Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cans of Word Worms - Hand Position Part One

MS, MRS, KSH, BM, MM, ATI, AE,  No. 27 in the deli line.

Any of these abbreviations could be applied to me, depending on the setting and the reason for the reference. None of them describes me fully. The same sort of problem shows up when I attempt to shortcut an instruction for my students. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

When I first started teaching, I purchased packs of progress reports with shortcut descriptions of desired outcomes. I would go through the list, check off what a student had done well, and make suggestions for improvement. I dutifully put them in the mail to each student's family, hoping they would be able to make sense of the shortcuts, even when I was fudging my own understanding.

I'm re-evaluating them now, starting with "hand position".  I think I'm pretty sure what my hand is, and I hope I'm not alone there! It is a magnificent structure of 19 bones, with tendons, sheaths,  muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. The fingertips have up to 16,000 touch sensors per square inch, and pianists develop remarkable sensitivity thanks to the amount of time we spend touching the keys. Including the wrist adds 8 more bones to the total, as well as some intriguing joint movement options. The word "hand" is clearly a shortcut term for an organic, complex structure.

I'm OK with this. I show my students pictures and models of hands so they understand the options hands provide. I let them play with movements so they feel these options.

Position - not so much.

One of my favorite scenes in "The Music Man" is the piano lesson with Marian and her student Amaryllis.  Amaryllis, like my students, is enthusiastic about playing her "cross-hands piece".  However, Marian advises her charge to "keep the fingers curved as nice and as high as you possibly can." How can this be? How can she make a very large movement like crossing hands (we'll get to this abbreviation later, by the way) while "keeping" her hands anywhere?

Oh, right, it's musical comedy. Suspend your disbelief and all that. Truth is, I've said similar things many times. Truth is, the sheer act of sending down a key is antithetical to keeping any sort of position. And that's just one key, not the multiple keys and movements needed to play an actual piece.

So, what do we mean when we say hand position? Tune in to Part Two for more options.

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