Unsolicited Advice!

My friend Brian has been practicing consciously and blogging about it. And a particular trill in Bach’s e minor Invention has been giving him fits. I couldn’t help myself (well, I didn’t try very hard!) and left him a very piano-teacher-y comment at his blog. I wrote so much there, I’ve decided to post it here too. Thus:


Left hand alone is not a trick, it’s basic. “Your piano playing is as good as your worst hand.” My students get tired of hearing that, I’m sure.

Do you trill in triplets? That helps with the “rolling motion.” Also, do you change fingers in the trill, so that it becomes something your hand does instead of a couple of fingers?

Do you learn the entire piece hands separately, so that each hand can play its part quite musically? With what you wrote in an earlier post about your LH, and seeing that you are learning Bach Inventions, you might consider learning each new invention with the left hand alone, until it sounds like beautiful music; and only then learning and adding the RH part. You’ll be astonished how beautiful LH alone can sound once you give it the chance.

As a pianist & teacher I have to add this: discomfort in your arm/elbow is an indication that you are doing something non-optimal for your body. Stop! Make it much easier, and by that I mean adjust what you are doing until you can do it with ease. I define ease as simplicity in accomplishment joined with actual bliss in the body. When you achieve that, you won’t be having discomfort, obviously!

In my brief reading of your blog what I’m not seeing is any mention of putting the music first. Technique in playing piano is only to support the creation of music. Are you truly listening to what you create as you practice? Is it beautiful? If not, why not? Like practicing “wrong” a zillion times & then moving on after one decent repetition, practicing without really hearing beautiful music teaches all the “wrong” habits. If you cannot play and actually listen to your playing, and hear it sounding lovely, and feel blissful in your body while you are doing and hearing — then what’s the point? What are you teaching yourself?

Finally (& then I’ll get off my soapbox, I promise!) one of the best ways to solve future technical issues is to play music you know quite well every day. Only on music you know well can you refine your technique and (even more important) refine your musicality and ability to be subtly expressive, which I know you want to be (since I know you!). This is the mistake most often made by music teachers with their pupils — we let them learn a piece and then move on to something new and forget about it. All that work for such a limited gain, as if music pieces were just things to be checked off a list.

Okay, Brian, maybe now you wish you hadn’t pointed me to your blog! But I salute you for getting back into playing, and for learning all the Bach Inventions (you’re inspiring me to re-learn them as part of my LH rehab once I get that far), and for blogging about it. Good luck! Ease & bliss & beautiful music to you!!

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