Reader Response

J. P., Washington State, USA

Hello Maestro Alan,

Many greetings to you from the beautiful Pacific Northwest, in Bellingham, Washington. The arrival of your DVD three days ago was much anticipated. I think I watched the 8-minute demo of your DVD on YouTube about 10 times! I want to first express my deep gratitude and appreciation for all the work you and your colleagues did in producing the DVD. You see Alan, after watching your DVD and implementing just the info from chapter one on looking at the arch structure of one’s hand, I was able to sit down and play the piano without pain and residual discomfort for one hour, which is something I haven’t been able to do in SEVEN years. I got tendonitis seven years ago, and thus my search for preventative, injure free piano technique started. Without mentioning names, I have flown back east twice to attend week long workshops and institutes, spending literally thousands of dollars along the line, and I still continued to play with discomfort and pain.

Then…your DVD arrived and it hit me like a brick. You see, your approach to technique makes the most sense bio-mechanically, physiologically, and sonically. When I saw that first clip of Brailowsky playing Chopin’s A-flat waltz, and that camera shot under his hands showing that beautiful cathedral arch you so expertly demonstrated, I about fell off my chair. Then I started to mentally peruse all the internal images I have of seeing the greats perform. Really, I have seen all those videos you excerpted on your DVD; actually I own all those videos! And so on a very simplistic basis I started implementing just a few ideas you suggested, and you were right on the nose. Do you realize that when I put both my hands up to a wall, like you did in the video, the arches and joints in my hands all went flat!!! There was no arch structure, and you were right on when you said that the arch structure is generally the weak link in all of piano technique. Then you backed it up with that cool anecdote about Neuhaus and what he did to students’ hand arches. I mean I could go on and on about the million “ah-ha” moments I had while watching your DVD. I am completely exhilarated and convinced about the soundness and caliber of your teachings and discovery. That’s the beautiful thing, you cared enough to take the time to really figure this stuff out and make a positive impact on people’s lives, and for that I am truly thankful.

On a side note, I am also Canadian, having been born in the Vancouver area, and hearing your Canadian accent was a real treat. Also, you are an absolute riot to watch!  My wife heard me laughing my head off and asked, “I thought you were watching a piano technique video?” and then you fell off the bench…..that was great!! I could go on and on but I know your time is valuable and precious but I just wanted you to know that 10,000 miles away you helped make a difference in the life of one pianist (and I’m sure thousands more to come). If it’s OK with you, I’ll keep you updated on my progress with implementing the other aspects you address in the DVD, and I am going to tell all my musician friends as well as some great professors of piano here at Western Washington University. I want to do all I can to help you get the word out about your DVD.

Thanks again for helping serve your fellow man.  Many Blessings to you in Novi Sad!

Sincerely,

Jamie


Dr. Zuhair Bakdoud, USA

1 December 2007

Dear Mr. Fraser:

I bought your “The Craft of Piano Playing” (the book provides wonderful reading; so wonderful, that it is very hard for me to put the book down), and I must say, it is extremely helpful in its analytical approach. This is the most scientific analysis of piano technique  I have ever seen. I really did not know that anybody (other than me) would go to such analytical extremes, in order to clarify the physical aspects of piano technique. I have tortured myself by analyzing the physical secrets of piano playing (I have used a mirror placed on the right side of the keyboard and watched my fingers, hand and arm while practicing WITHOUT producing any sound whatsoever, in attempt to force my nervous system to show me how a note is played and in order to make my nervous system remember the movements by reason of the “deliberateness” of the silent practice; the silent practice, I thought, would generate the necessary circuits in my brain more effectively. And I must say, that when I did practice silently, I noticed IMMENSE progress in my technique.)

One of the most beautiful things I find in your book is the physical support arising from standing on the thumb or any of the other fingers. Very occasionally, I found myself being able to play several notes with extreme confidence, control and ease, but could never figure out what gave me these woderful things. Now, I think I have an idea: namely, that I create support for my fingers and hand by standing on my either a single key or on a chord consisting (for example) of F# and the E above it (this chord occurs in “Innig” of Schumann’s Davidsbuendler).

I have the books of (1) Tobias Matthay when I was in boarding school in England, (2) the 2 books by Abby Whiteside and (3) the book by Alan Sogosowski. But none of these books even approach the compelling analysis found in your book: Thank you very, very much!

Zuhair Bakdoud, M.D.


Professor CHARLES ASCHBRENNER, Missouri

Dear Alan,

“I am reading your book with great relish and enthusiasm!  I think you are doing a wonderful job in coordinating the supported finger technique with the arm weight/rotation school!  It’s wonderful to think that I can embrace and utilize both. With the advent of Dorothy Taubman, I rather had given up the strong/high finger approach of Adele Marcus.  It’s wonderful to go back to it and rediscover the great sound!

’Your ability to articulate the finest details of the technique is amazing (having struggled with these matters myself.)  It has also been fun to help students begin to transform their technique this summer.

’It’s nice to have certain myths dispelled–like ulnar alignment. I’m glad you give credibility to “turning out“…

’I also appreciated the concept of lifting the pedal, rather than depressing it!  I think that was Adele’s secret (or one of them) in her sumptuous development of tone.

