Joe's Blog

Smooth scales

May 22, 2018

Is there a motion, that lies entirely in the hand, which transcends the particular order in which the fingers articulate the notes of a scale?

Every time we play a scale, sooner rather than later, we come up against the physical limitation of there being only five fingers in the hand.  Either a thumb will have to cross under some other fingers, or a finger other than the thumb has to cross over the thumb.

We spend a lot practice time trying to iron out these periodic wrinkles in the flow of the sound of a scale.  What would be nice, short of growing extra fingers, is a tangible model for focusing the flow of energy in the hand so that nothing can interrupt its horizontal course.

Fortunately the body is constructed so that the small motions of the fingers can be absorbed or subsumed within the larger motions of the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and back.

Here is a rather enjoyable procedure for creating that sense of ongoing motion that transcends the particularities of which finger is being used after which other finger.

Rolling a ball along the keyboard:

Cup a ball in either hand and roll it left and right along the keyboard.  See if the ball can cause glissando like sounds to occur as the hand moves.  The motion of the ball will proceed most smoothly if, periodically, you relax the grip of the hand on the ball so that, as much of the time as possible, the ball is actually rotating while it is moving horizontally along the keys.  The result should approximate that of a ball rolling down a hill with no force but gravity causing the work.

It’s a lesson for the body:

Let the body be “instructed” by the feeling that results, learning that it is possible to move left and right in a scale without any resistance; without encountering places in the scale where the notes don’t connect as smoothly as in other places.

The feeling of the ball rolling over the keys is easily internalized; until the ball itself becomes an unnecessary prop.

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