Good piano technique always eluded me. After 12 years of lessons, what I could actually do on the piano when I got to college was laughable. Or not so much.
I watched with dismay as my peers, especially the piano majors at Oberlin College, just blew smoke rings around me. How did they move their fingers so fast? I had NO idea.
You’d think more lessons would have taken care of that. After college, I studied five years with one teacher, three with another. And while I got better, I could never answer what felt to me like a central deficit in my piano technique.
I eked out bits and pieces over years: having the hands in position, free activation of the fingers, stability of the base. Each idea got me a little closer. But there was always that sense that I was missing something obvious and important.
Then I had a skype lesson with a Taubman teacher. The teacher’s focus was about where to aim when playing a key. The teacher said there was an ideal spot that I should aim for which wasn’t the lowest point the key could go, and she spent some time describing it to me.
This is the kind of thing I could spend years working on. No way I was getting it in one lesson. But it did open my eyes to the question: “How far down have I been going?”
I started thinking about the idea of “playing fast,” the part of technique that’s eluded me even after forty-four years as a pianist. It occurred to me that if I had a habit of putting all my weight into the keys, going all the way down every time, that just might…slow me down?
I had to laugh as I reasoned that it just might be possible to make a sound on a keyboard without going all the way down. Of course it was! And that made sense when I thought about all the other pianists I’d seen and what their playing looked like.
I came away deciding that perhaps I wasn’t going to ever know “exactly where to aim,” but that paying attention to depth is a decidedly vital aspect of good technique. There has to be a decision made, at least in the moment, about where the finger will make contact and when it will release. If that decision is left up to chance, it will hamper the entire body.
Paying attention to depth in the keyboard gives me a corresponding sense of three-dimensionality in my body. That translates to my music. I can express things in more ways because I have more ways to move.
Is there something in your life that you’ve felt eluded you? Is there something about the way you use your body that you haven’t thought about? Would asking it change the way you approach the subject?
***News From the Jazz Musician Who***
Yes! Decades, the first and long-anticipated album from my band, the Front Porch Session Players, is now complete. Watch for a release July 2! Please check our press tab as well for a new article on Books That Team Leaders Should Read, and Starting a New Business With A Friend, both featuring my comments and recommendations.
Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Author, educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net