W. Stefan Kutrzeba
TOUCH "The Zone" or - THE CHOPIN'S "M é t h o d
IN THE SURPRISINGLY NEW PERSPECTIVE.
"By birth a citizen of Warsaw, a Pole at hearth, still thanks to his genius - citizen of the World". This is how C.K.Norwid, a poet, wrote of Frédéric Chopin, whose music is enjoyed, played and heard world wide constantly with a great love since more than 150 years. His work and life were examined thoroughly. Unfortunately his generous piano method has never been completed in writing and however its preparative version, known as "A Sketch for a Method" (Projet de méthode), was studied not only by the Chopin's enthusiasts in many countries, factually the Chopin's method has been gradually forgotten even in teaching of the university level. Meanwhile, due to its far-sighted wisdom, the general course of his "Méthode" might be used as a very helpful support for everyday usage of any pianist and good for beginners as well as for professionals. I am seriously convinced that an idea of this kind fulfils all the requirements that contemporary pianists and teachers can anticipate from the best system of the piano they will ever need. Though, in such a matter they probably need some kind of guidance that could help them to assimilate the Chopin's teaching armory presented in his own texts and in other documents of his time.
"Touch the Zone " describes the facility that I have found and that is in use in my piano pedagogic practice as the very important methodic aid; this finding could surely be of great help to many teachers and students of the piano. In this article I interpret the very special aspect of Chopin's method, that for technical development of the pianists is in my opinion the priceless one, sincerely. My personal way to this formula was not direct and took quite a long time. That is why I am afraid, at first I should briefly explain some additional things until I start introduce the basic substance of my discovery.
For many years I searched for a system, which could give the decisive success in the piano pedagogy. Surprisingly, in 1996 I received some really unexpected help on that way. I have read the book by Barry Sears, Ph.D.: "The Zone; A Dietary Road Map" (Regan Books; USA, 1995). Dr. Sears took a zone, a notion this book tells about, from sport's language; the elite of American athletes' uses it for many years. The Zone means them "a near euphoric state of maximum physical, mental and psychological performance". As a medical researcher Dr. Sears describes it as "the metabolic state in which the body works at peak efficiency". If somebody is interested in such matters, they unconditionally should read this seriously advanced book!
Thanks to broad associations "the zone" gave me an absolutely new direction in my thinking about the development of piano playing as the whole. I started to test the particular zone in sound's quality as the factor that probably can help to focus the pianists' attention on the most important aspect of the subject: as on the active search for full-valued sounding appearance of the artistic image in the musical Form. This should happen in assistance of the instrumental, technical independence and manual freedom. It was soon evident that this formula works perfectly well. Now, after a long-run test period in many countries I am sure I may say that this unsophisticated correction is thoroughly helpful and could give the seriously profitable support to very many students and teachers of the piano.
Chopin personally has written in his Projet de méthode: "In this immensity of sounds we find a region in which the vibrations are more easily perceptible to us" (J-J. Eigeldinger, Chopin: pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 196). This discreet suggestion is surrounded there by sentences related to absolutely other question. Therefore, maybe, it has never been noticed as something of greater importance. Just suddenly, with the greatest satisfaction I have found the surprised parallelism between this marvelous practical order that has been drawn in text of his own sketches for the method - and integrating role of the zone in the piano practice. (the additional remarks in the matter can be found under this link).
My article tells about the very special aspect of Chopin's method that for technical development of the pianists sincerely could be the priceless one. Additionally I try to enlighten some other points of view on teaching and playing the piano using the Chopin's way. However his method seems to be known almost universally as a historical fact, I am afraid, factually it is nearly dismissed from the modern piano praxis, nowadays it exists as the fully dried entry. In truth, the Chopin's method has never been successfully studied as the idea of realistically great practical value. Touch The Zone tries to fulfil such a deficit in the piano theory. Still because I am rather an artist than a scientist, I think, I may say only "I hope" that this scientifically unrefined presentation of my findings will satisfy all those who are seriously interested in the innovative methods in teaching and playing the piano.
Many musicians are truly able to play the piano very well but in spite of it they play poorly, without joy or satisfaction. That is the question - why? For a long time I have been particularly interested in relations between the technique of piano playing and the artistic vision of the music that one try to play. Therefore I start just from this point. Here are my conclusions:
Irrational management of energy in playing the piano arises mainly as a result completed by the two important factors:
- The players' unclear plan concerning the artistic sense of form that should be shaped in playing.
