Our blog for this week features a guest post by renowned pedagogue, author and pianist William Westney. William is also our most recent addition to the Online Academy with his first contribution being a video lecture on re-thinking warming up. In this post, he shares a few thoughts arising from one of these videos.

*** *** ***

It’s a genuine honour and a thrill for me to join the stellar lineup of pianist and teachers here at the Online Academy. I had no trouble deciding on which topic might be first; the process of warming up body and mind together to create the conditions for a great practice – and how easily this can be done – has long been one of my favorite offerings to students.

William Westney Warm-Ups Revisited

There’s one moment in video #1 that I’d like to comment on. While showing how beneficial it feels to us (as athletes) to stretch the joints well beyond the range of motion needed to play piano pieces, I refer to my wrists. At that point in the stretch they are sunk quite far down below the keyboard level (that’s the lovely therapeutic experience I like to call “wallowing”). I cheerfully interject, “Don’t worry – I would never play any actual piece of music from such a low position!” But I did wonder, while filming it, if some viewers might be appalled at what I was doing wrist-wise. Isn’t that position just plain wrong?

Moments like this are so important, in a larger sense. We can hear about technique from experts – concepts that are true and good; but there’s a danger of our taking them too categorically, too much like holy writ, and this worries me a lot. For example, we might hear “It’s best for the wrist to maintain a neutral, central position – not angled up or down.” I would, in fact, agree 100% with such a precept, in a general way. But this doesn’t mean “One should play the piano with the wrist at all times in a neutral position, and anything else is always incorrect.”

I just read a fervent online discussion in which teachers shared ideas about how to keep students’ wrists up at all times – with no mention by anyone that it’s just fine to relax them now and then, stretch them down and around and in any direction whenever you feel like it – just to keep the body limber and happy.

There are very different things we do in the process of practising than what we do in a performance of a piece. Sometimes quite opposite things, in fact! The larger point: it’s so helpful and healthy not to confuse “process” with “product;” and it’s crucial to be conscious about which one we are doing at any given moment.

To get fixated solely on the same product, day in and day out, leads to lots of frustration, inconsistency and tension. Yet this is, regrettably, what lots of people do when they practice. True process – creative and experimental every day – is engrossing and can be delightful. The process can be trusted. The goal is for piano playing to feel physically good all the time – and this can make piano practice a joy.

***

Warm-Ups Revisited 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

  • William Westney’s website (click here)
  • The Un-Master Class® – click here for more information
  • The Perfect Wrong Note – click here to view on Amazon