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”
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: