Ms. Bruser teaches private lessons at her studio in New York City, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The lessons combine traditional conservatory training with her unique, mindfulness-based approach, the Art of Practicing. She outlines her approach below.
In this approach, you learn to recognize habits of tensing your body, glossing over notes, and over-emoting, and to replace them with the experience of natural, efficient movement, keen listening, and authentic musical expression. We work a lot with getting physically comfortable and in sync with the instrument, and with taking time to absorb and respond to every sound and change of color. We use basic laws of rhythm and pulse to organize music into coherent groups and phrases and to unlock the natural flow of each phrase and each piece of music.
We also use mindfulness techniques for developing awareness, focus, and presence in practice and performance. And I offer the Fearless Performing ExerciseTM, a short mental exercise that shifts your focus from self-consciousness to generosity onstage, thus transforming stage fright into confidence.
In private lessons, I can work with you in one of two ways:
- I can help you with your current repertoire by working with a variety of techniques to improve your performance.
- You may pursue a step-by-step approach with either current or new repertoire to develop a thorough understanding and mastery of the Art of Practicing.
We begin with exploring basic principles of posture and movement at the piano in order to play with maximum physical ease. If you choose the second option listed above, your first lesson would typically include work with:
- Optimum height of the bench.
- Easeful spinal alignment.
- Natural hand position.
- Efficient use of the fingers.
Lessons then progress to work with:
- Free and efficient arm and wrist movement.
- Listening techniques.
- Mental relaxation techniques.
- Techniques for organizing notes into coherent rhythmic groups and phrases.
Further study includes:
- Refining body mechanics and sensory awareness.
- Becoming adept at rhythmic organization.
- Deepening the practice of mental relaxationin order to increase expressive warmth, receptiveness to sound, and artistic brilliance.
- Learning the Fearless Performing ExerciseTM, for transforming stage fright into confidence and communicative power.
Piano Technique Photos
Ms. Bruser demonstrates an inefficient posture for playing the piano: Slumping forward cramps arm movement and creates tension in the neck, shoulders, and arms.
In upright posture, the arms can move freely and the head balances easily on top ofthe spine, easing the load on the neck, shoulders, and arms.
Keeping fingers raised above the keys while other fingers are playing requires unnecessary effort from the muscles in the forearm. The excess tension spreads throughout the hand, inhibiting speed and expressiveness.
Letting fingers rest on the keys when they are not playing minimizes tension in the hand and forearm, which increases ease and improves tone quality.
When the wrist is level with the arch of the hand, the fingers need to bend only slightly to depress the keys. This position also allows the weight of the arm to drop directly into the keys, assisting the fingers in producing sound.
Letting the arm move forward to assist a short finger, such as the forth, in pushing down a piano key may raise the wrist momentarily above the arch of the hand. In transferring arm wieght from the forth finger to the fifth, which is even shorter, the arm must move forward farther, causing the wrist to move even higher. Keeping the wrist in a raised position, however, causes strain.
Case Histories of Pianists’ Injuries
When Melanie came to study with me, she had tendinitis from overpracticing for her recital at college. The pain ran from the little finger of her right hand up her forearm and had forced her to stop playing for a few months. Her posture was hunched over, and instead of flexing her fourth and fifth fingers to play she was extending them and
using forearm rotation to push keys down.
I adjusted her posture upright and asked her to place her hand on the keys in a normal curved position, which at first took a great deal of concentration. She practiced a simple five-finger exercise: playing one key at a time, using finger movement only, no arm movement, and checking after each note to be sure that the other four fingers were relaxed and resting on the keys.
She then practiced two simple pieces in this way for two weeks. During that time her fourth and fifth fingers were too weak to produce sound without arm movement. But at her third lesson they suddenly began to produce sound.
When her new finger movements became habitual I taught her to use her arm in conjunction with her fingers to play. At first she tended to move her back along with her arm, but I showed her how to let her shoulder and wrist be flexible and to move her arm forward without changing her upright posture. This flexibility resulted in greater ease and power. Then she practiced singing the bass line of her pieces while playing the right hand, and playing without
looking at her hands. These techniques refined her coordination.
She limited her practicing to one hour a day at first and later increased it to two hours. At the end of three months, she was playing comfortably and well. She returned to school and gave a successful recital.
Richard is a professional accompanist. When he first came to me, he had been unable to work for a few months due to DeQuervain’s disease (tendinitis at the base of the thumb). He habitually overextended his right thumb and played with his hand turned toward the right (ulnar deviation), holding his elbow close to his body. The pain ran from his thumb up the inside of his forearm.
I adjusted his elbow to a normal dropped position and refingered many passages of his pieces to allow normal movement. He practiced moving his thumb loosely every time he used it. I also taught him to move his arm forward, bending his wrist, in order to transfer arm weight from long fingers to shorter ones, which helped him accomplish wide stretches without straining his hand. He later practiced noticing musical vibrations as they went through his body, which further loosened up his playing mechanism and whole body.
In four months his symptoms were gone. He played with ease and a beautiful tone and resumed his career as an accompanist.
Marie is a gifted amateur who came to me in her forties playing with tremendous tension in her hands, arms, and back. Her piano study as a music major in college left her feeling as technically insecure as her earlier training, and she was afraid of being disappointed again. Since age eight she had not been able to perform without memory lapses and incapacitating tension and nervousness. In recent years she had limited her performing to occasional accompanying for her husband, a singer.
Her hands shook when she played, and her arms and shoulders were clenched. I worked with her on simple pieces, one hand at a time, focusing at first on stopping all movement in her hands after every note. Then, by placing her awareness on the movement of the bones in her arm and shoulder, she was able to slowly unlock the tension in them.
Although she had only forty minutes a day to practice, in a few months she began to play comfortably, and
she performed well in a master class, using the score. She became inspired and bought a Steinway grand, and she began to play for friends at home. She also noticed that the relaxation she was learning at the piano extended into her
other activities, and she became a happier person.
Her new physical and mental ease allowed a greater sense of flow, which increased her ability to play from memory. Listening techniques, including singing one line while playing another, helped her to be more aware of musical details, which also helped her memory.
After four years she played from memory for the first time in thirty years, in a master class. She had tremendous composure and played not only with perfect memory but with deeply affecting musicality. In the two years since, she has memorized several pieces and played confidently and beautifully in a number of recital programs, including one attended by six hundred people.