Grigory Sokolov, Irina Morozova, Livia Rev, Murray Perahia, piano, piano methods, piano teaching

Does any one piano method or playing approach work?

Most piano teachers get inquiries from parents who are riveted to “methods.” The most frequently posed question is, “can you tell me how you teach?”

Under duress and painted into a corner, a prospective mentor’s perfect, all-encompassing answer seems unattainable. And upon closer consideration, a boundary limited approach for every student who crosses the threshold or logs in by Skype is virtually impossible.

In the larger sense, I respond with the “singing tone” as my point of departure…interspersing my music vocabulary with “relaxation, fluidity, fluency, the joy of learning, exploring, experimenting.” While I can’t attach myself to a specific method, I can say that I don’t teach Taubman, or represent a pure Russian School approach if it exists. Yet considering all the powerful musical influences in my life including Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, Ena Bronstein, Eugene Lehner (my chamber music coach); Murray Perahia, my classmate, cruising through the High School of Peforming Arts, and in the past few years, the artistry of Irina Morozova and Grigory Sokolov, their overall contributions synthesized in some way to make my teaching and learning process a never-ending repository of revelation, reflection, and refinement.

Therefore, when I hear about rigid do’s and don’ts encapsulated in a fixed teaching METHOD that’s disseminated for mass consumption, I have my doubts.

Surely in the pedagogical realm, students need guidance about what causes tension, strain, rigidity in their approach to the keyboard, and how the breath can affect phrasing, nuance, swells, resolutions. And the context of a composition, its historical period, structure, theoretical dimension are all part of the creative learning process. But when various choreographies are considered, the music itself is the best guide.

As a perfect example, Livia Rev, a Hungarian pianist, residing in France, performs here in 2010 at age 94. Notice how each Czerny etude with its particular musical landscape is well realized by the pianist through her diverse physical motions that include supple wrist dips (“breaks”) that are frowned upon by strict Taubman method followers. (According to Taubman tenets, these motions are supposed to cause injuries such as carpal tunnel) Yet far as I know, Rev has not been afflicted.

If Livia Rev inhibited her organic response to Czerny’s music, we would be denied the gift of her artistry.

In a touching flashback at age 43 (in 1959) Lev serenades a group of enraptured children with two of Schumann’s Album for the Young pieces. These are charmingly played with impeccable phrasing and nuance.


Various great pianists have different styles and physical approaches to the piano. Sokolov and Perahia are both poetic players with postural and playing contrasts.

Perahia’s motions are somewhat more economical than Sokolov’s.

In the teaching universe, Perahia’s masterclasses are structurally and theoretically charged in his musical cosmos with little in the way of technical guidance, whereas other artists fuse the technical dimension of playing with matters of phrasing and dynamics.

Snatch of a Perahia Masterclass

Finally, as piano methods abound, one must be circumspect about any approach that is now and forever a perfectly spelled out route to so-called piano mastery. Strike that last word since no one arrives at the golden juncture of perfection simply because there’s always room for growth and development.


Lívia Rév
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lívia Rév (born July 5, 1916) is a classical concert pianist.

Rév was born in Budapest, Hungary. She started her studies with Margit Varro and Klara Mathe. Aged nine, she won the Grand Prix des Enfants Prodiges. Aged twelve she performed with an orchestra. She studied with Leo Weiner and Arnold Székely at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, with Professor Robert Teichmüller at the Leipzig Conservatory, and with Paul Weingarten at the Vienna Conservatory, having left Hungary in 1946.

Rév lives in Paris, with her husband Benjamin Dunn.

She has won the Ferenc Liszt International Record Grand Prix.

Rév has performed across Europe, in Asia, Africa, and in the United States. She has been the soloist with conductors such as Sir Adrian Boult, André Cluytens, Jascha Horenstein, Eugen Jochum, Josef Krips, Rafael Kubelík, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Constantin Silvestri, and Walter Susskind.

Her first US appearance was in 1963 at the invitation of the Rockefeller Institute.

She is well known for her light touch and clarity. Her recordings vary from complete Debussy Préludes, Chopin Nocturnes, and Mendelssohn Songs without Words.

5 thoughts on “Does any one piano method or playing approach work?”

  1. Thanks, Robin. Yes, I noted the NYT spread with vid…quite fascinating. Seymour Bernstein added these comments:

    “Part of this is very educational. However please be warned that the Fortepiano action is much lighter than piano actions. We all strive for economy of motion, but what this woman demonstrates won’t work completely when playing the piano. The reason why piano playing has expanded to the point of unbridled virtuosity is because pianists have learned to use controlled movements of the wrist and forearm rotation combined with finger activity. Moreover this woman has no notion of what those staccatos mean in the Schubert D major Sonata that she demonstrates. She has no notion of the fact that many staccatos are choreographic indications that require detachment with legato pedaling. She should know that those r.h. octaves can’t possibly sound legato without the pedal. Nevertheless this is educational insofar as the fortepiano is concerned and the treatises of that time.


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