Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A New Look at Making Music

Until today I thought playing the piano was all about your brain telling your fingers what to do. My new teacher Carol cast a whole new light on a lifetime of piano study.

For several years I have been studying with Bill, whose specialty is the double bass, although he plays the piano quite well. His job was to teach me how to play in an ensemble, not to nit-pick my piano technique. He had suggested several times that I needed a piano teacher to help with things like hand position.

So with some degree of effort I found Carol and today was that most difficult first lesson, where we were both sizing each other up. Sort of like a life-time of piano history rolled into an hour lesson. A challenge for both of us.

I had thought I would go in and wow her with the Chopin etude I have been learning for the past 3 months. Instead I played it abysmally, hitting one wrong note after the next. But instead of saying, “You made quite a few mistakes,” she said, “I can tell you really have a sense of the beat and where it is going and that’s good.” She proceeded to suggest I needed a different type of progressive glasses for playing the piano so I don’t have to torque my neck back to see.

But the biggest revelation was the idea of playing the piano from your core, much as you practice yoga or do pilates. The idea that it is so much more than using your fingers to play – it’s using your back and your shoulder and your whole arm.

We talked about hand position and rolling your hand as you play. We talked about my phobia about playing fast music with lots of notes and determined a lot of my problem comes from playing with stiff hands.

She taught me how to decide exactly where to place the piano bench to provide the most support and stability.

Why didn’t any of my previous teachers ever talk about these things? Things that are an investment in your good health and will hopefully ward off things like tendinitis or repetitive stress injury.

I have some homework to start learning music theory because Carol thinks it’s important to understand why music is written the way it is. Maybe it will finally make sense to me.

I’m confident I will eventually make some beautiful music under the Carol’s tutelage. But for now, it’s all about getting ready and learning how to play healthy.


Blogger Mother of Invention said...

It does seem odd that no teachers ever touched on these things. My sister had this exact same book as you have put in your image here!

11:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I loved the John Thompson books when I was growing up. I'm sure I still have some of them in the attic.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

She sounds great! Congrats.

Hey who wants to dazzle a teacher during the first lesson? If you did, there would be nowhere to go but down.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- Interestingly enough our Pema Chodron reading last night focused on a story about 4 horses: the best horse, the good horse, the acceptable horse, and the really bad horse. She said we all want to picture ourselves as the best horse, when in fact it's the really bad horse that has to work the hardest to achieve something. Her point was that if you are really good at something, you don't try very hard. I'm going into this piano stint as the bad horse who is willing to try a new approach and work hard in doing so.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

A fresh approach might just take your music to a new level. It sounds like a great opportunity.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Your teacher sounds like a great, positive teacher who is starting with the foundation of piano playing, like a tree concentrating on a trunk before "branching" out!

I wouldn't call you a "bad horse", I would think that a bad horse isn't interested in learning at all.

3:36 PM  

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