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FOUNDATIONS OF MY METHOD
Training of the Musical Ear
Having experienced many fine and exceptional results with my pupils, it has been suggested that I write down my views regarding modern pianoforte playing and thus explain the manner in which I train my students in order to obtain the said success. The following notes lay no claim to completeness; they simply present, in general, the rudiments of my system. A complete insight into my mode of treatment of pianoforte playing could be gained, after all, only through my personal instruction.
My method has brought about a style of execution which differs greatly from the usual piano playing. This method is based upon careful observation and is, I think, perfectly natural; but the way in which I have made use of these principles, and have arranged them into a system, is, according to my experience, the shortest, if not the only way, to develop completely the musical talents of a pupil and to enable him to use the greatest power of expression in his renderings. Doubtless it is only the intelligent and talented pupil who will be able fully to realize and to make complete use of the illimitable possibilities of developing technique and interpretative ability. But my method, with small individual variations, can be generally used; and if rightly understood, it will bring the greatest benefit to every pupil, if he understands how to go to work. Talented pupils obtain results which they would not have thought possible.
If I call my manner of instruction a method, I am perfectly aware that I lay myself open to attack, of which, however, I take no notice! My discussions shall not have a polemic character but shall bring forth to general knowledge only what I have recognized, in my long years of practical experience, to be right. The following instructions are not intended for beginners, only for pianists who already have had experience as concert pianists or music teachers, or far-developed, serious-working dilettantes.
The chief point in which my method of teaching differs from that of others, and one of the most important bases upon which it is built, is the training of the ear. Most pianists have not the faculty of hearing themselves correctly. They are accustomed to notice the character of the scales and eventually to recognize wrongly touched tones. But this is not at all sufficient, if one wishes to play perfectly according to our modern ideas. For the pianist the noticing of the exact tone pitch is, so to say, only secondary when compared with the noticing of the exact tone quality, tone duration and tone strength. Through the minute observation of these tonal properties, the whole performance acquires an entirely different clearness and more definite character. In all its separate phases the variable performance will move through a sphere of subtle expression which permits the following of each change and the renouncing of the employment of overly strong dynamic or rhythmical changes. As Gieseking, in his preface, writes, listening to one's self is one of the most important factors of the whole of music study. Nor must one hope to gain this faculty in a day. The capability of listening with a critical ear to one's own playing, and of keeping one's touch under continual control, should be developed systematically by the utmost concentration, as the thorough training of the ear is a prerequisite of rapid progress.
By seemingly pedantically "polishing up" certain parts of a composition, to which but small attention has been given by former masters, a surprising perfection in the rendering of this work can be attained, and thus the pupil will be helped to recognize the true character of the piece of music in question. He will quickly discover the many possibilities of improving himself; his long studies will not become irksome to him; nor will he lose interest in his work. To all this the master should constantly draw the pupil's attention.
An indispensable necessity, when training the ear, is an accurate knowledge of the piece of music to be studied. It is essential, therefore, before beginning with the practice of the piece, to visualize the same, whereupon, if this has been done thoroughly, we shall be able to play it correctly from memory. To be capable of doing this in a short time, the memory must be specially trained by means of reflection (systematic logical thinking).
It is curious that the method of visualization is not fully and universally utilized. To all my pupils, many of them highly intelligent and talented, and taught by well-known musical instructors, this method has been an absolute novelty. The correct manner of training the memory by means of visualization will be discussed later, but now let us give our attention to Gieseking, who, among all pianists, probably has the largest repertoire and in this many of the most complicated modern compositions. He, however, does not impress these upon his memory (which is looked upon by all musicians as phenomenal) by playing them over on the piano, but by visualizing them through silent reading. By further development of this idea, one acquires the ability even to prepare the technical execution through visualization, so that, without studying at the instrument itself, the piece can be perfectly performed and this in a most astonishingly short time. By many this is thought to be impossible, but in fact it has been done not only by Gieseking but also by other pupils of this method. One pupil was able to memorize in ten to fifteen minutes and to play perfectly and with full expression a piece out of Debussy's "Children's Corner," which he had never seen before. To avoid misunderstanding it might be mentioned that, with the exception of pieces to be publicly performed, specially instructive exercises, and Bach compositions, I do not consider it necessary for the pupil to commit to memory every piece he studies.
