FAQ text contributed by Edna Golandsky, John Bloomfield, Robert Durso, Mary Moran, and Therese Milanovic.
People can learn at any age, provided they’re open to learning. In fact, the Taubman Approach has become known for its success in applying principles of coordinate movement to reverse a declining technique. Age has nothing to do with a technique deteriorating; poor physical habits have everything to do with it. What’s not often known is that correct movements not only reverse a troubled technique, but are also responsible for creating healthy skills which can lead to high-level playing. It’s one and the same thing.
No. The Taubman work is primarily a means for growth for a musician– for developing good skills, maintaining them, and progressing to the next level of technical and artistic mastery. Learning the Taubman Approach is about removing the obstacles in the way of that growth.
The Taubman Approach can assist:
i. Those who are not injured but looking to prevent injuries. Through studying this technique, one can prevent problems before they occur through a “diet” of correct positions and motions.
ii. Musicians who are injured who want to solve their problems.
iii. Those who are looking to learn how to produce an infinite range tone and color at the piano, especially a beautiful cantabile, which many find difficult.
iv. Musicians who are seeking more freedom in their playing: from greater speed, security, reliable leaps whether legato or staccato, and / or to solve passages in the repertoire that have always seen insurmountable, to name but a few benefits.
One of the most exciting aspects of this knowledge is that the Taubman Approach can be of help at any level – from beginners to seasoned players. It’s never too late to make positive changes to your playing.
There are many answers to this question. One is that there can be a change in one encounter. Pianists often come in the midst of a busy concert season. Unless there’s a severe injury, just putting into place a few changes can make a profound difference. The following few items are examples of some of these common changes:
i. correcting the chair height
ii. explaining how the finger, hand and forearm must be connected
iii. showing the correct wrist level
iv. showing the correct height of the forearm when playing
v. making them feel the freedom of the forearm (a missing link for most players)
vi. feeling the support and freedom of the forearm in putting down a key
vii. feeling the support of the forearm in helping to move from finger to finger without stretching
This is the short answer. The long answer is that there are many complex skills involved in playing the piano. As in any other discipline, it takes time to learn, deepen and make a habit of those practices, which can improve the playing in ways that are surprising and unexpected.
Students who are not injured may work immediately through repertoire in combination with pure technical concepts to develop greater freedom. The inherent positive aspects of the playing are encouraged and made conscious. In these cases, students report rediscovering their “natural” and “instinctive” playing. While this works well for some, in other cases it is faster to confront core issues within the basic movements. For profound improvement, partial or full retraining may be required to “learn the system underneath what is natural”, which in Golandsky’s experience is learnable, and teachable.
Depending on the student’s situation, establishing comfort may mean beginning with single note drops before moving to rotation. When this is working well in combination with other basic movements, such as the lateral “walking hand and arm” and movements of the finger, hand and arm unit in and out towards and away from the fallboard, the next stage is to incorporate these new skills into repertoire. Characteristically, a “scaley” piece at an appropriate level in close position is chosen as a practice vehicle, such as Mozart, Haydn, or Scarlatti.
Throughout the learning process, the student is allowed to experience and thoroughly consolidate each step. With time, new skills become automatic, requiring less conscious attention. Minimizing the technique begins, as rotation works best when small in combination with other movements. An essential step is (re)integrating the fingers’ lively movement with the support of the hand and forearm. Attention is also turned to incorporating elements of musical expression if not already present, including adding shaping, tone production, and rhythmic expression, thus beginning the transformation of craft into artistic playing.
Any pianist can benefit through studying the Taubman Approach, regardless of their current performance standard. Apart from overcoming technical limitations, many pianists find they develop greater facility, control, timbral palette, security, reliability in memory and performance. Intuitive performers can become more conscious of what they naturally do well, allowing them to grow further as well as help others. Others report they can practice fewer hours, yet achieve higher-level and more consistent results. As students come to lessons with a wide range of backgrounds and varied learning goals, Taubman teachers tailor lessons to addressing each student’s particular needs at that point in time.