- The incorrect players' conception of the piano sound; the very few pianist knows, that vision of the sound definitely directs the piano technique as the whole.
So, if the players' thinking, hearing and attention roam along wrong tracks - the work must constantly be started from the beginning. The technical side of piano playing, interpreted as something related to mechanical fingers' (hands') movements - totally sterilizes fantasy, makes the playing boring and overworks the player physically. Due to such artistically incomplete playing one obviously must feel a lack of satisfaction and try to look for the formula that could improve this unpleasant situation; in this case the idea of making the fingers stronger and stronger surely can appear on the first place as something rational. This plan focuses yet one's own attention on the second-class elements of the matter, again. The various finger-exercises will reappear as the center of regard, that for many pianists seems to be most natural, but in fact - it guides them strictly on the same fully ineffective path.
The second wrong option is a flight to the world of pure fantasy and tries to solve all the operational problems in piano playing in this way only. These both magical circles: purely mechanical and purely psychological could be blown up exclusively by a powerful impulse - something should connect all the elements of playing into the one fully effective system; unfortunately such an impulse would very rarely arise from the player's own inside.
II. The technical education of pianists based on mechanistic, anatomic-physiological or purely psychological order - induces an irrational management of energy in piano playing.
Irrational management of energy in piano playing is at least not accidental only. It can even be determined by the quasi-scientific theories that in essence regard the piano player as a composite of mechanisms of nearly pure physical nature. Sometimes they regard the pianist as almost metaphysical being who can solve the all, technical questions in piano playing exceptionally using his/her either purely physical or solely mental powers.
It has been known for very many years that a mastery in piano does not mean a manual perfection only, but rather an art of creating The Beauty in (through) the really sounding musical appearance. So, it should be usual, that the mastery in such an art must be achieved through condensed and many-sided processing of one's own musical ideas and images using the very specific technique. Consequently: the professionally adequate piano-technique is not achievable by practice supported by a mechanistic, anatomic-physiological or exclusively psychological base. In these cases the focus of attention to entirely mechanical or purely mental aspects of playing automatically sets the major questions of our art far away from any one possibility of solving them.
III. The belief in the physical power's and velocity of fingers' decisive role in instrumental development in the piano schooling - is the fundamental mistake and the reason for all instrumental troubles in the piano education.
Theoretically, I hope, every teacher of the piano could agree that artistic advancement in the piano is achievable firstly through development of the creative musical hearing and through the activation of musical fantasy, which both should act in playing as the powerful command center. At the same time, almost constantly, the "power and velocity" of fingers is the dominant problems in piano technical schooling! Attention to such element certainly brings the very bad results because it does not respect the basic role of the sound's quality complex in shaping the musical form during the performance. The everyday practice usually divides the whole teaching process into the technical and the artistic parts. Due to this, for example, Chopin's art of touché (the specific kind of touch, beloved by Chopin as the "contact with a keyboard" 's mode in his art of piano playing) is at time almost forgotten. It is nearly clear, why so: in my opinion it has happened because of the very common tendency to handle piano playing strictly logically, thus - through the all possible sorts of analysis, that are natural procedures in scientific research. That tendency destroys yet artistic creativity and dries the playing. In our art we need of course analyses, but at first we need the musically rational vision of the piano sound and the hearing skills that will effectively direct the whole technical side of playing. The creative musical hearing must guide us through the whole process, giving the essential data up to the last point (of course, listening intensely to the our inner voices helps us in creating the musical forms on really abundant base).
In opposition to these artistically questionable tendencies in the piano-technical schooling that factually disintegrate the action, Chopin's priceless touché smoothly connects the all elements in piano playing because it practically connects the player's fingers to his/her creative hearing and artistic fantasy. The touché of Chopin's mode really means a great deal more than only the special kind of contact with a keyboard. It thoroughly assists the operational part of creating an artistic idea in playing the piano. How is possible to achieve such kind of a touch - is the main question of my article.
I started my research for problem of energy management in playing. Not only in my personal opinion exactly this question is of the key importance to the whole piano technical schooling. As, in all probability, just F. Liszt said: "All technique originates in the art of touch and returns to it" (J-J. Eigeldinger, Chopin: pianist and teacher..., op. cit., p. 17). Well, because unfortunately there is only one share of energy in a human being, the pianists ought to economize their own powers: if ineffective kind of touch wears out too much energy, there is a lack of energy for the higher, creative activity. Pianists, of course, must exert their powers and they need more than a little of them, but they do need a particular power only - the benevolent one. Unfortunately, in the same way as good and bad cholesterol exists, or good and bad super-hormones, which Dr. Sears writes about in his book - correspondingly, the good and the bad kind of power in the hands of the pianist exists, too.
