Archive for March, 2008

five months later

March 28, 2008

28 March, 09:03 p.m. Amusing coincidence: Since I began this blog last November, I’ve had exactly 6000 visitors, and 600 spam messages were caught by the friendly WordPress robot. Thanks for reading, folks!

balance of the hands V

March 26, 2008

Final post about handedness and keyboard technique

Continuo practicing

Depending on one’s handedness, the preparation of continuo bass lines and continuo chords calls for different approaches. Obviously, continuo is about harmonies and bass line phrasing, but in terms of performance, it is first and foremost about being together. One could describe the ideal state of mind of a continuo player as ‘being part of the music’ to the extreme. Continuo playing is not about waiting and reacting, it is about anticipating, participating and breathing. No matter what her or his handedness, if the continuo player worries about the poor performance of her or his non-dominant hand, this will likely prevent the directness (I keep wanting to write “flow,” but to be honest, I do not know very much about flow) and spontaneity necessary for a good performance. (more…)

balance of the hands IV

March 23, 2008

Part IV of V about handedness and keyboard technique

3) Learning complex passages in two hands

How do we practice a complex passage that involves both hands? I am thinking of technical writing such as in bars 60-64 in the Gigue of Bach’s fifth partita. Trying to approach such passages while comfortably relying on our dominant hand will lead us nowhere. I prepare this kind of music by first establishing in detail how both hands have to interact and trying to practice away any jerky or panicky arm or finger movement at about half tempo. Now I make extra sure that my dominant hand knows exactly where it has to go and what it has to do – increasing the security here can be compared with establishing anchor points, with memorizing the moments when the balance within the hand is perfect or, in short, with giving that hand extra authority. Now I can begin to work with the non-dominant hand, focussing on two things: agility and coordination. By first ‘grounding’ the dominant hand, I give freedom to the non-dominant hand, and eventually the passage emerges as secure and repeatable. (more…)

balance of the hands III

March 23, 2008

Part III of V about handedness and keyboard technique

I came to acknowledge the potential of my dominant hand in keyboard playing through an accident. I am posting all this partly so that others won’t need to repeat the trick I played on myself. One day, early on in my studies, in a period where I fought to overcome some invisible technical barriers through a fierce practicing routine, I got up at six in the morning and fetched breakfast. The idea was to start with my exercises at seven sharp, together with the wakeup chorus of Czerny and Clementi produced by the pianists elsewhere in the dormitory. At a quarter past six, I tried to cut the crust off a bit of elderly Gouda cheese, using a cheese plane. At 6:15:30 I was running for my medicine box: the plane had slipped and I had chipped off two of my finger tops – moderately enough not to need a doctor; thoroughly enough – as it turned out – not to be able to play with that hand – my non-dominant hand – for a month (I will stick to the terms dominant hand and non-dominant hand in order to make it easy for both right-handed and left-handed readers to wade through my text). I stopped the blood flow and kept myself from fainting, cleaned up the mess, had a quiet hour of self-contemplation, canceled my harpsichord lesson and returned to eating cheese. There is nothing so upsetting as an interrupted routine. (more…)

balance of the hands II

March 21, 2008

Part II of V about handedness and keyboard technique

The ideal of balance between the hands of a keyboard player was clearly not at all the most likely historical cause of why the standard keyboard developed as it did, with the treble at the right-hand side. To be sure, speaking as a historian, that cause can never be definitely stated. The development of keyboard instruments took a long period and most of the remainders of its early stages are lost. And even if they were not – surviving artifacts rarely disclose their most important secret: why their inventors made them as they did.

The only valid statement about the mechanics behind the development of the modern keyboard layout is, hence, one about correlations (more…)

balance of the hands I

March 19, 2008

Part I of V about handedness and keyboard technique

In one of the interviews presented in Bruno Monsaingeon’s monumental video documentary Richter, the Enigma, Sviatoslav Richter mentions his belief that the right and left hands of a pianist need to be in balance. The video clips of Richter on this DVD (and any one of those available on YouTube) show impressively what he means by balance: the independence between the hands and, as it would seem to an observer, a lack of subordination of either of them. But the call for balance on an instrument played by both hands using the same set of basic techniques is, by itself, not very earth-shattering. Much more interesting is how the effect of balance is achieved, and at what costs. The following posts are about this topic.

To pave the way for explaining my view on keyboard technique and balance between the hands, I will, however, have to supply an introduction containing disclaimers, myth-destroyers, definitions and denials. Why? Because this is about handedness. I have heard very smart people say searingly stupid things about handedness. (more…)

harpsichord and nyckelharpa

March 19, 2008

To participate in the St Matthew Passion means that you meet another continuo player, which is something that doesn’t happen very often otherwise. While two oboists at the left and two oboists at the right huddle together and compare reeds between arias, while two plus two flutists practice their passionate bits of duo during the coffee breaks and while the assorted singers fine-tune their smiles and the pronunciation of words like “zerknirscht,” the keyboard section exchanges stories of life and talks about bold new projects. Andreas Edlund (organ, Choir I) whom I (organ, Choir II, plus some stray chords from the harpsichord) hadn’t seen for two years (a shame because his artistic and culinary tastes are impeccable) brought me his new CD with harpsichord and nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle). (more…)


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