“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.”
Plato

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Scales on the Piano: Do I Have To?

A student writes:

   
"I am reading your excellent book at the moment. I like this idea [of practicing technique in the music]. I mostly play Bach and I would love to practice specific technical skills by practicing specific Bach pieces. Unfortunately, no one has yet written a book covering all relevant technical exercises, in [progressive] order, using only Bach.
      Anyway, my question is then: Does your idea go for scales as well? Should I never practice scales?"

My answer:


       The simple answer to your question is no, you don't have to practice scales, but you do have to know them. As you rightly point out, scales and arpeggios are the building blocks of music, and the techniques—the thumb crossings—are quite similar. So, as a matter of keyboard harmony and understanding the topography of the keyboard, it is important to be able to play fluently all scales in major and melodic minor keys for at least two octaves. I don't stress the practicing of arpeggios particularly because there are different fingering possibilities—better to practice these in the music itself. The purpose of learning scales is for the thumb crossings and the hand coordinations to become automatic. Drilling scales on a daily basis (once learned) for developing "strength" or "independence" is in my view not a good use of time.
   My new book, Mystified No More, Further Insights Into Piano Technique includes a chapter on increasing speed in scales and arpeggios, including video demos on how to do this. Suddenly I feel like a book salesman (well, he did ask), but I also have two other books, The Pianist's Guide to Practical Scales and Arpeggios, which is a collection of scales and arpeggios as they appear in repertoire. It includes quite a number Bach works. You can look through the index at Amazon.com. The other book is called The Pianist's Guide to Practical Technique, a collection of graded excepts from the repertoire. There is also a scale routine outlined—octaves, sixths and tenths—for those who want to organize a scale routine. However, as I said before, I don't think it's necessary to practice scales routinely once they are securely learned.
     Side note: The chief challenge in Bach is coordinating the counterpoint, the vertical-ness of the lines—feeling the points where the hands play together.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Brahms Op. 118, No. 2: On Voicing at the Piano

   
Brahms at about the time of Opus 118
A student brought in this wonderful and ever so popular intermezzo from Brahms' opus 118. There is much to consider here in the way of voicing—by which I mean featuring the essence of a particular line—but my student missed completely the structure of the passage at  piú lento.

Brahms Intermezzo Op 118, No. 2
(Double click image to enlarge.)
   It's one thing to think in terms of featuring the soprano line, located as it so often is in the fifth finger. (There are those of us who ponder whether God actually meant us to play the piano, having put all of those luscious melody notes in that tiny appendage.) If we always feature the soprano, we would probably be more often correct than incorrect. However, in this case there is more going on that met my student's eye. Do you see the canon with the tenor voice in the left-hand thumb? 
Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2 Canon
(Double click image to enlarge.)
     Our job as pianist's—as musicians—is to first show what's there and then what's different. This passage functions as a transition to the return of the "A" material. But isn't it more than just a transition? Using the material of the previous eight bars, a section of subtle anxiety, Brahms takes us—now in F-sharp-major—to church and a moment of refuge before the greater storm emerges. What could be more liturgical than counterpoint? In this case, showing the canon gives us more than a singable hymn, and takes us not only to church but references an ancient time.
The chiroplast, a hand stretching apparatus
similar to the one Robert Schumann may
 have used, causing irrevocable injury.
    As a matter of technique, though, do not suddenly become an organist. The poor organist doesn't have the advantage of a damper pedal, which more often than not results in a lot of stretching and pulling in an effort to sustain these chords. True, this is hymn-like, but I rather imagine a brass choir playing somewhere off the nave.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mystified No More Now Available

                                     
Get it today                                                               HERE. Amazon will also have it.

