The Lang Lang Lang Piano Method: getting children to love classical music above all
Lang Lang, the most publicized pianist on the planet, stopped by Paris last week to present his piano method for beginners. We were there.
Herbie Hancock,"Piano is first and foremost regular and continuous hard work. A certain sensitivity is necessary, of course, but above all, what is needed is patience and confidence. And not to be afraid to work tirelessly. If technology has changed our perception of music or influenced our learning habits, it can in no way reduce the time it takes to get through the every step’’. Lang Lang Lang, 34-year-old superstar pianist, wants to set the record straight. Last week, between two flights overseas and the inauguration of his statue at the Grevin Museum in Paris, he stopped at Paul Beuscher's house, a renowned Parisian musician, to showcase his piano method for beginners. Published last year by Faber Classic, it is now available in French from Editions Henry Lemoine.
Having performed on the world's most prestigious stages, Lang Lang is used to play in front of officials and royalty, while supporting humanitarian causes and inaugurating the Olympic Games. His musical collaborations include classic repertoire masters like Daniel Barenboim and Gustavo Dudamel alongside superstars such as Herbie Hancock, Metallica and Pharrell Williams. He has his own brand of sneakers, sportswear, perfume line and gives piano lessons on YouTube to Munich Bayern football club’s players. And cherry on the cake, his life was portrayed on the big screen and his biography was also published in a young readers’ format. To wrap it up, Lang Lang masters both the art of piano and all means of communication. So, when he authored a piano method for beginners, the event was of course an instant success. The five volumes have already found a buyer, like this music teacher who is waiting for it to be signed: “I immediately agreed with his approach," she explains. ‘’It is the first to offer a two-hand play from the very first lessons, with great dexterity. It's very interesting’’.
Encourage the children’s curiosity by involving them
The Lang Lang method is designed for children from 5 to 10 years old. To capture the attention of the youngest ones, the pianist builds his method around a journey through the repertoire led by an animated cartoon character inspired by his own image. ‘’Most children like music, but they can get reluctant when it comes to actual work, they have a hard time getting on with it. To them, ten minutes can seem like an eternity. This is for me one of the main challenges in a piano method. And since I'm a big fan of cartoons, it was a bit of a dream come true to become a cartoon character and guide them through the steps.’' Around repertoire pieces, the character pieces a story together, you to discover new things or practice sports in a series of preparatory exercises. The collection is at the same time a sort of notebook, with games, coloring and riddles that explain certain theoretical notions and appropriate the musical material.
Opening your musical scope to non-European music
Lang Lang explains: ‘’Today there are several teaching methods in the world, but most of them date back 40 years or more. Some are part of my own musical education, and that's fine. However, we have to bear in mind classical music today has far surpassed European borders. In China, for example, there are 50 million children learning to play the piano’’. He adds: ’’I wanted to create a fusion between tradition - of which Hanon or Czerny are part, and the multicultural universe in which the new generations evolve. And integrate elements from American and Asian, African and Australian music, alongside Mozart, Bach or Schubert, to open the repertoire to all cultural traditions and create a more global appeal".
Educate your ear to interpretation
And to do so from the very first pieces, Lang Lang recorded them all, from the simplest to the most complicated. "Unfortunately, most of the time, experienced pianists do not want to record songs for beginners. I loved doing it for two reasons: the students will be able to hear and understand what is a good interpretation, but most importantly, and this is true for the younger ones, they will feel that they are truly moving forward by my side, just like in the method.There's no age or song too simple to learn what a beautiful sound is,” says Lang Lang.
Playing with new technologies
All recorded pieces are accessible for download online, and the student can also use an app or view videos. This is a major argument to keep them motivated, according to Lang Lang: "New technologies can be a great medium, and you have to take advantage of them! nowadays, all the kids have a tablet: asking them to practice their piano on it can make the work more fun and less tedious. Not to mention that digital media now gives us much more autonomy. Some steps can be taken without the need for a personal 'coach', which was not at all possible just twenty years ago."
Laying the foundations for a progressive and balanced technique
But for Lang Lang, the foundation remains a solid and balanced technique that is gradually acquired from the very first lessons. This is the reason why a particular attention is paid to playing with both hands together. The pianist recall what Daniel Barenboim once said to him ‘’If you want the piano to become your best friend, you have to work on your technique from very early on. It is important to work simultaneously at mastering the entire keyboard surface and the dexterity of both hands. Franz Liszt said that in the hand of the pianist, each finger must be an independent entity, but the synergy must be 100% effective. It's like a football team: every individual is important, but what's essential is to get the group to play together." And he goes on saying that Cortot and Horowitz’ brains worked so well because their technique had reached a perfect balance between the two hands.
At the end of the meeting, Lang Lang approaches the audience. A young girl, apparently, a budding pianist, moves forward. Lang Lang, smiling, shakes her hand. Her mother whispers "You have the golden hand now". Not so fast...