Piano Elbow Crowding

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James said: Nov 6, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

I am a still green teacher in some areas. I found myself trying to solve a student’s problem the other day and feeling befuddled—she is 7 years old, practicing Ecosaisse, and on page two moves her left hand up to play in the middle C area….the elbow then crowds her torso, which convinces me to try to make a choice—move the bench back and away from the piano to start with (which is not ideal for her arms in general), tilt back the torso (definitely not recommended), have her lean sideways (shouldn’t be held for long). Any suggestions? Thanks all you seasoned pros!

Lori Bolt said: Nov 7, 2011
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Hmmm…seems like there would only be a small difference between “A” section and “B” as far as the elbow goes. I sat down at my piano and noticed my left forearm is reaching in, but elbow is still a little bit out—except pointing at a diagonal, not straight back. I also noticed that when I scooted myself closer on the bench I felt less freedom, more cramped in left arm….so you may want to try a very small adjustment of the bench away from the keys to see how that works. I agree that tilting, leaning are not the way to go. Is she trying to place her whole arm in front of her?

What did her elbow look like in Book 1—Little Playmates, Allegretto 1 & 2, etc.? I have sometimes allowed younger students to sit a bit to the right of center on these pieces to help them feel comfortable.

Lori Bolt

James said: Nov 7, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Thanks Lori for your thoughts. You’re right, I have to think this through from the beginning of the piece, since the left hand isn’t moving from section A to B. I must have moved her to accommodate the right hand jump first…and then noticed the conflict.
I inherited this 7 year old student from the master teacher Doris Koppelman, who recently passed away, so I didn’t have her during the Book One pieces.

The diagonal elbow seems to be your initial recommendation, along with moving the bench back a little. I’ll try the bench back. I am concerned with a diagonal elbow in that there isn’t as much room to move and then the wrist might be twisting to the left.

Lori Bolt said: Nov 8, 2011
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Jimmy—you’ve given me something to observe and analyze in my own students. How blessed you are to have this student with Doris’ instruction as her foundation! I was fortunate to receive instruction and observe Doris teach at workshops offered here in Orange Co. She was a tremendous teacher trainer—she will be missed.

Since this student came to you knowing Book 1, can you analyze what she does during those pieces I mentioned?

I’m curious to know how your own left elbow & wrist are positioned when you play a piece w/LH in middle C postion. Or anyone else reading this discussion.

Lori Bolt

Karen said: Nov 9, 2011
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

One thing that I have observed in a lot of my students is that (as Lori has said) they try to sit way too close to the piano. If they are too close, playing that left hand in middle C position is super awkward. I make sure that their elbows are always in line with their chest and not their spine. I also have a “princess” (or “prince”) elbows rule. If they get too close to their sides, they become T-Rex elbows (or puppy elbows as one of my students has told me in no uncertain terms) and if they get too far and stick out, they are chicken elbows! It definitely works with the kids (although can get out of hand if they have had too much sugar that day. The day after Halloween was a trial.)

James said: Nov 9, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

Lori provided the most important advice— try it myself. Sitting a little further away from the piano was easy, yet I have long arms and a large torso. I still puzzle about the smaller bodies’ ability to sit further back without overextending arms. Karen’s chest level measure indicates to me that children should be able to lean forward more than perhaps I have been recommending. Of all adjustments, sitting further back and being slightly more forward those natural, so thank you very much. Thanks to this forum, I have guides to calibration— and I do mean calibration, as this is often a matter of inches!

Karen said: Nov 9, 2011
Karen Huffman
Suzuki Association Member
Piano, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Portland, OR
28 posts

I always keep in mind that it is never too early to teach kids advanced techniques, or rather, prepare them for advanced techniques. Giving their arms and bodies room to move will always make things easier immediately and later on down the road, especially when they start playing long scales or pieces that require lots of jumping around. Good luck!

Laura said: Nov 13, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

If it’s not too late to jump into the discussion…!

I’m wondering if the crowded elbow has to do with poor hand/finger positioning in the LH, particularly having to hold down the 5th finger while alternating the 3rd and thumb. If finger technique is good, the hand shape should be able to hold its own.

But many beginners have naturally weak pinkies, for which they like to compensate in any number of ways. A popular one seems to be to let it fall down sideways to the outside (i.e. to the left for LH), causing the LH in general to also twist slightly to the outside, or even slightly counterclockwise in addition to that. When I try to re-create this, I find that my elbow naturally wants to draw itself inward towards my body to counteract the hand twisting outwards.

Check whether the top of the hand is horizontally balanced, and not sloping down to outside. Also remind the student (using whatever creative terminology suits the both of you) to keep the elbow relaxed and hanging down.

If this is the problem, then you might also notice a flopping-over pinky (and similarly sloped hand) in any LH Alberti bass. You will then need to work on positioning and strengthening of the LH pinky. Review the LH solid triads in Mary Had a Little Lamb. Also review the LH of Cuckoo, Allegretto 1, and Musette from Book 1—playing these “over-the-rainbow” LH patterns properly will require the student to focus on good pinky technique. Pinky-only Twinkles can also work wonders!

Of course, having not seen your student, this is just a guess. Please ignore if this isn’t the situation.

James said: Nov 19, 2011
James Guerin
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
27 posts

I have taken to heart the use of triads to help the LH pinky as it develops balance for the Alberti bass. In fact, with some students I allow them to start hands together with chords in Lightly Row rather than the Alberti.

I like PT’s correlating the elbow crowding to the possible collapse of the pinky.

For me the best initial response to a crowded elbow is to seat the student a tiny bit further back and “observe”. Then I can also ask her what she can do to free her elbow and see what she does naturally.

As I stated, there is a possible conflict in returning to Book One immediately, though I see a need to review that level. Therefore I would like to give her materials that are “just like Suzuki” but not the same songs at that level. Someone has mentioned Method Rose to me, though I know that’s for reading.

What is best about the variety of techniques to employ is the initial “huh?” feeling when I see a problem, which is often related to a particular student’s height, hand or age, is solvable in the course of trying out the techniques, not at the moment like an instant diagnosis. As I make adjustments, I “see” and then a solution develops. So thanks everyone again.

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