The Art of Piano Teaching - Part I

(excerpts taken from Kosmas's post-graduate dissertation, back in 2006). Enjoy part I with pearls of wisdom from Amitsi to Gieseking! Stay tuned for part II...by the way - can you recognise who is in our cover photo?

In the field of Piano Teaching, the proper study is the most important parameter. The value of interpretation is determined by the quality of this study and it plays an important role in the overall progress of the student. The purpose of the study is to investigate the mental and technical issues of piano study. Similar (and different) opinions and tips by distinguished (old and new) pianists/pedagogues are collected and presented here in a clear and concise way. The following quotes come straight from legendary pianists and acclaimed pedagogues such as Amitsi, Bach, Bartok, Beard, Boldness, Bonpensiere, Busoni, Chopin, Curcio, Deppe, Descaves, Dichler, Elly, Feinberg, Gerig, Gieseking, Hofmann, Hoidas, Lebert, Lesczetisky, Liszt, Long, Magrath, Mauro, Milstein, Mirosnikof, Neuhaus, Rubinstein, Sandor, Schumann, Stark, Tasopoulos, Tombra and Waterman.

Amitsi says daily study with a clear mind enables the student to concentrate more easily and not to waste time. A beginner should study fifteen minutes per day, reaching gradually to an hour per day.

Bach claimed that technique is only a means for perfect performance.

Bartok evaluated the promotion of the interpretative and expressive aspects of a project, the musicality, meaning and understanding gained from it as absolute priority

Boldness states that through slow studying, the student achieves consciousness as well as a sense of security and confidence

Bonpensiere was a strong supporter of mental study. He believed that mental control can significantly affect the technical parameters, such as accuracy, purity, ease and comfort, improve technical abilities and develop strong habits of mental discipline and coordination.

Busoni claimed that not a day should pass without studying the piano and the study should be done regularly while special points must be noticed, noted and recorded

Busoni said the continuous drills run the risk of not realize the student's deepest musical sense of a work and that the technical study only serves the musical idea; the training of the fingers is not an end in itself but the means for proper interpretation.

Busoni supported the perseverance in the study of difficult points of a musical work, the discovery of the most suitable fingering, the technical study combined with the study of interpretation.

Chopin argued passionately that it is important to transfer the full expressiveness of the composer.

Chopin used to teach beginner students to play these five notes, non- legato: Mi - F# - G# - A# - B#, because he felt this position is the most natural position for both hands and fingers.

Curcio argued that the study of Bach's works helps the student to understand the works of Schumann, while the study of Mozart's works helps in understanding Chopin.

Curcio, a defender of mental studying, believes that mental study (like mechanical study) should be done on a daily basis because it greatly improves the artistic level and promote the musical talent of each student.

Deppe insisted that through slow study one achieves absolute tonal control, extreme sensitivity in the fingertips, deliberate guidance of any physical motion and position, expressive detail of a musical phrase, continuous monitoring of individual small movements, coordinated movement and indelible memory.

Descaves argues that the hand must acquire the correct position before the student is allowed to study scales and he thinks it is good to start with the B major, because it is the most natural posture for the hand.

Descaves explains that the study should be done in small detachments, melody first, then accompaniment, with clear fingering from the outset.

Dichler argues that the understanding of the philosophy of each composer, is something that is acquired over the years, as the mind matures, and the meaning of the musical text is formed as a mental representation in one's mind.

Dichler believes too that the prerequisite for the efficient execution of exercises and projects is a slow study, so that the student can control the technical challenges, and negotiate the relevant technical requirements in mind. He also argues that control, discipline and study in slow tempo is necessary for any education, not just music.

Dichler claims that the technical study has to be done most intelligently, so there will be no danger of mechanization, ie unnecessary wastage of time and fatigue.

Dichler says a good choice of intelligent exercises, scales and studies helps the cultivation of touche, tempo and other mental requirements that exceed mechanical play.

Dichler says that one may acquire an infallible technique, an infallible memory and an infallible musical instinct, but without overall musical education and training, he will never be a true musician.

Dichler says that only 1/3 of the time the study must be dedicated to studies and exercises and Gieseking argues that nobody should play five, six hours a day because it is counterproductive and harmful.

Dichler says the correct mental representation of music is called musicality. The composer has a specific musical vision, which correlates to his specific psycho-emotional mood. Then, he writes this particular mental representation, with notes on paper. Through a similar mental representation a pianist should awaken a performance, resembling as much as possible with that of the composer.

Dichler says the essence of the study lies in the intensive concentration on work and not in the choice of the piano method

Elly said that interpretation requires aesthetics, knowledge of sound, tone, form, style, character, nuance and content.

Feinberg believes study helps immensely the auditory, visual and memory capabilities.

Gerig says the study is a great magician; not only reveals obvious technical and interpretative difficulties but it helps in their treatment.

Gieseking argued that the achievement of good technique, if done with strong concentration, is mostly spiritual work (Gieseking, 1988: 42).

Gieseking one of the proponents of slow study, says that the secret to rapid progress of a student is not making a single mistake from the beginning. It argues that this is done through a very slow play, as well as intensive concentration, absolutely precise rhythm and correct fingering. Then he says the slow study along with full muscle relaxation and emphasis on low dynamic will facilitate the student in learning legato and conquer the power needed for each key.

Gieseking promoted the development of independence and overall flexibility of the fingers and that the study of the interpretative and expressive aspects of a project helps to develop the technique of the pupil. He also claimed that the uniformity of sound from fingers is performed by the proper education of the ear.

Gieseking said that repetition makes more and more intense the mental representation that leads to the cognitive performance of a composition. The more frequent the repetition, the sharper and clearer the mental representation.

Gieseking says that the most important task of the teacher is to learn the student how to study properly. He believes that proper study leads to a purpose, to the utmost perfection, and the set of tools with which to reach the higher classes.

Gieseking supports that the improvement of the technique and execution is a matter of the clarification of the mental representation of music through the training of the intellect.

Author: Kosmas Lapatas, Piano Pedagogue
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