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Piano Technique - Theory

1. How to easily obtain “The Bridge” - basic exercise

Preliminary information: Neuhaus’s “Bridge” and “Crane”
Detailed explanation at the end of this page.

This chapter deals with the exercise n° 1 of the video above - “The pianist’s spine must not be stiff”. This exercise is performed with intentionally exaggerated movements to make it easier to learning. At the end of the video you can see the minimized movements, normally used for playing (practically undetectable at full tempo).

The exercise above is made up of four-note chords that facilitate using the correct pressure so that the fingers play at the bottom of the keys, i.e. the solid contact between the hand and the keyboard. Before playing each succeeding chord, it is necessary to once again assume the initial position (photo n° 1).

Caption: active movements passive movement
Photo n° 1 - preparation:
The back completely rounded, the head lowered.
Photo n°2 - action:
One must energetically push oneself away from the keyboard by unbending
the arms from the elbow (movement as shown in the video on below)

Straightening the back must be passive, i.e. obtained by the movements of the arms, and animated by the movement of the head moving back. One must not straighten the back before the chord or after it. The ensemble of this very complex movement must be synchronized in such a way that the entire weight of the body comes into contact with the bottom of the keys for a split second.

Certain pianists even rise off the bench to increase the contact with the keys. Watch Maurizio Pollini performing one of the most difficult Liszt études - n°10 from the 12 Transcendental Études.
Move the cursor over the photo to see this movement. Click to open the video.

This exercise is really “magic”! It forces the movements that activate the entire body of the player linking its weight to the mechanism of the piano. I have observed through my teaching that after having played several chords in this manner, each student begins to produce a better quality of sound.

Why?

No one will say that the wheels of a car are the source of its movement, even though an outside viewer only sees the mobility of wheels, the motor being hidden from sight. On the other hand, many people would be inclined to think that the vocal chords are the source of the singer's voice, when the real “motor” is made up of the lungs, the diaphragm and a strong support of the legs (painful after concert!) - in short, the entire body. Likewise, when we watch the pianist play, we only see his fingers striking the keys. The great majority not only of players but - alas - also piano teachers concentrate excessively on how the fingers work and forget about the underlying motor and the entire mechanism transmitting its energy to the piano keys. As with the singer, the pianist’s motor, that is to say the source of energy, is his entire body: from his feet firmly planted on the floor (try to play when slightly raising the feet) to the top of his head. The head does not function only as the center of intelligence, but equally in a much more ordinary fashion - as the counterweight of this entire mechanism.

The motor mechanism of an experienced pianist is optimized and synchronized in order to be able to free the greatest amount of power and efficiency for the fingers on the keyboard with the least amount of effort and the smallest possible movements. Even so, to attain such mastery one must begin to put into practice these same correct movements by exaggerating them in an evident and ample way. It is only after these reflexes gradually become automatic that one can be permitted to diminish - very progressively - these movements while at the same time increasing the tempo of the pieces played.

 

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