‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ revisited

Last night giving a Skype lesson to a student in Salt Lake City we ran up against an old problem: she has learned about the hand’s arch so well that it is now causing her grief. The piece in question is the 3rd movement of the big Schubert A minor sonata Op. 143, the one that begins with a little triplet motive chasing its tail between right and left hands. Her arch was so pronounced that the the passage came out too well-defined. It lacked that wispy, secretive, elusive quality. In addition, she was still using so much gripping power to maintain the arch that the movement of its constituent parts was inhibited, making the runs uneven.

To solve it I had her go to the other extreme, to rest her hand on key, her palm mashing the keyslip, and dangle her fingers as she moved her wrist up and to the right forward away from the keys. As soon as she started to play she would again express her arch but I kept saying “No, keep the fingers looser, just wiggle them as your wrist breathes up. The effort of the fingers should literally be measured in micrograms. You know about the arches of your hand but now, having discovered it, you are going to have to abandon it in a way in order to make it more functional.”

I also referred her back to my Feather Legato Application from Craft, 34.2 page 184-5.

When she got it, the sound was totally transformed. At this point she was playing somewhat slower and I told her to keep that slower tempo. This passage is all about subtle sonic effect, not speed. If you go for speed you lose the refinement of touch that makes for that special sound.

The other problem was the outward Neapolitan chord arpeggios (on the B flat major harmony) in measure whatever. Now we needed the same free finger movement in much more vigorous form. I had her stand on the note F on her right hand thumb, raise her 2nd to the sky and repeatedly whack the note B flat. Then the reverse, stand on her 2nd and whack the note F with her thumb. Whenever  she played the note D with her 4th finger r.h., her thumb and 2nd would lose all their potency: they would poop out.

I also had her reverse the rhythmic structure of the passage, making the note B flat the downbeat of each rhythmic group instead of F. The vigorous stresses she now gave to the B flat helped her galvanize her 2nd into potent, healthy action – an absolute prerequisite to playing this passage brilliantly.

I had her go to Craft Application 14.1 to review that thwack feeling…

It was so great to see that arch structure which had been beautifully expressed but inert because of its held rigidity, come to wonderfully supple, brilliant energetic life.

Greetings from Alsace where I am in residence at my manager’s (the famous Marko of previous posts) for a week of website design and piano investigations!


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