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Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles (Read 554 times)

Offline ranjit

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Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
« on: July 04, 2021, 09:58:27 PM »
I read this recently while trying to search for what exactly finger strength means, and the author talks about how the interossei need to be strengthened in order to play the piano. What the author mentions as the French technique, which way taught by Messaien and apparently started with Franz Liszt (or Chopin?). I have heard this exact same  piece of advice from another person independently, and he told me it worked wonders within a couple of years.

http://www.jazclass.aust.com/piano/pianist.htm#:~:text=the%20Flexors%20Digitorium%20Profundus%2C%20which,run%20to%20each%20knuckle%20joint.

Reproduced, his thesis is as follows.
Quote
The Flexor Digitorium muscle system is very powerful and we use it continuously for most of our finger movements.
However these muscles are not suitable for a good piano finger technique, because :

1. the muscles are located largely outside the hand, too far away from the required delicate finger action.

2. they cause a degree of stiffening of the wrist.

3. the key stroke becomes a pushing action rather than a freely rebounding gravity stroke.
This results in a lack of tone quality, resonance, clarity and fluency .

4.excessive use of these muscles in piano playing can easily lead to repetitive strain injury (rsi) and inflammation of the wrist.

... Instead:

When used simultaneously the Palmar and Dorsal Interossei flex the knuckle joint forward (or, when the hand is in a horizontal position, downward).
Most importantly these muscles are located entirely within the hand palm, and therefore can flex the knuckle joint (and achieve a proper finger action) without stiffening the wrist.

For a good finger action in piano playing we must therefore use the Interossei muscles and flex the fingers from the knuckle joints. This leaves the wrists relaxed and flexible.

There is however a problem.
In every day finger movement the Interossei play only a secondary and supportive role in flexing the knuckles.

... Therefore, you must upgrade the Interossei from weak supporting muscles to become the Prime movers and learn to trust and rely on them in that dominant function.

I've learned to be wary of ideas like these, but I have heard something similar from different sources at this point. I would like to know your thoughts on this. Have you encountered this theory? Is it discredited? I tried something similar and it seemed to work. I would really appreciate it if someone here could shed some light on this.

Offline anacrusis

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #1 on: July 04, 2021, 10:19:17 PM »
I remember running into that exact article when I was trying to change my own technique some 10 years ago. It's all very interesting but I think it did absolutely nada for my technique. Information about what muscles do what is one thing but it doesn't tell you what to actually do.

It's like if I'd teach you how to walk by telling you what the muscles in the foot do.

But I don't mean to discredit the article, maybe other people understand how to use the information to help them.

Offline brogers70

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #2 on: July 05, 2021, 12:42:59 AM »
My question would be how do you know whether those claims are true? Can you show that someone trained in the "French technique" uses their interossei more than the larger flexor digitorum muscles? Not sure a lot of pianists would want to sign up to play with a bunch of EMG needles in the dorsum of their hand, but maybe someone has done the experiment. 

Offline ranjit

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #3 on: July 05, 2021, 12:46:52 AM »
Information about what muscles do what is one thing but it doesn't tell you what to actually do.
So the idea is to sit rather low and only play from the surface of the keys with the fingers (not using body weight), while at the same time not allowing any excess tension to creep in and releasing just after pushing down each note. You're also supposed to feel the bottom of the key.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #4 on: July 05, 2021, 12:52:28 AM »
My question would be how do you know whether those claims are true? Can you show that someone trained in the "French technique" uses their interossei more than the larger flexor digitorum muscles?
This is partly why I asked the question, to see if anyone has any real rebuttal to this. I used to think playing with the fingers = tension, but as someone demonstrated to me and I subsequently tried out, that doesn't appear to be the case when done correctly (without excess tension anywhere else in the playing apparatus). It's an immediate pushing motion followed by a rest. I have only heard anecdotal experience. I don't dismiss anecdotal experience by really good players though, because from what I've seen the science of the movements behind piano playing is still in its infancy, so there's a lot that hasn't been studied.

Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #5 on: July 05, 2021, 01:35:20 AM »
There are many ways to play the piano and people all do it in a slighly different manner. I personally don't think considering piano technique in terms of your physical body in isolation to actual music is useful at all. You simply need musical context to explain what you do, segregating it from context simply leaves you with a muddled mess.  We had a squabble over discussing technique without musical context here: https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=50174.0

I used to play tennis and squash at a state level and would have coaches who tried to show me exactly how to move and ask me to mimic it and think about parts of the body, it was utterly useless. I also had a piano teacher who would take my hand and try to form it in a manner they wanted, also very useless. We need context, actual music we are studying, some exercises etc which allow us to practice certain movements and compare to what we used to do. We also need to do movements in an inefficient manner so we intrinsically understand any improvements. So playing incorrectly actually is essential to improvement and none of this experience can be done away with by considering muscles, joints, tendons away from actual musical context.
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Offline ranjit

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #6 on: July 05, 2021, 02:54:26 AM »
I personally don't think considering piano technique in terms of your physical body in isolation to actual music is useful at all. You simply need musical context to explain what you do, segregating it from context simply leaves you with a muddled mess. 
I personally don't quite find this to be the case. As soon as I encounter a new piece of information regarding technique, it is never independent of context for me, because I always create the context around it, derived from the nature of the movement. For example, I will see how the movement affects scale playing and how the piano responds, try out snippets of various pieces, etudes, etc. depending upon the movement. If all else falls, I will create my own improvisations and exercises around the idea and see how it can be used to make music. As you know, I'm a technical experimenter ;)

Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #7 on: July 05, 2021, 07:36:53 AM »
As soon as I encounter a new piece of information regarding technique, it is never independent of context for me, because I always create the context around it, derived from the nature of the movement. For example, I will see how the movement affects scale playing and how the piano responds, try out snippets of various pieces, etudes, etc. depending upon the movement. If all else falls, I will create my own improvisations and exercises around the idea and see how it can be used to make music. As you know, I'm a technical experimenter ;)
It just seems like a blunt knife used to do precise surgery. The link posted in OP doesn’t have any musical context, no actual pieces to highlight what they are trying to explain this so you are left to experiment without the real important information, application of the knowledge. Scales can be done in so many ways and add musical expression and actual pieces into context we really play scales differently in all pieces if we wanted to be precise. I feel one needs to learn predominantly through “doing” rather than thinking too much, yes we need an amount of thinking but one does becomes more aware simply by the result of their experience. I even don’t find these type of descriptions helpful even though I can apply context to it I still think of situations where what they are suggesting doesn’t work or is not necessary or is irrelevant since it is solved with pianistic thoughts/movements instead.
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Offline brogers70

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #8 on: July 05, 2021, 11:57:20 AM »
This is partly why I asked the question, to see if anyone has any real rebuttal to this. I used to think playing with the fingers = tension, but as someone demonstrated to me and I subsequently tried out, that doesn't appear to be the case when done correctly (without excess tension anywhere else in the playing apparatus). It's an immediate pushing motion followed by a rest. I have only heard anecdotal experience. I don't dismiss anecdotal experience by really good players though, because from what I've seen the science of the movements behind piano playing is still in its infancy, so there's a lot that hasn't been studied.

I think that what happens when you've been playing something and feel fatigued and then keep practicing that thing that fatigued you for a good while and then find you can play it without fatigue is *not* that muscles have gotten stronger. What's happened is that you have learned (or your body has learned) to minimize the activation of unnecessary muscles and thus to reduce to amount of work the muscles need to do.

Simplistically, when you start and find the thing fatiguing it may be that to hit a certain note you are use 10 units of work with your flexors and 8 units of work with your opposing extensors for a net 2 units of work on flexion. As you get better and more efficient you maybe use 3 units of work with your flexors and 1 unit of work with the opposing extensors for the same net two units of work on flexion.

For almost all motions, the muscles group that does the opposite motion is also activated - at the right level that opposing action aids control of the motion, but when there's too much it makes the motion more tense and more tiring. Over time you body learns to get the balance right so that there's enough opposing muscle activation for fine control but not so much that it's tiring.

Offline lelle

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #9 on: July 06, 2021, 10:51:04 PM »
This is partly why I asked the question, to see if anyone has any real rebuttal to this. I used to think playing with the fingers = tension, but as someone demonstrated to me and I subsequently tried out, that doesn't appear to be the case when done correctly (without excess tension anywhere else in the playing apparatus). It's an immediate pushing motion followed by a rest. I have only heard anecdotal experience. I don't dismiss anecdotal experience by really good players though, because from what I've seen the science of the movements behind piano playing is still in its infancy, so there's a lot that hasn't been studied.

My rebuttal is that you need to move your fingers to play the piano, ie making individual finger movements, ie play with the fingers, else you wouldn't be able to press down individual keys. My best understanding of what people mean when they say that you shouldn't play "only with the fingers" is that you shouldn't tense your arms and wrists and hold them frozen in place through static muscular contraction while you move your fingers.

