There are many misunderstandings about rotation. One common myth is that the Taubman Approach is only about rotation. Another is that the large rotation associated with early retraining is the final, integrated technique.
Many students may need large rotation in the initial learning stages, particularly those who have a background of very “fingery” technique and subsequent forearm tension. In these cases, the rotation can be larger than eventually needed in order for the student to feel the fingers, hand and arm working together as a synchronized unit, often for the first time.
When appropriate, a trained Taubman teacher will help the student begin minimising the rotation, while retaining the integrity of the other movements. For many students, large rotation is addictive, and there can be reluctance to transition to the small size appropriate for playing. This may be partly due to the student’s relief in finding comfort through correct alignment and large, free movements, particularly in comparison to their previous experience of pain and discomfort. A common concern is that this new freedom will be lost if anything changes. Others worry that if they can’t see the large movements, the rotation has disappeared altogether and their old technique will return. A common trap after minimising is to practice slowly with large rotation, or to add more rotation if a passage isn’t working.
For some students, it is more effective to work with smaller movements from the beginning, particularly those who have a history of initiating movement from the upper arm. If a student is not injured, and has many healthy elements working instinctively in their technique, beginning with smaller movements may make much more sense to that person.
I will never forget introducing the B major scale with large rotation to a gifted young student. His high spirits immediately fell. There was a long pause before he asked in a crestfallen voice, “Does it have to be that big?” He intuitively grasped that the size with which I had demonstrated was not appropriate for speed and the challenging repertoire he was playing, and couldn’t relate the exaggerated motions with the facility he already had. After explaining that many grownups needed that large size to see, feel and understand what was going on, we went straight to a smaller sized rotation. His smile and enthusiasm returned, along with excitement that his hands felt even better.
A recent lesson for me was with an extremely gifted and equally injured student. Like many, taking Taubman lessons was the last resort, and while being diligent with retraining, at that stage she still preferred just playing and reacting emotionally to the music rather than analysing the physical choreography. We had been through a rigorous retraining, and generally everything was working well. She was learning repertoire at her level and preparing for performances. Lessons were focused on tiny tweaks to improve facility and realising the musical intention, rather than a complete technical overhaul.
What didn’t make sense was the she could practice for two hours without pain, but problems began thereafter. When asked about how she spent her practice time, she revealed that for the first two one-hour sessions, she carefully worked in what we had discussed in the lesson. In the next practice session, she just played. The issue was that she was practising in tempo with large rotation. When she began “playing musically”, the large rotation hampered both the tempi and her musical intentions. When that didn’t work, she abandoned what we had worked on and just played, inevitably resulting in old habits and discomfort emerging.
Both of these students experienced that playing with large rotation is a temporary stage. Rotation has to be tailored for size, and in some cases will be bigger than others, such as a legato leap over a large distance, but large retraining movements are inappropriate for speed. One of Taubman’s huge contributions was her decoding of the world of movement underneath which that which can be seen; one these movements are worked in to the playing, they need to become virtually invisible.
As Taubman teachers, we have to be flexible to a student’s needs. We need to be wary of turning off students by insisting on complete retraining from the beginning, particularly if the student is not injured. In my experience, once a smart and talented student has had enough experience of seemingly unsolvable questions answered, and begins to sense the depth of learning and development available in the Taubman Approach, they will ask to go back to the beginning anyway.
The short answer is: rotation needs to be the appropriate size for the situation, taking into consideration the requirements of the passage, and the student’s needs, capabilities, and stage of retraining. It’s as simple and complex as that. This is one reason why it is difficult to teach yourself by watching the ten Taubman DVDs, and why it is beneficial to work regularly with a trained Taubman teacher to fully understand and integrate rotation.