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Can we rise above the hammer mechanism of our beloved piano?

I say yes to naysayers on various Internet forums. They would have you believe that playing a series of notes cannot be altered by a physical approach to the keys that includes a supple wrist. Their gospel is, it’s all the same no matter who plays C, D, E, F, G. These concrete thinkers, insist that you can take your pick starting anywhere on the keyboard and nothing really changes.

Essentially, they sermonize that the initiation of key depression ignites the hammers to STRIKE the strings which leads followers into the universe of PERCUSSION! (This launches a secondary argument about the nuts and bolts of pianoforte-making and playing)

Fortunately, the less religious persuaders concede that the use of sustain pedal makes one player sound differently from another– or that pokey finger plunkers can still manage a soft or loud sound through finger pressure alone, thereby escaping tonal conformity.

I say BAH HUMBUG to this crowd that pedals its audibly loud or soft-sell opinions in their Extremist effort to rip the HEARTS out of HAMMERS. (They insist HAMMERS like wooden puppets can’t “feel” or “express” emotions)

With all due respect, I declare that tone production is NOT the sum total of pedal plus loud and soft playing. It’s way more subtle than that: ATTENTIVE LISTENING, IMAGINATION, HARMONIC FLOW and a keenly nursed physical flexibility can and will individualize one player from another.

To wit, I enlisted Burgmuller’s Angels’ Voices for DIVINE INTERVENTION:

As a necessary preliminary, I adhered to the composer’s metronome marking, the quarter=152; then I demonstrated pokey finger entries into the keys with a relatively stiff wrist. (sustain pedal was used but without dynamics) Subsequently, I added dynamics with pokey fingers, before the final playing with a supple wrist and phrase sculpting. (My approach included delays into notes and resolutions by flow of harmony)

Video 1

Video 2-A play through of Angels’

Comparative You Tube performances set at the same metronome marking: (Yes of course, the pianos are different, but let’s consider the physical approach to the keys by each player)

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Romantic era piano repertoire: A murmuring stream and the supple wrist (Burgmuller creates beauty from simplicity)

“The Clear Stream” from Friedrich Burgmuller’s Twenty-Five Progressive Pieces offers a student an opportunity to create limpidly beautiful phrases from unraveled broken chords spun out in triplets. In order to create the “mormorando” (murmuring effect) in the treble, it’s best to first block out the “chord” patterns with a “spongy” wrist in slow motion before playing them as written.

The permeating, rolling, triplet figures enlist a counter-clockwise circular motion of the arm/wrist/right hand, most easily perceived when they are practiced in back tempo. (The bass in part A, by contrast, is an alternation of two notes in a perfect 5th relationship–best played with a rotational, “rocking motion”)

The middle section, (Part B) in contrast to the opener, presents two voices demanding equal attention so the bass line, for example, can be practiced independently, as a counter-melody with its own required nuance and shaping. (slow playing is recommended)–The treble has its melody bouncing off the bass as part of the triplet figure continuum. Blocking out the treble, therefore, in pairs of notes reveals a melodic thread that should be fleshed out as an important “voice” once the section is played unblocked.

the clear stream

The videotaped tutorial fleshes out the practicing routines as described above with a harmonic rhythm dimension added.

First, A Play Through: (In tempo)


*Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels,” probably more well-known to pianists, is composed of “rolling” triplets in broken chord patterns. Therefore, a blocking approach to practicing applies here as well. (with the flow of harmonies and their changes influencing phrasing)

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The rolling wrist in Burgmuller’s “Harmony of the Angels”

Each of Burgmuller’s Op. 100, 25 Progressive Pieces is more enchanting then the next, and bundled into every charmer is a technical goal to be met.

In “Harmony of the Angels” it’s abundantly clear that the supple wrist must roll forward, and the continuum of triplets from left hand to right must be in an uninterrupted flow.