The Wide Range and the Short Range

Technique develops, and in a very wide field of possibilities technique can develop almost endlessly. Even in a narrow field, it is wrong to think that the best technique has necessarily been found after a couple of hundred years’ experience. We should not become slaves to fixed ideas and analysis of technique.

I learnt the piano as a kid under a teacher of the old school, who was a pupil of the great teacher Oskar Beringer. He taught me to play scales with a matchbox balanced on the back of the hand. I learnt to keep the back of the hand level even when the thumb passes underneath the fingers. I made quite good progress and became able to do it.

And then my father sent me to a very famous teacher, and one of the first things he said to me was, ‘Why do you keep your hands so flat?’

I can balance a matchbox on the back of my hand’, I said proudly. I thought he would challenge me to do it, but he said simply, ‘What for?’

I didn’t know any bad words when I was eight years old, but I thought to myself, ‘Oh gosh!’ Then he said: ‘Throw your hand up when you pass the thumb underneath. Make the wrist soft and throw the hand up. Then it’s easier’.

Well, that gave me a lifelong suspicion of fixed rules of technique. But when I had finished laughing at this 20-year-old tradition, I realized that they made good pianists in early days. It may not have been necessary, but they made good pianists. Some of them could play faster than our best people today. It may have been oppressive and unnecessarily difficult, but it did get results too. One thinks that one can analyze technique and get it out straight, once for all; one thinks that one now knows the best way. But it doesn’t necessarily follow.

Another point which Dr. Kano discusses is the question of short term and long term. He writes that we must retain clearly our final objective, but also that we must be able to concentrate on what is immediately before us.

There is a wide range, and there is also a short range, and we must be able to direct attention accordingly. We can see this in golf. When they first play golf, beginners make the stroke, but before they have actually hit the ball, they are looking up to see where it has gone. As a result, they miss it altogether. To play a golf shot you first have to get a wide span of attention: the direction, how far to hit the ball, where it will pitch, what effect the slopes will have, and so on. You get a feeling in your body of how the stroke is to be. When you actually hit the ball, you don’t think of any of these consequences; you just hit the ball with that feeling in your body.

Look at the photos of the great tournament professionals, and you will see that most of them are still looking down at where the ball was, long after it has been despatched. They do not look up, even after hitting the ball. But beginners are looking up even before they have hit it. The beginners make up their mind not to look up, but still they do so. They cannot control the impulse to look up. In this way, the extra unnecessary thought interferes with the stroke, and many golfers spend their whole lives looking up before they hit the ball. They never succeed in controlling the impulse, because they have no mental control. They resolve to keep their head down, but up it comes.


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