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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817679
02/19/19 10:39 PM
02/19/19 10:39 PM
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One last thing I just remembered. Feedback I had from a teacher who watched a video of me playing .......... stop and go vs. continuity.

What this teacher was observing was that as I went from note to note, it was kind of ..... go to destination; arrive at destination: sit at destination until it's time to go to the next destination (duration of the note); go to next destination. My actual playing sounded like a smooth legato melody. But mentally I was literally going from one note - to the next note - to the next note - and sort of "stopping" at each note. Every time you stop, it takes energy to stop. When you start again, it takes more energy. It is a series of jolts and jerks in a way.

Instead, he proposed a continual motion. A carry-forward of the momentum. As you are landing on the G, and holding the note so staying there, you are already pivoting or leaning toward the next note, redirecting that momentum. If you walk forward and decide you're going to go left, you sort of pivot on your foot that has landed and your whole body turns toward the new direction without ever stopping.

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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: keystring] #2817716
02/20/19 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
One last thing I just remembered. Feedback I had from a teacher who watched a video of me playing .......... stop and go vs. continuity.

What this teacher was observing was that as I went from note to note, it was kind of ..... go to destination; arrive at destination: sit at destination until it's time to go to the next destination (duration of the note); go to next destination. My actual playing sounded like a smooth legato melody. But mentally I was literally going from one note - to the next note - to the next note - and sort of "stopping" at each note. Every time you stop, it takes energy to stop. When you start again, it takes more energy. It is a series of jolts and jerks in a way.

Instead, he proposed a continual motion. A carry-forward of the momentum. As you are landing on the G, and holding the note so staying there, you are already pivoting or leaning toward the next note, redirecting that momentum. If you walk forward and decide you're going to go left, you sort of pivot on your foot that has landed and your whole body turns toward the new direction without ever stopping.


Depending on the articulation, it's really a tighter balance than that, and is almost paradoxical where you feel momentum carry and yet feel a moment of repose at critical moments.

You really shouldn't perceive that it's taking you energy to stop, and if so, it's creating timing issues and inconsistencies. When it "stops" it stops because you aimed and timed it to stop.

It should be like a perfect game of pool, except with the stricter condition of being aligned and primed the next hit the exact moment the ball stops. Not a split second before or after. In other words, the initial conditions of how you released from the previously articulation should predetermine what happens as you follow-through without manipulating it "mid-flight". Stopping is simply allowing the follow-through the happen. Errors with finishing or stopping come from mid-flight manipulation or not learning that practicing actually involves learning the correct timing/aiming that you intended.

Instead of focusing on the "pivoting", while you're on the note imagine the release happening on top of the note you are trying to get to at the perfect spot and time.

To take that a step further, this is also an opportunity to work out the timing and aiming necessary for minimized rotation.

Take CEG (135)

To simplify, I won't discuss every rotation but they are critical for an initial "buy-in" of momentum or "real-estate", especially the very first preparatory one.

You've "stopped" or come to a "moment of repose" on E with 3. The next finger is 5, which is to the right of 3 in the right hand.

Instead of focusing on the 3 and pivoting from it to the right to get to the 5 on G, we're going to focus on 5 while we happen to be on 3.

While, you're still on E, imagine releasing the 5 toward the left on top of G in a such a way that the forearm elastically responds/flows going to the right in one gesture (It's not two separate movements) that it lands on G at the exact spot you want it to (height and distance to the fallboard), at the right time, with the dynamics you want. It you do it right, it should almost seem to "compress" the rotations vertically over the spot you want, and yet you were able to take advantage of using it horizontally to get it where you wanted.

Again, note that the timing of this requires that you're "manipulation" or "intent" occurs from how you release on E and the resulting follow-through. All the "energy" you are using comes from powering the escape of the key and you're not using any to "stop" it. The point of practice is to obtain the follow-through you want from the initial "launch".

Focusing on pivoting from the 3 in this circumstance and not the 5 is going to make your timing do what is called "backwards rotation" or "tail wagging the dog rotation".

In walking while one leg is in "stance phase", the other leg is in "swing phase". The stance leg is what creates the series of fulcrums that carries momentum from our reaction to the ground and is what we "move from", but we "fall" and "aim" from the the swing leg.

