Discussion of specific teaching techniques or materials designed to aid in the teaching of certain techniques. Discussion of the methods of well-known teachers who established a distinct pedagogy.
In this discussion, I am attempting to briefly discuss the main principles of teaching methods of the 19th and 20th century’s great pianists and piano teachers: Chopin, Gieseking/Leimer and Neuhaus. These teachers’ methods have a common pedagogy of relaxed muscles and arm weight to produce a beautiful tone. In their teaching, proper sitting and natural position of hands is the utmost important aspect of the piano technique. What distinguishes their pedagogy is Leimer’s ear training, Gieseking’s amazing visualizing technique, Chopin’s technique for finger exercising and freeing the hands, and Neuhaus’ philosophy of building a musician with all the knowledge of the art and culture.
Walter Gieseking is French-born German pianist of the 20h century. He taught himself piano at the age of four. He became a pupil of Professor Karl Leimer from 1912 to 1917 who had devised a new method of piano playing. Leamer’s pedagogy focuses on the relaxation of arms and hands, emphasis on pianism, and complete adherence to the composer’s intention. Gieseking had all the qualities that Leimer wanted to teach the next generation. Gieseking’s and Leimer’s teaching method in the Piano Technique, which they wrote together, helps young pianists to play, delivering the original intention of the composer’s expression and technique. Leimer and Gieseking gained unity of vision in their piano pedagogies. The principle of Leimer and Gieseking’s piano pedagogy is the training of the ear. The trained ears are the vehicle to produce perfect technique, sense for beauty of the tone, and shade the tone with feeling. In this teaching method, the ears are developed systematically with extreme concentration. Before training the ear, the pianist must memorize the music and be able to play it correctly from memory using systematic logical thinking. For the pianist, the main point of training the ears is noticing the exact tone quality, tone duration and strength. The fingers perform the action that the brain commands, and the well-trained ear makes clear to the brain what to do. This intensive training of the ear differentiates the pedagogy from the other teachers.
In the teaching method, relaxing the arm muscles would be the first thing to teach.The natural position of the hand with relaxed muscle is the foundation of playing the piano. When playing, the player should sit well forward on the chair and the fingers should be slightly curved and relaxed, as is the case when we walk. The upper part of the body is slightly forward. Giesekig and Leimer demanded their students to rest the hand on the keys to feel the gravity of the whole arm and touch of the “free fall”. This technique is used for producing the strongest fortissimo as well as the softest pianissimo. They rarely taught the use of touch from the wrist. The quickest way to gain control over the finger is through the relaxation of the arm. The brain can control the relaxed arms to perform correctly and the fingers will do their work.
Gieseking suggested his students to learn a method of visualizing the sheet of music. This method allows the player to memorize quickly and be ready to play in a short time. Gieseking was capable of visualizing the piece in an airplane on the way to arecital. This training makes allows the student to understand the importance of the composition.
The second thing to teach is a different style of touch that is to produce a “singing” tone. This style requires the natural position of the fingers that permits the ample use of the sense of touch. The tone should be produced by soft pressure and the sense of relaxation allows for the making of the most delicate tone shading. Gieseking’s richly colored playing of impressionistic music is the result of mastering the technique of this style of touch.
In Gieseking’s teaching he could work on Bach’s inventions for the beginners and Beethoven’s Sonatas for more advanced students. For example, he had chosen Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor, op.2 No.1 to discuss his teaching method in the book. Employing Gieseking’s teaching method to the first movement of the sonata, he suggests visualizing the piece first and asking to play the first eight measures by heart. In his teaching experience visualization could develop the capacity of the “inner ear”. In this way the player learns to feel and understand the importance of the piece, which becomes pure mental work. In the eight measures he requires the student to play with the combination touch of upper and lower arm. In this sonata, the staccato notes must be controlled in correct volume of the sound, and the sforzando must not be taken too vigorously. He insisted that triplets should be played equally, but the players tended to oppose the intention of the composer by playing the triplet on the beat. He then admitted the “rolling” technique is necessary in the left hand. This rolling can be achieved by both the upper and the lower arm from the elbow. It should be practiced with the relaxed hands until it becomes technically smoother. Rolling from the shoulder strongly isrequired for pianissimo and fortissimo phrases. He recommended full concentration for playing equality of length and even volume of sound for all tones. The difference between the forte and piano measures must be uniquely clear to the audience.
