Making it All Work

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The pillars system and the superheroes description are intended to assist you in turning what you understand about movement from a lifetime of movement experience, in different domains, into movement that serves the intended goal–music making at the piano with an excellent physical approach, according to a new paradigm for piano technique implied by Taubman. This paradigm calls for a symbiosis between muscular exertion and natural force: gravity, momentum, rebound, muscular and tendonal viscoelasticity. I’m sure some of you have noticed that I didn’t put single and double rotation in any of the main headings of the system, or any of the other movement types Taubman specified (although I mention them by way of explanation). Yes, the goals of any technique are expressed through movement, and you must learn specific movements to get the technique. Yes, they are critical, because they make the seven pillars system work. They make your body optimally aligned, resilient, flexible, and comfortable for the piano.  The movements must have a particular goal, they must feel a particular way, and knowing what those are will help you get them right.

Now for the nasty caveat. None of those categories of movement and sensation will be able to make its optimal contribution without the others being present—so how do you learn any of them? If forearm rotation is not preeminent in a configuration of movements, but just one of a number of critical components, then where does one start? Why might you not start with forearm rotation?

For pianists who are already highly skilled, learning Taubman may come relatively easily. I have heard from several pianists how psychically painful it was for them to stop playing for a mere three to six months so that they could relearn how to play Taubman’s way. Several pianists testify in Choreography of the Hands that Taubman fixed them right up in a matter of minutes. I would say that both groups have a number of Taubman technique attributes very well in place—even the ones who needed what were to them an interminable three to six months.

Probably, these pianists understood something about how to make use of gravity through the falling of the arm. They understand architecture, with only one or two things to fix about their “unit,” if anything. They aren’t clenched about the shoulders, or in other places, and probably know not to leave muscles isometrically contracted. These skills may have helped them cultivate rebound and momentum effects without Taubman training, though possibly not to the same degree that training would make possible. Having learned not to overstabilize, they would in all likelihood be using some forearm rotation (it would be difficult not to).

On the other hand, if you don’t already understand these qualities of movement, it is quite possible to apply Taubman’s movement principles with too much stabilization to experience the best of what Taubman training ultimately has to offer. You could work for years….

To learn this technique without a lot of these predispositions to success, one must both suppress old neurological pathways between musical idea and arm, and establish new ones by practicing with intense concentration. It is one thing to learn something as a child during a so-called “critical period,” during which the brain has a special and extraordinary openness to noticing and remembering patterns, and another for an adult to painstakingly and repeatedly focus on highly specific information so as to enshrine it in long-term memory. It is one thing to establish new neurological connections, and another to close off established, well-worn ones. Neuroplasticians have more than adequately demonstrated that the latter is possible but that intense concentration is essential. In other words, the adult pianist has to focus intensely on individual aspects of this technique, concentrating on highly specific sensations, appearances, and sounds repeatedly and doggedly until the new ways become intuitively obvious (to at least the same degree that the old ones had been).

Everyone comes to this technique from a different place. For anyone who doesn’t really have good technique by any standard, it seems to me that the trick to learning this technique without becoming mired in a pilgrim’s slough of despondency is to learn the movements and structures individually and to assume that all movements and structures will be conduits of gravity, momentum, rebound, aided by helpful properties of muscle. One would imbue each movement type with at least a modicum of natural force before moving on; one would be relentless about correcting improperly executed movements and structures with the understanding that without gravity and momentum they are improper. One would attempt to correlate volume with degree of force from the early stages. One wouldn’t attempt to do too many things at once.

It seems to me that the place to start is not with a “most important” element but with one that can be isolated from the others, and executed with a maximum amount of natural force, with the greatest degree of ease. That element would have to rely least on the others to be merely doable as well as simple enough to imbue with natural force from the outset. As essential as it is, forearm rotation does not fit the bill: first, because it entails too many possibilities for maintaining wrongful muscular involvement and poor structure from one’s previous way of playing; and second, because it is too easy to take the two types of rotation, which ought to be simple to understand, and create an inscrutable enigma out of them.  (Later, we’ll have a shot at reorganizing the single-double system so that all its movements can be grasped in the context of my other suggestions.)

The first component to learn would have to be forearm/hand weight trained to fall on an adequate structure with fulcrums intact. This thinking would account for my choice of topic for the first of a series of workbooks to help you put Taubman to work in your own playing [in progress]. But first, let’s have a little peek at what’s underneath the skin of your unit. And put that crucifix away—we’re not sending you to medical school here, even though, if you can handle advanced classical repertoire with all of its cognitive challenges, I’m sure you would do just fine if that’s what you really wanted.

Next: A briefest of anatomy lessons, and one reason therein [in progress]

A workbook for developing a good unit [in progress]

Forearm Rotation: “Singles and Doubles,” or “Something Different but also the Same?”