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#27688 - 03/23/03 12:36 PM Rebuilding a proper hand position
GeeTee Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 12/26/01
Posts: 391
Loc: Midwest
I have a 13 yr. old boy who has studied with me for a while. He is quite talented but rather stubborn about taking instruction. In other words, he's a bit of a "know it all" and not the most "teachable" kid. Altho his reading, rhythm, and interest in playing is very strong, he IS beginning to run into a few technique "walls" due to a faulty hand and finger position. He tends to play with a flat finger approach about 1/2 the time and a nice curved finger approach the other half. His wrists are pretty tight too. He often "slaps" at the keys (like a jazz pianist), yet can bring out warmth & beauty from the music too. His end knuckle joints often collapse on fingers 2,3,4, and his movement across the keys is not efficient (more movement than what is needed). He's finding he can't play some things fluently up to tempo due to his poor technique, yet doesn't seem to want to accept that this will be the case until he makes an effort to correct things.

Now, for years I've drilled, reminded, demo'd, stopped & insisted on proper postion of hands/fingers, etc. and he will adjust for me then & there, but I know he's not attending to these details at home. I tell him to use his scale, chords, and arpeggio practice to focus on this, but I'm told he just runs thru these once or so with no attention on actual technique.

He's playing in the Celebration Series bk. 4, but I'm noticing that as he encounters more rapid scale passages, ornaments, and other technically demanding spots, he cannot control these and maintain fluency. And I've told him over & over that until HE decides to choose to follow my teaching instruction/advice, these problems will continue to plague him and hold him back.

He is such a musical and talented kid. He always shines at recitals and contests. He just doesn't appreciate another's expertise in a field of study where he naturally shines (coaches have said the same thing about him: talented athlete, doesn't accept coaching). This is really going to hold him back I'm afraid.

What can I do to rebuild his hand/finger technique, break poor technique habits, etc.
during the lesson and hopefully ensure his attention to this at home?

Thanks. GT

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#27689 - 03/24/03 11:04 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
Piano lady Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/19/01
Posts: 361
13 yrs old? Start him on the Bach Inventions. If anything can straighten out his technique, Bach will do it. To play Bach well, you need good technique. Bad technique shows up there faster than in any other music.

I play with my wrists pretty much in the same position all the time and use very little wrist motion. I don't find wrist motion that necessary.

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#27690 - 03/25/03 04:18 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
Bontempo Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/17/02
Posts: 353
Loc: Belgium/Portugal
I've encountered this same problem. It seems as if some talented students don't care about technique. Here in Belgium I've recently met a 19-y.o. who is a big lover of classic repertoire and a dedicated amateur, but his sloppy technique lets him down most of the time.
Maybe you can try some SPECIFIC exercises to correct hand position, made up by yourself or taken from a technique book. You'll probably have to be quite hard on this point, making sure he practices these exercises every single day, and demo'ing them clearly at the lesson (as you already do). Taking him off the juicy repertoire may be too harsh, but you'll probably need to balance technique with the rest. It's a question of choice, and you must know the student very well. You could risk losing him to another teacher.

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#27691 - 03/25/03 01:48 PM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
Mary Gae George has some exercises that work fairly well to develop proper hand position. I suggest buying her seminar tapes. They're well worth the money. \:\) Still, exercises aren't effective if the student isn't motivated to do them. :rolleyes: IMO, if the student doesn't accept suggestions & put forth a reasonable effort to improve, I wouldn't worry about losing him/her to another teacher. ;\) \:D

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#27692 - 03/25/03 07:00 PM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
GeeTee Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 12/26/01
Posts: 391
Loc: Midwest
Thanks for the responses so far. I'm not too worried about loosing this student to another teacher, but what I see happening is that his technique isn't going to keep up with his need and ability to play more complicated repertoire up to tempo. He can execute everything (scale figures, chords, arpeggios, etc.) at slower more moderate speeds, but precision, clarity, and fluency are often compromised when he's pushed closer to tempo, and certain spots just never "clean up" with his faulty hand/finger positionings. During lessons, he'll express his frustration when he gets "tripped up", but yet he hasn't seemed to make the connection between his weak technique and hindered performances.

Would it be adviseable to perhaps have some lessons focus solely on technique work?

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#27693 - 03/26/03 06:44 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
You say this student doesn't seem to make the connection between poor technique & poor performance. Why is that? Have you tried the direct approach? When working with him on technique, have you come right out & told him that his poor technique is hindering his ability to perform? (If you've already done this, please forgive. I'm just trying to help you figure out what teaching strategies might work with this student).

Regarding spending several weeks focusing solely on technique: I think that you, the teacher, should be able to work with him on whatever weakness he has. If it takes several weeks of concentrated focus on technique to get him to work & improve his skills, then so be it. If he doesn't want to work to improve his technique, he may get mad & change teachers; but since you said you wouldn't mind if he changed teachers, I say go for it. If he gets mad & quits, all you lose is an uncooperative student.

[ 03-26-2003: Message edited by: Jalapeņa ]

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#27694 - 03/26/03 08:41 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
GeeTee Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 12/26/01
Posts: 391
Loc: Midwest
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Jalapeņa:
[b]When working with him on technique, have you come right out & told him that his poor technique is hindering his ability to perform? [b]

Oh yes, all the time. In fact he came for his lesson yesterday and throughout all aspects of his playing I was continually attempting to help him correct things. For example: We began with some hand position prep warm-ups (touching each fingertip to the thumb like an OK sign repeatedly. Having him dangle his arms down beside him and helping him see the natural curve of his fingers. Having him "scratch" the keys like he was giving them a back scratch to activate the curve of each knuckle over the keys while keeping the wrist relaxed.). He did everything eagerly.