Using such kind of flexible "quality explorer" for pianists I am actually writing about, one can suitably gain the best kind of power for one's hands, and not through the purely physical exercising of fingers. It will happen like the opposite to any other type of the physical effort: one will get the benevolent power solely through a distinct kind of an especially soft touch, born of strong, precise ear control and of an active artistic imagination. Due to the powerful impact of fantasy and hearing, the pianist's co-operation with "resistant forces" of the keyboard will work without any disturbances and with minimal assistance of raw physical power. The pianist's fingers will achieve the same kind of contact with the keyboard, as the right hand of well-trained violinist, through the bow, has with a string. Using the zone as the operational facility that helps to install the genuine Chopin's touché into the technical practice of the pianists, makes possibly to develop their creative musical hearing of such a quality, that in conclusion definitely unites the all applicable elements in playing into the one fully efficient, well-integrated system.
In my own experience I may say that especially at the first phase of work, unquestionably, one should focus one's hearing on the quite thin, mezzo - still not weak zone of the sound's power. Even very small non-controlled growth of sound's energy mostly directs unskilled ears into specific impassivity. The relatively small decrease of dynamic pitch makes such ears "non-interested" in hearing. That happens probably due to the same physiological basis as in seeing, feeling of a taste, temperature, lighting, etc. That is why one should start one's personal search for the supreme piano technique exactly from this dynamic zone he/she really can hear with the whole accuracy and with the greatest personal enjoyment. It should be (for him/her personally) just the most beautiful kind of sound. Piano playing is the fine art. Consequently - a question of The Beauty must perrsistently be in the center of our whole piano-technical work, certainly!
As Chopin said: "In this immensity of sounds we find a region in which the vibrations are more easily perceptible to us" (J-J. Eigeldinger, Chopin: pianist and teacher..., op. cit., p. 196) - this sentence means: one must virtually search for this region (zone), and - practically catch it up. For this reason there must be used in playing the second supplementary value: the physical comfort and pleasure in the hands. Such worth is easily achievable through the precise internal control as sensitively determinable level of the sensual pleasure (yes-yes!) in the pianist's hands - which if crossed over, caused the very undesirable consequences in the sound's quality. One should remember that even relatively small growth of non controlled stress in working unskilled hands smoothly directs into the specific muscle's indifference which if combined with ears' impassivity, gives at last the truly non-professional, boring and artistically unhappy piano playing.
Reversibly, even some minutes long, quiet, still intensive training in such a "region in which the vibrations are more easily perceptible to us", so - in the proper zone of the sound, unconditionally brings the very apparent improving of playing quality (various instrumentally important details will be explained some paragraphs below).
Without special professional training only greater musical talents can achieve the truly worthy instrumental technique. The very important question of the matter undoubtedly is "how is possible to detect such details in playing that are truly important". Unfortunately there are not many sources that could clearly tell - how one must hear one's own playing as the truly skilful pianist does. The additional question is there: "how exactly looks the object one must strongly control looking for the operationally most helpful factors in practicing and playing the piano?"
Sound, tone, timbre, color, etc. - are very poetical, beautiful and instructively very useful notions, but in the didactic sense of a matter using them only is not enough. The students truly need the artistically firm impulse for their fantasy. The characteristic notions, thoughts and ideas surely will induce their mental activity. Still at the same time they must obtain the very simple, real and handy tools for developing their playing and hearing technique (as the builder needs a plummet, level and the measure tape).
The main operational thought of the Chopin's formula is in my opinion just so handy and functional, as possible! The pianist should "find and touch" the zone of exactly this kind of sound's quality he/she really can effectively control. It can be possible only in case if he/she can at the same time "find and touch" the second value of the same importance: the particular level of freedom and pleasure in the hands. These both values are strictly dependent from each other.
