Garnet Walters

Pianist Producer Teacher Composer Arranger

The Official Website of Garnet Walters and Geephlat Music
 

Piano Technique

Dumbbells How does one play more fluently? How does one play with such clarity? It has to be piano technique!! When she plays, it looks flawless and effortless. I often thought and asked those questions when I was younger. The answers that I got were to "Practice your scales" and "Do a lot of Hanon exercises". They helped in a way in terms of finger strength and durability but as I got older I wanted to understand how they translated into real music.

One day I met a classical pianist named Orett Rhoden at Carnegie Hall. He was very inspiring. After the concert I had a chance to talk to him and ask a few questions, one of the questions being...Yep you guessed it (or maybe you didn't...I won't judge you...LMBO) "How do I improve my technique? Should I use Hanon?" To my surprise he said, "Hanon? No way. Use the Chopin Etudes." I was very excited that I went to the store the next day to by the Chopin Etudes. I started on the first one and I was very impatient. (By this time, I wasn't taking formal classical lessons and I was doing more jazz stuff). Despite how I felt, I learned something: Every piece or song that is learned has a specific technical challenge. The thing is as a musician, I don't play music because I want to show off that I have learned and conquered a technical challenge. I play music to play music and express myself through it. Etudes covered the bases in that not only was I learning great music, I was getting stronger and developed more dexterity and flexibility.

Another thing that I have learned about technique is that it seems like it is taught in a cookie cutter fashion like a one size fits all type of deal. However, everyone's hands and fingers are not the same size and shape. I have sizable hands and slim fingers. I can reach a major tenth effortlessly with both hands. Some folks have bigger hands, some have shorter fingers. Yes there are common threads in terms of technique with how the hand works but it won't work for everyone. I'm not saying that scales are not important. They are foundational since music comes from scale. There are some things that are important in technique such as having maximum relaxation and maximum control. When those concepts are deeply rooted in our musical makeup, how do we move on from the elementary stages and begin to make and enjoy music?

I used to think that technique primarily a physical thing. This belief changed as I learned that technique is starts in the mind. Technique is the means to an end, which is to make good music. A musician can play a piece technically flawless but there is no emotion. Bill Evans said it best:

"Technique is the ability to translate your ideas into sound through your instrument. This is a comprehensive technique...a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it. What has to happen is that you develop a comprehensive technique and then say, Forget that. I’m just going to be expressive through the piano."

So technique starts in the mind and comes out physically and audibly. It requires a lot of patience. Impatience will do more harm than good in learning music.

I guess when a musician is trying to strengthen their fingers, there are exercises that are made for that. It's a start but it shouldn't be the end. It is a foundational tool that should be applied to something for it to be useful. How does a person get better at math? Is it by playing chess? No. It's by studying and learning math. How does a person get better at Chopin? Is it by learning Hanon? No. It's by learning and practicing Chopin. Every musical situation is different so the one size fits all approach will not suffice.

So in closing, I learned:

1. Technique starts in the mind and comes out physically and audibly.

2. Technique requires a lot of patience. Impatience will do more harm than good in learning music.

3. If I want to learn a specific thing musically, learn that thing.

4. Etudes are great to learn not only because of the technical challenge. It's because it's musical and enjoyable to listen to.

5. The piano is not a gym. It's a musical instrument.

6. Most importantly, technique is not the end. Technique is the means to the goal and the goal is to make great music.

Please share your thoughts. I'm really interested in the point of views of others. I love to learn!

"The moment you stop being a student, you become a critic. Never stop learning." - Unknown