Joe's Blog

We always hold between our hands an unchanging sense of a lowest and a highest note 

May 8, 2018

If we take a ‘vertical slice’ through any music score, chosen at any moment in the score, we will find various pitches being held by the hands.  Some will have just started sounding, others are in the process of being held after having started earlier.  Among this collection of notes, one will have the lowest pitch of the group and another the highest.

If we now advance, just a bit in the score, just one note further on, we can take a new vertical slice, and find that one note is the lowest in the new group and another the highest note.  There is a chance the group will be the same as before, but more likely there will be one or more changes in the pitches forming  the group.

The hands are by way of a physical constant.  The right side of the right hand always remains the right side of the right hand. The left side of the left hand always remains just that.   However, when placed on the keyboard, the hands encompass different parts of the keyboard at different moments.   One is absolute (the hands), the other is relative (different parts and spans of the keyboard).

This leads to a question we can only answer subjectively.

If the next ‘lowest note’ is different than the one from a moment before, do we feel somehow that the previous lowest note we were playing has somehow been ‘dislodged’ from its position?  Has the lowest note moved a certain distance from the previous lowest note? (We can ask a similar question regarding the highest note from one moment to the next).

Or

Seen from the point of view of the hands, the lowest note is always the lowest note (though we project it onto different spots on the keyboard). And the highest note in the hands is always the highest note.

For me, there is something comforting in the feeling, that regardless of where the notes lie on the keyboard, the pinkies* always hold between them an arch of notes.  It is disruptive to me if I feel that the solid pillars that form the bases of this arch have to be disassembled and moved to a different place on the keyboard.  So, regardless of where my hands are on the keyboard, I know that I always hold not “a” lowest (or highest) note, but “the” lowest (or highest note).

Through time, these two notes never loose their existential identity as “highest” or “lowest.”   This identity never changes, although at one moment the lowest note may be a G and at the next an F.  One doesn’t change the “lowest” to “even lower.”

Once again… in the flux of hand positions that pass by as we play, there is a reassuring constancy that between the right end of the right hand and the left end of the left hand, we are always holding the arch of notes.

*It may not always be the pinkies that are playing the lowest and highest notes, it may be some other fingers.

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