More open positions, such as intervals and octaves

More open positions such as intervals and octaves are often introduced after arpeggios. When playing, the forearm is physically balanced behind, supporting all the fingers. The forearm releases in increasing proportions to the density of the chord (Ortmann, 1925, p. 45). When this is correct, chords feel light, with a free, resonant tone. Once the chord is physically balanced, voicing can be achieved by releasing more forearm into the desired finger (Golandsky Institute, 2008; Ortmann, 1925, p. 53). However, despite the musical balance, all intervals have a rotational balance towards the thumb, even if the thumb does not play the interval.

In the Taubman Approach, the wrist height varies according to the situation, as does the hand position and alignment. The wrist and forearm become higher in playing larger intervals than single notes, creating a supportive arch structure to allow the hand to take the greater distance (Mark, 2003, p. 111; Wristen, 2000, p. 60). The correct height connects the finger, hand and forearm, allowing for coordinated movement in speed (Taubman Institute, 1995, see DVD 5). The wrist becomes the main fulcrum, with the bridge flatter, but still present. To the pianist, the correct height while playing often “looks like a mountain” (Golandsky lesson, May 12, 2009). Hence, Golandsky uses video feedback and a mirror in her studio to reconcile the perspective from above with the side view (Golandsky Institute, 2007d).

As the hand reaches its largest comfortable opening, the wrist will look more level. A large-handed pianist can gradually move in for black octaves, aiding efficiency. In passages with alternating black and white octaves a large-handed pianist could minimise motion by playing the white octaves close to the black keys, and the black octaves on the edge (Kochevitsky, 1967, p. 41). However, a small-handed pianist may need to take white octaves at the edge of the keys, and use more staccato to reach the black octaves (Ortmann, 1929/1962, p. 313).

One of Taubman’s few disagreements with Ortmann’s work was his conclusion that slowing down for octaves was inevitable, as one set of muscles is necessary to lift, another to travel to the key. Taubman responded, “Do you see Horowitz slowing down for octaves?” (1986). Ortmann recognised the active left, but neglected to account for the free fall, and allowing gravity and the keyboard to open the hand (Mark, 2003, p. 94). Intervals and chords not fixed in advance, employing antagonistic muscles and creates tension (Matthay, 1932, p. 63; Taubman Institute, 1995, see DVD 5). It is a fallacy that octaves require “special and painful training”, and that “the performer must experience physical pain” (Rosen, 2002, pp. 5-6). The fingertip lightly plucks the key, before the staccato rebounds the fingers, hand and arm back up (Sándor, 1981, p. 96; Wristen, 2000, p. 60). Speed is determined by the key release (Ortmann, 1929/1962, p. 196). As per all intervals, a rotation towards the thumb is added, then a release to the side for greater speed (Matthay, 1932, p. 63; Taubman Institute, 1995, see DVD 5).

To avoid twisting, Taubman and others warn against playing octaves with 1-4, let alone 1-3, (1986; also see Deahl & Wristen, 2003, p. 22; Mark, 2003, p. 86). Taubman estimates that “half the number of pianists that are injured and crippled are because of this (fingering). It’s one of the most common causes of injury” (1986). Indeed, 52% of pianists in a survey by Shields and Dockrell attributed their problems to octave playing (2000, p. 4). One famous example is Gary Graffman, who distorted his hand by playing octaves with 1-3 for “great power”, which he believed contributed to incurring dystonia (1986, p. 4). Unlike Fleischer, Graffman never performed again. Golandsky has clarified that if the pianist has a large hand, the danger is not the 1-4 octave, although 1-5 is preferable, but the twisting created when playing legato 1-5 to 1-4 (Lesson, May 4, 2010). In my experience, some pianists are unwilling to relinquish 1-4 octaves until they are presented with a replacement to create the impression of legato octaves, using tools of tone production, shaping, timing, and pedal.

When playing repeated chords, a pianist can also take advantage of the grand piano’s “repetition lever”, creating a legato effect through re-striking the key without its’ completely rising (Matthay, 1932, pp. 7,9). Taubman calls this “riding the key”. Next, shaping is added, allowing different combinations of muscles to act, eliminating fatigue. This shaping is so miniscule that Taubman teacher Marc Steiner described the variations as changing one ridge of the fingerprint (cited in lesson with Golandsky, May 13, 2009).

After the student has become comfortable with these basic elements of the Taubman Approach, the process of integrating the technique into functional playing begins, if not already developed.


Reference List:
Deahl, L., & Wristen, B. (2003). Strategies for small-handed pianists. American Music Teacher, 52(6), 21-25.

Golandsky Institute. (2007d). Chopin Ballade no 3. In The Golandsky Institute Discovery Series (Presented by Edna Golandsky) [Video download]. New York: Golandsky Institute.

Golandsky Institute. (2008). Bach Sinfonia No. 7 BWV 793 (Presented by Edna Golandsky) [Video download]. New York: Golandsky Institute.

Graffman, G. (1986). Doctor, can you lend an ear? Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 1(1), 3-6.
Kochevitsky, G. (1967). The art of piano playing: A scientific approach. Princeton, NJ: Summy-Birchard Co.

Mark, T. (2003). What every pianist needs to know about the body: A manual for players of keyboard instruments: piano, organ, digital keyboard, harpsichord, clavichord. Chicago: GIA Publications.

Matthay, T. (1932). The visible and invisible in pianoforte technique: Being a digest of the author’s technical teachings up to date. London: Oxford University Press.

Ortmann, O. (1925). The physical basis of piano touch and tone: An experimental investigation of the effect of the player’s touch upon the tone of the piano. Baltimore: Psychological Laboratory of the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Ortmann, O. (1929/1962). The physiological mechanics of piano technique: An experimental study of the nature of muscular action as used in piano playing and of the effects thereof upon the piano key and the piano tone (Rev. ed.). New York: Dutton.

Rosen, C. (2002). Piano notes: The world of the pianist. New York: Free Press.

Sándor, G. (1981). On piano playing: Motion, sound, and expression. New York: Schirmer Books.

Shields, N., & Dockrell, S. (2000). The prevalence of injuries among pianists in music schools in Ireland. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 15(4), 155-160.

Taubman Institute. (1986). Choreography of the hands: The work of Dorothy Taubman. [Video]. Amherst, MA: Sawmill River Productions.

Taubman Institute. (1995). The Taubman Techniques: An in-depth analysis of a technique for virtuosity and prevention of injuries among musicians. Vols. 1-5. [DVDs]. Medusa, NY: Taubman Institute.

Wristen, B. (2000). Avoiding piano-related injury: A proposed theoretical procedure for biomechanical analysis of piano technique. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 14(6), 55-64.

Extract from Learning and Teaching Healthy Piano Technique: Training as an Instructor in the Taubman Approach. Available through: E-version also available.

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