Friday, April 12, 2013

Cans of Word Worms: Wrist Circles Part One

More than one Englishman has awoken to the mysterious beauty of a crop circle in his field. A crop circle is a symbol created by tamping down dry crops, leaving a design that is most appreciated from a high perspective. That may be the reason that believers in alien life decided they were created by interstellar visitors.

The truth is, there were two guys named Doug and Dave who figured out how to use a plank and some rope to beautify the fields at night, having drawn out their "mystical" shapes in the local pub. Kind of a disappointment, but also a joy to meet these agricultural artists.

Circles have a mystery all of their own because a true circle has no ending and no beginning. In mathematical size, it includes 360 degrees from any point on its circumference, and all points are equally distant from its center.

The wrist actually does have boundaries that are discernible. There are 8 little bones in two crooked lines that make up the wrist. They fill in the space between the bones of the hand and the two bones of the forearm. Each bone has a unique shape and a unique Latin name that relates to its shape. The wrist is quite beautiful in its own way.

But it is not a circle, nor does it describe one as it moves through space, earthly space, piano playing space. The wrist bones allow the hand to move in many directions, but none of them is a circle. A segment of a circle is an arc. Allowing the hand to drop from the wrist creates a visible arc through the bones of the wrist,  especially when viewed from above, but the arc can not continue into a circle.

Like the hand, the wrist does not have one ideal position for piano playing. Encouraging a flexible wrist helps pianists access the intricate movements of the wrist bones. Celebrate these movements the next time you lift a pint in honor of Doug and Dave.


                                                              wrist bones

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cans of Word Worms: Crossing Hands

Thing was the name of the disembodied hand that greeted visitors to the Addams Family manse in the famous cartoons created by Charles Addams. Many of us recall an image of Thing from the TV series of the mid-60's. Actor Ted Cassidy, who also played Lurch, usually played Thing as well. He used his right hand to complete his duties, but occasionally he would use his left hand to see if anyone realized the difference. While we were well aware that the table on which Thing rested covered up the rest of Ted's body, we were still fascinated by the movements of the helpful hand.

Hands are probably the things we are most aware of in our own bodies when we play the piano. First of all, as I mentioned before, they are highly touch sensitive. Secondly, they are always in our peripheral vision. Thirdly, we learn those abbreviations "RH" and "LH" almost from the first lesson. Those abbreviations are very helpful, but they can suggest a bit of the disembodied "Thing".

Crossing hands, for example, is something Thing could never do, in part because we believed he had only one hand. Those of us with two hands can actually cross them. If we lay one hand on the other, they are crossing. That is not usually what pianists do when we cross hands, however.

What we usually do is move one whole arm in front of the body so that the left hand is playing keys higher than those the right hand is playing. It can happen over a small distance or a large distance. In close hand positions, the hands can actually be sharing the same keys. They still rely on the arms to get them there, however.

Now when I teach "cross hands" pieces, I remind myself to say "cross arms". This may often be accompanied by some large arm movement away from the piano, allowing the student to sense how the whole arm takes the hand through space. We also explore how spiraling through the spine can help with very large crossings.

This may seem a little kooky, but it's not mysterious, creepy, or ooky, whatever that word means.