\"\"
Piano Forum logo

Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed (Read 4312 times)

Offline louispodesta

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1077
Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
« on: February 08, 2018, 12:36:44 AM »
Since March of 2017, it was announced that Lang Lang had suffered a major injury to his left arm.  This was a lie because the injury was Tendinitis, which is an injury to the Forearm.  Further, it was announced by his Agency (in November of 2017) the following:

http://www.internationalartsmanager.com/news/music/lang-lang-out-of-action-until-summer-2018.html

This Press Release (as others before them) did not delve into the specifics of his injury.  My reasoning is that: unlike what Lang Lang referred to in his personal response, THIS WAS NOT an injury related to a particular practice performance!

His version is that he was rehearsing the "Ravel" Concerto, when the tendinitis occurred.  First of all, he doesn't say which Concerto, and that is a very big deal because one of them as we all know is for the Left Hand alone.

Secondly, there is no Physical Medicine Specialist, Physical Therapist or Chiropractor who can say that one instance can cause debilitative tendinitis.  As someone with Psoriatic Arthritis, who is also a student of Thomas Mark, I can tell you that bad technique over a period of time is usually the reason for serious injury.

So, here is the deal.  The American news media is covering-up for Lang Lang who is obviously seriously hurt, and it is not just the tendinitis.  As I stated before, his Ulnar Nerve has been beat up for some time, and that means he is not going to get well.

Accordingly, Dr. Thomas Mark ("What Every Pianist Needs To Know About the Body") states that:  due to persistent bad technique habits, some pianists will never get well (www.pianomap.com).

And finally, my reason for beating the drum is that, as I stated in an email to Tony Tommasini of the NY Times:  millions of pianists look up to Lang Lang, and many of them copy his technique.

That means it is a big deal to expose this so-called genius master of the piano, who his Agency states is making no schedule changes regarding his teaching and his "Master Classes/Lectures" regarding same.

The point is:  either you really care about your students, "in regards the most famous Pianist in the World" (who has his own new piano school) or you do not!

Offline ryoutak

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 27
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #1 on: February 08, 2018, 12:50:16 AM »
No offense but I've never really like Lang Lang's way of playing music. Maybe it's just me, but his playing feels highly uninspiring. There are some pianist that immediately let me fall in love with them when I first heard them play such as Seong-Jin Cho, Yeol Eum Son and others, but never Lang Lang. I don't understand how people would call Lang Lang a genius.

Still, I remember someone posted a video about Lang Lang giving lesson about finger technique, which you had to lift your fingers up as high as possible as you played the notes and it really further reinforcement my bad impression of him.

Lang Lang fans may hate me, but no matter how much I tried to listen to his performance, it feels very uninspired and bland.

I hope he learn his lessons soon and try to stop or educate his fans from learning his bad habits which may destroy other people's fingers/hands in the future.

Offline chopinlover01

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2097
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #2 on: February 08, 2018, 01:23:44 AM »
How much does Thomas Mark pay you to plug his book all the time?
Jazz Ambassador 8)

Offline louispodesta

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1077
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #3 on: February 09, 2018, 12:20:54 AM »
How much does Thomas Mark pay you to plug his book all the time?
His book, which is in the personal library of most of the Piano Department Chairs of most NASM
Accredited University Music Schools (644), is owned by his publisher.  Not only do I not get one dime from him, when I do mention his name on this website, he is in no way comfortable with that process.

Further, my post on Lang Lang is to point out, as accurately alluded to in the prior post by "ryoutak," that this man to a great degree is mostly hype/hyperbole.

["Still, I remember . . . Lang Lang giving lesson about finger technique, which you had to lift your fingers up as high as possible as you played the notes and it really further reinforcement my bad impression of him.

Lang Lang fans may hate me, but no matter how much I tried to listen to his performance, it feels very uninspired and bland.

. . . I hope he learn his lessons soon and try to stop or educate his fans from learning his bad habits which may destroy other people's fingers/hands in the future."]

Hey, every degreed pianist who peruses this website has gone to University Music School with certain fellow pianists who could play at light speed and make audiences "ooh and ahh."  And, as we all know, very, very few of them ever became noted Concert Pianists.

When I was at North Texas State University in 1971 (UNT), my teacher, the late Dr. Jack Roberts, referred to this technique (referenced in "ryotak's" Post) as "High Stepping Fingers."  This was taught to him (DMA study) by his late teacher, Gyorgy Sandor at the University of Michigan, who also taught his students to play with wide elbow articulation when playing.

That is the way Yevgeny Kissin plays, and a whole lot of the Russian Conservatory pianists play.  It works (YK), if you play a very selected short schedule.  If not, you are screwed!

