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Harvesting the Riches of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos

Bartok’s Mikrosomos is unique in many ways and its pieces can be startlingly effective in the piano studio. It’s also incredibly concise. The six slim volumes span the complete range of pianistic ability; the first piece in Volume I can be taught at the very first lesson, and the sophisticated Volume 6 pieces are advanced concert gems.

But – everything depends on how Mikrokosmos is taught. The technical approach must be utterly consistent, and specific. Using these pieces as a method, students quickly “make their own” an essential vocabulary of physical movements that establishes a comfortable basis for later artistry. Bartok can literally change their lives!

Bartok's Mikrokosmos

What they teach

Each piece is a compositional gem, witty and creative. Students learn to:

  1. Focus and problem-solve: the pieces are trickier than they look, full of surprises. Once we “crack the code” of how to master their challenges, they simply make us smarter in the practice room.
  2. Open their ears and minds: Mikrokosmos is stylistically refreshing – attractively dissonant, poetic, playful, mysterious, unpredictable.
  3. Use arm gestures, not just fingers: This is a healthy and satisfying use of the body.

How I use them

The pieces of Mikrokosmos have been my favorite teaching resource for decades. They offer both a highly effective and focused technical method while being delightful – I never get tired of them! However, Bartok didn’t specify how to use them; therefore we have to find our own way.

In my new video series on the Online Academy, I share my step-by-step approach to these pieces, geared to getting the most benefit from each one. This series organises the six volumes around the following key themes: 

Isolate and exaggerate

This is the main “power tool” for practising that Mikrokosmos teaches us to use. It simply means fearlessly exaggerating the physicality of specific moments of playing. It is a tremendously effective way to practise ANY repertoire and get quick results.

The following excerpt from my video series gives a vivid illustration of how to apply it:

Technical courage and comfort

Along with fearlessness comes comfort, i.e. freedom from tension. This is the greatest preventive of possible playing-related injury, and it makes the act of playing fun.

Bridging the Gap

Mikrokosmos trains us to be alert on many levels, technically and artistically, with ALL our repertoire. This series demonstrates how to bridge the gap from the special world of Bartok “back” to the other classical composers.

Benefits of the Mikokosmos

I am truly excited about this opportunity to share, in detail, why I treasure Mikrokosmos so much. Over the years I’ve used it very effectively with beginners – and equally effectively with experienced pianists at the doctoral level needing to revamp their technique in order to free themselves from tension, control their phrasing, beautify their tone, etc. As a pianistic method, Mikrokosmos is indispensable and in a class by itself.

Mikrokosmos develops pianism at all levels – most especially when it comes to sharp thinking and physical enjoyment. These are, after all, key components of making piano study a satisfying experience. I encourage everyone to dive in with curiosity, patience and a very open mind.

A great place to start is the Introductory sections of Video #1. Enjoy!

Further Links & Resources