12 May – Lecture Demonstration of the Taubman Approach at the Steinway Gallery Ottawa
8-16 July – Golandsky Institute Summer Symposium at Princeton University
Lots of things are happening this Fall, namely a Masterclass and a Two-Piano Recital. Please check them out on my News page!
See what I’m up to this summer! Please see my News page.
The Taubman Approach
In 1999 I had the great fortune of being exposed to the Taubman Approach. Dorothy Taubman was a Brooklyn-based piano teacher who had an unerring eye for what worked and what did not work when it came to piano technique, and she codified a set of reliable, predictable tools that could be used time and again in any given technical situation, producing maximum results with minimum physical input. Taubman’s approach was also remarkable for helping pianists and other musicians who suffered from debilitating pain as a result of tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other afflictions. Musicians who previously couldn’t accomplish the simplest everyday tasks without pain, many of whom gave of hope of ever being able to play again, were now able to negotiate their instruments with ease. That year I attended the Taubman Institute’s Summer Seminar at Williams College in Massachusetts.
In 2000 I began to study the technique in earnest with New York-based teacher John Bloomfield, who continues to be my mentor to this day. John studied with Mrs. Taubman for many years and is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities on the approach in the world.
The technique involves complete balance, alignment, and poise of the hand on the piano at the point(s) of contact, total freedom of movement of the fingers, hand, wrist, and arm, and a precise set of motions that move you from position to position with accuracy and ease. Understanding the fundamentals is relatively simple, but the application requires, especially in the beginning, an attention to detail that can be daunting. When I began to study the technique, I decided to give myself up to the approach and abandon, to the extent that I could, any notion of playing as I used to. I understood early on that what I was doing was, in essence, a complete neurological rewiring.
This was more challenging than it sounds, because I had a technique, or thought I had. I played big pieces, some of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire, but I had to admit my approach to them was more brute-force than finessed. What I lacked in technical finish I made up for, I rationalized, with musicianship. But once I began to study the Taubman Approach I realized that I was cultivating a technique that would allow me to more completely and accurately express what I conceived in my mind and felt in my heart. It eradicated the disconnect that I used to feel as a result of having to try so hard to produce sound, to move around the keyboard, to play with delicacy and nuance. It brought a naturalness and ease to my playing that I never thought possible. Most importantly, it supports musical expression. There is no compromise of “music” in favor of “technique”; they synthesize and become aspects of one another. To me, this is the true and only hallmark of virtuosity, and it’s completely realizable with the study of this technique.
Another concept that I believe in very strongly as a performer and teacher is Deliberate Practice, sometimes called Intentional Practice. There are hundreds, if not thousands of articles written about this, but two books that influenced me greatly are Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin, and The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle. In both these books the authors debunk the myth that so-called talented people are able to do what they do “naturally”, without any particular effort. Using real-world examples they demonstrate that what we see as a finished product, that often “looks easy”, is actually the result of thousands of iterations of a particular objective, and not just mindless repetition, but focussed, critical practice using the feedback that you get from your own effort. This meshes beautifully with the Taubman Approach, because the technique is very specific about how to achieve any particular goal. So in helping students, I show them, by breaking down a movement into manageable components, exactly what and how to practice, how something should feel, and how to make corrections. The repetition therefore should evolve into the correct movement organically, using the student’s own faculties to guide the process. This makes the whole piano-playing experience conscious and predictable — and very gratifying.
Bringing the mind into the present, focusing on the task at hand, letting go of internal chatter in general and negative thinking in particular, is a technique that I personally use when performing, and I help students to achieve this by encouraging them to meditate. Even if meditation is not something a student wishes to do, approaching piano playing and performing from a perspective of mindfulness can be tremendously helpful. There are many great techniques that can help a performer of any age be calm, centered, and completely involved in the music. Not incidentally, the Taubman Approach lends itself to this beautifully by giving the practicing student objects on which to focus at every step of the way.
Knowing how to play the piano, what to do in any given moment, and proving to one’s self that the experience can be made to be predictable and repeatable from performance to performance, gives students and even seasoned performers tremendous confidence, and can go a long way toward diminishing nervousness and anxiety in a performance setting. Artur Rubinstein once said that “every performance is a dress rehearsal for the next performance”. Having the attitude that we are on an incredible journey, with lessons, exams, performances, and even intimate moments alone with one’s instrument along the way is something that I try to help my students discover. To be able to study and practice the piano, and perform our music for others is a tremendous and precious opportunity that very few people have.