Joe's Blog

How to manage counterpoint among three or more voices

February 18, 2017

Here I will speak just of some very specific techniques that the pianist can have in his bag of tricks.  To allow the hand the fingers manage detailed moments in the piece ergonomically.

Technique No 1.

When you “run out” of fingers, but need one additional finger to play the next note before the pitch curve of the passage changes direction.

Here, finger substitution is one solution.

The basic concept is that, minus the pedal, a note can continue sounding unabated while the pianist changes which finger is in contact with the note.

Here is a generalized exercise:

Play middle C with the thumb of the right hand, replace the thumb with the second finger without re-attacking the key, and then similarly substituting 3 for 2, 4 for 3, 5 for 4, then 1 in the left hand for 5 in the right hand, then continuing substitutions in the left hand (2 for 1, 3 for 2, 4 for 3, 5 for 4).  The advantage of this order is that you use all ten fingers in the course of the duration of the note.

At first go through the process of finger to finger fairly slowly, mostly to learn the kinesthetic steps of changing finger without loosing the sound (a sort of passing the baton in a relay race).   Then experiment with going through all ten fingers in a shorter amount of time, eventually letting it occur (at least in one hand) almost instantaneously.  That way in performance the substitutions can occur even on a note of very short duration (sixteenth, thirty-second…).  The stability of

The hand should never waver when doing the substitution but should remain poised and balanced, making continuous and minute adjustments in the overall balance of the hand as a whole.

The next step is to go from one finger to a non-adjacent finger.  It helps that if at first one doesn’t put the subsequent finger in place directly after the earlier finger, but to “run through”, parenthetically, each of the fingers in between, so there is a continuous sense of motion right or left in the hand relative to the keyboard.

Example of a piece that benefits from substitution is Bach’s English Suite no. 1 in A Major, the first Movement, after the introduction.

In upcoming blogs I will add similar specific techniques such as a sudden horizotnal opening of the hand, how the same finger can play two notes in a row; and ‘falling’ over the pinkie.

🙂 I assume others use substitution on a regular basis.  But if not what makes you prefer other alternatives.  Is it fair to use the pedal?

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