       Knowledge is a wonderful thing. Have you ever noticed, though, that the more you have, the more you seem to need? 
       In an earlier volume, PianoTechnique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving, we learned that it is more efficient to move than to stretch to an extreme and how to make decisions regarding fingering. We learned how to "get after" a passage and to play "honestly." We learned that mindless-rote is more likely to produce technical vagaries than reliable passage work. Perhaps most importantly we learned that if a passage doesn't feel easy, then we haven't solved it. 
     The essays in this book—along with the 141 musical examples and over an hour of YouTube iDemos—are like mini private lessons. You will find here brain teasers drawn from concert repertoire at intermediate to advanced levels that are designed to develop an instinct for building a practical technique. You will learn more about solving technical problems, the point of which is to make music with ease and efficiency. Knowing how it is that you do what you do is the objective. There is really nothing more satisfying than that.
     Praise for the first volume, Piano Technique Demystified: Insights Into Problem Solving: "This book is a delightful collection of helpful insights. A terrific aspect is its inclusion of online video demonstrations. Many of the fingerings, note-grouping concepts, rotational ideas and so on make the passages in the examples easier to play than when approached with more traditional ideas." American Music Teacher, Feb./Mar., 2015.***"This is an excellent book. Whether you are an advanced pianist or a novice, the concepts shared in this book will bring your technical skills at the piano to a new level," Ashley Rose, March, 2015.***"If there is 'A' right way to play, you will learn it here, because Stannard's tips are based on the body biomechanics principles," Flavio Chaperone, August, 2015.                                                      

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dear Readers,


   Some of you have asked for the parts to the latest string trios, 11 Fugues and 2 Preludes by J.S Bach. I am happy to report they are now available at Amazon and the "Look Inside" feature should be available in a few days.
    Also, I plan to post new blogs soon in answer to piano questions, which, of course is supposed to be our topic.
    Also, also, watch for a new book, a sort of sequel to Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving, which will be called Mystified No More: Further Insights into Piano Technique, in which I offer more on developing a practical technique, practicing in general, geography of the keyboard, folks unclear on the concept (Hanon and Czerny), finding and using scales and a wealth of other topics of nagging interest to pianists. I solve the case of the missing thumb, point out where the small notes go and (sigh) once again address the topic that won't die: stretching exercises for pianists. There are at last count 136 musical examples and iDemos too numerous to count. But that's not all...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

More Music for String Trio

     Since many of my readers moon-light as string players, I announce here a new volume of string trios, 11 Fugues and 2 Preludes for String Trio by J.S. Bach         
     The two books of 24 preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys have become the touchstone for keyboard players desirous of developing a sense of Baroque style. They were indeed conceived originally for a keyboard tuned with more or less equal intervals, but as always in Bach’s keyboard works, their probative value reaches far beyond the mere pressing down of keys in the proper order.
     Bach sought to teach the complete musician in his Clavier Übung, of which the Well-Tempered Clavier is a part. Übung is translated for our purposes not just as practice in the general sense of learning technique. It also means emersion in the essence of the art, as in the practice of medicine or law. These pieces are about learning composition and a cantabile style of playing, and, in short, how to bring music to life.
     We know that Bach transcribed not only his own works for

different combinations of instruments, but also the works of other composers. I include here all of the three-part fugues and two preludes from Book I, some of which appear in Bach’s hand in earlier versions and in different keys. This tilted the scales in favor of my offering more amiable transpositions for strings of some of the gnarliest keys. For the intrepid, I have also included those pieces in their original keys. It has been speculated that transcribing works was for Bach a method of study or an effort to make rare compositions more generally available to the public. Possibly. I am more moved, however, by Albert Schweitzer’s assertion that “this was his way and it gave him pleasure.” It is in the latter spirit that I offer here these tasty morsels.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Pianist's Guide to Practical Scales and Arpeggios

Scales and Arpeggios from
 the Repertoire

     A student asks about boosting speed in the study of scales and arpeggios as they appear in repertoire, which is the subject of this volume. As always, my advice is to play no slower than needed and not faster than you can. This means that at each tempo, from slow to fast, the technique always feels easy. 
     This begs the question, how does one achieve ease? Well, the first step is to solve the physical problem(s), decide what is needed for speed and work that in slowly. Yes, this is possible with knowledge of how the playing mechanism works. (See Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving.)  
     Here are some questions to ask yourself: What fingering will allow me to group notes to keep them under my hand without extreme stretches? How do I use the last note of one group to get to the first note of the next group? Is there a shape to the passage, under or over, in or out? What is the angle of my forearm relative to the keyboard, meaning, if I am approaching a thumb crossing, do I have my thumb behind each finger as it plays on the way to the thumb? Working up to top tempo is an excellent use of the metronome, especially when working in sections. I do not recommend using the metronome for playing through an entire work.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 2: Tension in the Agitato

