Piano Technique: The Spongy Wrist is a great shock absorber and singing tone supporter

Yesterday, Rina, 5 learned more about playing her D Major and minor chords with a “spongy” wrist. At first she “squeezed” these sonorities out after playing through the “root,” “third” and “fifth.” (bottom note, middle note, and top note)

Once she observed how my spongy wrist made these chords sound richer, she managed to drop one in that was centered and relaxed.

While Rina doesn’t completely understand cause and effect–or how the physical approach to the piano affects tone production, she can clearly absorb the “feel” of a new sensation through a modeling process. And by using vocabulary drawn from her playground and home environment, I can communicate ideas related to technique that would otherwise be above her head. (I frequently refer to “weeping willow arms” and hands as she approaches the piano.)

In addition, a “spongy” wrist is more easily understood than applying adjectives “flexible,” or “undulating” to describe desired motions.

In the same vein, a “spongy” wrist in its shock-absorbing capacity, cushions the fingers, and by association the wrist and arms that belong to a bigger physical spectrum. Energies, beyond the fingers, therefore, should be harnessed to lessen key impact.

For Irina Gorin, “jello keys” is a great mental image that minimizes percussive key attacks as noted in my blog about “Pianists and Injuries.” Her creation, Tales of a Musical Journey, teaches sophisticated technical concepts in a manner that very small children can understand. (Toys included with her materials, like monkeys with velcroe, are attached to a student’s wrist to swing from from side to side. The motion teaches a relaxed, follow through that transfers into smooth, fluid piano playing)

Gorin will also suspend a student’s wrist using a hairband, and then release the support as the note falls by gravity into its relaxed center, supported by a rounded finger.

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Emily, 13, has been learning about wrist flexiblity ever since she began piano over a year ago.

At her last videotaped a lesson, she was practicing the J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor, Part A, that is permeated by broken chords vulnerable to thumb pokes on the descent. Often students will land hard on the thumb interrupting the flow of a phrase.

Since it’s shortest finger of the hand, it can easily accelerate its entry into notes.

The way we maneuvered around Emily’s tendency to accent the thumb, was through a wrist forward motion which delayed its landing.

While Rina had practiced a wrist “dip,” Emily rolled it forward.

In both instances, the elasticity of the wrist and its wide range motion advanced a relaxed and resonant singing tone that afforded a more satisfying playing experience.