Joe's Blog

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

April 4, 2017

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.

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