“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.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Piano Keyboard Geography

You can choose?
    A student recently looked up at me from the piano in a momentary pause, her face a puzzle of disappointment and delight. "No one ever told me," she said, "that you could choose where on the key to play." We had been discussing how to get to the black keys in time to play with the thumb, walking in in order to avoid a sudden lurch. 

     This references the larger issue of where to be on the keys at any given time. String players are locked in, of necessity, to a perfect spot, one perfect spot where the correct pitch is located on the string.  Keyboard players have the advantage of being able to press down a key virtually anywhere on its surface and still produce the correct note. We do have to avoid playing in the cracks, though. As a matter of physics, the most control of the key is at the point farthest from its fulcrum because, as we know, the keys are levers. Still, even allowing for this principle of physics, we can find even more optimal spots for depressing the keys when we want to consider how to move laterally up and down the keyboard quickly and efficiently. 
     One of the topics I describe in this context is shaping, of which there are several types: under, over, in and out. As a child I learned that "every little finger lives in its own little house." This, sadly, is not true. The fingers are at best itinerant and the thumb is virtually homeless. We do not place all of the fingers and the thumb
automatically on all of the keys in a so-called "five-finger position" because this requires a curling in of the fingers, making the hand into a ball shape. Have you heard that expression? Don't do it. It creates extra work. Instead, allow the thumb to dangle, yes, dangle, freely near the edge of the keyboard—not over it—until it is needed, at which time it likes—loves—to play in the direction of in, toward the fall board. Notice I said "in the direction of." It does not particularly want to play in among the black keys. It can still land at the outer edge of the key as it moves inward. When approaching a thumb "crossing," allow the thumb to be approximately behind the finger that is playing so that as the thumb nears its objective it won't have far to go in order to play, which is achieved by means of a rotational movement. (Rotation is another topic, one dear to my heart.).
Where do you want to go and how and
 when do you want to get there?
The keyboard geography consists of plains and mountains, white keys and black keys, which to a large extent is what governs the placement of our hands on the keys. Long fingers on short keys and short fingers on long keys is a good general rule. But obviously we can play virtually anywhere in the landscape, including climbing mountains with short fingers. Shaping under (ascending right hand) and shaping over (descending right hand) can help us establish where on the keys to be, relative to each other and to the plains and mountains. Moving in or out can help us arrive in time to play with short fingers on black keys. Avoid sudden lurches at all  costs, as you might fall off a high peak or crash into the fall board.

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