Irina Morozova, Oberlin Conservatory, piano pedagogy, piano playing, piano teaching, piano technique

Piano Technique: No Pain, Much Gain

Sometimes we learn a floating, flowing path to beauty through the unfortunate school of HARD knocks. To this effect, I recall my esteemed Oberlin Conservatory piano teacher dealing in mindless, stressful repetitions of meaningless exercises that caused joint pain and unremarkable displays of flat-lined, tightly squeezed playing. His teaching, to an extreme level of adherence to workhorse regimens (Pischna, et al) caused me to reel into a pleasure zone that my New York City piano teacher had kept as a safe haven after graduation day. I returned to her fold just in the nick of time.

With my Performance-Piano degree in hand, I was reunited with the singing tone and its physical/musical dimension, unencumbered by methodical routines that could extinguish the very basis of my love for the piano as an expressive instrument.

In retrospect, through decades of my own teaching, I observe students having to surrender the false security of grabbing, squeezing, and attacking the keys in their week-to-week practicing. It’s almost taught as a cultural norm to work so hard as to sweat–to extract pain to attain proficiency in nearly every endeavor, whether it be sports, music, or taking exams in any number of fields.

One is conditioned to meet a challenge head on, taking the bull by the horns with aggressive advances toward an imagined VICTORY of great magnitude.

But most of us have learned through a process of ELIMINATION, that pianistic fluency, by analogy, is not a strength enduring pursuit with an expected grit your teeth stoic approach. But rather the execution (oops) of scales, arpeggios, chords, Etudes, Nocturnes, Sonatas… and the rest should be natural outpourings with an aesthetic balance of physical and emotional forces—meaning, that the journey to beautiful playing should be paved with artful motions, feelings, fluid approaches, and imbued imagination.

Modeling a B minor scale as a stage by stage learning experience, we can extract a natural sequence to mastery without the preconceived EFFORT that is bundled with negative reinforcements. Instead, practicing should have a path of least resistance.

A few of my adult students are immersed in B minor, so I prepared a short video to steer them into more relaxed, non-confrontational directions. By focusing on floating, flowing images, we collectively refresh a harmonious musical journey.

And by example, this extraordinary pianist’s artistry is the ultimate in what sounds effortless and ethereal.

5 thoughts on “Piano Technique: No Pain, Much Gain”

  1. Excellent demonstration of relaxed arms and wrists Shirley! Great idea to use the contrary scales to achieve this. Think I will try it with students.

    Liked by 1 person

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