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Topic: How to build technique?  (Read 6600 times)

Offline beethovenfan01

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How to build technique?
on: November 12, 2017, 11:02:20 PM
I am always hearing about pianists who are referred to as being technical monsters but lack maturity.

Well I wish I could have that kind of technique! I mean this in the humblest way possible ... but I have so many interpretations and musical ideas for all manner of repertoire, from Clementi sonatinas to Ravel's Gaspard and such advanced pieces. I want to play those pieces so much, and I practice four hours a day trying to reach it ...

Unfortunately, my performances are always littered with mistakes. I cannot overcome these pieces, regardless of how I practice (and yes, I have been consciously practicing section-by-section, as effectively as I know how). But in the end, there's still a maddening gap in my technique.

So how do I build technique to a high level? I did Books 1-2 (and some of book 3) by Hamlet. I also am striving to re-learn my scales and arpeggios to get them to as even and smooth as possible. But in the end, none of it seems to help. My technique is still only mediocre, and frustratingly unable to match my musical ambitions and ideas.

Any or advice or ideas?

Thanks!
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline brogers70

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #1 on: November 13, 2017, 01:56:42 AM
Consider sticking to very, very simple pieces for longer than you think possible. If you really love music and know the repertoire you may be tempted to go for pieces that are too advanced, too soon. So try spending some months playing ultra easy pieces. Play them so that you can play them without mistakes, but also use them to think about the simplest aspects of phrasing, articulation, sound production, etc. Get to where you can think about how you want them to sound and have them come out the way you have in mind. There are lots of Bach things from his notebooks and simple movements from the early Haydn sonatas, or Schumann's pieces for students that you should be able to play effortless and beautifully after a short while. Give your brain the experience of being completely at ease and confident at the piano.

I'm advising this only because it helped me. I took up piano late in life with a strong background in classical guitar, voice, theory, and all sorts of ambitions to play major pieces. I worked like a fiend and was able to memorize and more or less get through a few medium difficulty Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, quite a few Preludes and Fugues from WTC, some late Brahms, even Brahms' arrangement of the Bach Chaconne for left hand alone. But I always stumbled more than I wanted to, always felt tense when playing for others, just the sort of problems you seem to be describing. Six months ago I decided to try to practice fluency, so I went back to the Anna Magdalena Notebook pieces, ultra easy Haydn and Mozart things and just concentrated on learning to play them fluently and comfortably. My tone production, articulation, and voicing improved a lot, I feel the music more while I play, I have far, far fewer stumbles, and I'm very gradually working back towards pieces with more notes. It took me a little while to win my teacher over to this plan, but in the end she agrees that it has done wonders. Give it a try, it only costs a few months, and it's fun to wring all the possible musical expression out of very simple pieces.

I didn't give up technical exercises while doing this, though. I still worked on scales and arpeggios every day, and on Czerny's School of Velocity - but I did the Czerny at a low enough velocity that I could reproducibly hit all the notes. Trying to speed up and seeing what happened when I failed helped me concentrate on the details of shoulder, arm, and hand motions that I needed to correct. But this technical stuff was only about a third of my practice time. The rest was just playing those easy pieces as beautifully as I could.

Offline ted

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #2 on: November 13, 2017, 03:20:17 AM
If you find particular movements difficult then one way is to improvise exercises for yourself using those movements. This has at least two distinct advantages. Firstly, you can tailor your technical practice to suit type and difficulty to precisely the extent you wish. Secondly, your musical brain is not left in neutral as it is with boring scales and most studies, so you are doing two things at once.
"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #3 on: November 13, 2017, 03:25:10 AM
Consider sticking to very, very simple pieces for longer than you think possible. If you really love music and know the repertoire you may be tempted to go for pieces that are too advanced, too soon. So try spending some months playing ultra easy pieces. Play them so that you can play them without mistakes, but also use them to think about the simplest aspects of phrasing, articulation, sound production, etc. Get to where you can think about how you want them to sound and have them come out the way you have in mind. There are lots of Bach things from his notebooks and simple movements from the early Haydn sonatas, or Schumann's pieces for students that you should be able to play effortless and beautifully after a short while. Give your brain the experience of being completely at ease and confident at the piano.

