FAQ: John Bloomfield discusses independence exercises

Tim Topham asked: What’s the Taubman view on technical exercises that focus a lot on “independence of the fingers”: eg. Brahms, Schmitt.. plenty of others. Especially exercises where you hold one or more fingers down while the others try and work around them? Necessary? Damaging? Waste of time?

John Bloomfield: Thanks for your great question. Basically, Taubman was not in favor of exercises. She felt that if a person could do a particular skill, no exercising was required; conversely, if a person couldn’t perform a skill, exercising the wrong motions would be counterproductive. She would take a great deal of time to develop the skill and then put it into passage work as required by any piece.

It turns out that the feeling of independence for the fingers is actually developed by synchronizing the movements of the fingers, hand and arm so that the fingers always feel completely supported by the arm. That is quite contrary to the idea that fingers need to be strengthened in order to feel independent. Since some pianists develop coordination patterns early on that allow them to move with great facility over the keys, it is clear that something beyond exercising and finger-stengthening is at work. We have all heard children play extremely well without having undergone years of exercising to hone their technical skills.

It turns out that exercises that hold some fingers down while requiring others to move is especially harmful, because that brings about an immediate isolation of one part from another — the hand from the arm, the fingers from each other, etc. Unfortunately, this kind of isolation is what inhibits the synchronization necessary for the development of equally strong, or “independent” fingers. I heard Taubman say many times that, in her experience, isolation exercises were among the most injurious that a student could perform. Not only do they disallow the development of ease at the piano, they can lead to fatigue, pain and protracted injuries such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and dystonia.

Best wishes,
John Bloomfield

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