When I was younger, I really struggled at the piano for a number of years. I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do! Finally, after a completely disastrous performance, I quit piano for an entire year. As a result of these early traumas, I make physical freedom a top priority in my studio. Why should students suffer when it is unnecessary?
In a student’s first lesson, I now reach for my deepest voice and announce with some dramatic flair, “This is THE MOST IMPORTANT things to know about piano playing. (I pause here for dramatic effect.) You don’t play the piano with your FINGERS!”
I then pause again for an even longer time and take in the puzzled look on the new student’s face. Then I add the clincher: “You only TOUCH the piano with your fingers. You PLAY the piano with your WHOLE body, your mind, your imagination, your feelings, your whole being.”
Just the other night I heard a college student play. Though he was musical, he was trying to do too much with his fingers and not enough with the rest of his body. As a result, his music lacked rhythmic elasticity and he seemed to always be on the edge of total collapse.
To recognize that “you don’t play piano with your fingers” is a first step on the road toward physical freedom at the piano. With physical freedom comes elastic rhythm, expansive phrasing, and extra joy.