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#1237265 - 07/25/09 05:56 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: keyboardklutz]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
In an efficient technique, the biceps have little need to hold the forearm still. The forearm is supported by the pivot point on the keys. It shares the load out. That is why you don't get tired while resting you hand on a table- while you do get so tired that you can't rest on a simple chord for more than a few seconds without having to release the massive build of tension in your arms. I note that you had no response to issues of physics and leverage that I stated. The fact remains that a lever is vastly more stable when anchored at both ends. There's a reason why the structure of a bridge undergoes a collosal amount of strain if you only anchor them at one end. It's called physics. That is what induces tremendous forces upon your arm, when you deliberately avoid settling it down at the finger end. It's like the difference between trying to hold out a long heavy sword out unsupported and allowing the end of that sword to rest on something. That is why your theory actually yields a comprehensively inefficient result and large amount of physical effort.

Sure, if it ain't working, you might as well just stick to it regardless and advise others on how to succesfully impose the necessity of similarly collosal tensions on themselves (apparently in the name of promoting 'relaxation'). I'm sure it will continue to reap wonders.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (07/25/09 06:27 PM)
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#1237276 - 07/25/09 06:26 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Gary D. Online   content
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Registered: 08/30/08
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Loc: South Florida
This has turned into yet another AWESOME TOPIC.
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#1237438 - 07/25/09 11:39 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gary D.]
AZNpiano Offline
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#1237582 - 07/26/09 11:35 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: AZNpiano]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Just to illustrate the sheer importance of a supportive hand, here's Carola Grindea's hand. Do those pronounced knuckles reveal the shape of a 'relaxed' hand, or a shape that has been formed through efficient, well-controlled grip in the hand? I have rarely seen a more solidly formed arch. This is clearly the kind of hand that supports enough at the keyboard to reduce the requirement of extensive balancing forces further back in the arm- in a fashion that (unlike some methods) does not purport to break any laws of physics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQoWnvdGn7Q&feature=channel_page

Without that support, flopping cannot work any more than playing the piano through a thick layer of foam can work. Too much energy is lost to the excessive give. It's all very well if the support does happen to evolve through dropping alone, but if the hand still remains limp and flaccid, there needs to be an alternative approach to directly address that lack of support.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (07/26/09 11:45 AM)
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#1242159 - 08/02/09 05:15 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Rick Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/01
Posts: 559
Loc: Chicago
I see what physical principles you are invoking here Nyiregyhazi, but I'm not convinced they really back up your argument on technique. Granted, I still have questions about exactly what you are proposing. And don't misunderstand, I have a tiny fear that the technique you are advocating may have merits. I was taught with this very "floppy" technique for 5 or 6 years, and always had reservations about it.

I was bothered by a statement you made along the lines of "without grip your finger is useless" (paraphrased). That would imply, unless your definition of grip is different than mine, that you could not even strike a key if there was zero friction between your finger and the key. Well, that is certainly not the case, as the normal force is still present whether friction exists or not. Granted, it would feel unstable and probably very uncomfortable, but as long as you struck the key in the right location, a successful keystrike would result. Perhaps you could elaborate on that statement, or more generally on your definition of grip.

But I have more observations and questions about your argument. First of all, the reaction force at the end of the lever arm is only acting in 3 different possible modes: 1) as the key is being depressed downwardly, 2) as the key is "bottomed out", and 3) as the key is returning upwardly to rest position. These are obviously the only 3 situations in which the key exerts an upward force on the fingertip. But it's also true that Modes 1 and 3 can only produce, even during forte strikes, about 400 "grams-force" (not near enough to support the cantilevered arm - which is why the motion occurs in the first place). But more importantly, this reaction force will be exactly the same, for a given key strike profile, no matter what technique you are employing. So I assume your argument is not about these two modes, but rather Mode 2, where the key is being held down. But wait a minute: even then, if the key is being held down, and everything is essentially static at that point, the reaction force on the fingertips will be exactly the same, no matter what the shape of your arm, hand and finger are. That is of course assuming a player was not silly enough to actually produce a net downward (CCW looking from left side of piano) torque/moment about his shoulder joing during held notes. But as long as the player is just letting his arms and hands rest there (and assuming the same horizontal distance between the fingertips and the shoulder joint), the force at the fingertips will be the same. So I'm not exactly sure now where all this talk of different supporting force at the finger is coming from. Are you simply saying that "your" technique involves remaining in the "bottomed out" mode longer?

Rick

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#1242201 - 08/02/09 06:40 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
Just to illustrate the sheer importance of a supportive hand, here's Carola Grindea's hand. Do those pronounced knuckles reveal the shape of a 'relaxed' hand, or a shape that has been formed through efficient, well-controlled grip in the hand? I have rarely seen a more solidly formed arch. This is clearly the kind of hand that supports enough at the keyboard to reduce the requirement of extensive balancing forces further back in the arm- in a fashion that (unlike some methods) does not purport to break any laws of physics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQoWnvdGn7Q&feature=channel_page

Without that support, flopping cannot work any more than playing the piano through a thick layer of foam can work. Too much energy is lost to the excessive give. It's all very well if the support does happen to evolve through dropping alone, but if the hand still remains limp and flaccid, there needs to be an alternative approach to directly address that lack of support.
That's my hand you dope!
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#1242215 - 08/02/09 07:02 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gary D.]
Horowitzian Offline
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Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 8453
WHAT AN AWESOME THREAD!!!!
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#1242543 - 08/03/09 11:33 AM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Rick]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Originally Posted By: Rick
I see what physical principles you are invoking here Nyiregyhazi, but I'm not convinced they really back up your argument on technique. Granted, I still have questions about exactly what you are proposing. And don't misunderstand, I have a tiny fear that the technique you are advocating may have merits. I was taught with this very "floppy" technique for 5 or 6 years, and always had reservations about it.

