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54 of 56 found the following review helpful:
Essential! Nov 17, 2007
By Craig T. Niedzielski
I am very happy to see this book available on Amazon, so that I may publish my gratitude to its author.
Read the Product Description above, carefully. That sums it up, and it is no idle boast.
As a self-taught pianist, I have read many books and articles on piano playing, including some of the greatest teachers and pianists. Though I have learned much from my studies, it was not until I read this book that I had the breakthrough that really opened up my abilities. Reading this book, one has the sense of taking a fantastic excursion to places yet unexplored, and coming away with a sense of astonishment that this is indeed the first treatise to really come to grips with the fundamentals of learning how to play the piano.
The proof of any self-help manual is in the result, and I can say loud and unequivocally that my playing has developed tremendously since I applied the techniques found here. I have taken on repertoire that I never would have attempted previously, and I am constantly amazed to watch myself, my hands, traverse the keyboard with such surety, even in demanding passages.
Before, too, I was hesitant to play in front of persons outside my own family. Through these methods, I have learned my pieces so well that I now have the confidence to play in front of complete strangers.
I could go on and on, but you don't need to be reading this review, you need to get and read this book. For me, it was the single greatest find in all my pianistic ramblings.
A plenitude of stars.
40 of 41 found the following review helpful:
Outstanding Book for Self Teaching Apr 16, 2008
By B. Rogers
This book radically improved my piano playing. I was a good amateur classical guitarist when younger, but did not take up the piano until age 40. I assumed it would be impossible to develop enough technique as an adult to play anything very interesting. I spent 8 years or so banging out Hanon exercises and scales and got nowhere at all musically. With much painful labor I could work through some of the easiest Hayden sonatas at 75% of proper tempo. This book taught me how to practice the piano musically and in about a year and a half all of the Mozart and Hayden sonatas are within range and I am able to play for teachers or friends without falling apart. I no longer creep through scores looking for approachable adagios; I go straight for presto and allegro con brio.
This book clearly shows what's wrong with the way many students and teachers approach piano practice and tells you how to do it efficiently and quickly. Some of the tips I found most helpful were (1) throw Hanon in the trash (2) practice hands apart more than you think you need to (3) whenever you are working on a tricky passage, play it over and over at whatever tempo is relaxed, but end by playing it once very, very slowly (4) start your practice by playing a difficult piece musically without a long warm-up on scales and exercises.
The author sometimes has an idiosyncratic way of looking at things. For example, he suggests that in order to learn to play an Alberti bass very fast you should just realize that playing all notes of the chord simultaeously is the same as playing the Alberti pattern infinitely fast -so all you need to do is slow down a bit from the infinitely fast tempo. Clever, but not really that helpful. In spite of little quirks like that, though, this book can really help.
29 of 30 found the following review helpful:
Exellent content but totally disorganized Jul 19, 2009
By Trouser Roller
There's a great deal of valuable information in this book - but oh for a really good editor. It is sometimes like a stream of consciousness, long paragraphs hung together without a coherent plan of organization.
That said, if you play the piano, definitely buy it - but be prepared for a lot of frustration in order to glean out the nuggets of gold contained in the book. Go through it and make copious notes and bookmarks, then organize the material yourself so you can use it effectively.
Example: There's a description of how to go at learning Beethoven's Fur Elise that has loads of excellent suggestions. However, it's not identified in either the Table of Contents or the Index. I had to spend many frustrating minutes leafing through all the pages to find it again after a space of 3 weeks.
Also the layout is visually boring and dense, like a typewritten manuscript. It's tedious to read, and the content is extremely verbose.
Review update: 9/18/09. I have now pretty much finished going through this book and reiterate that there's some really invaluable information and exercises in it. It's well worth the struggle to extract its value.
27 of 30 found the following review helpful:
The only book on playing the piano which can really help you Apr 04, 2009
By garby francis leon
Dr. Chang's book is not perfect - as he says, it's a work in progress - but it's a tremendous contribution that sheds major light on a series of related topics which, up til now, have remained as mysterious as the dark side of the moon to every other author, for a century or more.
Piano technique and virtuosity are, by their very nature, rather mysterious: they seem to arise in 'geniuses' while being withheld and kept out of reach from the rest of the human race. Can that really be? Or is it actually just a matter of proper training and teaching? Dr. Chang held the first view until he saw his two daughters making extraordinary progress under French piano teacher Yvonne Combe, who had once long ago been Debussy's assistant. At first believing that his kids were just amazingly talented, he then turned his scientist's eye to take a closer look and reached the opposite conclusion: his daughters learned to play extremely well because they had been trained correctly by Yvonne Combe, the teacher whom he acknowledges on his book's title page.
Like all good scientific work, those real-world results and phenomena form the basis for Dr. Chang's book: starting from phenomena that seemed hard to understand at first, the extraordinary results brought about by a master teacher drew Dr. Chang's analytical eye - causing him to analyze exactly what was going on, then carefully setting down his observations, ideas and the techniques he observed in this book, and in an effort to help others accomplish the same things.
Dr. Chang carried all this out with the objectivity and meticulous attention to detail of a master scientist, which he certainly is - his book, at first offered for free on the internet, becoming a major gift to the rest of the human race - or at least, to that segment of it dedicated to learning how to play the piano!
In this work Dr. Chang sets out a number of incredibly important insights about practicing and playing the piano which you will find nowhere else.