As with anything new, immersive learning can be very helpful, particularly at the outset. Understandably, progress can be slower and motivation may decrease if lessons are irregular or months apart. Feedback from Taubman students confirms satisfaction with the speed of learning is linked to the frequency of lessons. To enable this, many pianists travel large distances for lessons, even within the US. Similarly, Taubman teachers also make a considerable effort in travelling regularly in an attempt to meet demand. retraining requires patience, an open mind, and willingness to change one’s technique. The process is easier when one maintains a positive mindset, and commits to consistent, quality practice. People are often surprised by the logic and clarity of the principles presented, and thrilled by the positive and unexpected results emerging in their playing. Passages that were previously difficult suddenly become easy. Learning something new requires a willingness to risk being temporarily dislodged from the familiar, even from skills that are functioning to some degree. To combat this displacement, Taubman teachers emphasize giving the student alternatives that actually work and are symptom free. Thus, when initially learning the Taubman Approach, certain principles from earlier training may need to be temporarily suspended. Later, these concepts may again be incorporated, understood from a different perspective, or dismissed. Skype is another means to continue the process in between lessons in person.
Undertaking retraining requires patience, an open mind, and willingness to change one’s technique. The process is easier when one maintains a positive mindset, and commits to consistent, quality practice. People are often surprised by the logic and clarity of the principles presented, and thrilled by the positive and unexpected results emerging in their playing. Passages that were previously difficult suddenly become easy.
Learning something new requires a willingness to risk being temporarily dislodged from the familiar, even from skills that are functioning to some degree. To combat this displacement, Taubman teachers emphasise giving the student alternatives that actually work and are symptom free. Thus, when initially learning the Taubman Approach, certain principles from earlier training may need to be temporarily suspended. Later, these concepts may again be incorporated, understood from a different perspective, or dismissed.
If someone is stubbornly unwilling to make changes, retraining can be very difficult and learning the Taubman Approach may not be for them.
Taubman understood the need for the student to rebuild a relationship with the instrument, believing that “The piano should become something very loving to you. You should want to touch it all the time. That’s very important” (Taubman Institute, 1995, see DVD 2). Trust and courage are required to resume playing when there is pain. With a skilled teacher, an injured student begins to experience Taubman’s revelation that correct movement is therapeutic.
Learning new skills can also be aided if one is not stressed by the conflict of a looming performance. A common reaction after overcoming pain is to succumb to the pressure of prior commitments, returning too quickly to preparing for performances or other pressing commitments. However, if the fundamentals are shaky, or issues unresolved, symptoms may recur until completely addressed.
Thus, for thorough retraining, it is often best, and faster in the long-term, to priorities establishing healthy movement patterns over preparing for performances.
However, other pianists manage to incorporate new aspects to their playing while preparing for a performance, and do so successfully. It really depends on the individual.
No way! On the rare occasion whereby a Taubman student has spent two years on the basic movements, it is often due to the student only taking very few lessons during the year, or working with an inexperienced Taubman teacher. It is an unfounded myth that Taubman retraining is necessarily long and arduous. In fact, retraining can be fast, depending on the situation. Taubman also reassured that the body can adjust quickly if given the experience of movement aligning with the playing apparatus’ physiological principles rather than against them (see Schneider, 1983, p. 20; Rezits, 1998, pp. 21-22).
Rezits, J. (1998a). Dorothy Taubman, miraculous mentor. Piano & Keyboard, 190(1), 21-24. Schneider, A. (1983). Dorothy Taubman: There is an answer. Clavier, 22(7), 19-21.
