Ben Laude: Ask Me Anything about Piano Technique!

We are kicking off this new Community feature with our own Ben Laude!  You know him as an outstanding pianist and pedagogue, and, of course, as Head of Piano here at tonebase, where he has produced and appeared in countless video lessons and interviews with the many dozens of world class pianists on the Artist Roster!

As he'll be the first to tell you, Ben was no prodigy; and without proper technical training, he had to solve his physical problems at the instrument the hard way. A long-time student of piano technique, Ben has researched a variety of technical schools of thought developed over the past century and is always experimenting with them in practice.

For tonebase, he has collaborated on video courses with technique specialists from Penelope Roskell to Seymour Bernstein, and is currently in the process of releasing a multi-part video series on how to practice the Chopin Etudes with Marina Lomazov. This past spring, he released a series of master class sessions on the Taubman Approach with Golandsky Institute co-founder Robert Durso, and will be recording with Edna Golandsky herself this fall.

How to Participate

  • Ask your questions right here until September 2nd!
  • Ben will answer questions from September 5th - 9th!
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    • Ben LaudeTeam
    • Head of Piano @ tonebase
    • Ben_Laude
    • 3 wk ago
    • Reported - view

    Hello everyone! I've been enjoying answering your questions. I have just a few more and then some videos to make, but I WILL get to everyone. It's just that it might take until Saturday to finish up.

    I also highly recommend reading/watching my responses to other questions besides your own, because many of the things I'm discusses can apply to other problems.

    Like 2
    • Ben Laude Thank you for all your work. There is a wealth of knowledge and guidance in there. And yes, I am closely studying your answers to all questions! You’re going into such depth and putting in so much time.

      Thanks again. 

      Like 2
    • Ben Laude I also commend you for what you are doing here. I am working through each of your answers, too, and am learning so much. Merely watching your hands is helpful, but your articulate and clear explanations enhance the visuals, making it seem possible to achieve. 

      Like 2
  • Hi Ben!

    How do you structure your daily practice, what do you cover in technique?

    Thank you!

    oksana

    Like 4
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Oksana Reedy Practice routine! Oh boy... 😉
      I no longer have a set routine, since my work for tonebase preoccupies me during the day and I just practice freely during breaks and in the evening. These days I'm motivated by future performances or lessons I'll give (or the prospect thereof), and it's pleasurable to just open a score of whatever I'm hoping to play and start putting it together in my hands at a slow pace.

      Furthermore, back when I did have more time to focus on practicing, I was scattered and inconsistent, and struggled with precisely the "structure" you're wondering about.

      I'm cursed with being a good sight reader (which I developed at an early age at the expense of developing my ear), and I'm also a perfectionist with a short attention span. These don't add up to being a diligent practice. So much of my "practice" time over the years has been spent unwisely. I'll sight read a piece I'm trying to learn up until the point that it becomes too hard. Then I'll quit in frustration and go do something else.

      So maybe it would be most productive for tell you about what I learned from years of practicing badly:

      1. It's not about how long you practice, it's about what you're focused on. Better to spend 20 minutes deeply engrossed in a single aspect of your mechanics, or a single difficult passage or exercise – paying attention to the sensations and sounds you're experiencing and tinkering with them – than to spend 2 hours running your fingers over the same exercise or passage over and over again waiting for it to "stick." It will eventually stick, but it won't stick well, and when it inevitably falls off, it leaves a residue that's hard to remove. Whereas a short spurt of practice that is more "scientific," observing and testing different strategies for building the proper mechanics to carry out a given musical task, will start activating the parts of your brain that will ultimately solve these problems.

      2. Try to get into the flow state (aka, find surmountable challenges). If you've heard of "flow," you know it's that psychological phenomenon that we often call "being in the zone." In order to enter the flow state when practicing a given activity, you need to arrange your conditions properly. More than finding a quiet room with minimal distractions or leaving your phone in the other room (these are good ideas too), the flow state is achieved by engaging in a task that is just slightly too hard for you, so there's always a problem you're actively making progress in solving. If a task is too easy, we get bored. If it's too hard, we give up. So you need to find that sweet spot, and when you do, time flies and you forget to eat and it's one of the most rewarding feelings a human can have. (You might even end up practicing effectively for two or more hours, although it felt like 20 minutes.) What does this mean at the piano? It means that, when you're approaching practicing, you have to identify honestly what tasks you're good at and what you're not good at, and aim in between so that you're working on things that you can make tangible progress on in a given session. And, you'll need to be ready to revise and recalibrate, the moment something feels too easy or too hard. Furthermore, you need to identify the right kinds of problems to be solving. It's not enough to say "I can play this Etude at 84 BPM but not 92 BPM, so in this session I'll work to get it to 92." You need to ask what is it that happens between those tempi that is causing your failure. So, the task that's a bit too hard isn't "playing faster" in the abstract, but maybe it's the speed and control with which you cross your thumb under, or the fact that your second and third fingers stiffen up at speed, etc. This gets back to #1 – you need to always be looking for the possible root causes of a given inability. And all of this can happen while in the flow state! The beauty of it is, the very activity of searching for the right problem to work on is itself a challenging task that can keep you in the zone. Then, once you've identified a problem, isolate it and see what your hands are capable of right now. You'll often realize that you can swiftly bring your thumb under with ease and dexterity when played in isolation. So, what is preventing you from achieving this in context? Then you can add back in elements and try it again until you realize, "oh, it's when I add the other hand that the problem occurs, so this is really an issue of coordination and hand independent," or "oh, when I start a measure before I suddenly can't get this right, so there's a problem with my preparation and anticipation of this cross under", etc.

      3. Alternate between physical, visual, aural, and mental practice – then selectively combine them. When we practice, we're always engaged in these three domains whether we're aware of it or not. But we tend to subordinate aural and mental work to the physical/visual work of practicing, since the latter is the most obvious barrier to improving at the piano. Ironically, this over-focus on the physical actually prevents meaningful physical progress from happening, since our coordinated motions at the piano are guided by the feedback from our other senses, and all of these are headquartered in the brain. Since we're playing music, the aural domain should ultimately triumph over the physical/visual, but it's often the other way around. Try singing the lines of the music you're practicing, whether short motives or longer melodies, bassline, inner voices, or even longer-range structural lines (see my Schenker sessions with Eric Wen for inspiration). This can be done away from the piano once you have the correct pitch in your ear, and it's very fruitful to study your score while trying to sing, even if just humming under your breath, or evening "audiating" the music internally. This segues to the "mental" practice, as this kind of aurally-driven score study away from the piano allows you to build a piece in your mind, passage by passage. It stimulates your imagination and helps you develop a conception of how you'd like your performance to sound. And it puts in place a set of goals that you can carry with you back to the piano. It might like a pointless exercise, but try taking a difficult passage slowly in one hand while singing the prominent lines of the other. Or, play with both hands while singing one of the inner voices, and consciously connect your resonant voice with the resonance of the piano. This helps reinforce your understanding of the music to the point that the physical works start becoming easier, because these other sensory and cognitive domains are now "talking to" your kinesthetic system, helping you more efficiently achieve certain tasks. (Add to this

      4. Let your routine find you. There's no one magic formula for practicing. Everyone needs to figure out what routine works for them. If you start setting aside 20 minutes to work on the above three, you'll start realizing how you work best. Maybe you enter the flow state and get a lot of productive work done, and it ends up lasting an hour or two. And that becomes your routine (pick a problem, get engrossed in it, and come out the other side having accomplished something). Maybe you work in 20-30 minute chunks, either in succession or spread throughout the day, alternating between mechanics and score study. Maybe you're like me and never find a real routine, but get obsessed enough by the problems that you end up just thinking about them all the time, to the point that you're driven to solve them at odd hours of night and through a very circuitous process of trial and error lasting decades (I don't recommend that, but it ultimately worked for me).

      I hope this is helpful, and best of luck to you!

      Like 7
    • Ben Laude 

      Thank you so much , Ben, for such a detailed answer! I really appreciate all guidance you provide on tone base!💕

      Like 1
  • Hi Ben! What are the pieces during your pianistic journey that have been the most revealing to you about what true piano technique and sound production look like, and have had the biggest impact on your own technique?

    Like 2
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Niraj Suresh Good question! There's really three pieces that were the most important, all from the last 10 years – when the most meaningful breakthroughs occurred – but I'll start with some honorable mentions from when I was younger.

       

      Honorable Mentions

      • Mozart Rondo in D major, K. 485. I somehow never played Mozart until I was 14, when I got a new teacher and he started correcting lots of glaring issues with my technique (I played with flat fingers and didn't know how to use weight). He showed me how to practice with different attacks, and use rotation, both in oscillating figures like Alberti basses and trills (single rotations), but also in scales (what's called the "double rotation" in Taubman terminology)
      • Saint-Saens 2nd Concerto, 1st Mvt. I had a big leap forward between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, and this piece was my new benchmark for virtuosity. It was an obstacle course of vital techniques – brilliant arpeggios, double octaves, complicated runs, double notes, voicing, and all sorts of challenges in balancing voices, playing lyrically and rhetorically. Nevertheless, I can't count this as a main breakthrough piece for sound production, because I continued to play with stiff shoulders and therefore I still forced my sound. In fact, when I played it at the state concerto contest when I was 15 – I didn't place, and I remember distinctly that a girl much smaller than me got 2nd prize playing Grieg, and everyone talked about what a huge sound she had.
      • Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 4. This Etude seemed impossible to me when my teacher at Rice University gave it to me in the first semester of my freshman year. But, I remember learning it so slowly and methodically, and applying a series of different attacks (especially double-attacks) to help me gain control and ultimately build speed. I got to the point that I was able to play it all the way through at tempo, one time, with virtually no mistakes, for an audience of one person (I had a witness!). I never performed it after that.
      • Scriabin Etude Op. 8 No. 12. I learned this one my junior year of college for the same reason most pianists learn it: I saw that video of Horowitz playing it from 1968 and it blew my mind. Here's another piece I thought was impossible, especially the left hand jumps and the fast right hand octaves. But with patience and methodical practice, I ended up working it up to the point that it actually felt easy(ish).

      The real breakthroughs

      All the real breakthroughs happened between my mid-20s and early 30s. By "real" I mean that I finally unlocked the underlying issues that were causing me strain and injury (I developed scapular dyskinesis at the end of college, and have been working through its after effects ever since).

      • Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 2. Okay, so I never really learned this piece. This etude is for other people to play, not me. While I think I could learn it decently up to speed, and make it all the way through without my arms falling off, I no longer feel the desire to. But, I used this piece to make one of the biggest technical breakthroughs of my life. When I was 24 or 25 I asked Jerome Lowenthal (one of my teachers at Juilliard) to give me some technical advice to help me overcome the shoulder problems I had been having. I had never asked him before, because he's not known as a teacher of technique (he always said that his students "don't have technical problems, they have musical problems"). And yet he ended up giving me the best advice of my life. He taught me to do the following:
        "take this Etude, Op. 10 no. 2, and practice just the right hand at an extremely slow tempo, playing the top line (fingers 3-4-5) with an exaggerated feeling of weight in the tips, like heavy sandbags, while keeping everything behind it from your hand to your torso absolutely dis-engaged: so, using minimal stabilizing muscles to balance your wrist and letting the shoulder hang totally freely from a relaxed shoulder. Importantly, only the playing finger should feel the weight planted in the key bed, so the non-playing fingers should also be disengaged. Transfer the weight between fingers, each one feeling like it's supporting the entire free weight of your hanging arm all the way to the other attach point at your shoulder. Then, once if you've achieve this feeling, add the chords in the thumb and 2nd fingers, but play them with exceeding lightness – still feel engaged in the finger tips at the moment you strike them, but with less pressure, and keep the attack in the first escapement of the keys, so if feels like you just lightly grab/stroke the keys. The resulting sensation is one of balancing entirely into the 3rd, 4th, or 5th fingers, which feel like they're supporting 100% of your weight (of course, your stabilizing forearm muscles are absorbing some of this just to stay upright, so don't take this too literally). This will teach you how to truly balance your body into your hands and fingers, while at the same time achieving finger independence, which is equally crucial.
        I never made it past the first page, maybe not even past the first measure. And I never played it faster than Largissimo. I also took my left hand and rested it on my right shoulder, just to ensure that my mechanism was utterly disengaged from the top down. I started applying this technique to different passage work, including my left hand of course, and generally just working one hand at a time while the other monitored the mechanism, making sure it was unified and channeling all of the force of my body weight into the keys. When you stop exaggerating the "sand bag" sensation in the finger tips, and return to a more normal distribution of weight, it's amazing how much sound I was able to create with a feeling of total freedom in all kinds of passage work.
      • Beethoven 4th Concerto
        This was always my favorite concerto, and I finally learned it for a competition in 2011, right around the time I had started practicing Chopin Op 10/2 the way I just described. I resurrected the piece for performances with orchestra again in 2013 and 2019, and each time was a pretty big milestone. In 2013, I discovered this principle of "playing every note." That probably sounds stupid, so let me try to explain: much of our piano practice leads us to internalize movements that we apply generally over groups of notes. We have to do this, obviously, since it's absurd to divide up every piece into as many movements as there are notes. But often certain notes end up feeling more secure than others within a given movement, and we try to "force" the more difficult notes into a larger movement, which can sound mechanical. The real goal is to control every note, and I finally figured this out with the help of a conductor friend I was working with on this piece, and whom I would hang out with every night sitting around the piano trying to make it sound awesome. He noticed with certain runs I would skim the surface of several notes, rather than grabbing ahold of every single one of them and molding the line consciously and expressively. This feedback helped me start to listen for every note, and take care of every note, and correlating my expressive intentions with the physical sensation of balancing into every note. The effect is actually this really cool feeling of playing fast but feeling like you're playing slowly, because you account for every note within each gesture and they all feel grounded and stable, and yet the line is moving fast. You realize how much time you actually have within each larger movement to scamper across every key that's grouped in that movement or hand position. I'm not sure if that makes sense – I've never really tried to articulate this – but it's a really powerful sensation when you can get there. And it's basically a prerequisite to playing anything truly virtuosic with ease. So, when I brought the piece back in 2019, I was amazed first at how quickly it came to me (in part thanks to what I learned from studying Bach, see below). Every challenging passage I immediately divided into gestures of various sizes that each contained precise balancing acts that made it feel slow and easy and precise, even when the passages was rapid. I gave a performance with more control and freedom than I'd ever experienced on stage.
      • Bach Goldberg Variations
        Another piece I thought was impossible when I first looked at the score – both the hand-crossing variations and some of the canons. I didn't know how to achieve the hand and finger independence to control multiple lines of counterpoint flowing between the hands. And it just didn't look like any other Bach piece I had played – it's more dazzling than anything in the Well-Tempered Clavier or the Suites. I discovered that the solution to how to gain the finger and hand independence to play the Goldbergs was to start practicing the Goldbergs! I recommend anyone start working on a canon, like Variation 3 or 6, slowly, just to start cultivating the right sensations to actually separate the voices and have them both sound at the same time, but as if played by different people. The solution has to do with balancing, and relates back to the Chopin Op 10/2 work I had done. I did something similar here: at a slow tempo, balancing my weight into a given voice while lightly tapping the notes of the other voice, and then reversing it. You learn quickly that the act of balancing on a given finger itself creates the freedom in the other fingers to perform their own lesser balancing acts that end up just stabilizing the hand – as if standing on two legs, or sometimes three legs like a tripod. It's akin to standing on two legs, then shifting your weight to one foot and balancing on it – now the other foot is free, and you can tap it on the ground too, and do little dance steps with it, and in doing so you're actually helping to stabilize yourself (since you're no longer only on one foot). It's the same principle of weight distribution as is used in voicing a chord, but spread out among contrapuntal lines rather than in a vertical harmony. The good thing about the Goldbergs is all the variations are in binary form, and you can hypnotize yourself into just repeating a section over and over again, distributing your weight differently each time among the different voices. So, I always found myself practicing these for hours without noticing the time passing.
      • Reich Piano Phase (solo)
        At the same time I was first learning the Goldbergs (2013-2014), I was working with a ballet troupe that asked me to learn Steven Reich's Piano Phase by myself. Again, I said it was impossible, and only dumb dancers who aren't pianists would come up with the idea. This is a piece for two pianos, and two pianists, facing each other, both playing the same recurring pattern in the same treble register, but one of them ever-so-slightly accelerating so you phase your way through different rhythmic and color patterns and have the impression of a gradual evolution in sound. The pattern is easy enough to learn with a single hand that, technically, a solo pianist could play it on two pianos, sitting in between them and having them splayed like wings on either side. But the feat of moving one hand slightly faster than the other without disturbing the original pulse just seemed like too complicated to coordinate. Well, I found a video of somebody pulling this off, so I realized it could be done, and once I started practicing it, I made some discoveries about how to play in two tempi at the same time. It turns out that working on this as a solo piece was extremely beneficial to developing hand independence, and also training the mind to contribute to achieving that independence. I'd practice on a single keyboard in different registers, only because I didn't have two keyboard lined up to practice on all the time. But the effect is similar (although not as powerful, since the patterns aren't being played in the same octave). I decided that my left hand would remain stable while I pushed my right hand forward. What was difficult was how close one note of the pattern was to the next, and how long it was supposed to take to move one of the lines forward (basically about a minute for the right hand to inch forward a single 16th so the second note of the pattern in the RH synced with the first note of the pattern in the LH). So, my trick was to feel the cycle of the 12-note pattern, and really get into a hypnotic groove (not unlike the groove I found myself in playing the Goldbergs, although on a longer cycle). Then, rather than thinking of how close the next note was, I just felt the continued return to the downbeat in the left hand like clockwork while nudging forward my right, make sure my right hand downbeat was just ever-so-slightly out of sync, ahead of the left but not yet reaching the point that the second note synced with the first). Then I would just "live" inside this out of sync space, enjoying the weird discord it was making. To do this, you have to obey all the principles I was discussed before: elbows hanging totally freely from the shoulders, and distributing weight forward into the fingertips with a balanced forearm and wrist. If you engage at the shoulders at all (tempting with tricky contrapuntal passage and contrary simultaneous actions like this one) then you'll immediately fail, so the first order of business is just sitting there playing the hands in sync without any participation from the upper arm and shoulder besides to channel body weight downward. Then, mentally, you have to "be above it all" and live in that control tower above the keyboard, observing what's taking place in front of you, and sending simple signals to the right hand to move forward ever so slightly, while keeping track of the next sync point in the pattern. Practicing this and the Goldbergs at the same time was a revelation, and it's a combination I recommend to any pianist who has developed the foundation for it!
      • Bach Prelude and Fugue Bb Minor, Book II
        I'm including this because, again, it's a piece I thought was impossible, but then I applied strategies to learning it that proved highly effective. You might not know this Fugue, but it's not because it isn't an amazing piece. It's because it's probably the hardest fugue of all 48 when played at a moderate or fast tempo (many pianists just play it slowly, which I find to be against the character of the subject). I first heard Gould play it in a video interview with Bruno Monsaingeon and was astounded. It's unbelievable what Bach achieves dramatically and contrapuntally in this piece, and part of that achievement is in how he distributes the four voices of the fugue between the two hands. Having made the discoveries I made before, I was confident I had developed the finger and hand independence to play the piece, but I was not confident I could ever memorize it. This is the most difficult music to memorize, I think, besides 20th-21st century music that employs complex non-tonal languages. So I applied ear training tools borrowed from Nadia Boulanger's practical solfege methods – singing one lines while playing another – and carried it to an extreme. I was preparing to play this in the 2018 Bach Competition, and I had only six months to learn this and several other pieces. So I had to move quickly. First, I methodically sang through every voice of the fugue in both solfege and scale degrees while slowly playing along in unison. While doing that, I worked out some fingerings and distributions. Then I created a spreadsheet with measure ranges in the columns and every combination of singing and playing in the rows. So, if there are Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass voices in this fugue, then there are 12:
        - Sing soprano, play alto
        - Sing soprano, play tenor
        - Sing soprano, play bass
        - Sing alto, play soprano
        - Sing alto, play tenor
        - Sing alto, play bass
        - Sing tenor, play soprano
        - Sing tenor, play alto
        - Sing tenor, play bass
        - Sing bass, play soprano
        - Sing bass, play alto
        - Sing bass, play tenor
        I'd do this with both solfege and scale degrees, painfully slowly, through every passage in the piece (so, it was actually 24 different tasks). It took several hours a day for several days. But then, I wasn't done. I started combining voices between hands, but still leaving one out and singing the other:
        - Sing soprano, play alto and tenor
        - Sing soprano, play alto and bass
        - Sing soprano, play tenor and bass
        And so on, playing two and singing one. There are 12 of those, so that's 24 more different tasks. The hardest part is being able to preserve your fingering when removing one of the voices, especially as that voice travels between hands. I promise I wasn't doing this perfectly, and there were plenty of road blocks along the way. But the exercise was crazy beneficial nonetheless.
        But I'm still not done! Finally, I would play three voices while singing the one I left out. There are four of those:
        - Sing soprano, play alto, tenor, and bass
        - Sing alto, play soprano, tenor, and bass
        - Sing tenor, play soprano, alto, and bass
        - Sing bass, play soprano, alto, and tenor.
        That's 4x2 more. By this point, I had already so deeply internalized the different lines both independently and in combination with every other voice, that I was effectively doing the exercise from memory.
        And by the end, I had internalized the piece so deeply that I never had a memory slip in any performance I ever gave of the piece. Every next note of every voices was just so obvious to me, I could never forget. Not to mention, I was capable of playing it at a brisk tempo, because all of this work was also training my hand independence.
        I also played it maybe a bit too mechanically, so I don't fully recommend this method. But, I do highly recommend incorporating it into practice as a targeted tool.
      Like 5
  • Hi Ben,

     

    Thanks for being there. Would you kindly address the final cadenza to the Scriabin Nocturne for  the Left Hand, specifically the arpeggios and trills while negotiating a gradual diminuendo to the upper region of the keyboard? Thank you, John Orlando

    Like 1
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Hi John - I'm going to make video about this later today. Stay tuned.

      Like
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      John I hope this helps! (One thing I forgot to mention in the video: I'm using soft pedal the whole time.)

      Like
    • Ben Laude 

      Hi Ben,

       

      Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the time, energy and so many ideas that you have invested for my benefit.  I shall go to work on this and share the results. Thank you again, John O

      Incidentally, I play this piece on September 24, after I play the B Flat Sonata and 3rd Ballade of Chopin.  

      Like
  • Chopin Ballade No. 3, mm. 179-183: Your solution to landing solidly on the sequence of octaves (B to B. Thanks, JO

    Like 1
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      John (this one too)

      Like
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      John  Hi John - thanks for your patience. I've had a lot on my plate and will be getting to this ASAP this week. I'm learning this exact passage to film with Edna Golandsky in November - I looked at it last night and I think I've got some good ideas for you.

      Like
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 2 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      John Thanks again for your patience! Here's a video on that spot in the Ballade.

      Like
  • Hi Ben, please can you give some advice on how to play these bars from Reflets dans l'eau with the conflicting rhythms between hands: 

    In this one, is the answer to play the groups of 13 as eg 4/3/3/3 per 16th note? 

    How do you manage the 3 against 8 patterns in this bar? 

    This is one of my dream pieces and I am returning to playing again after having learnt most of it about 20 years ago but have lost my original music and cannot remember how I approached it (I am 65 so not surprisingly memory is a bit shaky!) Any help is much appreciated! Many thanks, Ian

    Like 2
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Ian Gilchrist If you want to sound fluid in these passages, the solution has to do with developing more hand independence - and not doing polyrhythm math. In both examples you have to let the arpeggiated hand go, thinking neither of how many notes are contained within it nor where it lines up with the melodic hand. I recommend only focusing on the extremities of the arpeggios - the top and bottom notes - because they're on strong beats and are in sync with the melodic hand. Practice the run/arpeggio separately until it feels more or less automatic, then get used to how long it take you to get from top to bottom, or bottom to top. Feel that span of time filled in by and ascending or descending run as run large "beat," and just observe the hand that's playing quickly as if you're not even doing it. That's part of developing virtuosity in these passages - making the arpeggio so comfortable that you don't really have to focus on it and can just feel the contour of the tune. If you're really focused on nailing the arpeggio, you're likely applying tension in the arpeggiated hand that is restricting the freedom of the melodic hand. They must be totally independent in these passages, as if there are two musicians in the room - a harpist maybe, and woodwind soloist (or whole violin section in the second example). Then you, Ian, can sit back and admire these musicians doing their thing, and your role is that of a conductor: stand above it all and just make sure the musicians are coordinated in landing together on the bigger beats in each bar.

      This means you need to practice with the goal of hand independence. Easier said than done! And, it won't happen every night. But, it's also the kind of thing you can practice away from the piano.

      I'll make a video later today to show you a few tricks that have helped me. Also, you may want to read the long thing I wrote to Niraj Suresh above about the pieces that really helped me develop hand and finger independence. Not that you should start practicing Bach and Reich, per se, but I describe the sensation of what it feels like to start doing more than one thing simultaneously with your hands or within the same hand.

      Like 1
    • Ben Laude Thanks so much for your advice Ben, this is really helpful!

      Like
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 2 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Ian Gilchrist Thanks again for your patience! Here's a video on those passages in the Debussy.

      Like
    • Ben Laude Thanks so much for this video Ben, it's amazing to get such a detailed personalised reply like this, it's incredibly helpful, along with your reply to Trevor about this passage which I have also learnt a lot from. Actually learning so much from ALL your replies!

      Like
  • Hi! How do you know when to rotate your wrists clockwise or counterclockwise? Thanks!

    Like 2
      • Ben LaudeTeam
      • Head of Piano @ tonebase
      • Ben_Laude
      • 3 wk ago
      • Reported - view

      Jeanette Berntson Good question. For the record, if we're following the Taubman approach, the conscious act of rotating one direction or the other should happen only in practice. These movements then get minimized and turn into unconscious reflexes that support your agile movements. Keep that in mind as I describe the movements.

      Let's start by going over the different directions and types of rotation. The forearm can rotate the wrist/hand as you say either clockwise or counterclockwise. For each hand, that means:

      1. Clockwise (LH: towards the thumb, RH: towards the pinky)
      2. Counterclockwise (LH: towards the pinky, RH: towards the thumb)

      Here's where it gets a little tricky, but really not that tricky. In many instance, you have to rotate both clockwise and counterclockwise to successfully perform the movement for the simple reason that you have to prepare the hand to rotate in the direction of attack which means you need to begin by rotation in the opposite direction so that you can swing back towards your target. This is simple to understand if you just compare to something like throwing a ball: you have to bring your arm and hand backwards in order to then throw forwards. Or, just think of a catapult.

      What I just described is not true of every instance of rotation. Rotating in two direction to play one note is called a "double rotation" in Taubman speak. There are two types of rotation: single and double. Once you understand this, I think the question of which direction to rotate in a given figuration will start answering itself.

      1. Single rotations are used when the hand is already rotated away from the target key, so all that needs to happen is a swing back towards the key. Think of what is happening in a successful trill, tremolo, or broken octave: each rotation in one direction automatically prepares the hand to rotate back in the other direction once the key is struck.
      2. Double rotations are used, for example, whenever you need to start a scale or arpeggio from a neutral hand position. You must rotate away from the starting key first in order to then swing back down and strike it. Seymour Bernstein refers to this as a "swing stroke," (see 7:00 here) and when he demonstrates it (for example in his E minor Prelude lesson), it looks more like he's just lifting and dropping his hand. That's sometimes what it feels like, but underlying this movement is often a slight double rotation. In practice you should exaggerate the movement so you can really feel your mechanics in action.

      You may have watched Bob Durso's lesson on rotation, but you might revisit it in light of this conversation. He discussed single and double rotation (and preparatory motions) starting at 27:30.

      Okay so this doesn't really answer your question yet, because even knowing all this, it can be hard to figure out if a note calls for a single or double rotation, especially when the hand is crossing between different positions in fast runs.

      I'll post a video here about this later, but for now you might want to just practice an ascending C major scale using this larger single and double rotation movements, because it's not that obvious but once you understand the mechanics you'll probably be able to apply it to many different passages.

      So, just taking the right hand (I give the fingering in parentheses):

      • C (1) - double rotation, because you have to begin the scale by swinging the thumb away from C (the pinky is your axis of rotation) so you can then swing back down with the thumb.
      • D (2) - single rotation. Why? Because the follow through of the double rotation movement used to play the C had now automatically put your 2nd finger in position to swing back in the other direction to the D.
      • E (3) - double rotation. Why? Because when you finish playing D coming from C, you now must continue to ascend on the keyboard, which means the way you rotated the hand to play the D (clockwise) is the same direction you need to swing to play the E. But you can't now, unless you rotate backwards again, ever so briefly, so you can then swing back down to E.
      • F (1, thumb under) - single rotation. This is where things might seem confusing. Is crossing the thumb under really just a single rotation? Yes it is, and this is actually the "secret" solution to thumb crossings (when ascending in the right hand, or descending in the left) that students are often not taught. Once you finish the double rotation to play the E, notice how your hand naturally wants to follow through and end up in a place where the thumb has swung slightly under the 2nd and 3rd fingers, ready to swing back downwards. Well, it's as simple as that! It's just that you need to swing it back down to the F on the other side of the E. So long as you make sure your thumb isn't glued in position over the C, but has been calmly following along with your hand as you ascend the scale, then it should feel very comfortable to complete a single rotation back down onto the thumb. This brings you hand in one fell swoop to the next position, starting on F. The beauty of this rotational movement, is that it shouldn't even feel like you're "crossing under," just that you're following the most efficient direction of rotation and letting gravity take care of the rest.
      • G (2) – single rotation, for the same reason as the D. After playing the thumb on F, your follow through has already put you in position to swing in a single direction back clockwise to the G.
      • A (3), B (4), and C (5) - double rotations, for the same reason as the E. The thumb is now out of the picture and your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers are being played in order in an ascending direction. So there's no way to avoid the double rotation. If you were to continue the scale, that's a different story. Then you'd play the C with 1, and it would be a single rotation for the same reason as the F.

      For the left hand descending from C to C, all the rotations listed here are the same, since the hands are mirrored. When coming back down with the right, or up with the left, it's basically reversed (except for the starting movement, which is always a double). So, RH down or LH up would be: double (5), single (4), double (3), double (2), double (1), single (3 - crossover), single (2), double (1).

      Let me reiterate that these movements are exaggerated in practice in order to gain the reflexes to perform the series of balancing acts across the C scale as efficiently as possible, so you can play at any speed (or articulation) with control. That's true of any rotational practice. The movements should be "invisible" and embedded in your mechanism once you're actually playing/performing at speed.

      The principles I go over here generalize to any ascending/descending pattern, but obviously music gets complicated and it's not always so obvious. Let me know if there are any specific passages you're wondering about.

      Like 4
    • Ben Laude Thank you for this thorough reply! It gives me a lot to work on and ponder. I haven't thought about Taubman scales lately, let alone how to apply them to repertoire. This is helpful. Thank you!

      Like
    • Roy
    • Royhj
    • 1 mth ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi Ben,
    Thank you for putting this feature up.

    I'm struggling with building my technique in a progressive manner (difficulty/importance-wise).
    There are so many great tips and insight on how to improve my technique and musicality that I find it hard to focus on one thing for a enough time before moving on.

    As a beginner, I know for example, that playing scales and working on my left-hand is probably more important than my finger independence while playing bach, but I'm having a hard time prioritizing and making a plan and measurable goals so I know when to move on.

    Would really appreciate help with how to make a progressive practice plan.

    Like 5
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