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Piano Technique - Glossary

5. Hovering and Sticking

[...] after a successful concert [...] a woman artist paid me a very nice complement: ‘Your hands hover over the piano like birds’.
I immediately remembered something Liszt used to say:
‘The hands must hover over the keyboard rather than stick to it’
”.
Original German: “Die Hände müssen mehr schweben, als an den Tasten kleben”.
Heinrich Neuhaus - “The Art of Piano Playing.”, p. 133, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York 1973

The function of the fingers is to strike the keys vertically, and not to make the hand jump horizontally towards the keyboard’s higher or lower registers (i.e. to the left or to the right). It is the shoulder that controls this latter task, and sometimes even the entire body of the pianist, even if this is less frequent. Generally speaking, without entering into the details of the differences between slow and rapid playing, using the mechanism called “hovering” implies that the hand (used as a member) moves to the sides propelled by the shoulder. As for the fingers, they strike the proper keys, as if by chance.

The best way to obtain a good “hovering” is to raise the shoulders slightly and to bring one a bit closer to the other. This allows us to integrate the hands (as members) not simply as a mass of inert muscles, but as a compact and elastic block permitting rapid horizontal movements of the motor apparatus (this question is developed in chapter 7).

Each excessive relaxing of the shoulder muscles, as well as each use of the finger to make the hand jump, provokes at a quick tempo, a “sticking” motion, i.e. overloading the weak muscles of the fingers which sticks the motor apparatus to the keyboard. The result is that the muscles of the arm and forearm contract, which not only slows down the playing, but can also lead to a temporary paralysis of the hand and muscular pain.

 

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