Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A year of piano lessons

It has now been a year since I started taking lessons from my current teacher. What I've been learning has certainly altered my perception of what playing the piano is all about.

One aspect of playing that he stresses quite a bit is the tactile one: feeling the keys and the vibration of the string and the resistance as you lift a key. I had never thought of the piano in that way; it always seemed like a big monster machine, maybe a giant manual typewriter. I've known all along I was missing something, especially in recent years, but the various teachers I've had never mentioned anything like this, and I was too focused on playing notes to notice subtleties like these. Oh, I suppose on occasion when I had the chance to play a really responsive and beautiful-sounding piano, I would think, "Hey, there's more to this than playing the right notes," but I didn't know how to take it any further.

Another concept completely new to me was how little force one needs to use. I was raised on lifting the fingers and hitting the keys hard, but I'm learning that creating volume comes from the combination of using the wrist, the weight of the arm, and the speed with which the key is depressed, and that actually, plenty of volume usually is created without exerting a lot of effort. It's a kinder, gentler, more relaxed approach to playing the piano, and I think a warmer, purer sound is the result (though of course I still have a long way to go).

And then there is the matter of how to move around the keyboard, execute big leaps, and play fast -- all things I used to try to do with brute force and wishing for luck. In combination with using less effort, per the previous point, I'm finding I can play faster and more easily.

The whole issue of voicing, while not new to me, has been a major theme. How very much one must bring out the important line, and keep everything else in the background, is constantly surprising.

Most of all I have appreciated my teacher's patience and willingness to hold me to higher standards, though he always does so with good humor. I know when he tells me to do something, it's based on what he is hearing and not on a lesson plan or a rote instruction.

So sign me happy (music) camper.

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