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Jazz Pianists

Read what jazz pianists are saying about the Taubman Approach and the work of the Golandsky Institute, including Danilo Perez and Bill Charlap!

This is a method of tuning into the body's natural sense of alignment, a technique that helps musicians add strength as well as agility to their playing...More importantly, it allows pianists to play pain-free...It's a way of using the entire mechanism of the piano, not just isolation of the fingers. That opens the door for technical freedom, and that leads to musical freedom - you can't have one without the other. The even tone that results when the forearm, hand and fingers are connected allows for accents and idiomatic jazz articulations but frees me from ‘strong finger' versus ‘weak finger' problems. The physical freedom offered by the Taubman Approach is the perfect companion to the creative freedom pursued by improvising jazz pianists.

The Golandsky Institute is an important pedagogical institution not just for the thoroughness with which it deals with technical concerns at the piano but also for the emphasis it places on the music first.

- Bill Charlap

 


 

Before I met Edna I always had to warm up. Now I can sit at the piano and just go. I never get uncomfortable or tired. Even when I am away from the piano, when I come back I can play right away. I understand how to get every color be it singing, percussive or anything in between.

This education should be taught worldwide. It should be a part of every educational system from early on so pianists can develop to their utmost potential.

It makes playing the piano so easy.

It has also made me a much better listener to the degree that I can help the tuner do a better job with the different pianos that I perform on. I am so aware now of the evenness of the keys and of the sound.

Edna Golandsky's work with the Taubman method allowed me to reflect and learn as a musician - she woke up my awareness of the subtleties and beauties of tone-production. 

- Danilo Perez

 


 

I started studying with a student of Edna's and then Edna soon after I first started playing rehearsals for a Broadway show, my first true professional-level gig. The score was notoriously challenging, and I was having trouble learning the music fast enough and playing consistently (sometimes I played brilliantly, sometimes not, and I never felt like I could predict or control what was going to come out under pressure). Also, I was suffering from nerves, and felt the kind of fatigue I was afraid would lead to injury, as well as some pain in my thumbs and fifth fingers.

Edna got down to the fundamental problems in my technique, problems other teachers had brushed off or been unable to explain when I asked questions. I very quickly noticed significant improvements in my playing, my ability to sight-read and learn music quickly, and the way my hands felt. 

While Edna's background is classical, her deep understanding of music has helped me in my playing of pop and Broadway repertoire as well as my ability to handle technically demanding scores.

Bottom line, I would probably not be playing today without the Taubman Approach and the work Edna has done to build on it. But with their help, over the past few years, I've been able to build my reputation as a pianist/keyboardist in the Broadway community, and I'm able to handle the workload and the pressure that comes along with great opportunities, because my skills are so much more solid. I'm about to take on a new challenge as the Associate Music Supervisor for 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, where I'll be playing and conducting shows full-time!

- Kat Sherrell

 


An Interview With Gilson Schachnik

What is your name and current position?

Gilson Schachnik. Associate Professor, Berklee College of Music (Ear Training Department).

How did you hear about the Taubman work?

I heard about it from Danilo Perez, with whom I was taking a few lessons at one time.

What is your reason for studying?

Constant discomfort when playing; tendinitis; severe technical limitations (speed, articulation, sound).

What results have you experienced with Taubman teachers?

Since I started doing this work with Bob Durso, a faculty member of the former Taubman Institute, I have completely eliminated the symptoms of discomfort and, for the first time, I have been able to play works from the classical repertoire.

What is the Taubman work’s impact on playing jazz?

It changed completely the way I play and the level of confidence I have when performing.

Maybe as important as eliminating the symptoms of discomfort was how this method changed the way I practice.

Before, I had no strategy whatsoever to solve each technical problem in a piece of music I was working on. I basically kept trying to play the whole piece over and over, hoping that would “magically” solve the problems. That created a constant feeling of frustration (because I never could play the piece) and of being overwhelmed (trying to play huge chunks of music to “finish” the piece).

The result of this dysfunctional way of practicing is that one can never perform any music and one starts to believe that a lack of talent is the reason for the inadequacy, which increases the level of frustration.

For me, the most important feature of the Taubman work is that it offers very specific and detailed solutions for each individual technical problem. Nowadays I feel I can practice a couple of bars in a day and still feel that I accomplished a lot, because I actually did solve a problem and that will allow me to play the whole piece the way I’d want to hear it played.

What you can now do in your playing that you could not do before?

I can execute fast passages with articulation and without fatigue. I’ve been studying classical pieces that I had never dreamed I could possibly try to play one day. I learned how to play chords, which is a huge part of jazz playing, and used to cause a lot of discomfort in my playing.

As whole, I feel that, for the first time in my life, I’m beginning to truly be able to express myself at the instrument.

Can you name something tangible that you have accomplished since starting to study the Taubman work?

As a freelance jazz musician, I rely almost completely on the way I perform to continue to be called for gigs.

In other words, if I perform well, the musicians I’m playing with as well as the other musicians that might be in the audience, will hire me and recommend me to other people. Conversely, if I perform poorly, I reduce enormously the chances of getting other gigs.

One can see the obvious anxiety this situation would inflict on anyone.

I find more and more that the only way a performing musician can cope with this level of stress is to have a solid technique background the he/she can depend on consistently.

I feel that since I started the Taubman work, not only that amount of work I have been called for, but also the level of musicians I started playing with, changed dramatically.