Then during his scale playing I draped a small scarf over each wrist to help him focus on keeping the wrists low and level and allow only lateral movement while maintaining the curve of each knuckle. I tell him not to allow any fingernails to "show" (to avoid collapsed knuckles). This he did fine. Like I said originally, he'll do it all for me at the lesson with no problem, but at home these things are ignored.

When he began playing his pieces, I would often gently touch his shoulders to remind him to relax them, intermittently remind him to lower his wrists, curve fingers, keep knuckles high, etc., which he'd correct for a time, but return to the faulty positions soon after. We'd stop and work on specific spots in the music from a technique standpoint repeatedly. I wrote little technique reminders both on the score and on the assignment sheet. At the end of the time, I again told him that until he chooses to correct these problems in his technique, his playing will suffer...and I strongly reminded him that I expect him to focus on these things at every practice session.

That's where the stubbornness comes in. He wants to just get to playing the music, not the concentrating on these other issues.

[b] If he doesn't want to work to improve his technique, he may get mad & change teachers; but since you said you wouldn't mind if he changed teachers, I say go for it. If he gets mad & quits, all you lose is an uncooperative student.[b]

What I meant was that I don't forsee him wanting to change teachers. He's not uncooperative during lessons at all, just in his engaging his attentions on these areas at home. He's a great kid and we work together well. I just don't think he's experienced what I've been cautioning him about yet (cause he's so darn talented) and will only adjust his focus when indeed his playing does begin to suffer more apparently. He's like a toddler who has to touch the hot stove and experience the pain his mother warned him about before he believes her.

But as for things to do during the lessons, are there other things I could try?

[ 03-26-2003: Message edited by: GeeTee ]

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#27695 - 03/26/03 08:52 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
GeeTee Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 12/26/01
Posts: 391
Loc: Midwest
Sorry I didn't get the bold quotes right. \:\(

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#27696 - 03/26/03 11:17 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
Jalapeņa Offline
Star Member

Registered: 02/20/03
Posts: 1143
Loc: New Mexico
I had a student like that. I gave the parents a handout about pianists' injuries that can result from poor technique (wrists below keyboard level, etc.). It didn't do any good; the student still kept playing with her fingers completely flat & her wrists extremely low... but at least they know that if the student doesn't work to develop good technique, she's headed for carpal tunnel syndrome & other problems. At one point I actually told the student's mother, "If _______ could play like that, I wouldn't worry about it so much. But she can't play like that. Her poor technique is keeping her from playing at proper tempo, etc." Also, when she performed for last year's LMTA Hymn Festival, she received a superior rating, but with comments from the judge about her poor hand position. I gave the mother a copy of that critique, so she knows I'm not the only piano teacher who pays attention to technique.

The bottom line is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Sounds like your student is going to have to learn the hard way. There's only so much you can do. The rest is up to him.

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#27697 - 03/27/03 11:38 AM Re: Rebuilding a proper hand position
Piano lady Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 08/19/01
Posts: 361
I was serious about the Bach.

Technique is an interesting subject. Here's some things I've noticed in my own playing.

Strengthening the "weak" fingers. There is something physical therapists use called Power Putty. Get the light blue consistency. It is the softest. Your student can play with this while watching TV. It is soft enough to relax the tendons and yet strengthen the knuckles.

Scales: slow to moderate speed (up to 1/4 = 144) -- wrist flat. Fast (over 144) wrist tends to raise. Extremely fast (over 1/2 = 92) high wrist and slightly angled hand facing in the direction of the scale. Very useful in Scarlatti pieces. Also the issue may not necessarily be in the hand it may be in the shoulder and chest. Make sure the shoulder and pectoral muscles are relaxed here as well as the fingers. Some students tend to tense in the chest as well during difficult passages. This will mess up the hand position. BTW does he remember to breathe when he's playing? Or is he a breath holder?

Arps: Legato arps are pretty irrelevant in practice since you're usually pedalling them. I use a forearm rotation on these and can get them very fast and even.

Chords: I use an inward forearm rotation. Control here is essential so you don't slam the thumb.

Scratching at the keys: This is a touchy subject with me since this can cause digging into the keys which can cause tendonitis.

I go back to Bach again. Bach's music will not tolerate weak fingers or weak end knuckles. His music also teaches economy of movement and the ultimate in control. If we look at a harpsichord the downstroke of the note is made with very little motion, just a twitch of the finger. You simply cannot waste motion. Likewise when playing his music on the piano.

If your student plays Bach well, he should be able to play just about anything you can throw at him. Suggestion about edition: Barenreiter and you finger the piece for him, or have him do his own fingering. The guy who did the fingering in Henle needs to have his head examined. :p

Doing your own fingering can be an interesting exercise in itself. You come up with one at slow tempo, and then you'll notice it may change as you bring the piece up to tempo.

The thing about this approach is that you can "trick" him into thinking he's just learning a new piece, yet he's working technique at the same time. I tend to stay away from dedicated technical exercises for the simple reason that it takes just as long to learn to play them well as it does to learn a first rate piece of music.

Oh well, back to that French Overture. ;\)

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