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Play piano

like never before

O.V. Maeckel’s
organic method,
translated & revised.

ERIK F HAUCK
Text copyright © 2016 Erik F. Hauck
All Rights Reserved.

Cover:
A section of a painting by Danhauser,
Commissioned by Conrad Graf,
“Franz Liszt fantasizing at the piano”
(1840)
To my grandfather Volkhart Alsen,
To Gregor Weichert, my inspiration in
music,
To Boris Berezovsky, who motivates
me to study Liszt’s 12 transcendental
etudes,
To my wife, who endures listening to
my practice, failure and ultimately
success.
Contents
About the book…
Introduction
Basic principles regarding the piano play
General preparatory free exercises
without piano
The ‘light-as-a-feather’ arm
The heaviness of the hand (plaster hand)
Sitting at the piano
I Piano play with one voice
The ‘Aired’ Play (play mode 0)
The ‘normal tone’ (play mode 1)
Illustration of the different play modes
The ‘little finger movement’ (play mode 2)
Scale and arpeggio play (play mode 1 > 2)
The singing piano tone (the accelerated key
depression)
Option 1: Combination mode 1&2
(‘creepy crawling’)
Option 2: Combination mode 0 & 2 (the
‘probing’)
Option 3: Play mode 3 (“Butterfly-wing-
flea”)
II Striking several piano keys
simultaneously
The melodic chords
Colored chords
Colored intervals & singing octaves
Passage octaves
The ‘little knock’
III Thrills, Tremolo and Jumps
Thrills
The piano tremolo
Jumps
IV The Use of the Pedals
The right pedal
The left pedal (una corda)
V The split Hand
VI The polyphonic Play
VII The ‘below normal tone’
How to design your practice sessions
VIII The virtuous piano play
Final thoughts
About the book…

If you want to discover something


new, you have to read a really old
book! O. V. Maeckel published his
method to an organic piano play in
Germany in 1938. The book holds the
essence of piano playing – how to get
to a fully relaxed and masterful play. I
want you to discover it for yourself
and be transformed just as it
transformed me and so many others
already. The original book was lost
and forgotten until it was recently
exhumed and reprinted by my piano
master, Professor Gregor Weichert, in
Germany in 2015. That is how I got to
it.
O. V. Maeckel had dedicated his
life to figuring out how the masters of
his time and prior actually played the
piano. He was driven partly out of
despair as he kept failing to advance
his play to a true virtuous level. After
enlisting with disciples of Chopin and
Franz Liszt, he realized that those
masters of his time were simply
unable to explain or teach how to
play although they excelled in
unimaginable ways. He finally
succeeded after decades of painful
and detailed analysis, just a few years
prior to his death.
So what is Maeckel’s E=MC2? If you
force me to sum up his work of life in
one formula, let me say this: Everyone
knows you play the piano by pressing
on the keys to create a tone. Maeckel
reversed the thought. In his basic play
mode ‘the normal tone’, you must
avoid any active pressure on the keys
altogether. The tone is generated by
withdrawing the fingers instead. How
is this possible? Read the book. If you
carefully follow the method, your
hands, wrists and the entire you will
be relaxed and enlightened.
Guaranteed. You will learn to play
how Franz Liszt and Mozart likely
played – without effort, just like the
masters of our time. As I worked
through the book on a plane and
practiced the free standing exercises
(no piano needed), it totally clicked. I
had suffered from a ‘heavy arm’. Now,
I am cured. The same thing happened
first to Maeckel himself, and then to
all of his students, no exceptions. My
play has become much more relaxed,
not only in my hands and wrists, but
also in my arms, back and neck. As a
result, my perception and listening to
music changed. As I keep studying the
book and keep working as instructed, I
continue to make fabulous progress.
Thus, I highly recommend this book to
anyone who has any worries or
problems with piano playing, and
even to those who think they don’t.
After reading this book, your mind,
hands and ears will be freed like never
before. That is why I went through the
trouble of translating the original
book and distilling the method down
to its very core for you. Please forgive
me that I sometimes view Maeckel’s
work from the perspectives of a
neurosurgeon and anatomist, as this
is who I am. If you are a superstar at
the piano already, at least you will
understand why playing the piano is
so easy for you. Have fun!

Erik Hauck, January 2016


Introduction

My idols in regards to playing the


piano today are my piano master
Professor Gregor Weichert in Münster,
Germany and Boris Berezovsky who is
touring the planet. Just as I look up
and try to aspire to my masters, so
did Maeckel in 1938 with his.
Maeckel’s idols were his teacher Raoul
Pugno, a disciple of Chopin and Elly
Ney. My grandfather had listened to
Elly Ney in concert and told me about
her amazing persona and charisma.
Pugno had already died when Maeckel
published his book, so he could not
comment on Maeckel’s principles. But
Elly Ney believed they presented a
“new way to an organic piano play”
and “revealed an enormous
commendable knowledge and rich
experience.” Maeckel dedicated his
work to her. The original publisher
Franz Hanemann, a well-educated
pianist and director of the Beethoven
conservatory in Iserlohn, was a firm
believer and student of O. V.
Maeckel’s himself. He felt that “only
who mastered Maeckel’s method, i.e.
who tested its surprising advantages
with his or her own fingers, would be
able to fully appreciate it.” For the
motto of his book, Maeckel quotes
Heraclitus: “By her incredibility, truth
escapes discovery.”
Maeckel knew he discovered
“something quite new to the piano
world.” He invented a number of
useful free-standing exercises that will
help you feel your way into the basic
modes of playing. As well, he invented
a number of peculiar technical terms.
Indeed, as unusual as they maybe,
they are helpful in developing a good
mental picture of his basic play
modes. The book is addressing piano
players at any level. You will be
surprised how his basic play modes
remain unobserved and ignored even
in today’s standard piano education.
You may think it would be highly
doubtful to encounter a truly new
piano method after playing, practicing
and possibly teaching piano for many
years. Maeckel had exactly the same
thoughts six years prior to his death,
just before he had the big break-
through. He had felt, he was quite
familiar with each and every tip and
trick in regards to piano technique -
maybe just like you right now prior to
reading the book. At that time,
Maeckel thought it would be
impossible to discover anything
substantially new. He proved himself
wrong with the discovery of the
following principles. I hope you will
find yourself positively surprised just
the same!
By applying his method in practice,
Maeckel was able to advance to a
much higher level of piano playing. He
achieved the same result with all of
his students, without exception. His
courses lasted typically four weeks
with daily lessons and precisely
controlled practice. His method
therefore seems effective in a rather
short period of time. His students –
some 150 in his last 5 years – were no
beginners at all, who could have easily
picked up a few new things to make
substantial progress. Instead, they
had been state certified or academic
music teachers, famous concert
pianists, conservatory directors and
even professors of music. They all
picked up a technique from him that
was news to them and proved quite
valuable.
Maeckel predicted his method
would meet resistance - just like any
new discovery or invention. He
expected critics to reject his
discoveries. One handicap of the book
certainly is the very nature of it: A
book simply is only a very limited and
imperfect version of a technical piano
instruction. The best form of
instruction is still directly at the key
board rather than from reading a
book. Undeterred, Maeckel wrote
down his method as he believed it
would serve many future students just
as well as it helped himself. Professor
Weichert as well strongly believes
Maeckel had analyzed the how of the
piano playing much better than
anyone else. The main advantages of
Maeckel’s method are:
1. Some unique basic exercises can
and should be practiced without
the keyboard. We will refer to
those as ‘free exercises.’ Through
those, you will become fully aware
of certain functions of your body’s
mechanical play apparatus. This
new awareness will enable you to
re-organize and re-design your
play.
2. In order to overcome any
technical difficulty, you will identify
and master the best way, typically
the shortest.
3. Anyone can learn the method, no
exceptions.
4. Applying the method saves
energy, effort and time. This greatly
benefits everybody. Practice will be
more efficient. The quality of your
music is going to be much
improved. You will never again
suffer from signs of fatigue.
5. All your inhibitions will be
dissolved. Your play will be relaxed.
You will be cured from all straining
and other pianistic evils such as
tendinitis, weakness and cramping.
Maeckel advises to first read the
book carefully from cover to end
without immediately trying everything
at the keyboard. It is his first priority
for you to understand the gestalt of
the method. To do this, free your
mind of all habits and old
preconceptions to not hamper your
discovery of the new principles. Then
you should work through one chapter
after another precisely following the
instructions. Take your time! Organic
functions do only evolve over time. It
is not enough to consciously master
the various techniques, but moreover
they have to be integrated down to a
subconscious level. Only then you can
rely on those instinctively. I will let
Maeckel speak directly to you from
here on. Just be aware that I have
made some gentle adjustments, edits
and revisions to further enhance your
experience of Maeckel’s method.
Basic principles regarding
the piano play

1. A tone is created on the modern


keyboard through the depression
of a key from its base position to
the ground. This causes the
corresponding hammer to hit the
corresponding string, which starts
vibrating at that moment. The
hammer drops back to its base
position immediately. The time
required to engage the string is
indeed extremely short, regardless
if the key remains depressed or
not.
Because of this physical reality, it is
impossible to effect or change the
tone after the key has been
depressed. First, there is no longer
a connection between the string
and the key after the hammer has
fallen back. Second, it is impossible
to elongate or shorten the
vibrating string while maintaining
the vibration, unlike with a guitar.
All claims to the contrary are just a
figment of imagination. Such an
auto-suggestion, however, can
reach quite far because the sense
of hearing is influenced by the
sense of vision. To demonstrate
this you may perform a trembling
motion at the bottom of the key
after fully depressing it, i.e. a
vibrato. Then ask an observant
listener if he/she could possibly
realize the vibration of the tone
caused by the motion. Even an
experienced listener will believe to
recognize the effect (although of
course no additional vibration
exists), as long as the listener is
unfamiliar with the mechanics of
the piano.

2. The tone strength only and truly


depends on how fast a key is
depressed: The velocity of the
hammer is the only variable
defining tone strength. The faster
the key is depressed, the faster the
hammer flies against the string.
The faster the hammer hits the
string, the stronger the resulting
vibration. In turn, the intensity of
the vibration of the string
determines the strength of the
tone. Consequently it is impossible
to create a strong tone if
depressing a key very slowly and
vice versa, to create a weak tone if
striking a key very quickly.

3. The force applied to depress a key


has no effect on tone strength.
Imagine a key is lowered with the
force of a hydraulic press, meaning
very slowly. The result could only
be that the created tone would be
rather weak. With most
instruments, actually simply no
tone would be generated at all.
Once you realize the truth behind
this observation, you will be armed
against all those misleading
statements of authors preaching
the kneading of the keys, the
reduced force, sustained hard
pressure on the fully depressed
key, etc. In reality, the tone only
depends on a faster or slower
depression of the key to the
ground, a very simple process.

4. You do not need a unique or


specific anatomical hand condition
to master the piano. Any healthy
hand will do. It is an error if
anyone claims that a special key
stroke (a ‘singing tone’, a ‘fizzing
play’, a most tender pianissimo
etc.) would depend on the
anatomical structure of a pianist’s
hand. Any play style can be
mastered by any piano player as
long as the person has a
reasonably normal hand,
regardless if the fingers are long or
short, fleshy or boney, hard or soft.
The mechanics of automated
pianos prove it. They can
reproduce mechanically the play of
the most accomplished artists.
However, the mechanical elements
reproducing the artist’s works, are
sadly depressing and ridiculous in
comparison to even the most
unfavorable human hand: In these
machines, the human fingers are
replaced by nothing more than
skinny wooden sticks covered with
thin felt, constantly in contact with
the keys. Surprisingly, these
‘wooden fingers’ can reproduce all
the amazing effects of the great
artists. I was repeatedly present
when my master Raoul Pugno
recorded “Phonola – Artist – Rolls”.
I knew his play very well. But as a
blinded observer, I was unable to
tell if Pugno was performing
himself or if I was just listening to a
mechanical reproduction.

5. The grand piano technique can be


mastered by anyone, not only by a
few God-given talents. Indefinitely
painful time-, effort- and money-
consuming studies are not
required.
Every wunderkind is proof. They do
not have at their disposal as much
physical strength or time as their
grown up counterparts.
Nevertheless, they may surpass
their grown up colleagues from a
technical aspect. Nobody would
insist such a wunderkind would be
naturally blessed with physical
strength beyond his/her age or the
ability to particularly enjoy strain
and prolonged torture.

6. The technical means applied have


to correlate reasonably with the
resulting musical effect. Even
though the final goal certainly is a
beautiful musical performance, it
does matter what is invested
technically to get there. In any
other field, may it be complex
technology or common daily tasks,
the impact of a desired effect has
to be reasonably weighed against
the means to achieve it. Any
investment would be unattractive
if it is out of proportion to the
desired yield.

