Practice Technique Number 20: Lessening Tension In The Fingers
April 4, 2017
Lessening Tension In The Fingers and Avoiding Stretching the Fingers Right or Left to Reach Certain Notes.
Tension of any sort reduces pliability, agility, accuracy and speed of action.
The solution given here involves focusing on certain internal kinaesthetic sensations as an alternative to external perceptions through the eyes.
We begin by sitting in a relaxed state, hands on the knees, palms facing upwards (but without any rotational strain). Curl the fingers slightly as a way of letting go of some of the residual tension in the fingers.
Close the eyes. Sit calmly for several moments and then direct your inner attention to the presence of your fingers. Try not to have an image in your mind’s eye of the fingers and how they attach to the hands. Try to experience the fingers from ‘inside’ themselves.
When you are comfortable with this sensation, make a sudden shift of attention away from the fingers and ‘into’ the spaces between the fingers.
Over the next couple of minutes keep the awareness focused on the spaces between the fingers as against awareness of the fingers themselves. It is as if we lent consciousness to those spaces rather than to the fingers. For some it might help to borrow an analogy from the artistic term ‘negative space’: the unplanned and un-sought-for shape of space between two intentionally shaped objects.
There is nothing to do during these next few minutes except to stay aware of the empty spaces between the fingers. There are certain sensations that are apt to occur naturally as you remain focused on these inter-digital spaces. Without purposefully seeking this sensation, you may feel as if the fingers rather than being immobile are, of their own accord, separating further and further from each other; moving further and further into the spaces between the fingers.
We have shut the eyes, there is no visual perception to remind us that there is a quantifiable limit to how far two fingers can move from each other. We can turn off our proprioception – the ability to sense, even when our eyes are closed, the relative position of different parts of our body in one homogenous space.
One might term what we are doing here as self hypnosis or deep meditation. This may well be.
At some point, due to cessation of proprioception, we may forget what the fingers are attached to anatomically. We may be aware of our fingers, and/or be aware of our hand, but be without any geometric sense of how far apart they may be. The fingers, no longer necessarily attached to anything else, may feel as if they are islands unto themselves. Un-tethered from the spatial necessity of being attached to the hands, they may start feeling like they are floating free in space.
We no longer know how far apart they are from each other. It can as easily true that they are inches apart or feet apart. My right thumb seems to have drifted so far away from my mind that it has exited the room and is now situated outside in the garden.*
Both by being without visual images and by stilling the sensations of proprioception, there is nothing to prevent us any longer from sensing that our fingers are always in the process of moving further and further apart from each other, flowing into an inexhaustible, internally sensed space, and that there is no limit to this process in time or in space.
Throughout this all, the fingers continue to feel as if they are drifting apart from each other.
Three steps remain.
When I am ready, and not before, I open my eyes, but stay focused on the sensation I had when they were closed. I am no longer a prisoner of my eyes ‘view’ of space. My fingers still are still receding from each other in an internally perceived space. If this is not possible yet with the eyes open, close the eyes and try again in a minute to open them.
Like a puppet being manipulated by an unseen puppeteer, my hands rise upwards until they are about at the same level as the piano keyboard. They may even be resting on the keyboard – but without any of the train of sensations that we immediately experience as pianist for being near the keyboard. I am still feeling the sensations of a minute or two ago, uninterrupted, despite my eyes being open, despite my hands being close to an object shaped like a piano keyboard.
I start playing. There is no change to the inner state of my hands and fingers. No action that I perform by playing the notes has the power to distract me from the continuance of this sensation.
With most students, especially more advanced students (I.E. those more inured to the physical states of playing) there is a striking difference in the sound they produce, the ease of flow of the sounds through time, and a general sense of astonishment on their part at how easy, how effortless, creating the piece has become.
*sometimes when I lie in bed I loose my awareness of how far my feet are from my head. I can as easily sense them being five or six feet away or that I have a second consciousness in my feet, a long distance from where my head is.