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Topic: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders  (Read 2110 times)

Offline pianolotus

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Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
on: December 19, 2004, 04:04:44 PM
I've read that most of the work done in playing piano should be from the upper arm and shoulders.

My question is, how can force from your upper arm and shoulders be transfered through your fingers and into the keyboard without tensing your body so the downward force can be applied to the keys.

Also, people talk about gravity drops and letting gravity do all the work - perhaps it is my piano that feel the keys are quite stiff, but when i try to let gravity do the work, indeed, no work is done.

Offline pianiststrongbad

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Re: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
Reply #1 on: December 19, 2004, 04:22:06 PM
I think that playing piano is a combination of things.  I think the upper arm and shoulder need to be completely relaxed for the fingers to be relaxed.  I believe the only time one is required to play directly from the upper arm is in works such as Rachmaninov Prelude op. 23 no. 5, Scribin Etude Op. 8 no. 12, and most other octave peices.  But for instance if I were to play Mozart, or Bach, there would be little effort involved from the uppper arm.  Most of the sound would be generated from the fingers and would be controlled by my arms moving.  This is really hard to explain, hopefully someone else can do a better job.  I find gravity drops useful, it requires less physical workout.  For instance, take an octave, hold your hand about a foot above the keyboard.  Now just lose all tension in your arm and let it drop.  It should make the keys go down.  The only trick is to control this method- and hit the right notes.  I have found that if you use this method and can guide your arm a little in the process of it falling, it feels much nicer than to have to thrust your arm at the keys everytime. 

Offline xvimbi

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Re: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
Reply #2 on: December 19, 2004, 04:42:51 PM
I've read that most of the work done in playing piano should be from the upper arm and shoulders.

My question is, how can force from your upper arm and shoulders be transfered through your fingers and into the keyboard without tensing your body so the downward force can be applied to the keys.

Obviously, that's not possible. In order to transfer force across a joint, one has the keep the joint rigid. This is achieved through muscle action, i.e. the muscles will be tense at that point. Perhaps, the confusion is about the term "tense". It has a dual meaning in this case. Muscle action involves tensing the muscles, but when we talk about "my muscles feel tense", what we really mean is that by using the muscles for too long, they have become unresponsive, stiff, sore, etc.

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Also, people talk about gravity drops and letting gravity do all the work - perhaps it is my piano that feel the keys are quite stiff, but when i try to let gravity do the work, indeed, no work is done.

I have never seen any action where the keys cannot be depressed through gravity alone with the mass provided by the pianist. The finger weight alone should be sufficient, the hand weight is definitely enough. Check it out: put a stack of coins on a key and see how many you need to depress the key. Try different positions along the key, and see how that affects the number of coins you need. It's a very good exercise to figure out the exact mass that's required to depress the keys on a piano. It gives perspective to how little is actually required. It shows how many muscles we often employ needlessly.

Offline pianolotus

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Re: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
Reply #3 on: December 19, 2004, 07:53:09 PM
xvimbi

it takes 20 quarters to produce a faint sound on my piano

Offline anda

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Re: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
Reply #4 on: December 19, 2004, 08:00:40 PM

Offline Maui

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Re: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
Reply #5 on: December 22, 2004, 01:27:36 AM
xvimbi everytime with superb answers

Offline xvimbi

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Re: Playing piano with upper arm and shoulders
Reply #6 on: December 25, 2004, 04:34:33 AM
xvimbi

it takes 20 quarters to produce a faint sound on my piano

This is not too bad. I'm not willing to cut off my finger to find out if its weight alone is enough to depress the key (any takers?). Anyway, I think what you are finding out is in fact that it is not so easy to "let gravity do its works". Say, you lift your hand up by 20 inches by rotating around your elbow joint. Now, try to drop the hand onto the keyboard with its full weight. If you have never done this before, chances are you will be apprehesive, you will stop, or at least slow down, the fall before the fingers hit the keys or soon after. It takes a lot of practice to be able to "let lose" entirely. However, this is absolutely required to make use of gravity. If you need to use your muscles to slow down motions induced by gravity, why use gravity at all? The idea is that you won't use muscle action on the down motion. So, I think your inability to produce any sound by dropping your hand on the keys is a phsycological problem.

Mastering gravity can be a painful experience (literally), because who in their right mind wants to smash their hand from 20 inches high with full force into the keybed. Yet, once mastered, it turns out that perhaps only 2 inches are necessary to create the sound you want, and you'll have learned how to make much more efficient use of your playing apparatus.

If all this sounds to taxing, you could have your action made lighter.
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