Have you ever heard of Vicente Scaramuzza? Perhaps not, but if you are involved in the world of the piano, then the names Sergio Tiempo, Mauricio Kagel, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, and Martha Argerich may be familiar to you.
In fact, all of these world-renowned pianists have a couple of things in common. They are all from Argentina, and they were all educated using the Scaramuzza method.
Who was Vicente Scaramuzza? What makes his piano teaching technique so effective?
Let's take a look!
Born in 1885 in Crotone, Italy, Scaramuzza's father introduced him to the piano. Francesco Scaramuzza was himself a celebrated piano teacher, and his instruction enabled Vicente Scaramuzza to begin offering public performances at the tender age of seven. Eventually, Scaramuzza would pass a challenging test that won him a scholarship to the Academy of Music of San Pietro a Maiella in Naples.
At the Academy, Scaramuzza was instructed by some of the finest pianists of the era. He earned his diploma and began a career as a concert pianist. However, Scaramuzza must not have been satisfied because he aspired to teach piano instead of playing it in concert.
Obtaining a piano teaching position at one of Italy's prestigious music schools was a complex and highly bureaucratic process. Scaramuzza took part in a national competition that resulted in him being awarded a minor post at an academy in Naples.
Still dissatisfied, Scaramuzza chafed against the rules of Italy's music education system. He wanted more freedom of expression as an artist. Leaving Italy began to look like an attractive option, and Scaramuzza soon made his way to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, Scaramuzza began teaching at the Santa Cecilia Academy of Music. He soon married one of his students, and in 1912, he established the Scaramuzza Academy of Music.
Scaramuzza also resumed his work as a concert pianist, playing all over Argentina and Europe. Recognized as a virtuoso, audiences and other musicians marveled at the confidence with which Scaramuzza played even the most complicated passages.
Scaramuzza gave his last concert in 1923 so that he could focus on teaching. This was when he focused his energy on perfecting what would one day be known as the Scaramuzza method.
A Study in Anatomy
Scaramuzza took a rather unusual approach to polish his teaching technique. He began with an intensive study of anatomy. This understanding enabled him to create a method that allowed pianists to assume a fully relaxed position at the piano. Accordingly, there was little tension in the tendons and muscles of the hands and arms, a characteristic that could be maintained even when playing the most complicated passages.
What were the benefits of using the Scaramuzza method? Pianists say that these benefits include:
- Producing a smoother sound
- The notes always are round
- The technique never allows for a metallic sound, even while in fortissimo
- The pianist experiences no stiffening of the muscles
Although Scaramuzza's techniques were revolutionary and highly successful, he never wrote about his methods, nor did he leave behind an instruction manual.
Instead, his theories live on in the minds of his students and their students. Maria Rosa Oubiña de Castro, one of Scaramuzza's students, published a book in 1973 based on a compilation of notes and casual writings that Scaramuzza created during his lifetime. Four additional books have been published about his methods.
The Scaramuzza Technique
One of the reasons why Scaramuzza's teaching style is so effective is that it does away with any mysticism or subjectivity. That is because Scaramuzza believed that when it came to teaching a student how to play the piano, it was essential to avoid subjectivity. The concepts that needed to be learned should be crystal clear to the teacher so that they could be successfully imparted to the student.
Accordingly, the Scaramuzza technique is a pragmatic one. Playing the piano is broken down into a series of steps, movements, and positions of the fingers and arms.
In a celebrated paper, Marcelo G. Lian of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln wrote that one of the things that makes the Scaramuzza technique unusual is that he emphasized the unique sound of each piece of music. Accordingly, each piece required specialized arm, wrist, and finger movements to produce the right quality of sound. This meant that Scaramuzza would provide robust tools to solve the technical dilemmas that face pianists on a regular basis.
Lian goes on to explain that Scaramuzza believed that achieving the right sound for a musical goal in a piece required the musician to go beyond identifying an octave as an octave. Instead, the sound of any particular octave was affected by its context. This context helped to determine the "physical approach and muscle group involved in its execution."
Another one of Scaramuzza's primary concerns was that there should always be perfect smoothness between passages of music. In Scaramuzza's mind, music was meant to flow without restriction. He described this effect as being "cantabile," and he emphasized this to his students to enhance their interpretation of musical pieces.
To achieve a smoother flow, Scaramuzza would instruct his students to use finger substitution so that a fuller tone would be generated throughout the melody. This technique also minimizes the reliance on pedaling.
Because Scaramuzza put so much emphasis on anatomy, he was able to construct a playing style that was utterly relaxed without unnecessary strain to the fingers, wrists, arms, or shoulders. Thus, the musician is free to seek the perfect sound without worrying about tension spoiling the effect.
In-Depth with Scaramuzza's Teaching Methods
Scaramuzza's technique relies on five main elements. These are:
- Arm Movement
- Forearm Movement
- Finger Movement
- Rotation Movement
- Wrist Movement
By delving into each of these elements, it is possible to see what sets Scaramuzza's technique apart from other styles.
Scaramuzza instructed his students to place their arms at a 90-degree angle before playing a piece of music. The shoulders were relaxed, as were the arms and the back. To begin playing, the arms are allowed to fall freely, without any tension. This prepares the pianist to play without stiffness.
New piano students quickly discover how much power is needed to get a good sound out of the instrument. Scaramuzza's technique focused on forearm movement as a means of giving the pianist greater power for chords.
To use this forearm movement, lift the forearm slowly, bringing the wrist along with the forearm. Ensure that the fingers are in proximity to the notes that are about to be played. Without allowing tension to enter the body, bring the forearm down to the standard position. Listen as the chord fills the room with an assertive sound.
This may be the most critical of all of the elements of Scaramuzza's technique. That's because the fingers are in constant use while playing the piano. When a pianist develops excellent finger movement with this technique, then each finger can move independently without needing to rely on any other part of the body. This gives each finger the freedom to roam, enabling the musician to produce any effect from playing with incredible speed to making sounds that are extremely soft or loud. Most importantly, deft finger movement allows for precise playing.
Scaramuzza's technique for rotational movements is critical for successfully playing trills and tremolos. In his lessons, Scaramuzza counseled students to select a pivot point, typically the thumb, that does not leave the key. The wrist is then slightly tilted toward the next notes to allow the tone to really shine through.
This is a crucial movement for playing staccatos and similar sounds, but it also is one of the hardest to accomplish. This is because it requires the musician to focus on any tension in the bicep. When done correctly, this wrist movement makes it possible to move the wrist in a short, quick manner that produces crisp, rapid notes.
Why Choose the Scaramuzza Technique?
Piano teachers around the world now use the principles pioneered by Scaramuzza. Of course, other teachers rely on other, quite different, instructional techniques.
The Scaramuzza technique works for many students because it enables them to truly gain control of the instrument. Students learn how to precisely articulate each note in a piece, making the music sound exactly how they want it to sound. The result is fewer mistakes and more expressive playing.
Begin with Prodigies
Even Vicente Scaramuzza had to begin his musical education somewhere. Help your kids and students discover the joy of music through the fun and fascinating programs available here at Prodigies. Our lessons introduce children of all abilities to a lasting passion for listening to, playing, and creating music.