piano technique

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Diana said: Mar 29, 2006
Diana Umile
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

I read this on a piano teachers’ email group. Comments?

…….I am regularly dealing with ex-Suzuki students
who play with either their wrists level, fingers curved,
or with straight fingers, but invariably producing a
funny, tinklish sound, with random, shallow legato.
Sorry, but that’s what I’ve seen and heard over several
years. For me, playing the same key—several times, with the
same finger (”Twinkle, twinkle” variation, Book I),
even if taught as you described, is the best way to have
the habit of poking the keys installed in students—for life.
Thing is that, when I rise the topic with Suzuki followers
(from either camp), I always hear the “it’s these few
bad apples who do not teach properly” response.
I don’t see that to be true. (But I definitely do not blame teachers for ill motives.)

Melissa said: Mar 29, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

Hmm… somewhat out of context.
I definately know that my students don’t play like the way this person describes. And I am a Suzuki teacher.
I wonder how ALL of his/her students play?

Diana said: Mar 30, 2006
Diana Umile
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

Well, we had been having a discussion about technique, and I mentioned Suzuki teachers’ emphasis on natural technique based on Kataoka’s teachings and the Piano Basics teachers’ methods, hence her statement “even if taught as you described”, and this is the response.

Laura said: Apr 1, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

That experience is unfortunate. As a Suzuki piano teacher who was also raised in Suzuki piano, I believe that the techniques taught to beginning Suzuki piano students are very successful when taught propertly.

The key to good piano technique, as with any other instrument, is ease of movement.

Teaching Twinkle A using forearm action is not supposed to generate a “hitting” or “poking” technique. Nor is it supposed to create awkwardly flat or curved fingers. Rather, it is supposed to teach the student to feel the full relaxed dead-weight of his arm, and to teach his finger tips to support this weight in the most ergonomic manner. The natural weight of the body and arm flows freely toward the keyboard without tension, and the fingertips develop the strength to deliver this weight to the keys.

I always begin by teaching students how to “drop” (i.e. purely by gravity) and to use the curved hand position that naturally results from a fully relaxed hand. When you’re not thinking about it, your hand will form a natural curve from the wrist right down to the fingertips, and your thumb will curve slightly inwards. This is proper hand position on the piano that produces the greatest ease of movement. More importantly though, this is the proper FEEL of the hand and arm that produces the greatest ease of movement. Over time, the student will learn to isolate the strength in their fingers while never losing the delivery of that strength through a fully relaxed arm and wrist. This later allows a pianist to have a very warm, non-harsh piano sound, even when playing very fast passages. (Good pianists, when playing very fast, barely have to move their fingers!)

So, if Twinkle A is taught using forearm action with the concept of feeling the full dead-weight of the forearm, a student will naturally adopt the more percussive approach of striking or poking. Relaxation MUST be the key.

When finger-only technique is first taught, I find the results even worse: students try to move their fingers up and down in a deliberate mannner before they learn to relax. The result is a tense hand, tense wrist, and tense forearm that are all required to compensiate for this type of finger movement before the fingers are ready. Then the technique becomes awkward, and the tone too. I have had several students (with previous piano experience) whom I’ve had to correct in this regard, with good results.

Teaching good finger technique can only happen after good arm technique (i.e. relaxed) is established. Then you can begin to show students how strong their playing can feel in their fingers (and how pleasing it can sound to their ears) by their arm weight alone, without ever having to actually deliberately push or strike the keys… it’s hard enough to deliver a full arm weight! Later, it’s easy to concentrate on teaching the fingers what to do, once you’re not fighting the rest of the hands, wrists, or arms. I believe it’s similar to not allowing ballet students to dance on their pointes until they are strong enough to do to properly.

Hope that helps! I believe that good technique can be taught either through Suzuki or non-Suzuki, but the opposite can also be true. It honestly depends on the teacher and how he/she understands how to play. Personally, I like the Suzuki approach of teaching arm technique first, but like everything, it must be taught properly.