7. Any excess pressure on the keys


has to be avoided at all cost. Let’s
assume one of Beethoven’s major
piano sonatas consists of
approximately 10.000 notes,
requiring 10.000 key strokes. As we
have learned, the sound is already
created as soon as the
corresponding key has reached the
bottom. Any additional pressure
applied to that key is then in vain.
The key resistance of a modern
instrument amounts to 60 to 80
grams. Thus, only a minimal weight
of an average 70 grams is required
to depress a key. Any additional
pressure, i.e. let’s say 30 grams, is
so minute that it can barely be felt.
You can convince yourself easily by
pressing on a letter scale. With
10.000 notes, however, even this
minute but useless additional
pressure of 30 grams would
amount to 1/3 of a ton (30 x 10.000
grams). And there would be no
effect on the sound whatsoever.
This wasted effort surely would
fully tire out any performing artist.
General preparatory free
exercises without piano
The ‘light-as-a-feather ’ arm
If you stand upright with relaxed
shoulder and back muscles, then your
arm will dangle because of its gravity
heavily alongside your body. From this
dangling position, you can only move
the arm into a different position using
muscular force, i.e. horizontally,
elevated or sideways extended. This
muscular force counteracts earth’s
gravity in a more or less significant
way. If you now elevate the arm
further, you will recruit additional
muscular effort, particularly the
greater back muscle. The following
first free exercise, which is essential
for everything that follows, helps you
analyze and become increasingly
aware of exactly how much muscular
force is required until the arm feels
light as a feather. Logically, the
muscular force needed has to match
precisely the counteracting
gravitational force (the weight) of the
arm itself. Just imagine you place a 1
kg weight on a traditional scale. The
weight represents the gravitational
force of the earth and would lower
the scale pan down all the way to one
side. If you then place another slightly
lighter weight on the other scale pan,
the first scale pan would rise, but it
would balance out with the heavier
first weight ending up lower down
than the second. If the second weight
would be heavier, it would be the
other way around. Only if both
weights are exactly the same, the
scale will balance out perfectly
horizontally. According to this
process, you should practice
counteracting earth’s gravity with just
only enough muscular effort until
your arm floats light as a feather at
the wrist level.
Because the right amount of
muscular effort cannot be simply
measured by some sort of a device,
you need to learn how to carefully
feel the right amount of effort.
Therefore, the exercise is not quite as
trivial as it seems, particularly for
people who are used to playing with a
heavy on the keyboard leaning arm,
or for people with a naturally heavy
arm.
As a particularly practical aid to
this exercise, I recommend the
following exercise with a nicely
bouncing rubber ball. The size should
be similar to a tennis ball, but
bouncier. You drop the ball from the
level of your forehead and catch it
again at the level of your belly to then
raise it back up to the level of your
forehead, keeping it close to your
body. Then repeat.
Only a few minutes of this exercise
to be performed daily for a few
minutes at first, is usually sufficient to
make you aware of the muscles
actually needed to counteract the
gravitational forces of your arms.
Similarly effective is the setting up of
chess pieces, tin soldiers or other
board games at head level. All this
awakens the sense of a feather-light
arm.
In regards to the ‘light-as-a-
feather’ arm, there is a trick, at least
until its fully mastered: I am talking
about the lowering of the shoulder
blade using the greater back muscle
(latissimus). Try lowering your
shoulders, not externally, but from
the back using the latissimus; do it
with your arm held up straight at
head level. If it works, you will feel a
significant release of tension. Should
you however after attempting this for
a few times, have no success, I can
reassure you that you will be able to
learn the phenomenon of the ‘light-
as-a-feather’ arm also without this
trick. This lowering of the shoulder
blades using the latissimus is not
possible for everybody. The latissimus
only attaches to the shoulder blade in
about 60% of us.
Very importantly, the student
must strictly avoid tightening the
major chest muscles, which run from
the arm at the level of the axilla to
the chest. While playing the piano,
these muscles must remain relaxed at
all times. Subconscious tightening of
these muscles results in malicious
consequences for the pianist. In my
experience as a teacher, I have
encountered numerous ailments in
many different students caused by
tightened chest muscles, primarily
breathing and cardiac complaints.
Without exception, all these ailments
could be fully resolved during the
brief terms of my courses (a few
weeks). Therefore I am convinced that
recent attempts to teach pianists the
proper breathing are eluding and
superfluous. All breathing issues will
be resolved if students use the proper
technique and always avoid any
tightening of their chest muscles
altogether. A reasonable piano play
should not be more exhausting than
typical activities of daily living. The
latter do not require any specific cures
either. Even though numerous
withdrawal programs exist for opium
addicts, it is preferred to anxiously
avoid such poison in the first place, so
no cure whatsoever is needed. With
the piano play, it is the same.
The heaviness of the hand (plaster
hand)
Only after you are convinced you
have mastered the ‘light-as-a-feather’
arm, and not only with a horizontal
arm, but also with the arm in
standard piano playing position, you
should proceed with the next free
exercise for the hand and fingers. To
direct all attention fully to your hand,
I like to eliminate your arm at first by
inviting you to sit in a comfortable
chair with arm rests. Relax your
forearms on those armrests, your
hands dangling down freely. As you
had previously learned the concept of
the ‘light-as-a-feather’ arm, now you
have to consciously experience the
‘heaviness’ of your hand. This free
exercise is child’s play. All that you
need to do is lift your hand up a little
above the horizontal plane of the
relaxed and supported forearm
(parked on the arm rest). Then, let
your hand drop down to the freely
hanging position. You are going to be
at first unaware of the level of detail
required for this exercise. You will not
guess to what level of virtuosity this
exercise can be refined. Understand
most of my graduate students as well
as I myself are able to lift and drop
our hands in this fashion 8-10 times,
yes even 12 times per second.
Obviously, the hand is then lifted only
minimally, but there is never an active
down movement involved. I already
mentioned that this movement
involves only a dropping or thudding of
the hand, but again, not an active
motion downwards. Definitely, there
is no up and down ‘shaking’ of the
hand when you later perform this
exercise in rapid sequence. Do not try
that at the beginning! Initially,
imagine that the hanging hand is
attached to the forearm by a small
rope. By shortening the rope, your
hand is lifted up (just like previously
the arm could be lifted by tightening
the great back muscle). Then focus on
‘letting go of the rope’ as quickly as
possible, which will cause your hand
to drop following gravity. Your hand
will drop the quicker, the faster and
more completely you ‘shoot’ the
muscles representing the little rope.
This ‘shooting’ can be felt most clearly
at the tip of the forearm, directly
behind the wrist, particularly if you
pay attention to not change the
position of your fingers toward each
other as you lift and drop your hand.
This latter condition, I like to call
“plaster hand”. You have to imagine
your hand is frozen, completely
motionless as if made out of plaster
[see the cover picture of Franz Liszt].
If you continue to repeat this
exercise frequently, even though only
for a few minutes, then you will notice
that your hand will start to feel
heavier. The ‘rope’ that pulls your
hand up grows thinner until it feels as
if your hand hangs just by a thin silk
string attached to the forearm. Also,
you will feel your hand has gotten a
lot more responsive to even the
gentlest “tug on the string”. This feel,
however, typically only occurs after
about 2 to 3 days of practice, and with
some students, even later, and
generally only if a correct impulse of
will fuels it. You will only make
progress with this exercise, if you
consciously want a rapid relaxation of
all involved muscles without
exception. With most people, typically
the muscles actually will only fully
relax if an intensified impulse of will
power demands it. Just like vice versa,
certain muscles can only be activated
with the same intense will power, i.e.
the barely existing, often neglected
and thus atrophied muscles required
to move your ears. The above
described free exercise ‘plaster hand’,
I cannot emphasize enough. I will not
hold back calling it the most
important exercise for all pianists
ever. As such, you have to perfectly
master this exercise unless you want
to flail with the next exercises and
hopelessly fail at the piano later.
Before approaching the key board,
an additional exercise has to follow
the previous one, at first simply at a
flat table. It is good to develop the
habit to try not only this but many of
the following exercises at first on a
table top or the closed cover of the
keyboard, rather than the keyboard
itself; because only then you can rid
yourself of certain inhibitions
effectively, as those inhibitions
immediately take control of you
otherwise as soon as you touch the
keyboard.
The exercise consists of - now
without the armrest - holding the
‘light-as-a-feather’ arm, just as with
regular piano play, about 10 cm above
a table top. Then the student drops
the slightly elevated hand on the
surface of the table top. I repeat no
active downward movement is
allowed. Instead the hand must drop
driven only by its heaviness, which is
briefly interrupted only through the
active elevation. After the drop, the
hand then quickly rests again on the
table top supported by all fingers. The
next exercise allows you to not drop
the hand on all five fingers, but only
on a single finger, at the first the
third, then the second, the forth, the
fifth and finally the thumb. With this
exercise, every finger represents a
support column carrying a load,
specifically the heavy weight of the
hand. At this point, you should
remember the ‘plaster hand’. The
supporting finger is slightly advanced
as the hand is lifted. The supporting
finger must not buckle when it strikes
the table top.
Sitting at the piano
Now we are going to transition
from the table top to the keyboard
and apply the just learned concept of
the plaster hand. I repeat and I will
have to continue to repeat based on
my experiences in my lessons: You will
need to primarily focus on and be
absolutely confident about sitting at
the piano with a ‘light-as-a-feather’
arm. Your freely floating arm holds a
heavy hand attached only by a thin
silky thread. You should have by now
developed a good feel for the weight
of your hand. By the way, you can
continue to practice that feel
wherever you happen to be. You
should simply pay attention that your
forearms are horizontal and parallel
to each other. Further, arm and
forearm should not form a right angle,
but an obtuse angle. If a right angle is
chosen it becomes more difficult to
rotate the hand inwards and the
thumb downwards, even though this
is typically not required. Your upper
body and neck will be most relaxed if
slightly extended (leaning back). Then
your arms will indeed from an obtuse
angle at the elbow. Only, this way,
you will not be able to see the
keyboard easily and you will have to
rely just on your well-developed sense
of touch to ‘feel’ the right keys. In this
position, you may as well close your
eyes or have your eyes relax as you
look towards infinity up above (see
the cover). If you lean forward just a
little from this basic position, your
upper body will then be straight
upright. With your jaw pushed back,
your head will still remain nicely
balanced over your spine. With your
eyes looking down, you can see the
keys well. Anatomically speaking, you
maintain the natural lordosis of your
lumbar and cervical spine in this
position also referred to as ‘military
brace’ by physical therapists. This
way, your back and neck will stay
relaxed. Now, your arms will form a
right angle at the elbow. As soon as
you lean forward more, your back and
neck muscles have to start working to
keep you upright and prevent you
from falling forward on the keyboard.
That means you will no longer be fully
relaxed. One more thing: If your elbow
forms an acute angle, you are sitting
too low or not straight. Prop up your
seat until your elbow forms at least a
right angle or better, an obtuse angle.
See how relaxed that feels all of a
sudden!
Ultimately, the proper way of
sitting at the piano is individually
different from student to student. The
height of the seat mainly depends on
the length of the player’s arms. The
shorter the arms, the more the seat
has to be lowered to allow the pianist
to keep the forearms as well as the
back of the hands in the same
horizontal plane in the manner
described above. Players suffering
from cold hands may want to sit 2-3
cm higher to facilitate blood flow to
the hands. Players with hot and easily
sweaty hands with possibly even
swollen veins may benefit if their
elbow is actually 2-3 cm lower than
the wrist. Concert pianists better re-
check their seat immediately prior to
the concert. Do not just simply sit
down for the concert as earlier during
the rehearsal. The human body may
collapse slightly during the course of
the day, in some people up to 4 – 5
cm or more. This effect has caused
many pianists to feel rather awkward
during concerts without them having
a clue why.
I Piano play with one
voice
The ‘Aired’ Play (play mode 0)
The now following exercise
consists of nothing more but to lift
and then drop your hand on the
keyboard. It is perfectly acceptable to
start with a somewhat bigger
movement than what is later
required. This way you can clearly feel
that your hand simply drops following
gravity, without any active component
from the wrist. At the same time, any
and even the slightest pressure of the
fingers down on the keys must be
avoided. The hand has to act
supported by a single finger only using
its own natural heaviness. Any slight
pressure will compromise the
complete relaxation of the wrist.
Think ‘plaster hand’ again when
performing this exercise. How do you
know if you are performing the
exercise correctly? Check if your wrist
is fully relaxed, only then you are
doing it right. Keep checking! This
exercise is to be practiced on five
adjacent keys with one finger each. I
recommend you do not rest too
briefly on the bottom of each key.
This way, you will quickly acquire a
feel for a new so far unrecognized
technical function. I had to invent a
technical term for this function which
represents a crucial feature in my
method. I call the quick lifting ‘airing’
and the dropping of the hand down
to the bottom of the key ‘thudding’. I
will frequently refer to it as the ‘aired’
play. The process is exactly equivalent
to the common daily task of ‘airing’.
Think of a lit. It constantly rests on a
pot secondary to gravity until
somebody briefly airs it out and then
drops it down again. Nobody would
ever actively press it down.
This airing in my method replaces
the staccato play, which literally
means “stabbed”. That brings about
an image of a brief active motion.
Because of this circumstance, I
recognize that one of the most
important piano technical functions
thus has not been fully understood so
far.
I refer to the dropping of the hand
as ‘thudding’, another term that I use
later on frequently as a buzz word
(similar to ‘plaster hand’) to quickly
explain to a student in what direction
to focus. Again, just as with the
previous free standing exercises, your
hand has to drop without any
restrains. Out of this derives the
individually most suitable hand
position at the piano in regards to the
orientation of your hand’s axis. With
most people, the hand will drop on
the table top or piano pointing
slightly inwards. But occasionally I had
students where the hand drops
straight or even rarely directed slightly
outwards. There is not much to be
done about this. If the hand’s axis is
pointing too far outwards (like feet
while walking), a small modification
will be required later as otherwise the
thumb-under will be compromised.
For the exercise, it suffices if you make
an effort to keep your thumb in the
correct plane. The tip of the thumb is
positioned on the exact same line
that is formed by the other fingers at
the keyboard. Last but not least, it is
important to pay attention to always
support the weight of the hand
correctly. The hand always rests on
the finger that forms the support
column at that moment. Occasionally
a finger might buckle which happens
with very soft hands. However, the
buckling will negate some of the
heaviness of the hand. In that case,
the student may pull the thumb very
gently beside the buckling finger for
additional support. But again, even
with this maneuver, any pressure is to
be completely avoided. Pressure
would result in fortification of the
wrist. You will have completed the
current exercise only once you
produce absolutely even tones. Start
with the first few notes of a scale and
evolve to a full dominant seventh
chord (plaster hand). If the principles
are applied correctly, the tones
cannot be anything but even. The
weight of the hand remains the same
and it drops on every supporting
finger always from the same height.
The ‘normal tone’ (play mode 1)
We will now try the next and
maybe for the success of my method
most critical exercise. Let’s start again
at the table top that we want to cover
with a blanket for this purpose. You
should drop your hand under the
above mentioned conditions on your
third finger. It will serve as the
supporting column of a load,
specifically the weight of the hand –
not more and not less, as previously
discussed. Now gently bring the freely
moveable second finger to the table
top until you feel the blanket clearly.
Now, without undoing the heaviness
of the hand, remove the supporting
column by lifting the third finger 1 to
2 cm up in the air. Then the “load”
will be transferred on the next
support column (now the second
finger), which takes over the
responsibility of carrying the hand’s
weight in the previously described
manner. This process clearly
illustrates a law of physics that the
student should embrace:
If you withdraw the pillar that
supports a load, then the load will
come to rest on the next available
support pillar.
The process is the same as with
walking: The body’s weight rests on
the support leg, until the moveable
and advanced free leg touches the
ground and the previous support leg
is lifted. With this, the weight of the
body is transferred to the previously
free leg. This can be practiced for a
while at the table top with all fingers
in various combinations. Once you try
it on the piano with all fingers, then
you discover another new element,
the ‘sinking in’ of the new support
column to the bottom of the next key,
which then in turn creates the tone.
This correlates well with for example a
walk on thin ice, where you sink in a
few centimeters with every step. This
extraordinary important exercise
appears at first rather primitive and
simple. In reality, however, it is not
quite that straight forward to master
it. The key part with the exercise is to
let the new supporting finger engage
the key completely passively and not
with any effort whatsoever when the
previous supporting finger is
withdrawn. The active stroke,
specifically a ‘finger stroke’, is so
ingrained in our flesh and blood that
you will have to devote several days
of heightened attention to this matter
to suppress any active movements at
the moment of the lifting of the
previous support finger. In regards to
world-class piano masters, I
discovered, as long as I was allowed to
check out their play methods, they
already commanded over this passive
technique by instinct apparently.
Nevertheless, they were unaware of
how they actually played and certainly
unable to explain and methodically
teach their play.
This tone formation is solely based
on the principle of the withdrawal of
the previous weight-bearing support
finger, which causes then the next
supporting finger to sink in to the
bottom of the key and thus, create
the tone. Do not be discouraged right
away if there is no immediate success.
You can count on my guarantee that
every one of my students has been
able to fully master this way of
playing, even the most untalented
once. At first, you will manage to only
generate a weak tone with this
method, because, as you are learning,
you will only be able to lower the keys
slowly with my method. Here, I would
like to remind you of what we had
reviewed earlier. The strength of a
tone essentially depends on the
speed with which a key is lowered.
Thus, you will realize right away how
to generate a stronger tone: Simply by
speeding up the process of lowering
down the keys. And how we do that is
explained by another law of physics:
The faster a support pillar of a
load is withdrawn, the faster the load
will be shifted to the next available
support pillar.
In other words, you will generate a
stronger tone the faster you can
remove the ‘previous’ supporting
finger.
In order to develop a speedy
withdrawal of your supporting fingers,
another free standing exercise is
required. You should practice it just as
thoroughly as the dropping of the
hand. This additional completely
novel exercise has as well been
unknown to all my students. You
move your fingers loosely one after
another with their tips into the palm
of your hand. Then you let them snap
forward, back into the straight
position. You should focus only on the
moving finger and fully disregard all
the other fingers, even if they move a
little along. Focus on snapping your
fingers forward lightning fast; the
thumb will require a pad from where
it can be launched. You should
discover a surprising phenomenon
with this exercise: The muscles
responsible for this quick finger
snapping are quite clumsy, if not
degenerated. This fact is easily
understood once you realize that you
have never used these muscles or this
lightning fast forward snap before,
not for any activity of daily living, and
so far not for playing the piano. Thus,
you never had the chance to develop
those muscles very well. Now consider
these three main principles with the
prerequisite of the “light-as-a-feather”
arm:
1. The hand has to remain heavy
and its weight must never be
reduced, not even for a moment.
2. The next finger (after touching the
key) must remain entirely passive
throughout the withdrawal of the
previous finger.
3. The withdrawal of the previous
finger must occur as quickly as
possible.
The tone created in this manner I
call in short the ‘normal tone’. It is
rather individual. It depends on the
size and weight of the student’s hand.
Accordingly, a lady will generate a
normal tone that is equivalent to a
piano, whereas a gentleman likely will
generate a normal tone more
equivalent to a mezzo forte. The
normal tone can be very much
developed and will gain strength with
continuous practice. The efficient and
fast withdrawal of the fingers requires
several months of practice until the
physical limits can be approached.
Illustration of the different play
modes
To better understand the physics
and the anatomy behind the different
play modes, please review the
illustration (figure 1). Play mode 0
(aired play) uses the larger lever (the
‘plaster’ hand), the pivoting point is
the wrist. There is no motion at the
knuckle joint (it is ‘plastered’ shut).
The larger lever (plaster hand) is
actively elevated by the long wrist
extenders of the forearm. You may be
able to feel the lifting effort just
proximally to the wrist on the
backside. The hand is then dropped
passively only using gravity.
Figure 1: The anatomy and physiology
of the hand relevant to pianists. The
extraordinary effect caused by only a
limited effort in play mode 1 (normal
tone) is illustrated.

Play mode 1 (normal tone) uses


the small lever with the pivoting point
at the knuckle. The active component
is the lifting of the previous finger
using the short extenders (the dorsal
interossei). The next finger then
moves passively downwards using
only the hand’s gravity. In this regard,
play mode 1 is similar to play mode 0,
only the pivoting point is different,
the knuckle instead the wrist.
However, there is a momentum that
makes play mode 1 special and
different from play mode 0. If play
mode 1 would copy play mode 0 just
at a different pivoting point (joint),
then you would keep your hand
steady and lift the finger above the
keys and then drop it using the weight
of just the finger. That weight is
similar to the resistance of the key. So
almost nothing would happen unless
you would actively press on the key.
That is of course not allowed in play
mode 1.Instead you do not lift any
fingers off the keys at all. The fingers
are always in contact with the keys
(which really develops your sense of
touch and spatial orientation on the
keyboard). As you actively lift the
previous finger (little lever) in play
mode 1 off the bottom of the key, the
next finger sinks in passively moved
downwards by the gravity of the hand
(large lever). In other words, a small
active force at the little lever releases
the bigger gravitational (passive) force
at the larger lever. The effect
accomplished (the ‘normal tone’) has
to be considered extraordinary in
comparison to its cause.
Herein lies the true secret of piano
playing. This is the reason why ideal
piano playing is effortless.
You may now choose a few 5-
finger exercises without thumb-under.
Go ahead and play them in the
‘normal tone’. You will then quickly
make a surprising discovery. All of a
sudden, you can accomplish
something without effort what caused
you some difficulty in the past: The
generation of absolutely equally
strong tones. – In reality, this is not a
miracle. Mastering the play with
‘normal tone’ (play mode 1) will make
you once and for all forget the term
“equalizing the fingers”. This was
taught in the past and is founded on
wrong principles. With play mode 1,
you don’t have to worry about
equalizing your fingers as one finger is
capable of snapping away from the
key board just as much as any other.
The uplifting withdrawal of the
fingers, however, is not practiced at
the piano. Instead use the above
presented free exercise where similar
to all these other exercises the
impulse of will appears to be the main
driving force.
If there still remains a certain
unevenness of the strength of the
tones, then you should immediately
self-check how this could occur, what
the cause may be and how it can be
changed. You then must have made
the mistake to either not have
brought the ‘next finger’ already in
contact with the key prior to shifting
the weight of the hand, which is
rather critical, or you did not
withdraw the ‘previous finger’ fast
enough. This would result in a slower
lowering of the next key and thus, in a
weaker tone. In this case, you should
make the effort to lift the ‘previous
finger’ quicker. This will strengthen
the next tone. You would however
have to be sure to avoid any active
motion or depression of the ‘next
finger’ to accomplish this. Besides
being completely wrong, it prevents a
full comprehension of play mode 1.
Once you have graduated from the
above mentioned 5 finger exercises,
you will not have any difficulties with
the passage of the thumb under the 2,
3, 4th fingers or vice versa, the passage
of the 2, 3, 4th fingers over the thumb
– constituting the scale play. You
would simply have to obey to the
following two rules:
First, the unevenness of the white
and black keys is evened out through
the fingers while playing. The fingers
rest slightly lower on the white keys
than on the black keys. The hand itself
however always remains at the same
level, simply moving side-to-side.
Second, the axis of the hand must
remain unchanged, particularly with
scale and arpeggio play. The direction
of the hand axis (median hand axis) in
relation to the keyboard must remain
the same at all times. This is
accomplished applying the concept of
the ‘light-as-a-feather’ arm.
I would like to mention here that
anyone who uses my method actually
will not have to pay attention to the
arm at all. The arm movements will
occur naturally without effort, almost
like a reflex, as long as you allow
these movements to happen. This
condition is a given if the arm is kept
‘light-as-a-feather’. I see here the
main difference between my method
and the so called weight play, where
the arm is more or less directly and
actively involved, at least using its
weight. Swinging motions such as
shoves, turns, shakes etc. cannot be
imagined without active arm
involvement, as those movements
originate from the arm. Avoid the
active involvement of the arms
altogether!
I can demonstrate the absolutely
opposing function of the arm possibly
best with the following experiment:
Attach a laundry line to the top of a
door and next to it, in similar fashion
a thin iron chain. Let both dangle
down from the top of the door to the
ground where they may extend on for
another 2 meters. Imagine the
attachment and fix point at the top of
the door resembles the shoulder. The
bottom of the door, where the
laundry line and the chain form a
right angle with the floor, make up
the elbow. The tip represents the
hand. The laundry line and chain
resemble different types of arms. If I
pick up the chain by its end on the
floor and quickly move it up and
down, then an undulating motion is
created. The undulation will continue
on a little but come to a stop already
at the bottom of the door, the elbow
so to speak. Further progression of
the motion is prevented secondary to
the heaviness of the chain dangling
down on the door. If I perform the
same undulating movement with
precisely the same effort by picking it
up at its tip (representing the hand),
the motion will be carried forth all the
way to the fixation point at the top of
the door (the shoulder). OK, let me
ask you now: Which type of arm is
represented by the chain and the
laundry line? I am sure you can clearly
see the difference between the two
concepts now: The chain represents
the heavy arm (weight play) and vice
versa, the laundry line the ‘light-as-a-
feather’ arm. My method is based on
the fact that I simply only move the
hand and fingers, just like with the
laundry line. As an effect and
consequence, the right movement of
the arm not only may occur, but must.
Let us return to the thumb-under
maneuver which is only different from
the first exercises in that the thumb is
no longer placed next to the 2, 3, 4th
fingers, but on the next key under one
of these fingers. The hand will then
shift its weight on the thumb in the
exact same fashion as before by the
quick withdrawal of the ‘previous
finger’. You have to pay attention that
the thumb is placed already under the
‘previous supporting finger’ touching
the key prior to loading the hand’s
weight on it. As such the thumb
cannot jerk or jolt on to the next key.
With the thumb-over, the same
principles have to be followed. The
main scale and arpeggio play, I will
discuss later. The principles learned so
far, however, should enable the
student to play a number of pieces
and practice those very principles. I
recommend the following examples to
study play mode 1:
1. The Toccata in A-major by
Paradisi. Practice first with one
hand each without the staccato or
the quarter notes with downward
stems, all legato.
2. The treble clef voice of the f-minor
etude Op. 25 no 2 by Chopin with
both hands, later the left hand one
octave lower. You will notice that
the frequently clumsier left hand
has become as dexterous as the
other.
3. The 8th two voice Invention by
Bach should be practiced
thoroughly with each hand while
paying attention to practice the
‘airing’ and ‘thudding’ with one
hand and playing perfect “legato”
with the other (withdrawing the
fingers).
4. The perpetuum mobile by Weber
in C major, again the treble clef
voice with both hands while
skipping all other notes.
As a matter of fact, most students
performing these pieces in play mode
1 will naturally play them with a weak
tone strength: All piano. Maybe a few
students with heavier hands may
naturally generate a mezzo forte. Do
not try to bring about stronger tones
which will occur automatically only
after practicing play mode 1 for a little
while. Otherwise, you will probably
not apply the above concepts
properly. Avoid that at all cost.
Instead, focus on complete evenness
of all the tones.
Here is another important element
of my method. Every ‘next’ finger has
to actually touch the key prior to
withdrawing the ‘previous’ finger.
Through that, you will develop a feel
for the keys that you have not so far
experienced. It also greatly helps the
play by memory! This way, every
finger is forced to arrive at its rightful
place earlier as with any other
method. Additionally, you will
discover that you can actually ‘pre-
feel’ a whole cluster of notes in this
manner. That means you can place as
many fingers as possible already in
preparation on the keys where they
will have to arrive shortly after.
Further, this will prevent you from
playing the wrong notes. This is highly
desirable for all students at all levels,
including the most basic levels. Also,
you will be unable to make the
common mistake of ‘smearing’ the
notes if the keys are not lifted after
the note is played. That possibility is
ruled out in play mode 1 (the
withdrawal of the ‘previous’ finger).
Thus, if you consistently apply play
mode 1, your level of playing will be
elevated naturally to a much higher
level.
After some practice of play mode
1, you will further notice that you can
play now a number of pieces
effortlessly at much higher speed as
was ever possible previously. The
withdrawal of the fingers, even at
maximum speed, is neither more
difficult nor more exhausting than at
snail speed.
Do not proceed any further unless
you mastered play mode 1. The ‘aired’
play (play mode 0) together with the
‘normal tone’ (play mode 1) form the
very foundation of any true piano
playing. If applied, the result is a
perfectly relaxed wrist and a perfectly
relaxed ‘you’. Your hands play as if
detached from your ‘light-as-a-
feather’ arm – without effort. The
effort is mainly taken over by gravity.
Playing the piano will feel like
meditation.
In regards to tone strength, every
player’s personal ‘normal tone’
resembles a zero degree mark of a
thermometer. It may be slightly higher
or lower from one player to another
depending on their physical
characteristics. The mission for players
with little and light hands is to
develop the ‘plus degrees’ to the
loudest fortissimo. On the other hand,
players with large and heavy hands
have to master the ‘minus degrees’
down to the quietest pianissimo.
In order for you to convince
yourself that you fully mastered play
mode 1, I would like you to perform
the following exercise which I refer to
as ‘splashing’. It serves its purpose
only when it can be performed at
maximum speed very precisely with
completely even tones. Use the
following five finger exercise:

Figure 2: Exercise ‘splashing’ for the ‘normal


tone’ (play mode 1)
If you want to get to a really fast
speed, you should be able to manage
8 sixteenth at 100 to 104 beats per
minute (use the metronome). To be
able to do it, you have to focus on
already touching the next keys with all
five fingers for each chromatic
progression. This will require a little
skill which most players have to first
get accustomed to. Perform the
exercise with both hands in octaves as
well as in counter-movement up and
down the keyboard. You should try
different sequences of the fingers
such as 1-2-4-5, 3-4-2-3 etc. or also 1-
2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-3-2 etc.
Additionally, try it as a dominant
seventh chord including the full
octave up and back), but only on the
white keys, not in chromatic
succession. Any tipping side motion of
the hand is here completely obsolete.
The different heights of the keys have
to be equalized simply by the fingers.
This motion has nothing to do
whatsoever with what Breithaupt or
Caland have described as ‘rolling’.
These few exercises are plenty if
practiced daily to reassure that you
still master play mode 1. You will be
generally surprised to what a
minimum - and that means also
minimal time – daily technical
exercises can be limited with my
method. The sole purpose of these
exercises is simply to keep confident
that you remain in full command of
your technical capabilities, even after
prolonged interruptions. This is an
enormous advantage if you consider
that you may have been required to
go through a large number of painful
exercises for many hours and even
days in the past to get to the same
result.
The ‘little finger movement ’ (play
mode 2)
We will now discover how we can
strengthen the tone beyond the
natural level achieved with play mode
1. We will get there without effort
through what I call the ‘little finger
movement’. This little and very fast
movement of the finger also requires
a preparatory exercise which is similar
to the free standing exercise
practicing the ‘lifting’ of the finger.
Only here, the motion is directed
downwards instead of upwards. You
have to move the outstretched finger
quickly downwards until the fingertip
hits the palm of your hand. The
downwards movement of the thumb
again will have to be practiced on a
pad. Keep in mind with both exercises
the movement will be the faster the
closer it originates to the pivoting
point of the lever. Here, the finger
resembles the lever and the knuckle
the pivoting point. Therefore, direct
your focus less on the particularly
movement towards or away from the
palm, but rather on a quick
movement effecting the knuckle link
of the finger (the proximal finger
bone). The movement returning to
the base position needs to be slow.
Do not combine or alternate both free
exercises as the actions of the short
flexors and extensors are opposing
each other. You need to experience
each one for itself consciously, to be
fully aware of those different muscles
and how they feel. The distance
covered by the fingertip with this
exercise is about 10-fold of what is
required for regular play, just as with
the opposing exercise. We just have
to accept that these exercises simply
cannot be practiced at the keyboard.
The distance from the key resting
position to the bottom is just too
short.
Now, however, let us turn our
attention back to the keyboard and
apply what we have learned. With the
following exercise, each finger will
strike a key eight times as fast as
possible in repetition:

Figure 3: Exercise ‘twittering’ for the


‘little finger movement’ (play mode 2)

This rapid finger movement I call


‘twittering’. It is a purely vertical
movement of the finger with the
knuckle as the pivoting point. The
movement, however, is not caused by
some kind of side motion of the hand.
It is critical to avoid any kind of
pressure down beyond the bottom of
the key. At this point, I have to make
an agreement with you, the reader. Of
course, we know that a small pressure
exists in order to move the key down
to the bottom. In the following
however, I will only talk about
pressure if I refer to a pressure that is
beyond that what is required to just
reach the bottom of the key.
Immediately thereafter, the finger has
to be withdrawn quickly to be ready
again (or held in place without any
pressure if the notation requires
that). Generally, if I talk about
pressure, then I refer to excess and
thus unnecessary pressure.
The traditional ‘finger play’ would
not need quite as much criticism if it
would be studied correctly following
the teachings of Hummel and Czerny.
Unfortunately, however, it is typically
misunderstood in at least 90 out of a
100 cases. During my long career, I
have personally actually encountered
only 3 people where I had no criticism
of their finger play. In all other cases,
the ‘finger play’ method had induced
presence of that faulty pressure and
with it, all the issues and problems
typically encountered by piano
teachers - specifically a more or less
severe form of wrist stiffness, the
origin of all evil for pianists. And still a
number of piano instructors teach the
application of some kind of ‘pressure’
with passion. These teachings involve
the passive use of the weight of the
arm (weight play), activation of the
back muscles and sometimes even
acceptance of tight wrists. We better
won’t go any further into these
treacherous and misleading programs.
I would like to point out the
difference between play mode 1 and
2. In play mode 1, the ‘next finger’ is
lowered down to the bottom of the
key passively at the moment of the
withdrawal of the ‘previous finger’.
However, in play mode 2, the next
finger performs the ‘little finger
movement’ as practiced with the
‘twittering’. The little finger
movement is active and directed
downwards. It is created by the short
finger flexors (the palmar or ventral
interossei). The pivoting point is the
knuckle, the little lever is effected (see
figure 1). The little finger movement
has to be limited only to the height of
the keys (1 cm only). If you would try
to carry on the movement beyond the
height of the keys, you would
automatically try to overcome the
resistance at the bottom of the key.
This would result in generation of that
unwanted pressure, which would
immediately cause a tightening of the
wrist and the loss of the notion of the
heaviness of the hand. Any type of
pressure has to be avoided and is
ultimately unacceptable as you know.
Superficial study of my method
suggests that there is a contradiction
between play mode 1 and 2 as I
demanded that with the ‘normal
tone’ all active finger play is strictly
forbidden. And now, with play mode
2, I am requesting just that. But you
must remember that each play mode
aims for different effects. Generally,
the ‘little finger movement’ can
complement play mode 1 and sort of
support it as an adjunct. Play mode 1,
however, remains the very foundation
of the method.
A fundamental difference between
play mode 1 and 2 is that the weight
of the hand is essentially eliminated
in pure play mode 2, only the fingers
play, moved by the short finger flexors
acting on the short lever (figure 1). To
the contrary, play mode 1 uses the
short lever (finger extension) to
activate the long and much more
powerful lever (dropping of the hand).
Thus, play mode 1 follows very much
the principles of ergometry. You will
never get tired playing in mode 1. Play
mode 2 makes no sense from an
ergometric perspective. It is neither
natural nor smart to attempt playing
for example any Chopin etude in
tempo 10 times one after another
only using play mode 2, maybe it is
not even possible.
Play mode 2, therefore is an
excellent adjunct mode that you can
use for accents or crescendos, or to
strengthen your tone above the
normal tone level. We will talk more
about this, when we discuss
combining the different modes to
generate an enhanced tone through
the accelerated key depression.
Briefly, to combine play mode 1 and 2,
the timing is essential. The withdrawal
of the previous finger has to coincide
with the little finger movement of the
next finger. Further, we will review an
additional version of the twittering
when we discuss tethered fingers and
the polyphonic play.
It will again naturally take some
time to practice and apply the
concept of play mode 2. You are
approaching its limits when you will
have developed it all the way to the
most resonating fortissimo. I want you
to take to heart what I tell all my
students: The organic piano play
evolves only over time.
Scale and arpeggio play (play mode
1 > 2)
Playing scales at the ‘normal tone’
has already been attempted. You will
recall that any jolting or jerking
motion of the thumb has to be
absolutely avoided, just as much as
any variation of the direction of the
hand’s axis, particularly with thumb-
under or fingers-over.
Let’s talk about the ideal scale
performance. One tone should be
placed exactly equally adjacent to the
next. As a model, consider a
glissando-scale. None of the tones is
accentuated there, specifically not the
first of groups of two, three, four or
six as with rhythmic scales.
Thus, three conditions have to be
satisfied for ideal scale play:
1. Equality of the tone strength
2. Equality of the tone sequence
3. Equality of the tone connections.
The first of the three conditions is
a given with play mode 1 because the
weight of the hand remains the same
throughout. One finger will be
withdrawn with the same speed as
another and the stability of the
supporting fingers does not change
either.
The second condition is more an
issue of rhythm than technique. An
uneven play regarding the timing of
the notes can only be corrected using
a metronome. Use it, if you need to.
The third condition will be
satisfied if you get used to timely
touching the key already with the
‘next finger’ prior to the withdrawal of
the ‘previous finger’. Then it is
impossible to create tones not
perfectly connected.
With rhythmical scales, the
marking of single notes (accentuation)
is nicely accomplished with the little
finger movement, play mode 2. It is
also used for crescendos. Practice
crescendo scales at first only in one
octave to better learn the proper
swelling of tone strength from one
tone to the next. A great crescendo is
achieved by accelerating the ‘little
finger movement’ step by step to
grow the ‘normal tone’ until the very
fastest ‘little finger movement’
generates the very loudest tone.
When you use the little finger
movement, you should develop the
feeling that – how I like to say it – the
plaster hand turns into a lead hand.
The hand may appear heavier. As the
little finger movement lets you sense
the falling of the heavy hand more
intensely, you may develop the
illusion the weight of the hand would
increase. Thus, with a great crescendo,
you need to develop the feeling your
hand is gradually gaining heavy mass,
step by step, not abruptly. And it may
feel as if your “plaster hand slowly
morphs into a lead hand”. I cannot
describe it any better than that. In
regards to playing scales, I can only
encourage you to keep the fingers
together, like a ‘rabbit’s foot’, which
will facilitate the ‘thumb-under’ and
‘fingers-over’. The same applies to the
arpeggio play which we will discuss
next.
As with the scales, the ideal
arpeggio requires integration of the
same three principles mentioned
above. This was relatively straight
forward with scales as the thumb-
under reaches only to the 4th finger
and there only to the adjacent key.
With the grand arpeggios, however,
the situation is different in that the
thumb needs to advance much further
to bind together thirds and even
fourths. In this case, the thumb could
only possibly touch the key prior to
the withdrawal of the previous finger
if the hand is excessively rotated
inwards. That, however, has to be
avoided at all cost as this would
interrupt the hand’s heaviness right
away. Additionally, with such a
rotation, the following second finger
would be rotated further away from
its new target and could only be
brought back in position with a sharp
jolt. This jolt is the main evil with all
arpeggio play and must be stopped in
its beginnings. Fortunately, this is
done easily by simply focusing our
attention with arpeggio play to
maintain the same direction of the
hand’s axis at all times. The thumb
then will have to slide a little across
the keys to its next target. This little
sliding motion is barely noticeable as
long as the heaviness of the hand is
not interrupted. The equality of the
tone strength and rhythm need to be
guaranteed to avoid breaking down
the arpeggio with the thumb’s gliding
motion. You can convince yourself by
listening precisely that this little
concession to the third condition by
sliding the thumb is barely detectable
if the first two conditions are
satisfied. Further, arpeggios are
typically performed rapidly and
usually 9 out of 10 times with the
pedal to create what the name
suggests: ‘harp-like’ sounds. Of course,
with the use of the pedal, the little
compromise of the third condition
with the gliding motion of the thumb
is completely obscured. With very
slow arpeggios such as with some of
Chopin’s compositions, it is
acceptable to slowly rotate your hand.
Then, it will be possible to reach every
key prior to withdrawing the previous
finger.
The singing piano tone (the
accelerated key depression)
A bold, resonating “singing” piano
tone is the hallmark of any artistic
piano play. With it, frequently even a
very average instrument may sound
like made-in-heaven. As a result,
much has been written and said
about the “beautiful” tone. There has
been a lot of an ongoing and past
debate if such a singing tone can
possibly even exist independent of its
strength, particularly after Caland’s
claims and publications. However, the
consensus seems to be at this time
that the tone cannot be manipulated
independent of its strength. To my
knowledge, the esteemed physics
experts, who were asked to research
this issue, have so far not been
contradicted. I am not sure if those
experts played the piano themselves.
However, they stated that the
character of a tone, its “color” so to
speak, could not be manipulated on
the piano, because the player had
only one variable to effect the tone,
namely the final speed with which the
hammer strikes the string (you may
want to compare Eugen Tetzel: “Das
Problem der modernen
Klaviertechnik”, 1. Edition, page 11).
Also Professor M. Planck, the director
of the institute for applied physics at
the University of Berlin, confirms the
above statement from the view point
of physics.
To object such authorities is
difficult, even if the theory suggests
something very different then what a
trained ear clearly appreciates when
listening to a master’s play. As a result
the general piano community has
limited itself to accept Eugen Tetzel’s
view which he again presents with the
2nd edition of his book. Tetzel has the
opinion that the apparent divergence
between theory and practice is simply
caused by an illusion created by the
master’s hands. The illusion comes
about, besides through intelligent use
of the pedal, through nothing else but
a skillful joining of single tones to
form a singing melody contrasted
masterfully against a delicate
accompaniment.
This general explanation found
even more acceptance as it became
clear how strongly we can be
manipulated through self-deceiving
processes in the acoustic world. The
question here is: Is there an
additional variable defining a given
piano tone besides its physical
strength?

