The first guest post of the year has been written by pianist, teacher, and composer, Rami Bar-Niv. This is the fourth article in his piano technique series for this blog. Here, Rami highlights the importance of the ‘grabbing’ movement as part of developing a secure piano technique.
Read Rami’s earlier posts by clicking on the links below:
Find out more about my guest post series, here.
The fourth pillar of my five main piano-playing-technique pillars is the grabbing technique. This is like grabbing anything with your hands and fingers – the most natural movement a newborn baby would do.
Put your finger in the palm of a newborn baby and the baby will close the hand and grasp your finger.
This is the same reflex movement that monkeys do when they hang off a tree branch or gymnasts do hopping from one bar or a pair of rings to another.
This grabbing movement can be used for a single note with a single finger or multiple notes with multiple fingers.
This technique can be used for staccato, legato, and any articulation in between. It can produce a power house of sound like in Rachmaninov triple forte chords, a most delicate sound like the finger staccato in fast passages of Scarlatti Sonatas, or anything in between, like playing fast double octaves or chords. The movement is like catching a small ball (the size of a tennis ball or a stress ball) — the fingers just close onto it.
A good preparation exercise can be actually playing with a tennis ball or a stress ball: throw it straight down to the floor and catch it on its rebound from above. The grabbing movement needs to be done fast or else we won’t catch the ball, or fall off the tree or the bar or rings if we were monkeys, gymnasts, or ninjas…
It is easier to start learning this technique in a staccato articulation, and once it’s mastered it can be applied to legato and other articulations. Start with less curved fingers touching the piano-keys surface and with a relatively low wrist.
Now curve the finger into the key in a fast attack as if you want to make a hole in the key and reach the bottom of the keyboard.
But obviously the key is stronger than our finger, so the attack must be followed by an immediate release of the key.
Get off the key with a completely tension-free feather-like hand.
This movement can be facilitated by raising the wrist when doing it.
Even though the technique is described in a few steps, it is actually a single quick movement. I suggest learning and practising it with every finger alone. However, when it comes to the thumb, it gets a little trickier as we need to find the perfect diagonal angle for the thumb to do it sideways.
Then practice it with two fingers together, 2 and 4, 3 and 5, 2 and 5, 3 and 4, etc. However, again, when we get to the thumb, it’s trickier, but easier to understand when we play dyads. It’s the same idea when we play fingers 1 and 5, or 1 and 4, 1 and 3, etc., so I’ll talk about playing 1 and 5, whether in double octaves or in double sixths. Fingers 1 and 5 move towards each other, in a closing action of the hand, like a pair of tongs grabbing a piece of ice.
However, the sudden attack and the immediate release of any tension is the same.
The movement of this technique is not like sweeping dust off the keys – that would be a waste of energy for soft playing (the keys move vertically so we need to press them downward), and it would definitely not serve as a powerful attack.
Once the technique is mastered, it can be done not only by starting from the fingers touching the surface of the keys, but also from a little above the keys.
Enjoy the power and the lightness that this technique offers.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.