Melissa said: Apr 1, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

purple_tulips:
This is fascinating! Please do not be offended, and for you this technique you have described may work. I was taught in this manner that you described (traditionally) and literally developed tendonitis and had to quit playing piano for 5 years!
I then took a Suzuki Piano Basics Workshop and the natural technique that Dr. Kataoka taught us made complete sense and my tendonitis was cured.
It is all in the fingers! Never poking or hitting or striking the keys but instead “taking” from the piano with flexible finger tips. Yes, when playing, all of your natural arm weight is given onto the tip of your fingers, but it is the the finger that produces the tone first. Always. Yes, everything is relaxed except the finger that is taking the note from the piano. Just as if you were picking something up with your hands. A very natural movement. The arms are to be carried, because that is what you are doing when you are sitting on the bench and ready to play. When carrying the arms, your hands naturally hang from your wrists. This is correct hand position. Shoulders down, arms carried (naturally) finger over the note to be played. Finger independence needs to be taught correctly right from the beginning in order to play Book one pieces and beyond with the greatest of ease and with beautiful tone.
Again, what works for you and your students might not work for me, and vice versa. But whoever wrote in on the board Pianolover was taking about I think has not seen enough piano students in general: Suzuki Piano Basics Students, Suzuki Piano Students and traditionally taught students for that matter, it might also help for her to use her ears, and truly listen to how her own students’ playing sounds.

Laura said: Apr 2, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

OOPS! I made a big typo…

My fifth paragraph should have read:

So, if Twinkle A is taught using forearm action WITHOUT [not WITH] the concept of feeling the full dead-weight of the forearm, a student will naturally adopt the more percussive approach of striking or poking. Relaxation MUST be the key.

Sorry!

Laura said: Apr 3, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Honeybee,

I agree with you completely about the finger technique! I admit I’m a little confused about how your experience (if it was as I had described) could have produced tendonitis (ouch! you poor thing…) or anything similar, since great attention is taken to ensure that everything is relaxed. I.e. for complete beginners, Step 1: Learn to Relax and listen to the difference it makes in the sound. Thus, I usually teach Twinkle A with a “drop” technique at first. Even if their fingers aren’t quite fully engaged yet and might miss a few notes here and there, I find this less critical at the very beginning than the bigger goal of establishing the relaxed arm weight. As they progress, their finger strength and “aim” improves.

Just so there’s no confusion, I actually do agree completely with the natural finger technique you so beautifully described; it’s what I use myself and also teach. (A favorite teaching game, for example, is to have the student squish holes backwards into plasticine with the fingertips, using the natural “grabbing” motion.) I just find it personally very difficult to teach this to a complete beginner learning Twinkle A for the first time. I just don’t like to do anything with the finger action until the student has fully learned to relax the arm and hand.

I usually introduce the natural finger action for the first time atl Twinkle B, on the long sustained note (on piano anyways… I understand that for strings they’re all detached??). That’s a perfect opportunity because of the natural focus on that one long note (and how to make it sound beautiful, using natural finger action with a slightly forward-rolling wrist follow-through). By then, the students are more aware of isolating their finger strength from the rest of their hands/arms/body which should be tension-free. Then we can apply the natural finger action as we review/polish Twinkle A, to achieve the bright, detached sound as in the recordings.

Perhaps it’s because of the experience I’ve had having to re-train students with previous piano experience (their finger action was exaggerated and caused very tense wrists and forearms), that I’ve adopted the “drop first” approach to Twinkle A before attempting to introduce the finger action.

