“We do not play the piano with our fingers but with our mind”. Glenn Gould
I have been musing on this statement from one of the most popular yet controversial pianists of the 20th century. Gould had a highly individual style of playing the piano and his interpretations were often equally idiosyncratic.
It is generally assumed that fingers do all the work when playing the piano. I have forgotten how many times I have been asked if I have ‘the right type of fingers’ (whatever that is) followed by the ‘can I have a look at your hands’ moment! It seems that professional pianists can have all sorts of hand and finger types; Horowitz had short, stubby fingers and, by contrast, Liszt had (according to many former pupils) very long, slim fingers.
Fingers are really inconsequential because we play the piano with our minds; it is of fundamental importance in piano playing. You control your fingers (or any other part of your body) with your mind. They do exactly what they are told (most of the time!) and it is no fault of your fingers when they don’t do what they are told; your mind has given them incorrect signals. This is a simplistic viewpoint but it gets the message across.
Once technical difficulties have been mastered through meticulous practice (all controlled by the mind), then you can focus on the musical and artistic tasks within a piece of music. This is where the mind really comes into play; in the powers of interpretation. This element could never be dictated by the fingers alone. Glenn Gould possessed a fine intellect and he frequently produced fairly unorthodox interpretations. They were totally unique which was part of his popularity and appeal.
Some favourite Gould interpretations:
For much more information about practising repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece.
If you’re thinking about learning to play the piano, my guide-book, So You Want To Play The Piano? (Alfred) is full of useful help and support.
The Faber Music Piano Anthology (Faber) is also a valuable resource for those who desire a collection of standard repertoire from Grades 2 – 8, featuring 78 pieces in total.
I have written a selection of educational piano music (both solo and duet) and you can hear it and find out much more here: EVC Music Publications.