Title: Music At Your Fingertips
Author: Ruth Slenczynska
Reading Level: Adult
Audience: Students & Teachers
Star Rating: ★★★★★
I appreciate so much about the advice in this book, but I think it all boils down to these three things: It’s experienced, practical, and to-the-point.
Ruth Slenczynska has spent the greater portion of her life at the piano. She started studying at age three, made her debut performance in Berlin at age six, and performed in Paris with a full orchestra by age 11. She spent her following years performing around the world and studying with renowned musicians, including the iconic pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. So when she writes about the piano, she isn’t writing dreamed-up ideas of an experienced-pianist wannabe. She is a real expert, and her writing shows it. She talks about tried-and-true exercises, and techniques that helped her to develop her strengths and master her weaknesses at the piano, and they work!
So practical. The subtitle of the book is “Advice for the Artist and Amateur on Playing the Piano”, and it’s true. Ruth Slenczynska is a concert artist, but these sixteen chapters are full of discussions that are every bit as valuable for student musicians as for world-touring professionals – principles and tips for practice, musicianship, memorization, developing finger control, preparing for performances, listening, teaching, mastering technique, selecting repertoire, and quite a bit more.
Consider this paragraph on mastering difficult passages:
[quote]There is no passage so difficult that it would not be possible to find a metronome speed slow enough to play it comfortably. Technical problems are controlled by the mind. We must train the mind before we train our hands… which we achieve by working at a slow tempo. Forcing speed too soon is like forcing a child to walk before he is ready. You make no progress, and you can jeopardize the equilibrium and control you may have acquired. [/quote]
And these rules on developing a defined, expressive melody:
[quote]A melody without direction becomes purposeless. Here are three basic rules:
- Concentrate for the full length of the musical line, with out interruption.
- Determine the mood to be expressed and make every detail point toward it.
- Find the focal point or climax of a phrase or section in order to give direction to your musical thought.[/quote]
And this tip on working towards a performance tempo:
[quote]…Always aim at a faster tempo than [you] will need. In performance it should never be necessary to use your ability to the limits; there should always be a margin of reserve. [/quote]
This is advice that you can read, take to the piano, and immediately apply. I love books like that. And while it’s true that her instruction is addressed to pianists, the majority of the principles can be easily and effectively applied to other instruments as well.
The author doesn’t waste time or space. Most of the chapters are 8-12 pages – the perfect bite-size bits to chew on. No worrying about getting bogged down in the middle of a forty-page chapter! The chapters are relatively disconnected from one another in subject, but each one addresses its topic with competence and perception. She is concise, and her comprehensive approach to the piano is genuinely fun to experience.
[box style=”white” ]Important Note… Most of the chapters address a broader arena than the title implies. The chapters on building and preparing a solo concert program (#8-9), for instance, teach good methods for preparing for a performance of any kind, and the chapter on teaching at the college level (#15) gives teaching tips that are useful for much more than just the college classroom. So spend a little time in each of the chapters, even if the title seems like it won’t apply to you.[/box]
If you are a musician focused on improving your technique, you’ll enjoy the book. It’s full of principles that will guide your progress and challenge you musically and physically! You’ll also enjoy the new drills and historic trivia you learn along the way.
If you’re a music teacher, I encourage you to read the book! Most of the principles for students apply to teaching students as well, and I gleaned so much from this book as a teacher. It is, hands-down, the number one resource that has affected the way I teach.
Music at Your Fingertips is certainly not a glamorous book. The cover design is outdated, the layout is basic, and the pictures are black and white and a little bit fuzzy. But the content is exceptional!
You can see a preview / purchase the book from Amazon HERE. Have fun!