Q. You speak about forearm rotation in your eBook and in your YouTube video on scales and arpeggios, but I think of rotation as a large movement for things like tremolos and trills. Can you explain how to use it in scales?
A. Great question, I’m very glad you have raised it. Until I studied the theory of forearm rotation with Julian Martin (who was working with Dorothy Taubman at the time), I had also only thought of rotation as a large movement – something you could really see and really feel. I had two eureka moments close to the beginning of my investigations into all this, one was during a large leap when I was told to “untwist” during the journey from one position to the next (this made the leap feel fast, extremely free and reliable) and the other was in the broken diminished 7th in the Adagio espressivo section of the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata, op. 109:
I was struggling to get enough power in this place, especially because I needed to hold onto the notes of the chord as I was spreading it. Even when I incorporated the finger strokes into one slower movement of the arm, the fingers were still doing an awful lot of the work. There was undue effort and a moment of tension. When I was able to experience the rotary movements, it suddenly became effortless and strong – as though I had flipped a switch to a new power source. The tiny backflips of the forearm are absolutely possible at high speed, and even though they are virtually imperceptible to someone watching I could definitely feel them. The difference in sensation between the rotary version and the finger version was enormous, even though they would both have looked more or less the same.
This made me aware that the power for a scale, too, can come from the forearm (as opposed to the fingers). Now when I demonstrate a fast and loud “finger” scale and a rotary scale back to back, I feel the former as somewhat effortful and uneconomical, and the latter as freer, faster and palpably stronger. I would stress again that the rotary movements are difficult to see, but they are definitely controlling the whole thing and you will feel the difference.
I think it is helpful firstly to experience the rotary movements as large ones before trying to reduce and refine them. I give (and demonstrate) a series of exercises for this in Part 3 of my eBook. The benefit of having the camera close to the hand in the video demonstrations is that you can see the movements very clearly. Before moving on to scales with rotations, I prefer to master a five-finger position (things get a bit more complicated when we deal with the thumb moments in a scale). For those who already have the eBook, click here.
We need to understand how the thumb operates in a rotary scale since this may seem counterintuitive at first. In a scale, the thumb always rotates towards the body, which may be the opposite direction of travel (see how here). If you don’t have the eBook, you can still see how this works from the YouTube video I made for Pianist Magazine. Watch from about 7:00 onwards:
I should probably add here that it is my firm belief that we need great fingers to play anything, but that fingers alone are not the whole story. If you haven’t explored the principles of rotation, there are some very good demonstrations of it on the Taubman-Golandsky YouTube channel.
If you haven’t yet seen the videos on the work of Dorothy Taubman, here is part 1 of 4:
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In Part 3 of my ebook series, I explore scale and arpeggio playing in depth. Included are many ideas for practising, as well as rhythm charts, practice charts, other interactive features and video demonstrations.
Preview or buy Practising the Piano Part 3
Click on “Preview” for a free preview or on “Buy” to purchase Part 3 of Practising The Piano now.
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Click here for the full series bundle:
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For more information, and the catalogue to purchase individual parts, click here.
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As part of my research for Part 4 (on performance), I have devised a short (very short, actually) survey – Performance Anxiety among Pianists, the results of which I will collate and include in the publication. I would be most grateful if you would take two or three minutes to complete the survey. It really is very brief, and you will be completely anonymous. Whether you are a professional pianist, a piano student or play for your own pleasure your opinion and comments count.
Let me thank you very much indeed in advance for your time and input!