Dedication to Overcoming Trouble and Difficulty in a Pianist’s Career

The Magic Touch…





It gives me great pleasure that Wallace Tate has produced this record of my teaching, a task that has never been attempted before. I heartily endorse The Magic Touch, and hope that pianists will find it both an inspiration and a practical help on their musical journey.



Emeritus Professor Lionel Bowman

Stellenbosch University.

May, 2000



The above are the words of Lionel Bowman, a man whom I hold a great respect for, not least due to his dedication to resolving a deeply troubling issue that he experienced in his late thirties and early forties.


Many pianists have experienced similar problems, over their playing careers, to varying degrees, and I should note, this can apply equally to laymen pianists as well. It is not only an issue for the professional player.

In Lionel's case, he found the pain so debilitating, and the discomfort so great, that he temporarily gave up the piano. However, unlike many who may have given up for good, he took the time and opportunity to study the anatomy of the hand and arm, as well as the fingers, and experimented with various techniques, till he established the 'Bowman Method' that he had been using and teaching ever since.

 

Whilst it was initially intended only as a way for him to play gain, he found that the sound of the result of his playing was better, and he was able to play pain free as well. Once he then taught the method to his students, their playing had improved as well, and many were able to avoid the problems he had experienced himself.

 

This was a great inspiration to himself, as well as his students. The work, written by Mr Wallace Tate, a retired Director General of the West Australian Music Board, as a result of countless visits by Professor Bowman to Western Australia, was created as a means to convey the Bowman method to as many pianists and teachers as possible.


The presentation is presented as a manual, substantially illustrated, as well as accompanied by a DVD or online video series. The material is very well presented and aimed at all levels for all piano players. Naturally, the absolute beginner may find it difficult, but there is where the assistance of a good teacher will pay handsome dividends. 


To learn more, see the Manual below.

 

How Can I still Play the Piano After Experiencing Tendonitis and Other Hand Injuries?

 

It is not uncommon for professional, or serious, regular pianists to experience various hand injuries over the course of their piano playing days. This is particularly problematic for people who may have small hands, and who play complex works, such as the Rachmaninov Concerto Number 3, and so on. However, this problem is certainly not confined to only classical pianists, or even professionals. These various injuries can affect just about any pianist, casual or professional, from time to time.


The most typical injuries include tendonitis, and wrist strain, mostly as a result of either not having sufficient strength built up in their fingers and hands, as well as other playing issues such as correct position at the piano. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a common list of problems, as I have mentioned earlier.


For some piano players, the thought may even have crossed their mind to give up playing, due to the repetitive injuries. Whilst this is an extreme option, there are other ways to reduce the injuries, and actually end up by playing better. One method that has been proven by many students after being adopted is the Bowman method.


Professor Lionel Bowman was a distinguished piano player, at the peak of his career around his late thirties, who had developed very great problems with tendonitis. After having to actually stop playing for a number of months, while his hand healed, he took the time to actually study the anatomy of the hand and arm, and created his own method of playing the piano. His style has enabled him to become a better teacher, and his crowning achievement through this process was that he not only was able to resume his playing, but succeeded in helping others play better, with less incidence of injury as well.


The Bowman method encompasses the strengthening of the fingers, as well as an overall approach to muscle coordination. Far too many people start to play the piano a certain way, and find that, over the years, their discomfort increases, due to the method of playing that creates tension and stress in the joints as well as fingers.


One aspect of the method is about sitting in the right place, with reference to the notes being played. As an example, the hips need to be loose, in that for certain parts of the score, the pianist will need to sit right, or site left, and even sit back, to allow the wrists to become lower then the keys. By moving the hips, so the pianist's body is in front of, and at right angles to the keyboard, will minimise the stress on the wrists as well as muscles of the wrist, and tendons.


It can often aid the pianist to make specific notes on the music score, like sitting right, or sitting left, as this will aid the pianist to achieve an optimum posture and comfort. This comfort will translate into relaxation, and thus, a better overall sound as well as reduced injuries.


 

This technique needs to be practiced, and actually, it can be beneficial to start learning a new piece, rather than trying to relearn an already known piece of music. The best proof is in the action, and seeing for yourself.

 

 


Are you able to store your piano performances for future listening? Have you been having trouble recording your piano performances, for the long term? Not only can you record your performances, but also gain an enhanced comfort and improvement in your playing, with less stress and injury. To learn more, see The Magic Touch.  

An Introduction to Audio Recording Your Piano Recitals Yourself

 

 

I wanted to start briefly with a very short history on audio recording to express the incredible journey we have already taken, and explain how we can move forward dramatically.