Option 1: Combination mode 1&2


(‘creepy crawling’)
In regards to the above question,
the authorities of natural sciences
agree, there is no other variable.
Despite this, there is another
important factor effecting the tone
quality and determining your type of
playing: the acceleration of the key
depression.
Naturally, the acceleration has to
be continuously, but not continually
(stepwise). Definitively, the key must
not be depressed with only two
separate speeds: Slow at the
beginning, i.e. until the damper rises
(after about 1/3 of the key
depression), and then suddenly with
high speed until the hammer hits the
string. Let’s say the speed at the
beginning is a, and b at the end.
Imagine the acceleration to not look
like a + b, but rather a < b. To
generate a full and singing tone,
ultimately you can combine play
mode 1 and 2. The withdrawal of a
previous finger must coincide with the
little finger movement to then
generate the continuously accelerated
key depression defining a beautiful,
enhanced and singing tone.
In the above example of the
accelerated key depression, speed ‘a’
is generated by play mode 1 as the
‘next’ finger approaches the bottom
of a key. Speed ‘b’ is generated with
the little finger movement, which you
have by now already quite developed
through the free exercises. The
accelerated movement is now created
if b joins a just at the right time. It is
all about the right timing. If ‘a’ and ‘b’
coincide precisely, the result will be
an accelerated key depression
resulting in a stronger tone. If
however the little finger movement ‘b’
occurs slightly delayed by a fraction of
a second, the acceleration will be
even more significant and the
resulting tone will be stronger. You
can develop this to the point that
your tone can stand out like a burning
flare bursting out of the depth of your
soul. If the timing is slightly off, just a
regular and rather common tone is
produced, specifically a ‘normal tone’
if the little finger movement arrives
too late, or a just somewhat
enhanced tone if it occurs too early.
Practice various types of modifications
of the accelerated motion combining
play mode 1 & 2.
An indicator of the type of
acceleration that you are using is the
timing of the damper lift off. The
damper is the heavily felted
apparatus approaching the string
from above at the grand piano and
from the front at the upright. It
dampens the string unless the
corresponding key is depressed. The
damper will lift off the string once the
key is depressed by about 1/3 of the
full distance from the resting position
down to the bottom. As the damper is
off, the string can vibrate freely and
sound. As the key rises back up to its
resting position, the damper is
lowered back down on the string to
extinguish the sound. You can
consciously modify the timing
between the elevation of the damper
and the hammer stroke. We are
talking here only about a very brief
time interval - only a tiny fraction of a
second. Could the timing of the
damper lift off effect the activation of
overtones? The tone quality is
ultimately effected by generating an
accelerated speed when lowering the
key, which will then also effect the
timing of the damper lift off. Thus, if
you pay close attention to the timing
of the damper lift off, you will realize
in what way you actually accelerate
the key depression.
A tone created combining play
mode 1 & 2 is the more astonishing
and surprising as it is generated with
fully relaxed muscles. I admit that this
will take some time of trial and error
to fully explore the potential of
combining the two play modes. Do
not doubt the rightfulness of the
above principles if you cannot
produce anything extraordinary right
away. It is not quite that easy to
figure this out. Take your time.
Pick a beautiful melody of your
liking as long as it does not contain
passages of tone repetitions. Play it
1. strictly with normal tone (play
mode 1)
2. strictly with the little finger
movement (play mode 2)
Then consider the following
exercise for the singing tone (mode
1&2). The exercise will be especially
helpful for the student who has not
yet fully developed play mode 2. The
speed of the little finger movement
has to be greater than the speed of
the finger movement with the ‘normal
tone’. If the little finger movement is
only poorly developed, we will simply
slow down the finger speed with play
mode 1. Do it by withdrawing the
previous finger only very slowly. This
way you cause a very slow depression
of the key with the ‘next finger’. Your
resulting tone is very quiet. I refer to
this exercise as ‘creepy crawling’. It is
equivalent to a slow walk.
With this ‘creepy crawling’, you
can imagine that you have enough
time to add acceleration with the
little finger movement. Quickly, you
will be able to translate this principle
to your actual play. That way, you will
create the singing tone in the most
straight forward manner, even though
there are other options. This seems
incredibly difficult until you master it.
But after you mastered it, it will feel
just as incredibly easy. At least all my
students attest to that. The ‘creepy
crawling’ is the main option to
develop a full and singing tone.

Option 2: Combination mode 0 & 2 (the


‘probing’)
The 2nd option to develop a strong
singing tone is the ‘probing’. You kind
of probe into or test the resistance of
each individual piano key. Typically
you do this by carefully moving your
entire hand up and down from the
wrist (slow motion ‘aired’ play). Here
the hand is held lightly. If you depress
the key very slowly in this fashion,
then consider this your initial slow
speed. You can then accelerate the
depression again using the little finger
movement by letting the finger snap
just at the right time to ultimately
fully depress the key. This second
option of play mode 3 is particularly
useful with repetitions and the
starting note of a melody as the speed
‘a’ cannot be brought about by the
withdrawal of a ‘previous finger’ (play
mode 1). The singing tone generated
with this second option has a
particularly large volume and
intensity, similar to a large church bell
to be sparingly used only where
appropriate. You can practice this
mode of the singing tone initially with
single notes not connected with each
other. Then, only after you can
produce the tone comfortably and
reliably, try to connect all the tones in
legato fashion. As you connect the
tones, the up and down motion of the
hand (the ‘probing’) will then no
longer be required.

Option 3: Play mode 3 (“Butterfly-wing-


flea”)
This represents the 3rd option of
an accelerated key depression to
create a particularly enhanced and
singing tone. I refer to it as ‘butterfly-
wing-flea’ technique. You will likely
smile here and feel this technical term
is grotesque. I can, however, reassure
you that I did not just pick this term
out of thin air. It came about only
through years of experience and
intense study of the matter. At least
so far, I have not found a better term
to evoke a better image in the
student’s mind of how to execute
option three in regards to the singing
tone.
With option three, an acceleration
of the key down to the bottom is
brought about through something
new that will gain further importance
in the following: The transition from
soft to firm. This is different compared
to what we discussed earlier.
Previously, I was mainly talking about
light and heavy.
The concept of soft is illustrated
by the ‘butterfly wing’. If I touch the
key ‘softly’, it has to be so soft that
even the most delicate structure
remains intact, i.e. the wing of a
butterfly. Vice versa, the concept of
firm is illustrated by the ‘flea’. If I
transition my finger to firm at the
bottom of the key, however without
any pressure, even the tiniest
crustacean i.e. flea would be
squashed instantly. Thus, the term
‘butterfly-wing-flea’ demonstrates the
extremes of soft and firm. An
accelerated key depression is now
achieved by transitioning from one
extreme to the other while depressing
the key. The initially very soft finger
rapidly becomes firm during the key
stroke. The devil in the detail here is
that despite the transition to firm, no
pressure may ever be applied to the
bottom of the key. Otherwise, the
process is straight forward. It is
obvious what causes the acceleration
here: The key starts to move
downward initially slowly under the
still soft and yielding finger. As the
fingers grows firmer, it yields less and
therefore gains speed. If you keep
imagining ‘butterfly wing flea’, it has
been my experience that this will
ultimately lead to success.
Here may be another approach to
understanding play mode 3 (butterfly-
wing-flea): With the ‘aired’ play (play
mode 0), the long lever (figure 1) is
activated by a shooting electrical
impulse at the extensor side of the
forearm just proximal to the wrist.
With the butterfly-wing-flea
technique, the opposite is the case:
There is a brief electrical impulse
shooting in from the flexor side of the
forearm, again just proximal to the
relaxed wrist. The effect acts directly
on the hand (the long lever, figure 1). I
like to refer to it also as the ‘little
knock’. Essentially, it is equivalent to
the ‘little finger movement’ (pivoting
point knuckle). Only, the pivoting
point here is the wrist instead. The
muscles used are not the short finger
flexors (ventral interossei, play mode
2), but instead the wrist flexors. The
impulse is discontinued immediately
as you reach the bottom of the keys
by airing out your hand, taking
advantage of the ‘uplift’ momentum
of the keys. Keep thinking ‘butterfly-
wing-flea’. We will discuss this further
later, i.e. when we discuss the singing
octaves and the ‘little knock’.
In summary, I have here presented
three different options of how to
conjure a singing tone out of a piano
using an accelerated key depression
just with the weight of your relaxed
hand, not with the weight of your arm
or forearm. You can even try
combining play mode 0, 2 and 3 for
maximum enhancement. But before
proceeding, I would like to add the
following thoughts.
You will frequently observe, that
most pianists if playing ‘singing voices’
on the piano use abundant motion far
beyond what would be required to
actually create the music. This may
include movements of the entire
arms, circular motion of the wrist or
even cramping of the trunk to garner
a specific effect. Whoever
understands and can produce a
singing tone with my method, will
immediately be able to see that those
above described motions serve no
purpose other than to create an
accelerated key depression. But
because of the faulty understanding,
those efforts are far beyond what is
necessary. It seems whoever does this
has not paid attention to the
accelerated key depression. Otherwise
such a waste of energy just to
generate a singing tone could not be
understood.
Nevertheless, the creation of a
singing tone has always been and will
always be the hallmark of any great
pianist. Even today, people still talk
about the unattainable singing tone
Rubinstein’s. And then, those
esteemed critics often like to add this
unattainable tone was only possible
because of a special anatomic
condition: Rubinstein’s thick and
therefore soft naturally padded
fingertips. One can only say: “Quod
erat demonstrandum!” Because of
this padding, Rubinstein just had no
another option than striking the keys
in an accelerated motion (butterfly-
wing-flea mode). The key initially
moved down slowly under the
yielding cushion of the padded finger
to then speed up quickly under the
non-yielding finger bone. That
however well-padded fingers are not
required to generate the grand tone
on the piano (against the belief of
many piano teachers), that we know
based on the ‘roll’ recordings of the
play of the masters. If Rubinstein
would have played on electronic rolls,
the recordings would have recreated
his beautiful play with sadly pathetic
wooden sticks as described earlier,
with no exception.
For the practice of your singing
piano tone, attempt practicing a given
melody with all three options. Once
you master each one of those
individually, you would no longer
make conscious decisions which of
those 3 options to apply in a given
situation. You would simply follow
your genuine musical intuition and
feel pleasantly assured you will find
the most appropriate tone instantly
and spontaneously for any given
situation.
If anyone admires the passage play
of a certain pianist, then it is typically
said the passage play is ‘pearling’.
That means nothing else but that the
pianist naturally combines play mode
1 and 2. Further, I can only support
Busoni’s instructions in regards to
Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier. For the
d-minor preludium in part 1, he
suggests it would be more
appropriate to play generally in a
non-legato fashion (with the
exception of singing tones). He
preferred that in contrast to old
school legato, which was taught in
Spohr’s violin school and in the
ancient traditional Italian art of
singing, two very different musical
fields. A melodic line is best
performed on the piano, the
instrument that is the least similar to
the human voice, by contrasting it
against the other accompanying
sounds. In other words, the effect of a
legato ‘singing voice’ is deepest if
contrasted against a non-legato
background, rather than legato
accompaniment.
We have now reached the end of
chapter I, where we dealt with all
possibilities of the single-voiced piano
play. You may be surprised, if I tell
you now that this has indeed occurred
after all that we have discussed so far.
Thus, we have to put you to the test
now.
Please pick a difficult passage,
maybe one, that you could not handle
so far, and study it the following way:
First play it with ‘aired’ play. Only
little lifting of the hand is allowed.
You will have to pay attention to
position the ‘next finger’ already on
the key that it is supposed to ‘thud’
on next. Lift your hand from the wrist
to do this. Further, pay close
attention to the fingering and never
change it in the following. You will
realize quickly that you can choose
the fingering much more freely. Also
you will be able to move along in a
much more relaxed way then what
you are used to. Remember, the
difference between stronger and
weaker fingers is irrelevant with my
method. That is why you will feel
more comfortable. Then, carry on with
the passage in the ‘normal tone’. It
will provide a feel of reassurance that
you will always hit the right keys,
particularly through developing the
right spatial sense of your hand in
relation to the keys. I like to call it the
right sense of touch and balance with
your hand. This represents a very
important hallmark of play mode 1,
which will occur automatically as long
as the arm remains ‘light-as-a-
feather’. The arm then follows your
hand passively. Your hand will rest on
each finger as required in play mode
1. Next, practice the passage in play
mode 2 with the little finger
movement for the purpose of
repetition. I recommend to dedicate a
fifth of the practice time to the ‘aired’
play, three fifth to play mode 1 and
the last fifth to play mode 2. As a
result, practicing will be much more
stimulating. You always have to pay
attention to something different. This
serves the final outcome and prevents
boredom. At this moment, I use to
amaze students by placing a coin or
better a rubber eraser on their wrists.
It will not fall off to their surprise. You
may now recognize that your technical
level has reached the ideal imagined
by those torturing you with
impossible exercises in the past.
Thrills and jumps, even though they
are part of the ‘single voice’ play, we
will deal with later.
Before I conclude the current
chapter, I have to contradict one
other criticism which I hear frequently
from students who are just starting
with my method. Many experience a
slight aching of the muscles of the arm
and back during the first couple of
days, which they correctly identify as
something caused by the ‘light-as-a-
feather’ arm concept. I enjoy listening
to this, even if this ache is
accentuated to a slight pain. It will
resolve before long. It only proves the
students now use muscles they had
never before recruited to play the
piano. But they should have. This
ache is therefore nothing but the
typical ‘sore muscle’ commonly known
as ‘gym fever’ or ‘bowling ache’. No
worries, it will not be permanent. If
you might now argue it would be
unbearable to hold the arm ‘light-as-
a-feather’ throughout an entire piece
of music, then I have to point out that
many activities of daily living could
not be handled differently or handled
at all, if not with a ‘light-as-a-feather’
arm. I.e. when you eat a meal, you will
have to hold your arms ‘light-as-a-
feather’ unless you are poorly
behaved and you have developed the
habit of resting your elbow on the
table top. And meals frequently go on
for much longer than even the longest
piano performances… Besides, there is
no concern in using those strong
antigravity muscles to this purpose
compared to the demands placed on
much weaker muscles if the wrong
piano technique is utilized.
II Striking several piano
keys simultaneously
The melodic chords
I believe there are 2 types of
chords. The first type of chords has a
full, uplifting and singing sound. The
second type simply serves to add
harmonic structure. Let’s focus on the
first kind: A melodic chord represents
a cluster of several tones. Each one
individually has to be played in a
singing tone - simultaneously. We
have already learned how to play a
singing tone by itself in three different
ways. Now we have to just
understand which way is suitable to
produce multiple singing tones in one
chord. It takes only little thought to
immediately recognize that the first
option (the creepy crawling) cannot
be considered. We cannot apply
either the concept of the normal tone
or the little finger movement. Further,
the second option (the probing)
cannot be applied to chords as well. It
would not be practical to let more
than one finger ‘snap’ forward. Thus,
only the third option remains
(butterfly wing flea). Indeed, it is used
for the chords. You can see here
already the melodic chords are
generated through an active hand
motion originating from the wrist.
This circumstance leads me to the
following preliminary thoughts.
No one lesser than Liszt has always
claimed and taught with great
emphasis that there is no other way
to bring about chords so full and
uplifting as if they are played only
from the wrist, without active
involvement of the arm. You may
want to compare what is stated in the
book “Franz Liszt as teacher, diary
pages by Auguste Bossier” (Paul
Zsolonay publishing) on page 56 and
59. This instruction by Liszt has not
been followed much, often not even
by his own students, and certainly not
by today’s pianists, who almost
without exception use the entire arm
to produce chords. Some critics went
as far as claiming this would be proof
of how little Liszt actually knew about
his own technique. A world renowned
pianist, a friend of mine and still
younger pianist had once attempted
to convince me by demonstration that
the massive chords in Tchaikovsky’s b-
minor concert could never be played
following Liszt’s instruction – in vain. I
had to reassure him time and again
that I had never heard these chords as
massive and dramatic as during a
performance by Sophie Menter (who
he had already missed). She played
those only from the wrist, without
visible arm motion. Sadly, at that
time, I was unable to perform myself
what I tried to explain. I had not
discovered the solution to the
problem at that time. The solution,
however, is something that Liszt
himself never described in detail.
Without it the chord would sound
simply dull or hard. Again, it is the
accelerated speed of the key
depression. This can only occur if
originating at the wrist. If the elbow
or even the shoulder joint would be
used as pivoting point, the lever
would be way too large to create a
differentiated acceleration of the
finger tip over the distance of the
height of the key. Yes, you can
generate a very fast speed lowering a
key, if you use the entire arm as lever.
And it will create a very strong and
loud sound. But not a singing one, as
the singing tone is born out of the
accelerated key depression. For the
listener, that makes all the difference.
Thus, to create a melodic chord,
apply the third option for the singing
tone. Place your hand on the keys of a
sixth chord. Try to hold your hand
lightly and relaxed and bring your
fingers in contact with the keys so
gently and loosely that even the wing
of a butterfly would not be harmed by
your touch. Then depress the keys
from the wrist. Try to let your hand
become firm in a way that this
culminates exactly at the moment
when the keys hit the bottom. You
may want to imagine that your hand
is firmed so tightly that at the final
movement even the tiniest
crustacean, i.e. a flea would be
squashed. But your key stroke must
never go beyond the bottom to not
generate faulty pressure. With the
first attempts, it will be hard to fulfill
the demand that your hand has to
become firm in the process, but never
be firm. Exactly at the moment, when
the ‘being’ would begin, that is when
your hand and fingers have to be
again completely relaxed. But keep
your fingers at the bottom of the keys
as long as the notation requires. Try
this exercise at first with the sixth
chords, initially diatonically, then
chromatically progressing. Create a
very small break between each
chords. Keep your wrist even a little
lower, about at key level – particularly
with C-major. This will make it easier.
Further you can feel better how you
use your wrist instead of your arm.
Then you can eventually eliminate the
little break which I had just
recommended. Directly launch from
the bottom of the keys of the
‘previous’ chord instead from the
resting position of the ‘next’ chord. To
do this, relax your hand as much as
possible. Generate firmness only while
engaging the keys of the ‘next’ chord,
but not earlier and definitely not
later. The moments of the fixation
and the starting position merge here.
This creates a frog-like movement. The
hand is lifted only by the height of the
keys from the wrist. Then, the hand
advances sideways to engage the next
chord. If done right, you can create a
legato play that surprises most
students as they thought this would
be impossible without the pedal.
In general, I would like to add
here, that the permanent condition of
the hand while playing chords has to
be a soft one. The brief fixation
periods shoot in like lightening. Some
other students appreciate the image
of the wrist being briefly tightened as
if struck by an electrical jolt. With
correct performance, again the effort
used is rather minute compared to
the effect.
What applies to the sixth chord as
the most straight forward one, applies
just the same to any other chord as
long as no tension builds. Particularly
players with small hands have to be
very observant. Any tension will
immediately prevent you from
properly playing the chords with soft
hands from the wrist. With tension,
the chords will no longer sound
‘singing’ but rather ‘hard’. It will take
you a while to get used to a specific
characteristic with this chord play: If
after a number of chords, a sforzato
or fortissimo chord should be
performed, then you will likely out of
old habit fix your wrist a little more,
particularly if you have studied
Lechetizky’s works in the past.
However, the exact opposite is
required: If you want the chord to
sound stronger and fuller, then you
have to relax your hand even more
immediately prior to playing it. This is
the only way how you can increase
the acceleration with the key stroke,
which determines the fullness and
wealth of the resulting tone. The
transition from fully relaxed to firm is
quite more intense than from partially
fixated to fully fixated.
My type of playing results in an
effect which seems to go against
common sense. Generally, you would
think, musical massiveness has to be
performed with equivalent bodily
might. With my method, however, it
appears that tone fullness and
physical tension seem to cancel each
other out. Similarly, many students
will have by now realized that their
passage play grew fuller and stronger
the more they relaxed their hand and
fingers. This is caused by the fact that
the critical elements (the heaviness of
the hand and speed of the little finger
movement) are the more effective,
the more the muscles not
participating stay relaxed.
Colored chords
As you know, it is one of the more
difficult tasks of a pianist to repeat a
chord several times and to accentuate
one tone of the chord after another
without letting it resonate in front or
dabble behind. As a result, there have
always been a number of experts
claiming that the accentuation of
specific tones within a chord is simply
not possible. No one less than Karl
Reinecke demonstrated a perfect
example of this in his performance of
the a-minor etude by Saint-Saens. He
had composed it as a contribution to
the Lebert-Stark Piano School. This
etude was dedicated to this task
which was called ‘music for the eye’.
The music experts favoring weight
play believed they could accomplish
the task by slightly advancing the
finger corresponding to the accented
note and then focus the weight of the
arm on it. However, it did not play out
in practice. All too frequently, the
accented note appeared ahead of the
rest of the chord. I personally have so
far not encountered any scholar of
the weight play school, who was
capable of repeating what I was able
to readily and easily demonstrate on
the key board. Regardless, I believe
the accentuation of a single tone in a
chord, typically the top one, is one of
the main basic functions of any
artistic piano play.
I have encountered several people
who had personally heard Liszt,
Rubinstein, Tausig and others. These
people were describing how “colorful”
beyond any comparison their play
was. And I could never understand
what they were referring to. The
explanation those masters literally
‘colored’ each and every chord so
dramatically seemed to be merely a
phrase, as this seemed rather
impossible. However, after the
description of the chord technique
above, I believe the coloring of the
chords is nothing more than the
accentuation of some specific tones
within the chords. This represents
ultimately something rather simple
that can be readily mastered even by
beginners.
All you need to do is to add the
little finger movement. You can
practice this process again with the
simplest chord, the sixth chord played
with fingers 1, 2, 5. Alternatingly, add
the little finger movement to one of
the three fingers while repetitively
playing the chord. A single tone of the
chord can only be accentuated this
way, if the other tones are not
maximally loud. Keep them rather
quiet to enhance the contrast. The
coloring of the cords must be
practiced particularly with the fifth
finger. Generally, the highest note
carries the melody. Musical pieces
such as the A flat major Impromtus by
Schubert op 142 no. 2 can never be
performed as it should be unless the
highest tones float like a human voice
above all the other remaining
harmonic tones of each chord. After a
little practice, the student will be able
to easily contrast the tones in a
musically appropriate way with
confidence.
Mastering the colored chords,
typically with the melody in the
highest notes, creates a musical
diversity and differentiation between
choir-like and soloist-like
interpretations of a number of
compositions. The following example
should illustrate my point: The
moment musicaux op. 94 no. 6 gives
you the option of either a choir-like or
a soloist-like interpretation in the
beginning part. You can choose to
accentuate the highest note or even
the two highest notes (thirds). Soloist-
like should be the performance of the
e-major interlude and definitely the
trio, where a noted instruction
demands a pianissimo melody
accompanied by tender accompanying
chords. If you perform the remainders
of the piece choir-like with full singing
chords, then a welcoming change is
introduced that will truly benefit the
performance and could otherwise not
be brought about.
Another great exercise piece is the
theme of the variation sonata in a flat
major by Beethoven. Numerous
presentation options exist. It will
prove quite useful for the performing
artist to try all of them. In cases,
where the soprano voice of chords
has to be accentuated significantly,
the ear is enough to tell you if you
have evened out the minimal
difference in speed properly when
depressing the keys. Keep monitoring
the precisely simultaneous
appearance of the chord’s tones.
Colored intervals & singing octaves
Whoever masters the colored
chords, is capable to accentuate
whichever tone while playing
intervals. To practice this, just leave
out the fifth with the sixth chord.
Then you can perform well linked
sixth passages in the above described
manner where either the soprano or
base voice is accentuated. This is
quite easy. Practice it with thirds as
well. Now, you have been introduced
to a new important tool. It proves
itself quite useful for the interval play
when the upper or lower tone needs
to be accentuated. Frequently, the
music becomes more transparent
when presented this way, i.e. third- or
sixth passages (Berceuse by Chopin).
Further, the colored interval play
improves the illusion of a good legato.
Good examples of this are the G
major etude op. 37 no 2 by Chopin as
well his third and sixth etudes.
Pianists with a large enough hand
don’t need to do anything but change
from a ‘sixths hold’ to an ‘octave hold’
to apply everything discussed
previously to the octave play. Singing
octaves are simply a specific form of
singing chords. A legato illusion can
be created the same way as with the
sixth chords by gliding from key to
key. An accentuation of the soprano
or base voice will help this effect, just
as previously with the colored sixth
chords. I purposefully mention the
size of the player’s hand. A singing
octave play is only possible if the
player can perform the octave hold
with a soft and tension free hand,
keeping the muscles relaxed. As a
result, I use almost without exception
exclusively the 1st and 5th fingers for
singing octaves. I recommend this to
all my students. Otherwise, the hold
of the hand had to be changed
constantly. That will harm your
technique and still generally not
result in a perfect legato. With the
singing octaves, let only one voice
stand out. The other is constantly
interrupted by the octave motion.
Thus, true octave binding really occurs
only with the use of the pedal.
Particularly important for the
singing octave is the coloring effect. It
offers a variety of musical
interpretations on the piano. With
any singing octaves in a composition,
you can easily figure out if the
purpose is simply an enhancement of
a melody or if the composer wants to
present the melody in a new and
different light. The first type of
octaves, I call ‘amplification octaves’.
The second type, I refer to as ‘singing
octaves’, like a form of
instrumentation on the piano. A well-
known piece that illustrates the
concept is “Am Wallenstädter See”
from book 1. Années de pélérinage by
Liszt. In measure 16, he repeats the
melody in octaves with the instruction
‘sempre dolce’. He clearly instructs to
not use amplification octaves, but
rather to create the effect of
instrumentation as if you i.e. add a
flute to an already playing shawm. On
the piano, the same effect is achieved
if you accentuate the lower tone. This
way the melody is repeated and not
enhanced but rather colored
differently by adding the octave.
Shortly thereafter, the octaves are
repeated again in E-major, here
simply as enhancement.
‘Amplification octaves’ should be
used. Which of the octave voices
needs to be accentuated, is
determined by the context. In
Schubert’s Moment musicaux op. 142
no. 3, you would accentuate the lower
notes of the octaves beginning in
measure 5. This is a repetition of the
melody presented in the first four
measures. Vice versa, in measure 13,
you should accentuated the higher
notes. The melody continues in those
higher notes in the following
measures. These few examples should
suffice and encourage you to further
investigate the octaves on your own.
Passage octaves
In stark technical and musical
contrast to the singing octaves stand
the passage octaves. They are easily
recognized as such. Only in some
compositions, frequently those of
Liszt, there are moments where the
octaves could be played either as
passage octaves or singing octaves. In
general, it is acceptable to say that we
are dealing with passage octaves
where a doubling of passage-like
figures occurs. If you would omit the
higher octave notes, there should be
no major loss of musical structure.
The execution of this octave passages
is only different from the ‘aired’ play
in that you have to main the octave
hold at all times without
interruptions. Thus, the somewhat
raised hand falls back down, not on
only one finger, but on two. You will
overcome simultaneously not only the
resistance of one key, but two (70
grams x 2 = 140 grams). This will
generate only half the tone strength
compared to the ‘aired’ play with one
finger. You would only achieve a
modest pianissimo if you use nothing
more than just the weight of the
dropping hand - particularly if you are
playing fast. This is usually not
sufficient. I.e. take the glissando
octave passage at the end of
Beethoven’s C-major sonata op. 53.
The dilemma can be easily resolved
with a function similar to the
butterfly-wing-flea technique:
The ‘little knock’
This ‘little knock’ represents an
acceleration of the free fall of the
heavy hand, which however should
not transition into an active strike of
the lightly held hand. The free fall of
the hand is and will remain the key
motion (best felt with play mode 0,
the aired play). It is simply
complemented by the very minimally
activity of the ‘little knock’ -
particularly during rapid play (just as
play mode 2 supports play mode 1).
The faster an octave passage is
performed, the less you can lift your
wrist. Consider the following practical
exercise. Drop the hand from a height
of 10 cm in octave hold down on the
keys to play an octave passage. Then
do it directly from the keyboard using
the ‘little knock’. The effect should be
equal, particularly the tone strength.
As you had previously equalized the
different height of the keys with your
fingers, here you have to do this with
your hand coming from the wrist, not
from the arm. The wrist should hover
over the keyboard at an even distance
throughout the passage play. Just as
with the octaves, the ‘little knock’ can
be applied to a single key if you are
trying to strengthen the tone beyond
what you could achieve using only the
heaviness of the hand with the ‘aired
out’ play. The ‘little knock’ with ‘aired
play’ therefore is equivalent to the
little finger movement with legato
play.
With this technique, we are now
ready to perform any mode of
staccato, not as “stabbing” what it
means literally, but rather as ‘aired’
play, possibly supplemented with the
little knock. Frequently, staccato
passages carry a melody where each
tone is separated from the next by a
little break. Thus, you have to pay
attention to the right accentuation
and dynamic grading of the melodic
line. Many actually do not. I
recommend to start the practice of
such passages with an aired legato,
then graduate via portamento to
staccato. If you allow the hand to rest
only shorter and shorter in the keys,
you will arrive at an ‘aired’ staccato
play which is much superior to the
traditional ‘stabbing’ from a musical
point of view.
We will recruit the ‘little knock’ for
the playing of all chords that are not
singing, i.e. accompanying chords such
as with the left hand in Chopin’s e-
minor prelude or with the right hand
in Liszt’s Cantique d’amour. The
weight of the hand is insufficient for
such chords if 3 or 4 keys are engaged
simultaneously. That is where you
want to use the ‘little knock’. A
coloring of the chords by accentuating
the soprano voice is easily
accomplished with this method.
With pieces that entirely rely on
brilliant octave passage performance,
such as Chopin’s octave etudes, Liszt’s
6th rhapsody, his Hungarian storm
march etc., you have to be capable to
truly let your hand drop in the octave
hold. In other words, your had has to
be large enough to remain fully
relaxed in the octave hold. Otherwise,
it will be impossible to perform those
pieces appropriately to the desired
effect. In addition, you should take
advantage of another momentum
that is quite helpful: the ‘uplift’ of the
key. To utilize this momentum, you
have to make sure that your arm
remains ‘light-as-a-feather’.
Otherwise, you will not feel the uplift
of the keys which acts sort of like a
diving board. Further, certain passive
reflex motions of the arm are
necessary for this, which again will
only be possible with the ‘light-as-a-
feather’ arm. Only if you master all
the above technical nuances and
combine them for your octave play,
you will command over an octave play
that can be rightfully described as
“whipped out of your sleeve”. This is
how it indeed looks like, even though
there is obviously no active ‘whipping’
of the arm – instead only passive
reflex motion.
III Thrills, Tremolo and
Jumps

First, the player will have to learn


how to perform an immaculate full
and even regular thrill, independent
of the fingers used. A player who can
only perform a perfect thrill with two
fingers, let’s say the 2nd and 3rd,
certainly still has much to learn.
Thrills
With the first exercise for thrills,
we go back to play mode 1, the
withdrawal of the finger as the key
element. Please practice now a thrill
in major and minor seconds in the
‘normal tone’ in a way that the
withdrawing finger never let’s go of
the key, but constantly stays in close
touch with it. It is further critical that
one finger is withdrawn exactly with
the same speed as the other. Any
little unevenness will create a varying
tone strength and result in what I
refer to as ‘bicker thrill’, meaning a
thrill where one tone is constantly
stronger than another. Then, you
should perform the exercise
rhythmically, specifically a quarter
note and then 2 eighth, then a
quarter note and 4 sixteenth, so that
the finger alternates on the quarter
note. The 8th and 16th need to be
performed with the exact same tone
strength as the quarter note.
You should now practice this
exercise with all kinds of finger
permutations, such as the 1st and 2nd,
2nd and 3rd, 3rd and 4th, 4th and 5th, 1st
and 3rd, 2nd and 4th, 3rd and 5th, 1st
and 4th, 2nd and 5th, all in major and
minor seconds, on 2 white keys, 2
black keys and one white and one
black key. You need to pay attention
to ‘balance’ the hand properly by
resting it appropriately on the
working fingers. If you succeed you
will notice that there is no difference
in playing the thrill with the stronger
(1-3) or weaker fingers (4&5). Once
you master it in the normal tone, add
the little finger movement, which will
allow you to not only play the thrill
stronger, but further to let it increase.
You do not need to consider any
exercises for thrills beyond those few
described above. But no worries, it
will still take you a little while until
you fully master the thrills this way.
With a very rapid thrill, you may be
able to notice a form of ‘hand
shaking’. It will occur automatically as
passive reflex movement. The
opposing theory, that this ‘shaking’
should be practiced, possibly even as
a free standing exercise, I believe is
another faulty and misleading concept
of the various piano schools.
Somebody noted something quite
right, but drew the wrong conclusions.
The piano tremolo
The true piano tremolo is a rapid
alternating repetition of one or two
notes with one or two others, rarely
with more than that. Let’s take the
three notes of a sixth chord. It could
be used for 2 different tremolos, i.e.
the notes e alternating with g + c, or e
+ g alternating with c. The first
tremolo exercises should be done
with a third-forth chord, i.e. a
dominant seventh chord of C-major
with the notes d + f alternating with g
+ b. Once the 1st and 2nd fingers rest
on the bottom of the keys, I will have
the fingers of the second pair readily
touching the keys g and b. With the
withdrawal of the first (‘previous’)
finger pair, the ‘next’ finger pair will
sink in to the bottom of the keys
driven by nothing else but the
heaviness of the hand. With small
hands, a little help may need to be
recruited using the little finger
movement. Practice this exercise until
you develop some confidence. Then,
switching the order of withdrawal of
the finger pairs, start with fingers 4
and 5. Again, just like with the thrills,
you want to pay attention to an even
tone generation. Do not create a
‘bicker tremolo’. You may try the
same rhythmical variations as with
the thrills earlier. The little hand
movement to and fro must not be
suppressed. It simply may be caused
by a sideway vibration of the hand,
which you do not want to occur, but
which will rather happen naturally
again as some sort of a reflex. An
important version of the piano
tremolo are broken octaves which you
should practice in the same fashion.
This is all you need to know to learn
an immaculate and perfect piano
tremolo with confidence.
Jumps
Many piano players are terrified
by quite nothing as much as by jumps
on the keyboard, already when they
just take a look at the music text.
Many pianists have already wasted
considerable amounts of time and
energy on jumps without getting
anywhere. This lack of success is not
surprising, as the players attempted
something that is simply not doable
for a human being despite whatever
efforts. To be convinced, please
attempt a jump from whatever key
low down on the keyboard to
another, way up high. As long as you
closely look at what you are doing,
you can do it just fine. Once you close
your eyes, you will miss frequently.
And no exercise will change that. This
is true because of a simple fact.
Humans just do not have a spatial
sense developed as much as would be
required for this purpose. Other
creatures, however, have it, i.e. the
bees. They will return always exactly
to the same spot where they started
out on their ventures, even if their
hive would have been moved after
they left. Of course, no beekeeper
would do that as otherwise the bees
would get lost. Thus, to master jumps
on the piano, we have to replace this
non-existing sense of spatial
awareness by some tricks.
Surprisingly, they are known only to
very few.
I could never understand how
some teachers recommend to follow
certain circular pathways through the
air with your hands when jumping.
Common sense tells you that you
want to jump quickly and with
confidence from one point to another.
Both points are located in the same
horizontal plane separated by a
certain distance. Again, the shortest
way is the best, according to an old
saying that applies here as well. The
shortest distance between two points
is and always will be a direct line, and
not a circular path. If you want go get
from one side of a mountain to the
other, you would not climb over it.
You would go through the tunnel if
available. If you perform jumps on
this straight horizontal line on the key
board, keep your hands close to it.
Then you take advantage of two
principals: First, your sense of touch is
not completely interrupted unlike
with a jump where your hands take
off from the keyboard. Second,
because your path is shorter, you save
time. This little extra-time, how
minute it may be, will serve your aim
greatly.
Further, this very aim is
compromised by the fact that the
target might be somewhat obscured.
With right hand jumps up the
keyboard and with left hand jumps
down the keyboard, the target is
somewhat concealed by your hand: It
is outside your field of view if you
have to land on your 5th finger. This
unfavorable situation needs to be
fixed with a little secret trick. It is
actually quite simple. If you use it, the
trick will instantly guarantee success
with jumps to your surprise and
consequently boost your confidence
quite a bit. All you need to do is use
the octave hold. Then pay attention
to position the thumb to the right
over the lower and to the left over the
higher note of the octave while you
strike the desired key with your 5th
finger. With this trick, otherwise
terrifying jumps such as in Chopin’s A
flat major etude op. 25 no. 1 where
even Clara Schumann had
recommended a little ritardando, can
be performed without angst. Another
good example is Liszt’s Campagnella
etude. There, the jumps are cut in
half using this trick. The very most
infamous of all jumps, these at the
end of Chopin’s b flat minor scherzo
op 31 and those in Liszt’s Don Juan
fantasy, the jumps with both hands
will be shortened by actually 2
octaves this way.
Accompanying chords in passage
octaves - frequently encountered with
Liszt - will also feel much easier if you
keep your hand as close to the piano
as possible. This way you will be able
to recruit your sense of touch as much
as possible with this complex form of
play. I recommend to practice such
jumping octaves with your eyes
closed, initially with both hands in its
easiest form, the minor seventh
chord. You will be able to convince
yourself clearly that your success rate
will be higher the less you lift your
hand off the keyboard and the more
you imagine what interval you have to
bridge. The proper positioning of the
thumb in the correct plane has to be
maintained just as with general
octave play. Your orientation will be
increased if you remain as close to the
keyboard with your fingertips as
possible. After studying the seventh
chords in this manner, you will be
able to play broken chords blindly and
safely in jumping octaves. Just imagine
whether you are dealing with a third
or a forth jump. I recommend the
blinded practice of these figures.
Usually the other hand occupies your
eyes attention during those jumps.
This way, you can safely learn jumps
up to a full octave. In the latter case,
it helps to imagine that the thumb
has to land on the key where just
moments ago the fifth finger rested.
IV The Use of the Pedals

The right pedal


If depressed, all dampers will be
lifted. Liszt once said that he knew
only one pianist, Thalberg, who could
“play violin on the piano”. This meant
nothing else according to Karl
Reinecke, who heard Thalberg many
times, that a melodic line performed
on the piano by Thalberg was so close
to a violin performance as by no other
pianist – Liszt himself included.
Reinecke then used to state he
created this deception mainly via the
use of the pedal, or as I prefer to say
of the pedals. How Thalberg used the
pedals was neither clear to Reinecke
nor Liszt. One thing is certain,
however. Even Thalberg was no
wizard. Consequently, there has to be
a physical explanation. The main
difference is that a piano tone will
begin to fade immediately after the
string started to vibrate. A violin tone
does not. We would already come
much closer to the violin tone on the
piano if we could at least “arrest” the
tone strength for a short period,
meaning if we could prevent the
immediate fading.
This is where we can take
advantage of the overtones. If I step
on the right pedal shortly after I
produced a singing tone, then I will
not only free all remaining strings
from their dampers, but also create
the opportunity for additional
resonance of all their overtones. The
amplification of the initial tone which
is caused by this trick will fully replace
the sound that would otherwise have
faded away. The tone produced
through this process, where the tone
phases out on the initial string, but
gains momentum in the overtones of
all the other strings combined, I refer
to as “standing tone”. This tone will
so to speak stand still in its sound and
strength, even only though for a short
period of time. But this means a lot as
you want to utilize all technical
options to artistically create a most
effective singing voice. It will take
some trial and error until you find the
right timing for the amplification with
the pedal. If you step on the pedal
too early, there will be no useful
amplification of the tone. It has not
begun to phase out yet. Vice versa, if
you activate the pedal too late, the
initial tone will have already been
phased out. I guess, I do not need to
explain in detail that the current use
of the pedal is different from the well-
known suggestion to activate the
pedal particularly with chords only
after you have struck the keys already.
Nobody will demand here that I
review all known habits, applications
and old hats in regards to the right
pedal. Therefore, I will limit myself to
applications only that go beyond what
is commonly known about the right
pedal. These days, it is rare to be able
to hear piano play without pedal.
Thus, it seems superfluous to
encourage people to use the pedal at
certain occasions. I rather would like
to point out when the pedal must be
avoided.
Who has perfected the piano tone
and has developed the corresponding
touch, will naturally use much less of
the right pedal than somebody who
still has deficits in this regard and
uses the right pedal to cover up those
issues. Often these people cannot
even perform a simple piece without
the pedal. A pianist perfected both
from a musical and technical
perspective must be able to perform
any whatever classical composition
from Bach to Schubert without the
use of the pedals - without losing any
musical structure or message. That
still such compositions could be
brought to full effect in a room not
too large, that was demonstrated with
pleasure by Hummel, the greatest
adversary of the pedal, later Henselt,
then possibly Liszt and as well the
great Mozart performer Reinecke who
I had listened to many times. All you
need to do is review a composition of
the time prior to Liszt, to be
convinced right away that nothing was
written that could not be played
solely with your fingers, may it be
through holding out certain tones or
through legato play. The first of all
unwritten laws and demands is the
performance has to be of the utmost
clarity down to the tiniest detail in
those works. Nothing jeopardizes this
clarity more than the pedals.
So, what purpose should the right
pedal have and where should you
avoid it? Usually I get the answer “to
strengthen the tone” and to “improve
a legato”. Both answers confirm the
original misuse of the pedal has now
become such a habit that people
made a rule of it. The inventor of the
pedal certainly did not want it to be
used for either function. The inventor
probably simply intended to give the
pianist an option to let some tones
continue to sound without having to
hold the keys down. And it requires
no imagination to realize that the
piano was modeled after the harp
also in this aspect. The old masters of
the piano were fully aware of the
intention of the pedal up to Hummel,
who requested the use of the pedal
exclusively when playing broken
chords and arpeggios. In those days,
there were pianists that could make a
name for themselves by extensively
using - but not misusing - the pedal
and prescribe its use also in their
compositions. These were Dussek and
Steibelt. From here on, the pedal
started to play a role that it was
originally not intended to, which it
however then kept to this day: To
amplify the sound. This became
necessary to some degree because of
the constant growth of the concert
halls. Without the pedal, those
compositions intended for chamber
music would have had simply no
effect in those large new concert halls.
Also, the pedal was not intended
for legato play. The old composers
would have not dared composing
something that you could not perform
with your physical hands alone. This
included the holding of certain base
tones, typically with the fifth finger of
the left hand. But today, i.e. with the
‘Jeux à trois mains’, the legato using
the pedal has become a necessity. You
could say, this trick would have never
been invented if it was not for the
pedal. I have to mention here that
this mode of play is notated in a way
typically demanding the presence of a
third hand. It can only be performed
with two hands, if the voice or the
voices to be played with the third
hand can be reached, even though
not held out. The latter job is tasked
to the pedal that skillfully ties
together single usually singing tones
to create the effect of a beautifully
flowing melody ornamented with rich
passage play. This initially rather
surprising effect was invented by List
and Thalberg.
Chopin then developed a
completely new role for the pedal,
creating a very different style of his
own. Most of his compositions are
unthinkable without the use of the
pedal with only few exceptions.
Chopin aimed to achieve a different
new esthetical effect: The contours of
the melody were to be blurred and
softened with the pedal, and this is
what we use the pedal for today as
well. Similarly to painting, there has
been an evolution from linear to
complex as well in music. Thus, the
role of the pedal has evolved into
something in stark contrast to its
initial purpose. If you would play a
Chopin piece without the pedal, i.e.
the Berceuse, you would eliminate
one of its most erotic attractions - the
slight blurring through the pedal of
both melody and passage play.
Now we have briefly reviewed the
history of the pedal play. This should
answer many basic questions. Think of
using it discretely only to create the
effect in a large auditorium that you
would have otherwise in a smaller
room without the pedal! Avoid all
smearing with the pedal. Less is more.
This limited use can only have good
consequences. Your technique will
evolve further if you omit the tool
which is regrettably most suited to
cover up deficits. Then, you will learn
to listen much better to your own
play as by default the pedal will
eliminate many inaccuracies including
faulty legato play or isolated tones
etc. Yes, you could say that even a
fine and well-developed ear of a good
pianist may suffer and possibly be
destroyed by a generous application
of the right pedal and the tone
torrents and tangles created in this
manner. A well-developed ear can
often only be restored by completely
abandoning the pedal at first.
If you consider that the right pedal
causes necessarily a continuation of
all active notes at the time the pedal
is depressed, then you can picture
already looking at the sheet music
where the use of the pedal is against
the intention of the composers. They
will often notate pedal instructions in
a very ponderous way. The pedal
further eliminates breaks completely,
which often are specifically requested
by the composers. I will point out that
Chopin notates even 1/16th breaks in
his melodies. Further, a good staccato
performance becomes an illusion, i.e.
the accompanying base notes in
Chopin’s E flat major Nocturnes op. 9
2. If played with pedal, all you hear is
long 3/8th rather than brief 8th notes
imitating a base player’s pizzicato.
The artistic use of the pedal
cannot be forced into general rules,
but has to be decided upon on a case
by case basis. Hence, I finalize my
chapter about the right pedal with the
hope to have provoked your thoughts
in this regard. You will ultimately
come to your own conclusions.
The left pedal (una corda)
It is the one and only purpose of
the left pedal to modify the tone
color, so that you create a particularly
soft and gentle tone. If you step on it,
the entire keyboard of a grand piano
shifts sideways. As a result, the
hammers of the upper and middle
section will strike only 2 instead of the
usual 3 strings. With the pianino, the
sidestepping of the keyboard is
replaced by an advancement of the
hammers closer to the strings. That
way, unfortunately, the performance
of the singing tone as taught with my
method is somewhat compromised,
particularly if this advancement goes
along with a lowering of the keys by
1/4 to 1/3 of their height. The often
substantially changed color of the
tone is actually much less caused by
the fact the hammer engages only one
or two strings – especially with a new
instrument. There is another more
important effect. With the side-
motion of the keyboard, the hammer
does not hit the strings at the usual
spot. Here the felt shows typically a
small notch already after a short time.
Instead, the hammer hits the string at
a slightly different and new spot,
where the felt has remained soft.
Hence, this fact makes it desirable to
only sparingly use the left pedal
because the desired effect can only
occur as long as the felt still remains
soft. Interestingly, with a modern
Steinway, the hammers will actually
still strike all three strings, but with
the still softer part of the hammer,
unless the pedal has been abused.
With older grand pianos, where the
hammers often show significant
dents, you can discover the surprising
sound of a spinet, if you depress the
left pedal only half way. Then, the
hammers hit the strings with a
relatively pointy felt edge between
the two notches. I have given several
renowned pianists an unsolvable
riddle more than once when I
performed a little piece i.e. by
Scarlatti this way on their own pianos.
If a longer section of a piano work
requires ‘una corda’, typically the
composer will request it. However, it
can be used to change a few specific
tones here and there and as such, it
makes no sense to establish rules as it
is merely a matter of preference. But
one thing, every player should take to
heart: Never use the left pedal to
create a piano or pianissimo. This
remains up to the fingers and no
pianist should ever believe to even
command over a very basic piano
technique if they cannot perform a
pianissimo without the use of the left
pedal. Already the old Friedrich Wieck
thundered against the misuse of the
left pedal. Today, he would have a lot
more opportunities for his outrages
than during his own times!
V The split Hand

This technical term that I had to


actually invent resembles a number of
technical demands. The common
theme with the split hand is holding
out a singing tone with one finger
while the other fingers of the same
hand perform a continuous
accompaniment. Just one look into i.e.
Beethoven’s sonatas is sufficient to
acknowledge how often you will run
into this technicality. And similarly,
one listening to the play of current
pianists is enough to recognize how
poorly it is handled. How many times
have you listened to the 1st
movement of Beethoven’s c sharp
minor sonata op. 27 with the very
wrongful addition of the lower note in
the octaves to the melodic line. Of
course, we know it lies solely in the
upper voice. Or in the Adagio
cantabile of the pathétique sonata:
People play the melody in 3rds, 4ths
and 5ths where it truly exists only in a
single voice hovering above the
accompaniment!
If you want to excel at those
occasions and many others, then you
should be able to ‘split’ your hand.
Literally, the one half does not know
what the other half is doing. To
understand how to get to this level, I
recommend the following exercise:

Figure 4: The split hand exercise 1

It appears so simple that even the


greenest of all amateurs can do it. But
if you consider the following fine
points, it actually is not quite that
simple.
The thumb plays the singing tone.
It has to be held so lightly
immediately after reaching the
bottom of the key that only a lifting of
the key is prevented. At the same
time, the heaviness of the hand is
shifted to the other four fingers,
which then perform the
accompaniment in ‘normal tone’. The
2nd finger performs additionally a
little finger movement at the strength
of the normal tone, because you must
not withdraw the thumb. Then, the
2nd finger is again lifted quickly to let
the weight of the hand shift to next
finger, the 3rd one. Please pay
particular attention to play the 7 8th
notes only with play mode 1 by
withdrawal of the previous finger, but
not through active downward
pressure of the fingers. The next half
note is then again played as a singing
tone by the thumb coinciding with the
withdrawal of the second finger.
You may then want to perform the
same exercise by holding the 5th finger
in the same way. When performing
this exercise, you will achieve amazing
speed and clarity. I am not aware of a
better exercise to practice this
technique. Then try it with confidence
in chromatic progression. Check out
the 20th of the Cramer etudes (the 2nd
in Bülow’s edition). You should pull it
off the shelf again and see how much
easier and faster you can play it now.
The second exercise consists of
repeated broken major and minor
thirds. You have to again play this
strictly in the normal tone. The very
cause of the next tone can only be the
withdrawal of the previous finger.

