Brendan Cooney, piano teacher

Triggering Improvisation

This article was originally published on the Golandsky Institute blog.

Triggering Improvisation

by Brendan Cooney (

When I was invited to contribute something to the new blog on the Golandsky Institute site I thought that it would be a good opportunity to share some ways I have applied a simple principle from the Taubman Approach in my development of ways to teach improvisation and syncopation.

The Taubman Approach has much to say about the interdependence of the two hands. Rather than conceiving of each hand as an entity controlled by a separate part of the brain, as if we were pressing ‘play’ on two tape-players at the same time, we are encouraged to eventually think and feel each musical moment as a singularity. Even before I have taught a student the complex skills of rotation, in and out, shaping, etc. I can still use this approach to interdependence to make notable improvements in a student’s playing. We take a passage and break it down into 3 types of moments- Right, Left and Both- corresponding to whether the right, left or both hands play at the same time. We first speak the order of moments out loud (ie “both, both, right, both, left left, both,”.. etc.) and then practice the sequences of motions physically at the piano ‘out of time’ before finally putting the passage in time. Each moment ‘triggers’ the next. By working out this process of triggering a passage involving tricky interdependence between hands can be made to feel natural and easy.

It was only relatively recently that I realized that I could use this approach to interdependence to help students overcome some problems quite common to the new student of improvisation. There are several overlapping stumbling blocks that I have often come across when teaching improvisation to students. Let me say a few words about each before I discuss how I think they may be connected and how a Taubman-informed approach to interdependence can aid in overcoming these problems.

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piano bench too low

Bench Height

One of the most important first steps in playing the piano is to find the correction bench height. Piano benches and pianos can be different heights. People come in different sizes and proportions. Learning how to find the correct bench height is something everyone should learn in their first piano lesson.

Imagine if every time a violinist the violin their bow was a different length. Imagine if every time a tennis player played tennis the net was a different height. Violinists and tennis players would never tolerate this! Yet for some reason pianists commonly move from one piano to the next oblivious to the fact that they are not in a consistent physical relation to the instrument. This is perhaps partly due to the misconception that playing the piano only requires the fingers, and not the whole forearm. But it is also partly due to a general ignorance among many piano teachers about even the most basic aspects of healthy piano technique.

piano bench too low
Glen Gould hurt himself sitting like this.

Continue reading Bench Height

Brendan Cooney, piano teacher

brendan 4

I am a Mt. Airy-based piano teacher well-versed in both Jazz and Classical piano traditions. I specialize in the teaching of healthy, coordinate technique and am certified in the instruction of the Taubman Approach to Coordinate Technique through the Golandsky Institutue. I have helped injured pianists recover from playing injuries and learn how to play pain-free. I teach students of all ages.

I teach out of my house in West Mt. Airy.

I teach on a 1912 Steinway A.