Russian Piano Technique

There are two major techniques for classical piano. One is the French school in which you simply push down the keys. This is the most common technique and has been used by many of the world’s greatest pianists. The other is the Russian technique. In this technique, the pianist creates tension in his or her fingers before striking the key. Then, the actual striking of the key becomes the resolution to the tension. This technique produces the most beautiful bell like tones coming from the piano.

There is more to this technique than this principle, such as weightless of the arms, etc. But the structural principle is that the tension created in the fingers comes before the activation of the note. Tension first, and then the action becomes the resolution.

I learned about this technique from the very famous piano teacher Madame Chaloff. This was while I was going to the Boston Conservatory, and while I am not a pianist, my composition teacher had studied with her. So had Leonard Bernstein, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, George Shearing, and so many more great musicians.

Why this technique should be interesting to those of us who are not pianists is that it illustrates one of the most important principles of the creative process, and that is tension comes before action. As in archery, tension comes before releasing the arrow.

The basic structure in the creative process is structural tension, the relationship between your desired state and the actual state in relationship to the desired state. Two critical data points: know what you want to create; know where you are in relationship to that outcome. And remember, this tension is not psychological. It is not stress, anxiety or pressure. It is structural.

Most people do not use this structure. Instead, they react or respond to circumstances they find themselves in, or, in the future, might find themselves in. This often means a lot of problem solving. One problem after another. As we’ve said, you can solve all of your problems and still not have what you want. Problem solving is not creating, and creating is not problem solving.

A few weeks ago, I led my annual workshop for artists, The Art of the Creative Process. This is one of my favorite courses to teach because it is about creating art, and using structural dynamics to increase the artist’s ability to further master his or her approach. The artists in the course are consummate professionals. They work in various mediums: film, music, visual art, writing, dance, etc. They all go through the same set of projects we set up for them. They all write, do photography, do other visual exercises, structure plots for screenplays, and so on.

One of the major principles is Russian piano technique, as least as a principle, first the tension, and then the creative process is the resolution to the tension. They structure a dialogue, but are not allowed to write it for a while. This space between constructing the form and actually writing the piece consolidates the tension. It is like putting tension in the fingers before striking the keys. Then they have a very short time in which to write the piece. 7 minutes. They write very fast and very well indeed.

The results are amazing. Many of them have never written before, but everyone, experienced or not, creates a wonderful piece. Before this exercise, most of them would have thought this was impossible. But, once they have experienced this and several other examples of “Russian piano technique” they begin to experience one of the great secrets of the creative process, tension before creating.

Now, these people were experienced and masterful creators to begin with. Many of them at the top of their art and craft. But still, there was this one missing piece to the puzzle.

Structural tension is THE most powerful form for creating anything, including your own life. When in doubt, remember Russian piano technique, and firmly establish structural tension before you act.

Living In A Bubble

Let’s begin with the Principle of Increasing Returns: Here it is in a nutshell: the more you have, the more you have.

Example: keyboards. Most computer keyboards are set up like the earliest mechanical typewriters. When typewriters were first introduced, typists typed too fast and the machines keys would get stuck. In order to show the typists down, the keyboard was laid out to be less intuitive, and more difficult.

This strategy worked, and more and more typists learned the keyboard. The more typists learned the keyboard, the more manufactures used them in their products. Now that there is no reason to slow a typist down, we still have the original keyboard because, the more people know how to use it, the more keyboards will conform to the original.

The more you have, the more you have.

More iPads, more apps that are designed for iPads. The more people use Facebook, the more Facebook expands. The more people watch Netfilx, the more Netflix is able to increase its programming. When it does, more people watch.

In some ways, this principle is pretty obvious. Think about the success and spread of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other popular tech offerings. The more you have the more you have. The growth can be exponential.

But there is a dark side of the principle of increasing returns. It is how groups of people get their information. The popular term is the “bubble.” Many people live in a bubble in which the only data they have access to conforms to their own concepts and belief systems.

