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correct piano technique


Dave Horne

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I just responded to the 'heavy P series action' thread and decided to start another thread re technique.

 

There are many here in this forum who play the piano incorrectly. You can teach yourself theory, you can teach yourself composition, but learning to play with the least amount of effort really needs to be guided with someone who knows what they are doing.

 

There are two real easy ways to see if you are using the correct set of muscles. By the way, everything I am writing comes from personal experience. I was a hot shot piano player who learned at the late age of 28 how to play correctly. To start playing scales at a snail's pace at that age was extremely depressing .... but I survived.

 

1. If your top forearm muscles tense up and you have to get up and shake out the tension from those muscles, you are playing incorrectly. See a teacher who can correct this.

 

2. If someone can place their hand under your wrist while you are playing and can flip your wrist away from the keyboard in one swift motion, you are playing correctly. If your wrist stays locked in place, you are using the wrong set of muscles. See a teacher who can correct this.

 

You should always try to keep your hands in a compact position (fingers not splayed out) and your thumb should be glued to your index finger - your hand should be a compact tool.

 

I could pass on how I was taught to play with the least amount of effort, but if I do that, someone will take that advice and not see someone in person. Like I said, you can teach yourself just about everything, but when it comes to technique, don't be cheap. There are many bad teachers out there and I had my share of bad ones. One way to insure you have someone who knows what they are doing is to study with someone who concertizes for a living and who is affiliated with a music college. The odds of finding a bad teacher with those qualifications are much, much less.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Who is to define what's "correct"? It's like another religion with orthodox rules... blah

If a player experiences tension and has to stop to shake out his muscles, something's not right.

 

If a player has to tape up his fingers to keep to keep the skin underneath his nails from bleeding, something's not right.

 

As an aside, if you watch a professional baseball pitcher, it looks so effortless. A pro uses the least amount of energy as possible. My wife now plays golf and she studies with a pro. The point she has learned is to do everything with the least amount of effort. The pro knows how to teach that. It takes a lot of practice to do things with the least amount of effort, but it shows in the long run.

 

I have seen and heard players whose hands are locked to the keyboard. They will only be able to advance so far. Their lack of correct technique will get in their way. If you were here next to me, I could very easily demonstrate both ways of performing. For many years I used the incorrect set of muscles. Correct playing really gets down to using the least amount of effort ... and that can be taught.

 

This is not a religious or philosophical discussion, this is concrete.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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I agree completely! my technique sucks pretty much, and I´m aware of that it´s getting in the way. A problem for me is that my fingers aren´t very flexible; if I sweep my thumb across my palm, I can reach a very little bit past my middle finger. Thus I cannot play scales smoothly at higher tempos, I HAVE to move my hand and wrist in an incorrect way. Or, as my clasically trained teacher - who is a FANTASTIC pianist - tolde me once in his most diplomatic tone of voice; "you´re fucked!" :eek::rolleyes::D But if Horace Parlan could do it, so can I! I´ll be 28 next year, maybe that´s a good time to start all over with scales and arpeggios! :wave:

 

/J :cool: nas

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Hey Dave I am a trombone player who plays a little piano, enough to play background music gigs in restaurants and the like. You are so right when you say it boils down to playing with the least amount of effort. This is especially true with the trombone as well. Lately I have been back to playing scales and arpeggios every day and generally trying to even out my playing. Other than playing the scales at a slow tempo are there any other tips you might have as far as daily drills go?

 

Thanks

 

Lincoln (the elder)

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Other than playing the scales at a slow tempo are there any other tips you might have as far as daily drills go?
The most important thing to remember is to play with the least amount of effort. It really doesn't matter (AFAIC) _what_ you play as long as a the keyboard is approached in the correct manner. A good point to remember is - if you can't play something slowly, you sure as hell can not play it fast. Beginners always play fast, make a mistake, stop, continue and the next day, they make the same mistake.

 

Whenever I sight read something or play something relatively new, I try to play as fast (translates to slowly) as I can play _without_ making a mistake. You really wind up playing things in the beginning, slowly, but if you are approaching the keyboard incorrectly, the speed really doesn't matter, does it?

 

As an exercise and a 'check', take you left hand and simply place your finger tips on the keys while keeping your wrist basically level. Take your right hand and quickly lift your left wrist a very short distance in the air. Perhaps a little break in your wrist, but that is basically the feeling you want to experience when you play. (You really need someone next to you to be sure everything is done correctly. My words may not convey everything though I strive to be accurate.)