I was bothered by a statement you made along the lines of "without grip your finger is useless" (paraphrased). That would imply, unless your definition of grip is different than mine, that you could not even strike a key if there was zero friction between your finger and the key. Well, that is certainly not the case, as the normal force is still present whether friction exists or not. Granted, it would feel unstable and probably very uncomfortable, but as long as you struck the key in the right location, a successful keystrike would result. Perhaps you could elaborate on that statement, or more generally on your definition of grip.

But I have more observations and questions about your argument. First of all, the reaction force at the end of the lever arm is only acting in 3 different possible modes: 1) as the key is being depressed downwardly, 2) as the key is "bottomed out", and 3) as the key is returning upwardly to rest position. These are obviously the only 3 situations in which the key exerts an upward force on the fingertip. But it's also true that Modes 1 and 3 can only produce, even during forte strikes, about 400 "grams-force" (not near enough to support the cantilevered arm - which is why the motion occurs in the first place). But more importantly, this reaction force will be exactly the same, for a given key strike profile, no matter what technique you are employing. So I assume your argument is not about these two modes, but rather Mode 2, where the key is being held down. But wait a minute: even then, if the key is being held down, and everything is essentially static at that point, the reaction force on the fingertips will be exactly the same, no matter what the shape of your arm, hand and finger are. That is of course assuming a player was not silly enough to actually produce a net downward (CCW looking from left side of piano) torque/moment about his shoulder joing during held notes. But as long as the player is just letting his arms and hands rest there (and assuming the same horizontal distance between the fingertips and the shoulder joint), the force at the fingertips will be the same. So I'm not exactly sure now where all this talk of different supporting force at the finger is coming from. Are you simply saying that "your" technique involves remaining in the "bottomed out" mode longer?

Rick


I'll have to have a good think through about the points you make, Rick, but there are couple of things there that are not strictly correct. Your point about friction is not quite true. There must be SOME friction created at the finger. Also, the return force of the keys is totally dependent upon how much weight is applied to it. It's nothing to do with the required to strike the key. When resting, it returns what is applied to it, or it would be moving.

A totally 'relaxed' hand and arm that involved neither friction at the keys nor physical tension would collapse from the wrist and fall off the keys. The forces that prevent this can only come either from grip at the key or tension in the arm. There's nothing else that's can do that. The fine details here of precisely which muscles are involved in this are more complex of course. However, the basic premise is solid. The support really MUST come from either grip in the hand or tension in the arm. In absolutely any technique that doesn't hold the arm entirely rigid, there is likely to be some degree of both. However, the guy I've been arguing with claims that you shouldn't attempt to rest any further weight on the keys after the strike. There's a video on the 2nd page of this topic where you can see just how much his hand slackens and how little support he gets at the keyboard after each strike. He also claims that you should have a 'relaxed' arm while doing so. This contravenes all laws of physics. When a hand does not 'rest' on the keys, the arm is required by the laws of physics to provide the entire force to keep the arm in position. That means enormous tension.

The sword analogy is really the important thing here. The details are slightly more complex (due to the added levers and pivots with many different joints). However, the basic premise is comparable. If you hold a long sword outwards, you have to work very hard to hold it like that. Rest it at the other end, on top of something and you have a balance of forces at each end that is more comfortable. HOWEVER, this isn't quite the same as the arm, due to the greater number of levers. The arm falls off the keys due to slack in these levers, unless physical tension serves to prevent that. This tension can occur close to the key or further back in the arm. If it comes primarily from further back in the arm, there is a far greater workload than if there is also a stable point of support in the hand.

There's plenty of room for argument over the fine details of how to balance these forces, but any technique that claims to operate under a premise of relaxing everything (while not resting weight on the fingers between chords) is a rational impossibility.

Going beyond that though, I wouldn't say it's silly for the finger to actively produce a small force on the key after the strike. You have to induce some friction, or once more you are 'holding' your whole arm in position from the upper body. It may be that some people want to play this way, but it's important to understand that physics does dictate that the less actively your hand stands up and supports on the key, the more tension is a physical necessity in your upper body.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 11:39 AM)
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#1242570 - 08/03/09 12:22 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Rick Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/01
Posts: 559
Loc: Chicago
Quote:
Your point about friction is not quite true. There must be SOME friction created at the finger.


In the real world there is friction there, but I'm just telling you that it doesn't have to be there for a keystroke to occur. The normal force (between finger and key) is what performs the movement, and what performs the mechanical work.