In full agreement with Honeybee, I believe that the goal for all pianists is to move the fingers as strongly and quickly as possible without any undue tension from other parts of the body… this lack of tension helps deliver the strength to the fingers. This is the key to facility of movement and beautiful sound. It really pays off in pieces like Fur Elise, Cuckoo (the Daquin one, not the Book 1 one!) or any of the Mozart Sonatas later on…. whether or not these pieces end up sounding fluid and etherial, or pedantic. I guess there are several possible approaches to introducing the correct technique to complete beginners. For myself, I find that I have the best success teaching relaxed forearm technique first with Twinkle A, and then only later introducing the natural finger technique as it’s being further polished. It’s usually quite nicely settled in by the time the students is learning Twinkle D anyway.

Incidentally, my teachers studied with Madame Kataoka, and I even had the privilege of playing for her in some workshops when she came to N.America. So you could say I was taught the natural finger technique well… but it’s another thing to now teach it myself!! The whole experience gives me a lot of respect for teachers who are “known” to produce students with good technique.

By the way, Honeybee, I have read many of your posts here and it sounds like you are a very good teacher with much wisdom to share. I enjoy reading your contributions. Thank you!

Maria said: Apr 3, 2006
 3 posts

Dear Honeybee

What advice would you give to a parent whose children have changed from a Suzuki Teacher to a Suzuki Piano Basics teacher? Considering that we are an extremely committed family and follow daily practice, etc., what do you think is the bigggest challenge in such a transition? Would you go back to the Twinkles even as you go on with the literature? Do you have any experience with a situation like this?

Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much!

“The romance of your child’s childhood is the last romance you can give up.” From the book “Paris to the Moon”, by Adam Gopnik.

Maria said: Apr 3, 2006
 3 posts

Dear Honeybee

What advice would you give to a parent whose children have changed from a Suzuki Teacher to a Suzuki Piano Basics teacher? Considering that we are an extremely committed family and follow daily practice, etc., what do you think is the bigggest challenge in such a transition? Would you go back to the Twinkles even as you go on with the literature? Do you have any experience with a situation like this?

Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much!

“The romance of your child’s childhood is the last romance you can give up.” From the book “Paris to the Moon”, by Adam Gopnik.

Melissa said: Apr 5, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

Thank you purple_tulips for your kind words.
What does not make sense to me in regards to hand position that so many teachers teach, is they say a natural hand postition is one that when your arms naturally hang by your sides, this is the way your hand should be when it is over the keyboard.
This to me is very unnatural for playing the piano. Reason is, that when playing the piano your arm is not hangng down by your sides. It is having to be carried. Now, if you carry your arms, (you can do this right now, carry your arms like a scarecrow or a marionette) what are your hands naturally doing? They are hanging from your wrists. They are not curved, fingers hang down, wrists are higher than knuckles.
This is a natural hand position.
This is how we “get ready” over the note (key) we are about ready to play.
The thumb naturally moves sideways “taking” when playing, when not playing it is tucked under. Fingers sweep and “take” from the piano, using pad to tip. The arm is relaxed and naturally moves, because the fingers move, not vice-versa.
Also, correct posture with feet flat so your body is balanced is key.
What caused my tendonitis, I think is the unnatural hand position that I described, and not ever being taught to “take” with my fingers, and not having my thumb move sideways when playing.

To Maria:
Yes, I would have the student go back to Twinkles for sure, while they are learning their pieces. I even do this with my students that have started with me, if I see it is necessary. I have a student who is in Book 6 (excellent little pianist) and we went back to Twinkles for a time, I felt she was not playing with a deep enough tone, so we worked on Twinkles, which really helped. They are so awesome for technique.
It is diffcult when the student is a transfer student, especially if they are heading into Book 2 and beyond. There is so much to be taught in Book 1 to set the foundations for higher levels. But I believe if the student does not want to go back to Book 1 and learn the pieces again, correctly, then much work needs to be done in sections with the repertoire being learned, played with correct technique. In regards to tone, if you are playing with correct technique the tone will be beautiful. So always listen to your child’s tone in order to establish his/her technique.

Lynn said: Apr 6, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

I am a violinist, which means that I manipulate the bow, which touches the string, and there are so many ways I can vary/change/control the contact point.