The most important responsibility of his pedagogy is to teach the correct practicing methods. From his teaching experience, the main learning progress happens when people think they have “finished” the certain piece to study. Alternatively, this is where the student begins to master in both technically and musically. At that time, a student becomes familiar with the piece, knows his/her own capability and then loses all unsettled feelings. He encourages to practice slowly in correct rhythm with concentration and not to do anything about interpretation of the piece while studying the technical problems. Practicing by phrases allows the student to bring the whole phrase to the perfection. After practicing 20 to 30 minutes the student should take a break in order to allow the brain to rest because it is useless to continue practicing when tired. He believes that practicing half an hour five or six times a day is even enough for the concert pianist. This mental study is the only way to obtain better results but requires lots of energy.
Another influential pianist and piano teacher is Fryderyk Chopin who taught piano from 1832 to 1849. He became an important piano teacher and had few outstanding students. His teaching method was considered revolutionary and it predicted modern piano pedagogy. Chopin was shy to write down his piano techniques on the book he was drafting, Un method the Piano, which he never finished. Chopin’s pedagogical contribution to piano technique is fingering, singing, and ease of playing.
Achieving beautiful touch was the main principle of Chopin’s piano pedagogy. The fingering is the main approach to the beautiful touching. In his opinion, each fingerhas its own ability and different character so that to achieve better results for studying the art of touch one should develop the particular charm of each fingers’ touch. The weakest fingers play delicate passages; strong fingers play the more emphatic and lyrical melodies. Chopin’s model for teaching was that most of his etudes generally begin easily and then increase in tension and dissonance. Because almost all of his etudes weren’t intended for the beginner, he composed the “Three new etudes”. He thought that these etudes would give practice in the elementary technical point. The etudes included exercises of thirds, sixths, octaves, two against three, three against four, appoggiaturas and so on.
Another important aspect of playing piano is to sit properly. Chopin admitted proper siting should allow the student to reach both ends of the keyboard, placing the right foot on the pedal, and engaging fingers on the notes E, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, and B.
Chopin used his own nocturnes to teach his student how to produce legato and a connected singing tone. Leggiero and cantabile were both very remarkable in Chopin's piano teaching. Chopin claimed that the most important touch in piano playing is the legato touch, especially the full-toned legato. Therefore, he strongly recommended his students to see operas and feel the musical idea as a whole thing. He didn’t like too much riternundo and rubatos that would stop the music flow. Chopin was serious about tempo, nevertheless, he wanted his compositions to be played freely, not pedantically. Therefore, he never wanted his students to play the ornaments rushed. He was the master of the ornamentation both in performing and composing. His ornaments have specific purposes and he knew the function of each one of the ornamentations. Other basics of teaching abeautiful touch were proper seating and the hand position. Chopin suggested the hand should remain flexible and elbow level with the white keys.
Chopin found the way to ease scale exercises was to begin from B, F sharp and D flat major scales that follows the nature of position of the hand. He suggested his students practice these scales at first to have correct connection to the physiology of the hand. Chopin revolutionized a way of fingering that is suitable for both the hand position and the musical interpretation. For example: Chopin often suggested crossing over 3rd, 4th, 5th finger of the hand in the chromatic passages in Nocturne Op.9 No.2, Prelude Op.28, and Etude Op.25 No.6.
Chopin made a point of supporting the right fingering for every passage. A good example to demonstrate his method is the B-flat minor scherzo, where the pattern is almost impossible to play. Use of the proper placement of the hand around the pivot of the second finger is the key to fixing the problem for playing this kind of piece.
