Joe's Blog

That  last stretch: the sudden requirement to play a wide interval in one hand

September 30, 2021

A.B. says he cannot play g2 and b3 simultaneously with his left hand, but breaking the tenth spoils the flow of the 4 part counterpoint in the Grieg he is playing.

I catch him at a moment when, while complaining about the difficulty,  his thumb idly wanders onto the b3 though his pinkie is still on the g3.  And I say: look! At this particular moment in time you are spanning the tenth. How are you doing it? My hope was for a response of nescience: “I have no idea of how I did it”, but instead gives a mechanical explanation having to do with approaching the two keys from underneath them. It is a good explanation but like any other explanation, it is always going to be ‘short’ on some naming all the actual things going on at that moment.  And by consciously thinking of their explanation, leave it hit and miss as to whether the tenth gets spanned. The real point is that maybe his mind does not need to know how to get into that position but that the body “knew” how to do it – when unencumbered with thinking and planning.

While it is fairly obvious that you cannot do this with an eleventh apparently you can do it sometimes with a tenth. The body, given a
nearly impossible situation, finds a way to do it, one that goes beyond the scope of the capabilities that one was previously already aware of having. Trust the body – it knows the way. Just consciously abandon anything else
you have tried in order to do something like this in the past. Then it will show up when you least expect it.

We worked gradually repeating the tenth until by some fluke or other the two notes started at the same time. Each time that would happen,  I asked him to take it as proof that body knew how to span a major tenth.

The negative role of stretching and straining.

When one is straining to stretch as far as possible, muscles become tenser. But if one begins with a state of relaxation and refuses to add in even the tiniest tension at any step of the way to the goal, the final stretch will actually measure longer than the other way. It may not be much of a difference but, in our case, that of playing a tenth in one hand, often an extra millimeter or two is all that is required to turn the task into doable and comfortable rather than undoable and uncomfortable

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