On a piano, there is only one basic action that generates sound. When I watch pianists play, where I see variation in sound production is in approaching the key, and after releasing the key …. which means that much of the piano is “played” in the air over the keys?

Forgive me for sounding naive, but my piano lessons never discussed tone production, and my knowledge of such is strictly push-key-hammer-strikes-string. I get the hard/loud gentle/soft connection, but even though I can hear the rest it, why it actually works is a question I haven’t been able to logic my way through!

Melissa said: Apr 6, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

Lucy,
There really is one basic action that generates a sound when playing the violin too, correct? Sorry if I am naive. But I do understand what your saying, which is what most people think in regards to playing the piano.
Really the only difference between the two instruments is intonation.
It’s true anybody can produce a sound when you depress a key on a piano. Anybody can also produce a sound when bowing across a violin string. But it takes a natural technique, I would think with violinists as well, to produce a BEAUTIFUL sound (tone) on the violin. It is the same with piano tone. How a pianist strikes the key, or hopefully not strike it, this determines the tone the pianist will produce.
Stop BANGING on the piano! This is a good example when the sound (tone) is most unpleasant. It can even be more specific and defined with a wide spectrum of tonal qualities when teaching piano, (although most piano teachers do not teach in this way, unfortunately) listening for the best tone possible, when playing.

Melissa said: Apr 6, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

Lucy,
After reading your post again, you were questioning, how, because the hammer strikes the string regardless of how you depress the key. I think is what you are questioning? And, I’m not sure. It is interesting though, when you play by taking the key with your fingers, naturally, the tone is so much warmer and rounder than if you just pressed the key down with you finger. Perhaps the hammer isn’t hitting the string as hard when you play more naturally.
I would need to ask a piano technician. This is a very good question.

Lynn said: Apr 6, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

There really is one basic action that generates a sound when playing the violin too, correct?

Actually, no, and yes, that’s the source of my question. Yes the bow makes the string vibrate, but there are a myriad ways to start the vibration, stop the vibration, how fast or slow the bow moves over the string, how close or far from the bridge, how light or heavy the bow… all you have is a hammer hitting a string to start the sound, and the damper stopping the strings when the key or pedal is released. So where does your “wide spectrum of tone qualities” come from?

Okay, here’s this: I heard Barry Snyder perform last weekend, and in one piece with beautiful, lyrical passage work, it looked almost as if he were drawing the sound up out of the keys and giving it it’s final shape, if you will in the air over the keys. But, logically, why would all that wafting about with his hands in the air as/after he took his fingers off the keys make a difference, since the hammer has already struck and fallen away, the sound has already happened, and as soon as he released the key the damper fell? But I could hear it.

Maybe this is just one of life’s mysteries.

Melissa said: Apr 6, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

The wide specturm of tonal qualities comes from the energy of your fingers, arms and body, intinsically working together in perfect sequence to what you want the tone to sound like. I know a lot of people may disagree with me, but you can control the tone on the piano like with the violin or any other instrument.
When teaching tone to a person that has never experienced listening, I would say a beginner, but there are so many “accomplished” musicians that, sorry, just do not listen, I would first have them play with a harsh tone and then teach them to produce a beautiful round tone. These are just the basics and this takes time, practice, experimenting and listening. Once a beautiful natural tone can be produced, and by the way each person has their own unique natural tone, then you can really have fun! By playing marcato, stacatto, legato, quietly, loudly etc, etc… but with always a pleasing tone. You can even play FF with a percussive style, I’m thinking a piece by Prokofiev for example and it will still sound warm not harsh, but yet percussive. You can define and control what you want to hear. This to me is true art.
What is happening inside the piano? Have no idea really. It’s physics, perhaps. Do you know what is happening with the bow and strings when playing your violin when a beautiful warm tone is being produced?
I think it is the same kind of thing. A science kind of a thing.
Thanks for your pondering and interest, you must be a fine musician, thinking about these things.