Frederic Chopin



A student writes: "1. Configurations of four sixteenth notes with a syncopated inner voice, such as in the 3rd/4th beat of the 1st measure, or the 2nd beat of the 2nd measure, seem to give me the most trouble. I feel tension immediately, along with a general lack of coordination. 
     2. The 2nd beat of the 6th measure, with its slightly awkward 1-2-5 (C#-D#-C#) reach, is also uncomfortable."
Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 2, (Agitato) As Printed


My response: You are quite right, rotation is involved. But maybe the simplest way to go about solving this is to keep in mind that when playing chords mixed with single notes, the chord feels "down," slightly heavier. In the example below, you'll see that the technique levels the playing field. That is, I think of playing constant sixteenth notes, noticing the rotation and feeling the heavier chord. One way to "feel" the heavier chord is to group from the chord, start from it. I've included my fingering, but other approaches can also work. Be sure to avoid clinging and gripping, as if you were playing the organ. You can use pedal discretely. Once that is worked in, the rest is just a matter of voicing. In other words, show the melodic line. The second part of your question is much simpler. In measure six of the example above, second beat, take the C-sharp and D-sharp with the thumb.
Chopin Nocturne Op. 62, No. 2,  Technique

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Speed at the Piano

   A student writes: "Is there a most efficient approach to achieving speed? Unevenness in runs and mistakes in tricky passages often seem to result from inhibitory muscle tension (the readiness to stop a motion that is wrong).  When playing music I can often *feel* mistakes or complete disasters coming seconds before they occur. This may be a slow tightening of the don’t-do-that muscles."
Muscle tension
    My answer: Your main question is about achieving speed and accuracy in scales and passages. From what you describe, though, I get the impression—this is impossible to know without watching you play—that you are not at rest at the bottom of the key. That is, you seem to be holding ("inhibitory muscle tension"), instead of releasing. Try this on one note: drop into the key with your finger/hand/forearm
Sitting upright
 without tension

aligned in such a way that it feels like a single unit. You are not pressing down past the key bed and you are not lifting
At ease
up. Find out what it takes to stand there; you are not tense, neither are you relaxed. This is akin to standing at ease, as in the army, or sitting upright in a chair. The next step is to find out how to transfer that weight to the next note via forearm rotation. (Have a look at the iDemos.)
     If you "cannot play a particular pattern," it means you haven't found the technical solution(s), i.e., grouping, fingering, shaping, etc. I know this sounds like a cop out, but it's really true. There are always answers. When playing a scale, for example, make sure that the thumb is approximately behind the finger playing as you approach the crossing (see iDemo). This puts your forearm at an angle with the keyboard. 
     Once the technical solutions have been worked-in,
Old-fashioned metronome
gradually increase the tempo in units. In the case of the scale, include the thumb crossing in a unit. For example, 1,2,3,1,2 and 1,2,3,4,1,2. This is a very good use of the metronome. Play each unit at least three times at each tempo before going on to the next tempo, noting that nothing changes in the ease of playing. This repetition is not for strength training but for teaching the correct movements to the playing apparatus. When each unit feels great at the desired tempo, then try combining two units and working them up together from slower to faster, although you may not need to start sat the slowest tempo. 
     Don't try to work up speed until you have decided on and worked-in the technical solutions.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Beware the Mouse: Repetitive Use Syndrome and the Pianist

   
"Oh, no!" mouse.
My student came for a lesson, finally, after having to cancel one because of wrist pain. "Oh, no, what have you been working on, and how could it have gone so badly," I asked. He responded, somewhat sheepishly, that he'd been under pressure to complete a recording project, and that he had had a marathon session at the computer, mousing into the wee hours. Ah, this explains a great deal. Doctors call this repetitive use syndrome; I call it foolish.
     Okay, I understand. One gets carried away with projects and forgets possible consequences—largely because the pain and discomfort usually come the next day. Griping the mouse while
Don't grip mouse.
activating left and right clicks (isolating fingers) over a long period of time adds up to considerable stress on the playing apparatus. Discomfort and pain ensue, and these are bad enough. Unfortuately, this must interrupt piano practice until the pain and discomfort subside. We can't work through pain, despite what some football coaches may advise. How can we evaluate the relative correctness in our technique if there is something already wrong in the system?
     Fortunately, an understanding of how the forearm works can go a long way toward not only solving an issue at the piano, but in the case of this student, it also acted therapeutically. Rotating the
Forearm rotation.
forearm can feel like self massage, immediately releasing tension.
     The moral here is to be self-aware. Take breaks from computer tasks and other repetitive activities that are potentially harmful. As we get older, and we all do (hopefully), physical stress takes a greater toll that when we were young and spry.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Collaborative Pianist

