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Arms vs fingers (Read 4602 times)

Offline slobone

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Arms vs fingers
« on: September 29, 2014, 04:01:57 PM »
OK, a bit of background first. I'm a 67 year old male. A few years ago, when I hadn't been playing much, I started getting twinges of arthritis in the bottom knuckle of my left thumb (the one down by the wrist). My general philosophy of arthritis is, use it or lose it. So I stepped up my practice schedule and made a point of doing technique exercises every day.

But for some reason I wasn't doing arpeggios. Now I've started doing arpeggios in 7ths, which are great for increasing extension between fingers. But I have to stop after a few minutes because of soreness. I know they'll get easier with practice, but I wonder if there's a better way.

What I think I'm doing wrong is making my fingers do all the work. It's like my fingers have a death grip on the keys. I'm also to some extent using the strength of my fingers to propel my hands up and down the keyboard. This is especially hard on my thumb when I turn it under.

Over the years I've seen a lot of discussion here on arms vs fingers. The consensus seems to be that it's better to let the arms do most of the work. But how do I learn how to do this after 59 years of doing it the wrong way? How do you go about teaching this technique to students? Are there exercises I could be doing? I know it will probably take me a long time to correct my bad habits, but I'd like to at least try. If nothing else it will extend my playing life before the arthritis kicks in for real.

Thanks in advance.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #1 on: September 29, 2014, 04:57:59 PM »
OK, a bit of background first. I'm a 67 year old male. A few years ago, when I hadn't been playing much, I started getting twinges of arthritis in the bottom knuckle of my left thumb (the one down by the wrist). My general philosophy of arthritis is, use it or lose it. So I stepped up my practice schedule and made a point of doing technique exercises every day.

But for some reason I wasn't doing arpeggios. Now I've started doing arpeggios in 7ths, which are great for increasing extension between fingers. But I have to stop after a few minutes because of soreness. I know they'll get easier with practice, but I wonder if there's a better way.

What I think I'm doing wrong is making my fingers do all the work. It's like my fingers have a death grip on the keys. I'm also to some extent using the strength of my fingers to propel my hands up and down the keyboard. This is especially hard on my thumb when I turn it under.

Over the years I've seen a lot of discussion here on arms vs fingers. The consensus seems to be that it's better to let the arms do most of the work. But how do I learn how to do this after 59 years of doing it the wrong way? How do you go about teaching this technique to students? Are there exercises I could be doing? I know it will probably take me a long time to correct my bad habits, but I'd like to at least try. If nothing else it will extend my playing life before the arthritis kicks in for real.

Thanks in advance.

I'm afraid that methods which speak of arms providing the energy and fingers merely passing it on are bogus pseudoscience- at least, in situations where anything is played even remotely fast.

The irony is that trying to take arm energy is literally is every bit as damaging to the hand as moving fingers alone from a stiff arm. In a great many cases, people blame overuse of the fingers when arm pressure is what causes such overwork. Simply stop digging in with the arm and actually allow the fingers to push the knuckles into an elevated position (without fighting against that) and the fingers will be fine. If your hand is straining it's either because your arm is stiffening in a way that doesn't allow the fingers to move freely or because your arm is pressing TOO MUCH energy through the fingers and thus making them work harder.

I've written numerous posts that involve both objective proof of the fact that the arm energy idea is a complete myth and exercises to feel how to move the fingers in suitably connected fashion that does not involve stiffness or strain. Try this recent post- which illustrates how even if you use literal arm energy, the hand has to generate movement for any hope of a healthy approach.

http://pianoscience.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/tonal-control-efficiency-and-health.html

As the post demonstrates, even when using lots of arm movement, you can never replace the importance finger movements, even if literally bobbing it up and down on each note. Speaking as someone who used to overwork my hands by moving the fingers too little and by using too much arm energy, I strongly advise against taking the popular pseudo-science about arm energy even remotely literally. It doesn't relieve an underactive hand at all. It forces it to strain harder unless the hand supplies suitable movement. The arm's primary role is to learn to be free, so it can respond to finger actions without stiffening and without jamming down through them. You don't need to be burdened by nonsensical myths in order to connect your fingers and arm in a healthy fashion.

Offline Mayla

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #2 on: September 29, 2014, 05:03:33 PM »
.