Laura said: Apr 6, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Honeybee:

Hmm, I wonder if we’re not talking about the same thing with regards to finger technique, and it’s just a matter of communication. I do wholeheartedly concur with you about “taking” the note with your finger—I just don’t use that term, but that IS what I teach my students (but just not in Twinkle A the first time around… just a personal preference as previously mentioned). But regardless of terminology, it is definately how to produce a beautiful tone without tension, whether playing slow or fast, and also how to play most ergonomically (which helps when eventually having to play very fast and/or very loud), always with the best tone quality.

When I talk about the “natural hand postion” being how one’s hands hang at the sides, I’m talking about the hand itself, not the arms hanging downwards. I’m also talking about a fully relaxed arm and hand, not a military-style “stand-up-straight” posture. So the hand is indeed relaxed, the fingers and thumb curve slightly inward. This is just what hands and fingers DO (or how they exist, to be more descriptive) most naturally, when they’re not doing anything and are completely relaxed.

So when I’m showing this to a student, I would first establish that “lazy hand” by having the student let his/her arms hang down naturally at the sides, not because I’m trying to achieve this arm position, but because I’m merely trying to show them how to RELAX and let gravity take its course. Then, I would take their forearm (with my hand underneath) and bring it up to above the keyboard, asking them to stay relaxed while I do all the work of moving their forearm. Then I would point out the feel of their natural arm weight, and the natural curve that begins at their wrist and ends at the fingertips, purely from gravity acting on a fully relaxed forearm/wrist/hands/fingers… everything just drips down, as I think you said. Then I slowly lower their forearm until the fingers touch the keyboard, and teach them to use their finger pads/tips to support the natural curve without letting everything (e.g. the wrist) collapse (since they’re so relaxed at this point). If they can do this and stay relaxed with my assistance, then the next step is to have them do this themselves… the “carry” that you describe.

That’s just the keyboard approach. The playing technique (i.e. “taking” the key) comes next, as already described wonderfully in your previous posts.

[This teaching approach comes from having had to deal with too many students coming to their first lesson consciously assuming a claw-like curved hand at the keyboard because of a pre-assumption that they need to have perfectly curved fingers… which they can’t move naturally because everything is too tense!]

Hopefully that makes sense? I do think we’re talking about the same thing, but just want to make sure. I still have a hard time seeing how any of what I teach would cause something like tendonitis, because… well, I just can’t see it because there is no tension except in the strength of the fingertip movement. But I’m always open to improving my teaching, so that’s why I need to make sure of what’s being discussed here. Hope you don’t mind the further discussion because I really just want to clarify.

Laura said: Apr 7, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Lucy:

Hmm… I agree with Honeybee, that is a great question! Let me try my two cents…

I think to some degree, lots of “body action” is simply the pianist’s desire to follow through the musical expression in a physical manner. This can be as little as a hand or finger movement, but can also include as much as the arm, torso, or even face! As with any instrumentalists, some are more “physically expressive” than others. I think it’s just an individual thing that is part of the artist feeling the music.

But that said, I believe there is also another component of a pianist’s “motion” that is entirely based on technique. The best comparison I can think of is a good golf or tennis swing, or a paintbrush stroke. There is really only one point of contact. However, the approach and follow-through are strong indicators of the quality of that contact.

For example, a good natural finger action (what Honeybee describes as “taking” the note) tends to create a slight forward movement of the hand, wrist, and arm, since the fingertip muscle pulls everything forward as it “digs backward” into the key. The degree to which this happens depends on how quickly and/or strongly that action is made. More exaggerated on strong, sustained notes; next to nothing with quick, light notes.

Another example I can think of is playing an upwards-leading phrase in the right hand. We are taught to “lead with the elbow”… as a visualization tool, because as the focus of the finger strength shifts progressively up the keyboard, the position of the elbow should naturally adjust to support this. The centre of gravity of the hand keeps shifting up the keyboard, if you will, and the elbow (which must be fully relaxed) comes along for the ride to lend weight to the fingers as they do their thing.

