Technique

Working With Peter Feuchtwanger

Graham Fitch and former student, Daniel Grimwood both had the privilege of working with Peter Feuchtwanger at various stages of their careers. In this video conversation, they discuss and share anecdotes from their experience in working with Peter. The Exercises of Peter Feuchtwanger We’ve recently published a new video module on the Online Academy in which Graham and Daniel give their take on Peter Feuchtwanger’s unique exercises designed to encourage healthy, natural and relaxed movements at the piano. The module is available is available for once-off purchase here or can be viewed here with an Online Academy subscription. Further links & resources Foundations of Good Technique – Video lecture series on how to teach good pianistic habits and ease of movements from the start, and tackle problems in piano playing caused by lack of flexibility. Click here to view. Developing A Balanced Technique – In this video lecture series, Ilga Pitkevica shares insights into approaches and strategies for achieving “pianistic fitness” based on her experience of the traditions of the Russian School of piano playing. Click here to view. Elementary Technique (Introduction and Basics) – The first module in the Online Academy’s technique library exploring the basics of piano technique, covering seating position, posture, whole-arm and legato touches. Click here to view or click here for more information on other modules. Fundamentals of Scales & Arpeggios – The next module in in the Online Academy’s technique library which follows on from the introduction and basics. Click here to view. A Practical Guide to Forearm Rotation – A step-by-step approach to incorporating forearm rotation in your playing to feel strong, coordinated and tension-free. Click here to view. Mastering Piano Technique – Part 2 of Graham Fitch’s Practising the Piano eBook series provides an overview of different schools and traditions through to an extensive […]

By |November 24th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

“Everything You Know Is Wrong!”

When I first witnessed international piano guru, Peter Feuchtwanger, demonstrate his exercises in a class I was so shocked by them that I had to leave the room for a short while. They struck me as diametrically opposed to everything I had come to understand about playing the piano, but as I later came to realise, this was exactly the point. The traditional exercises pianists practise aim to solve specific technical issues using muscular or athletic approaches, whereas Peter’s exercises are effectively anti-exercises. Putting the playing into neutral, they rely on flat fingers, hanging hand positions and a completely loose, passive arm that generates most of the motions involved in putting the keys down.  It took a leap of faith to embrace these exercises and, while I did not need to throw out the technical approach I had received from my main teachers, I found I was able to incorporate Peter’s ideas into my playing and into my teaching. They certainly made a significant difference. Having spent some time working on the exercises under Peter’s supervision, I began to feel a significant difference in the amount of effort I needed to use at the piano. Often, I just needed to do much less to get the same, or a better result.  Because I find these exercises very useful in my own playing and my teaching, I decided to include a feature giving my take on them in the Online Academy. To get the best out of the exercises, you would really need to study them with someone who has received them from the source, but I offer them here as a tribute to my work with Peter and to satisfy the curiosity of the many […]

By |November 19th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

Developing a Balanced Technique

Mastering core piano techniques is essential in order to have the freedom to successfully express musical ideas at the keyboard. Like a ballet dancer is required to do physical training to achieve perfection on the stage, pianists too must train their bodies to enjoy playing with ease. In her new video lecture series, Ilga Pitkevica shares approaches and strategies for development of a balanced, holistic technique based on her personal experience of the traditions of the Russian School of piano playing. The following is an excerpt from the introductory video examining the importance of technical development: The introduction is followed by videos focussing on the main areas of technique: Scale patterns or “finger technique” Broken chords and arpeggios   Chords Thirds Octaves Each of these videos starts with suggestions for how to develop a specific area of technique from the early levels. There are numerous tips for developing speed, fingering suggestions and many solutions to common problems at various stages of development. The videos will be useful to pianists wanting to improve their technique to enhance their enjoyment in playing. Teachers will also find the videos invaluable for helping their students build a good technical foundation. Two further videos providing tips on how to use the popular exercises in Hanon’s Virtuouso Pianist effectively to develop specific areas of technique will be added to the series shortly. *** Developing a Balanced Technique is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber. Be sure to sign-up to our newsletter for further updates and subscribe to our YouTube channel for previews and video excerpts! Further links & resources Foundations of Good Technique – […]

