I am a working musician. I seriously thank my lucky stars for this fact on a regular basis. But it creates a challenge with this program in that there are days in the summer in particular when I’m already playing the piano for 4-5 hours on a given day (mostly ballet classes). If I’m going to add 2-3 hours of practicing on top of that… I think it will be very important to have a pretty conscious focus on injury prevention, and I hope that a focus on some fundamental techniques may improve overall playing ability at the same time.
I don’t currently have the benefit of a private teacher (with a wife in grad school and the aforementioned salary of a working musician, there’s no available money for that), so I have to figure this out largely on my own. I’m going to try working through “Mastering Piano Technique” by Seymour Fink. I’ve never looked at this before, and I don’t have a great sense yet of how it jibes or doesn’t with my college teachers. Before college, I don’t think I had any conception of how to use my wrist effectively, so getting that mechanism to work freely (and how that movement was applied to a musical need) was probably the biggest technical achievement of that time. I also read Effortless Mastery, which was a big influence and I spent a lot of time playing the left hand of Bill Evans Peace Piece and through that, discovered some things on my own about arm carriage.
Fink advocates for 10 basic piano motions that are to be first practiced away from the instrument. He talks about the importance of taking your time with these, and I get why. They are dense, complicated motions, similar in some aspects to some of the fundamental motions that I’ve seen taught by Bill Evans (the dancer), who I have had the gift of accompanying this last semester. It’s pretty clear to see the transference between piano technique and dance technique, especially if you’re watching a great pedagogue. Actually, ballet classes have also been very eye opening for this as well, as they have a number of very clear basic motions that are practiced over and over and over but are the obvious building blocks of the larger motions, which are then the building blocks of an expressive vocabulary. There’s another project/book – what pianists can learn from dance pedagogy! Someone who had a mastery of Seymour Fink’s techniques could easily just do a group class twice a week that taught, clarified, and drilled these movements. Holy crap, even better, you get a great dancer to help you choreograph these movements in interesting and musical ways, and then have one pianist each class accompany the others.
Alas, I find out, not but 4 hours later that, like most great ideas, it’s been done! At least partially. I guess it, or something pretty similar, is in the curriculum at the Longy School of Music right here in Boston.
This book by Alan Fraser, “The Craft of Piano Playing” also seems very promising. I just did some reading about his techniques and then did about a 20 minute exercise where you move your spine in a variety of ways while sitting, and I swear my playing was 20% more fluid and beautiful right after.
Fraser is big into this guy Moche Feldenkrais (great name!) who has also been very influential in Alexander Technique and for a lot of modern dance. I’ll be taking a three day Feldenkrais dance class in about a month. This could be a really great new area for me.