"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline goldentone

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #3 on: September 29, 2014, 07:31:06 PM »
... the truth of the matter is that one is *always* affecting the other in some way, and the largest aim is to have them -and your whole body- working harmoniously together (= smooth, efficient, non-constrained, musical motions) vs. parts of the mechanism inhibiting other parts in any way.  This takes some serious exploration and investigation with specific aims.  

Let it be a given that any part of the mechanism should not be "static" ... if it is 'still', there is a difference between being balanced and supportive vs. being static (let's say that "static" here means resistant to any type of motion).  Other than that, for this tiny snippet of a post about this subject...

Working harmoniously together, yes, the largest aim.  I can share from my own experience (from the correctly applied parenting of an expert on the subject) that harmony is the 'golden key' that simplifies and centers.  There's a natural interlocking response of the torso in concert, flowing like an intuitive grace.  Once this consciousness is achieved, you may experience a little euphoria.  In order to establish this, you may have to daily focus on it for a time, or keep it on the outskirt of your mind in order to pull down any resistance from your body's former relationship to the piano.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Offline dima_ogorodnikov

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #4 on: September 29, 2014, 07:48:16 PM »
-
No amount of how-to information is going to work if you have the wrong mindset, the wrong guiding philosophies. Avoid losers like the plague, and gather with and learn from winners only.

Offline hardy_practice

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #5 on: September 29, 2014, 07:52:34 PM »
Start with something simple like ripping some chords:



B Mus, PGCE, DipABRSM

Offline ted

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #6 on: September 29, 2014, 07:54:50 PM »
I do not normally enter these discussions because I play little classical music and have had little orthodox technical training. However, I am also sixty-seven and much of my playing, the hundreds of hours of improvisation, is of a very physical nature. Now external conditions such as arthritis might be simply the luck of the draw, I don't know about that aspect. Speaking for myself, I am very glad I spent many years maintaining a strong finger technique. These days I hardly ever pass thumbs under and just use hand displacement. My case is somewhat unusual in that I have used a Virgil Practice Clavier to do this since I was twenty-one, but in principle the results are probably the same.

Various experts have advised me, now and then, to use more arm, more weight and so on, but when I have attempted to do that I have found it leads to flaccid music and I start to feel insecure, especially with things like rapid double notes, to take an example.

Therefore I caution against throwing away a dextrous finger technique unless you really have to.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline slobone

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #7 on: September 29, 2014, 09:12:26 PM »
I do not normally enter these discussions because I play little classical music and have had little orthodox technical training. However, I am also sixty-seven and much of my playing, the hundreds of hours of improvisation, is of a very physical nature. Now external conditions such as arthritis might be simply the luck of the draw, I don't know about that aspect. Speaking for myself, I am very glad I spent many years maintaining a strong finger technique. These days I hardly ever pass thumbs under and just use hand displacement. My case is somewhat unusual in that I have used a Virgil Practice Clavier to do this since I was twenty-one, but in principle the results are probably the same.

Various experts have advised me, now and then, to use more arm, more weight and so on, but when I have attempted to do that I have found it leads to flaccid music and I start to feel insecure, especially with things like rapid double notes, to take an example.

Therefore I caution against throwing away a dextrous finger technique unless you really have to.

I certainly don't want to abandon my finger technique, in fact I'd like to improve it so I can do ornaments in Bach quickly enough. But I'd also like to expand to do things I don't do so well now -- skips, octave passages, tremolos, Alberti bass, and so on.

And I'd like to be sure I'm not putting the wrong kind of pressure on my hands. I didn't mention that I also now have bone spurs on several of my joints, which I think may be due to too much Hanon. :(

Offline ted

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #8 on: September 29, 2014, 11:02:29 PM »
Okay, I had better not comment further because I know little about bone spurs and even less about Hanon. I am also probably too individual a player to proffer general advice. Good luck with finding your own solution which is both painless and musically relevant.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #9 on: September 29, 2014, 11:30:17 PM »
I certainly don't want to abandon my finger technique, in fact I'd like to improve it so I can do ornaments in Bach quickly enough. But I'd also like to expand to do things I don't do so well now -- skips, octave passages, tremolos, Alberti bass, and so on.