As many of you know, around the 80's, if you wanted to record audio to your computer, or even tape, you needed a microphone, or two, (still do), and they in turn, had to be connected to a mixing console, which in turn required tape machines typically of the open reel type, if you were serious. The reason for the open reel machines was that for any editing to take place after the fact, you had to actually move, or jog the tape across the heads of the reel to reel recorder, and know how to precisely mark the point on the tape that needed to be cut, as well as then putting the machine into play mode, while the unwanted tape segment spooled off the reel, and onto the floor, till you then found the out point, to cut the tape again.


Some of you may be thinking back to those glorious days of audio editing with some fondness, but believe me, it was time consuming, and certainly not for the every day person. The machines cost a substantial amount, and you needed to really be into the whole idea of editing, and what can be done in a matter of minutes today, by a seasoned operator, could take a good few hours back then.


I felt it important to raise this issue of history, to appreciate the tremendous strides that have taken place in audio recording today. I understand that for a new person to the recording scene, it may all still seem a little complicated, but it is relative. Unlike back then, which required the best part of a good few thousand dollars, and then some, you can be set up today for under one thousand dollars, and sometimes, much less, depending on what you already have.


So, that begs the question- what do you actually need to set off on this journey?


I would like to say at this point, that there are any number of combinations of equipment that you could use. Apart from the essentials, (again, open to variation) of a computer, microphone, mic stand and USB cable, there rest are truly options, for the more serious minded. Audio is, and always will be a possible area for sinking large amounts of cash, if you want to always be getting the next best thing. However, please remember I am talking about setting up a basic studio here, and will discuss the optional extras in future articles, as I know that some of you are interested in processing equipment, like sound finalisers, reverberation equipment, compressors, and let's face it, the list can be endless, or at least as long as your budget!


Having addressed that caveat, I would like to advise that as I understand that for many people, the budget is a big factor, many home recording enthusiasts, or artists wanting to record their work, for that matter, can start off small, and add more equipment as their success grows. However, please do not fall for the sales line that you absolutely must have product x or y, or your recording will be terrible. It simply is not true.


In fact, the audio purist line goes in favour of the least possible amount of electronics in the line, for maximum fidelity. Just a thought there for everyone.


Having said this, laptops can be purchased relatively cheaply these days, and whilst disk size is nice to have, an average laptop will really do quite well. If you need to splurge on your laptop, the best area is on greater amounts of RAM, or memory, as this will enhance the performance of your machine. In addition, there are two software packages that I recommend, one is free, being Audacity, as well as the Sony Audio Studio, that I still very reasonably priced, but if funds are tight, Audacity is fine for a start.


I mentioned the use of a mic stand, as this will make it easier to suspend over the centre of the piano, or to place with resect to any other instrument you may be playing. Please ensure that your mic is a large diaphragm type, so that you can capture the rich bass of the natural sound. The primary difference between a consumer mic and a professional or 'pro-sumer' (the mic that is above a consumer, but on the budget end of professional), is the size of the diaphragm, or part that captures the sound waves, and converts them to the digital signal. This si where the USB mic comes in, in as much as it is a plug and play arrangement, where your laptop, if running windows, or Mac software, will typically recognise and self install the drivers for the microphone to work in a matter of a minute or two.


If you were not interested in anything else, this point will get you going, albeit with less than you can actually do. I mean that the software is quite powerful, but if this is the limit of your technical interest, this much will get you started. All you need to do now is experiment with your microphone placement, for the best sound quality. Regardless of the software you are using, you need to ensure you set the recording levels to a little below the peak area on the metering.


In digital audio, unlike with analogue, you can record at quite high levels, but if you go just a little bit higher, where you over load the input, you will get a terrible distortion, as the sound wave is actually cut off in this case, whereas with analogue, the distortion is gradual, and not so immediate. Hence, look after your levels, where you are about ten decibels below total overload peak. However, please play around to test this for yourself. The technical term for the above is leaving some head room, or 'safe level' area before you clip the sound, and distort it. Digital systems allow a high recording level, but do not clip it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you able to store your piano performances for future listening? Have you been having trouble recording your piano performances, for the long term? Not only can you record your performances, but also gain an enhanced comfort from your playing. To learn more, see the Piano Magic Touch.  

I am Interested in Recording My Piano Recitals. How Can I Go About This?

 

I wanted to break this otherwise, potentially complex subject into small nuggets of information for you, to make it useful, as well as easy to implement. I am not expecting you to become a professional sound engineer over night, and fortunately, It is not a requirement to achieve great recordings nowadays from your home. The most important ingredient is a basic laptop computer, with software that ranges from the free Audacity program to the more complex, and still well priced Sony Audio Studio Software.


