Collapsed knuckles

Students, please read it.

Recently I have been impressed by the improvement in my students’ ability to keep their first knuckle joints firm while striking piano keys. I thought it was time to celebrate that!

A while ago I had written about the meaning of the bridge photos that I show on my home page. There is something significant about the arch shape that can be found in the construction of many bridges. (All bridges?) Sometimes the arch appears on the underside of the roadway, sometimes over it in a network of cables. I am neither an engineer nor architect — and I last studied physics long ago when disco was becoming popular — yet something about that common arch shape suggests to me that it is there for a purpose. That purpose, I imagine, has something to do with how the bridge can sustain the force exerted upon the structure when it carries a heavy load. Our hands seem capable of mimicking that same shape.

When we play the piano, we need our shoulders, arms, wrists and hands to be able to move freely. And that great weight of our arms needs to be directed into the piano keys by way of our fingertips. If knuckles collapse, then they are absorbing some of the impact and our playing isn’t really efficient mechanically.

Unless we really make an effort to correct this problem of collapsing knuckles, it becomes part of the student’s habit of playing. Tone is inconsistent, and it is usually harsh in loud passages. Students may even experience fatigue in their hands because of the downward pushing they tend to exert.

I make it a point to discuss with young students and their parents that this condition of “wobbly knuckles” is something that cannot improve overnight, but that it takes months and months of focussed intension to make playing with firm knuckle joints a habit. I used to fall into the trap of thinking, “That’s just because the child is so young, and those knuckles will firm-up over time.” But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I frequently remind my students that firm knuckles take a while to develop, and I often use humour if I notice the “wobbly” syndrome recurring.

I’ve been delighted by the progress made by a number of my students this year. When I asked one student how he managed to improve so much with his finger shape, he said, “I just think about it”. Point taken. Kids can think about it, and they do make improvements — sometimes faster than we might expect.

Have a look at these two examples of left hands playing a B-flat Major scale. I chose this key because finger 2 has a greater tendency to collapse on a white key if it follows finger 3 having just played a black key. But these two students did a fantastic job of keeping their knuckles firm. Give them a round of applause!

Student #1

Firm Fingertips #1

Student #2

Firm Fingertips #2

So that’s the reason behind the bridge pictures on my home page. Or maybe those bridges symbolize a journey that my students and I are taking. Some bridges are there to overcome obstacles, some are there to signify passages to new levels of achievement. That’s okay, too.


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