Something similar occurs in rotation.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817756
02/20/19 04:33 AM
02/20/19 04:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Moo :)
I'm not sure that was the best example. But normally a up down left hand faster passage where you have to stretch out. I have been taught when you go up to the thumb you normally move the hand slightly with it and going down will need to collect thumb very quickly when you go back.

This was the piece that my teacher got me to work on. Obviously it is more important with very quick up down patterns but I was practicing on slower patterns.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti1eZ2B63Ro

The other piece I remember collect thumb was an mentioned a lot was Chopin C sharp minor in the left hand again arpeggio.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVV3SIvncD4


I think I understand what you're talking about very well. It's enough to play C2-G2-E3-G2-C2 (numbers are octaves) broken chord legato in the left hand to illustrate the idea. When G2 key is being played for the first time the thumb should still be near the palm. Right after G2 is played for the second time the thumb should already be near the palm and this is what is called "collection of the thumb".

I'm not saying that the collection is unnecessary. What I want to communicate to you is that this act of "collection" should not be a forceful movement of the thumb towards the palm (because this kind of movement causes unnecessary tension of another kind), but more an act of relaxation of muscles that move the thumb away from the palm. Do you get the idea? Collection is necessary, but "collection" is a bad term for this, very widespread though.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817809
02/20/19 09:06 AM
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Personally I like the term "collect". To me it implies relaxation into a natural state. When people "collect themselves" they put themselves into a state of calm. The word "grasp" would imply forcefulness. Collect doesn't.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2817812
02/20/19 09:11 AM
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If you take the thumb of your left hand, while completely relaxed, and pull it towards you with the right hand, you only need to let go for it to fly back to its original position of its own accord.

This "springiness" is often enough to get the fingers to do what we want them to do. Instead, when we think that the thumb should move towards the palm, the natural instinct is to use muscles to move it, instead of just letting it go.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: anamnesis] #2817813
02/20/19 09:12 AM
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Anamnesis, I read your post several times. It said something to me, I can't explain why. One thing I like because I have found it helpful, is to see things from multiple angles. No single angle gives the complete picture. So, for example, the perspective I'd been given was of "continual motion", not stop-start, etc. The perspective you just gave went beyond even the resulting middle finger 3 pivoting at the point of the hand moving to finger 5 - but the mind being at 5 in anticipation of 5 while in 3 - and this carries a different kind of momentum. Playing is constantly a movement in time: where we are, came from, are going to, in this kind of multiple awareness. This all sound ethereal and unreal put into words, but at the piano it's a real thing.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: keystring] #2817872
02/20/19 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Anamnesis, I read your post several times. It said something to me, I can't explain why. One thing I like because I have found it helpful, is to see things from multiple angles. No single angle gives the complete picture. So, for example, the perspective I'd been given was of "continual motion", not stop-start, etc. The perspective you just gave went beyond even the resulting middle finger 3 pivoting at the point of the hand moving to finger 5 - but the mind being at 5 in anticipation of 5 while in 3 - and this carries a different kind of momentum. Playing is constantly a movement in time: where we are, came from, are going to, in this kind of multiple awareness. This all sound ethereal and unreal put into words, but at the piano it's a real thing.


And just to clarify, I didn't use the exact Taubman verbiage here as to not scare people off, but this is essentially one of the points needed to the understand the timing of the "double rotation". [To elaborate, the rationale behind needing to make a distinction between "single" and "doubles" is to get people to feel the difference in timing and re-direction of momentum between these two paradigmatic situations.]

I recognized how you were cuing your timing from your description because it is a common troubleshooting point in Taubman pedagogy that I and many others went through.

Bob Durso described it as people having trouble with the notion of being able to do two things at once within a single coordinated action. It's taken them years to figure out how to get better at consistently teaching the timing behind rotational training, because what's actually happening and how to "manipulate" it is not intuitive.

(Even those with a science background where they've encountered a formalized description of rotational motion don't initially make a connection between what they've learned on paper versus the "experience" of it until it is shown to them.)

