Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Piano Preferences

Note: This was also posted on my piano blog.

I got a new piano bench this weekend. It's an adjustable bench, and I'm hoping to have it for a long, long time. It replaces the kitchen chair, which replaced my old piano bench, which I'd used for 30+ years. So I'm a faithful piano bench owner, I am.

I didn't get to practice this weekend, so I was looking forward to tonight's practice session using the new bench (which I've named Gilbert). Sure, I planned to practice my Shostakovich ... but I also planned to experiment with the new bench.

My old bench was too high. The kitchen chair, obviously, was too low --plus, it wasn't flat, like a piano bench should be. I would get a backache before I ever made it through my warm-up scales.

I started with the bench low and practice for a few minutes. Backache.

I moved it up a bit. Backache.

Moved it up a little more. Backache, but not quite so bad.

Finally I found a good height and practiced for a half-hour before the sleepies started to take over. Then I compared it to my "too high" piano bench. It's slightly lower. It's also a lot more cushiony, which helps, I'm sure.

Deborah always has me adjust her piano bench to as low as it goes. Sure, my elbows are at the right angle at that height, but it never feels right to be that low. I like to feel like I'm high above the piano--but not so high that it hurts my back. There's a narrow range in there, and I can find it with my new bench.

Another preference I have--one that Deborah has convinced me to abandon--is that I like to sit on the very, very edge of the bench. Not so much, obviously, that I'm in danger of falling off. But more so than "good technique" would probably recommend. To sit the way I like, the bench has to be a little farther away from the piano than you'd expect. But I like the feeling of space. With it comes a feeling of freedom. It's like I'm giving the piano, and the music, room to breathe.

So I think I might start playing the piano the way that "feels" right to me. Maybe it's bad technique, but can it be so bad if I'm simply more comfortable in a certain position? I definitely feel like I have more control in my "preferred position." Sitting closer to the piano, and being closer to it due to a shorter piano bench, makes me feel crowded and claustrophobic. I've tried it for five years now, and I still haven't gotten used to it.

One final preference: As wonderful as my hearing aid is, and as drastically as it's improved my quality of life, I prefer playing piano without it. Maybe this is because I learned to play without it; I didn't get a hearing aid until I was 29, and I couldn't afford a really nice one until I was 38. I hear the piano differently when I don't have the hearing aid in. It's like hearing the voice of a treasured friend. I don't have that feeling at all when I use the hearing aid.

Again, I feel like I have more control when I play my preferred way (i.e., without the hearing aid). The notes sound clearer and louder when I have the hearing aid in, but they also sound harsher. Without the hearing aid, they sound ... considerate. Not clanging in on my consciousness. They sound like friends. Voices I can truly work with. And it's like my hands and fingers know what to do, whereas they always feel shy and uncertain with the louder, harsher tones.

I was supposed to have a lesson Saturday morning, but Deborah had to cancel at the last minute, so I won't have a lesson until this coming Saturday morning. I'm going to try an experiment this week. I'm going to go back to playing without my hearing aid, using a higher bench, and sitting a little farther away from the piano than usual.

What can it hurt? It's not like I'm training to be a professional. And it's not like I'm the Queen of Bad Technique, though I sometimes feel like I am during a lesson.

I really think it's time I started trusting my own instincts a little more. I have no problem trusting my instincts as a writer. With piano, it's always been a different story.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me you're going to HAVE to sit a little farther away. For the next three months or so, anyway :)


Fiona said...

Hi, I know you wrote this post ages ago, but it was interesting to me as I am wearing a hearing aid for the first time (just one ear, nearing the end of a 30-day trial) and am also struggling with the way the piano sounds, not only is it distorted there is a distinct echo. I've been writing about it on my blog, too. Your blog is interesting, also your piano blog. I'm a piano teacher and just turned 40. All the best with your pregnancy!

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