Chopin believed that technical skill is to free the hands for musical expression so that he always combined technique and interpretation in his teaching. Chopin’s lessons usually began with Cramer’s Etudes, Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum, Bach’s Well- Tempered Clavier, and works by Hummel. Chopin also included pieces by Scarlatti, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Mendelssohn, Moscheles, and Hiller. Chopin did not believe in any practice beyond two or three hours a day. He considered the repetitions of exercises mechanical, impassioned and useless. Chopin’s use of pedal is another development in the piano playing. His delicacy in pedaling is his contribution to the piano technique. He demanded his students to play diminuendo without using the una corda pedal. Clear indication of dynamics and pedaling can be found Chopin’s’ works. Chopin favored simplicity in the interpretation. Even though he demonstrated the playing of the piece, he didn’t want his student to imitate his playing; rather, he encouraged his student to produce on their own uniqueness of playing in the interpretation.
Chopin’s pedagogy enlightens how the hearing and fantasizing assists to control all the aspects of the performing technique. This method improves the musical hearing and musical fantasy, which are the most important and effective devices in teaching. These abilities are the real worth of pianists. Chopin's pedagogy shows how the proper control of color, energy and the dynamic values can be used as a perfect vehicle that expands the potentiality of the pianist.
One of the disciples of Chopin was Heinrich Neuhaus. He was a self-taught pianist even though his parents were both piano teachers. Neuhaus was a teacher at the Moscow Conservatoire from 1922 and teacher of Horowitz, Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter. There are some reasons that Neuhaus’s pedagogy is so special to talented pianists. At first, Neuhaus’ method was not just teaching how to play piano but also he gave knowledge about art, poetry, philosophy, and culture- everything the art consists of. This method built up his students’ spirit and passion for the love of music. For example, he discussed French impressionist paintings when teaching Debussy’s music. The second reason for the popularity of his pedagogy can be explained by the relationship to his students, not just as the teacher but rather the friend of his students. Neuhaus believed that the fundamental of the pedagogy is: at first being a man, second an artist, third a musician, and last the pianist. The third distinction of his pedagogy was having friendshipwith established pianists, philosophers, and art critic. Neuhaus’s students learned from those people the main things in the art.
In his pedagogy, he referred to the use of all the possibilities that the body provides with the movement of the whole finger, the hand, the forearm, the shoulder and even the back, which are the whole of the upper part of the body. With physical movement, the piano playing gets easy with “pure weight” of the hand without any tension and obtains the maximum volume of sounds both the lowest and highest of the dynamics. This technique is close to what Geiseking and Leimer achieved in their pedagogy.
Also he employed Chopin’s finger exercise with the five notes that Chopin used for the methodology of the first lesson in his pedagogy, as well as the B major scale and D flat major scale for each right and left hand to use for technical improvement. He strongly believed in teaching importance of pedaling and admitted that the pedal used to enhance the dampness and solidity of the tones. In his pedagogy, he employed the different techniques for pedaling to play in composer’s intention. He experienced with pedaling of compositions by composers from Bach to Chopin and even Tchaikovsky. He demanded playing Bach with the pedal on the modern piano because the instrument that Bach had had rich overtones and didn’t attach the dampers. In Neuhaus’s performing and teaching experience he trained with three principles of pedaling: first, the simultaneous pedal which is taken exactly with the tone, second, the retarded pedal which is used for connecting legato chords, and third, the preliminary that is pressed before the hands reach the keyboard to play. He demonstrates Beethoven’s Sonata in D minor or B flat major for its illustration. Another example that he uses tomake his student study the properties of the pedal is the Chopin Prelude in A flat major, Op.28. In his belief, the excellent quality of the pedal empowers the accuracy and the perfection of the music as if played with three hands.
Neuhaus's piano pedagogy has connections and improvements to the Chopin's Piano Method. His teaching achieved really great results. Because of its successful outcomes, Neuhaus’s pedagogy is continued by teachers today, which confirms its unique worth. His idea and manners are appreciated more prominently today and his position in the piano history is incomparable to any other master.
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