     
Readers have asked about The Collaborative Pianist's Guide to Practical Technique. What, for example, makes it practical? Well, here's the thing. Collaborative pianists as a group have been neglected when it comes to studying technical matters. Collaborators must, of course, have all the basic technical skills as soloists and be able to apply them from mezzo forte and under. Collaborators, too, will have studied solo repertoire on their way up the ladder to excellent pianism, to the place where they feel the calling to collaborate with other artists. But what then? If we don't recommend exercises by Czerny and
Carl Czerny
Hanon and their ilk, and we don't, then how is the collaborator to continue to advance in a logical fashion? Well, I'm glad you asked. Instead of wasting time on mindless exercises or taking up precious practice hours on solo etudes by Chopin or Rachmaninoff (not that that would be a bad thing, only time-consuming), studying technical excerpts from the collaborator's repertoire would be time well-spent. These are
Charles-Louis Hanon
passages that will be needed at some point in the collaborative pianist's career. Better to get a head-start because that emergency call may come tonight for a concert tomorrow that includes the Kreuzer Sonata. (I'm not kidding.) Say "no" once and they don't call again.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bach Sinfonias for String Trio

     
     Yes, I know this is a piano blog. But many of us also have an unfathomable love for string instruments and the playing of same. So, let it be known that, in an effort to add to the repertoire for this combination, I have transcribed Bach's keyboard Sinfonias. I did this originally for my own use, but after some persuasion, I've decided to make them available for others at Amazon     
     When I play Bach’s music, I can’t help thinking of a quote from his son, Carl Philip 
Carl Philip Emanuel Bach
Emanuel. In his Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, Bach the younger begins his explanation of style “my late father told me...” This gives me goose bumps even now. One of the things his late father told him—this also appears in papa’s preface to the Inventions and Sinfonias—is that we should work above all to “achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”  It’s this endeavor to achieve a singing style that gave me the idea to transcribe these little gems, part of the pianist’s catechism, for literal “singing” instruments—that and my desire to have more repertoire to play as a cellist in a string trio.
     
J.S. Bach
     Often referred to as three-part inventions, Bach’s Sinfonias (Sinfonien) reflect the master’s continuing concern for the complete education of musicians. They were indeed conceived originally for keyboard—and are rather more difficult to play than the two-part Inventions—but as always in Bach’s keyboard works, their probative value reaches far beyond the mere pressing down of keys in the proper order. Bach sought to teach the complete musician in his Clavier Übung, of which the Sinfonias are a part. Übung is translated for our purposes not just as practice in the general sense of learning keyboard technique. It also means emersion in the professional essence of the art, as in the practice of medicine or law. These pieces are about learning composition and style, and, in short, how to bring music to life.
String trio.
Notice how colorful music can be.

     We know that Bach transcribed not only his own works for different combinations of instruments, but also the works of other composers, particularly those of Vivaldi. It
Harpsichord

has been speculated that this was for him a method of study or an effort to make rare compositions more generally available to the public. Possibly. I am more moved, however, by A. Schweitzer’s assertion that “this was his way and it gave him pleasure.” It is in the latter spirit that I offer up these tasty morsels.
Clavichord
     My urtext soul at first balked at the many edits I’ve included. My justification is that students sometimes need guidelines, though professionals may curse me. All markings can of course be ignored, including metronome and expression indications, but they are an outgrowth of many years of study. Even so, when I play these on the piano I often take exaggeratedly different expressive approaches, including tempos. To quote again from Bach the younger in his passage on performance, “If it doesn’t sound good, don’t do it.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hélène Grimaud Playing Brahms' Burly D Minor Concerto

     
Helene Grimaud

     Well, okay, in an earlier post about the little lady and Brahms' concerto, I left my gentle readers hanging. Regular readers will know what I was getting at, that it takes rather little physical strength to play the piano. This is another way of saying that efficiency is more useful than exaggerated movements, efficiency being the key word. It would  be more efficient to move by some natural means than it would be to stretch the hand to an extreme, which is not a natural thing to do. By that I mean that even though the hand can be forced to extend, it doesn't like it because that is not in sync with its design.