I'm advising this only because it helped me. I took up piano late in life with a strong background in classical guitar, voice, theory, and all sorts of ambitions to play major pieces. I worked like a fiend and was able to memorize and more or less get through a few medium difficulty Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, quite a few Preludes and Fugues from WTC, some late Brahms, even Brahms' arrangement of the Bach Chaconne for left hand alone. But I always stumbled more than I wanted to, always felt tense when playing for others, just the sort of problems you seem to be describing. Six months ago I decided to try to practice fluency, so I went back to the Anna Magdalena Notebook pieces, ultra easy Haydn and Mozart things and just concentrated on learning to play them fluently and comfortably. My tone production, articulation, and voicing improved a lot, I feel the music more while I play, I have far, far fewer stumbles, and I'm very gradually working back towards pieces with more notes. It took me a little while to win my teacher over to this plan, but in the end she agrees that it has done wonders. Give it a try, it only costs a few months, and it's fun to wring all the possible musical expression out of very simple pieces.

I didn't give up technical exercises while doing this, though. I still worked on scales and arpeggios every day, and on Czerny's School of Velocity - but I did the Czerny at a low enough velocity that I could reproducibly hit all the notes. Trying to speed up and seeing what happened when I failed helped me concentrate on the details of shoulder, arm, and hand motions that I needed to correct. But this technical stuff was only about a third of my practice time. The rest was just playing those easy pieces as beautifully as I could.

I have been thinking about that approach. I may do that for a month or two starting in January, after I finish working like a fiend on my college auditions and concerto ... or, I may not even drop everything, just do less big stuff and more small stuff. Thanks! I do think I will start going through the Album for the Young and the Inventions.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline vishal733

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #4 on: November 13, 2017, 06:06:48 AM
You could also try taking a small break from piano.

At times we are trying too hard. And repeating the same mistakes again and again.
Taking a break helps me in such cases.
When I return back to the piano, I feel a different level of ease at playing the same pieces I'd been struggling with.

Offline tnan123

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #5 on: November 13, 2017, 05:02:22 PM
I would second the opinion of going to easier piano pieces. I had a similar situation with lots of motivation to attempt more advanced pieces. You might think you are getting the notes down but really you are at the brink of collapse. Going to the edge of your technical ability will always lead to performances littered with mistakes.

Save the challenges for when you are confident in easier stuff and those challenges will be much more easily surmountable later on! I don't think you mentioned if you were studying with a teacher. They can be invaluable in diagnosing what specifics you might need to work on specifically.

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #6 on: November 13, 2017, 06:11:25 PM
Quote
Save the challenges for when you are confident in easier stuff and those challenges will be much more easily surmountable later on! I don't think you mentioned if you were studying with a teacher. They can be invaluable in diagnosing what specifics you might need to work on specifically.

I am studying with a teacher. For awhile she was telling me to do easier stuff, but like an idiot I wouldn't listen, and eventually she just kind of went with it ...

I am pretty satisfied, though--last night I put on a good recital of Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 32 No. 10, the second movement of Beethoven Op. 57, and Schumann's Aufshwung. The first two actually went very well, and I am satisfied with my work.

Taking a break from piano isn't so much an option, partly because I am looking to audition to a music school as a freshman this February.

Just this morning, I had a breakthrough on a really tough measure in one of my audition pieces (Les Adieux first movement), and I'm really hyped now. But I have made it a point to start going through the Schumann Album for the Young every morning, and do a piece every day or two. I think that might help.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline tnan123

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #7 on: November 13, 2017, 08:47:18 PM

I am pretty satisfied, though--last night I put on a good recital of Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 32 No. 10, the second movement of Beethoven Op. 57, and Schumann's Aufshwung. The first two actually went very well, and I am satisfied with my work.

Taking a break from piano isn't so much an option, partly because I am looking to audition to a music school as a freshman this February.

Just this morning, I had a breakthrough on a really tough measure in one of my audition pieces (Les Adieux first movement), and I'm really hyped now. But I have made it a point to start going through the Schumann Album for the Young every morning, and do a piece every day or two. I think that might help.

Sounds like a great recital and also congrats on the breakthrough on Beethoven's Les Adieux - a great sonata! If you can really do a Rach prelude and Beethoven's Op 57 2nd movement, then I think you're well on your way! I do notice that those pieces are on the slower side (although there are quick passages in both) so it might be easier to not have issues with mistakes.

That makes me think that perhaps you want to try to some fast works to work on your technique. If you can do pieces at requiring fast tempos without mistakes, it will feel easier to tackle other pieces down the line. Again your technique should be in your comfort range and not at the brink of failure, so that you can truly work on interpretative elements and not just worry so much about technique. I would caution that you still do slow practice though even for fast works, you will just need more time to incrementally get to the written tempo. Why? You should not be practicing with lots of sloppy mistakes. An actor doesn't rehearse flubbed lines before a theatre performance. Similarly your practice session should be focused more on slower and more perfect versions of a piece rather than being impatient and trying to get to the written tempo.

