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Elongated fingers, bridge and crane: pedagogical inexactitudes

A beautiful sound must be created with a soft, fluid movement, not with soft muscles!

Preliminary information: Neuhaus’ bridge and crane and How to easily obtain “the bridge”

1. Students and pedagogues

     1.1. One of my former students, currently studying in London, wrote this to me (at the beginning of our collaboration):

I can say with my hand on my heart that now I play so much easier than before thanks to one of your comments: do not play vertically in a downwards direction, but as if you want ‘to push the piano forwards’ (not vertically downward). In all simplicity, this is magical - I feel no resistance whatsoever! I only wonder why no one explained this to me before...

Actually, when I myself was student, no one gave me such advice, although I had excellent teachers. Not having what is called an innate technique during my school years I faced the same technical problems as the majority of young pianists. That is why I have not only trained for many years, but have also studied many specialized books to find the origins of my mistakes. This has allowed me to obtain very precise and spectacular results that I will talk about here.

     1.2. In this chapter I will introduce the basic techniques that permit“this magical loss of resistance of matter,” but before I do so, it is important to give some essential information to further the student’s understanding. I’ll start by recalling two pieces of advice of Grand Masters, apparently contradictory:

Liszt: “The hands must hover over the keyboard rather than stick to it”. Read more...
Neuhaus: “...comparing the arm from shoulder to fingertip with a hanging bridge, one end of which is locked to the shoulder joint and the other to the fingers on the keyboard”. Read more...

Okay, but we really do not know how to proceed: not only how to make a “bridge” with the hand, but also, above all, how to reconcile it with “hovering”, since these tips seem to mutually contradict each other. Neither of the authors of this advice - excellent by the way - clearly indicate how to do it, while both are obviously speaking about the same thing. Unfortunately Neuhaus’ concepts of “the bridge” and “the crane” are static images of the motor apparatus system, like some unique and inanimate shots from a film. On the contrary, the “hovering” of Liszt is more like a moving film, i.e. a dynamic action involving the bridge and crane. And, as my student’s testimonial above shows, sometimes a correct execution of the “bridge” can lead automatically to “hovering”.

     1.3. For Neuhaus, the term “bridge” actually refers to the temporary locking of the motor apparatus that permits the pianist to transmit the weight (muscular weight - we will study that later) from the shoulder all the way to the bottom of the key. Other pedagogues call this “the correct contact of the finger with the key” (“of the hand with the finger”, “of the shoulder with the key”, etc.), as for my first teacher, her favorite expression was: “the entire hand must rest upon the finger.” All of these attempts to show the student the proper manner of playing are nonetheless too vague, too blurry, because they do not concretely indicated how to obtain this contact or this weight. I repeat once again what I have already said in the Introduction: he who knows this has no need of complementary information; on the other hand, he who does not know this needs more precise information. In any case:

The most important condition is to “push the piano lightly” FORWARD,
i.e. NEVER forcing the keys DOWN, to the keybed.
  • But there are two levels to this forward pushing movement, i.e. the opening of the arm (moving the elbow away from the body - always forward, toward the piano!):
  • the first - rather weak, but CONTINUOUS - that keeps the hand on the keyboard. In principle, we make this movement automatically by placing the fingers on the keys, but it is not so obvious when we change the horizontal position of the hand. And that’s when this basic force is most needed. Without it, the elbow pulls the hand down and off the keyboard, and the fingers sink into it.
  • the second - slightly stronger, but IMPULSIVE. Impulses flow from the shoulder when the fingers need more energy: not only to mark dynamic differences, but also to execute some more energy-requiring technique, i.e. to overcome a technically more difficult place.


For subscribers, my article is available in PDF format:
Elongated fingers, bridge and crane: pedagogical inexactitudes

Below you will find animations and short videos to complement the PDF version.


2. Inertia: how NOT  to play?

2.1. Main pianistic error
2.2. Static of incorrect playing
2.3. Dynamic of incorrect playing
2.4. Conclusions

3. Driving force in the playing and “bridge” model
3.1. What is the driving force in playing, i.e. the source of the energy of the pianist?
3.2. Test 1 - the “bridge” model
3.3. Test 1 - conclusions

4. Elongated fingers: how one must  play?
4.1. Concretely, how to achieve a pianistic “bridge”?
4.2. Joint locking
4.3. Elongated or outstretched fingers

4.4. Here is a beautiful example: look at the right hand of Kissin [...]

Phone: open this video in a new window.

Phone: open this video in a new window.

4.5. Contrary to a widespread belief, the usefulness of flat fingers is not limited to the cantilena. [...]
4.6. Besides, it is more practical and easier to play by opening and closing the hand than by laboriously bending and straightening the fingers (although the latter must also be active). We simply use stronger muscles then. This very effective technique

  • when closing the hand, limits the bending of the fingers
  • and while opening the hand, forces them to straighten.


Computer: move the cursor over the image.
Phone: open the animation.

Of course, you have to be able to play in both directions: both closing and opening the hand, because both are necessary. This principle of bidirectionality also applies to all other movements: the fingers, the wrist and the entire arm. It’s as if you could sing not only while exhaling but also while inhaling (vocally, of course, that’s impossible, but on some wind instruments - it IS possible).

5. We are building a bridge
5.1. Test 2 - preparation
5.2. Test 2 - execution (figure 3a)
5.3. Test 2 - explanations
Computer: move the cursor over the image.
Phone: open the animation.

6. Short exercise: “mute” keyboard


Computer: move the cursor over the image.
Phone: open the animation.

Phone: open this video in a new window.

Phone: open this video in a new window.


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