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#1703233 - 06/27/11 08:51 PM Lifting fingers while practicing scales
Aeonstorm Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/27/11
Posts: 5
Hi, I started playing piano when I was six but stopped at the age of 10. Now that I'm 16, I've begun lessons again as well as playing popular music. My new teacher focuses a lot on relaxing the arms and especially the wrists, as apparently I play really stiffly.

However, he has taught me to practice scales, arpeggios and runs and stuff by lifting each finger and then letting it 'fall' down, rather than pressing into the key. While he says this is to improve articulation (ie when i play fast i don't have to lift as much, but when i do it slowly i should lift a lot to get my notes cleanly articulated). However, I've read stuff about Hanon exercises being damaging for the hand. My teacher's technique is slightly different in that he tells me to lift my fingers with both wrist and finger movement, so my entire hand goes up, rather than Hanon's lifting of one finger independent of the rest. However, could this still be harmful if i am straining to lift each finger as I play scales (while practicing slowly ofc)? If not, is it a beneficial technique or not?

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#1703247 - 06/27/11 09:18 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
chercherchopin Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/11
Posts: 550
Loc: Dystopia (but not Dystonia!)
What you’re describing seems counterintuitive to me, because you achieve and control tone and volume by pressing into the key. No matter how high you lift it, letting a finger drop onto the key isn’t in and of itself enough to do much at all because of the resistance -- that is, touchweight -- of the key itself. And if it did produce a sound, you wouldn’t have less control over how the sound is articulated ... not more.

I believe in economy of motion. Without knowing more, I could be wrong -- but a deliberate effort to raise the fingers high above the keys sounds like wasted effort that could even be counterproductive in its result. It could introduce unnecessary tension, too, because it’s making you overthink your motions rather than using natural ones.

This is just my impression from the limited info provided here. Tho it’s possible your technique needs an overhaul and your teacher is on the right track, it’s also possible that he’s trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
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#1703249 - 06/27/11 09:20 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
Lingyis Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/15/09
Posts: 832
well i was brought up on this technique. personally i'm fine and i think in practice since it's not like you'll practice 6 hours a day it's not a relevant concern. but not sure what you mean by letting it "fall down"? don't you have to press down?

i'm not a teacher so i better leave it up to more qualified professionals.



Edited by Lingyis (06/27/11 09:20 PM)

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#1703251 - 06/27/11 09:22 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18290
Loc: Victoria, BC
We would have to know what your teacher actually said and the context in which he said it : "Lift your fingers before letting them fall," "Lift them high before letting them fall," "Lift them as high as you can ... " etc; these latter two would probably produce strain, something you should avoid.

It doesn't sound, from what you have told us, that your teacher is suggesting you do what Monsieur Hanon suggests. At some point, however, independence of fingers needs to be developed and you should pursue with your teacher exactly what he said and precisely what he meant and specifically how you should practice what he recommends in what particular context(s).

No technique developing exercise, if performed properly, should cause any strain nor be harmful; many can be beneficial.

P.S. Welcome to the Pianist Corner!

Regards,
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#1703258 - 06/27/11 09:35 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
Aeonstorm Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/27/11
Posts: 5
Thx for the replies! My teacher constantly goes on about how you should not be pressing the keys, but rather using the weight of your hand to 'fall' onto them, making noise. (obviously there is some pressing, but he wants to minimize it)

The way he showed me to practice scales was to lift each finger as high as possible without really straining, and then letting it fall, along with the hand falling a bit, to create the sound. When lifting each finger, the position of the other fingers (excluding the finger that is already holding the previous note down) doesn't really matter, so they rise a little along with the finger you are lifting.

He said that this was to make each note distinct and even, such that when I am playing fast, I don't have to lift my fingers consciously but evenness and clear articulation will be retained.

I'm interested in this economy of motion idea, and the idea that you can control the key as you press it down. His explanation of his technique was that if you lift your finger by the same amount each time and let it fall, it should create the same force and thus the same sound. Is there an alternate school of thinking on this?

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#1703457 - 06/28/11 08:08 AM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
chercherchopin Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/11
Posts: 550
Loc: Dystopia (but not Dystonia!)
Thanks for explaining more about what your teacher is asking of you.

Even tho I personally don’t understand the rationale for what you describe your teacher saying, there’s stuff that unfortunately just can’t be known on a discussion forum (in particular, in this case, how you play ... and how and why you should benefit from your teacher’s advice).

Even so, I’m curious about a few other things like: how long ago you resumed lessons, what level of proficiency you reached previously (that is, what were the hardest pieces you learned and how well did you play them), what repertoire you’re working on now with your present teacher, and what country you’re located in.