And I'd like to be sure I'm not putting the wrong kind of pressure on my hands. I didn't mention that I also now have bone spurs on several of my joints, which I think may be due to too much Hanon. :(

The best thing is to post a video. One can only speculate on what particular problems you might have to deal with, unless there is something to see. But there's nothing dangerous about moving your fingers through keys unless the arm compresses them down with force. Think how much extra pressure the arm would actually put on those fingers if it provided the energy for all those key depressions- squashing each finger into impact against the keybed. 

Offline slobone

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #10 on: September 30, 2014, 07:25:35 PM »
The best thing is to post a video. One can only speculate on what particular problems you might have to deal with, unless there is something to see. But there's nothing dangerous about moving your fingers through keys unless the arm compresses them down with force. Think how much extra pressure the arm would actually put on those fingers if it provided the energy for all those key depressions- squashing each finger into impact against the keybed. 

My last teacher is the one who really got me started on the Hanon. She told me to always practice it fortissimo. And I was doing it in acciaccaturas, which is even worse.

Bone spurs are harmless, but I have to go to see an orthopedist to make sure that's all they are.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #11 on: October 04, 2014, 09:51:07 PM »
My last teacher is the one who really got me started on the Hanon. She told me to always practice it fortissimo. And I was doing it in acciaccaturas, which is even worse.

It's all about the how. The myth that tension is okay if you relax after is ruinous. It's like punching a wall full force and going limp wristed, as if that would make the bruises on the knuckles go away.

The finger can play as loud as you like if you create a run-off for continued movement. If you crush them down into collapse or a sudden stop then it will be dangerous. But the common idea that the only alternative would be arm energy instead of finger action is an unwarranted assumption. It's about whether the fingers move into downward impact or continue upwards so energy dissipates gradually. The arms role is not to throw energy around but to permit that run-off rather than restrict it.

http://pianoscience.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/keybedding-to-follow-through-or-to-hold.html

Offline rmbarbosa

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #12 on: October 08, 2014, 11:51:12 AM »
arpeggios in sevenths/ extension?
You may wish to lift your hands in an angle <> 45% from the keyboard. As the perimeter of a circle is 2piR, when you do that your fingers reach more amplitude and you did not need to do a great extension.
When your hand is parallel to the keyboard, that is like the diameter of the circle and you have less amplitude. But when you lift your hand your fingers are like a circle, "ergo" <> 2 x diameter. Try it.


Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #13 on: October 08, 2014, 03:33:32 PM »
arpeggios in sevenths/ extension?
You may wish to lift your hands in an angle <> 45% from the keyboard. As the perimeter of a circle is 2piR, when you do that your fingers reach more amplitude and you did not need to do a great extension.
When your hand is parallel to the keyboard, that is like the diameter of the circle and you have less amplitude. But when you lift your hand your fingers are like a circle, "ergo" <> 2 x diameter. Try it.



I don't follow the reasoning at all. Can you clarify? You didn't even define where the circle lies.

Offline rmbarbosa

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #14 on: October 15, 2014, 09:45:16 AM »
My English is very poor, so I was not very clear, may be.
What I said is a very known technique for arpeggios in order to reach a greater amplitude.
When we have our hands parallel to the keyboard we can reach one certain amplitude, for example only 11 keys. This amplitude is like the diameter of a circle.
But when we lift our hand <> 45 degrees and "roll" the hand, that`s like as we make a circle instead of the diameter.
As the perimeter is 2 pi R, beeing pi = 3,14 and R the half of the diameter, we have Dx3,14 of amplitude, wich is more than the diameter. So we have a gain.
This is a well known technic, wich name I dont remember at this moment.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #15 on: October 15, 2014, 10:13:09 AM »
My English is very poor, so I was not very clear, may be.
What I said is a very known technique for arpeggios in order to reach a greater amplitude.
When we have our hands parallel to the keyboard we can reach one certain amplitude, for example only 11 keys. This amplitude is like the diameter of a circle.
But when we lift our hand <> 45 degrees and "roll" the hand, that`s like as we make a circle instead of the diameter.
As the perimeter is 2 pi R, beeing pi = 3,14 and R the half of the diameter, we have Dx3,14 of amplitude, wich is more than the diameter. So we have a gain.
This is a well known technic, wich name I dont remember at this moment.

