george kochevitsky

Visualisation for Performance Anxiety

How often have we heard it said after a performance that didn’t quite hit the mark: “But I can play it perfectly well at home”? When we play for ourselves in the comfort of our home space or in an institutional practice room, there is nobody there to witness our performance or to judge it. There are no obvious consequences of making a mistake, or even stopping to make a correction or two. The experience of playing for ourselves is so vastly different from performing in front of others, all sorts of unforeseen factors come into the picture. What felt easy and natural when we were alone might suddenly become treacherous and untrustworthy when in the presence of others. And it doesn’t seem to matter much whether the audience is knowledgeable about music or not. Even professional pianists are rarely completely happy with their performance – there is always something you wish you could have done better. Survey – Performance Anxiety Among Pianists If we have done our work in the practice room, surely we have earned the right to walk onto the stage and allow it all to happen? If only it were that simple. The trick is to trust ourselves, to let go of fear or self-consciousness and fully embrace the occasion, but many players suffer from performance anxiety. The range of anxiety can vary from mild (where adrenaline can be a positive influence) to severe (where performance is compromised or is not even possible). To help me write Part 4 of Practising the Piano, I conducted an informal survey Performance Anxiety Among Pianists. I found that around 43% of pianists admitted that performance anxiety was a real problem, with nearly 53% who answered […]

Controlling Tone

There has been a heated discussion this week on a Facebook piano pedagogy page concerning how we affect tone quality at the piano. This argument is nothing new – it has been going on for very many years and has never been settled to my satisfaction. It probably never will. Do we pianists need to know that much about the science behind how sound is produced in order to achieve artistic results? We all know that the faster we put the key down, the louder the sound but is the way we send the key down a factor in this (using this type of movement or that), or is it simply a matter of controlling the speed of the one key in relation to the speed of the next key in a melodic line, or a stream of chords? Most people seem to agree that applying this test to one note in isolation is meaningless (since music is not made with a single sound) but there are very many differing and contradictory views on what we need to do to control tone and other aspects of technique. It’s a minefield, and much as I might disagree with others they will disagree with me. If you want to read the post that sparked last week’s debate here is the link to Shirley Kirsten’s blog, Journal of a Piano teacher from New York to California.  I firmly believe the way we move at the piano is reflected in the sound. If I use angular, jerky movements I will create angular, jerky sounds. If I hit the keyboard I will produce ugly, percussive sounds. Individuated finger movements produce very articulated, non-legato sounds (the equivalent of a wind player putting a “t” tonguing on […]

Some Useful Books

It’s that festive time of year, and you may want to do a little book shopping. Here is a selection of books on piano playing that are at the top of my list, presented here in no particular order. I have, inevitably, missed out many others – perhaps I can save those for another post! The Art of Piano Playing – Heinrich Neuhaus If you like the idea of tracing your pianistic lineage (which I don’t actually), Neuhaus is my “grandfather” via my final teacher, Nina Svetlanova who studied with him for many years. This book is arguably the best single book on piano playing, which it discusses in every aspect from the physical to the philosophical. It is a mine of information and anecdote, and no serious pianist should be without it on their bookshelf. *** The Art of Piano Playing – George Kochevitsky I discovered this book as a postgraduate student and again I would recommend it to everyone (especially piano teachers) as it discusses areas not covered in most books on the subject. Kochevitsky delves into the history of piano playing from the finger school to the anatomic-physiological school to more modern schools where the mind plays a vital part. There is a lot of invaluable scientific information on the central nervous system and the role of neurophysiology. The book is short, easy to read and contains illustrations and a very full bibliography. *** Pianists at Play – Dean Elder This inspiring book is a collection of interviews, master lessons and technical regimes culled from issues of Clavier Magazine over the years. It features such luminaries as Artur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Casadesus, Serkin, Lili Kraus, Bachauer, and many other great pianists and […]