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40.  Prelude and Fugue in G minor from Book 2






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

One key thing to look out for when beginning to teach someone on the piano is unnecessary physical tension. Sometimes this is very easy to spot as in a raised shoulder or a clenched jaw. Sometimes it is just a sense from the sound that is being produced that there is a lot of holding onto tension in the back of the hand. Before beginning to play at all it is a good idea to become aware of what is happening in the body. There are many ways to connect with this - a short silent meditation, some deep breaths, some simple stretches or Tai Chi exercises. Anything which works for you to give you a direct experience of what is happening here and now in your body. From this experience beginning to play the piano is much more likely to be an experience of mindful awareness of what is actually happening in the body. All the physical tensions that people exhibit when playing the piano are reflections of mental tensions which arise in the thought of playing. But to work directly with the stream of thoughts is much more difficult for anyone without considerable experience of meditation, and so to work with the body more directly makes sound pragmatic sense. After your initial body awareness exercise, whatever it may be, try playing a simple scale as slowly as you need to to stay both really relaxed and aware of every movement that you are making. Try to be aware of the ‘intention’ that precedes every sound. Can you inwardly hear the sound that you want to produce? Are you then hearing that sound when you connect with the keys? Be vigilant for any experience of physical tension or holding on. Investigate where it is coming from. Can you identify the last thought that you experienced before becoming aware of the tension? To begin with it is difficult to achieve this level of awareness without a guide. Eventually, however, this is something that you need to develop for yourself and by yourself. It is a way into practising which will transform the sound that you make. Play some pieces that you feel very comfortable with and enjoy both the physical sense of ease and the sound that is produced. The hard step is to move on to practising something which is technically more challenging without losing the awareness that you have now developed. For this you need time, patience and clarity. Time to enjoy the process, time to go really slowly, time to sort out the best fingering precisely, time to try out each hand separately, time to be aware of your body and its pattern of tension. Give yourself permission to go really slowly - something which we find so difficult to give ourselves in the modern Western world. Patience to be kind to yourself, patience to stay with the process when difficulties arise, patience to try out different fingerings when the first one fails to work, patience to observe in a detached way without emotional attachment to success or failure. Clarity of analytical thinking about the hand movements that are needed, clarity about listening to the sounds that are produced from the piano, clarity of intention, clarity of understanding the musical structure.