Yet a third example is when playing one single, solitary, Most Beautiful Note In The World. Sometimes this is best played with not a vertical, but a lateral action! That is, the note is “taken” [Honeybee: I think I like that term now!] with very slight rotational “twist” to the fingertip such that the wrist and forearm naturally and gracefully move outwards (think of the most subtle and graceful upwards “wing flap” action imaginable, all stemming from the fingertip!).

It all has to do with the most ergonomic way to follow through on the best total action that helps the fingers produce the exact sound that is desired. That sentence was deliberately complicated to illustrate the point :)

Even though the hammer strikes the strings only once, the variables include the speed, force, and release. There may be others too… I’m definitely no expert here! But what I do know is that the sound can definitely be affected by how the keys are played. Volume is a given, but also warm, harsh, staccato, marcato, feathery, etc.etc.etc.

I remember one of my teachers used to warn/tease me that if I didn’t play a note correctly, the moment has already been lost, and no amount of further coaxing or “vibrato” on the keyboard could fix anything once that hammer had hit the string. That’s one advantage that non-keyboardists have: to be able to control the entire “life” of a sound! For us pianists, it’s a one-shot deal, so everything is in how those keys are depressed.

Different types of attacks require different finger techniques, and all of them have associated physical preparations and follow-throughs. Sometimes these are directional (e.g. if the arm bounces into the air, or the wrist or elbow moves laterally), while others are simply related to the state of the body during and after making a particular sound (e.g. having to lean forward to lend more weight to loud chords, or having a very limp hand after “tickling” the softest of notes with the fingertips).

But as I began, I surmise that a lot of what you see is simply the artist being artistic :)

Very interesting discussion! Any other ideas?

Melissa said: Apr 7, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

purple-tulips:
I love talking about technique! I don’t mind the discussion at all. It sounds to me that you are doing a fine job and if you are liking your students tone and they are playing accurately and with ease, then your appoach works.
The one thing that I have a completely hard time with, is when teachers, and I know so many, that say a natural relaxed position is when your arms hang down from your sides. Of course your hands and arms are relaxed in this postition. But this is not the postion your arms are in when playing the piano! To me it does not make sense. Where is the relativity?! Like I said in my earlier post, when playing the piano we must carry the arms, no two ways about it. What is happening when we do this? Our hands hang from our wrists, very relaxed and natural. When I teach, as a developmental approach, wrists are higher than knuckles. It is the same natural position when carrying the arms. I never refer to the hand position when arms are hanging down from the sides, because this is not the natural position your hand is at when your arms are being carried. If you try to have this hand position when your arms are carried, it will create tension, because it is not natural. This is one of the things that caused my tendonitis, the other major thing is having my thumb move vertically like how my other fingers move, which is also very unnatural.
Some pianists seem to be able to play this way with no problem, but I certainly cannot do it, and feel so much better using my arms, fingers, hand in a natural way.
If you are just trying to demonstrate relaxation, by having arms hang down from the sides, I suppose that is fine. I would just be careful not to say that this is the hand position that you need to have to play, like so many teachers do. It sounds to me that you are not doing this when mentioning how the hand curves from the wrist down to the finger tips, I think tells me that the wrist is higher than the knuckles, in that case we are on the same page.

Laura said: Apr 7, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Honeybee,

I think we are on the same page too. :) I love discussing technique too! It’s true—pianists really CAN create a whole spectrum of sounds with the right techniques (although it doesn’t hurt to have a spectacular instrument that can be so responsive to the right touch… :) )

It’s true that with the hands hanging down at the sides, I’m establishing relaxation. Keep in mind that this is either to prevent, or undo, those situations in which students try to “pose” their hands in a deliberate curved (and tense) position, which I’ve seen a lot. Only from a starting point of total relaxation can I even begin to try introducing the concepts of carry, hands dripping down from wrists, etc.