Quote:
Also, the return force of the keys is totally dependent upon how much weight is applied to it. It's nothing to do with the required to strike the key. When resting, it returns what is applied to it, or it would be moving.


Your usage of "weight" is very misleading here, as weight is a body force (works at a distance) while we are talking about contact forces. But aside from that, the upward force exerted by the key against the finger is not determined by anything except:
1) In the case of extremely soft playing, the geometry of the key mechanism itself. That is, the net torque created by gravity forces acting on both ends of the key lever, any spring forces, any magnetic forces, and friction in the mechanisms. In other words, all "non-inertial" forces that automatically resist movement of the key, and
2) In the case of stronger playing, where the key and hammer are being significantly accelerated, everything from (1) PLUS the inertial forces created by various masses (particularly in the hammer head) throughout the key mechanism. Your statement that "the return force of the keys is totally dependent upon how much weight is applied to it" is simply nonsense, and in fact has no meaning at all. Weight, which is always measured in a static situation (e.g., a calibrated scale) has a very limited place in a discussion about reaction forces between bodies. It is a body force, not a contact force, which is what the key is reacting to.

Quote:
The sword analogy is really the important thing here. The details are slightly more complex (due to the added levers and pivots with many different joints). However, the basic premise is comparable. If you hold a long sword outwards, you have to work very hard to hold it like that. Rest it at the other end, on top of something and you have a balance of forces at each end that is more comfortable. HOWEVER, this isn't quite the same as the arm, due to the greater number of levers. The arm falls off the keys due to slack in these levers, unless physical tension serves to prevent that. This tension can occur close to the key or further back in the arm. If it comes primarily from further back in the arm, there is a far greater workload than if there is also a stable point of support in the hand.


This all makes perfect sense, but when you used the earlier piano example, you said:

Quote:
would collapse from the wrist and fall off the keys. The forces that prevent this can only come either from grip at the key or tension in the arm. There's nothing else that's can do that.


That's just not true. A perfectly good normal force between the finger and key (and some torque/tension generated in the elbow to prevent that from collapsing, as I think you were insinuating) would prevent this "falling off the keys" and provide a static equilibrium. The world is full of perfectly stable truss structures that are supported at one or more points by joints that can't support sliding friction. But you better believe these joints have tremendous normal reaction forces.

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#1242578 - 08/03/09 12:30 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Rick]
Rick Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/01
Posts: 559
Loc: Chicago
Quote:
When resting, it returns what is applied to it, or it would be moving.


Yes, we are in total agreement for this "bottomed-out key" situation. The downward force exerted by the finger (assuming for the sake of discussion that only one finger is involved) is totally dependent upon the geometry and mass distribution of the player's cantilevered arms and hands, and this force is exactly opposed by the bottomed out key. Nothing surprising here, and nothing very interesting either.

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#1242592 - 08/03/09 12:47 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Rick]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
"In the real world there is friction there, but I'm just telling you that it doesn't have to be there for a keystroke to occur. The normal force (between finger and key) is what performs the movement, and what performs the mechanical work."

Sorry, but physics dictates that there very much DOES have to be a friction involved. Also, if there were no friction at all, there could be no resting whatsoever at the finger end. In other words, you have the sword analogy, where all the work needs to be done from one end- creating a huge workload. If this doesn't happen, the hand slips off the keys and down to your side. However, you approach it, the weight of your arm MUST be supported somehow.


Quote:
Also, the return force of the keys is totally dependent upon how much weight is applied to it. It's nothing to do with the required to strike the key. When resting, it returns what is applied to it, or it would be moving.


"Your usage of "weight" is very misleading here, as weight is a body force (works at a distance) while we are talking about contact forces. But aside from that, the upward force exerted by the key against the finger is not determined by anything except:
1) In the case of extremely soft playing, the geometry of the key mechanism itself. That is, the net torque created by gravity forces acting on both ends of the key lever, any spring forces, any magnetic forces, and friction in the mechanisms. In other words, all "non-inertial" forces that automatically resist movement of the key,"

I'm talking about resting on the keybed after the strike. The key returns whatever force is applied to it, or it moves. If there's no balancing at this end, the weight of the arm must be balanced at the other end, as in the sword analagoy. Only muscular tension can create that state of balance.



"2) In the case of stronger playing, where the key and hammer are being significantly accelerated, everything from (1) PLUS the inertial forces created by various masses (particularly in the hammer head) throughout the key mechanism. Your statement that "the return force of the keys is totally dependent upon how much weight is applied to it" is simply nonsense, and in fact has no meaning at all."

Sorry, but I'm really not seeing what point you're trying to make. It's a fundamental of physics that F=ma. If the net force is nil, there is no movement. If there is a net force, there IS movement. Whatever force is applied to keys is returned by those keys and cancelled out to zero. Otherwise they have to move. When a person sits in a chair, the chair returns the weight that is applied to it. Otherwise the chair collapses. When you settle down into the keybed, the keybed returns whatever you apply to it- balancing a proportion of your arm's weight. If you do not settle into the keybed at all (preferring to 'hold' over it) you can only stop your arm from flopping to your side through muscular tensions further back. Better still, you can grip to achieve friction and stability at the key- allowing the upper body to release much of that workload.



