<%-- Page Title--%> Book Review <%-- End Page Title--%>

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August 01, 2003

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Tips for the Pianist

Review of “Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing”
by Josef Lhevinne. Paperback, 48 pages.
August 1972, Dover Publications.

Written in a lucid, simple style “Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing” by Josef Lhevinne is a short read and has many useful problem solving methods. Lhevinne manages to effectively illustrate all the ideas he presents by applying each principle to excerpts from well-known classical pieces, mainly from Chopin, Rubeinstein, Lizt and Schumann. The book covers topics such as musicianship, memorization, accuracy in playing but the main emphasis of the book is devoted to the secret of beautiful tone production.

The book has six chapters. In chapter one Lhevinne discusses the importance of good foundation in real musicianship and argues that a complete knowledge of notation should be drilled into the pupil at the first lesson, and how rests are just as important as notes. According to Lhevinne, rhythm must be felt from within and cannot be taught. He suggests that a student should hear rhythmic music as much as possible or could accompany more rhythmic singers and violinists.

Chapter two deals with the importance of musicianship and fine touch. He emphasizes that a good knowledge and identification by ear of the keys, the common chords, and the seventh chords are very important. Furthermore, a pupil should try to listen to oneself while playing, and this is the exact same advice that my piano teacher used to give me as I always found this a difficult task to do. The importance of good touch is an individual matter and the nature of the player's hand has an important role here. One general principle of good tone production is that the piano key must go all the way down to the “key bottom”.

Chapter three presents the importantce of securing a fine tone. The author discusses the secret of how to produce a beautiful tone by playing with a particular part of the finger which is covered with cushions of flesh and the important role of arm and hand. Furthermore, the ringing and singing tone is produced by touching the key with the larger surface of the first joint of the finger and the wrist should always be flexible.

The theme of chapter four is how to acquire delicacy and power in pianoforte playing. Lhevinne stresses the need for mental attitude (emotions, moods, and thoughts) and recommends that while playing, the fingers should be on the surface of the keys and the technique of the “arm floating in air” to acquire delicacy. While playing the forte passages if a performer wants to produce good tone but not noise, then like Rubins-tein's, the wrist must always be free from stiffness and make use of the natural arm and shoulder weight.

Chapter five is devoted to accuracy in playing. Lhevinne argues that the level of inaccuracy while playing can be reduced if one keeps their concentration and has the will to practice slowly. He further suggests that the fingering for the passages must be well chosen and the easiest hand position should be adapted. For producing various good staccatos he proposes it can be achieved by raising the wrist position, by wiping the fingers on the keys, and in some cases the action of the whole fore arms is involved. He advises on playing legato notes and how the notes should float into each other by having the same tonal colour, in other words, the kind of touch employed to each key should be the same.

In chapter six Lhevinne suggests not to tax the memory but to memorize phrase by phrase, not measure by measure. The thing to remember is the thought not the symbols. Also, one should have firm grasp of the elements of harmony to memorize well. Regular practice should be maintained instead of memorizing now and then. Variety should be introduced while practicing with different speeds, different touches, and different rhythms. He further points out the disadvantages of playing brilliantly and how much study has to be put into peddling to bring out the overall beauty of a musical piece.

Lhevinne's “Basic principles in Pianoforte playing” is an interesting read giving suggestions to many problems that many pianists are faced with in their musical life. This book is relevant to all pianists regardless of their level and can be a helpful tool to answer many of their queries.

The author has recently graduated from the Department of Music, York University, Canada. She is currently residing at Dhaka and giving piano lessons.

Reviewed by Prema Humayun



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