Finally, that's a great goal to do try to work on Album for the Young as a supplement. I would recommend not just doing a piece like you might practice sight reading every morning, but really try to get it to 100% with amazing phrasing, articulation, dynamics etc.

Anyway, that's just my 2 cents. You and your teacher will know best how to proceed.

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #8 on: November 13, 2017, 09:58:08 PM
Quote
That makes me think that perhaps you want to try to some fast works to work on your technique. If you can do pieces at requiring fast tempos without mistakes, it will feel easier to tackle other pieces down the line. Again your technique should be in your comfort range and not at the brink of failure, so that you can truly work on interpretative elements and not just worry so much about technique. I would caution that you still do slow practice though even for fast works, you will just need more time to incrementally get to the written tempo. Why? You should not be practicing with lots of sloppy mistakes. An actor doesn't rehearse flubbed lines before a theatre performance. Similarly your practice session should be focused more on slower and more perfect versions of a piece rather than being impatient and trying to get to the written tempo.

Well the piece I've been struggling with the most is Chopin's 1st Ballade. It has plenty of fast parts, but most of them sound sloppy almost every time. Another piece that is difficult for me to play well is the Schumann Aufshwung (clarity is very difficult). Perhaps a few Chopin or Liszt etudes would be helpful in mastering these pieces? I've played around with the Revolutionary etude, and I've thought about playing Wilde Jagd (which plays towards my biggest strengths as a performer), but really, I need to work where I'm weak, not strong.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline Bob

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #9 on: November 13, 2017, 11:41:40 PM
I lean towards a routine over literature.

Then push/stress areas.  It always seems like that kind of push is something you're really aware of though.  It doesn't seem to happen on its own.  There's a hurt and self-inflicted, but not necessarily physical.

Then ease back and reset form because the push can be damaging.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #10 on: November 14, 2017, 12:08:40 AM
Quote
I lean towards a routine over literature.

Then push/stress areas.  It always seems like that kind of push is something you're really aware of though.  It doesn't seem to happen on its own.  There's a hurt and self-inflicted, but not necessarily physical.

Then ease back and reset form because the push can be damaging.

Can you please elaborate? That wasn't real clear.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline louispodesta

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #11 on: November 14, 2017, 12:20:58 AM
I am always hearing about pianists who are referred to as being technical monsters but lack maturity.

Well I wish I could have that kind of technique! I mean this in the humblest way possible ... but I have so many interpretations and musical ideas for all manner of repertoire, from Clementi sonatinas to Ravel's Gaspard and such advanced pieces. I want to play those pieces so much, and I practice four hours a day trying to reach it ...

Unfortunately, my performances are always littered with mistakes. I cannot overcome these pieces, regardless of how I practice (and yes, I have been consciously practicing section-by-section, as effectively as I know how). But in the end, there's still a maddening gap in my technique.

So how do I build technique to a high level? I did Books 1-2 (and some of book 3) by Hamlet. I also am striving to re-learn my scales and arpeggios to get them to as even and smooth as possible. But in the end, none of it seems to help. My technique is still only mediocre, and frustratingly unable to match my musical ambitions and ideas.

Any or advice or ideas?

Thanks!
After years of searching, I finally found a Concerto Repertoire Coach.  She has a DMA Pedigree and then some.  Most importantly, she listens, and this is a Lady whose recordings show her having a Scale Facility equal to that of the late Earl Wild.

So, (and this is what "ANY TEACHER" should consider) she says:  "Okay, this is the way I would finger it, but (even if I would never do it that way) if it works for you, then that is just fine.

The "Point" is that: you need to study with some who can:  1) Play their Arse off, and  2) is willing to work with you (in very short minute sections, slow practice) in order to translate that ability to your particular situation. 

And that means, in no uncertain terms, that it should be specific to the "Morphology" of your hand, arm, shoulder, overall height, the way you pedal, et al.

Once again, you have to teach/relate to any teacher your Body Type.  That is why one of my coaches, Thomas Mark, utilizes the term Body Mapping.  www.pianaomap.com

Offline keypeg

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #12 on: November 14, 2017, 05:15:35 AM
This is worth quoting (and I agree).
Quote
And that means, in no uncertain terms, that it should be specific to the "Morphology" of your hand, arm, shoulder, overall height, the way you pedal, et al.