Like how would you play without playing with the fingers?

Offline j_tour

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #10 on: July 07, 2021, 12:28:07 AM »
Like how would you play without playing with the fingers?

By using the flexor tendons, similar to how one walks, sometimes rather well?

I do sense an ill advised experiment involving a cutting implement approaching, but I'm not going to try it.
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Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #11 on: July 07, 2021, 12:38:40 AM »
Fine motor skills are a requirement for playing, without it playing the piano is ridiculously difficult. I have taught people who survived serious strokes and wanted to play the keyboard for enjoyment and therapy however the challenges they face is immense. The natural small movements we can make with our arms, wrist, fingers I think often we do without even noticing, these students I have taught who have had their fine motor skills smashed to smithereens really demonstrated to me how much we really do take for granted and how much is done without our conscious thought. There are so many finger movements we do without thinking, grasping, straighening, reaching etc, do you really consciously think about exactly what your fingers are doing when you do that? Only if you are ill.

I appreciate links like what ranjit has posted, it is interesting but I am worried that it might give a false sense of security for some people because it certainly is not all encompassing. Take for example its advice: PS 4 - The aim of good Piano Practice. Below that is an image of good and bad hand posture. It advises that totally flat fingers is bad posture. Now this is true for many cases but not for all. There are pieces you can play with totally flat fingers, Debussy's Reflects dans leau it can be played with totally flattened fingers in many parts (eg: see the RH in the opening, whole tone patterns etc) if you wanted to and is totally comfortable to do so. If you are told never to flatten your fingers and believe in lots of what is said about how your muscles are supposed to feel like you might miss out on important ways in which you can connect with the piano.

How do we come to technical conclusions should first and foremost come from the pieces and exercises we study at the piano. If there are ideas you read which open up a new way of thinking or experimentation I think that is excellent and should be explored however if one needs to understand it through examples of works they study. We should intelligently problem solve with specific pieces we are studying rather than try to apply a general answer to everything. On occasion there are very powerful ideas which apply to everything but in most cases throughout our journey we must problem solve specific situations which are not unique but rather play an important part of the technical puzzle.
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Offline ranjit

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #12 on: July 07, 2021, 02:57:24 AM »
If you are told never to flatten your fingers and believe in lots of what is said about how your muscles are supposed to feel like you might miss out on important ways in which you can connect with the piano.
I think that any piece of advice involving technique at the piano should not be taken too literally. That said, I was very afraid of injuring my hands given that I was playing for long periods of time without a teacher, so I took the advice to play loosely and without tension to heart. It certainly did result in injury-free technique, but I wasn't able to generate a clear and even tone because too much energy was being lost in the process as I was trying to be too relaxed.

Offline lettersquash

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Re: Is this legit? - on the role of finger muscles
«Reply #13 on: July 18, 2021, 10:32:10 PM »
There may be a lot gained from learning to move the fingers as independently as possible, which I suspect is easier with them arched rather than flat. However, I'm not sure about the description of which muscles are doing this. An experiment is quite easy - move the fingers of one hand (or indeed play the piano) attempting to follow this advice, while gently grasping the underside of the forearm. Is it possible without those muscles and tendons in the arm wriggling? Not for me.

There is also a question left hanging where it describes four interossei in the palm, not five - does the thumb not have them? "These are grafted on either side of the metacarpal bone (palm bone) for each of the four fingers and run to the finger bone (phalange) just past each knuckle." ...and the diagram actually labels only three!

And then the engineering naivete of this falls apart at the end, where it says: "Use gravity, viz. the natural drop of the finger, hand or arm, as the main source of energy."  This is surely nonsense, since playing a sequence of notes with each finger requires all the fingers to move in succession, and they're not heavy enough to press a piano key by themselves. The whole arm may be, but if you used the weight of the arm as the main source of energy, that means the whole arm would flap up and down to play each note! Besides, it entirely undoes all the instruction about strengthening the muscles of the palm, then to not use them much and rely mostly on the digit falling through dead weight onto the key.

As is often the case, there's precious little consideration of the thumb, which I've always thought is problematic in piano playing, because it is side-on to the keyboard, so where the fingers muscles are aligned to curl onto the keys, the thumb has to tap sideways to some extent. Perhaps it is using the interossei separately to move laterally, as the article describes in relation to the four fingers. The author apparently forgets we have thumbs at all, or that they must employ the muscles differently in piano playing due to their very different orientation.
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