Alexander Technique trains the use of oneself, in any situation. To the aspiring pianist, it is an effective technique to improve how one uses oneself at the piano. It falls short, however, of training a technique of playing the piano. Five years of territory study and additional years of private instruction gave me some ideas of piano technique, but there remained a incongruity between the coordination I’d learned through Alexander Technique, and what I understood the demands of playing the instrument to be. I discovered the Taubman Technique to be the bridge to that gap.
Dorothea Taubman critically analysed the techniques of great pianists. She saw what was consistent amongst them, and used this as the basis for developing her own pianistic technique. She ignored what the pianists taught or said about their techniques, nothing that there were inconsistencies between this and what they actually demonstrated in performance. In this way, she transcended the individual mannerisms which were surpufulbous to performance, and the pedagogies which had inconsistent results in education.
including the whole
The piano technique Dorothea Taubman distilled from the greats, was quite consistent with the principles of Alexander Technique. (She had some experience of Alexander Technique work and it continues to be taught in parallel at Taubman symposiums.) The coordination of the whole self is required to facilitate an appropriate poise at the instrument. A balance of tone through the whole is required for a pianistic technique to be spontaneously adaptable to the demands of various musical expressions.
My training in Alexander Technique improved my playing exponentially (see this article). I was able to execute the movements I desired with more ease and conviction. Until having Taubman instruction however, the movements I was attempting were was somewhat misguided. I had learnt to use myself well in order to play with ineffective technique.
Alexander Technique for the self, Taubman Technique for the piano
Alexander Technique instruction enables you to coordinate to most effectively fulfil the demands of the task required and stay healthy. Taubman Technique informs the pianist on just what is required to generate the immense range of expression the piano offers.
Taubman acknowledges the importance of the whole coordination, but is specifically concerned with how the pianist interfaces with the instrument. Knowing what trajectory to move in, what speed to move at and what amount of effort is required for a key stroke is information specific only to piano playing and lies outside the expertise of Alexander Technique. It is entirely the realm of Taubman technique, as it is exactly this kind of detail which the aspiring pianist needs to know. Armed with this knowledge, the performer can then use Alexander Technique to coordinate the whole self to most effectively execute the movements.
True to the influence of Alexander Technique in the development of Taubman technique, the instruction I received involved tactile guidance and verbal guidance. Much like my study of Alexander Technique, I had to overcome temptation to persist with ineffective habits of movement. The more clear I became about the requirements of meeting the instrument, I simultaneously became more effective in the coordination of myself and in the expression of the music I was attempting.
Thus the two modalities synergistically work to continually refine piano technique. There is no end point in either paradigm. Each are based on sound principles which can be applied ad infinitum.
Photo by Glenn Daniels, copyright Jeremy Woolhouse