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #13 on: November 14, 2017, 05:50:04 AM
Quote
Once again, you have to teach/relate to any teacher your Body Type.  That is why one of my coaches, Thomas Mark, utilizes the term Body Mapping.  www.pianaomap.com

Huh, he lives in my town ...
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline indianajo

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #14 on: November 14, 2017, 07:49:10 PM
My teacher taught me to practice at the speed I make NO mistakes.  
This slows down speed of "learning" and is not taught at conservatory, I suspect.
But things I've learned that way, stick in memory for a half century or more.
Things I've slobbed through then performed, like pop Christmas music, I have to learn it again and again every year.  
Don't worry about the speed. The last couple of weeks before contest, when I had the movements totally learned, I could double or triple the speed without strain.  
Of course, one keeps one's flexibility up with simple exercises up, ones where no mistakes was achieved a long time ago.  I use Scott Joplin rags for this purpose; maintains flexibility too.  
If you make more than one mistake, slow down. If you're making the same mistake over & over, practice that section 20 times perfectly, at whatever slow speed it takes to be perfect.  Your lower brain will learn this, just as you learned to walk and don't think about that either. Speed up over that section only when the "reflexes" are sure of the right way to do it.  If your cortex is involved, the conciousness, you didn't practice enough.   

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #15 on: November 30, 2017, 12:52:03 AM
Quote
I did Books 1-2 (and some of book 3) by Hamlet

I actually meant Hanon, now that I look at it ... too much literature lately.

Quote
Don't worry about the speed. The last couple of weeks before contest, when I had the movements totally learned, I could double or triple the speed without strain.  

Thanks! I am doing that now with my Chopin Etudes, it seems to be working.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline jgallag

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #16 on: December 07, 2017, 05:18:04 PM
There's some great advice here. I have a basic question for you: what about Hanon makes you think it's going to help you with Ravel or Clementi, and how are you practicing the Hanon? Someone mentioned making exercises out of the passages that are giving you problems, and I have to say that sounds like a great idea.

Some principles that I hope will help: if the notes constantly alternate direction, rotate your forearm like turning a doorknob. If the notes are moving in the same direction, use wrist circles. To be clear, as the notes in the right hand go up, the wrist is lower and moves to the right. As the notes go down, the wrist is higher, and moves to the left. Use the mirror of that for the left hand (wrist is lower when LH descends, higher when RH ascends). For trills and repeated notes, the wrist oscillates up and down (my professor likes to call it elevator wrists) and the fingertips even strike different parts of the key (slight in and out).

Keep the fingers light and constantly monitor against the urge to continue pressing after they key has reached the bottom. It feels quite passionate to do so, but it restricts freedom and movement. I can't tell you how much my playing improves if I just focus on keeping my thumbs light (I had a ton of tension as a kid).

The caveat to slow practice: You will not improve if you practice the wrong movements slow. Play short passages up to speed (even if it's a horrible mess), one hand at a time, and see what movements your arm wants to make. Keep these movements at your slower tempo while you work out with more precision where your fingertips will go.

Finally, learn about technique by actually studying technique, not patterns of notes that Hanon or Dohnanyi or Czerny put together. Get your hands on the Taubman tapes. Read: Mastering Piano Technique by Seymour Fink, On Piano Playing by Gyorgy Sandor, The Craft of Piano Playing by Alan Fraser, Practising the Piano (all volumes) by Graham Fitch, 20 Lessons in Keyboard Choreography by Seymour Bernstein, What Every Pianist Needs to Know About the Body by Thomas Mark. Get a teacher!

Also, the 20 Short Studies by Moskowski, Op. 91, might be a better start than the Chopin Etudes. Those are tough!

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #17 on: December 07, 2017, 09:41:01 PM
Ah, I see.

Well lately I haven't been doing much Hanon; I've been focusing really hard on working my major and minor scales and arpeggios in every possible iteration and making them good. Also, I've been working through Schumann's Album for the Young. I just finished Knight Rubert, which, oddly enough, I played as a beginner like three years ago.

Quote
Some principles that I hope will help: if the notes constantly alternate direction, rotate your forearm like turning a doorknob. If the notes are moving in the same direction, use wrist circles. To be clear, as the notes in the right hand go up, the wrist is lower and moves to the right. As the notes go down, the wrist is higher, and moves to the left. Use the mirror of that for the left hand (wrist is lower when LH descends, higher when RH ascends). For trills and repeated notes, the wrist oscillates up and down (my professor likes to call it elevator wrists) and the fingertips even strike different parts of the key (slight in and out).

Keep the fingers light and constantly monitor against the urge to continue pressing after they key has reached the bottom. It feels quite passionate to do so, but it restricts freedom and movement. I can't tell you how much my playing improves if I just focus on keeping my thumbs light (I had a ton of tension as a kid).

