The Riddle of the Pianist's Finger, by Arnold Schultz, was published in 1949 as a treatise on how the muscles that move fingers actually work. I came upon it myself decades later in an effort to figure out why my technique was not what I wanted it to be and why I was in pain. This was before I became a Certified Alexander Technique Teacher and a Licensed Andover Educator®. I was simply a struggling pianist and teacher with a Bachelor of Music in Education and a Master of Music in Pedagogy but no idea how fingers actually move.
I had wonderful teachers who gave me excellent guidance on musicianship and style and developing listening skills. I am grateful to all of them. However, after all of the lessons and performances, I still did not completely understand how a finger moves, nor how that has any impact on how the piano produces sounds.
Possibly the most confusing element of my concept of finger movement was that of sound production being based on the shape of the finger: a "flat" finger produces a "richer" tone, for example, than a "curved" finger, one theory. Black keys should always be played with flat fingers, while white keys benefit from curved fingers, another theory. I pondered that in playing a quick A-flat major scale, for example, wondering how I could adjust finger shape from key to key. Yet one more theory I recently heard has to do with the speed of finger "circles".
If you followed my series of blogs called "Now, Weight!", especially Part Four (Sept, 2013), you will understand that the basic tone variable we have as pianists is the speed of key descent: the faster the descent, the louder the sound. The speed of key release changes the articulation: the faster the release, the shorter the sound. It is my experience as a teacher that students with many different finger shapes can create a variety of sounds at the piano. So why bother helping students adapt specific finger shapes, particularly if there is an unproven sound production premise behind these shapes?
The primary reason for understanding how fingers move is for the health and facility of the performer. A pianist with a faulty notion of how fingers move is more likely to become injured or technically limited. In the next part, we will take a look at some basic information that may help avoid these problems.
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