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Piano Technique - Practice

17. Powerful fingers, gymnastics and bruising problems

A good and stable piano technique requires, above all, very strong fingers and the ability to properly manage the weight of the motor apparatus. As part of this chapter we will see how to strengthen the fingers through gymnastics without the piano.
Below I present my video including some exercises without using the keyboard, selected from those offered by Czesław Sielużycki in “The Pianist’s Hand”.
“The value of exercises inspired by piano movements    a w a y   f r o m  t h e   k e y b o a r d   is often overlooked or underestimated by many pianists. On the contrary, these exercises were popular and recommended to students by Chopin and Mikuli (according to the oral testimony of Raoul Koczalski, student of Ch. Mikuli), Liszt and Prokofieff, A. Michałowski as well as Johnen, Ching, Gat […] This concerns above all the fact that through special gymnastics, we can achieve the same results obtained after several years of regular exercises on the keyboard and that some pianists may not ever obtain.”
Czesław Sielużycki - “The pianist’s hand” p. 322, Polish Music Edition, Cracow, 1982
“A pianist ought to be able to do the following gymnastic exercise: place his ten fingers on the floor and raise his body vertically.”
Heinrich Neuhaus - “The Art of Piano Playing.”, p. 94, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York 1973
Exercise 1 - easy (video on the right)
   ● Preparation
Stand facing a wall, fairly close, and place all your fingers on it.
   ● Test
Without removing your fingers from the wall, move backwards one or two steps and observe the pressure on the fingers - the farther away you are from the wall, the greater the pressure.
   ● How to do it
Do “vertical push-ups” in this position, moving away from and successively closer to the wall.

Exercise 2 - easy (not to strengthen the fingers, but the shoulder muscles)
Professor Woytowicz recommended this exercise to improve the shoulder shaking technique: As part of the daily gymnastics, after doing conventional push-ups where the amplitude revolves around ten centimeters, keep the same position and perform a series of “mini push-ups” with a low amplitude, but very quick.

IMPORTANT ! The following exercises can be dangerous! The improper realization of exercises 3 and 4 can damage the hands. One must thus begin carefully by tests which consist of raising oneself up on the fists, in order to become accustomed to feeling the balance of the body and transmitting its weight progressively to the hands.
Exercise 3 - fairly difficult
   ● Preparation
Crouch down and lean on your fists to see if you can keep your balance. The closer you keep the feet and hands, the lower the pressure exerting on the hands, but the balance will be harder to maintain.
   ● Test
Lean slightly forward order to move some of the weight of the body from the feet to the hands clenched into fists (see photo above).
   ● How to do it
Support yourself on your fingertips and lean carefully forward, then return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise several times, taking care not to overload your fingers. By pressing your hands against a scale you can determine the force being applied.

Exercise 4 - very difficult
   ● Preparation
See the video opposite.
   ● Test
Kneel down, support yourself on your fists and lift your knees slightly while paying attention to the pressure your feel on your hands.
   ● How to do it
Now support yourself on your fingers and lift your knees again. A more advanced version of this exercise is to do push-ups while balanced on the fingers (and not on the entire hands, as is the case of normal push-ups).

BRUISING an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
● You will find several simple tips that concern using the tendons in Chapter 7 (point 7.4.3).
I take the liberty here of warning you, for during the time of my studies I received none:
Spare your hands and your spinal column!
They must faithfully serve you for at least fifty years.
● Concerning the spinal column, you will soon find advice in the chapter, currently being written, dedicated to the position at the piano. It is, above all, a question of keeping your feet close to the pedals and not to “rock” your body back and forth while playing, as this excessively strains the lumbar region of the spine, the most exposed part. Easier said than done.
● Don’t play too loudly! On the X-ray below, you can see the bases of the thumbs. On the RH, at the extension of the green arrow, is a big dark line. It is a cartilage between the bones. This part, which is lacking at the base of the left thumb, is the result of playing octaves too loudly (in the distant past), which is now the origin severe pain in certain positions. Incurable.
● How to move a piano? Every pianist may sometimes need to move a piano. Pulling a heavy instrument (and it’s the same for carrying heavy suitcases or screwing and unscrewing resistant bolts) causes harmful stretching of the joints, tendons and ligaments.
Here is a proposed by Professor Woytowicz simple solution: we push ourselves up against the piano with our “hindquarters” and we push the instrument effortlessly in “reverse”.
Just carefully follow these few guidelines to avoid a lot of problems.


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