Quote:
would collapse from the wrist and fall off the keys. The forces that prevent this can only come either from grip at the key or tension in the arm. There's nothing else that's can do that.


"That's just not true. A perfectly good normal force between the finger and key (and some torque/tension generated in the elbow to prevent that from collapsing, as I think you were insinuating) would prevent this "falling off the keys" and provide a static equilibrium."

Sorry, but to achieve an equilibrium, you have to maintain muscular tensions. They may be slight or they may be pronounced, but they are very much in existence. I do believe that some alignments are more stable than others (particularly when there is a good support achieved at the finger end). However, there is simply no alignment in which the wrist will not collapse unless there is muscular activity. Try it. If you are completely relaxed your wrist drops. The wrist acts as a centre of gravity more than any part of your arm. If your wrist does not drop that really does prove that there is tension somewhere, to maintain that equilibrium. You cannot balance a genuinely flaccid arm.

The key is to find the most efficient ways of balancing out the tensions so as to make them functional and productive. However any technique that insists that you should not actively be supported by the keys is demanding that the upper body take on the entire supporting role. There's simply no other possibility. If the arm is not supported somewhere it hangs limp.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 12:58 PM)
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#1242594 - 08/03/09 12:50 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Gary D.]
TXPianoTeacher Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/17/09
Posts: 9
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
I have been telling people for YEARS that the muscles in the shoulder/neck area are trigger points. The moment you get students to release unnecessary tension there, you will see the upper arms, elbows and forearms release tension, and it goes right down into the fingers.

Usually children only hold tension there when they are badly instructed, but adults will hold those muscles so tight, they will actually spasm.


I come from a dance background, and I use the lessons I learned there in my piano teaching, as far as relaxation goes. I also practice Tai Chi, and find that after I have done a Tai Chi session, my piano playing is inevitably better. If I could have all my students do it, I would. (Incidentally, a stiff drink has the same effect. They both relax the body.) I find that the best way to play is relaxed.

As I have been reading on this topic, certain people have said that the problem is that tension builds up in the upper arms and shoulders. Many times, I find that when I play, the key to doing it better is relaxing the knots in the upper body. Everything in our body is connected, and so energy spirals up from the earth, through our legs and torso, and out our shoulders into our fingers and hands. If there is even one blockage or tension point in that flow, it can impede your playing.

Naturally, my students are too young to understand energy flow through the body. wink So with my really little ones, I do an exercise called "Stone on a Mountain" that is in the Piano Adventures Pre-Reading book, and focuses on relaxing starting way up at the top of the arm.

With the rest of my students, if I notice them being especially tense, I will have them stand up, yawn (releases tension in the jaw and face), swing their arms around, and sit back down. Then if I still see tension in their fingers, while they are playing I will slip my hand under theirs and pop their hand up, then let it land and have them keep going. Eventually I find myself having to physically "loosen" their hands less and less as they understand what I am after. It is so hard to describe relaxed muscles to a young child, that I find it is better just to DO, rather than talk.

(I also fix wrist position by holding their wrist in the right spot, but still wiggling it from time to time to keep it loose. Sometimes I will demonstrate correct postures and behaviors, but mostly I find it helpful to manipulate the student.)

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#1242596 - 08/03/09 12:51 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Rick]
Horowitzian Offline
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Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 8453
THIS THREAD KEEPS GETTING MORE AWESOME!!!!!!!!
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Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear weapons.

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#1242613 - 08/03/09 01:09 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: TXPianoTeacher]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Originally Posted By: TXPianoTeacher
As I have been reading on this topic, certain people have said that the problem is that tension builds up in the upper arms and shoulders. Many times, I find that when I play, the key to doing it better is relaxing the knots in the upper body. Everything in our body is connected, and so energy spirals up from the earth, through our legs and torso, and out our shoulders into our fingers and hands. If there is even one blockage or tension point in that flow, it can impede your playing.


The problem is that there really IS some muscular tension within that flow or you would collapse onto the floor. Relaxation is vital in certain places, but if simply try to relax everything, you might end up relaxing the wrong muscles (for example the ones that cause slouching- what with good posture coming from controlled use of tension in the back). Good posture only feels 'relaxed' to those who have already learned it. You don't learn to stand up straight by 'relaxing'. Good posture is actually rather tiring to those who are new to it. It takes development of stamina.

It's good to focus on being able to relax muscles, but there are cases where students relax the wrong muscles in a manner that demands that tensions occur elsewhere to compensate. No matter how hard they try to relax their upper body they will be unable to- because the laws of physics will not permit them to.

Relaxation approaches can often be helpful, but there are times when you need to focus on the CAUSE of tension. In an unbalanced mechanism, it sometimes just as important to look at activating certain muscles more- so as to permit the possibility of relaxation in others (which have fallen into being forced to compensate, regardless of whether you intend to relax them or not). Before you can relax a muscle, you first have to find a way of transferring the effort that it is being forced to exert to balance the mechanism.

I'd been aware of how to relax for years. My upper body rarely feels so free as when I come out a sauna. However, it was only when I started using my hand more actively that I reached a state of where it was possible to relax my upper body when playing. When my hand was limp, my upper body had to compensate at the other end, or the forces could not balance.



Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 01:18 PM)
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#1242623 - 08/03/09 01:18 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
TXPianoTeacher Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/17/09
Posts: 9
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
The problem is that there really IS some muscular tension within that flow or you would collapse onto the floor. Relaxation in vital in certain places, but if simply try to relax everything, you might end up relaxing the wrong muscles (for example the ones that cause slouching- what with good posture coming from controlled use of tension in the back).

It's good to focus on being able to relax muscles, but there are cases where students relax the wrong muscles in a manner that demands that tensions occur elsewhere to compensate. No matter how hard they try to relax their upper body they will be unable to- because the laws of physics will not permit them to.


You're right. I should be more specific. One cannot relax EVERYTHING all the time, or you would just be a big noodle on the floor. And you make a very good point about proper posture requiring some tension.

I suppose the total relaxation I am talking about is not so much going "noodle-limp" but rather being aware of your body. You can have good posture and still be able to wiggle or move your arms and hands freely. This is what I meant about a connection of energy spiraling up through the body. You can sit up straight and still have that feeling of absolutely NO blockage of energy. It's a visualization thing. However, with young students who won't understand that, I tend to just help them feel all loosey-goosey in their arms. If in maintaining good posture, you lock your arms at the shoulder or elbow joints, you will lose the ability to play well.

I will also agree that you cannot have totally loose, floppy fingers. Finger strength is key to build up, and again I should have been more clear here. In manipulating my students' hands, I am encouraging not only proper wrist height and finger curve, but ensuring that they will learn how to use their fingers with strength and precision. I do make sure to lift and change their hand position so that they have no choice but to play with strong fingers, whether it feels easy and natural or not. And eventually, as I said, I have to correct less and less, and I can see the finger strength building in the correct and proper way.

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#1242632 - 08/03/09 01:30 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: TXPianoTeacher]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Originally Posted By: TXPianoTeacher
Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
The problem is that there really IS some muscular tension within that flow or you would collapse onto the floor. Relaxation in vital in certain places, but if simply try to relax everything, you might end up relaxing the wrong muscles (for example the ones that cause slouching- what with good posture coming from controlled use of tension in the back).

It's good to focus on being able to relax muscles, but there are cases where students relax the wrong muscles in a manner that demands that tensions occur elsewhere to compensate. No matter how hard they try to relax their upper body they will be unable to- because the laws of physics will not permit them to.


You're right. I should be more specific. One cannot relax EVERYTHING all the time, or you would just be a big noodle on the floor. And you make a very good point about proper posture requiring some tension.

I suppose the total relaxation I am talking about is not so much going "noodle-limp" but rather being aware of your body. You can have good posture and still be able to wiggle or move your arms and hands freely. This is what I meant about a connection of energy spiraling up through the body. You can sit up straight and still have that feeling of absolutely NO blockage of energy. It's a visualization thing. However, with young students who won't understand that, I tend to just help them feel all loosey-goosey in their arms. If in maintaining good posture, you lock your arms at the shoulder or elbow joints, you will lose the ability to play well.

I will also agree that you cannot have totally loose, floppy fingers. Finger strength is key to build up, and again I should have been more clear here. In manipulating my students' hands, I am encouraging not only proper wrist height and finger curve, but ensuring that they will learn how to use their fingers with strength and precision. I do make sure to lift and change their hand position so that they have no choice but to play with strong fingers, whether it feels easy and natural or not. And eventually, as I said, I have to correct less and less, and I can see the finger strength building in the correct and proper way.


Okay, I think we're in full agreement then. I use dropping exercises as much as anyone, myself, but I've only recently come to see how vital it is to be able to balance that freedom at the hand end, if the freedom is to have any chance of being maintained. Sadly, a lot of people seem to obsess over relaxation alone or finger technique alone. As a teacher, I think it's vital to be able to work from either side, depending on which aspect is in need of attention. If either side is lacking, the body will tense more than is desirable- as the only possible means of compensating. Ironically, overly exclusive focus on relaxation can end up being the cause of such compensatory tensions. That was certainly the case with my own playing.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 01:35 PM)
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#1242651 - 08/03/09 01:53 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
[...]



"2) In the case of stronger playing, where the key and hammer are being significantly accelerated, everything from (1) PLUS the inertial forces created by various masses (particularly in the hammer head) throughout the key mechanism. Your statement that "the return force of the keys is totally dependent upon how much weight is applied to it" is simply nonsense, and in fact has no meaning at all."

Sorry, but I'm really not seeing what point you're trying to make. It's a fundamental of physics that F=ma. If the net force is nil, there is no movement. If there is a net force, there IS movement. Whatever force is applied to keys is returned by those keys and cancelled out to zero. Otherwise they have to move. When a person sits in a chair, the chair returns the weight that is applied to it. Otherwise the chair collapses. When you settle down into the keybed, the keybed returns whatever you apply to it- balancing a proportion of your arm's weight. [...]



[...]


