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With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music

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This best-seller by the nationally acclaimed pianist is a realistic program for conquering nervousness, sharpening concentration, and enhancing coordination. Bernstein observes that musicianship requires the same talents used in any activity, and shows how to develop a dedication to practice that can harmonize the musical and personal self.


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This best-seller by the nationally acclaimed pianist is a realistic program for conquering nervousness, sharpening concentration, and enhancing coordination. Bernstein observes that musicianship requires the same talents used in any activity, and shows how to develop a dedication to practice that can harmonize the musical and personal self.

30 review for With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Self-Discovery And The Piano My piano teacher recommended this book, "With your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music" (1981) to her adult students. The author, Seymour Bernstein, is a noted teacher, pianist, composer, and writer. I learned a great deal from this book about the love of music and about piano practice. I have been playing the piano for most of my adult life but only returned with some trepidation to take lessons about four years ago. This book needs to be read in the way Berns Self-Discovery And The Piano My piano teacher recommended this book, "With your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music" (1981) to her adult students. The author, Seymour Bernstein, is a noted teacher, pianist, composer, and writer. I learned a great deal from this book about the love of music and about piano practice. I have been playing the piano for most of my adult life but only returned with some trepidation to take lessons about four years ago. This book needs to be read in the way Bernstein recommends approaching a new piece to be learned at the keyboard. Bernstein recommends starting by struggling to read the piece through to get a sense of its musical message and its demands. If it is a piece that the student falls in love with, he or she is ready to begin the hard, detailed work required to learn the music. Bernstein says that "unconditional love" of a piece is required for the work of learning it well. So it is with this book. It needs to be read through as a whole to get a sense of where it is going and to draw the inspiration to persevere. The detailed exercises, specifics, and recommendations are to be approached selectively and over time. There is much to be learned from an initial cover-to-cover reading; but for the pianist, this is not a book that should simply be read through and put aside. The book proceeds in two related ways that tend to be intertwined throughout. First the book offers broad discussions about music and motivation. Bernstein articulates the value that people find by devoting themselves to the piano. He describes how playing music requires an integration of physical skill, feeling, and thought and then broadens this insight from the piano and music to argue that this integration is required to have a successful, full life. People who perform music seriously, for Bernstein, take one path of the many possible courses of self-realization. It is a necessary path for those devoted to it. There are allusions in the book to philosophy and literature, to meditative and breathing practices and to Zen Buddhism that cast a good deal of light on Bernstein's understanding of music and of practicing the piano. The second part of the book addresses the specifics of piano practice. Bernstein proceeds from broad considerations, such as improving one's concentration during practice time, to specific detailed instruction on matters such as body and hand position, rhythm and volume, securing the independence of the hands and fingers, voicing chords, pedaling, and much more. The book offers many detailed examples and exercises on aspects of piano technique. These sections ideally must be read over time and in detail in tandem with one's practice and always with a broad view of music-making in mind. The book is divided into three broad sections dealing with the necessity and motivations for practicing the piano, the discipline required to play at one's best, and performance, including memorization and overcoming nervousness. The book is written for pianists at all levels of abilities and talents. Bernstein does not write for performers with virtuoso or professional skills, but he does write for those who take their music seriously. For those who have music as part of their lives and want to share it with others, age and natural ability are secondary considerations at best. Bernstein writes eloquently throughout of amateurs who have busy lives and careers in other fields while making time for the pursuit of music. In the "Finale" of his book he writes of these amateurs: "Stimulated at the mere thought of turning a musical phrase with control and artistry, they approach their practicing with a religious fervor and a childlike enthusiasm born of an unconditional love. No one forces them to practice; they are drawn to it. Their lives, they admit unashamedly, would be meaningless without music. Such people, though they may be highly accomplished in their chosen fields, are in truth among the most devoted servants of music. It is they who dignify the status of amateurism." (p.283) Bernstein writes inspiringly and clearly. The book is full of stories and insights, each of which may strike chords for different readers. The book has many anecdotes about one of Bernstein's teachers, the great English pianist, Sir Clifford Curzon. A story that I liked involved Curzon and the music of Schubert, a composer I study. A student of Bernstein heard Sir Clifford perform Schubert's opus posthumous B-flat major piano sonata. He fell in love with the piece and wrote a poem about it which Bernstein then showed to Curzon. Curzon met the student, thanked him for the poem and said: "It is a grave responsibility to love a composer as much as you love Schubert. You have no other recourse then but to practice diligently so as to give back this love to others through performing." (p.203) The student practiced his Schubert and later told Bernstein: "I feel that my love for Schubert shows that I comprehend his music in some very special way. And I think it's this that gives me that grave responsibility Sir Clifford spoke about. You see I used to think I had no right even to speak of my feelings for Schubert's music, let alone try to project what I feel to others in my playing. Now, I'm convinced that what I feel is valid. But only by practicing intelligently do I earn the right to communicate my feelings to others." (p.204) It is a shame that this book currently is out-of-print. It is inspiring to read and will be valuable to serious students of the piano. Robin Friedman

