Joe's Blog

The world is flat and beware of sea monsters at the edges

September 13, 2021

practicing notes on 9/9/21

What is the most natural thing to do with the hands if they are in contact with the keyboard. It would be the same as if they were relaxing on a table top or desk top. The hands would lie roughly flat on the horizontal surface.  The hands have not yet thought about moving leftwards or rightwards along the surface.  They remain in a relaxed stasis. The hands are simply ‘covering’ the surface. The fingers have not yet discovered that the keys go up and down; they are content without articulating the keys in any way.

I want to extend the meaning of this idea into the act actually playing a piece.  No matter where I happen to be on the keyboard while playing, there should still be this basic feeling of horizontal coverage. Later on we will add on to this base condition any other movements that seem necessary.

If we allow the hands to remain in this base condition or rest, but begin to have them also move left and right on the keyboard, then, to preserve the feeling of stasis in the hands, imagine that wherever the hand travels on the keyboard it leaves part of itself in the position it was formerly on the  keyboard, as if leaving a thick trail of “slime” or “goop” (Google: any sticky or semiliquid substance). We want to create the sensation in the body that the hands are wider than before, wide enough to cover the previous notes played as well as the new keys being played.* To create the illusion that there is just one very wide hand that rarely has to reposition it.   During this process, the two hands themselves seem to have melded together into one.

Using the idea of the flat hand when playing an arpeggio.

If I am playing in speed, for example a terraced arpeggio like,

f3 f3 a3 c4 f4   f4 a4 c5 f5   f5 a5 c6 f6  …,

I don’t try to move rightwards on the keyboard by virtue of any attempt to have a rotation in my arms, or even passing under the thumb. The hands, including the line of their fingers, remain horizontal. It is not a question of eliminating of motions but of prioritization of motions (or lack of motions). I notice that the elbow has a role to play as a ‘controller’ of the  horizontality of the hand.

I want to focus on the idea of the hand remaining level through the entire arpeggio. Other motions may occur, but the flatness idea subsumes, transcends, these differences.

There is no feeling of a curved hollow in the palm which causes an arch in the shape of the fingers relative to each other. But no tightness either in the non-arched shape. We just want the hands to be restfully flat. And “flat” here does not imply anything more than the passive state that there is no rise and fall in the compounded shape of the five fingers. Not any sort of restriction on the hands. The result of the two ways of thinking abot flat creates a subtle yet important difference in the hand.


Other examples of using flat hands.

Brahms Op. 118 / 6 (8 bars before the change of character of the piece to G-flat major):

What I’m thinking of in particular is the little figurations in the left hand that includes a triplet in them. for example: bf2 bf1 gf1 gf2. here the flat hand is useful. it evens out the imbalance when I go from the bf1 to the gf2. the flatness of the hand can transcend, or subsume, the left right motions, or any other special motions to get from the bf1 down to the gf1.


Brahms: Op 117 / 1 : middle section in 6 flats; 14 measures into the section:

The middle notes of chords in both hands move in octaves with each other, while the outside in each hand notes are held.

I’m trying out my second finger on af3 and gf3 both. I try to keep the horizontality of the hand even as the second finger is travelling to the next note rightwards. Everything, including the second finger, remains horizontal to the ground during the motion between from af3 to gf3.

The same applies two and three measures later and, even though some  notes are moving and some are not. the principle remains the same.


Over the past few months, when playing octaves in one hand. I have forgetting that fingers 2, 3 and 4 exist at all. That even the hand itself, or any part of the hand, doesn’t exist in what otherwise would be considered the gap between fingers 1 and 5. However, that does not mean that the tips of the latter two fingers, considered for the moment as points, cannot both be felt to be on the same horizontal line.

* Imagine a video of a solo dancer on stage, with the video equipment set up so that wherever the dancer moves they are also  still visible in the position where they were in before, in fact in very position they have been in earlier in the dance. If they start by moving in a straight line across the stage, when they have completed the line, we see only one continuous, filled in  mass, stretched wide across that part of space just moved through.  With no way to single out a leg, a shoulder, a head, etc.. Like Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending stairs**”, only that the principle involved has been taken to infinity.

As the dance begins, there is a great amount of motion by the dancer that is perceivable by the audience. This sense of motion is generated in the audience members by visual input, but for many an important part this sense is through tactile and kinesthetic stimuli stimulated within in our own body and in our imagination. This experienceable quality of motion begins to decrease almost immediately after the dance begins, as the dancer seems to be leaving behind them, at every point on their continuing ‘path’, a frozen, solid sculpture of themselves, until eventually the entire space in which the dancer has moved up to the end of the dance, is filled with one single, sprawling, amorphous, opaque shape, that is fused into one object, and which hides any motion occurring in it.***

The further we get into the dance, time-wise, the more the growing object has has already hidden, or will hide, simply by its solid reality, the present and future motion the dancer. At the end, space has been “filled in” with one, static, undifferentiated mass. The spatial boundary of this single mass, it’s ‘shape’, has been filled in, as it were, by a child with a dark,  terpsichorean-like coloring pencil. It is no longer possible to discern or remember the order in which the child did the filling in, because the presence in space itself, of all its parts, at every moment in time, has ‘locked up’ time. There is no longer any meaning, or aesthetic value to the dancer’s motions, which value relied on the order in which things happened in  time.***

So, in our thought experiment, the dancer gradually fills up space. Depending on where the dancer has been so far, how many times they have been in a particular part of space, or have not yet been in that part, certain parts of the single artistically amorphous mass, generated by the movement of the dancer, will remain more porous, or more dense, or more empty.  From the start of the dance. the relatively greater amounts of space that have not yet been filled in, gradually shrink, until they are just small holes or bubbles in the object.



*** The past order in time is no longer decipherable, like looking at
a filled-in N.Y. Times crossword puzzle, and trying to remember which was
the first square you filled, in spite of the fact that they are now all filled, and that the letters are ‘locked’ in place with each in the fabric of space. But it is
the order in which space is filled, by motion, and the time taken to do it, that is the aesthetic form of the dance. Without order in time there is no dance as a work of art.

Maybe just a hint of motion and order might remain if the dancer happens to currently move through one of the remaining ‘holes’ in the object, where the object has not yet been filled in; like the child who was coloring, “filling in”, the empty outline of a shape on a page of a coloring book.


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