 


 

Tom Lawton: Portrait Of A Jazz Pianist

Tom Lawton is Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA | Interviewed by Vic Schermer (excerpt)

VS: Some time ago, you told me you were going to New England to study with a woman teacher who was to help you revise your piano technique.

TL: We’re talking about Dorothy Taubman. She has a two-week workshop every summer at Amherst College. I went there and then followed up with Bob Durso in Philly. I spent seven and a half years learning how to play the piano from scratch!

VS: Can you describe the difference between the old and the new technique?

TL: Ninety-eight percent of traditional piano teaching is wrong, physically. It’s based on the premise that you have certain fingers that are weaker than others and that you have to strengthen them to make them equal. I spent twenty years doing that, and it never happened. My playing got more and more tight. The more I did the exercises, my technique got worse. Instead of getting looser, I got tighter and less musical. The Taubman technique says that the forearm, hand and finger always move together as one, and that a child has enough strength in the forearm to make any finger feel equal to that of any other without any work. The movements are designed to put you in the optimum position for every note, which means that once you get past the boring mechanics, you have more control over the sound of every note. Now, it took me much longer to change over because I never stopped performing. If I could have taken off for a year or two, it would have been ideal.

VS: You’re very enthusiastic about it?

TL: Yes, I endorse it wholeheartedly.

 


 

In the fall of 1995 I began to experience some discomfort related to my piano technique. This usually took the form of stiffness in my hand, occasional tingling, a sore area on the inside of my forearm and occasional soreness in the elbow. I saw several doctors, a physical therapist and three classical piano teachers who had expertise in piano-related injuries. I also built my own library of over thirty books, endless articles and videotapes about healthy piano technique. I’m thankful for all the help and insight this search yielded. I continued playing for the next seven years and the problem never became debilitating. It also never completely went away. I became careful in terms of my practice schedule and playing schedule.

I became aware of the Taubman approach several years ago through two fellow jazz pianists. Doug Roche, a good friend from high school days, was severely injured and unable to play for two years. Through his work with John Bloomfield in Colorado he is playing better than ever and making some wonderful recordings.

My friend and colleague Tom Lawton also frequently urged me to explore the Taubman approach. The ease and virtuosity of Tom’s playing and his enthusiasm about his work with Bob Durso made a compelling case. I also received enthusiastic encouragement from an excellent Philadelphia concert pianist named Carl Cranmer who had studied with Bob Durso.

On August 27, 2002 I began my lessons with Bob. We agreed that during the retraining process I would scale back my professional playing to two gigs on the weekend and that my practice routine during the week would focus solely on the retraining work. I quickly became aware of Bob’s extraordinary ability to analyze the positions and movements of the hand, forearm, and entire playing mechanism. Using his depth of knowledge about the physiological principles involved in piano playing, he identified and helped me correct problems such as the over-curling of my fingers, forcing the keys down from the fingers and tightening the upper arm. As we have worked on the Taubman principles of forearm rotation, in and out arm movements, walking hand and arm, and shaping, his attention to detail and insistence on perfecting each step have been of great benefit.

I’ve also had the opportunity to take a lesson with Edna Golandsky, which added to my appreciation for the intellectual consistency of the Taubman approach and for the pedagogical excellence demonstrated by both Edna and Bob.

Now five months into the training process I can see the tremendous impact that this work will have on my playing. When employing the Taubman principals my hands can feel loose and free after a period of playing, rather than the progressive tightness and fatigue that results from straining to force keys down. I’ve also developed a deeper physical sense of the legato touch, which is particularly helpful in playing ballads. The even tone that results when the forearm, hand, and fingers are connected allows for accents and idiomatic jazz articulations but frees me from the strong finger vs. weak finger problem. Still relatively early in my study of the Taubman approach I am experiencing many positive results and anticipate many more as my understanding and experience of the principals involved deepens.

As jazz musicians, improvisation is central to the music we play. The vocabulary we use to create our ideas is rooted in scales, arpeggios, motivic development and all the same musical shapes that a classical pianist must negotiate in performing a composed piece. Classical and jazz pianists play the same instrument and are governed by the same physiological principles. The physical freedom offered by the Taubman approach is the perfect companion to the creative freedom pursued by improvising jazz pianists.

I look forward to continuing my work with Bob as I return to a busier playing schedule.

Thank you Bob Durso and Edna Golandsky! 

Don Glanden

Professor, The University of the Arts

 


 

I first met Edna Golandsky just over two years ago. At the time, I was entering my first year studying jazz piano at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, but had been struggling with tendonitis in my wrists. Uncertain of what might have caused my injuries and how I could go about getting better, I contacted Edna to see if she could help.

I was immediately impressed by Edna's ability to explain and demonstrate the Taubman technique. We began by examining my technique and getting rid of the inefficient and potentially injurious habits I had developed over years of practice. Over time, Edna helped me to cultivate a growing awareness and sensitivity that allowed me to play in a more comfortable, and consequently, a more musical way. She conveys the intricacies of the technique with an incredible attention to detail and a level of patience which I thoroughly admire, and which kept me engaged even as I was challenged by a level of sensation at the piano I was unaccustomed to.

I am reminded on a daily basis how critically important it is that one uses one's body with care and a sense of awareness, especially when it comes to playing the piano. To that end, studying with Edna has been a tremendously valuable experience, teaching me to begin to develop not only a correct piano technique but also an awareness to what that proper technique feels like. I feel confident that the changes in technique will help me to avoid future injury, and I have her to thank for that.

- Aaron Jacobs