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Solutions to common technical problems

Solutions to common technical problems

We all agree that the best solution to problems is to prevent them before they even begin. However, even with our best intentions, problems sometimes arise.

Collapsed knuckle bridge

  • Teacher places hands on the student's hands, molding, shaping, and modeling.
  • Start beginning students with a cluster.
  • Descriptive language: "feel the cave," "What could fit in the cave? A mouse?"

Collapsed distal joint

  • Have students form the letter "O," or "doughnuts" between each finger and the thumb.
  • Check to see if the nail joint is caving in.
  • "Strong fingers."
  • Ask students to remember how their fingers felt as the top of the "O."
  • Teacher models, then students check their fingers against the model.
  • Name the problem: "flat tires," "spaghetti fingers."
  • Warm-ups on the piano lid.
  • Warm-ups that are played from memory.
  • Continual follow-through on the part of the teacher.
  • Help students become familiar with the FEEL.
  • Alternating between collapsed and not collapsed can help students feel the difference.

Low wrists

  • Many times the seating arrangement is the culprit for students playing with low wrists. Be sure the student is seated correctly, both at the lesson and at home.
  • Have students stand up to play, so they can feel how much easier it is to play with the hands dangling from above.
  • "Shark Zone." A shark resides below the keys and is waiting to "chomp" wrists that dangle too low.
  • Practice floating to the keys: bring the hands up to the piano, look at the piano, drop the hands down.
  • "Wrists should remain parallel to the arms."
  • Use a coin on the wrist and challenge students to avoid letting it drop off. It is important here that students do not lock their wrists.

Thumb placement

  • For students who have a "Ravel thumb," tell them to keep the thumb curved. The "Ravel thumb," also known as a "hitchhikers thumb," is the result of a variation of the first and second phalanges of the thumb. The result is a thumb that bends backwards, greater than 90 degrees. It is said that Maurice Ravel had this type of thumb variation, which is why it is often called a "Ravel thumb" among musicians. This thumb variation is common among the general population.
  • Imaginative language: the hand is a stable, the thumb is the bird, and the joint of the thumb is the beak.
  • Thumb plays on the corner of the nail.
  • Many problems of thumb placement are actually the result of sitting incorrectly. Check to be sure the bench distance and height are correct.

Thumb tension

  • Tap the thumb on the piano with a relaxed hand.
  • Feel the other side of the hand, keep the weight off the thumb.

Flat fingers

  • Begin with O's or doughnut as with the collapsing joint.
  • Line fingers on top of a pencil.
  • Imaginative language: the hand is a house or a cave.
  • Look at the arm dropped at the side—this is perfect hand position.
  • Frances Clark advocated the "flop and pull." The hand is flopped on a tabletop, then pulled to achieve a rounded hand position.

Flying fingers

  • We must ask ourselves the "Why" here. Flying fingers almost always are the result of tension in the hand. If the hand is relaxed, flying fingers will not occur. Why is the hand tense? Where is the source of the tension? Is tension occurring because of overcorrection of another problem?

Excess movement

  • The source of excess movement in the hand often comes from students not knowing how to move their fingers independently; instead they tend to move the whole arm. Five-finger patterns with a quiet arm will often help.
  • Teacher demonstration, showing the difference on students' arms.

Slouching

  • Concise language: "sit tall."
  • Nonverbal cues.
  • Tapping the back.
  • Descriptive language: "Sit tall like a giraffe, not slouched like a turtle."
  • The teacher must model good posture.
  • Shoulder warm-ups.

Proper bench height/distance: teaching students to set themselves up correctly at the piano.

  • Have the student send in a photo from home.
  • Check the distance with arms.
  • Have the student set up the bench at the beginning of each lesson.
  • Communicate with parents. Show them what the student should look like when practicing at home.
  • "Feel the difference!"
  • Concrete language: "Your knee should be two inches under the piano." Or, check the distance using a book or another item.

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