Here’s another instalment from the lessons I had from my old piano teacher (hey – not so much of the “old” – there are actually only about ten years difference in age between us, as I was round nine years old, and she was a student when I first started lessons with her!).
Anyway, if you’ve missed what was going on, she came to stay with me for a week at the beginning of November, and while she was here, she gave me some lessons, and also taught some of my pupils, while I listened and made copious notes.
A major point of technique concerns freedom of movement when playing the top (and bottom) octaves. Most of my pupils are in the early stages, and hardly ever use any notes that are beyond the treble and bass staves. That means that all their notes are in easy reach of their arms, needing very little, if any, lateral movement of the body.
However, once you are into leger line territory, things change.
Moving the upper body from side to side parallel to the keyboard as you play higher or lower notes will help you keep your hands “square on” to the keyboard, so that all your fingers are able to come into play. To keep your balance as you “sway” from one side to the other, you must have both feet on the floor, and be sitting in a balanced posture to begin with.
I’m in favour of avoiding flamboyant and excessive movement while playing.I do not think that what worked for Jacqueline du Pre is such a good idea for your average ten-year-old and will probably detract from their ability to play rather than add to the expressive qualities of their performance. However, it is important to use expressive movements of fingers, hands, wrist, and arm when playing to approach the notes and finish the phrases – like a the preparatory swing and “follow-through” in a tennis stroke.
It was immediately obvious how much this affected the quality of the tone, either in the “attack” or “touch” at the beginning of the phrase, or in the way the phrase was finished off, once the pupils were shown how to use their hands and arms in this way.
I have to admit that these are all things that I know, or knew, or should have known. Watching someone else teach was a good reminder of how useful it is to have some kind of refresher training, or to be “Observed” in one’s teaching practice from time to time. I’m not going to beat myself up over having let some of these issues slip through my teaching; the whole point is to become a better teacher, rather than heap criticism upon myself.