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Keep your hand's arch moveable to keep your piano technique skeletal


CRAFT OF PIANO LESSONS

 

THE PYLONS ARE THE PLATFORM

 

 


This lesson now opens chapter 5 of Alan Fraser's
Honing the Pianistic Self-Image: Skeletal-Based Piano Technique


A few summers ago I was looking for an idea for the cover of Honing the Pianistic Self Image , and as I had broken my foot I had some x-rays of it lying around. By chance one of them fell on a sheet of music, and all of a sudden there were notes dancing amongst the bones! What a great idea for a cover! I went to the hospital and x-rayed my hands in various positions, and then fooled around with different ideas.

Xray of hand: a template for skeletal piano technique

Notes dancing in bones: a great image for a book on skeletal piano technique

What looks better mixed in with those bones, a Scarlatti sonata, a run from a Chopin scherzo or some Scriabin? In the end, my editors found the whole thing too dark and macabre, but I continued to be fascinated by these x-rays. They give the impression that the whole hand consists of fingers, that your fingers actually go all the way to your wrist. Take a look: the metacarpal bones do not differ at all in appearance from the finger phalanges – they’re a little longer, but that’s about it…

 


Then I recalled a conversation with Kemal where he described the playing mechanism as a series of hinged levers: the more sound you need, the more of the hinges you employ. Thus for very small manipulations of the key, moving only your distal digit is sufficient. For a little stronger sound, move the distal and medial together as a unit. For somewhat bigger sound, move your whole finger as a unit. For an even more massive sound, move the finger from the wrist joint, and so on. This is remarkable in that it differs radically from the whole concept of using arm weight to produce tone, but here is the pianist with one of the widest tonal palettes imaginable, telling me that this is how he does it. Interesting!

As I played, I started fooling around with simply perceiving my finger as beginning at my wrist. I kept the image of that x-ray hand in my mind, with those strange long fingers connected directly to my arm, and I tried to sense my own fingers as having that nature.

xray of the hand 2

Using perception to cultivate skeletal piano technique

 

Lo and behold, all my structural inconsistencies disappeared. The whole tendency to impinge upon the structure by pressing down through it was nullified. Instead of having to think about preventing the metacarpal-phalangeal joint hillocks from collapsing, they were gloriously prominent without me doing anything. It seems I had finally hit on a potent way of perceiving the situation – in fact, this perception seems to indeed reflect how things really are structurally.

 

Thus the difference between the hand and an oilrig platform with its pylons, is that in this case the pylons are the platform – your hand is not, in fact, a fixed or unified entity but consists of the four metacarpal bones which are somewhat independent from one another. Take a friend’s hand between your fingers and try to feel the four metacarpal bone. See if you can grasp any two of those metacarpals and move one up while moving the other down. Very gently individuate one from the other by moving them in opposite directions: one flexes gently down while the other extends slightly up. Do you begin to perceive how your hand is actually a flexible entity, with individuation possible between each of its bones?

Allow the fingers to access the hand's musculature for a more potent piano technique

The other advantage of perceiving things this way is that now your fingers have muscles! The three phalanges of the finger are not joined by muscle but by tendons – it is only at the metacarpal-phalangeal joint that we find musculature capable of actually animating the mechanism. But with thing perceived this way, that musculature is not at the extreme upper end of the finger any more but right smack dab in the middle of it.

Try this – it’s a simple perceptual trick, but what potential inherent therein…

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