Book by chuan c chang - Any thoughts/opinions on this book?

Technique, methods and advice for learners

Postby Ursie » Fri Feb 03, 2006 4:56 am

When visiting another piano site someone suggested reading the book "Fundamentals of Piano Practice" by Chuan C Chang. I have scimmed through this book, going back and picking out bits I think are applicable to what I am trying to accommplish at the moment. I find it amazing that a lot of what Chang suggests in this book has never been mentioned to me at any piano lessons I have been having - and at present I do have a very good piano teacher who still performs on occasion herself. In fact, both teachers I had as a teenager were qualified with a music academy.

One example is that I have only ever been taught to play scales passing the thumb under. Now as it just so happens at the beginning of the year I had returned to practising all scales and arpeggios hands separately because I had noticed that although I had managed to build up speed hands together, this method had been hiding very poor practise in the left hand. I am just not happy with the passing of the thumb in my left hand - it's not smooth enough. On discussing this with my teacher she said that this is something everyone finds to be difficult and we looked at narrowing down one arpeggio pattern to help with a smoother movement. To explain a little I am practising the 3rd movement of Ravel's Sonatine and bar 4 requires a scale & arpeggio pattern in F# minor, to eventually be played quite quickly (I get this bump, bump with my thumb). Chang discusses the thumb over method of playing scales (amongst other very well discussed practise techniques/methods) and I had never heard of this before.

In summary I was hoping someone else may have seen or read this book and have an opinion of the methods Chang has discussed and whether they have applied it to their own practise. Or you may practise this way anyway and have never heard of Chang! :D
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Postby Stretto » Sat Feb 04, 2006 8:31 am

It seems I came across some information on the book on the internet somewhere when searching on another piano related topic. Is there a website with his information? I haven't personally read any of his information but have heard a lot of others mention his book.

As far as fingering, technique, I've really the last few years or so started focusing more on tension in my hands, arms, back, shoulders, legs, etc., etc., basically while I'm practicing ask myself, "is there any tension anywhere?" Then I ask myself what I can do to change that. One area is fingering. I've asked myself, "is there a better fingering where I would be able to keep my hand in a more natural position as much as possible?" I've reworked the fingering on a few peices recently, even changed the suggested fingering as well as the fingering my instructor had written in (I used to have to have my teachers or instructors write in a lot of fingering as that's what used to tie me up a lot when learning a piece). I changed the fingering to as comfortable position for my hand as possible while still in keeping with how the section was to be played, for example legato, etc. It has helped me tremendously avoid unnecessary tension and helped me amazingly well in being able to play the piece. In sections that I always found difficult, reworking the fingering this way has proved to make those sections a breeze.

So if the method you described for scales is more comfortable and creates less tension and less discomfort for your hand and enables you to play more smoothly, then go for it! Of course, that is just my personal opinion, kind of something I concluded on my own in trying to help myself avoid injury from undue tension while practicing or playing. You may want to ask the advice of those who are really knowledgeable in proper technique and ask them to watch you play the scales with thumb under. There may be something else you would be able to change to make it smoother and more comfortable even while using the thumb under approach.

Sounds like a good book though. I'd be interested to hear others post an opinion about Chuan C Chang's book.




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Postby mirjam » Sat Feb 04, 2006 1:01 pm

I learned to play scale passages and arpeggios with thumb over. It's much smoother in fast scale passages and the only way you can do arpeggios in fast speed, I guess. The wrist stays relaxed while moving the fingers and the arm moves to left and right in a straight line. By the way, this was not only better for technical reasons, but for reasons of analysis too: by breaking up scale passages into note-groups, each starting with thumb, one learns to think in groups instead of notes. It makes memorizing easier.
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Postby Ursie » Sat Feb 04, 2006 1:41 pm

Thanks for your replies.

Here's the link Fundamentals of Piano Practice by Chuan C Chang (sorry - should I thought to put this before)

I've tried various ideas with the passage I was describing - changing the fingering, trying to work it between the two hands but it's clearly easiest to play with the LH - I will simply have to get on with bettering my left hand. Today I've made headway by flattening out my fingers - but I would never have done this if I hadn't stumbled upon Chang's book this week. Yes, I would use flat fingers for tone but not in scales, arpeggios etc - because I have been taught this way. What is becoming very clear to me is that I need to try out anyway I like to get the results that work best for me and the shape and size of my hand - afterall Chopin did just that. However, this can be difficult when you have been told "don't do this, or this, or this......!

mirjam - I can see how thumb under works with scales and see how when you play a chromatic scale you can't help but to play with "thumb under", you just take that motion and apply it to the scale. However, I'm struggling a bit with how this works with arpeggios and unfortunately this is exactly the bit that I need to perfect. Probably I'm struggling because a scale uses all the fingers but the arpeggio only certain fingers.

