound of the hand and fingers, and notably, of the wrist.” (42)

“A very important detail to watch out for is that the wrist must be in a relatively low position at landing so that it can cushion naturally.” (42-3)

When Do We Use Free Fall?

Gravity works on its own terms, distance is given for acceleration and insufficient speed will be generated in free fall without the addition of a throw. Therefore we can only employ free fall in passages in moderate tempo. Nothing can “drop fast”!

I would say we use free fall for big-sounding chords/octaves with longer duration (note value) in music of slower tempo, as we need time to generate the action, time that we do not have in fast-pacing passages or pieces.

 

THRUST

To quote Sándor,

“we place the fingers right on the surface of the keys and push the keys down with a sudden instantaneous contraction of some of the strongest body and arm muscles (the chest, stomach, back triceps and forearm flexor muscles). This action generates maximum speed in the fingertips.” (108)

“In this thrust, unlike the techniques described before, the fingers are in constant contact with the keys; they touch the keys before, during and after the actual sudden muscle contraction takes place.” (108)

“The fingers stay on the surface of the keys, and the arms are slightly bent.” (109)

Do you understand this technique? Let me give you an example:

Think about playing a ball game, for example: badminton or volleyball. Now there is a ball coming from the other side and it is high in the air, you want to get it really bad. So you have to jump unusually high to get that ball. Now you are standing with your feet grounded into the floor. In order to get to that unbelievable height, you push your feet into the floor so that you can spring from it and catch the ball.

That push is the thrust, your fingers to the keys — except your fingers do not leave the keys after the push.

The push is, like Sándor describes, an “instantaneous” action. To push your fingers into the keys, you must make use of your upper body, especially your chest muscles and arm muscles. Notice if the triceps (the back muscles of your upper arms) are working. When you push your fingers into the keys and execute the notes, you can feel your upper body is also moving back at the same time, like a re-bounce. It is as if you are pushing yourself away something scary or someone you are absolutely angry with so that your whole person is also moving back, bouncing towards the opposite direction from where you have pushed against. You should be able to feel a momentum there.

What Are The Differences Between Free Fall And Thrust?

  1. You use free fall with your fingers dropped down to the keys from high above and push away from the keys after the execution of notes.. With thrust, your fingers always stay on the keys, before and after the keys are struck.
  1. Free fall is all about gravity. You do not have to push. You just have the hand position ready and let your arms fall. The speed of the action is slower. For thrust however, you have to push with great speed within a split second. You do need to create more force.
  1. Free fall can create much louder sound as the velocity of the action is much stronger. Thrust on the other hand is applied for smaller sonority like medium loud or even soft sound.
  1. Free fall is more suitable for easier chords with less notes, e.g. octaves and regular chord patterns. Thrust should be applied for more extended chords with more notes and complicated harmony so as to gain more security in getting the notes right.

 

In this following video, I illustrate briefly what Thrust and Free Fall are respectively.

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[:en]Learn about Clavichord, Harpsichord, Fortepiano and Piano ![:]

[:en]Great videos for anyone who wants to learn more about our beautiful piano and its predecessors: clavichord, harpsichord, and fortepiano! Their sounds are all so charming and delightful each in their unique way!

 

 

 

 [:]

[:en]Recommendations on Useful Piano Technical Exercises (Part I)[:zh]Recommendations on Useful Piano Technique Exercises (Part I)[:]

[:zh]Why do we need technical exercises and which exercises I recommend piano players to practice with.[:]

[:en]Bach: Toccata in E minor BWV 914[:zh]巴哈《 E 小調觸技曲, 作品914》 (Bach: Toccata in E minor BWV 914) [:]

[:en]

(Also see Chinese version)

Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914 

  • “Toccata”: meaning “to touch” (“toccare” in Italian), a highly virtuosic keyboard genre
  • Bach’s toccatas: combination of German toccata style (more serious counterpoint and complex structure) and Italian toccata style (more showy and flamboyant), with alternating free-style (prelude) and strict structure (fugue) – “stylus phantasticus”
  • Basically two sets of prelude and fugue
  • Seven toccatas in total, this being the shortest of all
  • This toccata is also the only one that starts with a slow section
  • Four sections in this toccata:
  1. A prelude in a rather improvisatory style resembling the composer’s later organ work such as Toccata and Fugue in D minor
  2. A little “fugato”, a double fugue for four voices, lively and rhythmic, 
  3. Adagio: recitative style, combination of Italian aria and Northern German fantasia style, highly improvisatory
  4. A final three-voice fugue with an extended subject, in allegro, idiomatic violin writing, also thought to be originally written for organ, showing tremendous influence from Italian toccata writing (“Naples Manuscript”)

A more “liberal” rendition of the toccata:

 

A lesser known performer yet with another beautiful version of the same toccata:

More background details and analysis in our membership area post.

 

Teresa Wong[:zh](更多在 英文版)

  • 巴哈七首曲最短的一首
  • 開頭前奏以比較自由,像詠嘆調一樣,以管風琴樂曲般的序奏(prelude) 開始
  • 緊隨着的是一個雙主題賦格曲 (double fugue),節奏明快緊湊,基本是以主音(tonic) E小調和第五音(dominant) B小調在各個聲部 (voice)中重複出現
  • 第三段慢版(adagio)有著非常即興(improvisation) 的曲風,帶有聲樂中的朗誦調(recitative)風格
  • 第4段又是一個賦格曲,有三個聲部,主題比較長 ,亦有管風琴樂曲和意大利賦格曲的影子。

 

http://youtu.be/5mVqAbdUvd0[:]

Three Key Qualities of a Successful Piano Teacher 

In our Piano Pedagogy Course (Level I), I discuss with student teachers what they think it is to be a “successful piano teacher”. In return they ask me the same question. I have thought about it for a while, and now I think I have the answer.
1. Encourage students to try and do better, and let them understand that failure/mistake/fear is part of process necessary for success/achievement 
Being a successful teacher can mean different things to different people. For me, it means helping students to succeed to reach the goals they want to achieve. There are many tools I create to help them do that along the way. Sometimes those are not the processes and hurdles the students expect to do and go through. But I know – with my expertise and experience as a pianist and teacher – that those processes and hurdles are exactly what the students must conquer to get to where they truly want to be.
2. Point out the good things students achieve and help them replicate the same successful result
I personally believe strongly in positive reinforcement and focus on bringing out the best in my students. I point out what they are doing good and and how they are doing to achieve the same result again. I demonstrate more at the piano not only for students to see how I play it and how it should sound (tone wise, not just “correctness”). I want my students and student teachers to trust their own ability, the ability to go far and beyond what they can do right now.
It is the faith and confidence in oneself that one is able to surpass the old and present self that would take oneself the long way, reaching this unconquered territory once unimaginable to even glimpse.
3. Make a detailed plan of students learning path and share it with students /parents and have them involved in the planning as well 
A successful teacher is also able to show the students they have the ability to achieve those seemingly unreachable goals by doing careful and detailed planning and sharing it with the students. For instance, I always plan ahead with set goals in both short term (weekly and monthly) and long term (quarterly/monthly/par exam). See here (Chinese post) and here (English post) for my sample plans.
With the above three qualities, I believe one already is a successful teacher.
Teresa Wong