The pianists must personally build this measure instrument (the image and feeling of necessity of the zone) by themselves if they really would like to know - what is happened in their playing round (the very clear data informing of what "have to be done"). Consequently, watching the alternations taking place in sound's quality zone, the pianists can adequately guide the artistic evolution in theirs playing. But, as I think, however quite the all piano players deeply believe in necessity of highly correct listening to theirs own musical activity, not many of them really know how it should happen, and - especially - what does it mean: to hear the sound of the piano on truly professional way. Well, generally seen, not many pianists have the clear imagination particularly of those elements of the sound, that undoubtedly should be watching with the highest precision in practicing and playing the piano (sure thing: the greater musical talents intuitively complete a practice of that kind).
I would like to maintain now, and even stress again my deep belief in the irrationality of every physical movement in playing - if it does not directly fulfil the artistic idea of performing musical element. For many reasons, especially in practicing classical music, it is possible to use artistically "empty" moves to an alarming extent. Using the zone make impossible to take even one tone of such a character: if artistically invalid tone still arises, the player immediately loses a feeling of pleasure in the hands, just physically! I definitely have understood this aspect that put the finishing touches to my new comprehension of the piano technique, after accidentally associating a zone which in Dr. Sears' book refers to another question - with the idea of perfectionism in piano playing. The nuance of this notion worked at that moment like a taste of "madeleine" or a sound of knocked flag-stone in "À la recherche du temps perdu" (by M. Proust)... - many things have appeared in my imagination in the new colors. Relations and similarities between matters that are so far from each other like "Une Méthode de piano" of Chopin, TAO and the technique of using a bow in the Russian method of the violin - have come to light (at last it prepared me for my new understanding of the Chopin's main piano-technical idea. Thanks to this nuance I have discovered the proper sense of that "region in which the vibrations are more easily perceptible to us").
The old Chinese TAO (A WAY) is to me neither a religion nor a pure philosophy; paradoxically - despite its mysterious character TAO is to me much closer to the factual side of everyday life of each human being than religion and philosophy commonly are. I have been personally helped very strongly through its powerful mind & body techniques and others practical skills. Its methods of physical relaxation, breathing, and more - that strengthens stamina, improves mental concentration and refreshes memory - are incredibly valuable in my personal life and in my pedagogy over and over again. Thanks to TAO I have understood the meaning of soft, gentle and flexible type of motion as of the best pathfinder for benevolent power. I have noticed with a great joy that pedagogical principles of Chopin and his famous intolerance to dull finger exercises are very close to the general Taoist principles of training (the victory - through souplesse).
I see a similarly wise philosophy of motion in the Russian school of violin. I have made the acquaintance with theoretical principles of these methods many years ago and I was very lucky to become personally acquainted with them in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999 in Bad Sobernheim, Germany, at the Mattheiser Summer-Academy. Parallel to other activities I heard and saw there many lessons by the prominent Russian teacher and virtuoso, Prof. Valery Klimov - D. Oistrakh's successor at the Moscow Conservatory. He dealt in the violin technique field with the sense of using just this, not that part of the player's hand or body for the realisation of the concrete artistic task (generally: with the rational use of energy in playing the violin). His method, in my opinion, totally agrees with old Eastern and new Western (not only pedagogic) point of view, according to it one should understand the problem of body and it's acting in the terms of energy.
Thanks to many clear similarities among his pedagogy and my own suppose of the Chopin's teaching mode I began to understand - what probably Chopin had liked to say by himself about his own piano teaching in his unfinished "Méthode". At first I can saw then how must work the fingers that should animate the hand. Secondly, how works the palm as a mobile base for the fingers. I have seen and understood, what ought to take place in other parts of the arm that should continually be in assistance as natural base in playing. As well I have understood why do these all other parts of the hand should not work instead of the fingers. Well, Prof. Klimov's lessons have showed me what does it practically mean: the rational division of roles and competencies inside the working hands.
It is also not strange that just Prof. Klimov's pedagogic practice thanks to several analogies showed me the way to new understanding of the Chopin's technical idea. Leggiero and cantabile continually were the very remarkable pedagogic instruments in Chopin's piano teaching; later his students and, in round numbers, generations of the piano-teachers almost forgot their great operational convenience. Fortunately, these values fully survived in their entirety in the Russian school of violin, in any case in Prof. Valery Klimov's pedagogy in which the technical ease of playing and the artistic abundance of cantabile enjoying the highest honor, as it always happened in the bel canto - so much beloved by Chopin.
