In the last years I developed a personal didactic method, in order to improve and speed the learning of piano practice, analyzing especially the neuro-phisiological interactions during the study.

This short recapitulation of my considerations in the didactic field doesn't aim to become a scientific essay, rather it rises from my need to deepen the study of neurological interactions of pianistic practice.

Nowadays it is not difficult to read either paper or digital methods, through the facility of finding video and lessons on-line; however, during my long teaching career, I have come to the conclusion that any training, to be effective, must start from observing  the student, finding his peculiarity.

The latest research from neuroscientists is focused on the almost infinite possibilities of our brain to create synapses, i.e. connections, and this outstanding power is the starting point of my research, in order to improve my teaching.

Some excerpt:

In my teaching I start from a fundamental function not only of our body but also of piano performance and practicing, a vital function, yet too often involuntary neglected: breathing.

Breathing is related to most of the problems which come up during practicing. The wrong use of the muscles designated to the motion and an insufficient perception of his own body can make the student's performance strenuous and sometimes even painful [...]

One of the hardest abilities to achieve is undoubtedly self-listening. For a non-musician this could seem nonsense, but anyone who plays an instrument knows that to be able to focus on the performance's complexity and at the same time on self-listening, isn't to be taken for granted.

For the pianists, actually, it's a stereophonic listening, that's why I confirm the relevance of the separate hands during practicing, in order to get a perfect control.

I firmly encourage my students to record themselves, in order to attain an objectivity impossible to get during the performance. During the first step of studying it's extremely arduous to divide our attention between the difficulties and the right perception of what we are playing [...]

In order to optimize our practice time, we can certainly read the piece first of all with both hands (actually, it's hard to resist to our curiosity... Our desire is stronger than any precept!), but soon after we’ll study with separate hands, facing with patience even the easiest passages.

This will enable us to limit the damages due to a hasty and superficial reading. Our brain is not a board that we can delete, but it looks rather like a film, on which are impressed right and wrong notions: that's why it's much more fast and secure learning with separate hands, otherwise we will hardly be able to avoid mistakes [...]

Too often we can't help reading music hastily and without a deep attention, risking playing incorrectly or with an uncomfortable fingering. I will never grow tired to repeat that, after the curiosity and enthusiasm of the first-sight reading, we must take on the score with patience, going through slowly, even the simplest pages, so we can get the right imprinting.

For some people this may be a useless suggestion. After many years of fieldwork I still hear people who think that practicing with separate hands is a waste of  time. Their excuse is that our brain works in a different way when it presides over both hand movements rather than only one hand.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, because the careful observation of gestures, notes and fingering is the  fastest and reliable way to learn a piece. However, if we find mistakes after a hefty time of wrong practicing, we can reset our brain breaking up the piece in cells or even micro-cells [...]

The famous pianist Alfred Cortot, wrote that "Any difficulty, reduced to his elementary cell, will be dissolved".

Five, four or even three notes (which I call cells or micro-cells), extrapolated from the analyzed passage and played first slowly and then faster, represent an aim within anybody’s range.

Besides the simple fragment's repetition, it's useful to study it changing the rhythm and the values proportion: this mental training gets the brain used to giving motoric pulses constantly changing every few seconds and allows us to master the hardest passage in a very short time [...]

When we face a passage to be played "legato assoluto", first of all we must forget we are playing a percussion instrument and  trust our "inner singing": recalling to mind the theme will help us to get the right touch.

Then we focus on the natural weight of our arm, relieved and sustained from the hand, which will transfer from one finger to another. This I call "the handover", just like picking up the torch in a sports competition. If the tensing and consequently the weight don't remain steady, the "torch" falls down.

To master this technique, it's better to start with simple exercises, using the four fingers without the thumb, which due to its shape makes it more difficult to pass down the weight [...]

Another suggestion I give to my students is to face a difficult passage evaluating it from the musical point of view, instead of technically: very often the greatest composers reveal with phrasing and sound signs not only the desired interpretation but also the technical way to solve it.

If we look at many of Chopin works, for example (but this is true for many other classical and romantic musicians), we’ll see that slurs, staccato, accents show exactly the kind of gestures and phrasing he wants.

By following his fingerings, although sometimes they don’t seem the most comfortable to us, we will soon get the right touch. Actually, Chopin devoted a large part of his life to teaching and his Studies are still our technical Bible [...]

 

© 2016 - Caterina Vivarelli - Photos: Paola Fiorentini - Web design: Carla Marchisio