I don’t find that any tension is carried over from the natural arm-hang to the keyboard position, because I’m always careful to help the student maintain the sense of total relaxation as we make the transition. For example, as I’m bringing their forearms upwards, I watch to make sure that their hands and fingers don’t start doing anything deliberate, and only maintain their natural relaxed state. I also can feel from the weight of their forearm in my hand (and often from just looking) if even one ounce of tension is creeping in there.

As we transition to having the student do this themselves, we might start with their hands on their laps instead of hanging down at the sides. They have to raise their arms up to keyboard level themselves, but if they have learned to relax first, this is accomplished with only the minimal of tension required to lift/carry the arms, which should still feel heavy from gravity. The hands and fingers maintain their natural curved state and are more likely to be able to “drip” downwards properly from the wrist.

Yes, I do teach that the wrists are more or less the highest point from which everything should hang, although I have to be careful how I say this because I’ve had students misinterpreting and trying to form a “mountain peak” with their wrist (which is also a “posed” position with tension). The wrist, after all, is a sort of joint, and is simply there to allow the hand to hang downwards when fully relaxed. The whole point is to allow everything to be relaxed once the forearm is nicely positioning everything at keyboard level.

To be honest, I’ve never really noticed specifically noticed my own wrist. I suppose when I really watch myself, it’s more or less on the same level as the forearm. But the hand and knuckles definitely come down from the wrist, all the way down to the fingertips, which ultimately receive the arm weight and produce the piano tone. Natural, as you would say… so natural that I’ve never honestly analyzed it :)

I think problems arise when the arm weight isn’t free to travel to the fingertips (i.e. there is tension somewhere along the way). Some amount of effort is required to keep the forearm up such that the hand is properly placed at keyboard level (the “carry”)—but if the shoulders are relaxed, and the hands and wrists are relaxed, it’s very easy for the forearm to be sufficiently relaxed such as not to negatively affect the piano tone. But if too much energy is focused (mentally) on holding the arms up, that can produce the “shallow tone” effect that I believe was mentioned by the original poster in this thread. This is because the arm weight never really gets through to the fingertips, and is withheld somewhere in the incorrectly tense areas of the hands, arms and shoulders. If the fingers are doing their job, and the pianist is sitting with the proper bench and foot height, then I find I don’t have to focus too much on what the arms are doing. As long as they are relaxed, everything more or less sorts itself out with respect to how much effort/tension is required to support the “carry”.

So yes, arms hanging at sides is simply to promote relaxation, and to show the natural finger/hand shape when nothing is being “posed”. For me, that’s only the first step, but a very important one before introducing the other concepts of technique.

In general, I don’t like to tell students that ANY hand position is the one they should be playing with, because that’s when they start striking poses again. That’s why I start with the arms hanging down (as part of an overall relaxation exercise) and begin from there. But I do point out that the shape of the fully relaxed hand and fingers IS essentially a natural hand position, because absolutely nothing is being done to force it otherwise. It’s just… well, natural!

Different approach in teaching and communicating, but sounds like the same goal! I’m honored to be on the same page as you. :)

Rebecca said: Apr 23, 2006
 Piano
23 posts

Honeybee I agree completely with your ideas on tone production. I myself, feel that I had above average training growing up, and my teachers always encouraged me to listen to tone, etc. But NOW!! That I am studying with my current teacher, she has really opened my ears to what the piano can do. There really is intonation on the piano—not in the sense that string players think of, like low second finger or high, is the note flat or sharp?—but in the sense of shallow vs. deep tone, and harsh vs. gentle. It is possible, with lots of concentration and practice, to have a deep, “core” sound, even when playing pianissimo. It takes tons of control. I get frustrated when other intrumentalists say how easy it is for piano, because “all we do is press a key…” There is SO much more to it than that.

“Life without music would be a mistake.” -Nietsche

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