American Music Teacher (June/July 2004)

Fraser, Alan. (2003) The Craft of Piano Playing: A New Approach to Piano Technique.

Scarecrow Press, Inc., 4501 Forbes Blvd., Ste. 200, Lanham, MD 20706. (800) 462-6420; fax: (717) 794-3803. 461 pp. ISBN: 0-8108-4591-1.

A good alternative text for courses on piano technique

The Craft of Piano Playing: A New Approach to Piano Technique applies the Feldenkrais method and Eastern martial arts concepts to piano playing. Not surprisingly, there are topics in this text not really addressed elsewhere. It would make a good “alternative” pedagogy text for courses about piano technique and a thought-provoking read for the advanced pianist.

A pianist, like an athlete, needs both refined skills and basic strength

Alan Fraser’s underlying philosophy is outlined clearly in the introductory chapter and in Chapter Two, “How to Use This Book.” He examines the physical attributes of changing habits and tackles a controversial subject quite effectively: “A hundred years ago, all Russian conservatory students underwent an exceptionally rigorous technical regime; although the modem pedagogy scoffs at the mindless mechanical drill, we hardly ever see that kind of physical mastery today.” (Page 2) He com­pares a pianist with an ath­lete, stating that both need to acquire “refined physical skills” and “basic strength.” The text is divided into three sections but does not necessarily need to be read from cover to cover. Section One, “The Foreground: Pianistic Problems in Musical Craft,” examines general principles of movement, hand strength, perfecting legato, the thumb and its relationship to the forefinger, finger shape and ideas about the physi­cal approach to the keyboard.

Although Fraser gives some sample exercises to complete throughout this section, his approach the physical aspects of piano playing is more analytical than a “how to” guide. He brings into his discussion the different historical approaches to piano technique from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There are ten parts to this section.

Orchestration, a subject not often addressed in books on piano technique

Section Two, “The Middleground: Some General Aspects of Musical Craft,” is about rhythm, phrasing and orchestration. The heart of this section is Fraser’s discussion of the pianist as an orchestrator. The uniqueness of being a pianist and having the ability to play the circumference of an entire orchestra is a discussion not often addressed in books on piano technique and playing.

The crucial link of physical piano technique to emotional expression in music

Section Three, “The Background: Tell a Story,” explores the emotional content of music. Fraser relates playing musically to the technical aspects of playing. He examines asking students to go beyond their emotional capabili­ties. His honesty with regard to teach­ing musically is commendable and brings important points to the reader accurately and forthrightly.

Throughout the text, Fraser uses standard concert repertoire that clearly addresses the seasoned teacher of advanced pianists. Appendices and a short bibliography are included. Audience: advanced pianists.

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American Music Teacher Review June/July 2004

American Music Teacher Review June/July 2004