Ah, I see. I have been trying to play lighter; the problem that I run into is that my accuracy suffers. Whenever I do a masterclass, teacher after teacher has told me to "get into the keys" more. The one time I actually tried to apply that, though, I got the opposite response: I'm playing TOO far into the keys. Where's the middle ground? I want to get a full tone when I play; at the same time, I want to be nimble and quick when necessary.

Quote
The caveat to slow practice: You will not improve if you practice the wrong movements slow. Play short passages up to speed (even if it's a horrible mess), one hand at a time, and see what movements your arm wants to make. Keep these movements at your slower tempo while you work out with more precision where your fingertips will go.

Yes, I have ruined a number of pieces by practicing wrong. Sadly, case in point: Chopin Ballade in g minor. It was so frustrating to go and find that I've learned many wrong in it, even when the my newer repertoire is so much better. So I've decided to intentionally forget it, come back to it in about a year, and relearn it, the right way.

Quote
Finally, learn about technique by actually studying technique, not patterns of notes that Hanon or Dohnanyi or Czerny put together. Get your hands on the Taubman tapes. Read: Mastering Piano Technique by Seymour Fink, On Piano Playing by Gyorgy Sandor, The Craft of Piano Playing by Alan Fraser, Practising the Piano (all volumes) by Graham Fitch, 20 Lessons in Keyboard Choreography by Seymour Bernstein, What Every Pianist Needs to Know About the Body by Thomas Mark. Get a teacher!

Well, I did read The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser, and it has done wonders for my technique already. The only one on that list that I could find at the library was Fink's book; I'm planning to read that as soon as I can get my hands on it. And I do have teacher--and lately, I realized just a what a good teacher I have. So I've been coming to her more and more with these issues, and it seems to be helping a lot.

Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline jgallag

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #18 on: December 07, 2017, 11:12:21 PM
Ah, I see. I have been trying to play lighter; the problem that I run into is that my accuracy suffers. Whenever I do a masterclass, teacher after teacher has told me to "get into the keys" more. The one time I actually tried to apply that, though, I got the opposite response: I'm playing TOO far into the keys. Where's the middle ground? I want to get a full tone when I play; at the same time, I want to be nimble and quick when necessary.

In my opinion, there is no middle ground. Think of it this way: when you take a step, do you continue to press your foot into the ground to make sure you're going to be stable there? Even if you stomp your foot, are your leg muscles still engaged in keeping your foot down? If you are tip-toeing, can you possibly move from one foot to the next without your entire bodyweight being on a single foot, even if only momentary and even if only on part of your foot? So it is at the piano. Contact and keeping the key down do not require extra effort. Only partially putting the key down just causes excess tension in the muscles that now need to hold your arm up (since the piano isn't doing it for you anymore). Practice ultra slow, pausing after each note to check that gravity and the structure of your skeleton is holding the key down, not any extra pressing. Graham Fitch has better descriptions in his books, which are only available digitally, by the way.

Quote
Well, I did read The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser, and it has done wonders for my technique already. The only one on that list that I could find at the library was Fink's book; I'm planning to read that as soon as I can get my hands on it. And I do have teacher--and lately, I realized just a what a good teacher I have. So I've been coming to her more and more with these issues, and it seems to be helping a lot.

The Art of Practicing is a fantastic book, and it's wonderful that you have it. However, I would not categorize it as a technique book, though there is an extensive chapter on that. It certainly does not go into the same sort of detail these other books do. I think of Bruser's book more as an artistry book, one that encourages deep listening and a thorough rhythmic and melodic understanding of a piece of music. Your questions are about technique, though. It's wonderful that Seymour Fink's book is in the library. I highly doubt the others will be. It is the reality of being interested in such a specialized topic. Fortunately, except for Sandor and Bernstein, they are reasonably priced. I owned them all before finishing my masters, and you don't exactly earn good money while studying.

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #19 on: December 08, 2017, 01:36:46 AM
Quote
In my opinion, there is no middle ground. Think of it this way: when you take a step, do you continue to press your foot into the ground to make sure you're going to be stable there? Even if you stomp your foot, are your leg muscles still engaged in keeping your foot down? If you are tip-toeing, can you possibly move from one foot to the next without your entire bodyweight being on a single foot, even if only momentary and even if only on part of your foot? So it is at the piano. Contact and keeping the key down do not require extra effort. Only partially putting the key down just causes excess tension in the muscles that now need to hold your arm up (since the piano isn't doing it for you anymore). Practice ultra slow, pausing after each note to check that gravity and the structure of your skeleton is holding the key down, not any extra pressing. Graham Fitch has better descriptions in his books, which are only available digitally, by the way.

