Monday, July 13, 2009

Piano Preferences

I got a new piano bench this weekend. It's an adjustable bench, and I'm hoping to have it for a long, long time. It replaces the kitchen chair, which replaced my old piano bench, which I'd used for 30+ years. So I'm a faithful piano bench owner, I am.

I didn't get to practice this weekend, so I was looking forward to tonight's practice session using the new bench (which I've named Gilbert). Sure, I planned to practice my Shostakovich ... but I also planned to experiment with the new bench.

My old bench was too high. The kitchen chair, obviously, was too low --plus, it wasn't flat, like a piano bench should be. I would get a backache before I ever made it through my warm-up scales.

I started with the bench low and practice for a few minutes. Backache.

I moved it up a bit. Backache.

Moved it up a little more. Backache, but not quite so bad.

Finally I found a good height and practiced for a half-hour before the sleepies started to take over. Then I compared it to my "too high" piano bench. It's slightly lower. It's also a lot more cushiony, which helps, I'm sure.

Deborah always has me adjust her piano bench to as low as it goes. Sure my elbows are at the right angle at that height, but it never feels right to be that low. I like to feel like I'm high above the piano--but not so high that it hurts my back. There's a narrow range in there, and I can find it with my new bench.

Another preference I have--one that Deborah has convinced me to abandon--is that I like to sit on the very, very edge of the bench. To do that, the bench has to be a little farther away from the piano than you'd expect. But I like the feeling of space. With it comes a feeling of freedom. It's like I'm giving the piano, and the music, room to breathe.

So I think I might start playing the piano the way that "feels" right to me. Maybe it's bad technique, but can it be so bad if I'm simply more comfortable in a certain position? I definitely feel like I have more control in my "preferred position." Sitting closer to the piano, and being closer to it due to a shorter piano bench, makes me feel crowded and claustrophobic. I've tried it for five years now, and I still haven't gotten used to it.

One final preference: As wonderful as my hearing aid is, and as drastically as it's improved my quality of life, I prefer playing piano without it. Maybe this is because I learned to play without it; I didn't get a hearing aid until I was 29, and I couldn't afford a really nice one until I was 38. I hear the piano differently when I don't have the hearing aid in. It's like hearing the voice of a treasured friend. I don't have that feeling at all when I use the hearing aid.

Again, I feel like I have more control when I play my preferred way (i.e., without the hearing aid). The notes sound clearer and louder when I have the hearing aid in, but they also sound harsher. Without the hearing aid, they sound ... considerate. Not clanging in on my consciousness. They sound like friends. Voices I can truly work with. And it's like my hands and fingers know what to do, whereas they always feel shy and uncertain with the louder, harsher tones.

I was supposed to have a lesson Saturday morning, but Deborah had to cancel at the last minute, so I won't have a lesson until this coming Saturday morning. I'm going to try an experiment this week. I'm going to go back to playing without my hearing aid, using a higher bench, and sitting a little farther away from the piano than usual.

What can it hurt? It's not like I'm training to be a professional. And it's not like I'm the Queen of Bad Technique, though I sometimes feel like I am during a lesson.

I really think it's time I started trusting my own instincts a little more. I have no problem trusting my instincts as a writer. With piano, it's always been a different story.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Each person is different and so is the reason for the hearing loss and the frequency of sounds you hear are different from person to person. best hearing aid Merrimac MA

Jorge Baeza Stanicic said...

There is a very interesting book written by Thomas Mark, a piano teacher from Oregon, "What every pianist needs to know about the body", where he explains clearly the relationship between the heigh of the bench and the bachache, I strongly recommend the reading of it.
Another teacher, Pedro de Alcantara, says on the heigh of the bench that we are ever changing our size, lengthening or widening, depending on physical and psycological facts, and that´s the reason why it seems that we pianist never find the perfect and ever lasting heigh of the bench.
Here I will offer the web pages of both teachers, which I think very useful for pianist and musicians.

Very good blog, I hope you will be soon playing regularly again, so that to be able to read your nice posts.

Ryan said...

Its interesting that you mentioned instinct in all of this. I spend a lot of time teaching my students to use their instincts while playing the piano. There are several good books on the subject that have changed my musical career. One is called "The Inner Game of Music" by Berry Green and the other is called "Blink" (i forget the authors name). It is so important to relax and let our brains do what they do best. No matter how good we get though, it always seems to be hard to get out of our own way lol in practice or performance.