“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


       I hope I don’t break any hearts when I say that the piano is a machine. In an earlier chapter we learned that someone thought of the piano as home to a choir and organ, at which time I expressed my preference for the Philadelphia Orchestra string section. Fanciful imagery can be helpful, perhaps necessary, when developing a musical purpose. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that we achieve our musical purpose by means of the expert operation of a system of levers, dampers and hammers, setting into motion more than 12,000 individual parts, a physicist’s dream. If you think of it this way, the piano operator must be a very skilled machinist, a mechanical wizard possessed of a remarkable number of refined motor skills. Oh wait. That’s actually what we’ve been discussing.
     For a moment, let’s think of the operator as a machine, too, a living machine made up of, well, you know what, mostly water. What I think of as the piano playing mechanism, the fingers, hands and forearms—the heart of our operator’s machine—is, like the piano or any other machine, subject to malfunction. If the piano develops a buzz or a hammer misfires, we run through our checklist of possible problems, or in my case, call the technician and rely on him to diagnose and repair the problem. If the problem is not the piano’s mechanism, but rather the human’s mechanism, what then? Warning: Metaphor shift. We call the doctor, describe the problem and wait eagerly for a prescription.
     Working in the way I’ve been describing in this volume is really a diagnostic approach, a term coined by Taubman and particularly apt. Knowledge is our doctor, or until that knowledge is secure, the teacher who has knowledge is the doctor—this book can be the doctor’s aide. If something in the technique malfunctions, if there’s what I call a bump—a note is not completed, as in transferring of weight—then our interior doctor has to pull out his stethoscope, as it were, and check us out. But, and this is enormously important, he doesn’t then write prescriptions for every known medication. He offers the correct one(s) for the particular problem. This is why I don’t tell students to play Czerny etudes in preparation for that problem passage, or play the passage in every possible rhythm, or play it 1000 times everyday or just play it slowly. These are vague, general corrections, the equivalent of throwing all medicines at the patient in the hope that one might work. There are many down sides to that general approach, chief among them the likelihood of causing other problems with the unnecessary medications. Remember, first do no harm.
    To read the checklist and find more answers, see Piano Technique Demystified, the book.

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