I do get what you mean. And actually I learn more towards what you're saying, even too much--so much so that my sound is often to airy--as in, my problem is not going down enough. I'm trying to fix it, but the effect my "fix" is always harshness and loss of beauty and elegance.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline jgallag

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #20 on: December 09, 2017, 08:37:54 PM
I do get what you mean. And actually I learn more towards what you're saying, even too much--so much so that my sound is often to airy--as in, my problem is not going down enough. I'm trying to fix it, but the effect my "fix" is always harshness and loss of beauty and elegance.

This is good. At least you are adjusting. I have bad news for you: I can point you to resources, I can describe what it feels like, and if I were to see you in person, I could manipulate your hand and arm, but the one thing I cannot possibly do is get inside you and give you the feeling. Ultimately, you need to discover this for yourself. It's a great sign that you are able to shift from one side of the spectrum to the other. You are able to adjust, and your frustrations indicate you are able to listen as well. Now, try to fine tune it by degrees. Maybe you over adjust by pressing and getting a harsh tone, but can you press half as hard? A quarter as hard? When you are playing too light, can you play just a little heavier, but maybe not quite all the way down yet?

Really, I'm sure there are tons of people out there who can describe it better than me (definitely Alan Fraser and Graham Fitch, I've already named their books), and your teacher can mold your arm and can play on your arm, but none of us can get inside you and give you the feeling. You have to be persistent and find it for yourself. I know that's not the answer you're looking for.

Here are some other thoughts, just in case they help: How is your posture, bench height, etc? Is the full weight of your arm able to transfer into the piano, hanging from a relaxed shoulder? Do you know that it is the speed of key descent, and not how heavy or light you are, that determines volume? What we feel as heavy actually accelerates the finger (and therefore the key descent), so that the hammer strikes the string with more velocity. Try dropping your arm and pretending that the keyboard is not there. Try to get yourself into the mental space that your hand will pass through the keyboard and land in your lap. Then, the keyboard just happens to stop your descent on the way. After that, and you may need a second or two to do this, "shut off" any muscles engaged in descent, so that you're not putting any more energy into keeping your finger down. Note that this is *after* tone production.

Finally, let me clarify what I meant by keeping my thumbs "light": Stretch out your thumb all the way (down, as if pressing down a key). Do you feel the muscles underneath engage? Relax it. Now stretch your thumb half that much and still try to sense the muscular engagement. Relax. Now a quarter. Relax. Now, what's the smallest increment you can move your thumb and still feel your muscles engaged? Relax. That feeling, after the final relaxation, is a light thumb. It's not an immobile thumb, your thumb will still engage when necessary, but that sensation ensures that the thumb remains supple and ready to move when necessary. You can use this exercise with any limb, thumbs were just a big problem for me. You are teaching yourself what muscular engagement, of even the slightest degree, feels like.

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #21 on: December 10, 2017, 11:40:05 PM
Quote
This is good. At least you are adjusting. I have bad news for you: I can point you to resources, I can describe what it feels like, and if I were to see you in person, I could manipulate your hand and arm, but the one thing I cannot possibly do is get inside you and give you the feeling. Ultimately, you need to discover this for yourself. It's a great sign that you are able to shift from one side of the spectrum to the other. You are able to adjust, and your frustrations indicate you are able to listen as well. Now, try to fine tune it by degrees. Maybe you over adjust by pressing and getting a harsh tone, but can you press half as hard? A quarter as hard? When you are playing too light, can you play just a little heavier, but maybe not quite all the way down yet?

Well of course this is something I have to feel for myself. I do think I'm getting there, and there are some techniques that just came naturally (octaves, for instances). I think I have been improving, even just since this thread started. I always feel so good when the muscles in my hand suddenly "get" the passage I've been working at. So this 'feeling,' as you say, is something I've been developing. Fine-tuning the sound of a piece is very difficult, but I do feel I've been getting there.