He discusses the basic piano techniques for accomplishing the shift of fingers and weight around the thumb - the "thumb over" technique as he calls it, which steers students - especially beginners - away from the "turning the thumb under" that all beginners are taught when playing scales, and which becomes a profound handicap even in intermediate playing.
He also talks about speed in arpeggios, leaps and octaves in a way that I have only heard discussed from one master teacher, Artur Schnabel's assistant in the 1930's. Dr. Chang has come to the same conclusion by analysis, but he is right: the 'infinite speed' of the rolled chord that leaps from octave to octave becomes the basis for playing arpeggios at virtuosic velocities - not the impossible task of turning the thumb under (which stops you and makes the gesture impossible) and pushing down the fingers on the keys individually. I only offer this as a sample, superficially described here, of the profound kind of insight you'll find in Dr. Chang's work.
If you follow what he says, it will transform your playing. There is no other source which will give you this kind of practical information.
Note on competing works: to put Dr. Chang's work in context, you have to start from the embarrassing, universal fact that nearly all the other books on the topic of piano practice and piano technique are pure swamp gas and snake oil!
Why? Famous pianists are the worst in trying to analyze and describe what they do - and you can see the results as their prose turns notoriously vaporous and vague when dancing around the practical issues of how they achieved results. Even the most famous share precious little in the books you will find under their names (and notice that all have been ghost written, usually by non-experts who know little about the piano or how to play it).
Then there are the other authors, some of whose names may be familiar: most, sad to say, are either deeply confused or just quacks selling worthless twaddle, a situation that's been going on in some cases for many, many years.
I could name them by author, but you can find them yourself - all listed on this Amazon page under "Customers who bought this book also bought..."
Beware of that Wall of Shame. Avoid them all. I own them all, and except for a few small excerpts from some of the books by known artists, all deserve to be shredded. They will waste your time and consume years of your life with no result.
Here's a tipoff: without exception you will find that these other books are all written in impenetrable, purple prose aimed at concealing their lack of content behind a cloud pretentious verbiage (this is true of music technical writing and criticism in general, btw).
By contrast, Dr. Chang's book is written in the clearest English he can bring to bear on a topic that's subtle and hard to describe verbally with precision (he also has online videos to demonstrate clearly what he means).
To properly appreciate Dr. Chang's contribution, consider what he's up against - decades of pure nonsense.
Dr. Chang is a different kind of writer from all the others: a top professional scientist who worked for years at elite Bell Labs, he's a trained, hard-eyed objective searcher after truth who questions all the swampy and gassy assumptions found everywhere in the worm-eaten piano technique literature.
He found much of it to be nonsense, and he was right. As an aspiring pianist struggling to learn the keyboard, Dr. Change realized early on that he was getting a lot of bad advice. His book prevents you from suffering the same fate.
PS NOTE to unhappy one-star reviewer Jian Zeng: You are having a problem understanding what Dr. Chang is saying. "Thumb over" is simply a term to contrast with "thumb under" - a practice taught to all beginning piano students when playing scales, but which becomes a tremendous handicap to even the intermediate pianist. "Thumb over" - yes, it means the thumb has to move from one key to another, but by shifting sideways when the hand is in the proper attitude: elbows slightly out, with the hand angled with wrist close to the extremes of the keyboard and fingertips closer together, as if your middle fingers of the flat hand were angled so as to nearly touch each other.
This is hard to describe in words, but very easy to see. When the hand is in that attitude, there is room for the thumb to move effortlessly even before it needs to. Beginners are taught to tuck that movable thumb *under* the stationary hand, which is painful after a while and will prevent virtuoso playing faster than baby steps.
Good luck and keep trying - Dr. Chang's book will help you get the results you seek.
17 of 19 found the following review helpful:
Best Practices on piano practice Nov 13, 2008
By E. Hens
This book is set up as a scientific research thesis, therefore the author goes systematically into great detail on piano practicing techniques, and includes numerous cross-references throughout the book, plus a long list of references to other resources at the end (of which many are reviewed by the author too).
Mr.Chang does not claim to re-invent the wheel, but he does succeed in making this a broad overview of 'Best Practices' (once you get used to the many acronyms used in the book - the book would have been twice as long if they were written out every time - it becomes an 'easier' read).
The book starts with an introduction chapter of 'success stories', which may sound a bit like marketing talk to sell the book.
That said, the content of the other chapters is what matters more, and although many aspects sound like common sense (e.g. starting to practice hands seperate - HS), the key is: when to play what, and how.
Despite the strictly scientific approach, the main goal is making music (that's one of the reasons that Mr. Chang prefers Bach Inventions over Hanon exercises).
If there is one word that jumps out all the time, it is: speed (but not speed just for the sake of speed). Many of the practice exercises described in the book are dealing with getting you up to (and above) final performance speed (and why).
A lot of attention also goes to mental play (MP) as a key to memorizing, avoiding blackouts, learning absolute pitch, etc.
This book has an online version which is kept up to date by the author. It also includes e.g. a short video sample on TO (thumb over playing of scales).
I wish there was a full length video about all the techniques explained in the book.
Or even better, what about making a documentary showing the progress of student(s) over a long period of time.
And even though I found it a little strange that the author reviews his own book in the review section at the end, and claims it to be a must read, I must admit he's right.
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