Piano Technique: The dipping wrist, and how it defies convention (Videos)

One of my adult students echoed a belief that has resonated for generations in piano studios across the country, if not the world. The OLD school of thought was that you played piano with a rigid, arched hand, and if you slipped into a longer, relaxed curve, or dared to DIP your wrist below the level of the key slip that boxed in the keys, you might as well find yourself another teacher. (In fact, a rejecting mentor would have gathered up all the pennies that fell off your” imbalanced wrist,” and stashed them away as proof of your transgression)

I remember clearly that my second New York City piano instructor, Ethel Elfenbein, (in the early 60s) was ironically a dipping-wrist player from start to finish, and her tone reflected the beauty of this approach, though for some reason, she couldn’t communicate to me exactly what worked so beautifully for her. (I spent too much time in the kitchen copying fingerings for pieces that were way above my head!) Try the Chopin Scherzo in Bb minor, when I could barely read a Bach Little Prelude.

Just about that time, I suffered the pangs of a piano-related depression and needed some guidance about the fundamentals of tone production.

Lillian Freundlich was the first singing tone-focused mentor, but she didn’t particularly work on wrist flexibility–or isolate the role of wrist motions in piano playing. (She spent inordinate time on relaxation and building up phrases in groupings)

On to Oberlin, her alma mater, and a regression to Schmitt exercises with a stiff hand position. I couldn’t stand it! A typing course would have reaped more benefit.

Fast forward the clock to California and Ena Bronstein, a fluid player, with an immense reservoir of motions through relaxed arms into supple wrists–and to her credit, she showed me some circular elbow motions that I readily ingested. Here’s a snatch of her Liszt Transcendental Etudes that reflects poetry in motion:

Not to forget, Seymour Bernstein’s video tutorials, one of which zoned in on the dipping wrist, Part 4. The undulation slowed up entry into a note, or chord, etc. and created a honey-dipped resolution, or magnificent phrase-tapering. You couldn’t miss the beauty coming from “his” own two hands.

Part Four, “You and the Piano”

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A few years ago, I spotted an incredible You Tube video in Hungarian, that magnified Livia Rev’s approach to the piano. To notice a DIPPING wrist would be an understatement. I copied the thumbnail as a graphic example:

And here’s Irina Morozova in motion at the piano with her fluid wrist.

Do I dare follow these great artists with a sample of my dipping wrist in this short, but charming Mozart Minuet.

I can “sculpt” phrases with my “spongy” wrist, and create nuances that are otherwise unavailable if I adhere to the Old convention of keeping an up and perfect hand position:

That’s why I advocate its flexibility in my teaching–even with a child as young as Rina who started lessons with me 8 months ago at the age of 4.

Here’s a flashback to a very early lesson where she’s tapping one note to a CD selection from Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey instruction. She had been imbued with the “spongy wrist” image as she played her detached notes, one finger at a time. (This was her third month of study)

As it happens, I’m now working with a new Skype student from the Alaskan frontier, who’s learning about the dipping wrist to warm up her playing.

Here are some pics:

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LINK:

RELATED: http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/piano-instruction-a-beautiful-mozart-minuet-in-f-major-k-5-not-often-played-video/

http://www.powhow.com/classes/shirley-kirsten

About Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com OR http://www.youtube.com/arioso7 or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, http://facebook.com /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: http://twitter.com/arioso7 Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
This entry was posted in "Tales of a Musical Journey", El Cerrito, El Cerrito piano lessons, Ena Bronstein, Ethel Elfenbein, Irina Gorin, Irina Morozova, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, pianist, piano, piano technique, playing piano, POWHOW, Seymour Bernstein, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, supple wrist in piano playing, undulating wrist in piano playing, You and the Piano Seymour Bernstein, You and the PIano Seymour Bernstein on You Tube, you tube, you tube video, yout tube, youtube.com and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Piano Technique: The dipping wrist, and how it defies convention (Videos)

  1. Harriet says:

    This is exactly what my current teacher started me on a few months ago. I’d never heard of it before. He also has talked about when to use wrist versus when to use fingers (the latter would be in faster passages) to depress the keys. I’m still such a beginner with this that I have no idea if it’s improving my tone yet, but I think so. It certainly feels better.

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  2. I’m glad to hear this. Yes, the supple wrist, fingers, rotation, relaxed arms all work in harmony. I’ve come to this over years of study and self-analysis. I take mental notes when a phrase is spun as I imagine it–(in the singing/shaping/phrasing sense) And I think like a string player.. which was in fact my undertaking simultaneous to piano for many years. Being a frustrated violinist I transfer my inner feeling about a phrase to the piano . I explore lots of motions in various pieces, and gravitate toward what works. The biggest problem with students is that when they first start studying they are sadly exposed to the typewriter paradigm of playing.. so preoccupation with getting the right notes, squeezes out cultivation of a singing tone and the beautiful universe it offers.

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  3. I am really trying to absorb this – it is hard to untrained the thoughts that a loose wrist or dipping wrist is sloppy, and yet the proof is in the pudding when listening to the same passage played with spongy wrists as opposed to still, lifted (and consequently stilted!) wrists that were touted by my old teachers.

    Part of your teaching is definitely reprogramming me with better, new habits to replace the old! The wrist suppleness is no exception.

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    • Nice hearing from you.. I just posted the instructional video on Minuet in F, K. 5, reblogged with updated tips, insights and my recent performance added in, which should make things clearer. The motion takes time and practice to assimilate.. just like any athletic dimension of an art.. which in fact exists. You’re doing a great job and will continue to grow into this in baby steps. Be patient and enjoy the ride.

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  4. Harriet says:

    If you watch any of the great pianists, you will see that they use a lot of downward wrist motion, especially in lyrical passages. I had never noticed this, though, until I started learning how to do it myself.

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