Joe's Blog

Evening out the touch among the various fingers of the same hand

October 13, 2019

At the heart of Western music in particular there lies a curiously tight bond between two things that might at first seem separable: pitches and rhythm.

There are times when it is useful in our playing to not take this forced wedding for granted. That in spite of the strength of the bond between the  two of them, there is a momentary advantage in performance to project the rhythm so that it shines through the notes, almost in spite of the notes, and there are times to coax the rhythm into the background so that it does not distract from the order of the pitches.

We can only affect this change of balance between pitches and rhythm to a limited degree since the embrace with which they hold onto each other is automatically so strong.

We can however bring the rhythm more “alive” so that it seems to be the animator of the choice of pitches while at other times there are passages  that rely for their effect somewhat more on making the listener cognizant more of the relationship between the pitches, regardless of the durations that separate them.

Having said this I wish to relate a curious experience I had today. I have one of those cheap plastic wastebaskets. It is rectangular in shape, thick walled,  slightly tapering from top to bottom, about nine inches by a foot and a half at the top. If i’m sitting adjacent to its long side, and drop my hand into the top of the basket, so that my thumb is on the outside of the rim while the other four fingers droop down along the inside basket’s surface, the  apparatus acts as a good sounding drum.

Next, I used the sound of my drum to test the evenness of sound produced by my different fingers, undisturbed by hearing any difference in pitches between the sound one finger makes on the drum and another. Just now I repeated over and over the finger sequence 5 4 3 2, until the sounds I was making with each finger elicited identical loudnesses and resonance from  the ‘drum’. And I followed this soon afterwards with a similar use of the fingers but in the opposite order: 2 3 4 5.

I noticed a difference in sound between using the finger order  5 4 3 2 and the order 2 3 4 5. I didn’t have the ability to produce different pitches to mask the differences in sound between the drum strokes made by one finger rather than another, or due to the order in which the fingers articulated. My goal was that both finger orders should sound identical to me when performed’ just on the drum surface. I worked in particular with the second sequence of fingers until it sounded identical to the first.

I am going to experiment with other mirror like orderings of the fingers.  Like:

2 3 versus 3 2


2 4 3 5 versus 5 3 4 2


1 4 2 5 versus 5 2 4 1


any other permutation of finger order regardless of the length of the permutation (such as 2 4 2 3 4 3  versus 3 4 3 2 4 2).



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