Future Research Topics
Every subsection in this section is incomplete; I am just putting down some initial ideas.
This book is based on the scientific approach, which ensures that errors are corrected as soon as possible, that all known facts are explained, documented, and organized in a useful way, and that we only make forward progress. The past situation of one piano teacher teaching a very useful method and another knowing nothing about it, or two teachers teaching completely opposite methods, should not occur. An important part of the scientific approach is a discussion of what is still unknown and what still needs to be researched. The following is a collection of such topics.
Momentum Theory of Piano Playing
Slow play in piano is called “playing in the static limit”. This means that when depressing a key, the force of the finger coming down is the main force used in the playing. As we speed up, we transition from the static limit to the momentum limit. This means that the momenta of the hand, arms, fingers, etc., play much more important roles than the force in depressing the keys. Of course, force is needed to depress the key, but when in the momentum limit, the force and motion are usually 180 degrees out of phase. That is, your finger is moving up when your finger muscles are trying to press it down! This happens at high speed because you had earlier lifted the finger so rapidly that you have to start depressing it on its way up so that you can reverse its action for the next strike. The actual motions a complex because you use the hand, arms, and body to impart and absorb the momenta. This is one of the reasons why the entire body gets involved in the playing, especially when playing fast. Note that the swing of the pendulum and the dribbling of the basketball are in the momentum limit. In piano playing, you are generally somewhere between the static and momentum limits with increasing tendency towards momentum limit with increasing speed.
In static play, the force vector and motion of the finger are in phase. As we transition to momentum play, a phase difference develops, until, in the pure momentum regime, the phase difference is 180 degrees, as it is in the pendulum.
The importance of momentum play is obvious; it involves many new finger/hand motions that are not possible in static play. Thus knowing which motions are of the static or momentum type will go a long way toward understanding how to execute them and when to use them. Because momentum play has never been discussed in the literature until now, there is a vast area of piano play for which we have very little understanding.
The Physiology of Technique
We still lack even a rudimentary understanding of the bio-mechanical processes that underlie technique. It certainly originates in the brain, and is probably associated with how the nerves communicate with the muscles, especially the rapid muscles. What are the biological changes that accompany technique? when fingers are “warmed up”?
Brain Research (HS vs HT Play, etc.)
Brain research will be one of the most important fields of medical research in the near future. This research will initially concentrate on preventing mental deterioration with age (such as curing Alzheimer’s disease). Then concurrent efforts at actually controlling the growth of mental capabilities will surely develop. Music should play an important role in such developments because we can communicate aurally with infants long before any other method, and it is already clear that, the earlier you start the control process, the better the results.
We are all familiar with the fact that, even if we can play HS quite well, HT may still be difficult. Why is HT so much more difficult? One of the reasons may be that the two hands are controlled by the different halves of the brain. If so, then learning HT requires the brain to develop ways to coordinate the two halves. This would mean that HS and HT practice use completely different types of brain functions and supports the contention that these skills should be developed separately so that we work on one skill at a time. One intriguing possibility is that we may be able to develop HT parallel sets that can solve this problem.
What Causes Nervousness?
In piano pedagogy, nervousness has been “swept under the rug” (ignored) for too long. We need to study it from medical and physiological points of view. We need to know if some individuals can benefit from proper medication. Moreover, is there a medical or psychological regiment whereby it can eventually be eliminated? Finally, from a formal psychological point of view, we must develop a teaching procedure that will reduce nervousness. Nervousness is clearly the result of a mental attitude/reaction/perception, and is therefore very amenable to active control. For example, pianists who play popular/jazz type music seem to be much less nervous in general than those who play classical. There is no reason why we shouldn’t investigate why this is so, and take advantage of this phenomenon.
Causes and Remedies for Tinnitus
Cochlea structure, high and low frequency tinnitus.
There is evidence that moderate intake of aspirin can slow down hearing loss with age. However, there is also evidence that aspirin, under certain conditions, can aggravate tinnitus. There does not appear to be any evidence that tinnitus is caused purely by age; instead, there is ample evidence that it is caused by infection, disease, accidents, and abuse of the ear. Therefore, in most of these cases, the causes and the types of damage can be directly studied.
What is Music?
Cochlea structure vs music scales and chords. Parameters: timing (rhythm), pitch, patterns (language, emotions), volume, speed. Musical information processing in brain.