The actual physics of it is very sound, but there seems to be some sort of mental block that doesn't make it intuitive to practically use until you experience it for the first time. Take a cylindrical object and mark several points on the circumference. Pay attention to how manipulating one of those points affects the other points

Play around with "purely" rotating it around while bouncing it around. Make a distinction between "pure rotation" and translation, and see how it interacts. See here:

https://i.stack.imgur.com/EhSDb.png

https://i.stack.imgur.com/4MD1W.jpg

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: anamnesis] #2818281
02/21/19 08:29 AM
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Anamnesis, I did not have a chance to respond until now. I'm familiar with Taubman because I've had a look at all kinds of things. I don't "do" Taubman, and I was not thinking along those lines. Very simply, a particular teacher looked at a video I sent, and made the observation that I had a stop-and-start kind of playing from note to note. Rotation and such may be part of the technical solution, but that is not where it was at. I am interested in exploring this.

We have an interplay of several things in making music. There is the sound we might imagine (hearing the melody, duration of notes etc.) - I say "might" because it seems some people see notes without hearing them mentally. There are the written notes as discrete dots representing a location on the keyboard and a length of time that note is "held". Then there are the physical actions for creating those sounds - a choreography.. This is where I think it can go wrong, for how the imagery (notation) etc. might dictate the actions.

For example: A whole note, which lasts 4 beats. I might "hold" the note for 4 beats, literally - I might "hold it down". If I had a drum, the perception would be more direct - slap down, release, and it continues to reverberate. I must divorce the concept of my quarter note, from my actions: reprogram the association - a release while still holding the key down loosely, or complete release if adding pedal. ....... Notation: C, D, E, F, G, each note "lasting" for its duration, which gives this stop-and-start action that I had, because of the mental image. But physically if you consider this a dance and ignore the sound for a moment, then while you are on C, you are already about to move to D, so your hand and fingers are "in transition" during C, even though the sound is "constant, not in transition". These are the new associations we need to build.

This reminds me of the term "intonation" as used in the Russian schools, which does not mean what "intonation" means in English (where it means correct pitch). There is an online teacher who does a lot of singing glissando, "glissandoing" into the next pitch even though obviously the piano cannot produce a true glissando of microtones gradually melding upward. But what she is actually doing is melding the motion to the sound in association.

Those are two layers, and two aspects. Things like rotation, making all elements of the body work together so that no joint is looked anywhere, playing along all physical 3-D planes, are others. It is not a matter of "making it too complicated" - you'll get overwhelmed if you try to consciously think of all these things - but catching where you might have your sleeve caught on a nail.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2818326
02/21/19 12:05 PM
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Coming late to this conversation, so I apologize I haven't been able to read all the comments and so may repeat something that has been said.

Tension : When I use this word I am referring to "interfering tensions" which are unwanted, excessive muscle activity that prevent us from playing technically and/or musically the way we want with ease (whew, that's a mouthful!).

Tension can come from many sources as I think many of you have already pointed out. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are what come to my mind:

1) Overall technique in playing which affects most playing

With this kind you will generally experiencing soreness, fatigue, and even sharp pains in the hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and neck. This will occur while you are playing and may also be felt when not playing. This means there is bad tension in your basic mechanics, and so very slow, deliberate exercise work must be done to correct how you are playing, your posture at the piano, etc.

2) A lack in an effective technique to execute a specific passage as desired (i.e., up to tempo)

This will only occur in parts of a piece, either under tempo or up to tempo, where there is confusion about what you have to play, a discrepancy between what your eyes see on the page and what your fingers want to do, or a hesitation (not being ready for what comes next), things of that nature. Properly identifying what exactly the problem is and coming up with effective practice techniques - making that passage a little etude - are ways of addressing this kind of tension.

3) When attempting to play too fast too soon

This does overlap with #2, but I wanted to give it it's own place because I do think that with many pieces, enough slow practice will resolve a lot of this. Playing too fast, too soon basically means you are trying to force a tempo that is too fast for your brain to process. You may encounter lots of hesitations or moments where you have to repeat a note a couple of times before you can move on. If you do too much of this with a piece, you actually practice in the tension as well as the hesitating/ repeating and will continue to do so long after you've learned the piece.