The biggest issue I've found, though, was in my preparation. So lately I've been pushing myself to learn a piece thoroughly enough, that becoming swept away by the music itself is not something I have to avoid, but rather embrace. I think it's coming, slowly but surely. I am definitely more capable of playing jumps in something like, say, Wilde Jagd, then I was six months ago, and learning them with accuracy is no longer difficult for me, provided I begin by practicing slow enough to do it right, every time.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline jgallag

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #22 on: December 11, 2017, 03:21:25 AM
Have to go to bed, but there is fantastic, free advice on jumps here: https://www.practisingthepiano.com/leaps-of-faith-on-practising-waltzes/

Offline beethovenfan01

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #23 on: December 11, 2017, 05:27:04 AM
Yes, I've heard of this before. I've actually been applying it a lot lately, and it seems to be working very well.
Practicing:
Bach Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue
Beethoven Sonata Op. 10 No. 1
Shostakovich Preludes Op. 34
Scriabin Etude Op. 2 No. 1
Liszt Fantasie and Fugue on BACH

Offline Bob

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #24 on: March 25, 2018, 08:14:17 PM
Can you please elaborate? That wasn't real clear.

It's in my post history... somewhere, if anyone wants dig through all that.


Take every aspect of playing you can think of -- scales, chords/arps, octaves, etc.  Some overlap.  Some things are completely different ways of thinking -- ex. physical individual finger motions vs. thinking in terms of chords.

Make a routine out of that.  If you do that daily, it will build up some technique. 

It avoids relying on literature, when the lit might only focus on one aspect -- maybe right hand emphasized over the left for scale work, maybe certain keys favored, etc. 


Downsides... It's not literature.  And there's no end.  You can eventually, slowly, push yourself to the point that you don't recover as much after practice.  You can overpractice.  You can slowly wear yourself down instead of building up. 
There's no variance in it if it's the same thing every day.  That's good and bad.  Bad in that it's the stuff that isn't used fades and if you're overpracticing there's less chance, less rest, for recovery.  So some variations or several routines might be good.  But then that can slow progress if you don't keep working in the same direction.

Actual control would be the ultimate goal.  That takes a lot of brain power though.  The routine covers all aspects, whatever you determine is "all."  I'm still confused about whether I'm working most efficiently/effectively for the time put in.  The routine definitely is more compressed for physical work compared to some literature.

Another negative -- It's gets old, dry.  Reading or watching tv or a movie help.  You can easily do more repetitions that way.  But it also introduces some sloppiness in the long run since you're paying as much attention.  And then it's up in the air whether focusing on what you're doing helps progress or not.

Another likely negative -- Getting trapped by the routine being habit. 


A general outline of what I've got for a routine...
Scales, major and minor -- all 30
Arpeggios, same... major and minor, all 30
Loud chords, full hands / quiet chords, full hands     slow and faster
Wrist swirls/wrist-driven to keep the wrist working
Thumb work to keep the thumb working. 
Scales in sevenths -- All 30 maj/min.  Can vary the position -- root, first, second, third.  Blocked.
Scales in sevenths as arpeggios.  I'm going around the circle of fifths in each key.  All 30 maj/min.
Scratching the keys with each finger.  All five keys pressed, one finger at a time.  Then no keys pressed, one finger at a time.
Finger lifts -- All five keys pressed, one at a time.  No keys, one at a time.
Repeating thirds in a static five finger position.
Repeating 1232 patterns in a static five finger position.
Fast two octaves scales for speed -- major up, minor down.
Fast two octave arpeggios for speed Mm ud.

Some I've forgotten....
Scales in thirds.
Whole tone scales.
Static five finger position, thirds up and down.  Or, 1212 3232 1212
Another... Static five finger position, Hold down 1, do 2345432;  Hold 2, 1345431; Hold 3, etc.

That takes maybe a little over an hour to an hour and a half to do.  You can add more repetitions to beef it up.  Go faster.  Play quieter.  It was enough to start tearing my forearms/hands down, maybe touching on tendinitis.... almost twenty years ago now.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline Bob

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #25 on: March 25, 2018, 08:20:46 PM
Can you please elaborate? That wasn't real clear.


Quote
I lean towards a routine over literature.

Then push/stress areas.  It always seems like that kind of push is something you're really aware of though.  It doesn't seem to happen on its own.  There's a hurt and self-inflicted, but not necessarily physical.

Then ease back and reset form because the push can be damaging.

Can you please elaborate? That wasn't real clear.








===============================
That's what I thinking about that time.  Still am. 

You have to stress something, push it, to improve it.  That's also damaging it a bit.  (How much damage is ok?  How much do you heal up/recover after that?)  There's something about capturing that progress.  Damage/stress.  Then it needs to recover which takes time.  You have to ease back -- Rest more, maybe reset form.  And then maybe even work on more basic levels -- Stretch, massage/break up muscles involved.  Melt/relax them.  Get good sleep, nutrition, etc.  That I'm still trying to figure out -- Just how to for sure capture progress and then what's most efficient.

