Stefan Blido: Peter Feuchtwangers Piano exercises, a Basic Piano technique
Peter Feuchtwanger´s Piano Exercises are a basic piano technique. In the same sense that one can understand the Alexander technique or the Feldenkrais method as a basic technique for musicians, one can also describe Peter Feuchtwanger´s piano exercises as a basic technique specific to piano playing. With uncompromising consistency, Peter Feuchtwanger conveys by way of his piano exercises the basis for natural movement at the piano. He has formulated here the foundations for a natural piano technique. As pianistic handwork tools his exercises form a preparatory course antecedent to all other exercises and studies (Hanon, etc.) and are fundamentally different from them in this respect.
The essence, the spirit of the piano exercises accompanies me daily in my work as a piano teacher with children from the age of five upwards. The exercises have imparted to me fundamental insights for successful piano teaching from the first lesson.
A good body posture should be a condition sine qua non for every pianist, for a bad posture has an inhibitory effect on one´s movements at the piano. In this case lessons in the Alexander technique, the Feldenkrais method, eutony, ideokinesis, or dispokinesis can be of complimentary assistance. For this reason Peter Feuchtwanger seeks to have exponents of these therapies cooperating with him on his master classes. However, as a physiological technique specific to the pianistic discipline, his exercises go further than these general techniques of body usage and cannot be replaced by any of them.
Peter Feuchtwanger developed his exercises using his own experience of absolute effortlessness and lightness in playing the piano as a basis, and they have led to a holistic use of the piano playing mechanism and to a free, light and economical technique on the instrument.
Furthermore, Peter Feuchtwanger has had much success in retraining pianists with dysfunctional playing which has led to illness, such as focal dystonia, or tendonitis. Here the healing aspect of the exercises reaps dividends. Tension, pain and errors in the way the brain works often arise from a one sided usage of a particular part of the body. Without knowing what we are doing, we restrict our potential. We get imprisoned in our habits of movement. In this situation, medical attention usually proves to be insufficient in the long run, because the problem is not solved at its roots and permanent changes are not achieved. The cause of the hardening of parts of the anatomy does not lie in an intrinsic inelasticity of bone structures but in bad habits and restrictions in the interaction between the muscle and nervous systems. This interrelation is essentially accessible and open to outside influence and it is exactly at this point that the exercises are effective. Every pianist can organise his nervous system in a new way by experiencing alternative forms of movement and learn new structures of movements so as to achieve greater lightness and virtuosity and to free himself from dysfunctional and restrictive habits.
Playful and simple movements at the piano enhance one´s perception of oneself, facilitate the recognition of habits of posture and movement, widen the spectrum of movements at the piano and enable the freedom to choose movements while at the same time refining one´s kinaesthetic sense (kinaesthetic: a combination of the Greek words “kinesis”, movement and “aesthesie”, perception). The aim is to organise one´s piano playing mechanism “ in such a way that it moves with a minimum of effort and a maximum of efficiency, not by means of muscle power but through an increased awareness of how it functions.” (Feldenkrais)
The piano exercises help to make one aware of existing patterns of posture and movement and then to change them. Their goal is the elimination of restrictions to movements (blockages) and the gaining or recovery of freedom and mastery, that is, the eradication of all artificial motor-patterns and the reduction of all exertions to an absolute minimum, “le strict necessaire” as Heinrich Neuhaus put it.
Under the guidance of a teacher every pianist at whatever level can recognise his bad habits in the use of his body in playing the piano and with the help of Peter Feuchtwanger´s exercises replace them with new, functional habits and thereby improve his technique as a whole.
The action always originates at the fingers. The kinetic chain commences with the fingers, which are connected back to centre of the body (hara) while preserving freedom of movement in the shoulder area. Since Peter Feuchtwanger apprehends the mind and body as a functional whole, mental, emotional and physical processes are for him inseparably connected with each other. In this spirit the following applies equally well for a pianist who has been trained with the exercises: becoming more agile in one´s movements means becoming more alive – physically, emotionally and mentally. Creativity and the release of creative processes are thus a significant element of the exercises. When physical fixations begin to dissolve, emotional and mental fixations follow suit and somatopsychic learning processes begin to get under way. Obsession with the goal is given up in favour of a wakeful approach which directs attention to the means. Enjoyment in playing is enhanced and optimally you become one with what you are doing (“flow”). Contact with the piano is improved and the flowing, effortless way of playing brings pleasure in one´s own playing.