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Craft of Piano Lessons



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CRAFT OF PIANO LESSONS:


MORE ON ARM WEIGHT

 

 


This essay has been expanded into chapter 25 of Alan Fraser's
Honing the Pianistic Self-Image: Skeletal-Based Piano Technique


Arm weight: one of the most important and misunderstood concepts in piano technique

The arm should move in playing. The sense of movement and momentum is what gives physical life, breath to a phrase. It makes the sound alive. The error arises when the arm’s natural momentum is consistently used to produce the tone of a single note rather than phrase movement or rhythmic impulse. Involving arm weight in tone production must necessarily stifle the phrase – the arm cannot phrase if its weight is being used to another purpose a purpose related to each individual note rather than groups of notes.

Weight is a dead weight until muscles set it in motion

Does a tennis player use his arm’s weight in hitting the ball? The weight of his whole body is involved in hitting the ball, but this weight is not falling, it is following through. Muscular activity puts that weight in motion; muscular coordination keeps it moving most efficiently. The muscles coordinate to allow the free flow of body mass. They:
- put it in motion
- help it continue
- bring it naturally to rest.

Does a runner use the weight of his legs to move them? Does his ‘leg weight’ help his toes to grip the ground each time he takes a step??? Why then do we think that a pianist must use arm weight to move the fingers? It just doesn’t make sense.

An alternative to arm weight: physical focus in piano techniqueAny truly efficient movement will be perceived as effortless

.... said Moshe Feldenkrais.Thus it may seem to you that you are using arm weight, You may mistake this effortlessness as an arm weight motion. But this effortlessness actually stems from a sophisticated and subtle coordination of many small muscle groups (and some larger ones). A motion that actually does use arm weight to generate tone cannot by definition be efficient. Why? Because you must use effort to control the stopping of the falling in the end. Either that or the keyboard stops the falling, in which case you have only the grossest control over the tone. To achieve finer and finer control over your tone, you must implement muscular control of your arm’s descent to a greater and greater degree. In the end you still may think you are letting the arm fall, but in reality your muscles are controlling that fall every step of the way. So once again we must conclude that for all practical intents and purposes, it is muscular activity not arm weight doing the job.

Furthermore, you have only two arms but ten fingers. If arm weight generates the tone, then there can be no differentiation between the tone of each finger in playing a chord – hence no possibilities for orchestration. When your skeletal structure is really capable of maintaining itself in any situation, then the feeling of your arm’s weight is ready to come into its own realm: generating phrase and pulse.