Musical instructors, who must themselves have an extensive knowledge of musical literature, should not advise always playing from memory. The brain, however, should be uninterruptedly trained to memorize short phrases. The teacher should insist upon beginners, and even children, learning to play from memory at least one or two measures in every lesson. Such training will bear good fruit! Good results can be, of course, often obtained without doing so; but they cannot be compared to those arrived at by mental study as described above.
In order to attain a natural manner of playing the piano, that is to say, with the least possible strain and exertion, it is of the utmost importance to learn to exert the muscles consciously, and, what is of still greater importance, to relax them consciously. My manner of accomplishing this differs from that of many other pedagogues. I contrive to raise a feeling of relaxation from within, as it were. This is generally attempted by the aid of visible movements. All superfluous movements are injurious. The aim should be the very least possible strain of the muscles when playing the piano.CHAPTER 2
THE STUDENT BEGINS WORK
(A)A Study from Lebert and Stark
The first thing the pupil must learn is to relax the arm muscles, as is the case when we walk. To attain this I lift the pupil's arm, which should be stretched out at the height of the shoulder but must remain absolutely inert. I then draw away my hand, and the arm must drop down as if dead. In this manner a feeling for relaxing the muscles can be obtained.
The hand has, when one is walking, normally a slight bend; that is, the fingers are slightly curved inwards, which never tires the muscles; whereas the outstretching or continuous greater bending of the fingers somewhat exerts, strains and tires the muscles, The natural position of the hand with relaxed muscles, as is the case when we walk, should be the principal one when playing the piano. When playing, the fingers should be, for the most part, slightly curved, and a pressing through (breaking down) of the knuckle joints should be avoided as far as possible.
The player should sit well forward on the chair, without a support for the back. The upper part of the body should incline slightly forward; the upper arm, bent forward, should hang loosely from the shoulder joint: The seat should be high enough to allow the lifted lower arm to be on a level with the keyboard.
Another important point, in which my playing differs from that usually seen, consists in the elimination of all unnecessary movements. Repose and the avoiding of all unnecessary movements are absolutely necessary, when one intends to play in a decided manner. Any uneasiness endangers not only the tone which is just struck, but also the following ones.
Let us now explain what has been already mentioned, the study of a simple composition, and we will choose one of the exercises from the second volume of Lebert's Instruction Book. (See the next page.) The first thing we have to do is to visualize the note-picture, so that the exercise can be written from memory. We take note of the time and key signatures, in this case 2/4 and C major. The right hand commences on the second sixteenth note of the first beat, with the sixth:
Sixths, in sixteenth notes, now descend through two octaves to the tenor
In the third and fourth measures we find an ascending passage of sixths through two octaves from
The fifth and sixth measures are similar to the first and second ones, the only difference being that thirds are inserted in the sixths. Measure seven is like measure three with the third included. The eighth measure brings the sixths of the fourth measure to
Lebert and Stark, Piano School
at the last half of the first beat and closes with the two descending sixths:
The accompaniment in this case is a broken C major triad in the left hand. In the first measure a quarter note C is followed by a quarter rest; and in the second, third and fourth measures the quarter notes on E, G and C are followed by corresponding quarter rests. Measures five to eight are the same for the left hand as the first four measures. With the help of visualization, these eight measures can therefore be played easily, without music; that is, after careful reading without notes. In the right hand we find, in the ninth measure, the subdominant triad
as a quarter note chord, followed by a quarter rest. In the tenth measure is the same triad, but without the third,
as a quarter note chord. In the eleventh measure is the C major triad,
and in the twelfth measure is the same triad without the third,
each quarter note chord followed by a quarter rest. In the ninth and tenth measures, after a sixteenth rest, the left hand begins with a succession of sixths from
through two octaves to
In the thirteenth measure the left hand commences with the next lower sixth,
and the right hand begins two octaves higher with the same chord, followed by a scale passage of sixths ascending through two octaves. In the fifteenth measure the left hand plays
and the right hand, after a sixteenth rest, plays
which completes the dominant triad, and it then proceeds in a passage in sixths to
Measures seventeen to twenty are as the first four were. The four closing measures are similar to the fifth to eighth, an octave higher however, and so altered that the left hand, beginning with the second beat of the twenty-first measure, plays the same unison an octave lower.
