Updated: Jan 11
My Current Adventure...
As a new teacher in WKMT, I had to train in the Scaramuzza Technique, just like every teacher. In other words, I had to be a student learning the technique from the beginning, just like my students now.
I am presenting here my experience from the unique position as a student and teacher of the Vincenzo Scaramuzza Technique. Thanks to Juan Rezzuto, founder and Director of WKMT, I managed to narrow the process of learning/teaching down to four steps.
These four steps come with four challenges, but also four benefits.
The first step:
The first thing that the WKMT syllabus requests a music student is to relax completely, which quickly turns out to be harder than expected. ‘The fingers must carry the weight of the whole arm’ is the instruction, ‘nothing else must be tense’. This seemed like an impossible challenge, at first, for all my new students and me.
In a way, it demands to go against your instinct. We have programmed ourselves to use all the muscles, each assisting the other in every task.
This tension is enhanced when we are stressed, when we are learning a new technique, later a new piece or when we perform in an audience. Our body stiffens up, as in any stressful or scary situation. That is why we must train to reprogramme our reactions and control our actions.
What benefits does this first step have?
This reprogramming, of course, comes with its benefits. From the perspective of a piano student, it is more productive and more enjoyable to learn music, focusing on the music. The hands should automatically respond to the instructions of the brain, leaving space to better read and understand the music.
Evidently, it brings benefits to the student as a performer. The performance of a pianist with a relaxed body, a clear mind and a confident attitude is unquestionably a more superior and more mature one, in comparison to a stiff and strained one.
The second step:
The second step of the Scaramuzza Technique is a correct Hand Position on the piano. This, in combination with the previous step, turns out to be more demanding than what I was used to. Having a straight wrist, straight knuckles and nicely curved fingers is double the challenge, if you must do it in complete relaxation.
Thankfully, after achieving the first step, this one becomes easier to control.
However, new students seem to struggle for a while with it. It is common to see the wrist too high or too low, the knuckles in an awkward position and the finger not quite having the correct grip. It is nonetheless truly essential to perfect the position as soon as possible. It is a small obstacle that, as a learner, I needed to overcome in order to achieve the full potential of the Technique.
What are the benefits of the Hand Position?
The advantages of a proper Hand Position can be observed straightaway. The fingers can play with precision all the dynamics and articulations demanded. Therefore there is clarity and fluency in every note, which is the definitive difference between an amateur and a professional sound.
This coherency in sound is an immediate result of the coherency in the technique. The Hand Movements of Scaramuzza wouldn’t work unless the ground has been prepared and is ready to receive it. That is why a fine-looking hand is not merely an aesthetic demand, but a crucial requirement to move to the next step.
The third step:
When we read a music score, the notes show us two dimensions:
pitch and duration.
This is what all I could see until now. Scaramuzza has added a third dimension in the score: Hand Movements.
As I mentioned, you need to have a correct hand position, to accurately perform the movements. And of course, it is tough to both master the movements, but also to be able to read the movements in the music scores. Finger, Forearm, Hand, Rotation and Wrist Movements are the five options, which correspond to the other two dimensions.
For example, slow repeated notes are usually played with the Forearm Movement, whereas fast repeated notes demand the Wrist Movement etc.
It is necessary to study the piece before attempting to perform it so that the ‘hidden’ movements of the score will be revealed. This indeed asks for an initiative from the student, which is an additional challenge to all the above.
How can this help me as a pianist?
This conscious decision of Hand Movements, however, is one of the elements that define the performer as an artist, not just a mere instrument.
The pianist decides how to articulate a piece and how to give substance to the composer’s music in the same way that a painter paints a portrait.
The face is already there, just like the notes. It is the depiction that makes one an artist. And the colours of this musical depiction are the Hand Movements, which allow the performer to have absolute control over the music. Through this ‘taming’ of sound and the initiative required, the student learns how to be honestly expressive, therefore an artist.
The last step:
The final step for learning the Scaramuzza Technique did not come from the syllabus but myself as a learner, especially since I already knew how to play and is learning anew. It was the acceptance of the new Technique and the addition of new knowledge, which turned out to be the last challenge.
From the very beginning, this new knowledge challenges what is easy or comfortable.
For example, the relaxation that Ι mentioned earlier is, of course, more unnatural to the tension, or the correct hand position comes less easily than just putting your hand on the keyboard and playing. And yet, pianists going through such a reformation must be determined to restrain themselves when faced with such provocations.
As a result...
Pupils must show patience since clarity, expression and freedom, along with all the other fruits, will come with time.
Needless to say that, through patience, the outcome comes harder, but it is always of higher quality. I had to give up playing my favourite works, for example, only to get back at them later with a new spirit and a more productive result. It is easy to give in to easiness, but students must show awareness of their position and trust their instructor and the method.
This last challenge can perfectly summarize my experience in learning the Scaranuzza Piano Technique.
It was trust that allowed me to find relaxation and reprogramme my Technique, patience that helped me develop my Hand Position, and finally determination that enabled me to perfect my Hand Movements and widen my choices as an artist.
Written by Georgios Kommatas