Some Basic Principles

I hope you’re all having a lovely summer! I’ve enjoyed some well deserved time off, and have even had time to pursue other artistic endeavours (check out my instagram!). One thing I really enjoy doing in the summer is reading – something I almost never have time for during the school year!

Today I dug out “Basic Principles In Pianoforte Playing” by Josef Lhevinne and polished it off in a couple hours. This book startled me in how closly it aligned with my own mentors pedagogy, considering it was written in 1924 (Shock and awe!). Reading the phrase “float the arm” brought back so many memories of my childhood (both good and bad)! Despite the book being 90 years old, the pedagogy it discusses is still solid. I loved the discussion of how legato touch should have notes that float together with the same tonal colour. It is compared to a string of beads, and all too often the legato touch of students is multicoloured, multi-sized beads (different depths of the key, different attacks of the finger), instead of a straight wash of colour that reaches to the bottom of the keys.

It also touched on some good basics that should always be remembered when playing: let the arm float, strike each note to the bottom of the key, and keep your fingers on the surface of the key. (On that last point – keeping the fingers on the surface of the key isn’t a hard and fast rule, but is meant to facilitate a quiet hand and high arch in the palm! I haven’t read it phrased as ‘keeping your fingers on the surface of the key’ in any modern pedadgogy books, as it most likely gets interpreted with tension.)

Another important distinction I appreciate being mentioned is how one grasps the key when they play, as opposed to striking it. Striking the key produces a harsh, angry sound. It is far better to “imagine you are actually playing upon the wires, ringing them with soft felt covered hammers and not with hard metal bars.” (Lhevinne 21)

Finally, I found a fun new way to practice scales (aren’t they already fun, though? ha!). Play the scale as usual, starting on the thumb (Degree 1) and ending on the pinky. Now, playing the same scale, but start on the second note (Degree 2), ending on the second note. Now start on the third note (Degree 3), and end on the 3rd note. And so on….! Not only are you getting your brain to work a little harder, you are actually playing through all the scale modes – and don’t forget: I Don’t Particularily Like Modes A Lot! (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Locrian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Lydian).

The phrase that stuck with me the most though, was this: “Try practicing for beauty as well as practicing for technic. Technic is worthless in your playing, if it means nothing more to you than making machines of your hands.” (Lhevinne 39).
We play piano to create beauty and express our souls. Sometimes this gets lost in the learning of notes/technique/phrasing and shaping, but in the end, self-expression and beauty are our goals.

“Basic Principles In Pianoforte Playing”. Josef Lhevinne. Dover 1972.

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