Finally, Lang not only continues to travel and teach to promote this Piano Pedagogy course of instruction (very big bucks!), he is also the reigning United Nations Ambassador for children.

God, help us all.


Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #4 on: February 09, 2018, 08:46:04 AM »
At present, there is probably not a single person on the planet who is both a) at all interested in Lang Lang from a pianistic (student or teacher) point of view and b) unaware that he has developed a severe case of tendinitis.

All these millions of people, including all the young Asian piano students and their teachers, are now reflecting on LL's potentially career-ending injury, and waiting to see how things will turn out. He and the press can say whatever they want, but actions speak louder than words, and he will either make a full recovery or not -- under the intense scrutiny of the whole world.

Suppose LL recovers to the extent that he can do with his left hand exactly what he did before, but significantly reduces the frequency of his performances of potentially hazardous repertoire, and is then able to continue for many years. That is one possible outcome, and LL himself would probably consider it the most desirable of realistic scenarios.

Whatever happens, the whole pianistic planet has just been forcefully reminded that musicians can seriously injure themselves. The result of this will only be more awareness and discussion of ergonomic topics and injury prevention.

But we must keep in mind that there will always be a temptation among piano students to play in this hazardous but spectacular way, because it is one possible ingredient in thrilling performances. There will always be people (I suspect mostly males) who are fully conscious that their approach to performance and training is destroying their bodies, but who sell their souls to the Devil for the sake of attaining, however briefly, the three goals of an artist's life: fame, money, and beautiful lovers.

Lang Lang himself may very well consider that even the worst possible outcome of his tendinitis is a price worth paying for what he has achieved. If the 40 to 50 million Chinese piano students currently said to be inspired by him were asked, "if you knew that the price of matching LL's success and lifestyle were to be a piano-performing career ended at its height by incurable tendinitis, would you pay that price?" -- I believe a large percentage would say "absolutely!" (I certainly would.)

In a sense LL has traded the pianistic use of his left arm for a fabulous resume which will keep him in Fat City for the rest of his working life. If he really cannot find any reason to live except to play the piano, then he's a sad sack, isn't he?

Offline hardy_practice

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1587
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #5 on: February 09, 2018, 09:28:55 AM »
Fat City is overrated.  Beauty is skin deep.
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline dogperson

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1374
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #6 on: February 09, 2018, 12:29:11 PM »
There is an interesting documentary regarding Lang Lang’s life, which  reveals the relationship between  Lang Lang and his father.  He was subjected to quite harsh treatment as a child and a young man in relation to his studying the  piano.   When he reached concert stardom, he was asked ‘ how would you feel now if you had not become a success?’  I found his reply haunting: ‘ it would not have been a life worth living.’

 I hope he has a different perspective now 

Offline louispodesta

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1077
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #7 on: February 09, 2018, 11:46:44 PM »
At present, there is probably not a single person on the planet who is both a) at all interested in Lang Lang from a pianistic (student or teacher) point of view and b) unaware that he has developed a severe case of tendinitis.

All these millions of people, including all the young Asian piano students and their teachers, are now reflecting on LL's potentially career-ending injury, and waiting to see how things will turn out. He and the press can say whatever they want, but actions speak louder than words, and he will either make a full recovery or not -- under the intense scrutiny of the whole world.

Suppose LL recovers to the extent that he can do with his left hand exactly what he did before, but significantly reduces the frequency of his performances of potentially hazardous repertoire, and is then able to continue for many years. That is one possible outcome, and LL himself would probably consider it the most desirable of realistic scenarios.

Whatever happens, the whole pianistic planet has just been forcefully reminded that musicians can seriously injure themselves. The result of this will only be more awareness and discussion of ergonomic topics and injury prevention.

But we must keep in mind that there will always be a temptation among piano students to play in this hazardous but spectacular way, because it is one possible ingredient in thrilling performances. There will always be people (I suspect mostly males) who are fully conscious that their approach to performance and training is destroying their bodies, but who sell their souls to the Devil for the sake of attaining, however briefly, the three goals of an artist's life: fame, money, and beautiful lovers.

Lang Lang himself may very well consider that even the worst possible outcome of his tendinitis is a price worth paying for what he has achieved. If the 40 to 50 million Chinese piano students currently said to be inspired by him were asked, "if you knew that the price of matching LL's success and lifestyle were to be a piano-performing career ended at its height by incurable tendinitis, would you pay that price?" -- I believe a large percentage would say "absolutely!" (I certainly would.)

In a sense LL has traded the pianistic use of his left arm for a fabulous resume which will keep him in Fat City for the rest of his working life. If he really cannot find any reason to live except to play the piano, then he's a sad sack, isn't he?