Not entirely true. The normal force is equal and opposite to the gravitational force (i.e. the weight — not the mass — of the object) when the object is resting on a flat surface, perpendicular to the ground. That instance is given by the equation:

(Fn = normal force)

Fn = Mass * Acceleration due to gravity

Acceleration due to gravity on earth is ≈9.81 m/s^2

Thus for a say, 30 kilogram object,

Fn = 30 kg * 9.81 m/s^2
Fn = 294.3 kg * m/s^2
Thus, Fn ≈ 294.3 Newtons

However, when the key of a piano is fully depressed, it is not perpendicular to the keybed which we will assume is level for the sake of argument. In that case, one must multiply the result of the equation above by the cosine of the angle (cos θ). I do not know what the actual angle is and I assume it will vary based upon the keydip a particular piano is regulated to. Let's assume it is 10˚, again for the sake of argument.

Fn = Mass * Acceleration due to gravity * cos θ

Substituting the result of the above equation:

Fn = ( 294.3 kg * m/s^2 ) * cos (10)
Fn = ( 294.3 kg * m/s^2 ) * (0.9848) [cos (10) rounded to the nearest ten-thousandth]
Thus, Fn ≈ 289.8 Newtons

In conclusion, the normal force is not the same for an object of a given mass in every instance. smile


Edited by Horowitzian (08/03/09 03:33 PM)
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#1242654 - 08/03/09 02:00 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Well, that's stretching my knowledge of physics, but the point I was making was simply that whatever you rest on a key is balanced by a return force. That return force is variable, depending on how much force is being applied to the key. It's not accurate to say the return force is always the same. I think your detailed explanation backs that up.

You obviously know your stuff in plenty of detail. Would you agree with the premise that a hand that is not well supported by the keys at the finger end would lead to the necessity of considerable balancing forces further back in the mechanism?


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 02:10 PM)
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#1242659 - 08/03/09 02:14 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
Well, that's stretching my knowledge of physics, but the point I was making was simply that whatever you rest on a key is balanced by a return force. That return force is variable, depending on how much force is being applied to the key. It's not accurate to say the return force is always the same.


But that point is virtually self-evident; the normal force is always present. The force you apply when you are playing with proper technique — not consciously using your strength to bang out the notes; instead using gravity to help you out — is precisely that, the force of gravity at work. The normal force is equal and opposite to that. Gravity is what give you your weight. Weightlessness is either complete lack of gravity or microgravity. I don't think they will be playing much piano in the International Space Station!
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#1242669 - 08/03/09 02:31 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
Well, that's stretching my knowledge of physics, but the point I was making was simply that whatever you rest on a key is balanced by a return force. That return force is variable, depending on how much force is being applied to the key. It's not accurate to say the return force is always the same.


But that point is virtually self-evident; the normal force is always present. The force you apply when you are playing with proper technique — not consciously using your strength to bang out the notes; instead using gravity to help you out — is precisely that, the force of gravity at work. The normal force is equal and opposite to that. Gravity is what give you your weight. Weightlessness is either complete lack of gravity or microgravity. I don't think they will be playing much piano in the International Space Station!


Well, it should be evident but apparently keyboardklutz believes that you shouldn't rest any weight on the keybed between notes. Apparently he also believes that you can have a 'relaxed' arm- while transferring the workload of supporting it's gravitational weight solely upon the muscles within that arm. Frankly, it's the least convinving theory of piano playing I have ever heard.

I don't believe in weight alone though, personally. What I'm talking about here is merely the process of balancing the weight of the arm on the keybed between notes- in a way that spreads out the workload between the two points of finger end and the arm (rather than imposing the lot on the arm). Anything that doesn't involve adequate resting at the finger end logically involves having to support the weight of the arm with muscular tensions in the arm itself. Would you agree with that?

However, I do personally believe in the role of muscular activity beyond that which comes merely from gravity. I'd been taught in the weight school and while I do believe in using its benefits to the full, I've also come to believe in the importance of using more activity to add to the benefits of gravity. It would make life harder in zero gravity, but I'm sure that a pianist with hands and arms like Richter or Gilels wouldn't exactly struggle to draw sound out of an instrument. Gravity is a huge head-start, but I'm really not convinced by the idea that we should never actively add anything beyond that which it can offer. Merely to achieve support on a finger requires a frictional force that is not provided by gravity.

When you see a pianist make a resonant fortissimo that initiates from fingers that are directly in contact with the keys, I'd struggle to believe that gravity could account for even half of the sound that emerges. Merely 'letting go' of the weight really doesn't account for that kind of movement.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 02:38 PM)
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#1242674 - 08/03/09 02:39 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Registered: 09/18/08
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Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
Well, that's stretching my knowledge of physics, but the point I was making was simply that whatever you rest on a key is balanced by a return force. That return force is variable, depending on how much force is being applied to the key. It's not accurate to say the return force is always the same.


But that point is virtually self-evident; the normal force is always present. The force you apply when you are playing with proper technique — not consciously using your strength to bang out the notes; instead using gravity to help you out — is precisely that, the force of gravity at work. The normal force is equal and opposite to that. Gravity is what give you your weight. Weightlessness is either complete lack of gravity or microgravity. I don't think they will be playing much piano in the International Space Station!