  2. 5 out of 5

    Art

    This book intersects with Seymour: An Introduction, a documentary that screens three times during the Milwaukee Film Festival. Yesterday's screening played to an attentive house listening to every note. Among the best scenes, Seymour Bernstein trying pianos in the basement of Steinway and Sons, then giving a recital upstairs, in the beautiful ground floor hall on the piano he chose. http://mkefilm.org/seymour-an-introdu... Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times critic of architecture, appears in This book intersects with Seymour: An Introduction, a documentary that screens three times during the Milwaukee Film Festival. Yesterday's screening played to an attentive house listening to every note. Among the best scenes, Seymour Bernstein trying pianos in the basement of Steinway and Sons, then giving a recital upstairs, in the beautiful ground floor hall on the piano he chose. http://mkefilm.org/seymour-an-introdu... Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times critic of architecture, appears in the film, talking with Seymour. Kimmelman, as a boy, took piano lessons from Bernstein. Kimmelman wrote, among other books, The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, which I rated at four stars. The library ordered a couple copies of the DVD. Looking forward to seeing some scenes again plus any bonus features included on the disc. http://www.seymouranintroduction.com/...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    The author shows a lot of insight into the reasons behind pursuing music. He was so close to the truth, yet couldn't quite get there because he doesn't know the God who gave us music... at least that's the impression I got. There's also a lot of very practical information. I appreciated the chapter on technique though that's hard to communicate on the printed page, and the chapters on memorization and performing had a lot of good material. I wish I had spent more time taking notes and thinking o The author shows a lot of insight into the reasons behind pursuing music. He was so close to the truth, yet couldn't quite get there because he doesn't know the God who gave us music... at least that's the impression I got. There's also a lot of very practical information. I appreciated the chapter on technique though that's hard to communicate on the printed page, and the chapters on memorization and performing had a lot of good material. I wish I had spent more time taking notes and thinking over ideas as I read. I may come back to this book at some point.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

    I found this book inspirational while learning to play piano as an adult.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alice Harbin

    I thought that all in all this was a helpful book for any pianist/organist. (written for pianists) I skimmed through some chapters, but since I was preparing for playing in church, I found the pages that addressed performance issues to be helpful. Perhaps I will return to this book later, but it is borrowed and I've kept it long enough. By the way, my performance was satisfactory, but then I am somewhat of a perfectionist. I set up the performance to try to motivate myself to practice more and tha I thought that all in all this was a helpful book for any pianist/organist. (written for pianists) I skimmed through some chapters, but since I was preparing for playing in church, I found the pages that addressed performance issues to be helpful. Perhaps I will return to this book later, but it is borrowed and I've kept it long enough. By the way, my performance was satisfactory, but then I am somewhat of a perfectionist. I set up the performance to try to motivate myself to practice more and that was achieved.

  6. 5 out of 5

    pianogal

    For someone who did not go to music school - this book would be very helpful. As someone who did, I'm not sure there was a lot of new ideas here. I should also say that while I appreciate Seymour's talent, I'm not sure that he would be a great teacher for me. He's very rigid in his ideas and in repertoire. It took me the better part of twenty years to throw that off and find my own musical voice. Interesting read (and interesting film by Ethan Hawke). Definitely food for thought. For someone who did not go to music school - this book would be very helpful. As someone who did, I'm not sure there was a lot of new ideas here. I should also say that while I appreciate Seymour's talent, I'm not sure that he would be a great teacher for me. He's very rigid in his ideas and in repertoire. It took me the better part of twenty years to throw that off and find my own musical voice. Interesting read (and interesting film by Ethan Hawke). Definitely food for thought.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Kline

    Intended for such a specific audience (concertizing pianists or teachers of students with intentions of performing professionally). Not engaging for your everyday piano teacher.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert T.

    This is the work of a virtuoso teacher. If your professional library had to be limited to one book, this would be the one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Louise Silk

    What a guy. If you didn't see the documentary called Seymour you are missing something great. The book is a great summary of all of his teaching. If I were a musician, I would give it 5 stars for sure, but most of the advise works for any artist. I loved understanding how musicians memorize those long unruly pieces of music- starting at the end. "This has remained for me:how music in its wisdom can govern the way a person lives; how its uncompromising standards can make a person discriminating in What a guy. If you didn't see the documentary called Seymour you are missing something great. The book is a great summary of all of his teaching. If I were a musician, I would give it 5 stars for sure, but most of the advise works for any artist. I loved understanding how musicians memorize those long unruly pieces of music- starting at the end. "This has remained for me:how music in its wisdom can govern the way a person lives; how its uncompromising standards can make a person discriminating in everything he does. Just as a musician upholds and reveres the principles of his art, he should steer a course in life that is free of dishonesty, selfishness, and ignorance. He can draw strength from the absolute beauty he finds in music -a beauty of which he is himself a part. And as he probes into those regions deep within himself where everything is knowable, he becomes that ideal performer- a contributor not only to artistic values, but of human values as well."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lori Hanken

    This was a gift to me from my college piano professor upon graduating. It was a perfect gift. It is a great book for any type of performer!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Celia Herrera

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rationalize

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ann

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alice Ho

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Manchur

  16. 4 out of 5

    Krysta

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dele Omotosho

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

  19. 4 out of 5

    David

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Emmert

  21. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jayne Smith

  24. 4 out of 5

    Toni

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dubravka

  26. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mona

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Webber

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hsiangtu

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