Category: Technique

Practice Technique Number 21:  The Third Dimension And The Full Ambit of Motion

For the pianist, it is a useful to take a smaller, more deft, more confined motion, and put it into a larger context.  To explore the motion in its fullest possible form, so that when returning to its restricted state, the body still feels the full freedom and power of energy inherent in the fully completed motion.

Our experience of the keyboard is lies mostly in one dimension.  Our encounter  with the keyboard is mostly along a straight line.  To a lesser extent we perform motions that go in and out from body (towards the lips of the keys and towards the raised fall board).  To an even lesser extent we experience a third dimension, which would be measured as running below and above the keyboard.

We could compare the one dimensional experience of the keyboard, which confines itself to a single plane, and remaining ignorant of the possibilities of motion in the other two dimensions, with the difference between the painting of an object with a sculpture, in the round, of the same object.   Following this analogy, our tendency to stay near the keyboard, might be likened to a bas relief in sculpture, that emerges from a background but never separates from it.

Example One: Lateral Motion of a Finger

Let us start with a modest example.  Sometimes one finger will move left or right relative to another finger.  That left-right motion, usually executed in a two dimensional (often horizontal) plane is part of a larger possible motion, one in which the same finger executes motions that are now that of a full circle, a circle that occurs in three dimensional space.  There is a difference in the freedom of motion of the finger when, even if we remain moving it only left and right, the finger is open to the possibility of moving up and down as well.   By exploring the full ‘ambit’ of the motion of the finger, all its partial motions are capable of a more robust action, done with greater efficiency and greater control.

It is worth noting that the appearance of circle suggests to the imagination the possibility of it being squashed from opposite sides and looking like a straight line.  A straight line, however, does not suggest to the imagination that there is a dimension in which it can be opened up into an unseen dimension.   Nothing about the appearance of a line suggests that various points on that line can move apart from each other, not by migrating to different places along the line itself, but to move apart from each other into a new dimension of space.

Example Two: The flexion of a finger

When pushing a key down, the flexion of the finger is limited to the amount of flexion that will cause the fingertip to move through just a fraction of an inch in space: the distance between the resting key and the key when it is pushed down as far as it will go.

If we explore the full ambit of the flexion of a finger we find that in one direction we can curl the finger until the tip lies under the palm near to the wrist.  If we now flex it in the opposite direction, we pass by a straight angle (180 degrees) and can continue a little further, until we encounter an apparent barrier to further motion.  But even then, if we try to continue beyond this barrier, there is further flexion possible, by hyper-extending the finger.

If we rapidly move the finger through this full ambit of motion, we find that in the course of that this action the finger can build up a lot of momentum, a degree of momentum that would be beneficial if we could compress it into the small degree of  flexion required to depress a key, but without any loss of the degree of momentum.*

Future blogs will consider the many other types and planes of motion that our body parts execute when playing the piano, that can benefit from first experiencing the motion in its fullest use of space.

* a bad analogy would be a trash compactor.  While the overall volume of the trash is seriously reduced, the amount of matter in the trash remains the same, but its density is increased.

Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How to manage, mechanically, counterpoint among three or more voices. 

How to manage, physically, counterpoint among three or more voices. 

I am speaking of some very specific techniques that the pianist can have in her bag of tricks to allow the hand the fingers to manage detailed moments in the piece in the most ergonomically efficient way, and therefore the fastest and most reliable way.

Technique No 2:  the fingers springing apart or suddenly snapping together.

This motion occurs mostly in a horizontal plane.  And is for use when changing from one interval, or triad or chord, to another, in a situation where good voice leading is occurring, and it is difficult to find your way from one note to another by considering how far any one individual finger or voices needs to move.