Many Golandsky Institute teachers and students undertake long-term learning. Apart from Teacher Training requirements, many students choose to undertake long-term Taubman study as they continue to find benefits. Many believe that one’s facility, timbral palette and freedom at the instrument can continue evolving. Faculty member and acclaimed pianist Ilya Itin (see YouTube video below) describes learning the Taubman Approach as a “complex development and ever deepening education altered by the grasp of experience” (Oltuski, 2009). As with any field, there are degrees of knowing and understanding. To acquire a deep embodied, intellectual and pedagogical understanding of the Taubman Approach requires absorption, practice, and training. Taubman teachers constantly work on their own technique to embody what they teach; they “never stop refining their skills” (Bloomfield, cited in Oltuski, 2010). This is reflected in the Teacher Training Program requirements, which stipulates ongoing individual lessons, attending Symposia and presenting students for feedback across all certification levels. Ongoing learning also reflects the focus in the Golandsky Institute on constantly refining the pedagogy, new strategies in teaching and learning. Through this process of ongoing analysis and reflection, new insights emerge.
Oltuski, I. (2009). Crafting the well-tempered pianist: Introducing the Taubman Approach. Retrieved January 9, 2010, from http://blogcritics.org/music/article/crafting-the-well-tempered-pianist-introducing/
Oltuski, I. (2010). Crafting the well-tempered pianist: Teaching the Taubman Approach. Retrieved February 1, 2010, from http://blogcritics.org/music/article/crafting-the-well-tempered-pianist-teaching/
No. One needs to understand that the opposite of tension is not relaxation, which causes its own set of problems and tension. Taubman’s work clearly identifies the root causes for tension. Resolving these particular issues results in a tension-free technique, which is not relaxation. When the whole playing apparatus is relaxed, fast, efficient movement becomes difficult. There are often consequences, including resultant tension, backache, and carpal tunnel syndrome due to playing with a low “relaxed” wrist.
There are quite a few commonalities between Alexander’s work and the Taubman Approach. Alexander and Taubman were innovators in insisting that one’s use is the source of one’s physical problems, and in advocating improved physical function as the only means of complete recovery. In both disciplines, overcoming injury is a side effect of improved use, requiring the full commitment of the student, and study with a skilled teacher. Many parallels can also be drawn with the fundamental principles of alignment, balance, and efficient, coordinate use of one’s body.
Neither Taubman nor Alexander had formal medical training, yet both were decades ahead of their time in challenging long-established attitudes held by performers, teachers, and the medical profession (see Gelb, 1994, p. 21; de Alcantara, 1997, p. 275). As Alexander found, medical practitioners do not always “recognize the relationship between misdirection of use and that unsatisfactory standard of functioning which is always found in association with disease” (1931/2001, p. 88). Additionally, he recognized that a typical medical approach is diagnosing the problem, but not necessarily building healthy skills (1931/ 2001, p. 90). In this way, both Taubman and Alexander were unique in realizing that it is insufficient to say what not to do; incoordinate patterns of movement need to be replaced with effective, healthy ones.
One key difference is that the Taubman Approach is absolutely specific to the requirements of playing the instrument and the requirements of the music. So for example, the Taubman Approach deals with how the fingers are able to move with ease, speed and power, how a singing tone is produced, how the hand can open to play chords. While the Alexander Technique may bring a musician to a certain point wherein their body will intuitively seek these precise details, it is not specific to the demands of playing the instrument. The same is true for Feldenkrais and other whole-body approaches.
Alexander, F. M. (1931/ 2001). The use of the self: Its conscious direction in relation to diagnosis functioning and the control of reaction (Rev. ed.). London: Orion.
de Alcantara, P. (1997). Indirect procedures: A musician’s guide to the Alexander technique. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Gelb, M. (1994). Body learning: An introduction to the Alexander technique (New ed.). London: Aurum Press.
For pianists with a history of isolated finger technique, a temporary “training wheels” stage of large rotation may be a necessary step to experience freedom of the forearm and hand. For others, it can be more effective to immediately begin training with smaller movements. Emphasizing the forearm’s role reconnects the forearm with finger movement and releases the tension accumulated by isolated, raised finger technique (Taubman Institute, 2003, see DVD 2). As soon as is appropriate, the movements are gradually minimized, at which point they begin to feel much more natural. That is hugely enhanced when the minimized rotation is combined with other movements such as shaping, in and out, and the walking hand and arm.
Taubman Institute. (1995). Virtuosity in a box: The Taubman techniques, Vols. 1-5. [DVDs]. Medusa, NY: Taubman Institute.
Learning the Taubman Approach is an experiential process of embodying coordinate movement. One can certainly learn aspects of the Taubman Approach through studying the DVDs, and become familiar with the vocabulary and key concepts. However, problems may arise if the individual disregards crucial information, exaggerates or misunderstands instructions, or adds variants that contradict the fundamental premises of the technique. Each individual has to be seen by a skilled teacher in order for their specific problems to be diagnosed and addressed. The teacher’s role is central in diagnosing inefficient or harmful positions and movements, and assisting the student in incorporating healthy, coordinate alternatives into their playing. It is with this expert guidance that a student can transition from the more pronounced practice of the Taubman Approach’s central components to the more subtle integration of these movements into a healthy high-level technique. Thus, DVDs can supplement but not replace individual tuition with a certified Taubman teacher.
While studying other disciplines may be complementary with Taubman lessons, it is also important to recognize that each discipline is complete in itself, and to understand what each discipline achieves. Differences in language must also be addressed. Terms such as “alignment” or “free” may overlap, but other concepts can be contradictory. Alexander practitioner Gelb also cautions that combining the Alexander Technique with other disciplines is a “formula for failure”, as “each discipline is best pursued under independent auspices” (1994, p. 153).
Gelb, M. (1994). Body learning: An introduction to the Alexander technique (New ed.). London: Aurum Press.
The laws governing coordinate motion that enable the fingers, hand and forearm to move with ease, speed and power are the same. For example, as pianists need to depress keys and move over the keyboard, violinists need to depress the strings and move over the fingerboard. While each instrument has its own specific requirements, the fundamental principles of motion are the same.
Many of the DVDs were tailored to feedback at the time that Taubman students wanted to see the mostly invisible movements comprising the Taubman Approach, as the technique merely looks “natural” or “effortless” when minimised. To suit this need, some demonstrations are exaggerated and are thereby unrepresentative of the integrated technique. The large rotation is often a necessary stage in the learning, but is not the final result.
Taubman was one of the first to acknowledge playing-related injuries in the 1950s, and to correlate specific problems with particular incoordinate movements at the instrument. For some, her claims posed a major threat to the piano establishment. As one Taubman student summarized, “If she’s right, a lot of traditional training is wrong” (cited in Dyer, 1995, p. B21).
Taubman called for unchallenged traditions of piano pedagogy to be “weighed, codified, and tested against our contemporary knowledge of the basic principles governing body movement and the mechanical laws governing the piano” (cited in Schneider, 1983, p. 21). However, this was greeted with “hostility” (Taubman, cited in Del Pico-Taylor & Tammam, 2005, p. 47). At that time, there was little interest in musicians’ problems; “Teachers denied any such thing existed” (Taubman, cited in n.a., 1986, p. 40). Apart from a handful of specialists, the medical profession has also been largely reluctant to embrace her work. One of the exceptions is Dr. Frank Wilson, a neurologist, who asserted that “She has challenged the medical establishment with remarkable results” (cited in n.a., 1986, p. 40). Other reviews from medical professionals can be found on this page.
Del Pico-Taylor, M., & Tammam, S. (2005). The wisdom of Dorothy Taubman. Clavier, 44(10), 19, 46-47.
Dyer, R. (1995, August 13). Dorothy Taubman teaches piano without pain. Boston Globe, p. 21
n.a. (1986, Sunday, July 27). Piano school tones up the hands on the keys. New York Times, p. 40.
Schneider, A. (1983). Dorothy Taubman: There is an answer. Clavier, 22(7), 19-21.