Knowing such details might give people some better perspective and more insight, but we’d still be speculating. You might consider posting about your concerns in the Teachers Forum, where chances are better that you’ll get some informed opinions of other piano teachers. (I’m not one, and I think further conjecturing might be inappropriate here. If you’re interested in a couple things I’m guessing at, feel free to send me a private message.)
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#1703488 - 06/28/11 09:31 AM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
Larry B Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/03/09
Posts: 377
Loc: Boston
I've certainly had my teacher instruct me to use some exaggerated or unusual technique or motions from time to time. For me, it's typically been to correct a specific thing I'm doing wrong - doing something deliberate and opposite of the problem, I guess, can help extinguish it.

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#1703495 - 06/28/11 09:39 AM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
BadOrange Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/12/11
Posts: 368
Loc: Banned
the point of repose and proper alignment should be a somewhat straight line from your arms so the fingers will naturally be raised. the quickest way to attack a note is not to raise then hit but already have it slightly raised and letting it fall so to speak.So what your teacher is saying makes sense. Fingers can work alone just like you can introduce the wrist then forearm for more force. But I think resetting your fingers to their initial state pretty standard.

and the hanon will only injure you if you do it too fast, with wrong technique for too long. In itself, it isn't so bad. Great book that can be applied to many instruments.

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#1703552 - 06/28/11 11:19 AM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
Pogorelich. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/08
Posts: 4535
Loc: in the past
I think your teacher is right on the money in some ways, because in doing these movements in very slow tempos will give you a chance to play with less tension, and you have to remember that the "excessive" movements you may be doing now will be minimized (by a LOT) when you get used to them and play fast.
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'I want to invest my emotions only in music; it will never disappoint me or hurt me - it is a safe place to be.'

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#1709869 - 07/08/11 05:24 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Aeonstorm]
Tim Stinnett Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/02/09
Posts: 48
Loc: United States
Hi. It sounds to me, from what you describe, that your teacher has you at one-step in a process, and there probably are more steps to come. That is, lifting your fingers and dropping them might be what you need... but that is not the end goal, as playing the piano in such a manner is extremely difficult.

As I see it, the fingers, wrist, arms and EARS must all function as one. The wrist and arms move naturally with suppleness and flexibility, and this brings about relaxation which makes fine-finger control possible and much easier. The ears are what you need for better articulation. Maybe you are holding one note, fudging a little, when you move on to the next in your scales. (Many people do this without realizing. Their scales never sound crystal clear, strings of pearls, etc., and often they don't know why.) You should listen with heightened attention to every note, and how it connects, "kisses," the next note. This is also the way to improve one's legato: with heightened attention, practicing without the pedal and listening intensely to each note and how it moves to the next.

Anyway, my point is that you should probably ask your teacher exactly why s/he wants you to practice this way, and what is the next step. What are you supposed to be getting out of it? Maybe, you should ask your teacher to play a little bit and what how h/she plays and incorporates that lesson into actual playing....

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#1709898 - 07/08/11 06:52 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Pogorelich.]
Orange Soda King Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 6084
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky, United S...
Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
I think your teacher is right on the money in some ways, because in doing these movements in very slow tempos will give you a chance to play with less tension, and you have to remember that the "excessive" movements you may be doing now will be minimized (by a LOT) when you get used to them and play fast.



+1.

I've started all over again with my piano technique, and this is one of the things I'm doing. It will take a while to get used to it, but it will be worth it!!

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#1709901 - 07/08/11 06:59 PM Re: Lifting fingers while practicing scales [Re: Orange Soda King]
liszt85 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/26/08
Posts: 3159
Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
I think your teacher is right on the money in some ways, because in doing these movements in very slow tempos will give you a chance to play with less tension, and you have to remember that the "excessive" movements you may be doing now will be minimized (by a LOT) when you get used to them and play fast.



+1.

I've started all over again with my piano technique, and this is one of the things I'm doing. It will take a while to get used to it, but it will be worth it!!


OSK, do you mind sharing some of the things you're working on with regard to your technique? I haven't done my scales and arpeggios in a long time. My teacher recently had me do a bit of anchoring on the black keys (to show me the ideal position of my hand over keys, etc) while playing scales with mostly black notes in them.

What she's currently having me do are five finger exercises: 1) Depress a key, bring it back to the surface without twitching or moving another finger.
2) Lift finger, depress key, when this key is brought back to the surface, lift next finger simultaneously with care taken not to twitch of move any of the other fingers, not even by a bit.

These are more difficult than they sound.

These exercises, she said, would get me to focus on my fine motor skills some more.. don't know if this is standard stuff that you guys do in conservatories (or much earlier of course).
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