Free fall

In retraining an injured pianist, the next step after establishing the seat height and basic set up is often dropping into single notes, not immediately to the C major scale as some unadvisedly claim (Lister-Sink, 2009). The lift involves only the active fingers, hand and forearm; the upper arm, elbow and shoulder remain neutral (see Moran, 2008, pp. 25-26). The pianist learns to fall freely into the key, using gravity. This reduces muscular work, increases efficiency and ease of tone production, allowing pianists to play repetitive passages without fatigue. Tellingly, Furuya, Osu and Kinoshita observe professional pianists take advantage of gravity in the free fall, but not amateurs. Although they assert “first evidence” of scientific proof supporting the benefits of the free fall (2009, pp. 22-23), others including Ortmann recognised this long before (1929/1962).

After depressing the key, the playing fingers balance lightly on the keybed, neither relaxing, nor gripping (Golandsky Institute, 2009). Contrary to Yankovitch’s claims, the fingers and hands are always lively, not “completely inert” (2011). The non-playing fingers either rest lightly on the keys, or hover slightly above, thus dropping tiny distances (also see Sándor, p. 60). Throughout the lift and free fall, nothing is relaxed or heavy. Rather, the hand and fingers are “infused with the energy that allows motion to occur” (Dybvig workshop, 2003). As this fundamental movement underlies every note, it can be beneficial, even at advanced levels, to check the freedom of the lift and fall away from the piano.

Ortmann correctly notes that the free fall is impractical for actual playing (1929/1962, p. 150). Thus, after embodying the skill, the lift is minimised and the drop is related to timing the key. The experience becomes a “controlled fall” (Grindea, cited in Ishida, 2003, p. 122). The student learns how to aim to the point of the sound, using the forearm to slow down the key to produce the desired tone. When this is correct, the keybeds “should feel like butter” (Golandsky citing Taubman, lesson, June 1, 2009).

Footnote: [1]Ferrario, Macri, Biffi and Sforza (2007, p. 23) note that among many concert pianists, the non-playing fingers do not touch the keys, whereas amateurs, students, and teachers allow the non-playing fingers to lie down. The assumption is made that the non-playing fingers are lifted, which is inefficient, requiring effort and possibility resulting in susceptibility to PRMDs. However, if the non-playing fingers are balanced, not held up, efficiency is increased, as they only have to drop into the next note, as opposed to lifting then dropping into the key.


Reference List:

Lister-Sink, B. (2009). Freeing the caged bird: Developing well-coordinated, injury-preventive technique. Retrieved November 9, 2009, from

Furuya, S., Osu, R., & Kinoshita, H. (2009). Effective utilization of gravity during arm downswing in keystrokes by expert pianists. Neuroscience, 164(2), 822-831.

Golandsky Institute. (2009). Teaching rotation: An in depth analysis of the key points and issues related to the teaching of rotation (Presented by Robert Durso) [DVD download]. New York: Golandsky Institute.

Ishida, K. (2003). A study of tension in piano playing: Approaches to piano technique and examinations of Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method in avoiding problems of tension. Unpublished masters dissertation, Griffith University.

Moran, M. (2008). Book 1: Basic alignment and rotation. Teacher edition. Beginning piano lessons in the Taubman Approach [Score]. (E. Golandsky, Ed.). New York: Golandsky Institute.

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.

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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