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Tips for Applying the Taubman Technique

 

Please note:  The purpose of these instructions is to assist my students who are learning the Taubman Techniques. This paper is not a complete description of the techniques.

Introduction

First and foremost, in applying any technique, no rules can tell you what is right or wrong. The Taubman Techniques describe movements and positions along with their applications and limitations. It is essentially a framework describing norms and boundaries, which is very helpful in identifying the optimal way of playing for each individual. It can be safely stated that deviation from the Taubman recommendations rarely gives a satisfactory result. Nonetheless, in the end only the musical result and the way you feel can determine what is right.

Basic Principles

Coordinate motion

“Coordinate motion”, is defined by Dorothy Taubman as “unified finger, hand and arm movements”. This is a central concept whereby each individual mechanism is used in coordination with other mechanisms in a complementary fashion. Each individual mechanism is only applied within its limitations and unnecessary strain is always avoided.

Resting down

Resting down is the starting position. This state is difficult to achieve based only on a description and without an experienced teacher.  However, I believe it worthwhile to describe some aspects of resting down in order to help students keep track of the basic ideas. Generally, it will be useful to think of the forearm, hand and fingers as a unified structure but this concept must not be misconstrued as tension or stiffness.

 

The student may start with the upper arm hanging comfortably from the shoulder and raise forearm so that the elbow is roughly at a 90° angle. (See also the points about seat height and distance from the piano.) Place the hand on the piano in the position of function with a neutral wrist and naturally curved fingers. The student with good body awareness will notice several forces at work. In the end, all of these forces must balance each other to create a comfortable resting state from which it is easy to initiate movement.

 

Probably, the most obvious force will be the weight of the forearm, hand and fingers. This weight should not be held up but rather should rest down on the keys supported by the fingers. A little more than half the weight of the unified forearm, hand and fingers is supported at the elbow. The fingers, hand and wrist support the remaining weight. This weight should not be enough to cause the keys to depress. The knuckle and finger joints must not be allowed to collapse.

 

Seat height and distance:

Seat height should be adjusted so that, when sitting comfortably, the bottom of the elbow is roughly at the same height as the white keys of the piano. Distance from the piano should allow the arms to pass in front of the body.

Weight:

The optimal weight for playing the piano is that of the combined hand, fingers and forearm. This weight most easily facilitates all types of playing. Less weight is not enough for speed and power. More weight is tiring and difficult to control.

The wrist should generally be in a neutral position:

The wrist must not be allowed to collapse. Abduction (radial abduction) and adduction (ulnar abduction) of the wrist should be avoided as much as possible. The wrist should be higher when the thumb is abducted as in octave playing and sometimes in chord playing. Small adjustments of the wrist height known as shaping are controlled by the arm and are not initiated by the wrist.

Shoulders:

The shoulders should be relaxed. However, it is necessary to support the arm forward toward the piano. This support comes from pushing the hand forward as in a sawing motion. The hand should feel balanced so that it is neither falling away from nor being pushed toward the piano. Tension in the fingers is often a sign that this balance has not been achieved.

Elbow

The elbow should neither be held out to the side or in towards the body. It should hang in a relaxed manner from the shoulder.

Forearm rotation:

Rotation is the primary movement for transferring weight from one key to the next. Rotation consists of a preparatory motion and a playing motion. The preparatory motion is always in the opposite direction of the playing motion. The size of the preparatory motion is directly related to the distance between the current position and the note(s) to be played.

Fingers:

Fingers move from the knuckle joint and extend (lift) during the preparatory motion. This extension is released for the playing motion but the fingers do not become active in playing before they touch the key. The thumb should be neutral next to the fingers and should not be touching the keys when not playing. The fingers, which are not playing should not rest down on the keys unless no keys are pressed.

In and Out:

To compensate for the different lengths of the fingers the hand/arm moves in (towards the fall board) and out (away from the piano) in order to position the fingers in the best playing position. When playing the thumb on a white key, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers should be partially over the black keys. When playing the third finger on a white key, the thumb is not over the keyboard.

An additional point:

This is not a Taubman concept but in my opinion it should be added. Another force that must be dealt with is the tendency of the upper arm to want to rotate (around it’s own axis) so that the hand moves in an arc toward the center of the keyboard and toward the body. The weight, which is resting down creates enough friction between the fingers and keys to balance the rotational force allowing the pianist to release the muscles which otherwise must rotate the upper arm outward in the direction of the extremes of the keyboard. This release is extremely important to enable forearm rotation. Read full explanation

 

Retraining

Time-frame

Learning the Taubman Technique requires substantial commitment. Most students can learn the technique in a period of 6 months to several years. Although the Taubman Technique is considered therapeutic, the pre-existence of injury can cause a relatively longer retraining period.

 

A shorter retraining period is facilitated by:

Existing Repertoire

If good and reliable results are desired, the student must refrain from playing using “old” technique. This requires leaving existing repertoire until the new technique is firmly established. Relearning the old pieces with proper movements is possible only after a period of 1-3 years depending on how quickly the student progresses with the new technique. All thoughts and movements that are repeated are reinforced. This basic principle of learning applies to both correct and incorrect information as well as good and bad technique.

 

© Gregory Urich

November, 2002