Tag: Practice Techniques
Springs: Easily created, and then able to release a sudden surge of energy
Originally published on Facebook on 2.8.16
There is no technical or musical difficulty at the piano that will not yield to a sufficient application of energy. We must have, however, a reliable way to create such unstoppable energy, and create it at the moment we need it.
A spring is a way of storing up potential energy, usually in a gradual fashion, for the purpose of a sudden release, or sudden burst of energy. Many of the more difficult technical issues at the piano, which compared to what comes before and after in the same piece of music, require such a heightened release of energy, and though briefly, at an energy level much greater than the rate at which we are expending energy in our playing.
Playing situations requiring this sudden ability to release copious amounts of energy in a brief burst of time are: skips, extreme speed, and in general those technical situations that suddenly arise that are ‘dense’, where the hands and fingers feel somewhat lost in the keyboard and unable to navigate from note to note, or finger to finger, with alacrity.
The principle of the spring is fairly simple. It requires something that has the ability to be temporarily deformed and which will spring back to its original shape with great speed.
As it turns out almost any part, or even part of a part of the body can behave in this fashion.
In the future we will enumerate examples of these many springs.
Pain in the Thumb. Solution Two: Tug of War.
Example: Right Hand playing a C Major Scale Upwards.
My third finger is on an E and I am about to play the adjacent F with the thumb. Imagine a tug of war with the two sides, initially, pulling with the same strength.
On the right side of this tug of war is the entire arm, wrist and hand, which pulls to the right. On the other side it is just the third finger alone, on the E, resisting, with equal force, this tug to the right.
At first no one ‘wins’. Each ‘team’ escalates how hard they are pulling, but the increments are done at the same time in each ‘team’ and in equal degrees, so that no movement occurs. This process continues until the finger can exert no more force to resist the more powerful rightward pull of the arm. As the third finger suddenly lets go of the E key, and the arm and hand, including the thumb, lurches to the right, with great stored up power, and the thumb travels to the F so quickly that it is almost with conscious duration.
Pain in the Thumb. Solution Three: Let the Thumb Move, But “Glacially” Slow.
Example: Right Hand Playing A C Major Scale Upwards.
My third finger is an the E and I am about to play the adjacent F with the thumb. If I slow down the motion , and watch the motion of the thumb, I notice that what I experience is less a single motion, in a single direction, but a connected series of smaller motions.
The more I slow down the motion, and the longer it takes, the more I become aware of the changes that are occurring within the course of the thumb’s overall motion. Granted these changes happen very fast, and are usually lost to consciousness, which treats the overall passing motion of the thumb as a single event. But even in speed, when the total movement takes just a fraction of a second to execute, we still want the it to be composed of a series of finer qualities of motion occurring one after the other.
A considerable amount of relaxation is required for the thumb to transition smoothly from one component of the overall passing motion to the next. If there is pain, it is likely due to a momentary tension in the thumb muscles that resists the transition to the next quality of the overall motion. This resistance is often an attempt to prolong one of the shorter, interior states of motion, at the very moment when a change in the course of the motion is required.
Pain in the Thumb. Solution Four: Congruence Between the Thumb and the Piano Key
The attempt here is to form a continuous, undifferentiated mass out of the hand, the thumb, and the physical key of the piano. To achieve this we want there to be a congruence between the longitudinal surface of the thumb and the longitudinal surface of the key. The side of the thumb should touch, in as many spots as possible, different spots on the surface of the key.
The fingers of the hands should be like when a sculptor creates a statue and leaves out a complete separation between one finger and the next. If the sculpture became alive the only way a single finger would move at all is if the hand and the other fingers move with it. If the sculptor then adds a piano key to the sculpture, but does it by extending the material used for the hand and fingers, the key and the thumb will be permanently attached to each other.
In line with this sculptural analogy, if the pianist wants to move a key up and down, to create and then release a sound, it can only be done by a motion of the entire mass that results from the fusion of the key, the finger, and the hand. While granted this procedure is, to say the least, unusual, one result will be that there is little or no activity in the thumb muscles on their own. This puts this technique in line with the three previously techniques offered as ways of dealing with pain in the thumb. Without any separate motion in the thumb, there is hopefully nothing to cause pain in the finger.
Pain in the Thumb. Solution Five: One Hand Helps the Other
Example: Right Hand Playing a C Major Scale Upwards.
Let the right hand play the scale alone. Use the tips of the first and second fingers of the left hand to take hold of the right thumb – in the vicinity of its first knuckle.
As the right hand plays the scale, the two fingers of the left hand do two things. 1) It helps us take notice of exactly how the right thumb “wants” to move, both in general throughout the scale, and more particularly when the thumb is passing under other fingers. 2) But more than this, as soon as the helping hand has an inkling of how the thumb wants to move, it can shift from a passive role of observation to a leadership role. It can help propel and guide the right thumb in its motion. If. at the same time the right thumb becomes passive, and accepts the control of the two fingers from the other hand, a state of relaxation will occur in the right thumb that should help eliminate any pain in that finger.
The objection arises of course that we play simultaneously with both hands. The “helping” hand is simply not available to help the “target” hand.
There is a solution. It lies in the body’s ability to mimic a motion once that motion has been impressed on it through an outside agency. I quote from Google. “A mirror neuron … is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.” In our case, the right thumb, having experienced, or felt internally, an action performed on it by the outside agency of the other hand, can now repeat that action in the same way. And this new motion will often be different in its details than if there was no model presented to it first. It is in these differences that we often find the solution to the causes of any pain or restrictions in the thumb, pain that was experienced before the ‘mirroring’ process. The right thumb has been shown the more correct way of moving its own muscles.