Monday, October 10, 2022

Carl Friedberg on touch and technique on the piano

More from Piano Mastery by Harriette Brower— some words on sound and technique at the piano from Carl Friedberg (1872-1955). He was the principal piano instructor at Juilliard in the mid 20th century— Nina Simone was one of his students. 

I've edited it slightly. There's plenty here that everyone will recognize from our day to day experience: 

I believe the legato touch is of the most importance in piano playing. I am aware that some modern players do not agree with this: they think everything should be played with the arm. I must differ from those who hold to this idea, for I emphatically believe and can prove there is a legato on the piano. It is the foundation of beautiful tone.

The tone an artist draws from his instrument should be round, full and expressive, capable of being shaded and varied, just as is the bel canto of the singer. We should learn to sing with our fingers.

I endeavor to give my piano tone the quality of the singing voice.

I first require a correct position: sitting on a chair which would be the right height to keep the level of the arm and wrist, not allowing the elbow to hang below the keyboard. The knees are to be close together; the heels planted on the floor, with the soles of the feet resting on the pedals, but not depressing them. The arms fall easily at the side, but not pressed against it. Now the hand is placed on five keys, in a vaulted position. I will now hold my hand in this position, and depress one key with the middle finger.

As you see, the condition of arm is quite loose and relaxed. You can move my arm back and forth, or in any direction you choose, but it will be impossible for you to dislodge my finger from the key, for it remains there with full relaxed arm weight.

In regard to equalizing the fingers, some players struggle to make all fingers equally strong; yet with all their effort the fourth finger can never be made as vigorous as the thumb. And why should all the fingers be equal one just the same as the others? It is not necessary. Just those slight inequalities of touch give variety and expressiveness to the playing. There are times when it is better to use weaker fingers than strong ones.

For all this technical drill I use hundreds of exercises of my own, which have never been printed. I do not adhere strictly to one set of these, but invent new ones constantly, perhaps changing them every week. 

I believe in making everything musical, in always making the tone beautiful, even in technical exercises and scales.

The piano is more than a thing of metal and wood; it can speak, and the true artist will draw from it wonderful tones. It should be part of his constant study to create beautiful tone. I believe a single tone can be made expressive.

1 comment:

Pete Sweeney said...

Thanks for posting this.
You may be interested in the documentary about the pianist Seymour Bernstein done by Ethan Hawke. Bernstein also did an instructional series that’s on YouTube as well. Very similar message about relaxation, tone, etc