 

If you play _just from your hand_ and place your other hand under the playing wrist, you'll see that the playing hand is locked to the keyboard. That's how I played for the first 28 years of my life ... unnoticed and uncorrected by several teachers.

 

It was depressing to relearn everything at a late age, but I am eternally grateful to that one teacher (who has since died) who showed me how to approach the keyboard with the least amount of effort. His name, by the way, was Robert Guralnick.

 

What I found amazing, the teacher I had in high school and the several in college (I was an organ major), never discussed technique in specific detail. This one good teacher (RG) explained in very simple terms using very clear examples what it was I was to do. I only took about ten lessons from him. I am a jazz player and he was a classical performer. I just wanted to learn how to improve my technique and he taught me.

 

One problem with keyboard players (as opposed to golfers), anyone can sit down and make music - no training involved. You can play with really bad technique and still make music. As a result, many players never seek out help to improve their playing. To be told that you might be playing incorrectly provokes a big discussion with some. If you're on the golf course, you want the pro to show you how to play correctly. I don't know why keyboard players should settle for less.

 

Sorry ... rambling. Back to the piano.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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I wonder if Thelonious would have played the same way, had he studied with a classical teacher breathing down his neck and instilling "correct" piano technique on him since his early days...

 

That said, using the muscles that produce the best results with the least amount of effort is something that everyone should strive for.

 

Even Thelonious. ;)

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... if I sweep my thumb across my palm, I can reach a very little bit past my middle finger. Thus I cannot play scales smoothly at higher tempos,
Your thumb does not have to travel that far at all.

 

Take your hand and keep your thumb glued to your index finger. If you keep your fingers parallel to the keys and just raise your hand (keeping your fingers parallel to the keys at all time and your thumb glued to your index finger) and move your hand up and down the keyboard, you'll see how to better use your hand. Your thumb does not have to travel very much under your hand if at all. Also, you do not move your hand from side to side when changing direction at the keyboard - lift your hand and keep your fingers parallel to the keys. This is much easier to demonstrate than to write. It takes time to develop smoothness in playing like this, but it really works this way after much practice.

 

Your fingers should remain parallel to the keys and your thumb should pretty much stay glued to your index finger.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by Jeebus:

I wonder if Thelonious would have played the same way, had he studied with a classical teacher breathing down his neck and instilling "correct" piano technique on him since his early days...

 

That said, using the muscles that produce the best results with the least amount of effort is something that everyone should strive for.

 

Even Thelonious. ;)

As long as nobody is using guys like Thelonious or Keith Jarrett as an excuse for their posture at the piano. Those guys are just genius and make a guy like me wonder, how in the hell they're doing what they are, or were, doing.

Yeah Phait, I've been around here. Where were you?

http://www.bobwijnen.nl

 

Hipness is not a state of mind, it's a fact of life.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

... if I sweep my thumb across my palm, I can reach a very little bit past my middle finger. Thus I cannot play scales smoothly at higher tempos,
Your thumb does not have to travel that far at all.

 

Take your hand and keep your thumb glued to your index finger. If you keep your fingers parallel to the keys and just raise your hand (keeping your fingers parallel to the keys at all time and your thumb glued to your index finger) and move your hand up and down the keyboard, you'll see how to better use your hand. Your thumb does not have to travel very much under your hand if at all. Also, you do not move your hand from side to side when changing direction at the keyboard - lift your hand and keep your fingers parallel to the keys. This is much easier to demonstrate than to write. It takes time to develop smoothness in playing like this, but it really works this way after much practice.

 

Your fingers should remain parallel to the keys and your thumb should pretty much stay glued to your index finger.

I have the same trouble; when playing a scale up the keys with the right hand I can hear my thumb pass under. I always blamed this in part for a short thumb that doesn't reach much past the 3rd finger. But I think I do it all wrong.

 

Do you pivot your hand "laterally" at the wrist to get the thumb to move forward? Or does the wrist not pivot but rather the whole arm moves smoothly? At some point, the thumb s going to have to do some moving under the 2nd and 3rd fingers, isn't it?

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Your fingers should remain parallel to the keys and your thumb should pretty much stay glued to your index finger.

????????? I don't get it.

 

The correct position when seated at an acoustic (grand) piano, is to adjust the height of the stool so that your forearm is parallel to the keys with your fingers resting lightly on the keys.

If you are sitting (or standing) correctly your upper arm should be vertical and your forearm should be horizontal. You should have a 90 degree angle at the elbow.

If you approach the keyboard this way, you will automatically sit with your back straight, and be able to reach the entire keyboard without difficulty.

You should let your hand fall natrually on the keys.

After that it's practice, practice, practice, and then, practice some more.

 

I stand up and play a 76 key board. The height of the board on the stand is set so my upper arm is verticle and my forearm is perpendicular to it. Very comfortable.

 

Sly :cool:

Whasineva ehaiz, ehissgot ta be Funky!
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This is a great thread and I agree with the premise that nothing can substitute for a great teacher. I remember one university teacher who took one look at my playing and noted that my left hand was totally relaxed and my right was tensed up continuously while playing. Seems like a simple observation but I'd simply never noticed.

 

One problem is that correcting technical errors takes a lot of effort and you seem to get nothing directly out of it immediately - in fact, it slows down progress in certain ways. But of course ultimately it is worth it.

 

I am currently in an essentially ideal position. I gave up playing five years ago (after playing for 20 years) and only just recently got my Roland RD-700 and started up again. (Also have access to my Baldwin.) The great thing is that it feels in some ways like starting over and so it gives me a chance to do a lot of things "right" without taking what feels like backward steps. I can correct problems like the fact that my right hand's pinky always involuntarily extended outward when doing something difficult with digits 2 & 3. Now I just slow down when I see that and relax and try again slow and without tension.

 

To me it isn't that useful to site contrary examples of fantastic musicians who have bad technique. I do recall an interesting interview where Horowitz was talking about teaching students and yelling at them for technical problems and then he saw an above view of his own hands from a video and said "Oh my God, I'm doing all the things I'm yelling at my students for!" Among other things, he wasn't using his arms at all but getting all of his strength some how from his fingers. His hands sat way too low on the keys; there was no fluidity of his body. It is strange. He decided not to correct his own problems. When you're Horowitz and you're like 60 or 70 or whatever he was at the time, I think you have license not to try to fix these problems, I suppose.

 

But by and large great players have great technique. And with somebody like Monk, there are many things he wouldn't have been able to do because of his technique. (Not that it mattered for him, but do you WANT that limitation yourself?)

 

Chaso

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Good thread.

For years I thought I was doing "my own thing" as I excelled rapidly.

In 1995, I went to visit a cousin in Southern Italy, she had been a trained concert/competition pianist. It was funny when my cousins asked that I play some piano for them, as she looked on and shook her head. "How can you play with your palms so low? Do your hands hurt?" I was taken back a bit. I had no Idea of her skill level and knew that she was very shy about playing for fun. I regaled her with Wakemen and Emerson stuff as well as my own and a little Jerry Lee. She then sat down and said "that is all very nice, but if you used your arms and hands properly you could do so much more. She sat down and ripped out the most jaw dropping reportoire of Liszt, Brahms and Prokofiev (enough to make you want to quit). She then walked me through four finger techniques appropriate for chamber music (harpsichord I presume), no thumbs. When I returned to the States, I looked up an old prof of mine for a bit of the woodshed. Best thing I ever did, but old habits do die hard.

 

When I saw Keith Emerson last Friday, he had adapted his playing style due to his nerve damage. I don't know if his injury was the result of repetitive motion disorder or a non keyboard accident. He now plays with his right hand ring and pinky curled most of the time as his ulnar nerve has been damaged and surgically repaired. Without the surgery he would have retired completely. His playing today is a lesson to those that you can fight back, adapt and recover from an injury in an unconventional way; conversely his unconventional antics may have lead to his injury. Food for thought.

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Emo is a friend of a friend of mine. I once asked about the surgery and Keith replied that he thinks it wasn't the surgery but the corrective exercises done afterwards that have enabled him to continue playing.

 

Of course that conversation was years ago; I don't know how he feels about it now.

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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Do you pivot your hand "laterally" at the wrist to get the thumb to move forward? Or does the wrist not pivot but rather the whole arm moves smoothly? At some point, the thumb s going to have to do some moving under the 2nd and 3rd fingers, isn't it?
If you move your hand laterally (your hand sideways from the wrist), you will actually lose speed as you play faster. Your hand / fingers should always be parallel to the keys at all times. That last sentence might not seem to make sense, but it really does when you play extremely fast - you do not want any wasted movement.