This is the famous reinforcing loop. If your belief system included that Martians have taken over the government in a plot to control humanity, the more you read about it, the more you tend to think its true. The more you think its true, the more you will want to read about it.

This is why conspiracy theories are so popular. The more people agree with the theory, the less objective facts can penetrate the bubble. The more the case is made that Martians are to blame for all of the ills of the world, the more people, with their torches, are out looking for Martians.

Even otherwise sane people, who should know better, can fall into crazy conspiracy theories. Evidence and reality, as it is in cults, lose their credibility. As in the old saying, no amount of facts will get in the way of a good story.

It is easy to see the bubble in the extreme. It takes a truly strange person to believe that Martians have taken over, or that Muzak is a plot to dull the minds of the masses by forcing them to listen to inane music. (This last one makes actually makes sense to me… JUST KIDDING!!)

And, now, in political life, the fringe conspiracy theories have made it to mainstream. I suppose it begins with doubting science as a credible source. If you are to be against understanding global warming is real and is caused by human beings polluting the planet, you have to discredit science.

Not that science has all the answers. But it does have something better than all the answers, which is a way of seeking reality. First we have to contrast real science with what we all learned in high school. We learned that the so-called scientific method was to begin with a hypothesis, then look for evidence, and then confirm or deny the theory. This is not how the true pioneers of science actually think.

Professor Stuart Firestein, a neuroscientist and Chairman of the Department of Biology at Columbia University in his book Ignorance – how it drives science, writes that most people have a false impression of science. Rather than what most of us learned in school as the “scientific method,” Firestein says, “…it’s mostly a tale woven by newspaper reports, television documentaries, and high school lesson plans.” He goes on to describe the true scientific process as pursuing understanding of the unknown. In fact, he created a course entitled Ignorance in which guest scientists speak for a few hours about what they don’t know.

Rather than rely on categorizing, the students learn how to better observe and reason. In fact, Sir Isaac Newton said, “Hypotheses has no place in science.” Rene Descartes said, “To understand any set of phenomena, first rid yourself of preconceptions.”

Here are two pictures: You live in a bubble of your own concepts, and accept or reject information based on how it conforms to your preconceived beliefs; or you live in a world in which everything can be re-considered and rethought, and observation and evidence is critical, independent of belief.

Of course, I am making the difference seem like black and white. Usually it is not. Usually there is a mixture of the two pictures. But these approaches are not equal, especially if you are to create more of the life you want to create. Over the years, our research and experience in structural dynamics have shown how the concepts people have, when built into their structures, lead to an oscillating pattern in which success is finally reversed and, like a rocking chair, movement forward leads to movement backwards. When concepts are not part of the structure, then the two critical factors are the outcomes you want to create, and a clear and accurate understanding of reality as it truly is in relationship to this outcome. From that, structural tension is formed, and the tendency is for the structure to resolve in favor of the desired outcome, especially because you are working towards that end.

People often talk about “limiting beliefs.” They think that some beliefs are limiting and some are not. ALL beliefs are limiting. What is revolutionary in our work is this simple principle: it doesn’t matter what you believe to be an effective creator.

People in the belief business hate this idea, because what they have to sell is their belief systems. But successful creators have believed all types of things, and it didn’t matter. In our new book IDENTITY, Dr. Wayne Andersen and I write that what you think about yourself doesn’t matter at all. Of course, to those in the belief business, that idea is pure blasphemy. As we have said, have they never read a biography of successful people? If they had, they would have found out that hardly any of these successful people had high self-esteem. What they thought about themselves was irrelevant in their creative process.

You can live in a bubble of your own making. Or you can break out of it by learning the disciplines of observation and reason. You may change your mind from time to time. Life will become vastly more interesting and involving.

In our flagship course Fundamentals of Structural Thinking, step one is to begin with nothing, that means without a concept, belief, past experience, model, or theory. As Rene Descartes said, “..rid yourself of preconceptions.”

This is a true discipline that takes learning and practice. But it pays off in discernment and understanding. The world opens, and sometimes, new and original insights unlock the beauty of reality.