Piano Technique: Arpeggios
From: Berkeley, California
To: Sydney, Australia
I continue to learn from my students as I view close-ups of their arms, wrists, hands/fingers in motion across the keyboard. Most of my epiphanies occur over Skype or Face Time where I pinpoint technical problems that are MAGNIFIED by the webcam. I might use a LOCAL Full Screen view over CALL RECORD to model an economy of motion through arpeggios, and then switch to a Split Screen to assess the pupil’s improvement in keyboard transit. I’ll use prompts that are specifically physical, and others that are in the mental image realm, not overlooking “phrase-shaping” through broken chords in slow and brisk tempo: legato and staccato. (A melodic thread is always preserved.)
In the attached video centering on the D Major Arpeggio, a student had a conspicuous hand “twist” that was impeding what she imagined internally as a smooth musical flow of notes, and it was no surprise that she had to brave certain technical challenges to get to the “heart” of her playing. As an example, when I was 13, I came my teacher, Lillian Freundlich, knowing what I wanted to hear, but yet, I hadn’t the “tools” to put into motion what I had imagined and internalized. Some students are not sure what they want to hear, so this presents still another dimension of the learning process.
The adult pupil practicing the arpeggio, however, is “musical” and intuitive, so our focus in the technical segment of lessons, has been how to navigate through scales and arpeggios with ease and FLUIDITY.
In our partnered journey, we’ve discovered along the D Major route, that the sensation of a “floating arm” is pivotal to creating a horizontal LINE. But that’s not enough. The thumb should not pull the hand down, or force a twist in the hand just because it cruises under finger “tunnels.” In a previous blog, I referenced the thumb’s tendency to usurp more rule or power than it was entitled to. It must be especially ARTFUL in not making a ponderous presence. From another perspective, it’s a “ruler” in the sense of being a “measuring” rod not an oligarch. Wherever it goes, the family of fingers drape around it creating balance and alignment. Framing this aforementioned assertion is the need for an overall “economy of motion” that affords speed, agility, and fluid playing.
Finally, in the Arpeggio cosmos it’s very satisfying to produce a floating, flowing, rippling set of broken chords that are well-spaced, and without thumb-heavy intrusions.