Figure 5: Split hand exercise 2a

Once you can do this with


confidence, then try to grow the other
3 fingers more and more independent
from what the first and second are
doing. Try to get there by either
holding or even moving the remaining
three fingers with your other hand.
However, logically the other hand
must never interfere with the feeling
of heaviness of the playing hand. Take
several days with this exercise and
focus on the complete independence
of the non-working fingers from
working ones. Then advance to the
next exercise:
Figure 6: Split hand exercise 2b

Practice this exercise again as well


in chromatic succession. It is most
important to never interrupt the
homogenous play of the thirds and
still be able to accentuate the singing
higher part in a clear and nice legato
voice. Likely, only as I point out the
following situation, you will be able to
avoid it altogether. Further, you will
likely realize that you have not
avoided it so far: Never are you
supposed to hear 6th when you hit the
keys for both the upper and the lower
part simultaneously. Or generally
speaking, the melodic voice must
never join the accompanying voice to
form an interval. The melodic voice
has to remain isolated and by itself
hovering over the accompaniment. No
second melodic voice at the 6th
interval is allowed to join.
I recommend to practice the above
exercise in a number of variations, i.e.
you could perform it with triplets in
the accompanying voice, recruiting the
third finger as well. The little finger
which usually carries the melodic line
can be reinforced with a little finger
movement initially. But never should
there be any pressure applied as this
would immediately change the
balance of the hand. The hand’s
weight is still supposed to rest on the
accompanying fingers.
Only after you are certain that you
perform this exercise correctly and
naturally well, then you should try to
utilize the third option for play mode
3 (butterfly wing flea) to make the
soprano voice sing. This will result in a
progressive fixation of the initially
totally soft finger while depressing the
key. Only after you mastered this part
without effort, move on to apply the
lessons to appropriate pieces, i.e. the
above mentioned 2nd movement of
Beethoven’s pathétique, Chopin’s E
major etude op. 10 no. 3 etc. There,
you have to practice the harmonic
structures in the middle strictly in
normal tone, initially without the
singing upper voice. Add the melody
only after you can perform the
accompaniment in the middle without
any delays or unevenness in the
above described manner.
The ‘weight play’ school
recommends the exact opposite. They
want you to rest the entire weight of
your arm on the depressed keys of the
singing voice. The accompanying voice
though is supposed to be dealt with
by ‘finger play’. That way first of all,
you will not be able to create a
singing tone in the upper voice.
Second, you will limit the mobility of
the other fingers to the point that a
homogenous play will indeed be
impossible or at least severely
compromised.
VI The polyphonic Play

Let us now talk about the


traditional exercises with tethered
fingers. The hands had to be held so
lightly that the fingers simply touch
the keys. The other fingers then had
to perform key strokes. The exercise
was only completed once this could
be done without moving the resting
“tethered” fingers. These exercises
with tethered fingers have been of the
type, in my opinion, where a process
easy as child’s play is artificially
interrupted and replaced by another
that is rather complex. Or at least that
is what I would think if someone asks
me to counteract the natural weight
of the hand and replace its effect with
exhausting muscular action of the
isolated fingers. In contrast to that, I
generally require your hand to rest
constantly on the bottom of at least
one key at all times. This is only to be
briefly interrupted during breaks or
‘aired’ play. Quite a surprise – isn’t it?
Accordingly, one of the piano teachers
studying my method commented in
amazement: “Well, then the hand has
to be parked in a permanent resting
position on the bottom of a key
throughout the whole piece!” I could
not agree more with this
characterization. I imagine any piece
of music as an ongoing construct of
sound, which is - if ever - only briefly
interrupted. Vice versa, I do not
believe music is a sequence of solitary
tones placed in a realm of silence. The
first analogy reflects my method, the
latter, however, the hand hovering
over the key board, producing
isolated tones.
As you can see in the previous
chapter, the split technique is used
for occasions that are typically
polyphonic. A singing melodic line is
accompanied by one or more voices in
the same hand. The melodic line is
created either by the thumb or by the
5th finger. Well, there are numerous
cases where you have to not only
accentuate one voice (i.e. with the
little finger) accompanied by the other
fingers of the same hand, but
multiple. The remaining two or three
fingers have to continue the
accompaniment. All polyphonic music
demands that kind of attention, at
least as soon as there are more than 2
voices present. How do you do it?
As you have followed closely thus
far, you will have noticed we have not
yet talked about the polyphonic play.
There is a good reason for that.
Similarly, I recommend to not start by
playing Bach with the exception of a
few dual voice pieces. Instead in my
mind, Bach’s polyphonic music should
be studied much later than what is
common practice today. A pianist
should only start after having
matured at least some. I am not sure I
fully support a statement that was
quite popular many years earlier.
People then said you could ruin your
technique easily by playing Bach.
However, there seems to be some
truth in it. First, the usual rules for the
fingering have to be thrown
overboard right away with any of
Bach’s fugues with 3 to 5 voices. You
have to simply follow the principle of
necessity. Additionally, the demand to
hold several notes out longer risks
technical disaster. Definitely, a
beginning piano student will have a
hard time freeing himself of the
imagination that this holding of
certain notes required some pressure
on the keys after they are already fully
depressed. And unbelievably, that is
even taught by some famous piano
teachers such as Germer, Rieman and
even Bülow. But that completely
wrongful pressure is the most
dreaded arch enemy of any good
piano technique. I guess I do not have
to discuss that again. Additionally, the
demands of our trained ears in
regards to a dynamically well-
orchestrated Bach performance are
much higher today than 150 years
earlier in Bach’s own time. This has
created additional technical
difficulties which the old timers did
not have to worry about. The issue is
further magnified by the greater
height of the keys. In other words, the
distance that the fingers have to cover
from the resting position to the
bottom nowadays amounts to nearly
twice as much compared to 150 years
earlier. I like to remark that this as
well applies to Chopin. Today’s
pianists have to work harder than the
old masters themselves who
exclusively played on Pleyel
instruments with a much lower key
height compared to today’s grand
pianos. Finally, the contrast of a strict
legato compared to a half-legato or
non-legato is much more noticeable
on today’s instruments compared to
Bach’s instruments or the old table
pianos. In the good old times, this lack
of contrast represented a colossal
technical relief.
This review suggests beginners
who need to develop their techniques
are just not ready for such works with
only few exceptions. As you know,
Bach had conceived his 5 best known
works from the inventions with two
voices to the Goldberg variations not
only as a musical, but also as technical
studies of the piano play.
The most important technical
aspect of all polyphonic play is to hold
keys out at the bottom whenever
required with the least amount of
effort possible. You have to do no
more than the absolute minimum of
what is required to prevent their
lifting. Only then, you will not
compromise the mobility of your
fingers and maintain full relaxation of
your wrist. You already know all too
well, that it makes no difference to
the already sounding tone if you
apply any pressure at the bottom of
the key or not. What mode of key
stroke do the other fingers use to
generate useful tones?
There can be no other answer
than this one: finger play (play mode
2). But it is critical to understand how
this finger play is performed. The
main task of the finger with finger
play is nothing other than achieving a
rapid key depression from its resting
position down to the bottom without
application of any faulty pressure
beyond. The tone held by the
tethered finger is not further
strengthened by any such pressure if
it is already sounding. Instead, the
tethered finger has to keep a key at
the bottom, very loosely and without
pressure. An adjacent finger will then
strike the adjacent key as fast as
possible in repetition. You will recall
the ‘twittering’. You will further recall
our agreement. Of course, I am aware
of the very small pressure that must
exist from a pure physics perspective
in order to keep the key down at the
bottom. But with pressure I refer to a
pressure beyond that very minute
pressure (excessive and unnecessary).
Any excess pressure will ultimately
bring about the end by causing
weakness and paralysis, particularly in
the long run. It is a substantial
problem for many players as playing
‘under pressure’ literally is a
subconscious habit. The players are
generally unware and thus, the habit
is hard to cure. I recommend the
twittering with tethered fingers for
practice (see figure 7).

Figure 7: Twittering with tethered fingers

Consequently, I could never


understand why even some highly
esteemed piano teachers recommend
finger exercises with tethered fingers
early on. Those exercises enhance the
appliance of such a wrong mode of
pressure artificially. There is indeed
no other exercise where it is more
difficult to avoid that faulty pressure
as the ones with tethered fingers.
Therefore, I recommend those
exercises only now that you have
reached the final stage – or not at all.
I have to warn students to attempt
the well-known Pischna ‘daily
exercises’. They rely essentially on the
tethering of any combination of
fingers. First, you must develop a
good understanding of the dangers
lurking with the tethered finger
exercises. Use play mode 2 to adjust
the speed of the key depression to
whatever is needed.
In the polyphonic play, you have
to accomplish just that with one or
more fingers tethered. Let us review
again a law of physics. To maximize
the speed of a movement over a
defined distance, tension needs to be
built prior to the launch. This is the
basic principle behind cocking a gun
or aiming with a crossbow and many
other activities of daily living. These
actions occur naturally and
subconsciously, we usually do not pay
attention to them. I.e. you would not
try to catch a fly with your hand
without prior building up some elastic
tension at the appropriate distance.
The same thing has to happen if you
want to acquire the correct finger play
at a greater tone strength. I
recommend to try the process again
as a free standing exercise first.
Place a strip or a stick of piano key
height in front of your hand which is
resting on the table top in piano
playing position. Then place one
finger after another on the strip by
stretching them out slightly. Then
fixate each finger individually in this
position or even up to 1 cm above the
strip, without application of any
pressure on the strip. Further, no
pressure whatsoever must be applied
to the table top by the other fingers.
The finger on or above the strip is
fixated in this manner. With most
hands, a slight tension in the wrist is
unavoidable with this exercise, unless
you have naturally very loose long
ligaments. However, this very slight,
almost unavoidable wrist tension can
be nearly eliminated with some
practice to an undetectable level. The
finger has then the option to
accelerate downwards even more
rapidly than with the regular lifting of
the fingers (obviously you cannot
perform the downward acceleration
of your fingers when using the strip).
Some piano teachers recommend to
lift your fingers as high as possible in
order to utilize the recoil effect of a
maximally loaded tendon. That
relatively meaningless advantage is
greatly outweighed by many
associated negative consequences.
You may practice these functions
on broken diminished seventh chords
(in half notes with an arpeggio). All
fingers at the bottom of the keys have
to be fully relaxed. The next finger is
‘cocked’ and then immediately
relaxed at the end of a rapid stroke.
The notes c, e flat, f sharp, a and c
have to sound absolutely equal, which
will be impossible as soon as you
apply any pressure to the bottom of
the keys with any fingers at any time
after striking the key. Simply, the next
finger will not be able to perform a
rapid key stroke. This way, you should
perform all arpeggio chords.
If you now perform the exact same
thing on the keyboard with four
fingers resting on the bottom of the
keys without application of any
pressure, and where the higher key
that needs to be played next is
equivalent to the strip, then you have
discovered nothing else but the so-
called exercises with the tethered
fingers, that I had referred to earlier
in this book.
Finally now, you will be able to
perform even this exercise correctly.
You will understand why I had to hold
back for so long: For your own good!
Further, you have now entered a level
where even exercises such as
Pischna’s tethered finger studies and
others will no longer cause you any
harm. You know how to do them.
Thus, you are further ready to begin
the very fruit bearing studies of Bach’s
polyphonic compositions.
VII The ‘below normal
tone’

I already mentioned this when


introducing the normal tone. It sort of
represents an individual level zero on
a “scale of tone strength”. Measured
on an absolute scale, yours may be
higher or lower depending on the
heaviness of your hand. For now, we
have only discussed the positive
degrees of strength. Therefore, let us
climb down below level zero just
before the end of this book. Only
now, I believe you are prepared to not
subconsciously slide back to the active
‘finger play’ or pure play mode 2 in
order to get to the below normal tone
level. So far, you would have been
unable to play a piano or
murmurando pianissimo unless at a
very slow tempo. Certainly, if the
‘previous finger’ is withdrawn very
slowly, the next key would be
depressed just as slowly and the
resultant tone would be very quiet –
just like with the ‘creepy crawling’. To
achieve a weak to weakest tone
strength at highest speeds, another
step needs to be taken: A conscious
reduction of the heaviness of the
hand. This will result in a slower key
depression because of a diminished
load. And there you have it, this
already explains how to do it. You will
be able to right away reduce the
heaviness of your hand by slightly
tightening the muscles just proximal
to the wrist. Still, you have to pay
attention to create the ‘next tone’
only through the withdrawal of the
‘previous finger’. This will occur
naturally unless you take it too far
and completely eliminate the
heaviness of the hand by mistake,
instead of only reducing it. Then you
would end up at pure finger play (play
mode 2). After some preliminary
technical exercises, try playing some
pieces which are more effective the
gentler and more whimsical but still
completely evenly they are performed
in the speediest tempo, i.e. the f
minor etude op. 25 no. 2 by Chopin,
the first part of the E flat major
impromptus op. 90 no.2 by Schubert
and similar works. Try performing it in
the ‘below normal tone’. Generally,
you should practice any piece besides
in normal tone also in ‘below normal
tone’. The latter will unveil any
slightest inaccuracy without mercy
and further build your confidence
with the piece. With this, we have
covered all dynamic possibilities with
piano playing.
Exercises with the ‘below normal
tone’ are best for the pianist to
develop the delicate touch that is
such a necessity to manage those
countless subtleties in contrast to a
rough and robust play. You can notice
all too often that an otherwise
beautifully presented melodic line is
just destroyed by plump and
ungracious performance of its delicate
ornaments. Those start with simple
key repetitions all the way up to
Chopin’s “broderies” – the little
decorative elements of a melody
typically notated in fine print. This is
where the ‘below normal tone’ shines.
If you add the withdrawal of the
fingers as suggested by Hummel (see
below!), then you have discovered
how to play in “Carezzando” mode.
A well-intended work from those
days is published by Kalkbrenner:
About the goal and purpose of his
“guide de main” (an arm rest attached
in front of the keyboard). Not much
can be learned from this work as it
does not give credit to the heaviness
of the hand as the main issue.
Instead, he considers it only as a
minor factor. But Kalkbrenner was up
to something when he tried to
eliminate the weight of the arm by
means of his “invention” in order to
fully relax the wrist. Unfortunately, his
“invention” has been ridiculed times
and again - unrightfully though. Even
though his device is essentially no
longer available, I occasionally use it
for its real purpose where
appropriate.
How to design your practice
sessions
The feel for the subtlety of your
fingers is not your only vital skill in
regards to playing the piano.
Moreover you have to develop the
very certain perception and the
absolute certainty that you are in full
command of your abilities, any time
whenever it counts. To this end,
players with an acrobatic technique
are forced to practice daily,
particularly after a shorter or longer
break, through an endless number of
finger exercises to ‘warm up’ as they
say. These many hours of very hard
and painful work are mind killing and
time wasting. Such pianists carry a
burden they placed on themselves.
Just as easily, they can rid themselves
of this burden any time.
The most important exercise for a
pianist is the daily lifting and
dropping of the hand with a light-as-
a-feather arm. You cannot overdo this
exercise wherever you are, if walking,
standing or sitting. Do it for just a few
minutes. You don’t know how much
potential this exercise has and how
effective it is, as you lift the hand less
and less and faster and faster. The
more you feel the heaviness of the
hand the more effortless your piano
play will be.
Then you add the ‘snapping’ of the
fingers from down upwards. This will
build up your normal tone more than
what you could ever accomplish just
by practicing at the piano.
For play mode 2, practice the
snapping from up downwards. The
more relaxed and the less inhibited
you perform these exercises, always
separate, the faster you will notice
your success. Only through those
latter two exercises you will build
functions of your hand, specifically
rapid movements that really matter
most playing the piano. Believe it or
not – only very few pianists master
these exercises naturally. These
exercises are performed with a lot of
difficulty and take time to get used to,
even if attempted by famous pianists.
Additionally, again only for a short
period of time, you should practice
applications of those exercises on the
piano: The heaviness of the hand by
‘thudding’, the normal tone by
‘splashing’, the little finger movement
by ‘twittering’, the singing tone,
passage octaves, the split hand etc.
If you spend about 20 minutes on
the free standing exercises and 20
minutes on the above keyboard
exercises, than that would be a lot
already. Once you master it, you need
to do quite a bit less daily. It is a fact
that my technique does not require
muscular effort. You can tell as you
perform these exercises. As a result,
typically the hands of my students
morph into softer and fleshier hands.
The students typically did not notice it
themselves, but their friends did
when they would shake hands. Then
their friends would often comment on
it. That is when the student would
realize the fact as well. This is a
natural consequence of the relaxation
of a number of muscles.
VIII The virtuous piano
play

