Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New teacher, first lesson

I had my first lesson with the new teacher over the weekend. He is a Taubman technique devotee/trainee. I did not seek him out strictly because of that but because I feel having this focus on the physical -- how you are using your muscles in dealing with the piano -- offers some promise of staying away from mysticism. What I mean by "mysticism" in relation to piano lessons: attempts to define, explain, and categorize the various phenomena involved in playing with things that have no basis in physical fact. For example, I once had a teacher tell me that my approach to learning music was "masculine." Excuse me? And that means what? And of course is what every young woman wants to hear. Or my recent teacher's constant marveling at how I was able to play anything at all, given that I work all day -- aside from making me feel like a freak of nature, how does that help me figure out how to improve? I want someone who can look at what I'm doing at the moment and tell me what is preventing me from playing better.

And of course, there is an appeal in working with someone who at least has learned some relatively proven methods of avoiding pain and stress and gaining fluidity. Naturally, you never know how well someone can teach something that he knows, but at least you are starting with a basis that means something.

Don't know if any of that makes sense, but, FWIW ...

Anyway, I felt we communicated well and on the same wavelength (oops! a little mysticism there, I guess!), and I found this initial lesson helpful. I have not decided if I want to plunge into what in Taubman they call "retraining," which tends to commit one to some months of no music, just exercises. For now, I'm just going to keep plugging away at my chosen pieces. The first thing I played yesterday was my current Bach prelude and fugue. They are at the stage where they are almost memorized but not quite, so I used music and played them all the way through, which in itself was extremely helpful to me. Yes, I could play them for my husband or my friends, but as I may have mentioned in the past, playing for the relatively uneducated listener (i.e., musically speaking) stresses me out more than playing for other musicians. The former tend to be very ho-hum -- if something does not sound bad, they think it must be easy -- and easily bored, and then they say things like, "Well, as long as you're enjoying yourself!"

After I played, we talked about what I thought could be better followed by what he thought could be better. I mentioned my perennial problem with rushing, and he pointed out things I could do with phrasing and figuring out where to breathe and where to shape lines that could help. From there, we got into a little Taubman work -- he noted that my weaker fingers (3 and 4) are pretty tense, and that in general I am curving way too much.

We kind of left it that I would just keep these observations in mind but continue to work on my pieces -- the Bach, Debussy, Beethoven, Scarlatti, or whatever else I want to learn. It's a little amorphous -- I mean, don't we all at least secretly want some genius taskmaster to say, "I want to you do this, this, and this," which then will magically solve all our problems? -- but on the other hand, I really am a big girl now and can think for myself, at least on a good day. So I will have another lesson in a few weeks. At the very least, this gives me a goal that is not as stressful as a performance as well as the opportunity for some educated feedback.

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