 

Here's an example - playing a C major scale with your right hand ... the side of your thumb (while the thumb is glued to your index finger) plays the C. The index and middle fingers play the D and E. ___Keeping___ your hand parallel to the keys, raise your hand slightly and shift your hand so the thumb is over the F and play the F. Do that last movement with your fingers remaining parallel to the keys. There will be a break in the sound as you can not do that movement quickly. Your initial response will be to move your hand to the right to get the thumb in place. At slow speeds it will work (though be a bad habit), at fast speeds, that won't work.

 

It takes practice to make the playing smooth as you raise your hand _keeping your fingers parallel to the keys_ and then play using your thumb. You really can not have sideway movement of the hand ... the fingers really have to stay parallel to the keys. It takes practice to keep your thumb essentially glued to your index finger while you play scales. I'm exaggerating here, but that's the basic idea.

 

I hate to say, trust me on this, but it does work though it, of course, takes time before this becomes second nature and before you can apply any real speed to this action. It will, in the beginning, be difficult to play fast in this manner as you do not want a break in the sound as you shift your hand to the new position. With practice, this movement becomes automatic and faster.

 

When you are playing very slowly you might think it really doesn't matter if you do not keep your fingers parallel to the keys, but it will become a bad habit which will be difficult to break. At very fast tempos you want no wasted movement and that sideways motion (between the wrist and your hand) will slow you down. Look at concert pianists play fast runs and their hands look like a machine - no wasted movement.

 

This is all easier to demonstrate than to write. There's always the possibility that things don't get translated correctly. Sorry to be repeating myself here ... I'm trying to cover all bases.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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... lost in translation ...?

 

When I write that your hand \ fingers should be parallel to the keys, I don't mean that your fingers should be flat and parallel, I meant curved or a nice arch, but there should be a straight line from your finger nail to your second knuckle and that straight line should be parallel to the keys at all times.

 

A video is worth a thousand word, huh?

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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This is a great subject, Dave. As you have cautioned, it is easier to demonstrate than to write about these things (dancing about architecture again, aren't we?), and like you said, really only a qualified teacher can make sure we're doing this right.

 

One thing I find is, I have the concept of "relaxed, so hands fly off the keys" and can do some things that way, but I do lose that relaxed state when playing certain things. It's still hard for me to stay in the zone, even after being taught this technique 18 years ago.

 

Part of it is, I had to stop playing for almost 5 years because of computer-related injury (yes, it affects the ulnar nerve), and in the last 3 years I've been building up to playing again. I don't have pain when I play unless I already got flared up doing too much computer stuff beforehand (I guess computer keyboarding will never be OK for me). But I'm sure I could use a brush-up on the technique thing. Funny thing is, I'm more mindful about it now than I ever was as a kid first learning the technique.

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Dave is talking about "thumb over" versus the old legato "thumb under" technique. It's a technique used to play fast. I use use "thumb over", though the name "thumb over" is a poor description of the motion. I like Dave's description "thumb glued to index finger".

 

Here are two articles desribing "thumb over":

 

http://members.aol.com/kwanmc/page/scale.htm

 

http://www.JeffreeBrent.com/Lessons/posvis.html

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Harry spends his time teaching jazz piano online and playing solo piano gigs.

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Originally posted by Dave Horne:

Here's an example - playing a C major scale with your right hand ... the side of your thumb (while the thumb is glued to your index finger) plays the C. The index and middle fingers play the D and E. ___Keeping___ your hand parallel to the keys, raise your hand slightly and shift your hand so the thumb is over the F and play the F. Do that last movement with your fingers remaining parallel to the keys. There will be a break in the sound as you can not do that movement quickly. Your initial response will be to move your hand to the right to get the thumb in place. At slow speeds it will work (though be a bad habit), at fast speeds, that won't work.

Good tip, Dave, maybe it´s time for some serious woodshedding this summer - if the weather allows! I think one of the big problems we keyboard players may encounter compared to specialised pianists or organ players is the different techniques affecting eachother. When I play organ or semi-weighted keys, I play harder than nescessary, and part of my lighter playing organ technique tends to spill over to my piano playing. This is of course something that can be helped simply by being aware of it, but in the heat of the gig that can be hard to do. Especially when playing piano with one hand and organ with the other! And of course there´s plenty players out there that master both disciplines... I think I´ll call my old teacher, maybe it´s time for some serious practicing again!