You may now feel reassured that


you have learned and acquired a good
and solid piano technique that should
stand up to any challenge. You may
feel surprised, and somebody who
only reads this book may feel even
more surprised, that with this all
issues of piano technique should have
been dealt with exclusively. Let’s
review this issue to make sure that I
am speaking the truth. However, you
need to be aware of one thing. Even
though you now know and
understand my technique, naturally it
can be developed quite a bit further
and will continue to evolve at least for
another 6 to 12 months and even
beyond. It is appropriate to say
naturally. It will take some time to
grow with you and to reach its full
potential. But with any other method,
it would take a lot more time. How
much the playing of my students
changed over the course of 4 weeks in
regards to their technique, I can
clearly see at a particular moment
that I always very much look forward
to. At the end, I typically suggest the
students may play any piece in their
old previous style. Usually, the
students are no longer capable of
doing just that to their own surprise –
proof that something less natural is
replaced by something more natural.
Still I advise to not jeopardize what
you fortunately just learned by pulling
out pieces that you had learned with
a different technique. You still may
have those too much “in your fingers”.
Virtuous play requires mastery of
certain tasks I would like to comment
on. I believe that any half way
intelligent pianist with a generally
perfected technique can figure those
out on his or her own, even in the
most extraordinary of situations.
Hence, in the modern piano music,
frequently effects must be created
that do not have anything to do with
good piano playing, i.e. some
instructions demand “quasi
xylophone”, “with thundering might”,
“molto martellato” etc. In such cases
you can only help yourself by doing
something naturally right consciously
wrong to accomplish the desired
effect: Sometimes you can bring about
these unusual effects only by
tightening the wrist, forceful dropping
of the entire arm etc.
Even with the most virtuous
performances, most grand masters
keep their bodies and arms
completely calm. And nobody ever
complained this calmness adversely
effected the esthetics of their
performances. This should be taken to
heart particularly by those pianists
who believe they have to reinforce
the effects of their performances by
various gestures. I do not need to
describe those any further. Even a
change of facial expression that of
course should not degenerate to a
grimace is enough to let the observers
know that the performing artist is
emotionally involved as well. I am
particularly proud if critics of my
publically performing students
positively comment on their calm
posture as this is no accident.
As music teacher, you want to stay
clear of pedantry or moralizing
principles. As such, it is very unlikely
that I would reprimand a student who
practices certain freedoms after
mastering my method. The foremost
of these freedoms is a brief and
temporary tightening of the wrist, and
even sometimes a wrong pressure.
These ‘mistakes’ are acceptable for a
good technician who has otherwise
understood and practiced the above
concepts. Typically, these wrong
techniques are used occasionally –
often subconsciously – whenever the
pianist attempts to achieve a certain
effect, even if it may be only a figment
of imagination.
There is something else that I
believe is very important for every
performing concert pianist and I
would like to speak about it here
briefly: Stage appearance. I can
recount numerous cases when
typically younger pianists were not
appreciated by audiences despite
their amazing performances because
of their overall appearance and
behavior. Comply with the general
rules, which will not be changed by a
single person just as they were not
introduced by a single person.
Fortunately, there are other resources
to learn about appropriate stage
appearance and behavior. There,
people can review whatever they are
missing, so that I do not have to go
into the details here in this book. As
such, I will simply pass on my
reassurance based on my many years
of experience, that this condition
considered by many young ‘genius’
pianists as trivial, is in reality and
truth actually anything but trivial.
Final thoughts

This book contains a


comprehensive method to an ideal
and effortless piano play in regards to
both technique and musicality. The
latter cannot ever be completely
separated by the former. It took me
no less than 32 years of continuous
studies, thoughts and experiments on
both myself and my students, until I
got to this final level of understanding
how to play the piano. What fueled
my ambition to finally get to this
stage? The reader may be interested
in that.
Mainly, I studied the piano with
three grand masters as I was giving up
my career in law. Those three were
the most prestigious teachers,
particularly after Leschetitzky’s death:
Prof. Dr. Carl Reinecke (Leipzig), the
famous Liszt scholar Bernhard
Stavenhagen (Munich) and Prof. Raoul
Pugno (Paris). Further, I learned from
several also world-famous pianists
who would review some specific piano
works together with me as their
student. With my rather intense
studies of the piano technique, I
started relatively late when I was a
general student. I had to pay
attention to quickly catch up on
things I had missed out on earlier –
parallel to law school. Unfortunately, I
was disappointed regarding my hopes
to understand how to manage
technical difficulties. Nevertheless, my
teachers took a great interest in me
and I will be forever grateful to them.
But their focus was more on the what.
Thus, I went through exercise after
exercise and etude after etude only to
learn that despite all intense work
and effort, I made no substantial
technical progress. With difficult
pieces, I got to hear over and over
that I had to simply practice, practice,
practice at all possible degrees of
strength, as this would be required for
any and every pianist. And I would
follow through as instructed and
study for weeks and months. Despite
that I could not build sufficient
confidence and skill. People started to
take pity in me, my technical
difficulties, my very unfavorable piano
hand (as they thought) and finally my
lack of natural talent to a good
technique. Those sad experiments
ended for me with a very painful
tendinitis in my right hand.
Meanwhile I had started to believe
the comments about my hands even
though they were quite wrong and
made up. Possibly I would have kept
this misbelief for years if I had not
traveled South with my arm wound in
bandages. Then, during a social event
at a family friend’s house in Nice, I
heard and met Raoul Pugno. I stood
next to the grand piano as the master
was playing and I almost fell over as I
was awe struck watching Pugno’s
hands and his play from up close. His
hand would have appeared to anyone
right away as most unsuitable for
playing the piano. Pugno had short
and fat fingers and so little tension in
his hand that he could barely span an
octave with his 1st and 4th finger.
Compared to that, my hand would
have been considered a nearly ideal
piano hand! But despite this, my eyes,
that were analyzing so vigorously they
may have almost popped out of my
head, could convince themselves that
Pugno performed with these hands
the most horrendous and difficult
passages of a Liszt fantasy not only
without noticeable effort, but further
with a meditative calmness and
without noticeable finger or hand
movement as I had never seen it
before or even thought possible. But
when Pugno then, while playing the
ridiculously difficult sixth passage in
Liszt’s Rigoletto fantasy, directly
looking at me commented that at this
passage many other pianists faulted
miserably, I thought he was
bewitched. Anyway, from that
moment on, I only knew one goal, to
study with Pugno to first and
foremost learn and understand his
technique that seemed reachable
even for my ‘unfavorable’ hands. I
could not see a single movement of
Pugno’s that I felt I would not be able
to learn. Fortunately, my hand had
just recovered from the tendinitis.
And thus, I landed in Paris with Pugno
not too long thereafter.
Definitely, it was one of the most
depressing insights of my life when I
realized after only a short period of
time that also Raoul Pugno, despite
all his very sincere intentions, was not
able to explain to me how he actually
plaid. Always, he was willing to
perform and demonstrate by playing
any whatsoever complex or difficult
parts, as many times as I wanted, and
with incomprehensible patience. But, I
could not figure out anything, and I
began to suspect that what actually
matters (the action of the muscles) is
not visible to the analyzing eyes or
even palpating hands of an observer.
Truly explaining in the sense of
analyzing his playing, Pugno could
not. Indeed, it was impossible for him
to say even if he tightened his wrist or
not.
Now good advice did not come
cheap, literally. I sat in Paris without
getting any closer to my primary goal.
Again, I reviewed the technical piano
literature published by Breithaupt,
Caland and others, even though I
already knew it by heart. Those
publications and many others in the
French literature just came out while I
was in Leipzig and Munich. As they
caused a lot of discussions back then,
I was a very thorough and critical
reader paying attention to a lot of
detail, just like many others at the
time. If it was not for a number of
unbelievably amazing Wunderkinder
popping up in Paris at that time,
those books may have kept me spell
bound for much longer. But with
every Wunderkind, I had to notice
time and again they did essentially
the exact opposite – just like Pugno –
of what was taught in these books
with untouchable authority. And so, I
had nothing left to do other than
becoming my own teacher in this field
to find the truth. I took lessons for
half a year with a physics professor
and a young doctor to understand the
physics of the piano and the anatomy
of the human play apparatus.
At that time, I took an oath to not
rest or relax until I discovered the
ideal piano technique. If the
technique would be truly ideal, then
anyone would right away recognize it
as such. It would be the technique
instinctively demonstrated by the
grand masters who could surprisingly
not explain it. Beyond its discovery, I
wanted to be able to teach it.
I want to spare you the details
about how Pugno grew more and
more interested in my technical
studies and how he started to refer
his weaker students to me for lessons,
and how I got closer and closer to my
goal over the years until I finally got
there five years ago. Unfortunately,
Pugno did not live to see the day that
I could have given him a detailed
analysis of his own play, otherwise his
name would have been on the cover
of this book.
It would be interesting to know if
the greatest of all pianists Franz Liszt
used my technique as well. Of course,
I cannot positively confirm that as I
already no longer had the chance to
hear him. However, the literature is
full of descriptions of his play also in
regards to technical aspects. Further, I
was fortunate to have known several
personalities who heard Liszt up close
and personal and who shared their
very detailed observations of his play
with me. This way, I feel we could
develop a pretty good image of Liszt’s
play. Beyond that, we can find plenty
of arguments that suggests that Liszt’s
legendary technique at least to great
deal is explained by my play modes.
1. Many parts in Liszt’s works that
are felt to be unbelievably difficult
or impossible to play, are much
easier practiced and performed if
studied with my method – a most
convincing argument that no
practicing Liszt player will object to.
2. The arm and hand position
recommend by me generally
correlates well with Liszt’s own in
various photographs, especially in
the following case: Weitzmann
described Liszt’s hand position in
his ‘history of piano playing’ (out of
print) and investigated how his
mysterious technique stands out in
comparison to the standard
techniques. Weitzmann noted that
Liszt’s hand position was very
different from what was typical at
the time. It was common to have
the back of the hand facing the
player with the wrist held low to
give the fingers more room to
maneuver. List’s hands, however,
would face the piano with their
backside, and particularly so with
rapid passage play. This claim by
Weitzmann caused a lot of debate
back then and it was suggested
that he did not properly pay
attention as such a hand position
would be inconceivable, it would
nearly immobilize the fingers. The
discussion remains unresolved,
particularly because Liszt shrouds
himself in silence. – This very hand
position, however, is exactly what I
recommend with play mode 1,
where the fingers remain almost
immobilized. Thus I guess that Liszt
performed his passage play with
my play mode 1, the ‘normal tone’.
3. Liszt typically rejected students
with what was called a ‘heavy arm’.
We know that from numerous
accounts. The heavy arm was
thought to be a congenital and
incurable evil, which was also
Pugno’s thought by the way. He as
well rejected students with a heavy
arm. This goes to show clearly that
Liszt and as well Pugno very much
rejected what is referred to
nowadays as weight play. Liszt’s
scholar Prof. Emil Sauer confirmed
this directly and with great detail in
several letters to me. The Liszt
technique therefore diametrically
opposes the weight play, just the
same as mine.
4. The American Deppe and Liszt
scholar Amy Fay describes in her
book “Musical studies in Germany”
how Liszt often demonstrated
particular pieces to her where she
tended to break her fingers. He
would do so either standing behind
her or reaching over her shoulder.
Nevertheless, he would play the
passage without effort or flaw from
that position. She states she had
not seen any such playing with
anyone else ever in this manner
and felt simply it could not be
done by anyone else. And she was
right, as even until today this mode
of play while standing at the piano
could not be done with weight play
or finger play and definitely not
with Caland’s method. However,
you can do it with my method
which you should try at this
occasion.
5. A large number of close observers
have noted no visible difference
between the touch of the fingers
that flare up the melodic line
versus the ones that only
accompany. Both would flow with
only minute motion, but absolutely
evenly. This strange characteristic
of Liszt’s play was noted by all his
students and frequently
documented in writing
(Weingartner, Dräsecke and
others). This, however, is also the
main characteristic of my technique
where the fullest singing tone
requires no other visible finger
movements than passage play.
6. After his virtuous days, Franz Liszt
almost never practiced again.
Nevertheless, he did not lose his
technique even in his old days (see
Hanslick, critics of Liszt’s play in
Vienna in the years 1872 and 1877).
It seems that his technique was
natural and not of the acrobatic
mode requiring constant and
everlasting training for upkeep.
7. Since I had discovered my method
and realized several issues that had
been obscure to me prior, I have
met only one case where
somebody plaid exactly as I teach
it. Not surprisingly, I am thinking of
Prof. Größler-Heim in Ulm, one of
Liszt’s student from the 1870s
when Liszt’s teaching was still very
different than later. I just heard her
give a very successful evening
performance in Ulm at age 86. If
she is reading this, I very
respectfully would like to send her
my best regards. With much
pleasure do I recall the large and
difficult program (mainly Liszt and
Chopin) that she performed for me
privately on the occasion of a
course in Ulm. She played not only
with immaculate technique but
with the highest bravura. That I call
technical ability, and that at her
age!
At this occasion, I would like to say
a word about the piano play of
another master, which again I believe
I can explain with my method: I am
talking about Hummel’s “crawling”.
You can read about it in any major
publication about the history of piano
play. But typically, you cannot
develop an actual mental picture of
what that manner or technical detail
would actually look like. Hummel
supposedly utilized this manner with
passage play when he tried to
combine highest speed with clarity
and detail. It must have looked like as
if he would “crawl”, meaning tickle,
the keys. This impression can only
come about if the fingers perform a
little movement toward the palm of
the hand, what could by the way also
be witnessed with d’Albert’s play
mode that nobody was able to copy.
It remained impossible to figure out
what this function depended on as
well what exactly its purpose was.
Hummel’s play mode that I am
referring to, has nothing to do with
my ‘creepy crawling’, the little gliding
motion of a finger from the back to
the front used to create an
accelerated key depression at slow
speed. The purpose of Hummel’s and
d’Albert’s “crawling manner” will be
clear immediately if I just say that you
can achieve the highest speed in
unbelievable clarity with play mode 1
(normal tone) by withdrawing the
fingers, instead of lifting upwards as
practiced initially, by snapping them
inwards to the palm, but without any
sliding motion on the keys. The only
goal here is to withdraw the
supporting finger of the hand even
faster. The student will now after
sufficient practice of lifting the fingers
(normal tone) be able to effortlessly
perform the slight modification. You
will recognize the fact that indeed
Hummel’s crawling manner
substantially simplifies the
performance of his unfortunately
almost forgotten concerts, particularly
in the allegro movements that are to
be played extremely rapidly. Thus, I
believe with certainty that Hummel’s
crawling manner was nothing else but
my play mode 1 with a most rapid
finger withdrawal in the manner
described above.
Finally, I recommend the reader
should review the entire contents of
this book at least once or better a few
times. Then, you can see that the
construct of my ‘method’, which may
initially seem complex and
complicated, truly is rather simple and
natural.
I do not want to conclude the
book without recommending the
following little experiment to you, the
reader: “Put it to the test.” If you
understand the contents correctly and
if you have already felt an effect:
Review the music of a piece that you
are already familiar with, but have not
worked on so far because it seemed
too difficult. The whole piece will
appear much easier than previously.
Simply by reading this book, you have
developed the gestalt of how to
approach any difficulty in order to
conquer it using the best, typically
shortest and fastest route.

GOOD LUCK!