\"\"
Piano Forum logo

The high finger piano technique in China: past, present, and future (essay) (Read 1782 times)

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
I ran across a music Ph.D candidate's publically-available essay on this very interesting topic -- presumably, this is how Lang Lang and Yuja Wang were trained. Here is the Abstract in full:

The high finger piano technique is an approach to playing the piano which focuses on training the fingers to have extreme independence. The fingers are required to function in the extreme ranges of motion, lifting high before each strike of the key. This is an outdated technique from nineteenth century Europe, where the Lebert-Stark high finger school successfully promoted this technique in European conservatories. It was introduced to China at the beginning of the twentieth century, shortly after pianos began to be imported. From that point forward, this technique became the standard for Chinese pianists. Meanwhile, the high finger technique was abandoned by most pianists in the West in the twentieth century. Instead, the modern piano technique, which focuses on anatomical and scientific analysis, became the mainstream.

In order to establish China’s place in the history of piano playing and technique, I will provide a brief overview of the history and how China developed from it. I will demonstrate evidence for why the high finger school became popular and why it persisted throughout the twentieth century. Finally, I will discuss current trends in Chinese piano pedagogy and provide a guide for how the future development of a healthy, informed technique might look.

-- from The high finger piano technique in China: past, present, and future, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in the Graduate College of The University of Iowa, 2018. View online at:
https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7674&context=etd

Offline ted

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3843
Thanks for posting this, which was indeed interesting to read. Perhaps I am the least qualified to comment on technique, but there is no mention of any underlying musical aesthetic to it all. The broad assumption seems to be that provided we find the right collection of gymnastic instructions we can express any musical idiom and inclination, a premise I for one seriously doubt. Have Chinese players discovered essentially new means of artistic expression, different from those of Europe, do you think, or is it simply imitation of surface mechanisms ? Given the preoccupation with the physical aspect, I am surprised the Chinese schools have not embraced the Virgil Practice Clavier.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline goldentone

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1682
The high finger piano technique is an instruction given for the Hanon exercises.  I believe it is a recipe for physical issues.  I tried it once and it felt uncomfortable and unnatural.  From the standpoint of economy of motion and technical speed it does not make sense.  I would have to doubt that Lang Lang and Yundi Li were trained under it.

My advice is beware.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Offline maxim3

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
Quote from the essay:

"The most renowned young Chinese pianists now are Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and Yundi Li. While they are all great artists with excellent technique and memory, they were all trained more or less under the high finger technique school when they were young. Their playing still shows traces from the high finger school."

Offline william_ni_guang_xin

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 70
I'm from China, I've studied under 2 instructors, one in Shenzhen and one in Guangzhou, both teaches the high finger technique, and yes, Hanon is to chinese piano students, as english is to american first graders, there's really no way around it.

After much listening to 4 of the most famous chinese pianists, lang lang, yundi li, yuja wang, and wenyu shen, to honest, even though they are chinese, and I wish that I can always brag about the artistic excellency of my fellow countrymen, i really can't when it comes to playing classical piano, we chinese are good at making money, but not playing classic music soulfully, perhaps western art is just not our thing, because I'm pretty sure chinese performers still play traditional chinese music and instruments marvelously, have you guys ever listened to guzheng? there's a really good chinese wuxia movie that came out last year, directed by the internationally renown (for real) director yimou zhang, the soundtrack of the film is the kind of traditional chinese guzheng music I'm talking about, here's a youtube link for the entire soundtrack



I think traditional chinese guzheng music is more improvisational than classical western music, almost jazz like at times, in china we often say that drunk artists produce the best poems, same goes for music, it kinda reminds me of the likes of Miles Davis and Nat "King" Cole, with a splash of Late Debussy and Ravel for some reason.

Okay, enough of me advertising my country haha! sorry if you find my reply weird!

have a nice day all

 

Offline ted

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3843
have you guys ever listened to guzheng?