Well, it should be evident but apparently keyboardklutz believes that you shouldn't rest any weight on the keybed between notes. Apparently he also believes that you can have a 'relaxed' arm- while transferring the workload of supporting it's gravitational weight solely upon the muscles within that arm. Frankly, it's the least convinving theory of piano playing I have ever heard.

I don't believe in weight alone though, personally. What I'm talking about here is merely the process of balancing the weight of the arm on the keybed between notes- in a way that spreads out the workload between the two points of finger end and the arm (rather than imposing the lot on the arm). Anything that doesn't involve adequate resting at the finger end logically involves having to support the weight of the arm with muscular tensions in the arm itself. Would you agree with that?


Yes. A simple test (not involving a piano at all) will tell you that. Hold an forearm at the approximate place you would playing. Feel the bicep (and the tricep for good measure). Then let the arm rest on a table. Feel the bicep again. Then let the arm hang limp at your side. Feel the bicep.

Quote:
However, I do personally believe in the role of muscular activity beyond that which comes merely from gravity. I'd been taught in the weight school and while I do believe in using its benefits to the full, I've also come to believe in the importance of using more activity to add to the benefits of gravity. It would make life harder in zero gravity, but I'm sure that a pianist with hands and arms like Richter or Gilels wouldn't exactly struggle to draw sound out of an instrument. Gravity is a huge head-start, but I'm really not convinced by the idea that we should never actively add anything beyond that which it can offer. Merely to achieve support on a finger requires a frictional force that is not provided by gravity.


Notice I said gravity to help you out. I think you are confusing the frictional force with the normal force. Friction is there, but it is not supplying the force equal and opposite to gravity; that's the normal force.
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#1242679 - 08/03/09 02:48 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Notice I said gravity to help you out. I think you are confusing the frictional force with the normal force. Friction is there, but it is not supplying the force equal and opposite to gravity; that's the normal force. [/quote]

In this case, surely the normal force is not adequate though? I suppose it depends on seat height and other issues to an extent, but when I let my hand and arm go flaccid, my fingers slip off the keys. Gravity does not stabilise them. Due to the countless levers (notably the wrist) the result of the arm's gravity as a whole does not act perfectly downwards upon the fingertips. It's more inclined to drag them slowly along the keys. This serves to demonstrate that even in the most exclusively gravity-based methods, the hand MUST employ some grip to achieve adequate friction at the fingertips (or the joints in the arm must seize up to compensate again). It's this grip that can serve to channel a substantial component of that gravity in a more productive direction.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 02:54 PM)
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#1242683 - 08/03/09 02:52 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 8453
Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
[...] but when I let my hand and arm go flaccid, my fingers slip off the keys. Gravity does not stabilise them. Due to the countless levers (notably the wrist) the result of the arm's gravity as a whole does not act perfectly downwards upon the fingertips. It's more inclined to drag them slowly along the keys. This serves to demonstrate that even in the most exclusively gravity-based methods, the hand MUST employ some grip to achieve adequate friction at the fingertips. It's this grip that can serve to channel a substantial component of that gravity in a more productive direction.


Does this not imply then that friction is not enough, but rather it's usage of the upper arm that keeps your hands on the keys? I am guessing that the coefficient of friction of piano keys is rather low, so you can't depend upon friction to keep you from sliding off.
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#1242687 - 08/03/09 02:59 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Registered: 07/24/09
Posts: 2464
Ah, but that's my very point! Isn't it better and easier to employ a tiny amount of grip from the fingertip itself- in order to stabilise with a little added friction at the very point of contact? Isn't it vastly more effort to try and achieve equivalent stabilisation further back in the arm?

I believe this is the very reason why Horowitz employed flat fingers- so he could grip at the last joint of his finger. Overly curved fingers cannot serve to grip the key. Start with a flat pad and you can 'pull' very slightly from the fingertip, to achieve all the stabilisation you need at the most direct point. I think this is the key to removing the need for tensions further back in the mechanism. I'm absolutely certain that it was my insufficient grip that used to cause shoulder pains, etc.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 03:01 PM)
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#1242693 - 08/03/09 03:13 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Well, I vary my finger profile depending upon what I am playing. I use naturally curved fingers for Bach, flatter fingers for Chopin and Romantic music. Octaves in particular work best with flat fingers in my experience.

Originally Posted By: Nyiregyhazi
Ah, but that's my very point! Isn't it better and easier to employ a tiny amount of grip from the fingertip itself- in order to stabilise with a little added friction at the very point of contact? Isn't it vastly more effort to try and achieve equivalent stabilisation further back in the arm?


But you just got through basically saying above that friction is insufficient...

Quote:
I believe this is the very reason why Horowitz employed flat fingers- so he could grip at the last joint of his finger. Overly curved fingers cannot serve to grip the key. Start with a flat pad and you can 'pull' very slightly from the fingertip, to achieve all the stabilisation you need at the most direct point. I think this is the key to removing the need for tensions further back in the mechanism. I'm absolutely certain that it was my insufficient grip that used to cause shoulder pains, etc.


