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 Post subject: The Psychology of Technique
PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 6:12 am 
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Hello everyone. I would like to share my views on technical practice as well as inform you of things that will hopefully help you better your technique.

I've had an immense amount of time on my hands lately and decided to really go down to the very basics of piano technique, as I believe anything can be mastered if the proper foundation is built. The simple concept that I came across astonished me due to the drastic results in such a simple form and small period of time.

I've observed the many arguments over isolated technical practice vs. "more musical" approaches such as etudes and Bach inventions. I noticed that a majority of you seem to recommend the latter, but I actually find the former to be more effective.

It does NOT lessen a pianist's musicality, a matter of fact, I found that it widened my range of sensitivity as paradoxical as it may sound.

If done in the right manor, scales can greatly enhance one's skill. When scales come to mind, most tend to think of relentlessly running up and down the keyboard as fast as possible. That does absolutely nothing but perhaps impress a spectator. The faster you play, the more of your subconscious mind you're using. The slower you play, the more you have to actually think of the next move. Regardless of the speed though, plain old scales do little for you.

So how do you perform scales effectively? Simple. Emphasize a certain beat- preferably the 3rd, since it distributes the load among more fingers in less octaves.

Image
(of course the LH would be done simultaneously an octave down)

The first passage demonstrates the distribution of fingers using the triplets method. Repeating this a few times until mastered definitely helped my technique, but eventually the improvement stopped. I suppose this has to do with the way the mind works.

I like to compare it to throwing a football at a target. Let's say you have three tries. The first, you end up throwing too short. The second is too far. By the third try, your brain has received enough data to make a more accurate attempt. You didn't keep throwing it too short, you added more strength.

Well this is the difference between normal scales and emphasized scales. Normal scales use purely muscle memory and the mind doesn't have to work at it much once it remembers the combination of movements. The emphasized beats reinforce the way the mind thinks. It's no longer about 'Which finger am I using?," but rather "What beat am I on?" That concept alone has tremendously aided my attention to dynamics.

So as I was saying, the first passage became easy after regular practice, so based on the fact that the task at hand must always be reinforced in order to show improvement, I created a new challenge, which was the second passage. I noticed that after playing the second, it changed the way my mind perceived the first. I found myself repeating notes when I should have played the next. Although it caused temporary errors in my technique, this was a great discovery because the mind has two different rhythmic viewpoints, and the conflict between them is what makes any similar task much easier. They seem to build off of each other in a way.

Giving your mind different versions of the same thing is what causes great results. I use the triplets method for two octaves on every scale (although I believe it's supposed to be three, but ether way should do justice to even finger distribution).

After only three days of using this concept, I found the beginning of my 'Un Sospiro,' nearly comparable to Hamelin's. (Youtube)

So I strongly disagree with the myth about isolated technical practice making one less musical. I believe it's simply preparing you for what's to come. There's nothing wrong with etudes, but the distribution of difficulty tends to lean more towards the RH rather than both. Bach is alright too, but it lacks the emphasis of beats, which is the most important ingredient for derivation, thus progress.

Now it begins to make sense why Liszt was known for so many combination of fingerings of scales.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:46 am 
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In an attempt to tackle scales from every conveniently possible angle, I've begun to play the different modes of each key with the fingering of the tonic, where possible- of course using the method stated above. I've noticed small general improvement. I also used triplet accents with the chromatic scale using the added fourth finger to hopefully optimize results. I even added them to standard Hanon exercises and never fail to see results. Once that rhythm gets old, you can try accenting the every fifth beat as if it were 5/8 without triplets. The goal is to pretty much make a normal task slightly more challenging than it would normally be, so once proficiently performable, the original task becomes easier. Repeating an easy task doesn't deliver quite the result.


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 Post subject: Re: The Psychology of Technique
PostPosted: Thu Apr 09, 2009 11:40 am 
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thphaca wrote:
After only three days of using this concept, I found the beginning of my 'Un Sospiro,' nearly comparable to Hamelin's. (Youtube)

Whoa. MAH should be watching his back from now on .... :wink:

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2009 9:58 pm 
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Hehe. So it would be nice to see what people think of this. I'm open-minded to contradictions. Perhaps someone can report their own results.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2009 11:04 pm 
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I thought everybody played scales like that to relieve mental stress in-between learning pieces ; making small games on scales, adding some polyphony. There are many wicked things you can do. It's quite obvious that the more finger combinations you practice, the more you can use those combinations, the faster you can play. In a way it's similar to transposing pieces you know in other keys, great mental and finger exercise ; changing fingerings (once you've "mastered" the correct one) in a piece you know is good too, and so can be adding thirds for instance. Rather than doing much of that though, I like learning hard runs in advance (like that Thalberg Marche fun├Ębre passage that had thrills and octaves on the same hand) and practice them when I'm relaxing my mind.

I don't think that's what makes MAH so good though (or any pianist for that matter). Piano playing is so much more than the repetition of patterns you've learnt, though they certainly are the basic ; recently I've been having much more problems with my memory or music theory (help me on that rhythm thread please !) than I've had with my fingers.

Of course, it's still impressing how fast the brain can learn to move fingers in a different way. I remember, way back when I learnt the Chopin revolutionary Etude, once I had the pattern for the left hand practiced, I was gaping in awe, "wow that's so easy in the end !" (plus it's so fun to see your fingers go "zooooooom" on the piano). That's what I like when watching Lugansky (and most virtuoso pianists, anyway) play, his fingers look like perfectly trained machines, like clockwork hands hitting the keyboard.

