Saturday, June 26, 2010

Once again, I should reiterate that I don't play piano and never have.

But at some point in high school I borrowed one of my mother's music books and learned to more or less plunk out Beethoven's "Für Elise," that old standby of piano pedagogy. (I was significantly less good at it than this seven-year-old.) I was pretty terrible at reading music for two hands then (I still am, but less so now) and, then as now, had no piano technique.

I've recently been trying to remember how to play it. Katherine doesn't seem to have the music in her house, and I don't want to play it so badly as to track it down in the music library. Instead I've been trying to remember, and it has been a lesson in the strangeness of memory.

So far all I can remember is the opening sequence and a little bit of the B section. I remember how the rest of it sounds, but not how to play it. I started with nothing; I couldn't remember a thing except for where to place my right hand for the first note. Slowly it comes back.

I don't at all remember how the music looks on the page; consequently I can't reconstruct any of the fingerings logically.

I also have no visual memory of where the right hand goes; it is necessary that I not look at my right hand. That memory is in the muscles.

Conversely, I must look at the left hand. The left hand does some hopping around, and when I learned the piece I didn't have the technique to memorize that kind of motion. I always looked at the left hand when I learned the piece, and I must look at the left hand to remember.

It's funny, because I didn't remember what my left hand was supposed to look like at first. I started to remember by making some jabs at the keyboard and listening, trying to remember the right sound and the right movements and, finally, the right visual cues. It's the visual cues that make playing the left hand a sure thing.

It's different with the right hand. Staring at it does nothing (and anyway I couldn't play the left-handed part while looking at my right hand). Sometimes I make a lot of mistakes and sometimes I don't. There's nothing solid for me to rely on to prevent mistakes. If there's music in front of me I can remind myself to be sure to play that accidental, or concentrate on the sequence I'm about to play. Without music, without any visual sense of where my fingers are supposed to go, I can only prevent mistakes one way: suspending intention and dwelling in a physical memory. I have to trust my frankly unreliable fingers to remember on my behalf.

What else do my fingers know that I don't? I ask this by touch-typing on a computer keyboard, of course.

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