4) Mental anxiety about a passage

Often when we encounter technical issues that are not properly addressed in a passage, over time we can develop a mental tension that arises out of anxiety when coming to "that !@#&% passage again!" If you are not practicing effectively and mindfully, there will be passages that just don't seem to improve no matter how many times you play them, and then it's always a question mark when you approach it: am I going to be able to play it this time? Of course, this affects us physically as well as we unconsciously brace ourselves for that passage - which is most likely the worst thing to do! It also feeds into performance anxiety because you are not able to consistently execute the passage as you want it to sound and feel. Using proper practice techniques (and not mindless repetition) that specifically address the difficulties of the passage will help this.

5) Fear in a performance or lesson

This is pretty easy to identify if you do not experience this tension when practicing at home. In other words, it only happens in certain situations where you're nervous. There is a process to overcome this, but it may also dovetail on the previous sources of tension and simply get heightened in a performance setting, so I think it's important to first make sure that #1-4 are covered before addressing performance anxiety tension.


The videos posted - what portions I have had time to watch - all seem very good, if they address the issues you're having. Therefore it is extremely important to properly identify what kind of tension it is, then you can get into the particulars on how to fix the problem. But if you are having #2 tension and you try to address it by fixing #5 issues, you may get some results, but not a full solution to the underlying problem.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2818395
02/21/19 02:41 PM
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There is a correlation between complex music and muscle tension. A lot of it has to do with using the most efficient fingering for your hand configuration and how to prevent tension from building up as you play. And don't keep playing for over an hour without taking a break. Found a video on hand exercises the other day:


Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2818450
02/21/19 04:40 PM
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Thepianoplayer416 - Do you know if the person suggesting those exercises is trained in this area? Or is he just a pianist who has found exercises for himself? I got nervous when he advised neck rolls, and then suggested grabbing the head with one hand and pulling to the side. He's young. A lot of us are not. When I was in public school (1960's) we were given neck rolls to do. Later it was said they were not safe. I went to check that half-remembered information and found things like this:
https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1994-06-16-9406160120-story.html

The actual advice of a) tension created by excessive use of smart phones (some of us don't have one); b) self-massage, c) stretches - is generally good.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Morodiene] #2818519
02/21/19 06:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Morodiene

The videos posted - what portions I have had time to watch - all seem very good, if they address the issues you're having. Therefore it is extremely important to properly identify what kind of tension it is, then you can get into the particulars on how to fix the problem. But if you are having #2 tension and you try to address it by fixing #5 issues, you may get some results, but not a full solution to the underlying problem.


This is a very important observation.

It is also possible that improving one aspect might cause or worsen tension/pain that is caused by a seemingly unrelated issue. I have experienced this myself in the past when I learned to play with more relaxation and proper hand/arm movements.

Strangely enough I started to experience pain in my neck. So I went back to the basics and found that I was sitting a bit too high on my piano chair. This probably became a problem because the more relaxed arms I lacked proper support creating tension in the shoulders.

For those interested in proper bench height, this video from the Taubman dvd series presents this issue really well: the effects of bench height.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Morodiene] #2818617
02/22/19 03:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Morodiene
Tension can come from many sources as I think many of you have already pointed out. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are what come to my mind:

I think that one source of tension, especially for the adult beginner, is a lifetime of tension and bad habits that have built up in the hands (and in the shoulders, the neck etc.) Then, when we start playing the piano, even with the best instructions and feedback, we cannot just let go of that tension. It has been there for decades, most of the time we are not even aware of it. I think that it is very much a gradual process, that will take considerable time, to learn how to play in a more relaxed and free way.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Animisha] #2818631
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Originally Posted by Animisha

I think that one source of tension, especially for the adult beginner, is a lifetime of tension and bad habits that have built up in the hands (and in the shoulders, the neck etc.) Then, when we start playing the piano, even with the best instructions and feedback, we cannot just let go of that tension. It has been there for decades, most of the time we are not even aware of it. I think that it is very much a gradual process, that will take considerable time, to learn how to play in a more relaxed and free way.