By |October 15th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

Why a Healthy Technique is Important

This weeks’ guest blog post by Penelope Roskell looks at the importance of a healthy technique and how to go about acquiring it. *** *** *** Should we suffer for our art?  Piano playing is a physically demanding activity. Just as elite athletes understand and care for their bodies, so should pianists and their teachers think carefully about their approach to playing and practising.  A healthy piano technique not only avoids injury, ensuring a life-long enjoyment of music-making – it also helps to achieve a more beautiful sound, greater artistic freedom and faster progress.     Minimising effort The old maxim ‘no pain, no gain’ has been proven wrong over and over again, but still musicians find it difficult to ignore that inner voice that tells you that unless you are working very hard, then you are not really progressing.  A healthy technique, however, prevents injury by minimising the physical effort we use to play the piano. Movements become more co-ordinated: the small muscles are supported by the larger muscles; the sound is produced naturally by gravity rather than pressure; and stretches are minimised to avoid build-up of tension. Real progress comes, not from endless hours of mindless mechanical practice but from acquiring the technical know-how which allows the fingers, hands and arms to move freely around the keyboard.    Minimum effort for maximum expression  Every movement we make at the piano affects the quality of the sound; the freer the movements, the more flowing the musical phrase. Our technical skills must always serve a clear musical purpose – to express the meaning of the phrase as eloquently as possible, without exaggeration or inhibition – just enough and no more.  Achieving balance If the body is out of balance, […]

Tips for a Natural Hand Position

My approach to piano technique is based on using movements that are most natural to the body, movements that are free, loose and that feel good. It is most important that we are in touch with physical sensations as we play – our feet in contact with the ground, freedom in the legs and thighs, support from the piano stool, mobility in the torso, looseness in the shoulders and arm, and not least the absence of tension from our wrists, hands and fingers. Touching the keyboard can feel delicious and sensual, or strong and energetic. It should never feel tight or awkward. Hand position I have read elaborate descriptions for the correct hand position for piano playing, but finding the position is actually surprisingly simple. If you stand up and allow your arm to swing freely from your shoulder, you will discover your palm is facing behind you. Swing your arm up to a table or your piano keyboard and land there. Provided you have not tensed up or done anything to change the hand shape, you will have found your ideal hand position. There will be a natural curve in the fingers, and all the knuckles will be aligned and supported.  Curved, not curled We avoid the two extremes, flat fingers and overly curled fingers because they tend to lead to tension. The natural curve is the best default position for piano playing as it encourages the best coordination.  Don’t isolate the fingers Traditional pedagogy supplied the pianist with copious finger exercises in which each finger was to be lifted high in isolation from the other fingers, which were to remain on the surface of the keyboard. Modern thinking has moved on, and we don’t […]

Choreographing Bach’s D Minor Invention

I’m going to look at Bach’s Two-Part Invention in D minor, aiming to help you solve a couple of the issues that seem to bother some players in this piece.  The Subject The first thing is to find a good fingering for the main subject based on its tempo and character. For me, it’s a vigorous forte at the start, somewhere around M.M. = 60 (+/- 10%) for the bar. I play the semiquavers (16th notes) legato and the quavers (8th notes) detached, allowing for the possibility of more finessed articulation here and there.  The Invention would be extremely difficult to manage if we stuck to the myth that the thumb should not go on a black key. Here is the fingering I prefer, by no means the only solution but the one I find works best. In order for this fingering to work we need to remember one important fact: when we place a short finger (thumb or 5thfinger) on a black key we need to make an adjustment up and in towards the back of the keys, since the black keys are higher up and further away. There is no mystery here. Start from your lap and land with your RH on the two black notes with thumb and 5th finger. You should find the way you align will be perfectly natural – there won’t be any twisting in the wrist, and you will have found a comfortable position on the black keys to feel balanced there. When we play the five-finger position, E-Bb in the RH, a certain amount of motion towards the black key area is necessary so that when we arrive at the Bb the hand will be in the right place – in other words, we […]

