“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Relaxation at the Piano: A Snippet

A student wrote that when he returned to the piano after a long break because of injury, he intentionally chose pieces that were not physically demanding. He felt he had a tendency toward over-use injuries and wanted to take it easy.

Some four years later he is injury free except for some soreness that develops when he wants to “let go.” But he feels he has the same tendencies he had to overcome when learning to trill, which is to tighten up. Relaxing (my italics) in this circumstance seems even more challenging for him.

I think one should be able to play the music one wants without over use issues. One should be able to let go musically without experiencing soreness.

It sounds as if he might have some misunderstanding about how the playing mechanism works. Relax is just as problematic as tense when it comes to playing the piano. We can't really direct individual flexors or abductors to relax or flex.

My teacher used to say that if you relax you'll fall off the piano bench, meaning that the terms are too general. Her answer was to find out how much of each is needed (very little) to produce the desired result. And her solution was to direct the attention to how the fingers, hand and arm are aligned and what kind of movement is required, for example, to transfer the weight of the arm from one finger to the next. This automatically replaces the general concepts (relax/tense) with specific movements that can be monitored and controlled. The end result is a feeling of virtually no feeling at all; it is as if the fingers are moving slowly, though the passage is quick.

If this student is serious about wanting to correct these issues, I think some retraining is in order. How much effort does it really take to stand on one note or to walk from that note to the next?

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