 

Thanks again Dave, I think I understand what you mean in the above posts about hand position et al.

 

/J :cool: nas

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Dave, you're losing nothing in translation. I'm practicing this at my desk at work, and I can see where it makes a difference.

 

Thanks for sharing these valuable insights!

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

This ain't no track meet; this is football.

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I like Dave's description "thumb glued to index finger".
I borrowed that phrase from that one teacher who clearly explained how I was to practice, Robert Guralnick.

 

I am also somewhat relieved that this thread was received so well. Technique can be such a personal thing and can be difficult to come to a common agreement. Many musicians like to speak in non-musical terms to describe music and that can make communication difficult on occasion.

 

I am not an expert in these matters, but I have relearned how to play the keyboard (25 years ago or so) and that personal experience counts more to me than you can imagine.

 

FWIW, I still check myself daily to see if I am playing with the least amount of effort (the fly away wrist test). This thread is no substitute for a real teacher who, hopefully, knows what he or she is doing. If you make a living in music, it is well worth taking a handful of lessons from someone who can help you drive that ball straight down the fairway.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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WOW! Serious tip.

I am also a thumb under taught keyboardist and playing scales fast (or anything fast for that matter) has always been frustrating. I can see how this technique will help but it is so hard to replace it with the old TU habit.

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Well Dave I am about to follow the same route and get a private teacher to re-learn piano. I want to learn from zero as I learned by myself and the few teachers I had could never help me get rid of my bad habits. Hopefully 20 years from now I'll finally be able to play effortlessly ... Oh I'll then only be 50. :eek:
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Originally posted by RaGe:

Well Dave I am about to follow the same route and get a private teacher to re-learn piano. I want to learn from zero as I learned by myself and the few teachers I had could never help me get rid of my bad habits. Hopefully 20 years from now I'll finally be able to play effortlessly ... Oh I'll then only be 50. :eek:

When I took those lessons from the classical pro, I was still performing concerts (day job) and playing weekends on the side. His advice to me was to practice what he showed me, but to do what I had to do for my 'job'. It took only several months before I was playing effortlessly without thinking, as it were.

 

I performed one way and practiced another way side by side for several months. The point is, you won't have to wait years for results and for this to become second nature - a few months at most.

 

My initial thoughts after my first lesson were suicidal. I was reduced from a hot shot player to a know nothing beginner in one lesson ... depressing. Let's hope it goes better for you.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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It seems there are many schools of thinking when it comes to piano technique. Is there any you would recommend in particular, if they are even named? Just like the TU/TO issue I assume there are some other aspects of techinque that are taught differently. How would you ask or find out if a potential teacher is gonna be good for you (long shot I know ....)?
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Originally posted by RaGe:

It seems there are many schools of thinking when it comes to piano technique. Is there any you would recommend in particular, if they are even named? Just like the TU/TO issue I assume there are some other aspects of techinque that are taught differently. How would you ask a potential teacher if he's gonna be good for you (long shot I know ....)?

As I mentioned earlier in this thread, one way to insure you have a knowledgeable teacher is to study with someone who concertizes for a living and who is affiliated with a music college. That won't guarantee that he or she is a good teacher, but it should help to eliminate the bad ones. I would ask around to people you trust and maybe they can personally recommend someone for you. Good luck.

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Originally posted by RaGe:

It seems there are many schools of thinking when it comes to piano technique.

I would classify the differences more as nuances than schools of thought. All classical piano teachers teach the same basic technique and those jazz teachers that care about their student's health do, too. If you're concerned, ask the guy to play for you. Watch his posture. Is it slouched over? When playing runs are his hands quiet or is he going through all sorts of gyrations? It'll be easy to tell if he has good technique. For reference watch a classical pro. Most of them (with some notable exceptions like Horowitz) have perfect technique.

 

You also shouldn't put too much importance on this thumb over vs. under thing. I'd never heard of it before this thread, but I use the "over" technique on fast runs and the "under" technique on slow, legato passages. It came naturally to me. Twisting your wrist at high speed is awkward. Works well for ascending arpeggios, too.

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