- Series: MIT Press
- Paperback: 171 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press (January 8, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262691612
- ISBN-13: 978-0262691611
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,799,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ways of the Hand Paperback – January 8, 1993
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With astonishing descriptive precision, the author compels the reader to think and feet along with him as his fingers progress toward intimacy with the keyboard. This is at once a work of minutely detailed phenomenology and a virtuoso performance of language in action.(Psychology Today)
A dazzling and deeply probing study of the relationship between human consciousness and behavior.(Jack Kroll Newsweek)
Original and detailed phenomenology of the sort that philosophers such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty promised but seldom carried out. [Sudnow's] minute observations are astounding. This book is a great contribution to our understanding of embodied know-how and to a foundation of a method for learning more.(Hubert L. Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley)
About the Author
David Sudnow is the author of Passing On, on the sociology of medical care; Talk's Body, on language and music; and Pilgrim in the Micro World, on the nature of the body-computer interface. Over the past two decades, he has developed a widely used piano teaching method on the basis of experiences first described in this book.
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I picked it up in a book store in the early 80's, tried several times to read it. Eventually I got through it, reading it like Shakespeare -- just going for the gist. I couldn't get it. I couldn't forget it.
Twenty years later wandering the stacks in a library, I found it again. Once again I picked it up. Once again, I thought Suds was on to something, or else just on something. Well, that led me to google his name and find his piano method.
I purchased the second re-written edition -- where he often substitutes clarity for poetry. He described "Ways of the Hand" as a book on how NOT to learn jazz -- focusing on particular scales and tone collections, breaking the discourse into particular jazz phonemes, into which one can build words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books. His frustration with this helped create his method, in which he takes a top down approach, breaking a sophisticated sound into something the "rest of us" can get our hands on.
In one of his website posts, I believe he said that if he had to do it all over again, he would have just take a solo, a piece, an improvisation, and take each step phrase by phrase, until he got it into his hands.
What I loved about Suds was his rebellious spirit: Iconoclast, academic, humanist, populist, comedian. He was all of that. He even rebelled against his own rules, breaking them with the first chord of Misty. And he encouraged the same in his students. After defining his voicing rules, he provided 18 pages of material (at least) on how to violate them.
As for myself, I had little use for the dot diagrams in his method. But his fractional notation really spoke to my condition. I felt like an old tin pan alley arranger, experimenting with different ways to get out the sound. (Steven Sondheim uses similar notation) It's a great deal of fun. And it will always be with me.
He never believed in playing by ear. He felt it to be a misnomer. He played by hand. He spoke of developing piano player hands. He titled his book "Ways of the Hand." not "Ways of the Ear." He just regarded the ear as the final arbiter, the judge of what stays and what goes.
It's amazing. He denied that his method was a jazz course. I showed his voicing rules to my teacher, a jazz pro. He stated simply, "It's Jazz."
The use of language demanded in ethnomethodological and phenomenological research is indeed challenging because of the necessity to describe and detail things that everyday language ignores, obscures or just can't touch.
There is no question that this puts substantive demands on the reader. One cannot 'just read' such reports any more than one can 'just write' superficial introspective account and consider them worth the ink.
To the prepared and engaged reader this book is more than an example of phenomenology; it is perhaps one of the best available. When you read it as Sudnow intended, his effort is felt as much or more than it is known in an intellectual sense. Highly, highly recommended for the prepared reader.
Occasional moments of clarity notwithstanding, Sudnow's book reads like a manual of how to convolute language beyond its capacity to render meaning. That this occurs in a book about music--arguably the most emotionally expressive of the arts--makes Sudnow's literary idiosyncrasies unforgivable. Expecting enlightenment, the hapless reader instead encounters turbid gems like this: "A rapidly paced entry into a way thus known could take it with a sure availability for a numerical articulational commitment, and with no prefigured digit counting. Its paceable availability, here and now, afforded securely paced entries whose soundfully targeted particular places would now be found in course, doing improvisation." It's English--well, most of it; he invents a word here and there--but totally meaningless, and far from insightful.
Examples like the one above paint every page, and only morbid curiosity can keep the pages turning. Let me save you some money: One piece of decent advice is mentioned in the book twice, and it does not originate with Mr. Sudnow. Namely, sing while you improvise. It will increase your sensitivity to what you are playing, and will connect you more intimately with the piano. Sing while you play, and listen to your idols. Have faith in yourself to find your own insights, and let Mr. Sudnow wander in the fog.
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