An introduction to shaping

Like other elements of the Taubman Approach, the concept of shaping is not new. Liszt first documented shaping. He observed Chopin’s barely discernable wave-like wrist movements, contrasting with the standard rigid wrists and high finger action of that time, and noted Chopin’s extraordinarily beautiful tone (Grindea, 1978/1991, pp. 119-121). These “cycloidal” motions became an integral component of Liszt’s playing and pedagogy in his later life. In traditional teaching, shaping from the wrist, or a flexible wrist is often taught. However, in the Taubman Approach, shaping is a lateral, elliptical forearm movement across a group of notes, passively moving the wrist, and the upper arm in response. If the wrist initiates movement, broken fulcrums and alignment result, depriving the playing finger of the forearm’s support.

There are two families of shapes: the undershape, and the overshape (see Figure 4.19 and Figure 4.20). Whether a shape is an undershape or overshape can be influenced by fingering, ins and outs, or changes of direction. The width and depth of the shape varies according to the situation; shaping may be asymmetrical, unlike these below (See Chapters 5 and 6 for more detail on shaping).


Figure 4.19.  An example of an undershape


Figure 4.20. An example of an overshape

Shaping, as taught in the Taubman Approach, is inexorably linked to phrasing and singing tone, as the continuous motion between the notes physically links the musical line. Shaping is also an indispensable tool in the transition from retraining movements to functional playing along with tone production, as shaping fuses rotation, in and out, and WHA together. Rotation and the WHA become minimised, and playing begins to look and feel “natural”, despite the efforts of retraining. The “wooden” tone that can accompany large retraining movements transforms into “musical” phrasing. Thus, Fraser’s criticisms that rotation on individual notes works “directly against any sense of phrase” (2010b, pp. 194, 223) are likely to have been based on observing retraining pianists prior to adding shaping.

Through shaping, experience of playing distils to the fingertips, with the feeling of the key “growing out of the fingers” (Golandsky lesson, April 27, 2009). A common phase is to “fall in love with shaping” (Golandsky lesson, May 11, 2009), usually at the expense of other movements such as rotation, and in and out. Thus, introducing shaping is often deferred until the basics are solidified, even if that necessitates a temporary separation from “musical” elements such as tone production.


Reference List:

Fraser, A. (2010b). Honing the pianistic self-image: Skeletal-based piano technique. Novi Sad, Serbia: Maple Grove Music.

Grindea, C. (1978/1991). Tension in piano playing: Its importance and dangers. In C. Grindea (Ed.), Tensions in the performance of music (pp. 96-125). London: Kahn & Averill.

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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