In general it doesn't seem like I progress unless I'm really focusing on that aspect.  It would be something I'm thinking about throughout the day.  Then again, even small projects I just don't get to unless I really focus in sometimes, so practicing could be something simple.  Maybe I'm just not doing it.   It's been that way when I've really made progress though.  It doesn't seem to happen if I'm not focused on it, stressed out about it a bit.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline clouseau

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #26 on: March 26, 2018, 09:17:07 AM

Practice your scales and your arpeggios, really well.
"What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune." - Rameau

Offline clouseau

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #27 on: March 26, 2018, 04:41:12 PM
ok... i guess I'm oversimplifying...

If there is something I concluded after many years of playing, about piano technique, it is that there is no single thing you can do, to "master the technique". Because it is not actually one technique but many techniques. Each piece has different challenges. So In your case, I would suggest the following:

There are obviously things you can play very well, no need to dwell on those. Try to find exactly where the problematic areas of your playing are. Is it scales, is it jumps, is it trills, is it tremolo, is it chords, is it arpeggios, is it you name it? I find that usually people who feel technically inadequate usually have not developed good finger technique (aka small technique).
This is why i suggest scales and arpeggios. And Hanon. But this work has to be done systematically, daily and with attention, over a longer period of time. Practice this stuff with rhythms, accents and dynamics, different touches, increasing tempo one notch per day. Try to be present while doing that and try to play as accurate as possible. You can also invent your own variants.
One good indicator is that if you have reached 140 bpm on your scales you should have the foundation to play the harder stuff.
"What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are out of tune." - Rameau

Offline bronnestam

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #28 on: March 29, 2018, 08:35:38 AM
My own contribution is to suggest you find a teacher, and not just any teacher but a real master, whose technique you admire. It could be very well worth the money to travel to such a teacher and get 1-3 lessons on the issues you have.

It is like this in every kind of performing art. Even the established stars need to seek out expert advice from time to time to solve some technical issues. And even the big names may accept students for single lessons, even if the student is not "prominent".
But first you need to identify your issues thoroughly. "Sounds sloppy" is not a very good identification, and it will not get better if your own solution is to "try to play less sloppy".
Identifying the real problem is often the hardest task of them all. Quite often - at least in my case - it is about thinking you know a certain passage very well, but in fact you don't. It is somehow hard to admit to yourself, and even harder - and a bit humiliating - to dismount the troublesome spot into its atomic parts and really, really focus on them. To play slow enough and - very important - not get tempted to proceed once you have played this little section. (Just a few bars more? It is a good piece ... But the result is that you waste your time and get out of focus.)

While there are plenty of useful exercises, just be careful not to waste your time even there. Perhaps you don't need a Hanon exercise, perhaps it is better to invent an exercise on your own, which is about THIS particular problem and nothing else. Let's say you have problem making even legato in a certain bar, with your right hand. Play this bar all over the keyboard, play with both your hands or just the left hand, play in some other key signatures, different tempi, different rythm, play backwards ... record your movements with a camera.

You can easily feel a bit foolish when you repeat, repeat, repeat the same very small section - perhaps just three notes - so many times, and someone overhearing you will definitely find you very tiresome. Thing is, that it sounds too easy in that context, why not take on a bigger challenge ...? But that is the whole point. Once you have made it sound and feel almost too easy, you have probably solved the problem!

Second challenge is Patience. You work your a** off with three notes (and you know you will probably have to do this again tomorrow) and you know that there are so many other things to do and life is short. But try to ignore those feelings. Often a certain issue is connected to five others, so when you have solved one thing, you might very well have solved some more. Just knowing that "and soon I will get there, soon I will get there, please God make it work this time" while you play, will have a most negative impact on your playing and you will tense up.

Offline rachmaninoff_forever

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Re: How to build technique?
Reply #29 on: March 31, 2018, 04:22:41 AM
I haven't read all the the responses here

BUT...

This is what I think...  and it might not be popular opinion but I don't really care.

I never did scales or Czerny or any sort of routine exercises.  And tbh I think they only work well for beginner up to like early advanced. I think at your level (you're already playing scarbo) you're better off just learning how to come up with efficient and creative ways to practice difficult passages.  Like I don't care what etudes you learn or what variation of scales/arpeggios you practice there is NOTHING out there that prepares you for something like scarbo.  You literally only get that specific kind of technique from THAT piece.  

And that comes with experience, experimentation, and spending time with other pianists seeing how they practice.
Live large, die large.  Leave a giant coffin.
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