"Une Méthode de piano" in the really new perspective
About twenty years ago I attended the 'P. Tchaikovsky' Conservatoire of Music in Moscow as a pedagogical trainee. Prof. J. I. Milstein, my mentor there, was a wonderful pianist and a man of renowned learning; he formerly was an assistant of Konstantin Igumnov, one of the greatest Russian piano masters of the 20th century. "Chopin's advice to pianists" (Moscow, MUSICA, 1967) by J. I. Milstein is not a lengthy work, but unquestionably a very interesting one. He collected there and with thorough knowledge put in order very many sure facts on Chopin's views on the piano and piano pedagogy. Accidentally, some years ago, I have looked into this compendium again.
In Part Four (p. 80) Prof.Milstein wrote: "... if one wants to eliminate the hardness and restrains from his own hands, one should start to play the piano not with legato, but rather with the light, soft staccato, with attention to full flexibility and ease in palm and wrist. After that Chopin advises to go to a light portato, legato marcato, and, in the end, to a true, full-valued legato, which should be exercised through various tempos in forte as well as in piano."
And herein after (p. 85): "... an equality of the touché should be
achieved through rational use of fingers - not through the dull knocking on the keys which
is against their natural properties. Exercises should be played with a free hand, with
slightly collected fingers that should not be raised high, but rather keep in close
contact with the keyboard (as Chopin said: "before one starts to play, one should
touch the keys with one's fingers").
These quotations of course shed no new light on actual information of Chopin's method, indeed, but thanks to them I just suddenly have started to think more deeply of special meaning and importance of the whole Chopin's teaching tradition again. Reading these words at last I have understood Chopin's absolutely great significance in this field. Consequently, thanks to that happy advance I could practically achieve such an exclusively precious kind of touch that was for me impossible earlier. Only Chopin's strictly determined way of training: through the specific, light and soft staccato, and in the following - through the specific, light and soft portato, legato marcato, etc. But, how do all these "specifics" virtually look a like? This is the very important question!
My personal way to the piano technique of Chopin's style took quite a long time and was not direct. I persistently tried and tried again to find the best kind of motion, I observed a nature, I watched the children - how they use their hands in the very common situations when they are free of stress and fully absorbed in the action, etc. But only after watching in detail how the authentic violin virtuoso uses the bow, handles the sound, how active and important are Ideas, Images and Emotions in his pedagogic action, listening his clear explanations - at last, I have understood, what does it mean: "the proper instrumental schooling of highest professional level". Consequently, I have found the right way to understanding how the similar tasks should practically be fulfilled in playing and teaching the piano, too. On the other hand, to find out the full-valued, singing legato of Chopin's character without clear imagination of such kind of motions that have been defined some paragraphs above as typically Chopin's "specific, light and soft staccato" and "specific, light and soft portato" - could be quite a difficult job; however it could be surprised for many pianist, there really is no greater difference between the way the pianists handle the hand's motion, and this one that is in use among violinists and cellists.
In my own experience I may say that it unconditionally helps a great deal if one uses this rule: "the fingers raise the hand, the other way does not exists round". With a great joy I have found a phrase of quite same meaning in the very serious work of Prof. J-J. Eigeldinger (University of Geneva, Switzerland): "In Chopin's playing, the fingers activate the whole arm..." (Chopin: pianist and teacher..., op. cit., p. 18). Such kind of use of the hands has an incomparable great importance in the piano technique because if physical energy of a player really rectilinearly comes from higher parts of the hand to enforce the fingers - one obviously must play in such an incompetent way which Chopin ironically titled as "striking", "crashing", "knocking", "rattling", etc. These awkward kinds of physical motion, additionally, cause the necessity to hold the hands in the upper position, likely, in the air - the pianist must attack the keyboard persistently! Such playing manner, being energetically totally ineffective, undoubtedly causes the physical pains. Therefore, due to the mechanical nature of the piano keyboard as well as because of the hands natural properties, the way through "...the light, soft staccato, with attention to full flexibility and ease in the palm and wrist" - is definitely the most convenient one for the pianists. It quickly becomes apparent that if one uses a touché of Chopin's style to develop one's technique, one certainly has to use rather less power than search for ways to strengthen one's fingers.
In my own experience, again, I may say that the fingers and the palm always should act as the compact unit that can operate properly thanks to "full flexibility and ease" in wrist. This is the point of truly strategic importance in the whole piano-technique. If such a joint (the wrist) becomes "closed" or immovable due to any stress, the game is nearly over...! The fingers and the palm that should operate as a mobile base for the fingers have together quite enough weight, power and capacity for implementation of surprisingly many technical duties. But, they could fulfil their tasks only if they are adequately integrated in the action, i.e. if the wrist helps them as the truly flexible joint that connects them smoothly with other parts of the hand (being there as the basic support). In truth: the mobile palm should continually support the fingers. In my opinion this is the point of the greatest importance in the Chopin's piano-technique.