Sometimes the notes that are currently in three or more voices all change pitch and at the same time.   The fingers do not need to take the only role.  There is a spring-like action that hand as a whole is capable of making in the process of  which the mutual distances between the adjacent fingers, which may be currently relatively smaller distances, can suddenly widen with the result that an entirely new hand position results – containing none of the previous notes.  It is a propulsive horizontal motion where by the finger tips spread apart from each other, in a sudden gesture rather than through a series of closely timed gestures.   It is like a coiled spring whose normal length has been compressed and which suddenly resumes its normal size.

An analogous motion of the hand in its entirety can occur when the mutual distances between the adjacent fingers are currently larger, an within an instant be relatively smaller.  It is a sudden gesture, as in the above case, but is more like a spring that is overstretched rather than compressed suddenly releases its energy and resumes its normal size.

The key point in both actions is that the total energy stored in the spring is released instantaneously.    the actions that compress or stretch the spring happen relatively slower, but still in a very short time, between holding the current note(s) and sounding the next note(s).

🙂 thanks for reading.  I would love to start accumulating info from other pianists regarding a similar technical situation.


Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Motions, real and imaginary

Springs and Non-Visible Motions



Part three: THE COMBINATION OF IMAGINATION AND SPRINGS               to follow


The body is able to reproduce the sensation that certain physical motions are occurring even when the cause of those motions is no longer physically applied but only imagined.


Raise your arm up into the air, say several feet.  Afterwards, repeat the same gesture but with your eyes closed.  Though you are deprived of a visual confirmation that this motion is occurring in the external space that vision provides us with, you will not be without sensations.  You will still have the totality of inner, kinaesthetic sensations that occurred in conjunction with the movement.  The difference is that you are more focused on these internal sensations because you are not distracted by the external sensations from the eyes.

The more one concentrates on these internal sensations the easier it is to loose your awareness of just how far in external space the arm has risen so far.

This ability to focus on a body motion internally without reference to visual space leads to some astonishing abilities on the part of pianists.

Effects measured in terms of duration in Time.

The totality of inner sensations that you have when raising your arm, can occur in the same amount of time as when you first did the motion with the eyes open, but more importantly it can occur, in its fully sensed form, in shorter or longer periods of time.

In an extreme case, to an outside observer, the arm may no longer seem to be moving at all, or at best is moving very slowly, like the watching sun’s shadow get longer and longer near sunset, or watching the motion of the minute hand in fully mechanical clock. To the pianist the inner sense of motion never stops occurring.  All of this occurs when the pianist’s eyes are closed, or when pianist focuses attention mostly on the inner sensations of the body while the body is in motion.

In its extreme cases any given motion can be sensed as occurring virtually without limits in time or limits in space.

A further important result.

The totality of inner sensations that are experienced during a motion that lasts one second need no longer occupy one second in consciousness, but can take place in much less than a second or indefinitely more than a second, in just an instant of time or in an indefinitely long duration of time.  The totality of these sensations can now be deployed over any duration of time, with limits only at infinity* seconds or at zero seconds.**

Both this compression and dilation of time and of space are important tools to the pianist, applicable to many situations, with only the most obvious be when playing very slowly or very fast.


* Even as one approaches the limit of infinity, though minutes, or hours or days have passed while executing this one motion, you still can never loose the internal sense of motion occurring at every conscious instant.  If you consult what is happening externally with the eyes, you may be very surprised as to where in space the motion has brought you so far.  Thus to the outside observer nothing may be happening, and there is no detection of physical motion.   The ‘outside’ observer includes the pianist herself when perceiving mostly through the eyes.

** similarly, as one approaches the limit of a total of zero seconds in which to complete a motion, again, the observer will see no trace of motion occurring through space, and only notices that in what seems an instant of time, the arm, or other body part, seems magically to have reappeared in another place, without there being the perception of intervening motion through visual space.   This is certainly true of watching many great pianists at work, for instance: we see a minimum of effort and movement as the pianist’s hand suddenly moves for instance several octaves.

🙂 Comments, questions, disagreements, all welcome.



Leave Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *