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45.  Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from Book 2






Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

At its worst teaching piano can seem like an endlessly frustrating attempt to persuade someone else to do something which they really don’t want to do. But at its best it can seem like guiding someone on a creative journey which opens them up to deeper layers of wisdom and understanding. Most of the time, of course, it is somewhere in between these two extremes, but it is good to have a clear idea of where you are aiming. For many years I had a real block about the word ‘technique’ when applied to the piano and piano teaching. It seemed to suggest that you could only lean the piano by mastering a whole series of physical coordination exercises. There seemed to be no room for ‘feeling’ the music, communicating the deeper level of what the music had to offer. Now I understand things rather differently. I see technique as encompassing all the different parameters of music and developing one’s technique as an ongoing process throughout life. The most important principle of developing technique is what I call being present with the sound. If you are not hearing the sound internally you will not produce it externally. If you are playing notes mechanically with your mind wandering through shopping lists or football scores then you are not present with the sound, you are not developing your technique. On the other hand if you spend five minutes really focussed on the sound of each note in a simple scale then you will be developing your technique considerably. You will learn to recognise how intention precedes sound, how sound decays on the piano, how you need to play in terms of touch and speed of depression of the keys in order to connect the sounds one to another, how you need to generate a steady flow in your intention of the sound, how music comes from the flow between sounds rather than from discrete separate notes. All too often I have heard pupils - especially adult pupils - say that they can’t think about ‘expression’ (by which they really mean articulation, phrasing, dynamics, voicing of chords etc. etc.)until they have got the notes right. Sadly I can only conclude that they have been ‘taught’ this principle at some point. It does not work. You cannot develop a musical technique unless you have a musical intention. A musical intention does not mean ‘getting the notes right’ but ‘hearing and producing the right sound’. The ‘right’ sound here means the sound which matches your intention of the sound. It will be produced by a combination of an alert listening presence and a relaxed sensitive touch. The second important principle in developing your technique has to do with pulse. Practise feeling the pulse of the music that you are about to play - in silence. If the pulse is slow can you feel that pulse subdividing into two.....into three......into four? Can you feel the subdivisions changing from twos to threes to fours and back again without changing or losing the fundamental pulse? Five minutes in silence practising in this way will do more for developing your technique than hours of trying to get all the right notes. Apply what you have done in silence to practising scales. Play a scale for two octaves subdividing the pulse into twos, then for three octaves subdividing into threes. then for four octaves subdividing into fours. Then return back to threes and finally back to twos. Feel the basic pulse continuing beyond the final sound. This work will establish a way of thinking, a way of listening that will change your experience of playing music from ‘solid’ dots to ‘flowing’ sound. If we put these two principles together we can understand that developing technique is about being continually present to something which is continually changing. Going with the flow in a way which is really alive and life-affirming. And beyond that? Well I think that music points us in the direction of silence. The silence of contemplation, the silence that cannot be bound by language, not even the language of music. In this sense, then, teaching the piano can be seen as an invitation to contemplation, an invitation to use ‘doing’ as a vehicle to find a greater sense of ‘being’, and invitation to move out from the sickness of solidity of the ‘Ego-self’ towards the flowing unity of the ‘Deep-Self’.