Joe's Blog

The Balance Between Hands

March 24, 2019

B.A.’s Lesson on 3/21/19

His piece: Mozart: Adagio In B Minor:

Sound and time:

Though you are playing the piece, there is no physical intent on the body’s part at any time.  The piece just flows through time as if carried along by the inner pressure and necessity of time itself.  No note that sound wants to ever stop sounding!*  This is true of short and very short notes as well as long notes.  Every note wants its day basking in the sunshine of listener awareness.

Balance of sound between the hands:

A.B. is concerned that his left hand isn’t dexterous (sic) enough to balance with what the right hand is doing.  The only solution that he could think of was that he should practice the left hand alone until it is the way he wants it to be.  But I felt that there is no way of knowing what the left hand should sound like until it is heard together with the right hand.  The sounds of one hand color the contemporary sounds in the other hand.  There is no way of observing how the left hand will sound in ensemble with the other hand, when it sounds alone.

The balance of sounds between the hands has its mechanical side.  Imagine a point in space midway between the hands and on the  keyboard.  For the hands to sound balanced, everything having to do with one side of the body needs to be balanced with everything having to do with the other side of the body.  The imaginary point midway is the balance point to regulate the two sides.  Or you can think of it as the imaginary center of gravity of the two hands.  Sometimes it helps to imagine that it is the point at the center of gravity, and not the separate actions of the hands, that is going up and down to produce the sounds, and when you do this the sounds will occur absolutely simultaneously and in balance.   All this hands, without, or because of avoiding trying to do anything special to regulate one hand or the other.

Balance of sound within a single hand:

A.B. had to play an Alberti-like bass where the following notes are repeated in the left hand |: d3-fs3 a3 :|.  I said you will never know how to balance the a3 with the other two notes until you have already heard the a3 sounding with the other two notes – before you first play the a3.  This is “gestalt-ing” the chord (in this case d3-fs3-a3 or even a grander D major chord spread over many octaves).  Though time fragments it, the whole is nonetheless always there; both in your hand and in your ear.

Control of the fingers comes from further up the arm (who controls whom):

There was one place where B.A, said, no matter how he tried, he couldn’t balance a certain two notes.  They were a third apart, and were played together in the left hand.  My solution was eclipse what the individual fingers were trying by putting the hand into a loose ball or fist.   With the fingers thus neutralized in the presence of the entire hand, flex and un-flex the fingers, all ten at once.  Now, at this point, without any other  preparation or intent, play the third that is troubling you.

If the piano mechanism has a center in the torso and then has interconnected parts leading away from that center to a periphery at the fingertips, then the controller of each segment of that mechanism is the next segment closer to the center and further from the fingers.  When things are not coming out how you want, seek further up the arm (forearm, then elbow, then upper arm, then shoulder…).

Fusing the arms together – putting them into another plane of action:

To demonstrate to him that control of one part of the mechanism often lies in another location, and in particular how this principle applied to the behavior and activity of the hands and fingers, I had him fold his arms in front of his chest (right hand to the left and left hand to the right).  With the arms thus fused, and lying along a horizontal plane, take particular notice of the two elbows.  Gently and weightlessly transport the elbows to the keyboard, with the help of the leaning over the piano.  Now start moving the fused mass of the arms in a way that causes the elbows to push down random clusters if sounds on the piano.  Then, without further thought, without planning anything that your fingers are going to do, play the current passage in the piece.  The difference was striking.  The piece moved in a stately and even flow, which manifested the very flow of time itself.  Every note was subsumed in this inexorably moving flow that brought along with it every note – every note in its right place.

Fusing the arms together – so the hands act as one:

Another means to the same end, that of making the sounds cohere within the flow of time, is to have two hands move absolutely together as if fused, even if there is a separation in space between them.  Have them play random notes that imitate the feel of the rhythmic  coordination of the passage.  “But what about rests in one hand”, he asked.  There is no reason to stop the motion of the hands, though at one moment or another, one hand, though moving, does not produce a sound.

Where did your pinkie go?:

Sometimes your right pinkie, gets detached (figuratively speaking) from the rest of the hand and this causes it to play a note without good control over how it sounds.  Try placing your pinkie silently on the note it is to play.  Now see if, by using mostly the muscles in the pinkie, you can get your entire hand, and even your entire arm, to move around in space.  This will help reestablish an equilibrium between the pinkie and the rest of the hand.  And the entire hand will control how the pinkie makes it sounds.

The persistence of a chord:

Sometimes a chord (or even just a single note of a chord), that sounds at the beginning of a measure, wants to persist through the entire measure as if that measure was nothing more than a comment upon the existence and persistence of that chord.

* Unamuno, the Spanish writer and philosopher, in his book “The Tragic Sense of Life” refers to a passage in Spinoza in which the latter says something to this effect: every being, in that it is a being, strives to persist in its own being.  And that this is the essence of that being (to persist as such through time).

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