A Practical Guide to Forearm Rotation

In my work as a teacher, I regularly encounter pianists even at the advanced level who ask me for my special exercises to “strengthen” their fingers. Initially they react with disappointment when I tell them I don’t have any such exercises nor do I believe in them, and that their fingers are strong enough already. My job is to show them how to coordinate the fingers with the arm in ways that end up feeling strong, but this has nothing to do with developing muscles.  The Finger School There is still a strong legacy from the old Finger School in the piano teaching world, which has its roots in the pedagogy of Clementi and Czerny. While their approach may have been just fine for the early pianos with their short keyboards and light actions, it proved less and less efficient as the piano and the music written for it evolved. Teachers kept at it though. If you were a student at the Stuttgart Conservatory in the mid 1800‘s during the reign of Sigismund Lebert and Ludwig Stark, you would have had to practise a strict regime of finger exercises, preferably with the aid of a hand rail (a device attached to the piano enabling the player to rest their wrists on it). The point was to achieve everything with the fingers and the wrist, the rest of the arm remaining quiet and passive. The elbow was to stay close to the body and only the forearm was supposed to move if the hands needed to move outwards. The basic finger touch was known as the “hammer touch”, where each finger was lifted as high as possible and then slammed into the key fortissimo (with no help from the arm). When […]

Being Creative with Scales

Does scale playing scare you? Does the thought of practising scales for an exam intimidate you? Scales have a reputation for being among the least interesting activities we pianists face, but there is no reason scale practice should be dry and boring. Last week we launched a new module in the Online Academy’s technique library. The module includes detailed instructions on how to play and how to practise scales and arpeggios. You will find short videos, along with exercises and their demonstrations to assist you on your journey. Once we’ve learned all our scales and arpeggios and no longer need them for any exams, it’s up to us whether we continue to practise them or not. Some professional pianists of the highest calibre go through their scales daily as part of their warm-up routine, others see no value whatever in doing this. Readers of this blog will know that I rather like to use scales as vehicles for other things. For example, if you are struggling with a two against three polyrhythm in a piece, before you grapple with the passage itself practise first a scale in this polyrhythm (one hand will play three octaves, the other hand two). For good measure, switch this around too. The point here is that you already know your scales, so you will not have to read any notes or think about fingering. You will be able to look at the keyboard and focus on the particular difficulty you are trying to master. The first Arabesque of Debussy is a good example: We might also use scales to explore touch and articulation. A very good example of this came up in a recent lesson. My student was about to learn […]

Fundamentals of Scale and Arpeggio Playing

Scales and arpeggios are part of the requirements of all examination boards, and every pianist will encounter them. The importance of knowing scales and arpeggios in every key cannot be exaggerated, but many players struggle with them because of poor technique. How do we learn to play any scale at the drop of a hat? How do we play an even scale at a suitable tempo, with the correct fingering? How do we manage the thumb movements in an arpeggio accurately without bumping? How do we sit, how do we move across the keyboard without tension? I have addressed all these questions and others in my new module in the Online Academy’s technique library. With detailed instructions in the videos, along with printed exercises and their demonstrations, I hope this material will assist you on your journey to making friends with scales and arpeggios. Once we realise that all scales are made up of short (1, 2, 3) and long groups (1, 2, 3, 4) in alternation we are in a much better position to learn the fingerings. Not all scales begin at the start of a fingering group; to embed the fingerings, blocking practice is helpful. How do we solve the problem of the thumb in scale playing? There are several ingredients – a smooth arm with no drops in the elbow, mobility in the thumb itself, and freedom in the wrist. This video excerpt offers some suggestions for practice. Attention to whole-body choreography is especially important to feeling comfortable in arpeggio playing. This video demonstrates how we sit and how we move across the keyboard. *** Elementary Technique – Fundamentals of Scales & Arpeggios is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. […]

Thoughts on Piano Technique

After some initial trepidation regarding how to approach extending our resources on the complex subject of piano technique on the Online Academy, I am happy to say that we have just published the first module in a new collection, with others to follow in due course. Because there can be no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching technique, as it grows, our technique library will also contain content from other leading experts offering different angles on the subject. As such it will be a research-based, organic and consistently growing resource representing diverse viewpoints. I have several worthy books on piano technique on my shelves, some are clearer and more usable than others. However, as soon as an author starts writing about hand positions, arm movements, giving detailed instructions about what the fingers are supposed to be doing in a given situation, etc., they immediately run the risk of being misunderstood. Very often the excessive verbiage involved is hard to fully understand, even by the most educated of readers, and any images included can only tell part of the story.   In the modern age, many of these problems can be resolved by video demonstrations. Building text-light modules around a number of videos has been my default choice of format this new material. Some videos are longer with more description; others are very short indeed – with few words, if any, and filmed close up. The beauty of the short videos is they can easily be watched repeatedly, when you might want to check and recheck how a particular movement looks. My aim is to identify and use the best format to communicate the subject matter at hand.   My attitude to technique is based […]

By |February 20th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments