Someone wise once said, that “the pianist’s job is 50% that of a coal miner and 50% that of a philosopher”. Indeed, to conquer the physical challenges of playing, to convey the expressive meaning of music and to perfect the refined control of the most minute differences in tone color and quality, the pianist’s hands must be exceptionally strong and the mind agile. The muscles of each finger must be equally strong, to withstand both the physical force creating torrents of sound as well as the smallest electrical signals that convey the smallest dynamic and articulation changes. If the hands are not strong, then the “coal miner’s” job becomes unbearable – the hands are not equipped to become the perfect conduits of the artist’s intentions. Just as the prima ballerina’s legs must be perfectly conditioned to allow her to float on stage as the Swan, the pianist’s fingers must have the steely power to convey the most piercing pianissimo to the furthest row at the back of the concert hall.
At the same time, the pianist must be able to conceive the music in their mind, to infuse life energy into the musical patterns found in the score, and create sound filled with expression and meaning. While conceptualizing sound is a highly intellectual process, its defining premise is quite simple. Just like our speech is defined by and punctuated by how quickly or slowly we speak, by the upwards and downwards inflection of our voice as well as the consonants that shape our vowels, so do the rhythmic groups create a pulse that defines sound, because in the end, music is sound that happens in time.
So how does one develop the steely fingers? The answer is very simple – the same way an athlete develops their speed and stamina – by exercising with diligence and persistence. By practicing scales, exercises and etudes – daily, with discipline and accuracy, to strengthen individual finger muscles, to build hand endurance, flexibility and ability to relax when not engaged. How does one learn to create engaging and convincing interpretations? By learning to understand theoretical construction of music, to understand phrase structure and large-form construction, and to develop one’s ability to conceive sound before engaging with the instrument itself.
The overarching element that gives us the ultimate artistic control – is our ability to feel and to impose the pulse inherent in the music we are playing, creating an invisible thread that binds the sounds together into coherent musical thoughts. Moreover, ability to maintain consistent awareness and command of the musical pulse, shows remarkable refinement of physical coordination and overall accuracy of performance. Why? Because it is this systematic awareness of musical time, that allows the mind to organize and therefore to understand the most complex musical patterns, while at the same time, helping create the synchronized coordinated movements of fingers and hands.
The next question the reader will ask – did I have to learn all of this when I was still in kindergarten? Is it still possible to master the concepts even if I no longer write with crayons, and read books that don’t include any pictures? My answer is YES. Great physical technical proficiency and virtuosity require accumulated practice over prolonged amount of time. However, Everyone who possesses rudimentary knowledge of music theory and piano, can reach excellent technical and musical proficiency with diligent and conscientious daily practice described above. While the level of potential proficiency is very individual, everyone can learn and grow. As long as you are willing to put in the work, I promise I can help you reach your absolute best.
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