BUt, I'm going out for the evening, so, as they say in Russia, Moscow :D Happy Chang reading!
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Mar 13, 2006 9:13 am

I'm just catching up with some of the threads, and I'm very curious about this one which discusses a kind of technique movement that defies the natural shape of the hand. Would someone please explain to me just how you can pass the thumb OVER the hand without twisting the wrist and turning the hand practically upside down? I suspect that what you're really doing is not crossing the thumb but simply making a quick shift, which does make sense in some situations.

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Mar 13, 2006 9:52 am

Ursie:

About the passage in the Ravel Sonatine (3rd mvt., 4th bar):

Make sure you're not "pole vaulting" over the thumb by holding it tense and twisting the hand around. Play 4-3-2-1 on the first four 16ths and cross the hand straight over the thumb smoothly in exactly the reverse of the movement you would employ if you were going the other way and tucking the thumb under. Keep the back of the hand level at all times. Then LEAVE THE THUMB OVER THE 'A' while you play the c#-d#'s with 3-2--keep it quietly tucked under there ready to play the A again as you come back.

Also, be sure you move the entire thumb sideways--from the third joint back at the wrist--don't curl the nail joint.

Practice this by holding the A with the thumb and just crossing the hand back and forth in a relaxed fashion; then do it by holding the thumb and crossing back and forth while playing the notes on either side AS A GROUP--C#-D#-F# together (4-3-2) and C#-D# together.

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Tue Mar 14, 2006 10:16 am

Thumb over! ...Not wanting to appear stupid, I did not ask the question in my mind on how one accomplished this feat. I tried it. I did ask another person on a personal e mail. She did not understand either.

I do try to use the best fingering that one can to feel at ease and keep the sound and tempo as written. My 11 year olds challenge me all the time now so we are becoming creative. "I like it better this way" is the common response if I suggest another fingering..they have already ignored what was written and come up with their own. If it works, I leave it, if not, I suggst they change it. Also there are certain patterns that are used consistantly because they work! I try to explain the time people have put in to work out the best fingering. I feel that the 11 yo does not really appreciate that.

Oh, well, I try. My Grandchildren still listen to me!

:laugh:

Joan
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Postby Christine » Tue Mar 14, 2006 11:42 am

Thanks, loveapiano! I had the same thoughts exactly regarding the "thumb over"...I just don't get it, and was too embarrassed to ask! Could someone better explain this? Thanks.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Tue Mar 14, 2006 7:14 pm

Thank you, Christine! Now we can await a reply!

:laugh:
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Mar 15, 2006 12:05 pm

Well, don't look at me--I don't know either!!

(I still think it's simply a hand shift that gets the thumb into position without reaching under.)

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Postby Stretto » Wed Mar 15, 2006 2:05 pm

Ursie wrote: I am just not happy with the passing of the thumb in my left hand - it's not smooth enough. On discussing this with my teacher she said that this is something everyone finds to be difficult and we looked at narrowing down one arpeggio pattern to help with a smoother movement. To explain a little I am practising the 3rd movement of Ravel's Sonatine and bar 4 requires a scale & arpeggio pattern in F# minor, to eventually be played quite quickly (I get this bump, bump with my thumb).

Just double checking on the thumb under approach in the l.h.:
Are you leaving the thumb "tucked under" your other fingers where it is "trailing behind" as opposed to "untucking" it right away and getting it ready in advance for the next set of notes. It's probably one of the most common things that can happen - leaving the thumb trailing behind. It should sort of subtley "spring back" to it's natural position for the next set of notes. For example, a C scale in the L.H.: 5-4-3-2-1, 3- at the very same time as you are hitting that "3", your thumb should "spring" back into it's natural relaxed position as well as the hand ready for the next set of notes. If that isn't exactly it, then at least maybe it helps someone else.




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Mar 15, 2006 4:42 pm

Great! If you don't know. who does?

:p
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Postby pianoannie » Wed Mar 15, 2006 5:33 pm

I'll just join the rest of you in saying I don't grasp this "thumb over" thing either! I first came across CC's online books a few years ago, and though some have tried, no one has been able to explain "thumb over" in a way that made any sense to me. I would love to understand!
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Mar 18, 2006 9:54 pm

We're waiting Drs!

:D
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Mar 19, 2006 8:44 pm

SOLVED! I just figured out how to put the thumb over:

Play with your hands upside down!
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