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Staccato Breakthrough!
#953760 04/03/08 09:56 PM
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I had such a great week with my beginning students!! Several of them were having a really hard time playing staccatos nicely - not jabbing the notes, not using stiff wrists, not jerking, etc. I came up with a little game which seemed to help make wrist staccatos make sense to them.

The student faced me. We put our hands together, holding them palms touching, fingertips pointing to the ceiling. I counted to 3 - and on the third count, we'd push toward each other and spring off each other's fingers. We worked on getting it precisely at the same time, or else it doesn't work. i asked them to close their eyes and tell me which part of their hand they felt moved. They could all feel their wrist flick on the 3rd count.

We then took the same movement to the keyboard. The student would hold a relaxed position at the keyboard, then on the count of 3, they would do the same movement on the keyboard with one finger, or even fingers 1 and 3, producing a staccato sound with the wrist. It never failed - they all caught on so well! I was pumped!! I think i taught 5 students that week about correct wrist staccato - and all of them had been having trouble with it before the "game".

I wish every teaching game or idea would make this much of a breakthrough, but this seems to be an isolated incident (so far). Just wanted to share my joy with the rest of you, and I would also love to hear what kind of things you've said or done to help a new concept breakthrough to your students.


Full-time, independent piano instructor; church musician
MTNA, ISMTA, working towards NCTM!
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Re: Staccato Breakthrough!
#953761 04/04/08 11:28 AM
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smile It's always a great feeling when something finally works! Congratulations. I like my students to learn wrist staccatos early on, so we practice waving good-bye.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA
Re: Staccato Breakthrough!
#953762 04/04/08 12:17 PM
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Quote
I like my students to learn wrist staccatos early on, so we practice waving good-bye.
That is how my teacher introduces violin vibrato. Might there be a commonality?

I would like to make an observation about the word "wrist". Teachers sometimes refer to the wrist as what it really is, i.e. the knobbly bunch of joints between the hand and the forearm. When that wrist is raised, the hand and/or forearm end up going down in relationship to the wrist.

At other times they actually refer to the hand at the end of the wrist, but call it the wrist in refering to the motion. I am assuming that in wrist staccato, the hand moves down or flicks from the wrist, rather than the wrist doing an movement. In a medium without physical demonstration major misunderstandings can happen when something is read by the semi-initiated.

In another post, John, you stated that for releasing a key you have your students raise their wrist so that they don't end up lifting their hand and forearm through a push-off of the fingers (something I had noted). I realize that you are not publishing a "how-to" on the Net, and your words should not be taken as such - that is what personal instructions with a teacher are for. But since you mentioned it: the wrist raised would end up with the hand lowered but more "room for movement" so the fingers can ride the key up. But if it's the hand that goes up from the wrist (since the hand is sometimes called the wrist when it moves from the wrist) then there is an active lifting of the fingers by raising the hand that they are attached to at that point of the wrist: an opposite thing. In lessons one sees this, and is corrected: whence anything on-line is always iffy.

DoReMi Katie, while I wasn't trying to learn it, your image was so clear that I could feel it in my hands and found myself doing the motion in the air despite myself.

Re: Staccato Breakthrough!
#953763 04/04/08 02:46 PM
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keystring, actually, as the forearm is raised, the wrist, of course, is just a joint, so the hand falls. The fingers are lifted off the keys by the rising forearm motion. If the wrist is inflexible, 90% or more students from what I observe, then the key is raised abrubtly. Allowing the hand to fall as the wrist/forearm is raised allow for a less rapid let-off.

The pushing off, which we often do, is accomplished by contraction of the muscles in the forearm. In this particular movement, I am trying to have them avoid that motion.

As you say, I am not trying to publish a "how to" manual here, so I often don't comment on technique issues. There are different schools of thought, and in the end, it's the sound which is produced that counts. However, this technique was passed down from Schnabel to his students to my generation. We tend to play much more on the flats of our fingers than most people as it gives us more control over the quieter passages as well as allowing us to form an envelope of gentle sound release at the end of a note.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA
Re: Staccato Breakthrough!
#953764 04/04/08 03:12 PM
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Thank you, John. I thought I wouldn't let it go for two reasons. One, you never know who is going to read something and try what they understand from what is written so it is best to clarify (I think). Second, because I had a feeling that it happened to be bringing me somewhere.

Quote
We tend to play much more on the flats of our fingers than most people
"We" being the people who have been influenced by the teachings of Schnabel?

I'm still waiting to get together with a piano teacher here. We are doing a lesson trade-off so that I can get some instruction once a month (I give weekly instructions) because I cannot afford two teachers for two instruments. But I've had some setbacks and haven't been able to get away.

I've worked on physical issues and balances on my other instrument and it has sensitized me as I resume piano. I was just at the point of noticing what I do when I play when you wrote what you did, this "push off" being part of it. In fact, I think I used to hang my whole hand and arm from my fingers but since it's been over 30 years I can get rid of it as long as I don't entrench it by practising it back in.

So last night when I was practising my thoughts went to what you had written and I thought that either the hand is being lifted to give the fingers room, or the hand is being tipped upward at the knuckle end (that's not the case) to raise the fingers passively like a teeter totter from the wrist - I favoured the first. In essence, you're lifting the forearm and the hand can drop or be loose at the wrist and I imagine that the finger motion then happens somewhere along the whole hand, becuase our fingers actually go under the skin all the way to the wrist, so to say. That helps me.

I've seen the term "flexible wrist" a lot. In fact, what is really meant is to be flexible at the wrist so that the hand as free and supple movement.

I feel the thumb has a role to play too, but I won't go into it, and wouldn't expect you to. Just to say that tension or (helplesness?) in the thumb could make the whole hand and fingers stiff.

Re: Staccato Breakthrough!
#953765 04/04/08 05:06 PM
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I'm glad you had a breakthrough. As long as your staccato technique ensures accuracy without stiffness, you're in a good place.


Daniel E. Friedman, co-owner of www.pianolessons101.com
You CAN learn to play the piano in a fun and positive way.
Re: Staccato Breakthrough!
#953766 04/04/08 05:23 PM
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Actually I only zeroed in on the idea of lifting fingers without the fingers being "weight bearing" which seemed similar to the push-off John described. I still want to get together with that teacher.

I wasn't after staccato, but since you mentioned it I want to see what I normally do. I played decades ago but without instruction. Apparently my natural staccato motion has a little flick coming from the wrist down and up again even though I feel I'm using my fingers, and it's a bit as though the key was too hot to touch.

I've always played with fingers lifting between notes and I wanted to develop playing legato with my fingers touching the keys. That is something new for me. I'm doing the Czerny exercises for the still hand, just finger motion and was noticing that tension started creeping in that seemed related to the lifting of fingers. This is where I was starting to do that "push-off" and this is where John's description helped.


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