Stretching exercises to avoid

It’s hard to know where to start in discussing these excerpts, except to ask you to avoid practising these, and similar exercises to stretch the hand. Put simply, there is no way to “stretch safely”. Stretching will not build your technique, nor transform you into a virtuoso pianist. It’s not a way to warm up before playing.

Holding down notes while pulling one or more fingers into the air does not create independent fingers, it creates isolated movements, which Taubman found to be one  of the main causes of dystonia. There is no need for “effort, than release”, or “tension followed by relaxation”. If the finger plays with the support of the forearm,  there is no tension necessary to put down a piano key which weighs only grams.

Other aspects of  Graham Fitch’s discussion are absolutely true, and correlate with Taubman principles. While Mr. Fitch studied with someone who had learned with Dorothy Taubman, it is important to recognise that he does not claim to be a Taubman teacher. As he states, piano playing cannot be from the fingers alone, nor can technique be only the arm without the fingers. Other elements that he presents are key elements of the Taubman Approach:  forearm rotation, shaping, walking hand and arm, some in and out is present in his playing, and his wrist height is generally not low.

From a Taubman perspective however, the bottom line is to ensure the fingers, hand and forearm work together in synchronicity. In this video, his forearm rotation is exaggerated and lacks the necessary liveliness of the fingers and hand for this movement to be functional in playing the piano.  As so many people misunderstand the large early training sizes of rotation, it would be helpful if he could demonstrate how to minimise rotation and subsequently to integrate this movement into practical playing.

Furthermore, from the Taubman viewpoint his shaping is large and impractical for speed, the wrist becomes too high as a result. Both the walking hand and arm and shaping are at times initiated  from the wrist, resulting in twisting. Taubman practitioners would avoid  bringing the thumb under fourth, let alone the fifth finger, which creates tension. The most worrying exercise involved holding C-E-G-C with 5-4-3-2 in the LH, while the thumb performs circular movements off the keyboard.

If this regime suits him, fantastic. In my hand these distances feel very uncomfortable. Graham Fitch is an accomplished and highly regarded pianist, and my guess is that he has enough of coordinate elements mentioned above for his playing to work for him. Regardless, my work centres around helping people recover from debilitating pain and injury, and often rebuilding broken dreams caused by stretching, curling, isolated finger movements, twisting, and a low wrist. As many injured musicians experience, we are not aware of our threshold until we reach it. 

Dorothy Taubman used to say that playing the piano should feel “euphoric”. I have learned the hard way through nine years of injury, that if something doesn’t feel good at the piano, don’t do it. If it feels great, easy, and powerful, you’re on the right track.

 

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