When L and I talk piano pedagogy, he often uses the phrase positive control.
(I’m telling you this up-front so that when you see the phrase appear in the project he’s currently working on, you’ll know that I borrowed the term from him and not the other way around.)
For the longest time, I didn’t understand what positive control meant. I kept saying “you mean like the words you think in your head right before you play the notes?” and he kept saying “it’s not words, though.”
And then I’d say “okay, do you mean, like, the image that you call up right before you play the notes?” and he’d say “that’s closer, but I’m not even sure it’s an image.”
The trouble is that I have learned, since those conversations, exactly what positive control is—but I still don’t know how to describe it.
I can show it to you, though:
That performance was—and this is the only way I can describe it—positively controlled. It isn’t an impulse and it isn’t an image and it isn’t a series of words; it’s a deliberate action (or series of actions) that yields a desired result.
You may compare the Chopin to my most recent Mozart recording:
There is a lot that’s very good about this recording. You can tell that I’m doing the work—but I haven’t yet done all of the work required to achieve a state of continuous positive control.
There are segments of this Mozart sonata that are controlled, which is to say that there are segments in which I no longer need to think “don’t forget the Ab” or “third finger on D” or anything like that because I know the piece so well that I don’t need to think anything.
There are also segments that are uncontrolled. I haven’t done enough work; I haven’t solved enough problems; I haven’t generated enough consistent, integrated repetitions to establish positive control over the experience.
Because of that, I’m not even sure I can call this recording a performance.
It’s a practice session that I recorded for you.
The next one will be better, of course—but it might take many many many many many more sessions before I have the same amount of control over the 20-minute Mozart sonata as I do over the 4-minute Chopin nocturne.
Which could be frustrating—but in this house we practice what-it-is-ism, and so it is only and ever what it is. ❤️
Here’s where I got published this week!
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