Touch

Geez, I feel bad; haven’t written anything here for quite a while. Have been playing a lot of early english music; Byrd, Tomkins, Bull and the like. Amazing music, masterful polyphony and melody. There are so many masterpieces, little ones and big long ones. It’s great music for improving musicianship and expression, the fine pieces support a lot of exploration of possibilities.

I offer an update on harpsichord touch. Recently I sliced a wee piece of my right thumb off during a disagreement with a mandoline in the kitchen. All healed now, nothing serious. But for a week or so, no functional thumb. That’s all right, the early music really doesn’t need much thumb. So I took the opportunity to develop a thumb-deprived touch and hand position. Very interesting. My solution was very flat extended fingers – a neutral plane from the elbow to fingertip, fingers parallel to the keys most of the time, but diagonal when more comfortable. Total relaxation. I mean, a total absence of any perceptible joint tension anywhere from finger to head (not easy or trivial). The fingertips touch the naturals, most of the time, on the very edge of the keys. The hand sort of floats there and as you play, as best I can describe it, it’s a combination of stroking and letting the weight of the fingers depress the keys. Very minimal movement. It seems to me there are two kinds of motion going on; a very little bit of the fingertip inward stroke motion and also a hinging motion at the very top joint between finger and palm. And what I found was a huge improvement in sound quality, more control over every aspect of touch – overholding and releases, and in general a much more supple musical result. As I practice this in, I find that so many things are easier and come out better and more fluid. As long as you retain the body’s sense of effortlessness everything works better. I have read, heard and seen plenty about ‘early’ fingerings without the thumb, but I haven’t seen it applied this way, with the flat fingers. It seems so natural and comfortable I wonder if this was done back then. Have to hop in the wayback machine and see. Back in a min

 

OK, I’m back. The only thing I’d modify is to gently raise the palm of the hand, letting the fingers hang or maybe droop some. Not too much. Make sure you’re sitting at a height comfortable for this, elbows a bit higher than the keyboard so it’s not an effort to raise the hand a little. Now, the fingers stroke inwards a bit, with very little effort. This is hard to describe in a way that’s accurate enough. The other thing I’d mention is that all the experimenting with touch and finger ergonomics results in all the joints of the fingers being activated, so that in the end the fingers move in a pretty complex, and more graceful way. This seems ideal.

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