Elbows in!

I remember being told as a young pianist that I should curve my fingers, but I can’t remember at the time thinking why this might be a good idea – I just followed my teacher’s instructions obediently.

However, I believe that it is imperative that a teacher explains why, so that their pupil understands the logic behind it; after all, it is not difficult to understand. As a pupil, I think it is probably quite easy to conclude that the reason that we are to curve our fingers is

because our teacher says so!

In reality, and certainly until we are used to it, it can seem awkward. ‘It’s diffulct enough playing the notes, it’s one more thing to that I have to remember, and I don’t see why I need to do this when it all seems, to me, to work perfectly adequately with flat fingers thanks very much!’

Nowhere is poor technique more obvious than in scales, and in particular in crossing the fourth finger over the thumb (descending right hand, ascending left hand). With flat fingers, the thumb and fourth fingers are miles apart – well, several inches anyway – but with curved fingers, they are significantly closer. To cross the thumb with flat fingers, the fourth finger has to travel through a huge arc, twisting the whole hand out of shape, and thrusting the elbow out sideways; and of course once the fourth finger has landed, the whole hand (and elbow) needs to be brought rapidly back into place. Sadly, however, I see far too many children playing scales in this way. Every third or fourth note in the scale demands this huge physical adjustment, first in one direction and then back again; when scales are tackled at speed, is it any wonder that they are so uneven and frankly just difficult to play? Is it surprising then they these students find scales difficult and frustrating? And don’t get me started on arpeggios!!

The best demonstration of this problem is to shake a pupil’s elbow whilst they are trying to play a scale, and insist that they keep going whatever happens! The results are hilarious, but there is also an instant penny-dropping moment when they realise that this is what is actually happening when they play with straight fingers.

With curved fingers, the fourth finger can travel in a straight line from where it was (already very close by) to just over the thumb, with no need to move either the hand or the elbow. Just hugely efficient and effortless. Why would you play in any other way? Well, the only reason I can think of is if the teacher has not explained the rules of the game properly, which seems a little unfair to me. It just takes a few moments to explain, and it will transform a child’s playing.

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