The First Principles Of Pianoforte Playing

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The muscular fault in such cases is the one so often here alluded to and condemned,—the use of continuous Arm-pressure behind the fingers. It is, we must remember, the most natural fault to make:—"We wish to make the key before us move down,—what more natural, than that we should try to induce this by using the muscles of the back, with down-pressure of the arm ? If we wished to press down anything in the ordinary course of our existence, we should certainly act thus, and rightly so. At the Piano the temptation to act likewise is commensurately great, and it must at any cost be resisted. This tendency must indeed be absolutely eliminated, if we wish to succeed in play­ing passages with ease, and wish to avoid liability to a sudden and com­plete collapse of our Technique, when the moment of stress arrives. How often do we find an otherwise admirable performer, suddenly lose all clean­ness and fluency of finger ! An unduly felted or over-toned hammer is per­haps presented for his use, and being thus prevented from hearing what a con­siderable degree of force he is already applying to the keys, he endeavours to apply more,—and he will then be tempted to transgress the laws of finger-technique, and will permit himself to apply that fatal thing, Arm-pressure, unless the laws of Agility have been fixed into secure habit of miud and body. If these laws are ignored, the passages go from bad to worse, until they become almost obliterated under the more and more laboured progress that ensues upon the key-beds, and the performer leaves the instrument with perspiration streaming from him, and feeling as if he had suffered under the incubus of a nightmare.
The fault of all faults to be guarded against is therefore : a continuous pressure exerted downwards upon the fingers by the arm; a condition of affairs that renders the hand as helpless as if it were a hoof, with five prongs attached, instead of fingers. If such pressure is continuous, and at all severe, it absolutely stops all movement across the key-board.           To help one to
avoid this fault, one should commit it deliberately, doing so in a scale or arpeggio; so that its sensation of stickiness may be vividly experienced, and so that its unfailiug result, the complete breakdown of all technique may be as vividly remembered.
Less obvious than this continuous arm-pressure, is the occasionally at­tempted correction of it. Many a musician, with even mediocre reasoning power, will soon learn to avoid the continuous effort behind the fingers just condemned, since he finds himself thereby deprived of all Agility. But this will not prevent his using the same muscular-combination (i.e., direct down-arm force behind his fingers) when he wishes to play forte finger-passages, provided he now carefully ceases such force the moment that tone is reached with each key.           And many a player's technique never advances beyond
this stage, since it enables him to " get along" somehow, and even at consid­erable speed.           Naturally enough, he will fail to recognise his inefficiency technically, unless his ears are sufficiently quick to detect, that other (and better) players are able to play similar passages with greater ease, and with far more beautiful tone;—or unless he some day, by lucky accident, happens to discover the correct technique,—and is able to recognise it as such at the moment.
No, the arm must neither be continuously pressed down upon the fingers, nor may it be " jabbed " down on them for each individual note. There must be none of this, in any shape whatsoever !
The only forms of technique that will permit of the attainment of real Agility, are those two forms in both of which the arm is almost or entirely supported off the keys by its own muscles—the first and the second Species of Touch-formation ; and, either in conjunction with these, or unaided, the Weight-transfer touch—or second form of the act of Resting.— Vide Chapter XIX.
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