Fat City, "THE MONEY":  is that what your Epistemology/Thought Process of playing this great instrument is?  Just say it.

It is more than okay to "Out" oneself as a musical "Puttana."  You will certainly not be the first.

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #8 on: February 10, 2018, 06:53:51 AM »
I didn't express myself well at all, I shouldn't have said "Fat City." Let me try again:

"In the case where the injury is permanent and debilitating, Lang Lang may have been forced to trade the pianistic use of his left arm for a fabulous resume which, while not allowing for the continuation of his first-choice path as a top international concert pianist, will certainly provide him with many extremely attractive and potentially remunerative alternatives. He will forever be able to attract top-level students if he so desires; he could go on the lecture circuit, expand his UN-related activities, involve himself in other aspects of music, etc. etc."

Then again, he may prove to be a pure musical "Puttana," as you put it. The point is simply that he has many options, recovery or not, and I believe that a certain proportion of young and ambitious pianists would gladly accept a radically shortened concertizing career in return for having that many career/financial/personal/etc. options for the rest of their active lives.

Offline hardy_practice

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1587
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #9 on: February 10, 2018, 02:15:34 PM »
Proving youth once again wasted on the young!
B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline sucom

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 280
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #10 on: February 11, 2018, 12:25:00 AM »
While there is a 'possibility' of tendonitis being caused by a bad technique, there is an equal possibility of tendonitis occurring simply as a result of over doing a repetitive movement in piano playing or indeed any other activity which involves continual strain put on the body.  It could simply be the result of too much piano practice in a short period of time due to too many upcoming concerts and rehearsals.  I would not be so quick as to condemn someone for a faulty technique on what has to be an assumption of a faulty technique. 

It may or may not be that high finger raising is kind to the body, but one surely cannot assume a faulty technique is the cause of tendonitis. Tendonitis is also known as tennis elbow so if a tennis player had tendonitis would you suggest that the tennis player had a faulty technique swinging his racket? 

I'm not convinced that 'Pedagogy Exposed' is a fair or accurate statement for the disabling condition which Lang Lang has found himself with.   

Just out of interest, wouldn't high stepping fingers be more likely to result in a possible injury to the fingers or hand, rather than the arm? I'm just considering the idea that if I over practise octaves, for example, for an extended length of time, if I might not also find myself with an injured forearm.  Of any other technique for an extended period of time, come to think of it.

I think it's far too easy to put the blame on high stepping fingers just because you perhaps don't agree with this particular method of playing. 

I'm sorry, I just don't think that anyone should be condemned on what can only be an assumption.  No offence intended.

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #11 on: February 11, 2018, 06:26:23 PM »
What is "mashing" a chord?

Offline louispodesta

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1077
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #12 on: February 12, 2018, 12:48:36 AM »
Let us review:
1)   Sucom:  Thank you for your very well-thought out post.  It is evidence of a true kind heart.

"I'm not convinced that 'Pedagogy Exposed' is a fair or accurate statement for the disabling condition which Lang Lang has found himself with.   

Just out of interest, wouldn't high stepping fingers be more likely to result in a possible injury to the fingers or hand, rather than the arm? I'm just considering the idea that if I over practise octaves, for example, for an extended length of time, if I might not also find myself with an injured forearm.  Of any other technique for an extended period of time, come to think of it.

I think it's far too easy to put the blame on high stepping fingers just because you perhaps don't agree with this particular method of playing. " . . .   I just don't think that anyone should be condemned on what can only be an assumption. . . . "

2)  Maxim3:

"Just what are mashed chords? :

 This is not just a good question.  It is a great question, which has never been addressed on this website. Congratulations!

3)  In regards "Sucom,"  High Stepping Fingers has two forms.  First, you can hold you hand still and then raise each finger to articulate a particular passage.  Secondly, you can bring maximum force down on each note, which has traditionally been referred as "Hammerstroking."  The Russian School of piano technique (Evgeny Kissin, et al) recommends/instills this technique practice extensively into all of its students.

Either way, there are essentially very few muscles in ones fingers.  The power of any articulation at the piano comes from the lower forearm, as taught by Dorothy Taubman and her former Practice Coach, Thomas Mark (Certified Alexander Technique Coach).  Therefore, it is absolutely correct that improper playing (High Stepping) can result in a serious injury to the associated forearm (Tendinitis).

4)  Regarding "Maxim3:

Just pull up any Youtube video which shows and overhead film shot of Lang Lang's two hands, and it will make itself self-evident.  He (unlike what WE HAVE ALL BEEN TAUGHT!) does not arch his hand when he plays a chord in his left hand.

