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differentiating the fingers in craft of piano lessons


CRAFT OF PIANO LESSONS:


ARCAHAIC ATM

(courtesy of F. Liszt)

 


This lesson is now chapter 12 of Alan Fraser's
Honing the Pianistic Self-Image: Skeletal-Based Piano Technique


 

Liszt's piano technique based on Awareness Through Movement

It appears Liszt was giving his students ‘piano ATM’s’ long before Moshe Feldenkrais was even born! When he received a pupil for the first time, Liszt invariably gave the following exercise before allowing the candidate to proceed to playing actual compositions.

Play a broken diminished 7th chord starting on C, but do so in such a manner that your fingers remain totally passive. The only minimal effort you invest is your fingers themselves is to keep them almost straight – don’t let them collapse like strands of cooked spaghetti. Make them more like sticks of uncooked spaghetti; then use a movement of your whole hand and arm to make each ‘spaghetti stick’ depress its key.

 

Fingers as bicycle spoke pylons - introductory exercise in Liszt's piano pedagogyThus when your thumb is in its key and you want to play E flat with your second finger, it is a lateral movement of your forearm to the right and up that will make it happen. Find the angle through which you can move your wrist-forearm to make each finger play each subsequent note. Your thumb will rise as you move through each note of the diminished chord until you reach your fifth finger’s high C, and then descend again as you return to play your thumb itself.

 


A new way of cultivating skeletal piano technique

Imagine that your fingers are the spokes of a rimless bicycle wheel. Your hand is the hub, your fingers the spokes, and if there was a rim to the wheel, it would be is rolling along the keys, but because there isn’t any rim, the spokes of the rimless wheel depress each key in turn as the wheel rolls along – each of your fingertips depresses its note in turn. This graphic image is especially effective because it gives you the exact amount of pressure needed to make clear skeletal contact without undue pressing. When you really refrain from activating your fingers but instead do this strange rimless bicycle-wheel rolling, the flesh of each finger starts to soften. Muscle tonus reduces; sensitivity increases: you begin to feel that it’s your bones that make the stick of spaghetti, not your muscles. Your finger bones have to pile up in such a way that they imitate a stick of spaghetti or a bicycle spoke – a one-unit stick with no hinges – even though your finger does have three hinges. The finger muscles must refrain from working if the bones are to have a chance to find this alignment on their own. When they get it, they7’ve found their own self-sufficiency. Conversely, when your bones do find their stick-spoke alignment this will help your finger muscles to let go.

This exercise forces you to employ the skeletal nature of your hand/fingers without the usual effort that tends to mask the skeletality of our actions. Bravo M. Liszt, herald of future wisdom!

I am indebted to professor Reinhard Becker for showing me this lesson...

Thumb pylon spokes - "bicycle wheel" piano technique

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