     This brings me to another point, that what we are able to see in
Tobias Matthay

the technique is not necessarily the whole story. As you know from an earlier post, I am particularly intrigued by the title of Matthay's book, The Visible and Invisible in Piano Technique. I can't know what Grimaud is thinking when she plays this piece, but I can see that, although she allows her hands to open as needed, they never stay that way and they don't appear to be locked into an extreme position. But what is underneath, what invisible resource gives her so much power? If you close your eyes and listen, you might suppose that she would need to come down into the keys from some extreme height. But logic dictates that, in speed, there wouldn't be time for that. Open your eyes and notice that she is rather close to the keys. Whether the passage is lyrical and spread out beyond the octave, or whether she plays chords or crashing octaves, her hands remain more or less in contact with the keyboard.

No Hammering.
     The answer, of course, is that her power comes from discrete use of the forearm as described by Matthay, and she achieves speed by allowing the forearm's natural movement to propel her. This natural movement of the forearm, of course, is called forearm rotation. It underlies all that we do at the keyboard, particularly in speed, and is virtually invisible. Not to put too fine a point in it, I feel the need to add that octaves or chords in speed will not succeed if the forearm is employed in an up and down, hammer-like movement. This is not an efficient movement in speed.
     

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Collaborative Pianist's Guide to Practical Technique

You can now have a look inside at Amazon! 

From the introduction:


"Collaborative pianists need all the same technical skills required of soloists, and some would argue that they need to be able to play mezzo forte and under. If you doubt this, look at cello sonatas of Rachmaninoff and Chopin, violin and cello sonatas of Brahms and songs by Strauss and Wolf, all of which are contained in this volume along with all the other major composers of duo repertoire...

     I advise all pianists, including collaborative pianists, to put away Czerny and Hanon exercises and, regardless of technical approach, apply themselves to these passages from music they intend to play—collaborative works by master composers—as building blocks for technique and musicianship. Lessons learned here on the relationship of song text to expressive pianism are applicable to not just art song but to both instrumental duos and solo repertoire."

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Collaborative Pianist's Guide to Practical Technique

     
   At last! A collection of studies extracted from the collaborative pianist's repertoire—sonatas and art songs—to replace all those mindless Czerny and Hanon exercises.                               
      Collaborative pianists need all the same technical skills required of soloists, and some would argue that they need to be able to play mezzo forte and under. If you doubt this, look at cello sonatas of Rachmaninoff and Chopin, violin and cello sonatas of Brahms and songs by Strauss and Wolf, all of which are contained in this volume along with all the other major composers of duo repertoire. 

     In the past, much confusion swirled about regarding the best avenues for achieving a reliable piano technique. Exercises of diverse and sometimes destructive patterns were readily available, and for many pianists they were considered indispensable. Despite the research—also readily available—of physiologist Otto Ortmann ("The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique," 1962) and others, teachers continued to dish out Czerny and Hanon exercises to naive students eager to develop "strong and "independent" fingers. They were barking up the wrong tree. (For more on this topic see "Piano Technique Demystified: Insights into Problem Solving," 2nd Ed.) 
     I advise pianists to put away Czerny and Hanon exercises and, regardless of technical approach, apply themselves to these passages from music they intend to play—collaborative works by master composers—as building blocks for technique and musicianship. Lessons learned here on the relationship of song text to expressive pianism are applicable not just to art song but to both instrumental duos and solo repertoire.

The Little Lady Conquers the Burly Brahms D Minor

 I happened upon a video of Hélène Grimaud playing Brahms' meaty 1st concerto (Grimaud Plays Brahms) and was reminded of Spencer Tracy's observation of Katherine Hepburn: "There ain't much meat on her, but what there is is choice." In the case of Grimaud, not only is she lovely to look at, but she is inspiring to hear. That tiny frame produces an enormous sound and supreme virtuosity with no apparent effort. What could be the source of her power, I wonder? Hmmm...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Considering the Visible and Invisible in Piano Technique, With Thanks to Tobias Matthay

     

Even without reading Matthay's book, The Visible and Invisible in Piano Technique, much can be gleaned just from the title. It's my favorite title, I think, in the library of rhetoric on piano technique. I say this because much of what comes down to us from those proverbial old wives has to do with what can be observed in the playing of others. 
Tobias Matthay, England's Piano Sage

Even fine players sometimes report the opposite of what they do, only because they think that's what they've seen others do, or perhaps what they think they do. These are the so-called natural players, the Mozarts and Mendelssohns, the Horowitzs and others who arrive from the womb as fully formed pianists. They didn't really go through the how-to period of development the way mortals do.

     But how much can really be observed in an operation that is based largely on sensation? When observing a fine artist perform, never does the viewer sense a struggle—it all appears so easy. That's because it is easy, and most of what is observed is the "unobservable" that supports a fine, effortless technique. Yes, really, the structural underpinning of an efficient and brilliant technique is essentially invisible.
     I mention this here because of a recent experience I had with a student who came for a consultation. She had just finished an undergraduate piano major at an important school of music complaining of various unpleasant, if not debilitating, sensations. Her playing is secure, completely fluent and in virtually every way the playing of a young artist on her way to a rewarding career. If she hadn't presented with complaints, I would not have thought to look for inconsistencies in her physical approach. Rather, I would have sat back and enjoyed her performance.
     The usual indications of a flawed technique were totally absent. Her playing was immaculate, accurate and even thrilling. There were no moments of hesitation or fuzziness in passages. The tempos were appropriate and completely under control. So, what might be causing her discomfort?  I know that it is not necessary to experience physical discomfort when playing the piano. In her case, though, she sometimes felt tingling, strain and wasn't always happy with the quality of the tone. 
   
The Piano is Down, Not Up
 I asked her to play selected passages again. This time, on closer examination it was obvious that she extended her fingers into the air as if pointing. This was not a large gesture, but just enough to cause significant pulling away from the hand. I can hear my teacher now. "Dear," she would say, "the piano is down. The fingers only go up in order to come down again." 
     In other words, it is not efficient to isolate or separate the fingers from the hand individually and keep them pointing in the air, no matter how charming it may appear to the audience. When I pointed this out to her, the concept resonated and she was immediately able to incorporate a different strategy.  We talked about how to apply forearm rotation (see iDemo tab above) to these passages. 
     She won't need to retrain particularly, but rather just be aware of this sensation, the sensation of being down in the key bed in order to be at "rest" and walk from note to note by transferring weight. This will reduce the strain she has experienced over a period of time and help her find the sound she wants. Remember, the quality and quantity of sound is controlled by the application of the arm. Fingers alone cannot provide this control, no matter what you hear from those old wives.
     

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Case of the Jazz Pianist and the Missing Thumb

     

My student brought questions about descending arpeggiated figures in the right hand. He is a very accomplished and much sought-after jazz pianist with considerable facility, so it was somewhat of a surprise to me that these arpeggiated figures were an issue. For most pianists, descending arpeggios are more reliable than ascending. 

     He has in his arsenal of licks (riffs?) many variants of chromatically-altered figures. These he tosses off at will as embellishments in whatever key happens to be current. This facility, it seems to me, is already remarkable. His complaint, though, was that he doesn't feel that they always sound clear and even.  
     
I asked him to play one for me, which he did. It sounded clear and even but I didn't tell him that at first. I asked him how it seemed to him, and he reported that it was not as clear and even as he wanted and that this has been a frustration for him for some time. After some repetitions, we found that these passages sometimes sounded uneven, too. Here we paused for a brief story.
     Many years ago my teacher, John Crown, invited me to play on his television program on public access, a program featuring new music. I had to play through without the option of do-overs, which added a touch of, well let's say— added excitement.  I played okay, I thought, but fluffed one descending scale-like passage. When the program aired, though, the passage in question sounded just fine. I was relieved, of course, but confused. What made me think the passage wasn't clear? It would be many years before I understood what had happened. 
     
In a nutshell, the note(s) in question sounded but hadn't been completed. That is, the weight of my forearm wasn't supporting all of the notes equally, I wasn't transferring weight from one finger to the next as if walking from note to note. This sensation is translated in the brain as "missed" notes, because, in a way they were. The brain didn't hear them because the arm didn't feel them. Stand up. Try walking as if one ankle is sprained,  not putting any weight on it. This hobbling effect is very like what happened to me on television.
     When we looked again at my student's arpeggios, we found that, almost without exception, his thumb wasn't doing both its jobs, the first of which is to play the note and the second is to throw the hand into the new position. In other words, he wasn't always allowing the thumb to toss his hand beyond the thumb cross-over note as he descended, which gives the hand the possibility of turning back to the next finger rotationally. I know, words fail here. Suffice it to say that rotation was missing. (For a video on rotation, click on the iDemos tab above.)