Sorry to be blunt but that doesn't work. A circle is limited by the diameter which cannot be increased other than by opening the hand further. Taking a long route around a circle doesn't take you any wider along the horizontal diameter unless the hand actually widens. It's simply a longer and less direct journey to the same place, so the greater length of the perimeter is irrelevant. There are reasons why rotation makes it easier (primarily that the arm has room to move sideways) but they certainly don't lie within the geometry you're going into. The geometry of a circle accounts for a gain of zero, because the diameter (the only relevant measurement) makes no gain.

Offline rmbarbosa

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #16 on: November 01, 2014, 02:44:06 PM »
When you put your hand over a table, you may reach a certain distance between your first and your 5 finger. This distance is the diameter of a hemi-circle formed by your five fingers.
But if you lift your hand from the horizontal to a vertical position, now what you have is your fingers forming a haf-circle over the table.
So, when you roll your hand, you`ll reach a distance longer than the distance when your hand is parallel to the table...

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #17 on: November 03, 2014, 11:56:21 AM »
When you put your hand over a table, you may reach a certain distance between your first and your 5 finger. This distance is the diameter of a hemi-circle formed by your five fingers.
But if you lift your hand from the horizontal to a vertical position, now what you have is your fingers forming a haf-circle over the table.
So, when you roll your hand, you`ll reach a distance longer than the distance when your hand is parallel to the table...

? That logic does not follow. You're obscuring a simple fact among empty words - that your reach between 1 and 5 is defined by how far you open them. Orientation is irrelevant and you are only confusing the issue with this bogus geometry. The circles are of different sizes but an identical length is simply switching from being a diameter of a small circle to a radius of a bigger one. The size of the circle is irrelevant. It's the constant distance between 1 and 5 that relates to the interval you can cover.

The reason it's easier to reach further is simply because when rotating you can THROW outwards, rather than move in a literal circle. In any circular path, the gain is zero as only increasing the radius (ie stretching further between 1 and 5) increases the distance. Gain occurs when you stop limiting yourself to a literal circle and throw outwards. The first note becomes a springboard, not a limiting fixed point in a circle. Please stop confusing the issue with inaccurate attempts at geometry. It will not work. No accurate geometry says that changing orientation of something alters its length.

Offline timothy42b

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #18 on: November 03, 2014, 01:34:17 PM »
Hee, hee.

Geometry aside, rmb is right.  Try it on the table, I just did. 
Tim

Offline timothy42b

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #19 on: November 03, 2014, 01:38:44 PM »
PS I agree with the vido suggestion.

While there are some real differences in approach between the Whiteside rebellion against the archaic overly finger centric school (you can probably see which side I fall on), it is not at all clear what the OP means by finger oriented.  The problem may be unrelated; it may just be tension, for example. 
Tim

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #20 on: November 03, 2014, 03:01:34 PM »
Hee, hee.

Geometry aside, rmb is right.  Try it on the table, I just did.  

What happened? There's no reason at all why the thumb and fifth would get any further apart, other than if you allow them to stretch further apart. You can let go of the pivot and throw yourself outwards but that doesn't open the fingers wider, it simply moves the whole thing to the side. Either way, it has nothing to do with the geometry of circles providing any difference in length. The diameter is not changing at all, wherever your orientate the circle, unless you are stretching wider. Rotation simply makes it easier to throw sideways with accuracy and makes it feel more connected than when moving on a direct line (which feels less connected in terms of legato). No measurements get any bigger due to geometry.

Nb I never disputed the value in rotating to help cover distance. But the explanation is nonsense and accounts for no difference whatsoever. Explanations which are both complex and wrong add nothing to understanding of something.

Offline timothy42b

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #21 on: November 03, 2014, 04:19:49 PM »


Nb I never disputed the value in rotating to help cover distance. But the explanation is nonsense and accounts for no difference whatsoever.

It's not wrong, though.

When your hand is flat, forearm rotation not only gains you no spread, it reduces your reach.  The only way to gain distance by rotation is to move the elbow in and our pivoting around the hand. 

Raising the angle of the hand, and you can gain a small amount of rotation spread. 
Tim

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #22 on: November 03, 2014, 06:55:24 PM »
It's not wrong, though.

