Tag: One Body Part Helps Another

Maintaining Control of Both Hands

Cross fertilization of the hands, bordering on hybridization

Bach: The Italian Concerto: II

Irving is having difficulties maintaining control over both hands at once.  I attribute this to the very different rhythmic character of each hand (in general, the right hand has faster notes while the left hand has relatively slower notes).

He has been trying to maintain separate but simultaneous control of each hand.  This wasn’t working.  To solve this, we established a process in which the notes in one hand could flow back and forth into notes in the other hand.

An example:

A frequent occurrence in the movement is for the left hand, as part of its melody, to play an eighth note on the first beat of a measure, and then, after a pause of a thirty-second note, the right hand plays three thirty-second notes as part of its melody.*

In this situation, we connected legato between the left hand eighth note at the beginning of the measure and the right hand thirty-second note that followed a thirty-second later.

There were also the analogous occurrences when the right hand melody contained several thirty-second notes followed by the left hand playing an eighth note.  We formed a sonic bridge between the last right hand note and the left hand note.

Unlike the more usual procedure in Bach, which is to separate the voices, we did the opposite.  We fused two voices together to create a single, new voice line: one that was a hybridization of each of the two original voices.

In this way the sound of one hand could cross-fertilize with the sound of the other, creating a series of “shunts” interconnecting their notes.  The next note in one hand could derive its momentum, both pulse-wise, and melody-wise, from the note just prior to it in the other hand.

It was the ear that forged these unions, and the body responded by organically connecting the two hands.  Each hand took renewed life from the other hand.

*In many of these cases the right hand had just tied the last note of the previous measure over into the downbeat of the new measure.

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The Elbow

In terms of its use in the playing mechanism, the elbow can easily be the forgotten part of the arm.  It is remote from the hand and remote from the connection of the arm to the back.  It seems “remote from the action.” However, it is of critical importance as a mediator – a negotiator between shoulder and the fingers.  It is that which insures that energy coming down the arm is not blocked or detoured before reaching the fingers.

When tension occurs and mobility is reduced, the hidden cause often lies in the elbow.  It will often make adaptations in its alignment, not because they are useful to the transmission of power to the hands, but because we are concentrating on our hands and wish to have the hand be in a certain position.  The tension simply gets “referred” up the arm to the elbow, where we are often unaware of it.  But whether recognized or not, when there is tension in the elbow, when its freedom of movement is inhibited, we sever the free connection between shoulder and fingers.

Often the elbow is doing what it “wants” to do, but is at the service of something else.  How do we find out what the elbow naturally wants to do?  It is actually a simple procedure.  If we want to know what the right elbow is doing, use the left hand to embrace, or better, to “cradle” the elbow of the right arm.  If we now play a passage with the right hand, the cradling hand will actively sense what the right elbow wants to do, or more importantly, what it is forced to do in order to accommodate an awkward hand or wrist position.  It will notice when the elbow is coerced into making a sudden or jerky motion, usually to compensate for something occurring at the extremities.

If there is a sudden, unexpected or awkward motion in the elbow, we will want to smooth it out, or slow it down to make it flow.  By keeping in mind that the hand and the shoulder should be two stable points between which is extended the length of the arm, then the elbow modifies its alignment and attitude to find a way of sustaining this equilibrium between the two end points of the arm.  If there is a breach in the continuity of the arm, it is most likely found in the elbow because the elbow controls the motion of both the forearm and the upper arm.

Most illuminating in this regard is to play a scale or an arpeggio.

When you play a scale in the right hand, you may be surprised at what the elbow is doing as you play the scale.  It compensates for, it balances out, it supports what is happening in the lower arm and hand.  If a sudden lurch occurs in the elbow while playing the scale, it is easy to smooth out, especially if the left hand is there cradling the elbow (see above).  The supportive hand of the left arm is, figuratively speaking, saying to the elbow: don’t worry, you don’t have to make a sudden defensive or reactive gesture, because I’m here to support, balance, and give you a grounding against which to move.

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Practice Procedures: Part 18 Cradling A Part of the Playing Mechanism

Let’s say we are trying to play an even sounding scale.  Our ear detects minor glitches in the flow, for instance after passing the thumb under the other fingers.   The solution may often lie in examining a nearby part of the playing mechanism.  I watch myself play the scale and I notice that at certain moments my wrists move unintentionally as if trying to compensate for a momentary lack of balance in the rest or the hand.  The only problem is that it lingers in that position and does not instantly return to its more normal position.

So I ‘ask’ my wrist: what is it exactly that you want to do during this scale, and when do you feel you need to do it.  To discover this I take my other hand and embrace the wrist of the ‘target hand’.  Now I can be directly aware, through the pressure of the wrist on the embracing hand, what the target wrist is trying to do.  Often the ‘answer’ is unexpected.  It may include sudden and jerky motions by the wrist done to apparently to compensate for something going on in the rest of the hand.

So, now rather than embrace the wrist, I ‘cradle’ it in a ‘comforting’ and ‘protective’ environment.  And I say to the wrist: whatever you think you need to do in order to balance the fingers and the hand, I, the cradling hand, will in turn support your movements and not let them become overdone.  As I do this, I notice that every time the wrist wants to make a jerky motion to keep to permit something smooth in the fingers, my ‘cradling’ hand steadies the wrist so that it does not have to make too sudden, or jerky, or too large a motion in the act of taking care of the fingers.

And I discover that the unevenness that I heard in the scale was not due to the fingers as much as it is in the wrist.

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Originally published on Facebook on 2.21.16

The principle at work here is that of creating in our body the replication of a sensation that it previously experienced.

First, the hand has to experience the sensation of a very smooth and effortless transition when putting the thumb under within a scale. This is done by using the other hand in such a way as to literally and physically push the thumb gradually under the 2nd, 3rd (4th) fingers. It does not matter if this is done off the keyboard or while sounding notes.

The other hand functions as a ‘helping’ or ‘driving’ hand. It is performing the role of an “external” force that appears out of someplace in space, and does something ‘to’ us. Pushes and molds the hand so that, without much initiative on its own, the hand playing the scale makes all the necessary motions for a smooth scale. This includes motions that it wouldn’t think of doing on its own, or which it thinks the hand cannot do on its own.

It makes no difference if we are using our other hand or a second person does it to us. It is ‘happening’ to our thumb. Now we know what it feels like in our hand and thumb when it happens.

Once we have felt it internally in the hand we can ‘recall’ that feeling whenever we play a scale. And our hand now acts in a way that it undergoes all the same physical and aesthetic (felt) details of as when the external force was literally present in time. If the ‘hand’ forgets, we can always reawaken the memory of the sensation by literally applying the external force again.

The principle here is the same one at work when watching a dance. Let’s hear it for the ‘mirror neurons’. By following this procedure the ‘problem’ of passing the thumb under the third or fourth finger disappears or becomes trivial. I’m glad of this because I am among those pianists who have short thumbs and who don’t have usefully shaped hands for playing the piano.

P.S. This basic principle works just as well for passing the 3rd or 4th finger over the thumb. The ‘helping’ hand will need to pull whether than push.

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