“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.”
Plato

Friday, February 17, 2017

Finding a Hand Position at the Piano

     

 
     The shape of the hand when playing the piano is rounded, like a ball. No, wait. It's flat like a pancake. That's not it, either. I know! It's splayed like roadkill. Or maybe it's all or none of the above. 
     Method books and their instruments of propagation, piano teachers, often mislead the unsuspecting student into a concept that will one day have to be unlearned. That is, they teach that the hand needs to be molded into a particular shape and made to hold that shape. Usually, the preferred shape is rounded, with all fingers on the keys, including
the thumb. Gentle reader, let me dissuade you of this practice as it requires that the fingers pull in toward the palm, which is work. Though we pianists are not really lazy, we want to avoid unnecessary work.
     This topic came up yet again in an online thread prefaced with a gif of adorable chicks entering a nicely rounded cave formed by, yes, a pianist's hand. You can view the gif here: Chicks in Hand. The pianist who posted this gif swore she meant it as a charming side note and did not mean it as gospel. Well, the ensuing discussion became a firestorm of approval and disapproval. I decided not to weigh in, except for the query "what is to be done when the chicks become adults?"
     The best hand position at the piano is the shape the hand takes when it dangles at one's side while window shopping. It is the naturally rounded shape of a hand that hasn't a care in the world. Try this: Drop your hand to your side, raise the forearm in the elbow hinge and turn the hand/forearm in that elbow hinge toward the thumb (rotation), placing the fingers on the keys. No, do not include the thumb. Conjure up enough tension to allow the fingers to stand there; it takes very little. This is an excellent hand position. Notice that the thumb's position is in the air, in front of and not over the keys. Yes, the thumb is a dangler. Incidentally, this is another one of those early-learned concepts that must at some point be unlearned. The fingers do not each live in their own little houses, they are instead itinerant. And the thumb, poor thing, is at best homeless, finding temporary shelter only when specifically needed. (For a video demonstration of this, click on the iDemo tab above and select Forearm Rotation.)
     So, whether or not you decide to use chicks to demonstrate the shape of the hand, try to avoid teaching that which needs later to be unlearned. This includes, by the way, teaching that a whole note must be held down for four counts...but don't get me started.
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