WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW
What exactly does a novice pianist need to learn on their journey from beginner to expert?
WHAT DO YOU ALREADY KNOW
A competent pianist knows more than could ever be written down. Much is learned by direct imitation. Much is discovered by finding appropriate movements for your particular hands and physique. Much you can already do, because many movements in pianos playing are natural movements that we can all make.
CAN YOU LEARN PIANISTIC SKILLS FROM A BOOK
It is very difficult to learn complex movements from a book. Anyone that has ever tried to learn a martial arts move, or dance move, from a book will know that feeling when they finally show it to their teacher, only to find that they are doing it all wrong.
WHY YOU NEED A TEACHER
A teacher is indispensable. Some of the things the teacher can do, which you, as a beginner cannot, are:
1. Recognize what you are already doing correctly, that need not change
2. See ALL your mistakes
3. Decide what order to tackle your mistakes (not everything can be fixed at once)
4. Knows a variety of methods and exercises for every kind of problem
5. Introduce new techniques at the right stage of your development
BOOKS ON TECHNIQUE
There are many, many books about technique. Many are over-complex, and attempt (and of course fail) to categorize every possible technique. Some recommend completely unrealistic daily routines, such as repeating dozens of mind-numbing exercises in every position of every conceivable key. Some over-simplify, reducing the whole variety of technique to a small number of basic movements. Some may be scientifically or objectively correct, but are of no practical use. Some are useful only to the teacher, as you have to be an advanced pianist to understand them. Many are polemical rants! A few are dangerous, misleading, and should be avoided.
But there are some good books. You don’t need many.
I want to recommend just one: Kendall Taylor Principles of Piano Technique and Interpretation Novello 1981
It was recommended to me by Alex Abercrombie soon after I started lessons with him, and almost as soon as it was published. Since then I have read dozens more books about piano technique, but this one book contains all you need to reach a very high level.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER OUTLINE
The meat of the book begins in Chapter II, where he describes several “pure” forms of hand and arm movements that are used at the piano. In Chapter III he goes on to show how these basic movements are applied in particular techniques: scales, double thirds, chromatic scales, octaves, broken chords and arpeggios, and trills, and introduces the principles of fingering, which he goes on to deal with in detail. In Chapter IV he looks at how to shape a musical phrase expressively. Chapter V moves away from the purely technical and looks at how to analyze a work so as to understand the composer’s objectives, and how he realized them. The next chapter deals with how to get a piece ready for performance, and how to construct a recital programme, and how to deal with the inevitable nerves. It is in this chapter that he gives some advice on “How to Practice”. He has a very balanced view, and recognizes that there is no “one true way” but that several different kinds of practice may be needed. Amongst them he describes a method of working on very short sections that is a form of “deliberate practice”, although he does not use that term. He ends with a miscellaneous list of useful Do’s and Don’ts.
There are musical examples throughout, drawn from the standard repertoire that a classical pianist is expected to know by the end of their education.
It is a magnificent pedagogical achievement.