Instead, he spreads his hand, flattens it, and then pushes it down to articulate the chord.  I do not know who taught him this, but I have a pretty good idea.  Furthermore, if you are foolish enough to try this yourself, you will see what the end result is.  It initially results in major pain in the Ulnar Nerve where it articulates in the joint at the outer point of your hand where it joins your hand to your wrist.

5)  Accordingly (OP), Lang Lang is seriously hurt and now there are major Public Relations forces in place to mitigate the damage.  His statement that he can only practice 30 minutes a day with his left hand cannot support any generally supported kinesiology logic recommended physical therapy regarding the human hand and its associated forearm.  That is: the standard treatment for this "supposed" injury is:  no practice at all!

6)  For those who wish to mitigate/apologize for the most famous pianist in the world, just remember this.  His original coach, Gary Graffman, has been unable to play since 1974 because his right forearm is permanently paralyzed.

Go figure!

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #13 on: February 12, 2018, 05:19:48 AM »
Thank you for your reply lpodesta. I have been looking at some Lang Lang vids showing his hands from the top, and unfortunately I do not have sufficient piano knowledge to fully understand what I am seeing.

But a new question occurs to me: Why would LL (or anyone else) play chords like that? Is it a way (albeit hazardous in the long term) to make them louder? Is the goal simply maximum volume at any cost or risk?

Horowitz's famous flat-finger style -- of course it worked for him, but are piano students told to avoid it because it's dangerous for everyone except Horowitz? Is LL doing something like that -- overly straight fingers?

Offline sucom

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 280
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #14 on: February 12, 2018, 08:28:49 AM »
Louis:  3)  In regards "Sucom,"  High Stepping Fingers has two forms.  First, you can hold you hand still and then raise each finger to articulate a particular passage.  Secondly, you can bring maximum force down on each note, which has traditionally been referred as "Hammerstroking."  The Russian School of piano technique (Evgeny Kissin, et al) recommends/instills this technique practice extensively into all of its students.

Either way, there are essentially very few muscles in ones fingers.  The power of any articulation at the piano comes from the lower forearm, as taught by Dorothy Taubman and her former Practice Coach, Thomas Mark (Certified Alexander Technique Coach).  Therefore, it is absolutely correct that improper playing (High Stepping) can result in a serious injury to the associated forearm (Tendinitis).


You have put forward a good argument here which has added food for thought.  No-one can dispute that the high stepping technique itself, if this is the case, can bring some spectacular results as far as technique is concerned but at what cost? Speaking for myself, I was never taught to hammer down on the keys so would not have given it much thought had it not been addressed.  I believe that anything is ok as long as it is not taken to the extreme as this creates imbalance.   At the same time, though, the possibility of some kind of damage as a result of any continued, repetitive action is highly likely.  Piano playing, particularly in more advanced players, is a very demanding physical activity which can put a great deal of stress on the body and all players should be made aware of it.  The demands of some music can push the body way over its limits.  So, yes, you have made a good point worthy of note, but I'm still not convinced tendonitis has resulted from this particular technique. What you have definitely rightly pointed out, however, is that all players should be aware of pushing the body past its limits.

Offline louispodesta

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1077
Re: Lang Lang Piano Pedagogy Exposed
«Reply #15 on: February 14, 2018, 06:11:47 PM »
"Sucom" and "Maxim3:

Your replies rendred some lengthy thought, and I appreciate it.

Therefore Specific to the (OP), what Thomas Mark has taught me, (not Taubman) are the widely accepted principles associated with the "Alexander Technique," which is a whole body Epistemology.

It is not only associated with (for this discourse) the "Piano Hand." And, it also references other musical instruments and their associated morphology and methodology.

That means:  When anyone sits down at the piano, an entire Kinesiology comes into play.  Your body specifics/morphology matter, and then some

Accordingly, your weight (or over-weight), height, the length of your arms, the length of your legs, your shoulder width, and whether you can comfortably can reach an octave or more, are all in play.  This is further referenced in the late Charles Aschbrenner's work on pulse patterning.

This brilliant insight highlights the most important association of whole body positioning (Thomas Mark) and the decades-old research of Moshe' Feldenkrais.  By adapting his pelvic circle movements, one is able to position one body weigh to maximize the efficiency of any particular passage at the piano.  This, coupled with judicious use of the Head as a quasi-gyroscope, can give all pianists, regardless of size or shape, the ability to successfully navigate this great instrument.

Conversely, Lang Lang, along with a very long list of other wunderkinds, starts off like wildfire, and then ends up with a permanent injury.  His is not a whole body approach, and its shows.