At What Age to Start Piano?
We need medical/psychological/sociological studies into how/when we should start youngsters. This type of research is already starting to be conducted in sports, at least informally, by individual sports organizations that have developed methods for teaching youngsters down to about 2 years of age. In music, we can start as soon as the babies are born, by letting them listen to the appropriate types of music. In music, we are probably interested more in the development of the brain than in acquiring motor skills. Because we expect brain research to explode in the near future, this is an opportune time to take advantage of that research and use the results for learning piano.
The Future of Piano
Finally, we look into the future. The “Testimonials” section gives ample evidence that our new approach to piano practice will enable practically anyone to learn piano to her/is satisfaction. It will certainly increase the number of pianists. Therefore, the following questions become very important: (1) can we calculate the expected increase in pianists? (2) what will this increase do to the economics of the piano: performers, teachers, technicians, and manufacturers, and (3) if piano popularity explodes, what will be the main motivation for such large numbers of people to learn piano?
Piano teachers will agree than 90% of piano students never really learn piano in the sense that they will not be able to play to their satisfaction and basically give up trying to become accomplished pianists. Since this is a well known phenomenon, it discourages youngsters and their parents from deciding to start piano lessons. Since serious involvement with piano will interfere materially with the business of making a living, the economic factor also discourages entry into piano. There are many more negative factors that limit the popularity of the piano (lack of good teachers, high expense of good pianos and their maintenance, etc.), almost all of which are eventually related to the fact that piano has been so difficult to learn. Probably only 10% of those who might have tried piano ever decide to give it a try. Therefore, we can reasonably expect the popularity of the piano to increase by 100 times if the promise of this book can be fulfilled.
Such an increase would mean that a large fraction of the population in developed countries would learn piano. Since it is a significant fraction, we do not need an accurate number, so let’s just pick some reasonable number, say 30%. This would require at least a 10 fold increase in the number of piano teachers. This would be great for students because one of the big problems today is finding good teachers. In any one area, there are presently only a few teachers and the students have little choice. The number of pianos sold would also have to increase, probably by something in excess of 300%. Although many homes already have pianos, many of them are not playable. Since most of the new pianists will be at an advanced level, the number of good grand pianos needed will increase by an even larger percentage.
By using this book as a basic starting point for practice methods, piano teachers can concentrate on what they do best: teaching how to make music. Since this is what teachers have been doing all along, there will be only minor new changes needed in how teachers teach. The only new element is the addition of practice methods that take very little time to learn. The biggest change, of course, is that teachers will be liberated from the old slow process of teaching technique. It will be much easier for teachers to decide what to teach because technical difficulties will be much less of an impediment. Within a few teacher/student generations, the quality of teachers will improve dramatically which will further accelerate the learning rates of future students.
Is an increase of 100 times in the population of pianists reasonable? What would they do? They certainly can’t all be concert pianists and piano teachers. The very nature of how we view piano playing will change. First of all, the piano will, by then, become a standard second instrument for all musicians, because it will be so easy to learn and there will be pianos everywhere. The joy of playing piano will be enough reward for many. The zillions of music lovers who could only listen to recordings can now play their own music -- a much more satisfying experience. As anyone who has become an accomplished pianist will tell you, once you get to that level, you cannot help but compose music. Thus a piano revolution will also ignite a revolution in composition, and new compositions will be in great demand because many pianists will not be satisfied with playing “the same old things”. Pianists will be composing music for every instrument because of the development of keyboards with powerful software and every pianist will have an acoustic piano and an electronic keyboard, or a dual instrument (see below). The large supply of good keyboardists would mean that entire orchestras will be created using keyboard players. Another reason why the piano would become universally popular is that it will be used as a method for increasing the IQ of growing infants. Brain research will certainly reveal that the intelligence can be improved by proper brain stimulation during its early developmental stages. Since there are only two inputs into the infant’s brain, auditory and visual, and the auditory is initially much more advanced than visual, music is the most logical means for influencing the brain during early development.
With such huge forces at work, the piano itself will evolve rapidly. First, the electronic keyboard will increasingly intrude into the piano sector. The shortcomings of the electronic pianos will continue to decrease until the electronics become indistinguishable from the acoustics. Regardless of which instrument is used, the technical requirements will be the same. By then, the acoustic pianos will have many of the features of the electronics: they will be in tune all the time (instead of being out of tune 99% of the time, as they are now), you will be able to change temperaments by flicking a switch, and midi capabilities will be easily interfaced with the acoustics. The acoustics will never completely disappear because the art of making music using mechanical devices is so fascinating. In order to thrive in this new environment, piano manufacturers will need to be much more flexible and innovative.
Piano tuners will also need to adapt to these changes. All pianos will be self-tuning, so income from tuning will decrease. However, pianos in tune 100% of the time will need to be voiced more frequently, and how hammers are made and voiced will need to change. It is not that today’s pianos do not need voicing just as much, but when the strings are in perfect tune, any deterioration of the hammer becomes the limiting factor to sound quality. Piano tuners will finally be able to properly regulate and voice pianos instead of just tuning them; they can concentrate on the quality of the piano sound, instead of just getting rid of dissonances. Since the new generation of more accomplished pianists will be aurally more sophisticated, they will demand better sound. The greatly increased number of pianos and their constant use will require an army of new piano technicians to regulate and repair them. Piano tuners will also be much more involved in adding and maintaining electronic (midi, etc.) capabilities to acoustics. Therefore, the piano tuners’ business will extend into the maintenance and upgrading of electronic pianos. Thus most people will either have a hybrid or both an acoustic and electronic piano.
The Future of Education
The Internet is obviously changing the nature education. One of my objectives in writing this book on the WWW is to explore the possibilities of making education much more cost effective than it has been. Looking back to my primary education and college days, I marvel at the efficiency of the educational processes that I had gone through. Yet the promise of much greater efficiency via the internet is staggering by comparison. My experience thus far has been very educational. Here are some of the advantages of internet based education:
(i) No more waiting for school buses, or running from class to class; in fact no more cost of school buildings and associated facilities.
(ii) No costly textbooks. All books are up-to-date, compared to many textbooks used in universities that are over 10 years old. Cross referencing, indexing, topic searches, etc., can be done electronically. Any book is available anywhere, as long as you have a computer and internet connection.
(iii) Many people can collaborate on a single book, and the job of translating into other languages becomes very efficient, especially if a good translation software is used to assist the translators.
(iv) Questions and suggestions can be emailed and the teacher has ample time to consider a detailed answer and these interactions can be emailed to anyone who is interested; these interactions can be stored for future use.
(v) The teaching profession will change drastically. On the one hand, there will be more one-on-one interactions by email, video-conferencing, and exchange of data (such as audio from a piano student to the teacher) but on the other, there will be fewer group interactions where the group of students physically assembles in one classroom. Any teacher can interact with the “master text book center” to propose improvements that can be incorporated into the system. And students can access many different teachers, even for the same topic.
(vi) Such a system would imply that an expert in the field cannot get rich writing the best textbook in the world. However, this is as it should be -- education must be available to everyone at the lowest cost. Thus when educational costs decrease, institutions that made money the old way must change and adopt the new efficiencies. Wouldn’t this discourage experts from writing textbooks? Yes, but you need only one such “volunteer” for the entire world; in addition, the internet has already spawned enough such free systems as Linux, browsers, Adobe Acrobat, etc., that this trend is not only irreversible but well established. In other words, the desire to contribute to society becomes a large factor in contributing to education. For projects that provide substantial benefits to society, funding mechanisms (government, philanthropists, and sponsoring businesses) will certainly evolve.
(vii) This new paradigm of contributing to society may bring about even more profound changes to society. One way of looking at business as conducted today is that it is highway robbery. You charge as much as you can regardless of how much or how little good your product does to the buyer. In an accurate accounting paradigm, the buyer should always get his money’s worth. That is the only situation in which that business can be viable in the long run. This works both ways; well-run businesses should not be allowed to go bankrupt simply because of excessive competition. In an open society in which all relevant information is immediately available, we can have financial accounting that can make pricing appropriate to the service. The philosophy here is that a society consisting of members committed to helping each other succeed will function much better than one consisting of robbers stealing from each other. In particular, in the future, practically all basic education should be essentially free. This does not mean that teachers will lose their jobs because teachers can greatly accelerate the learning rate and should be paid accordingly.
It is clear from the above considerations that free exchange of information will transform the educational (as well as practically every other) field. This book is one of the attempts at taking full advantage of these new capabilities.