Yes, I am very fond of guzheng music. At a piano party some years ago, a Chinese lady played one and I spent a long time listening to her in the garden instead of to those playing the Fazioli in the house. Were I younger I would certainly study it myself. As you say, it seems to me it has fabulous improvisational possibilities. I also like Beijing Opera.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Online ranjit

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 692
I recently came across this video of Lang Lang 'teaching' the C major scale, and thought it would be relevant here. I'd like to call attention to the fingers raised very high in the left hand. His right hand fingers, as far as I can see, stay relatively low (or perhaps it is the camera angle?). Surely this has a potential for creating problems, does it not?


Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
I recently came across this video of Lang Lang 'teaching' the C major scale, and thought it would be relevant here.
Whatever that is, it's not teaching.  I don't know why he made that video.

Here is a video by a musician that is informal, and yet real teaching is going on.  It's not piano, but it's the video I thought of which I have watched more than once.



Lang Lang says what he used to do, which he was probably told to do.  I don't know whether he ever thought this through. 

Offline dogperson

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1380
We may not like the Lang Lang video as effective teaching but he does label it as his ‘Lesson’ and he demonstrates a high finger technique in playing the C major scale.  The point is that the format is not a great way of teaching but acknowledges that not only was he taught high fingers but is a proponent. He does seem to have thought about this.

Since he made this video lesson in 2016, prior to the rehab and hiatus from his injury, I am curious if he would still teach scales the same way. (But I have not checked; not curious enough re what he does or doesn’t do, I guess). 

Offline lostinidlewonder

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 6075
Interesting opening post.

"High finger" playing is fine though how it is applied needs to be mindful. It seems incorrect to simply apply it whenever it is possible and not consider other options which may be not only physically more efficient but allow more control over desired musical expression.

Everyone has their own body and mind to contend with which develops over many years and for each person on a different timelines. I personally like to shape my student technique from what they naturally are inclinded to do and encourage them to understand improvements to their natural tendencies.

In the Lang Lang video I think for instance teaching scales and forcing high finger misses many other ways in which the scale can be done. It seems that a musical context seems important, how a scale is played within a piece cannot simply always be done with high finger technique. Sure he can't teach all the touches in one video but there wasn't even a mention that there are many ways to play a scale!

"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
www.facebook.com/groups/348933611793249/

Offline ted

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3843
I have little expertise or background in the matter but it seems to me that lostinidlewonder is right again as usual. An infinity of physical and mental ways exists to play anything, and it is all deeply tied to the personality. Assertions about how my fingers should appear seem remarkably fatuous and shallow.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
We may not like the Lang Lang video as effective teaching but he does label it as his ‘Lesson’ and he demonstrates a high finger technique in playing the C major scale. 
He could label it as "hamburger" and the label would not make it a hamburger.  He is not demonstrating high finger technique: he happens to play the scale with high finger technique.  Dashing off a scale at increasing tempos is not teaching or a lesson: it is just summarizing how you used to practise as a child, or how you practise.

I watched his playing.  I noticed that when one finger hammers down, the others go down with it - which is healthy.  I.e. if self-taught beginners try to hammer down one finger while deliberately keeping the other fingers still for "finger independence" that can cause strain. When he plays fast, especially, you can see small movement in his upper arm, elbow, forearm which is also healthy.  When I came back from being self-taught decades before, I hammered my fingers down in a similar fashion, but my wrists were relatively locked, the other fingers did not join the moving finger, and my arms were so still that you could have balanced a teacup on them.  All that was wrong.  I practised scales as the "one safe thing I'd know how to do" and stopped when I got numbness, which probably came from neck strain through everything being locked.

I did find it interesting to watch LL.

Offline keypeg

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 3567
Interesting opening post.

"High finger" playing is fine though how it is applied needs to be mindful. It seems incorrect to simply apply it whenever it is possible and not consider other options which may be not only physically more efficient but allow more control over desired musical expression.

Everyone has their own body and mind to contend with which develops over many years and for each person on a different timelines. I personally like to shape my student technique from what they naturally are inclinded to do and encourage them to understand improvements to their natural tendencies.

In the Lang Lang video I think for instance teaching scales and forcing high finger misses many other ways in which the scale can be done. It seems that a musical context seems important, how a scale is played within a piece cannot simply always be done with high finger technique. Sure he can't teach all the touches in one video but there wasn't even a mention that there are many ways to play a scale!

Excellent post in its entirety.