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Hurdle

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One of my adult students made an extraordinary leap last week!  It’s right up there with getting religion and learning to walk.

The hurdle

Just as she finished playing one of the exercises in A Dozen A Day, I happened to glance at her hand.  She had developed a bridge!

Why not sooner?

I’ve asked myself that question many times.

Possible contributing factors:

  • This student, an adult beginner, has difficulty relaxing at the keyboard.
  • She often over-thinks, which leads to a downward spiral.
  • Her instrument at home is an electronic keyboard.

My approach

During lessons, we have discussed:

  • Hand position.
  • Being aware of feeling in the arms, hands and fingers.
  • Using weight from the back, shoulders, and upper arm.
  • Transferring weight from finger to finger rather than just pushing down the keys.

This seemed to result in a rather vague understanding of what was needed.

The “aha” moment

Was this a random occurrence?

We were doing an exercise in 3rds from A Dozen A Day.  When we worked on it briefly, I demonstrated playing the first 3rd (right hand C and E), keeping the notes depressed, then lifting the fingers for the next 3rd (D and F), and on to the next (E and G).

My student’s response was, “So I lift my fingers after I’ve played the first chord?”

I said, “Lift your fingers before you play the next one.”  (When playing in a slow tempo, preparing too far in advance creates unnecessary tension.)

Voilà!  Something clicked!  She did it!  No pushing!

And then I looked, and saw the bridge!

What is a “bridge” in the hand?

Having a bridge in the hand means that the hand appears to be holding an imaginary ball.  The fingers are rounded, and the palm is arched.  Now look at the knuckles across the top of the hand.  The knuckles form the “bridge.”  They are the highest part.

Why is the “bridge” important?

  • When the hand is in this position, the thumb passes under the hand easily.  This is needed in order to play scales and arpeggios.
  • The fingers play the keys with the contact points falling in a straight line.  When this happens, one has more control of dynamics, speed, and tone quality.
  • The hands are stronger with this alignment.

Why did the “bridge” happen at this moment?

I think the contributing factors were:

  • The specific exercise we were working on.
  • The acoustic piano my student practices on during her lunch hour (very stiff action).
  • Just plain luck.

More about A Dozen A Day

This series is appropriate for some adult beginners.

With this student, my goal is to introduce various problems she will encounter in piano music she plays, both now and in the future.  Working on each exercise for an extended period is not helpful to her.  The exercise doesn’t get better after a certain point because thinking takes over, and then she becomes frustrated.

I try to ensure that she understands what the exercise is about, and then we move on.

The Instrument

Perhaps this is a good time to repeat my feeling that acoustic pianos are better for developing piano technique, tone quality, pedal technique, dynamic contrast, velocity, sustained phrasing, variety in articulation, and many other things.

Although some electronic keyboards claim to have weighted keys, I have played several.  When adjusting the key resistance, I couldn’t feel any difference.

Had my student not had access to an acoustic piano, I question whether the bridge in her hand would have developed.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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