Well, for what it is worth I have had pretty much of a lifetime of tense shoulders and neck, legs and so on, not to mention having tight ligaments generally. Am currently trying to do something about it with weekly massages. But I have no problems with tension in playing the piano, possibly due to starting off early and even though I didn't play for many years. Am hoping that the massages will help in my goal of playing thirds properly where the difficulty is simply tight ligaments in the hands.

So yes, for the adult beginner there may be a need to address the sources of tension, perhaps through massage, manipulation, etc.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Colin Miles] #2818686
02/22/19 08:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Colin Miles
Originally Posted by Animisha

I think that one source of tension, especially for the adult beginner, is a lifetime of tension and bad habits that have built up in the hands (and in the shoulders, the neck etc.) Then, when we start playing the piano, even with the best instructions and feedback, we cannot just let go of that tension. It has been there for decades, most of the time we are not even aware of it. I think that it is very much a gradual process, that will take considerable time, to learn how to play in a more relaxed and free way.


Well, for what it is worth I have had pretty much of a lifetime of tense shoulders and neck, legs and so on, not to mention having tight ligaments generally. Am currently trying to do something about it with weekly massages. But I have no problems with tension in playing the piano, possibly due to starting off early and even though I didn't play for many years. Am hoping that the massages will help in my goal of playing thirds properly where the difficulty is simply tight ligaments in the hands.

So yes, for the adult beginner there may be a need to address the sources of tension, perhaps through massage, manipulation, etc.

Yes, this is another source for sure! Not to mention tension that comes from injuries or surgery that never healed correctly, and may require stretches and physical therapy to loosen up.


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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2819028
02/22/19 09:19 PM
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Today I did a lot of practicing. To avoid hand issues, I shut the phone off for an hour before the practice to avoid repetitive muscle strain. Using an over-the-counter cream for joint & muscle pain off a pharmacy was the next thing. And had a tennis ball and did a few squeeze & release on both hands to relieve muscle tension. Having a squeeze ball around is the simplest way to release tension. Take a break every half-hour of practice and take out the squeeze ball.

Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2819117
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This bothers me @thepianoplayer416. I’ve played piano and violin since I was 5 years old. I’ve suffered shoulder, neck and back pain, arm pain when doing continuous octave tremolos, wrist pain from bowing the violin. I have tension issues all over the place that I’ve never fully resolved despite many people’s best efforts. But hand pain/strain? Not once, not ever. I’m no skeleto-muscular expert but that really doesn’t sound right.

Last edited by ShyPianist; 02/23/19 06:23 AM.

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Re: Ways of addressing the issue of tension in piano playing? [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2819755
02/25/19 08:04 AM
02/25/19 08:04 AM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 695
Sheffield, UK
K
KevinM Online content
500 Post Club Member
KevinM  Online Content
500 Post Club Member
K

Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 695
Sheffield, UK
Today for the first time I've noticed pain in my hand after playing. It is very mild at present I could probably play a lot more before it interferes but that path leads to madness.

The pain I get is in the back of my right hand just a bit towards the wrist from between the knuckles of the index finger and middle finger.

I have had pain at this location in the past, but that was due to Apple providing a new mouse with their computers in about 2001 where the whole of the top of the mouse became the button. What I did then was holding my hand constantly in tension in preparation to move the mouse without accidentally putting weight on the top to make a click. With the previous mouse I would have just let my hand rest on the mouse itself. That resulted in a far more serious tendinitis than I now currently have. I am a software engineer, using a computer and a mouse/trackpad is part of the gig.

I have probably been practising on average an 1 1/2 a day recently, especially since the arrival of the new piano. I've become fully addicted.

I don't think this is an overuse problem, but a tension problem and I'll talk with my teacher about it on Thursday. But this pain on the back of the hand doesn't seem to be one of the more common pains reported here. I've checked out quickly a few of the videos and they talk of pain in the forearms, upper arms, shoulder and neck. I know if I let this pain get bad it will start referring up my arms but right now it is solely in my hand.

Kevin


Mendelssohn Song without Words Op19,2 and 19,6, Jensen Sehnsucht Op8,5. Chopin Nocturne C# Minor. Schumann Hasche Mann from Kinderszenen Op15,3. https://soundcloud.com/sheffieldkevin
DP: Kawai MP11SE. HP: Superlux HD681 EVO
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