Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how to achieve consistency in your piano playing. There are many aspects to this, such as, revisiting the score, which I’ve talked about in other videos, committing the piece to memory, practicing performing, and many other elements. All of these techniques give you solidity in your playing. But what I’m going to talk about today is something that transcends all of that!
Growing up, I played both piano and French horn.
I spent equal amounts of time practicing both instruments. I had the good fortune of connecting with a phenomenal French horn teacher by the name of Hugh Cowden. He specialized in low horn. He was a fourth horn player. Horn sections are like no other sections of the orchestra because there are four independent parts unlike string sections which typically all play the same parts in each section. The first and second horns form a duet, with the first horn playing the high part and the second horn playing the low part, generally. The third horn is another high horn part, and the fourth horn is another low horn part. When the section is playing together, the fourth horn anchors the whole section. It’s a glorious sound! Hugh Cowden played in the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic. It was such a joy working with him! He would come to my home and we would spend whole afternoons together. It was unbelievable!
The French horn is different from piano in almost every respect.
There’s much more physiology involved in tone production on the horn. On the piano, the tone is produced by hammers hitting strings which transfers the sound to the soundboard through bridges. On the French horn, the tone is produced by your breath passing through your lips. And these muscles tire out after a while. Our lessons would consist of going from one piece of music to the next, concertos, sonatas, etudes, and a bunch of orchestral excerpts. Sometimes in the course of a lesson, there would be some things that were giving me problems. So he would keep coming back to those things, trying to get me to overcome them in the course of the lesson. Then we would play duets together, or we would go into my father’s studio and play records of great horn players and comment on them. It was an amazing experience working with him!
I would get to a certain point in the lesson where my chops were shot.
I would get to the point where I couldn’t play anymore. This happens on French horn when you get to a certain point and your lips just can’t do it anymore. All you can do is let them recover and pick up the horn the next day. But Hugh Cowden wouldn’t let me do that. He would have me work physically harder by supporting the air even more than I thought was possible. At first, the sound seemed fuzzy, but I would just use so much energy and make the attacks really strong, using the air and the breath and everything I knew about French horn playing multiplied by 10! And at the end of one of those four-hour marathon lessons, when I thought I was done long ago, I could play on a high level again. How is this possible?
This is the secret to consistency!
When you feel down and out and your mind isn’t doing what it needs to do, you must rely upon what you know to be the truths of your instrument and double down on everything! Use that concentration. Make sure you’re sitting properly. Think about the music and the phrasing and get into the flow of playing. Make yourself do the things you know work. Even when your mind is tired and you think you can’t do it, you can! You can overcome your natural limitations by just working harder, not just physically, but mentally reinforcing what works when you absolutely need it most. You will be shocked that such a thing is possible. And if it’s possible with the French horn, when the blood no longer wants to return to the lips, and the muscles are so fatigued that they won’t vibrate when you play the way you normally play, then it’s absolutely possible on the piano. Because when you’re fatigued on the piano, your fingers tend to regenerate rather quickly. It’s not like you play to a certain point and you just can’t play anymore. At least I have never suffered from that situation on the piano. Usually if I’m tired, I’ll wait a few minutes, and physically, things come back again.
On the piano it’s really more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge for most people.
I want you to try this technique the next time you think you’ve reached the end of what you can do. Of course, revisit the score and practice slowly going through the score carefully. But in a performance situation, you can muster up the energy if you rely upon doubling down upon the things you know work. Go for it in an extreme way! Reaffirm your concentration and see what’s possible for you when you think you’ve lost all consistency in your playing. Let me know how this works for you! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
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