By this method of visualization, this careful thinking through of the piece of music in question, the pupil will be capable of writing down the whole exercise from memory. After intense concentration, most of my pupils have been, to their great astonishment, able in a few minutes of time to play the entire exercise from memory. Visualized reading at the same time affords the pupil the best insight into the form of the composition under study. For instance, the exercise just discussed has been composed in ternary song form. It commences with an eight measure theme, followed by an eight measure middle section, and finally a repetition of the first eight measures in slightly altered form. This easy recognition of the structure of a composition is only one of the many advantages of memorizing by means of visualized reading; and the systematic training of the memory in the above described way permits us to attempt more difficult tasks and teaches us to find out ways and means of facilitating the memorizing of compositions. The pupil with theoretical knowledge of music will soon discover that this, at first somewhat mechanical, process will quickly enable him to grasp the import of a composition.
As a first example a very easy piece has been naturally chosen to show in how far playing from memory can be acquired by visualizing. Our exercise is very appropriate, as it contains a number of important technical problems, which now will be discussed.
The first problem to be mentioned is the touch with the combined upper and lower arm; which, strange to say, is not generally understood. It must, however, be absolutely clear to the pupil, how to do this correctly.
In our exercise the fingers one (thumb) and five, adjusted to play sixths, must be kept motionless, without strain or contraction; and a pressing through of the knuckle joints must be avoided. The position of the fingers should be the same as when, in the act of walking, the arm hangs loosely down from the shoulder joint. The wrist and the lower arm must be brought into position on a level with the keyboard, without strain or exertion. The elbow joint must remain passive, the combined upper and lower arm must be raised from the shoulder only, allowing the first (thumb) and fifth fingers to be lifted about two inches above the keyboard. The hand, which at the same time must be kept under muscular control, is now allowed to drop on the keys, which should be pressed down until "we feel ground," as Rubinstein is supposed to have said. The arm must, as it were, rest on the keys.
These rules are to be taken literally, and they must be carried out to the letter. The above described touch of the "free fall" (as taught by Deppe) is of the utmost importance and is used to render the strongest fortissimo or the softest pianissimo. If the keys are touched every time from the same height, an equal volume of sound for both chord tones is more easily obtained. Moreover, it can be carried out with much greater ease and accuracy, with the combined upper and lower arm, than as if emanating only from the elbow joint or from the wrist.
I would like to emphasize here that, in contrast to many teachers, I very rarely make use of touch from the wrist. It is much more uncertain than the touch just described. Also, by the touch from the wrist, the relaxation of the arm is most difficult to acquire. I am often reproached with causing my pupils to play with a stiff wrist. This is not the case, as the tension of the wrist must be slight and must never be permitted to degenerate into stiffness or cramp.
The left hand tones of the exercise mentioned must be touched in the same manner as the chord tones of the right hand.
As soon as we begin to play this exercise, we commence with training the ear in the following two directions! First, tone quality; and second, tone duration.
Up to the present I have not yet found a single pupil whose ears had been thoroughly trained to hear correctly. None of them were able to distinguish the fine differences in the strength of the separate tones and the difference in the duration of tones. After a period of a fortnight, or even less, however, one and all admitted that they were capable of hearing with completely different ears.
I have found that even most musicians, who believe themselves to have good musical ears, fail in this respect, owing to their sense of hearing not having been trained on these other powers mentioned but only to distinguish pitch of tone. This intensive training of the ear differentiates my system from others. To listen unceasingly to tones as they are played, and to control their accurate execution, is the road that must lead quickly to a polished technique. The fingers are the servitors of the brain, they perform the action the brain commands. If, therefore, by means of a well-trained ear, it is clear to the brain how to execute correctly, the fingers will do their work correctly.
If this is the case and the necessary relaxation is maintained, the fingers in a short time (sometimes immediately, sometimes after a few minutes) will be able to solve the most intricate technical problems. Relaxation is of the very greatest importance. Only by means of the relaxed arm can impulses proceeding from the brain be transformed, without restraint, into finger movements. This is the quickest way to gain control over the fingers. I have seen the most surprising instances and have obtained in a few months results which otherwise could have been gained only by years of study, if ever.
Excerpted from PIANO TECHNIQUE by Walter Gieseking, Karl Leimer. Copyright © 1972 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted September 19, 2011
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