The main difference between the two packages is that the Sony Audio Studio software has more detailed editing functions, preferences for settings and also has the built in function to save audio recordings as an MP3 file, without needing a plugin program. Whilst it could take a few days to learn the Sound Studio software, compared to the easier Audacity program, the features may well make it a viable option for you.


However, the sound quality of both programs is identical, with no degradation either way. The biggest factor here, will be the microphone that you choose.


It is certainly no secret that there are more and more good quality USB microphones that are becoming available, but I have found a particular model, the Audio Technica microphone USB 2020 to be very versatile, for both speech, as well as music (instrument) recording. This way, you can get away with only one model of microphone. As a side note, I am aware you can use multiple mics for the same recording, to get different angles, and tonal qualities of sound, but please note that this is intended for someone starting out, and who just wants a good quality result, without the bells and whistles.


If you want to record both a speech introduction, or conclusion for your recording, I recommend doing several takes, if you only have the one or at best, two mics for a stereo recording, as this way, you can optimally place the mic for each recording type. This means the microphone can be optimally placed above the piano's open top, above the strings, around the middle C area, which is one way, or on each side of the strings area, when using two mics. If you are using a stereo mic model, where the two mic heads are in one enclosure, mount the mic above the centre of the piano. It is best to remove the piano cover, in most cases, for an even distribution of sound.


The mic should be about 20 centimetres away from your mouth, when doing your voice recording, and is at all possible, a pop filter should be fitted to the mic, which is essentially a gauze or 'stocking type' material, that will prevent the rush of air across the mic head, that can cause popping noises, when we say a 'P' or 'D' word. Try this for yourself, and see the result. Say “I am popping a pee shooter at the mic'. If you do not have a pop filter, the 'P's will sound distorted.


I recommend also having your laptop computer as far away from your piano or other instrument as possible, determined by your USB cable length, to reduce the possibility of the computer fan noise getting into the recording. Most laptop computer fans turn on and off automatically, depending on the temperature inside the computer case.


Once you have completed your recording, it is worth tidying up the recording, by editing or removing the bits of 'silent track' before you start playing and after as well.


You can also eliminate any coughing or other erroneous noises the same way. Once you have completed your editing, and are happy with the result, you can then relatively easily save the file as a WAV file or MP3 file, and record that onto a CD. I recommend using the WAV file option, as this is a slightly better quality than an MP3 file, and record that to CD. You then have your completed CD recording of your performance, ready to go.




Are you able to store your piano performances for future listening? Have you been having trouble recording your piano performances, for the long term? Not only can you record your performances, but also gain an enhanced comfort from your playing. To learn more, see the Piano Magic Touch.  

Introductory Basic Techniques for the Magic Touch for the piano

 

Posture

 

 

In most of the exercises in this book, the hands play two octaves apart, thus enabling the forearms to assume a natural, comfortable position parallel with one another, at right angles to the keyboard. To maintain this angle, the torso tilts to the left, centre, or right, according to the geography of the passage played. When the hands play in front of the body, one should lean back a little to accommodate the elbows. Commonsense and circumstances will determine when, and to what degree, the angle and the bodily movements must be modified. Where needed, reminders should be written on the score to 'sit left', 'sit right', 'sit back', 'sit forward', etc.

Of course, one will often lean forward or back for other than technical reasons: for example, a forward attitude is generally conducive to playing of a contemplative or introspective nature, whereas to 'sit back' is often associated with a feeling of breadth and expansiveness. The student will understand that there must always be freedom of movement at the hip joints.

We remind the student to be aware of unconsciously raised shoulders and fifth fingers.

 

 

The Thumbs

 

 

The thumbs have only two joints and are shorter than the other fingers, but, by way of compensation, they have a range of movement more than the other four fingers combined.

They have four main functions. With the palms facing you, they can move:

 

(a) directly towards you,

(b) away from the hand,

            1. ) right across the hand to the little fingers, and

            (d) rotarily, which is a combination of the above three movements.

             

            They have capabilities that the other fingers do not have and without their use, the fingers could not function properly because there would be an inadequate grasp.

            The thumbs, as the dominating fingers of the hands, play a major role in the positioning of the hands on the keyboard. They also have a remarkable melodic capability. Students will appreciate some of the essential functions of the thumbs as they progress from the playing of single thumb notes, to double octaves, and chords through the position of the octave, and other chords in which the thumbs have a guiding influence.

            Because of their fundamental importance,we begin our technical studies with the thumbs.

             

             

             

             Thumb Notes

             

             

            ♦ Place the limp hands palms down on the lap, as shown in Figure 1. Note that the gap between the thumb and index finger is about the extent of a major or minor third – a natural position. Note that the thumb is turned slightly outwards.

             

            More details and instructions are available from The Magic Touch by Wallace Tate, in association with Lionel Bowman