’I have one student who I have been working with for two years who has totally collapsible hands.  She is in music ed; she is musical and creative and intelligent, but her playing has remained on a very intermediate (lower, at that) level. Last week I had her doing your hand exercises, using some of your terminology and the like, and low and behold, a week later, her hands are working properly and looking like those of a pianist!  A miracle!  She had to discover the sensations in her hands of what it feels like to have the fingers straight and not breaking, particularly the 5th finger, showing the “hummocks“, and keeping an eye on the integrity of the bridge at all times.  Also, feeling the weight in two fingers at once works magic…the analogy to two feet planted on the ground is excellent.  And the overholding, or super legato, really works wonders.  Thank you!  Another new concept was/were the two different plucking motions–into the palm and into the finger. Oh, and I also like the “shaking the piano“ technique.  It’s so alive and mobilizing!

’My warmest and most enthusiastic congratulations once again.“

Charles Aschbrenner
Director, Piano Department
Hope College, Holland, MI


DAN de HULSTER, amateur pianist, Rotterdam

Dear Mr. Fraser,

Thank you for your wonderful book ! I am only half way through the book but my pianotechnique has improved by a factor 100 at least since I have done the exercices.
In order to cure my cumbersome technique I tried everything Matthay, Ortmann, Schultz, Whiteside, Bernstein etc said with no results. But I knew I could play much better than I usually did; sometimes something magical happened and then all the bones and muscles seemed to start cooperating and then my playing and tone improved very much. But the next day this feeling could have dissappeared mysteriously and my playing was awfull again. This has puzzled me for years, I kept on reading piano technique books (huge collection by now)in order to find out : what happens when I play well?

I know now! During those succesful moments I had the same experience I get when I apply your advice and exercices! The exercices for Tai-Chi walking, for strengthening the structure of the hand, and the very interesting ideas about the role of the thumb helped very much, and as soon as I also started applying the advice of not pressing the arm in order to help the fingers (which I did formerly to great extent), my technique and sound improved immediately. I understand now what one pianoteacher wrote in a book when he adviced to get a feeling of sweeping a paintbrush gently along the keys.

But not one writer on piano technique manages to describe so clearly and in such an original way how correct piano technique feels and can be mastered as you do! The exercices had another side effect : my very audible heavy breathing (holding breath/gasping for air) when I played is cured. Moving with my arms and body in the past to give strenght to my fingers took much energy ! Now, because of your exercices my arm and body still provide strengh to my fingers but it feels as if the fingers take it from the arm and body when it is needed; it feels like a very subtle and effective chain reaction through the whole body giving strength with little effort. Amazing! Playing the
piano is fun again for me ! Thanks !

Dan de Hulster, Rotterdam, The Netherlands


EAMONN O’HARA, B.Mus (piano), Boston Conservatory

Dear Mr. Fraser,

The book is phenomenal. I’m taking a deliberate pace and applying the principles to my own playing, understanding and internalizing them. I suppose the distal joints must not only be forbidden to collapse inward, but neither outward as well, as I’ve noticed in my second fingers particularly. When I looked at the Chopin Op.25, No.11, it became readily apparent that my second finger needed a much stronger activation. I’m experimenting with the concept of providing base with the thumb and releasing elusive excess
tension in my other fingers which may be inhibiting my second fingers’ performance. It’s amazing that Horowitz can play so directly with flat fingers; as you wrote, it’s the result of his sophisticated inner workings.

Sincerely,

Eamonn O’Hara, Boston


MICHAEL IMBER, amateur Pianist, Florida

Dear Mr. Fraser,

I recently purchased your book and just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed working with it. I’m a forty-nine year old physician in South Florida. I studied piano throughout my youth and have continued to play regularly since then. I’ve always been aware of my bad movement habits and have been convinced that if I could just unlearn these habits and stop doing unproductive inefficient movements, my playing would improve. I’ve invested quite a bit of time reading the literature of Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, etc., convinced that somehow the secret lay within these fields of somatic education. Your book is really a great breakthrough. The exercises have been helpful and fascinating and your stress on the development of hand strength is really quite radical. Many thanks for your contribution.

Best regards,

Michael Imber
Boca Raton, FL


WILLIE HOLLIDAY, amateur pianist, New Mexico

Alan:

Greetings from New Mexico!!  Your book is so good explaining what piano technique is all about.  Have you thought about making a video so one can see as well as read about what you are describing.  I would give anything to have lessons with you if possible.

This is a problem I’m having with Natural Hand Shape.  When my hands are hanging next to my side and I play against the side of my leg it feels perfectly natural.  When I place my hand on a table or piano keys my hand naturally slopes toward the outside.  The problem this creates is that the fifth finger is useless in that position   What is the remedy for this without creating a lot of tension?  Thanks in advance four your help.

Willie Holliday
Grants,  New Mexico

Dear Willie,

I have an answer for your question.

With your hand at rest on the table, just move your forearm forward. Your palm leaves the table as your hand ‘stands up’, although there is no effort in your fingers to ‘stand up’. You’ll notice that to your surprise there is now space for your fifth finger – it has become useful!

Voila!

Dear Alan,

Thanks, it works! By the way, it also works very well on the keyboard…  You lie your hand flat on the keyboard with the fifth finger on B or C for the right and E or F for the left.

best wishes,

Willie