When your hand is flat, forearm rotation not only gains you no spread, it reduces your reach.  The only way to gain distance by rotation is to move the elbow in and our pivoting around the hand.  

Raising the angle of the hand, and you can gain a small amount of rotation spread.  


Rotation/angling doesn't inherently either spread or close. When I simply rotate, my thumb and fifth stay exactly as they began. Unless I also choose to throw out sideways. That's nothing to do with pi or circles. It because the distance got made wider between thumb and fifth and the arm also moved to cover more ground still. Rotation doesn't directly offer anything extra, the  lateral movement that is added to the mix is what covers extra distance. There are two separate components here, but no amount of rotation inherently changes the span between thumb and fifth. It simply makes it easy to add lateral arm movements in a fluid motion, so there's less need to have a large span. Rotation only allows this extra element to be added. Rotation alone returns the hand to whatever distance you can reach between 1 and 5.

If you're pointing out that a non horizontal alignment wastes the full potential for horizontal coverage, then sure. But the poster wasn't referring to that. He was doing bogus maths about diameters. You'll reach whatever distance your hand is open to in the given moment, rotation or not. What rotation does is make the hand SEEM bigger, due to the ease of throwing it out sideways between thumb and fifth- so you don't actually have to reach to your limits at all. He's obviously so used to adding this throwing action that he has confused it as being a gain due to geometry. It isn't. In his description, the hand would come right back to the distance it began at. The geometrical gain is nil, which is why we can be sure that addition of a lateral throwing out is the true explanation. When you only rotate, you return to where you began.

Offline nyiregyhazi

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #23 on: November 03, 2014, 07:38:27 PM »
The simplest proof of this is a clock, btw. Obviously the hand reaches out furthest horizontally when it's at 3 or 9. But it's length never changes. It's not any longer at 12 o clock than at 3 o clock. Rotation in itself adds no possible gain to hand span (as long as you are familiar with the horizontal alignment equivalent to 3 o clock) and trying to use geometry to account for any gains is an impossible task. The clock can only reach further if you release its central pivot, so the whole hand can be moved out farther to the side. It's the same on the piano. Rotation doesn't make for gains in itself for any reason. Coupling rotation AND lateral movement (and letting of go of the the idea of literally reaching the full distance within the hand) makes the difference.

Rather than make a simple practical issue complex through means that don't actually account for any difference, it's far simpler to appreciate the straightforward practical reality- ie. rotation makes leaps easier because it makes it easier to throw out sideways (without stretching out to full capacity) rather than strain to physically stretch the whole distance. Geometry of circles cannot explain anything in terms of gains and is a complete red herring.

Offline timothy42b

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #24 on: November 03, 2014, 07:57:41 PM »

This is a well known technic, wich name I dont remember at this moment.

The name would help, in whatever language you choose.
Tim

Offline bernadette60614

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #25 on: November 14, 2014, 10:00:33 PM »
You've received a lot of advice, but from someone who is not an expert, but a "finger focused" student, the simplest way for me to work on arm action is simply to rotate wrist in the direction of the notes when playing a triplet (I"m working on a lot of Schubert right now.) 

I previously played them purely by focusing on my fingers, which are quite fast and strong, but I could never achieve the fluid, rippling effect in playing Schubert. That slight/tilt of my wrist has enabled me to do so.

Offline pts1

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #26 on: November 17, 2014, 05:58:51 PM »
Here's a video of a master pianist

I'd suggest you watch carefully and determine for yourself the role of the arms.

Principally, as you can see, they assist the hands.


Offline rmbarbosa

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #27 on: December 12, 2014, 01:49:39 PM »
Timothy,
Only just now I saw your demand.
I`m going to search and today or tomorrow I`ll put it here.
It`s something like "cartwell" (the name of this technic) but I do not remember exactly.
I do know that it is a technik used even by Chopin.
You may see it in Chang`s book.

Offline timothy42b

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Re: Arms vs fingers
«Reply #28 on: December 12, 2014, 03:13:35 PM »
Here is Chang's explanation:

http://www.pianofundamentals.com/book/en/1.III.5.5

I could not find a description elsewhere so I don't know how universally this is accepted.
Tim