Tonight, I had the privilege of working with a delightful student on Grieg’s Puck, Op. 71, No. 3. Annie is doing a great job with the piece, but there were a couple of passages that did not have the desired clarity and sparkle. The first one:
In the bracketed section, Annie was producing strong accents, but the notes following each accent lacked definition. I watched her play and couldn’t quite come up with a quick answer to the problem. I said to the student, “Use my arm as the piano and play it on me.” Immediately, I realized that while I could feel a finger movement on the first note of each group, she wasn’t moving her fingers at all for the following two notes, but rather, rolling the hand in one gesture. Once I asked her for a finger drop on each note, the passage sounded clear and crisp. (A very exaggerated finger movement or a tense finger would cause a whole new problem, but she moved her fingers “just right” and the success was obvious.)
I used the same technique later in the piece and discovered something that is pretty difficult to see, but easy to feel: pressing hard on the fingertips, or as my mentor Teresa Dybvig used to say, “digging.” My student and I agreed that nothing useful was being accomplished by pressing very hard. She again made an adjustment and had immediate success.
The idea of having a student play on my arm is certainly not my own, and many teachers probably use this teaching technique. Tonight, though, I was reminded of its usefulness and plan on using it more in the future.