The very common mistake is to use, permanently, the whole arms or the major parts of them for the fulfillment of the very delicate duties that require approximately small and mobile instruments, as fingers commonly are in their excellent co-operation with palm and wrist. At any rate the other parts of the arm should continually be in assistance there as natural base for the whole action; such assistance still may not mean more than just the assistance! One must clearly understand the sense of rational division of roles and competencies inside the working hands and try to put this knowledge into the practice.
According to many opinions of former Chopin's students and persons who were close to him, we may say that in search for the most easy way to staccato of the Chopin's character "a hand should only to skim a key as a wing of dragonfly does" (C. Dzialyñska in: J-J. Eigeldinger, Fryderyk Chopin, Szkice do metody gry fortepianowej, Musica Jagiellonica, Krakow 1995, p. 113). So, it should not happen "through the dull knocking on the keys that is against their natural properties". Every player must remember yet, that even the most accurate kind of motion, even if totally agree with Chopin's direction - is just nothing more as only the external, touchable part of piano playing. One must persistently looking for the vivid sonorous object of such quality of a timbre, that finally gives him/her possibility to become deeply acquainted with the internal aspects of the music that one tries to play. Such an acquaintance will give the satisfied conviction of being on the really full-valued artistic ground ("In this immensity of sounds we find a region in which the vibrations are more easily perceptible to us"). A search for the really singing legato of the Chopin's mode should be, as well, enriched by particular kind of exercising in precise portato cantabile (I do not see any better word to describe such an articulation). Through intensive sound's quality control providing by highly disciplined hearing, a tough connection between the imaginable idea of a sound and its real sounding appearance will be surely created.
This is how I see a question of the Chopin's "specifics". It is naturally not the whole range of the subject; in my next article I would like to go toward the question of creative musical hearing and methods of its improvement on the really efficient and artistically interesting way.
As it happens in many other serious matters, the definite success in piano technical schooling depends on very delicate factors as well as on very weighty aspects of the thing - such as talent, luck, destiny, etc. I meean, for instance, on differences between the kind of touch proposed by Chopin (or another special touch of the similarly high quality) and a raw, non-professional, the awkward one. On the surface these differences could be about insignificant, but substantially seen, they are of the basic importance. In my opinion, the sharpest difference could be seen there between the excellence of co-operation that connects creative musical hearing to the manual device in the Chopin's method of training, and the another common one, that does not give such brilliant possibilities in the same matter. For deeper understanding of this difference one can, for example, personally try to use the marvelous Chopin's touché in one's own piano practice.
Such experiment could be completed in the same way as a beginner does: firstly, in exercising the wished musical phrase just without a rough force, totally. One should try to take some tones of a phrase very carefully, at start with light staccato ("with slightly collected fingers"), very freely and with the great interest in any one aspect of such an experiment. One must persistently watch the sound's quality as well as search for feeling of the liberty in his/her fingers and arms. The fingers and the palm should act as the compact unit that properly operates thanks to "full flexibility and ease" in wrist; a hand should only to skim a key as a wing of dragonfly does. "After that Chopin advises to go to a light portato, legato marcato, and, at the end, to a true, full-valued legato that should be exercised through various tempos in forte as well as in piano." (J. I. Milstein, op.cit.). A search for the really singing legato of Chopin's mode should be enriched by particular kind of exercising in precise portato cantabile, that through intensive sound's quality control (providing by highly disciplined hearing) builds the tough connection between the imaginable idea of a sound and its real sounding appearance. Naturally, the whole exercising should not resemble dull, mechanical "making ready". For the best one must go on and go ahead, persistently trying to achieve possibly full-bodied appearances for one's own artistic ideas, created through the active personal, artistic search.
At this phase of work one ought to remember that the full-singing legato (near to the bel canto) is possible to achieve just at the end of a relatively long preparative period. At the same time one will gradually obtain this particular kind of touch that really connects and unites all elements in the piano-technique. Essentially, the zone should act in the playing all the time as the easily detectable border of the sound's quality - which if crossed over, caused artistically very undesirable consequences. The overuse of physical power in playing produces the overloaded sound and, as the side effect - brakes the hands, which can - as the extremity - cause the physical pains. That is why the economizing of the sound's use, if realized on the artistic basis - gives a good yield in the physical energy use and favorably affects the hands. Therefore one must to persistently look for the proper (dynamically as well as emotionally) zone of the sound, that must be completely coherent to the imaginable IDEA, i.e. - the artistic content (image) of the music one must try to interpret creatively (not only - to play by heart ). Of course, the use of this method requires the close mental attention and permanent imaginative drive. Such psychological compulsion for constant intensity in the player's own attention to the very concrete elements of his/her own musical activity could be, in the didactic sense, as the aspect of incomparable great worth. The player starts then to hear and "seen" the all artistic reality of form he/she would like to shape in playing. Clouded and uncertain - obtains contours and backgrounds, changing itself into rememberable, accurate, i.e. - emotionally and intellectually clear.
Depending on artistic purpose of the form one wants to create, he/she must persistently detect (or: create) the patterns of quality of sound (and character) that are necessary in the concrete phase of work. Pianissimo or mezzo piano of a special timbre, technically seen, cannot be found in the same zone as a different one. It is definitely logical. Unfortunately, many piano players try and try to find all these possible timbres and colors at the same place, which is irrational and costs very much. This happens, mainly, due to an imprudent, raw-percussional manner of articulation in piano playing that constantly direct all movements of the fingers to the same awkward place on the same awkward manner. Naturally - this happens due to absence of any concrete sounding object that could be processed with the same genuine reality as a carpenter handles the piece of wood.
The use of the zone makes the whole piano sound-processing just as help as possible, because it brings to light nearly objective image of the existing sound (the very creative but professionally unskilled individuals usually listen rather to their own imaginative internal sounds than to the really existing sounding values). At this point I must affirm, sincerely saying, the incredibly great value of the Chopin's staccato and portato as the truly beneficial assistance in playing. The "normal" staccato and portato habitually divide a musical phrase into separately sounding details - meanwhile those both of the Chopin's kind really connect the sounding elements with the musical reality that lives under the external appearance of sound, giving it fluency and organizing its internal integrity. This "theorem", I suppose, cannot be proved in writing at all; as Chopin said by himself - "sound before word".
A character, mood, artistic thought and idea - come to light again as these very
important aspects of a subject, which should always be the leading points of our work. It
is because of such reason as below:
- There exists neither forte nor piano of a pure acoustic value in the truly artistic musical interpretation.
Unfortunately, this fact is the most frequently forgotten thing in the whole piano schooling. There lives in us rather too much deep faith in the possibility of making beautiful music through the pure acoustic motion of the sound, purely physically, without any personal, expressive, i.e. artistic intention. Or, through the pure mental activity, still without any objective instrumental skills. The purely psychological point of view in piano technical schooling is risky as well as the purely mechanistic one: in longer perspective they both are similarly ineffective due to absence of the professionally skilful hearing. These quasi-systems just likely regard the necessity of professionally excellent processing of the really existing sound as something practically inessential to the matter.
It is astonishing
It is astonishing that, seriously considering this problem, so few pianists are interested in Chopin's technique and do not try to assimilate and evolve it in their own practice. Perhaps it is because of the suspicion that Chopin's method is suitable only for studying of his own pieces. After my long run research I must assuredly say that such a suspicion is entirely wrong. All these things that were the main problems to Chopin in his pedagogy are still important today:
Besides, we should remember that he precisely knew how to skillfully deal with problems of that kind in his own teaching. Psychologically seen, the Chopin's piano pedagogic idea in our highly computed time is even much more actual and necessary than whenever earlier.
In our piano-art the Chopin's Method actually looks like a symbol of artistic honesty. As an artist who strongly needed order in every art, Chopin saw a great necessity to put his own views into a clear form. Wanting to help not only his own students in the art of playing, he started to write a book in which his system of the piano could be presented throughout.
Unfortunately, this book was never finished. In spite of it, really, there is still much more wisdom in those pages than on the "ten thousand" pages of highly sophisticated contents in other books dealing with the same problem. Many additional facts of the Chopin's teaching style one can find in various other sources, from works of G. Sand and F. Liszt, to contemporary scientific studies.
