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With sincere thanks to Andy Kovacs.
With sincere thanks to Andy Kovacs.
Think about it!
I overheard two young musicians speaking recently about what they would do after graduation. One of them was overcome with worry about how she was going to pay rent.
“I have a few gigs lined up, but I don’t think it’s going to get me very far. I might have to take this job I was offered,” Jenn says.
Her friend Sarah asked, “What kind of job?”
“Admin and telemarketing,” Jenn sighed.
“When are you going to be able to practice?” Sarah asks.
“I don’t know,” Jenn says. “I guess at night if I don’t have gigs. I’m afraid people are going to judge me and think I’ve failed. A month out of music school and I’m already giving up. No one’s going to think I’m a serious musician.”
Jenn: I’m thinking of getting a non-music related job.
Sarah: What kind of job?
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Short answer: Because if sight-reading is all you ever do, then that’s the best you will ever play.
Today, while learning a Mozart piano reduction (violin concerto), I had to stop myself from switching between fingers on a single key several times.
We have two options: sight-reading and improving. (One is more fun than the other!) The pic above accurately represents the way I feel when I have to write fingerings in my music.
The problem, for me, stems from three sources:
1. Sight-reading (both music I need to learn and music that’s put in front of me in work situations);
2. Organ playing; and
3. Playing for chorus/opera/dance/musical rehearsals.
1. Sight-reading is a great skill to have! Without it, there would be far fewer work opportunities. The problem is that when one relies only on sight-reading, fingerings are random and so is the resulting sound. The playing will be slower and have considerably less finesse. In addition, when sight-reading is the only game in town, the music benefits from very little thought.
2. Organs and pianos both have keyboards, but they are completely different mechanically. To sustain a pitch on the organ, the key must be depressed. On piano, the damper pedal is available. Organists are trained to play a key with one finger, then switch to another while still depressing the same key. That’s how they navigate around the keyboard while playing legato. Playing the piano in that manner, however, is not helpful except in cases where the fingering cannot be solved in other ways.
3. When playing piano reductions (chorus, opera, and concertos where the pianist acts as the orchestra), pianistic fingering is not possible. There are too many notes included in a piano reduction to fit under the hand. (Reductions are not “pianistic.”) So “bad” fingering often results. The object is to get to the next location on the keyboard however you can, ahead of time.
So, what is “good” fingering?
Try playing Mozart. Unintended accents will be immediately disruptive. Making good fingering decisions is the shortest route to playing appropriately.
Schumann, Verdi, and Prokofiev sound distinct from each other when played by good orchestras. Why not play them with different sounds on the piano, too?
Why spend valuable practice time eliminating accents produced by the thumb when you could find a better fingering? Practicing for hours attempting to produce an accented downbeat with the 4th finger is similarly a waste of time.
A friend asked the other day how she could stretch her fingers following an automobile accident which put her hand in a splint for several weeks. She has lost the span needed to play Beethoven on the piano. Since she plays for her own enjoyment, ways to maintain flexibility and range were something she needed to check out. Her first thought was, “I’ll never be able to play again!”
Most people are familiar with large muscle stretches for sports, for example. Hand stretches might be a little different.This is what I told her. Perhaps something in this post will be helpful to you or someone you know, as well.
To stretch your fingers ~ yes, you can do that. But you have to be careful. The hand injury specialist who treated me said to stretch to about 80% of your max. Small structures can’t be over-stressed, because they can be permanently injured.
With your opposite hand, gently stretch one finger at a time, keeping finger curved when stretching back, away from finger tips, toward back of palm. (So your middle joint aims for the ceiling, fingernail ends up near 3rd joint.)
Next, stretch the same finger down to palm, so fingernail almost touches inside of wrist. Straighten finger, keeping it relaxed. Now stretch the same finger, using your opposite hand, to the left and then right.Stretching in all directions is important to maintain the balance in length of the tendons. Each stretch can be repeated, gently, 2 or 3 times in one session. You could do a couple of sessions each day.
You can soak your hands in hot water for a few minutes On a cold day or in a cold room, avoid going into stretches with cold hands. And, for instance, you wouldn’t want to stretch in front of a cold blast of air from an air-conditioner, or in front of a fan.
Don’t expect instant progress… you haven’t been using your hand for a while.
Stretching both hands adds a 15% benefit!
Don’t overdo it or go too fast out of frustration. That’s the hard part for me. Robert Schumann, the composer, became frustrated that his 4th fingers wouldn’t lift off the keyboard as far as 2, 3, and 5. He built a wooden machine to stretch his 4th fingers, and ruined his hands for life.
When you have finished stretching, take a break. Any strenuous activity with your hands needs to begin no sooner than 10 minutes later.
While you are regaining your flexiblity, go ahead and play your instrument! You can leave things out. Playing something is so much more fun than not playing at all and becoming worried that you won’t be able to. Given a little time, your flexibility will return. It takes attention to the situation and caring for your hands where they are right now, today.
Surgeons play finger games to maintain flnger flexibility. So, while playing an instrument may seem like a niche activity, maintaining flexibility is also applicable to other professions.
Hope this helps!