Hi aryobrand! Thanks for your well-considered reply.
Well, I anticipated different opinions, and we have them. Teddy said:
I usually persist with it even if it hurts (though I'm obviously careful not to injure myself)
"Hurts" is a strong word. It hurts enough that he thinks of the possibility of permanent damage to his hands ("injure", "Schumann"). Only Teddy can tell us what he actually meant by pain. As you have suggested, I'm sure he does not cry out with a loud "AYEEEE!!" (at least I hope not!
). But I read that as a warning. I can just imagine Schumann saying to Clara, "Oh don't worry about this contraption - of course I'm careful not to injure myself."
"Hurts" sounds to me like an even more serious experience than "feels strained".
I cannot conceive of any professional pianist who would ever say that pain is good in practice (I know that you don't think Teddy means "pain", but caution makes me assume that he does until he clarifies further), much less that he "persists with it even if it hurts". Discomfort, in the sense of awkwardness at a new passage - that lack of easy control - is very different, and I would never use the word "pain" to describe that feeling. You wrote:
This type of "pain" ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS goes away within a couple of hours.
I cannot imagine feeling uncomfortable (can we agree that anything described as "pain" is uncomfortable?) after-effects of a practice session for 2 hours!
I agree with what you said in a posted reply to me:
anything that feels strained should not be persisted - most certainly NEVER at a fff!!! If I feel an undue strain in my hands it's usually a sign to me that my fingering should be modified, which can usually remedy the situation
That is great advice, aryobrand! If not a change in fingering, then a change in mechanical approach. A player may feel dangerous strain when beginning the left hand of Chopin op. 10 no. 9 with Chopin's fingering (5-4-1-4-1), but may solve the problem while keeping that fingering by raising the wrist, as we have discussed.
If I feel stiff after not playing for a while, I relax as much as possible until it goes away. I cannot conceive of ever practicing by working through that feeling or worse. I would respectfully repeat:
"Pain" that "hurts" (not my words) plays no role whatever in my practice or playing, and I would strongly advise any pianist to find another way of working that does not call to mind those words.
As for the so-called "free-fall" of Bolet, it is one of many practice
techniques (we were discussing practicing), not a playing technique, and neither is the "open hand" technique. I never suggested coming down on the keys as hard as humanly possible. As you wrote:
Now I'm sure that that's not what you were suggesting that anyone do
, and you were correct.
Still, it is for advanced students who have already acquired some finger strength, and know how to relax. You are quite right that it is not suited for beginners, less because of danger of injury than the beginner's lack of finger strength required for accuracy. I assumed that anyone who is working on Scriabin études is not a beginner. Still, bearing in mind, as you said, that this site is open to all levels of pianists, a word of advice, if not dire warning, directed towards beginners may be called for before suggesting such a practice technique here. The free-fall, and open hand technique are combined, in my own practice, with other techniques that involve close-key and softer playing. Neither freefall nor open hand produce anything that could even remotely be described as "pain" or even "tension" if done in a relaxed manner.
By the way, my use of the term "free-fall" is really a practice extension of a playing technique. Bolet did not use the words "free fall". But the expression seems to me to imply that little additional force is involved other than gravity. It has been advocated by many pedagogues, including Karl Leimer, who wrote:
"Bend the arm, keeping the elbow, wrist and fingers in a fixed position but free of stiffness. The fingers must be firmly set in order to strike the desired keys. The arm should fall loosely from the shoulder joint; the fingers should perform the function of aiming at the respective keys without unnecessary maneuvers.... The free fall and touch, which involve fixation, muscular action, firm strokes, flexible and relaxed arms, hands and fingers, can come into their own under one condition only, that is, if fatigue is never prevalent. Where fatigue begins, technique ends."
In near-conclusion, you mentioned that "good pain" can be achieved by playing the entire School of Velocity straight through (personally, I would feel more danger of mental than physical pain if I did that!). On the subject of beginners who read these posts, I would say that the mere mention of such a thing as "good pain", whatever it may mean to you, is a dangerous concept. I cannot imagine that any known pedagogue would say such a thing. If you can show me an example, I would be astonished, not that I am dismissing the possibility outright! Most pedagogues I have read suggest immediately stopping at the first sign of pain or tension, not working through it for the purpose of reaping the benefits of this "good pain". I could easily be wrong in this, but I need to see it. It does "take all kinds" though, so chances are that some known quantity has previously suggested this approach. I'd just love to know who! And then, all I could say is: "I disagree".
"Awkwardness", "weakness", "lack of control", "stiffness" that requires warming up - these things I know. But "good pain" or positive, result-producing tension are foreign to me. I suspect (and hope) that all this boils down to semantics!
In the end, no two pianists work in the same way. It is a certainty that personal practice or playing techniques of some will seem ridiculous and useless, or even dangerous to others. I am merely expressing a personal opinion here.... that "pain" (as opposed to a transitory
"tension" or "fatigue") of any type or degree has no place in my practice or playing, and I certainly do not feel that I am, as you suggested, "not challenging myself enough" because I choose not to inflict discomfort upon myself during practice! I assure you that there are quite enough challenges in learning to play difficult music well without adding the challenge of withstanding self-inflicted pain. If it works for you, what can I say but that I chose another path?
I advise on the basis of my beliefs, as would any teacher. If Teddy's "pain" and "hurt" were not clearly expressed to reflect his actual experience, I still would rather err on the side of caution in my suggestions. It would be irresponsible not to take him at his word, lacking further elucidation from him.
I would add that discussions on a message board are susceptible to misinterpretation, as they do not allow the instant corrections and adjustments in communication that personal discussions allow, whether in descriptions of experiences, or in clarity of meaning in general.