Chopin's dispassionate and unpretentious method really is the most efficient one. It
causes the strictly benevolent power's growth in the pianists' hands, giving the technical
potentiality to play faster, stronger, better, without greater instrumental problems. But
firstly it helps in the really artistic growth, opening the pianists' ears on the
fantastically colorful musical entirety, including jazz, pop and music for the electronic
keyboards. This all should mean - not only shows how to nicely play the Nocturnes
and Waltzes of "this poor Chopin", as probably are thinking all they who
personally have never had the opportunity to become closer acquainted with his truly
miraculous piano-pedagogic idea. In any case the keyboard furthermore exists in the piano
and the pianists' hands furthermore have to operating it efficiently. So, the pianists
need a method, a very competent one; the Chopin's touché with its all, artistic
and operational consequences looks as the very perspective compact solution alike.
An anecdote and the conclusion
Once I saw a very good cartoon: Albert Einstein is standing in a lecture-hall in front of the blackboard on which there are ten thousand numbers, and at the end, his famous formula. Einstein is evidently confused, in his hand he has a piece of paper that is full of numbers, too. The scientist says: "... if necessary, I'll give you my word of honor...!"
I hope, I do not must to give my word of honor! The zone, I mean, the facilitation that helps to understand the most important element of the Chopin's piano-technical idea, is surely the very practical piece of advice in professional piano schooling as a whole. It is my great honor to recommend it as the real answer to many, not only technical questions in piano playing. Every pianist could easily fix up such small detail (as the zone is) into his/her own piano praxis. Consequently, the zone can thoroughly improve a quality of his/her creative hearing and give at least the fully convincing manual agility. Practically connecting one's fantasy to one's fingers at last it could help to develop one's own artistic productivity, too.
Finally I would like to emphasize the role of a "double-track" control in practicing and playing the piano again. The pianists should examine the quality of cantabile even at shortest contact with the suitable zone of sound as well as they continually should examine the true degree of the ease in theirs hands. This particular zone is effortlessly achievable if one likes to find it, so, if one likes to be in touch with "the determinable level of the highest playing comfort" in the one's own hands. The high quality in articulation will be guaranteed by a leggiero that will give the pianists' fingers the sincerely benevolent power; parallel, the strong wish to play cantabile will efficiently eliminate the all tendencies to formality in piano playing. It is beyond doubt, that cantabile and leggiero will not cheapen or sentimentalize our playing. Cantabile and leggiero - watching by the pianists through the zone, will operate as the beneficial technical elements only, acting like the oil in an engine. In practicing the piano leggiero and cantabile ought to be applied not as the aesthetic values, but as such elements of work that greatly accelerate the whole process.
Well, it seems to be sure, that touché of that kind I am writing about (and that is achievable through the zone) is the main objective factor that distinguishes the truly refined piano technique of Chopin's mood from the commonly arranged piano playing. The zone helps to set up the proper connection between reality of fully material, objective, beautiful - but meaningless world of a sound, and the basic creative powers in ones vivid imagination, which must deal with material of that kind, give it form and fulfil it with meaning. That is why the zone as element of the whole system - is so important to me. Its impact on piano playing is holistic, strongly integrated one. Using the zone radically accelerates the piano technical schooling because this manner of work helps to eliminate all the physical and mental brakes that, maybe, have formerly been brought into one's playing habits, for example, due to almost mechanical, or, too narrow psychological understanding of our art. At last, the use of the zone means only: operating the piano sound in the professionally proper way.
I am afraid I can not to certify the verity of all my personal views and thoughts using the fully scientific procedure. As I have maintained earlier, I am rather an artist than a scientist. At time I have no possibility to organize the pedagogic experiments, that could create the scientifically clear image of all these things that practically exist in my pedagogic practice and firmly legitimate my solid conviction of the highest artistic and pedagogic efficiency of the Chopin's system. I personally use it for about two years with the greatest artistic and pedagogic satisfaction.
There could exist various paths to the Chopin's method of teaching the piano. The idea
of the zone was a telescope through which I saw the wisdom of that formula. At
last, the zone acts in my personal piano teaching and playing only as the
operational support that helps to install the Chopin's advice into practice. Yes, it helps
to achieve the technique that he has personally taught and that gives the players a
brilliant, thoughtful and truly singing piano sound as well as gives them a chance to gain
the great enjoyment from playing.
I have discovered the Chopin's Method in perspective of the zone and have seen
it in the absolutely new and bright perspective. That fact totally transformed my artistic
life. Nowadays it is the main source of my great personal optimism in the piano pedagogic
field. I am profoundly convinced that a support of that kind could be very beneficial to
many other pianists in the search for mastery in teaching and playing the piano.
W. Stefan Kutrzeba