Consciously "gripping" the key is a recipe for more tension. Releasing tension in the shoulders/neck is better. Whenever I get "tense" at the piano, it is always in the shoulders/neck and sometimes even the jaw! I tend to use a natural hand profile (varying as necessary to fit the demands of the music), allow gravity to assist me when necessary (as in when the music calls for a mf or louder dynamic), and release tension in the shoulders, neck, and jaw. The best way to do that is to breath deeply and naturally. Works well for me, and I recommend you give it a try, and forget about this "gripping" stuff. smile


Edited by Horowitzian (08/03/09 03:18 PM)
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#1242701 - 08/03/09 03:23 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Well, I did that for years and experienced collossal tensions. I knew HOW to relax (I demonstrate the free-fall drop to students constantly) I simply wasn't ABLE to relax because otherwise the forces did not balance. Since I started gripping the keys so I could support at that end, the tensions disappeared. What more can I say?

I only said the friction is insufficient if you don't grip and allow gravity to act unaided by any muscular activity. If you do grip, you can make plenty of friction against a key. That also helps to channel the effects of gravity more consistently into the plane where you want it to go- rather than partially into the perpendicular plane along which your hand slides over the keys when you go flaccid.

There are plenty of people who've tried to relax their shoulders and failed. However, you have to create a stable contact with the key if you intend to do so. As you said yourself, if grip doesn't come at the key, it has to come further back in the arm. THAT is a considerable tension! How can this rationally be done in the name of relaxation? A little grip in a fingertip (at the direct point where contact actually occurs) is barely any effort at all by comparison. I think it's a real shame that people rarely stop to consider this side of the equation. It makes perfect rational sense. It's not an alternative to relaxation, it's a means to make desirable relaxations physically possible.



Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 03:30 PM)
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#1242706 - 08/03/09 03:29 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Everyone is unique. What works for me, may not work for you. Are you certain you aren't holding your breath while you play? That causes massive tension that tires you out quickly. As to contacting the keys, one does that anyway to play the piano; so for myself I see little or no need to attempt to somehow contact the keys more.

You've made your point many times over now, so why don't we give this topic a rest? smile
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#1242711 - 08/03/09 03:37 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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It's the fact that everyone is unique that is my point. Why keeping pushing the old you-need-to-relax-more on people who have been told that for years but not been able to do so. Why not consider the possibility that activating their hand might be the means by which they could be capable of doing so?

I've well aware of the benefits of dropping and relaxing the shoulders etc. However, it could not provide any assistance until I learned a means by which to maintain that state of relaxation. I have to say that you really don't seem terribly open-minded about the possibility that many people might be better served by learning to grip the keys. Why restrict everyone to the old you're not relaxed enough dogma when it clearly doesn't work for everyone? Perhaps it helped you, but why would you suggest that I should drop what has worked for me- in favour of returning to something I already explained provided me with no benefits at all?

Frankly, after all the rational explanations I've taken the trouble to offer in response to your points, I'm rather stunned that you'd round it all off by suggesting that I just forget the whole thing (for reasons unexplained) and return to the manner of playing that had actually served to cause unwanted tensions.

Seeing as you've evidently dismissed the notion that this approach could possibly benefit anyone (assuming for unexplained reasons that I probably just didn't breathe enough) could you explain what reason there is why gripping slightly from the fingertips should be more problematic than trying to stabilise the fingers by tensing up the arms?


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 03:47 PM)
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#1242720 - 08/03/09 03:54 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Nyiregyhazi]
Horowitzian Offline
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Meh. It's fairly obvious to me now that you believe that your method is the only correct one, and that everyone is somehow "out to get you". And you feel the need to prove something. Furthermore, you are twisting my words; whether it is out of malice or ignorance I don't know and frankly don't care. This discussion is over.
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#1242735 - 08/03/09 04:16 PM Re: Tense hands in beginners. What's the trick? [Re: Horowitzian]
Nyiregyhazi Offline
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Not at all. If you read my words more carefully, you would have noticed that I didn't say a word against exercises that are designed to release tension in the shoulders (although, conversely, it's abundantly clear that you will not even consider the possibility that there are cases where more grip can be a solution). I'm a firm believer in dropping techniques and in many cases they can fix a problem. However, in those cases where shoulder tension is caused by an imbalanced mechanism (which perhaps you deny might ever exist?) merely having the ability to relax the shoulders is not enough until you can determine what forces them, to start tensing up in the first place. Perhaps I just imagined this personal experience, though and there is never any case in which seeking a more stable position at the keys could possibly be the solution to upper body tensions?

The fact that you would sincerely advise me to drop that which has helped me (after I explicitly stated that traditional relaxation exercises had never removed the root of former upper body tensions) makes it quite clear that you are only willing to consider one single approach. If you'd read my words more carefully, you'd have seen that I have never discounted the value of relaxation exercises. I continue to stand by them. I simply don't believe that they can solve every problem. Having used them on myself and all of my students as standard, they simply didn't work on everybody. When the root of the tension remains, you need alternative approaches. If I didn't have an open mind, I would never have moved on from the solely relaxation based methods that I was brought up on and I would never have made any progress beyond the limitations that they can impose when used as a one-size-fits-all method.


Edited by Nyiregyhazi (08/03/09 04:49 PM)
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