A last thing you haven't mentionned, you can train the pedal in the exact same way. It's like having a somewhat lazy and crippled third hand. Push it on certain beats, pull it on others, many fun things to do.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 10:19 am 
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Location: East Yorkshire, England
I find routine isolated practice using exercises such as those by Dohnanyi (only do these after you have achieved a reasonable degree of proficiency with Hanon) essential. There are pieces of music of course that require technical study in order to master them but I find you need the skills from the isolated practice first in order to tackle them effectively.

The routine and abstract nature of isolated exercises gives you a reliable motor technique which can then be easily adapted (where necessary) to the individual pieces of music.

Those people that are solely note players rather than musicians are so not because of doing isolated exercises but because they either lack musical sensitivity or have not been taught about aspects of musical expression.

However, you must always achieve the right balance. If you practice for an hour per day you should spend only a quarter of that on isolated exercise (scales, exercises etc..) and the rest on learning pieces of music, plus a short period of sight reading. There is a good section on practising the piano in the book "Pianoforte Diplomas and Degrees" by Geoffrey Tankard (published by Elkin) which may be helpful - probably availbale 2nd hand.

I seem to remember hearing in an interview with the British pianist Leon McCawley http://www.leonmccawley.com/ that when he started studying with Heather Slade-Lipkin at Chetham Music School in England, they spent the first six months on isolated piano exercises in order to get his technique to a level where he had sufficient control to handle the musical development required. It didn't do him much harm !

Regards
Mark


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 6:40 pm 
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Ah, the words of wisdom...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 4:35 pm 
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Quote:
Those people that are solely note players rather than musicians are so not because of doing isolated exercises but because they either lack musical sensitivity or have not been taught about aspects of musical expression.


Exactly, Mark.


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 Post subject: Re: The Psychology of Technique
PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2009 9:51 pm 
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Location: Orange, CA
Quote:
Bach is alright too, but it lacks the emphasis of beats, which is the most important ingredient for derivation, thus progress.


I know we're talking about piano here, but I thought it was worth mentioning from an organist's perspective that the beat should be clear, even without the accenting of beats (in terms of striking the key harder, which one cannot do on the organ). The "pulse" of the music should still be evident. If the beat is there in the performer's mind, it often naturally translates into the music.

However, concerning the piano, if Bach lacks an emphasis of beats, nobody is around saying we can't add them in (at least for practicing). If it's in the privacy of your own home, you can play & practice Bach however you want, as long as it's with the aim of making yourself a better pianist. It might add some fun to practicing as well to say, "Hmm, I think today I will over-accent every third beat in this 2/2 passage" to make it more interesting if the piece is feeling a little dry. I, for one, find Bach extremely helpful for my organ technique; I can imagine the same for piano.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2009 12:27 pm 
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Enjoyed very much this excellent discussion. I feel also there is another aspect of piano technique that has not been expounded upon which is God given technical facility shortly followed by the whole " mental attitude towards the medium" business.Some of the most talented people out there just appear as if they didn't care, having possibly put a minimal amount of practice and reflection into the exercise, Lang Lang's example springing to my mind immediately.Also,what we have been talking about so far in this thread are the very basics that can and should be learned one way or another following different schools, traditions etc. The most fascinating though is what happens then.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:50 am 
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Location: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
I've always used scales right after I feel I haven't performed so well. Any time I feel my performance is not up to certain standards, I play the B major scale with my right hand and the C major scale with my left hand, simultaneously, and looking very surprised, shout out: "Look how out of tune this piano is!!! No wonder my playing was so lousy!" to the audience. It works every time.

:-)

Marcelo.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:47 am 
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mgasilva wrote:
I've always used scales right after I feel I haven't performed so well. Any time I feel my performance is not up to certain standards, I play the B major scale with my right hand and the C major scale with my left hand, simultaneously, and looking very surprised, shout out: "Look how out of tune this piano is!!! No wonder my playing was so lousy!" to the audience. It works every time.

Bitonal scales are a nice trick if you can pull them off :lol:

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2009 12:53 am 
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Wow, heh. I'm surprised this post is still alive. BTW I made a small typo above. I said "derivation" when I meant "deviation" meaning variation. I'm sure the overall message came through though. Also, I'd like to note that as someone said above, having a steady pulse is important, especially in a piece such as Chopin's black keys ├ętude.[/b]


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 Post subject: Re: The Psychology of Technique
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:17 am 
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bannexy wrote:
What careers in Psychology do not deal with prescribing medication? I'm in my Sophomore year of high school and I'm really interested in starting a career in Psychology, however, my research shows mostly dealing with medication, which I am uninterested in. I want to deal with counseling, but not medication. What's the best for me?

Are you blindly posting this question to every forum topic in the world that happens to contain the word 'Psychology' in the title ? Please note that this is a music forum, for which your query is inappropriate.

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 Post subject: Re: The Psychology of Technique
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:39 am 
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bannexy wrote:
What careers in Psychology do not deal with prescribing medication? I'm in my Sophomore year of high school and I'm really interested in starting a career in Psychology, however, my research shows mostly dealing with medication, which I am uninterested in. I want to deal with counseling, but not medication. What's the best for me?

As inappropriate as your post is here, the question you ask is quite odd indeed. I am a physician and am unaware of any psychologist having the privalige of prescribing medicine. You can't write a prescritpion in the US with only Ph.D after your name. Are you meaning to say Psychiatrist instead, which are medical doctors, and write a lot of prescriptions? If you want to counsel, clinical psychology is the right path.

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