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I'm a 25 year old music enthusiast, who plays Keyboard since the age of 10, and sincerely started playing Piano since the age of 15 (10 years ago now). I practised on various different pianos (since I didn't have one my own), until I bought a digital Piano 2 years ago. I think I put a decent amount of time into practising my piano playing (on average half of an hour per day), yet I feel stuck in how far my skills developed in the last 10 years. Especially when it's about fast runs (16th notes at a tempo of 120 bpm for example), I just fail to play them nice and accurately. I've had 4 teachers now, every one of them told me different things (that were all not working), and to be honest I don't understand it at all.

What I want to ask about in this question is about the method of "arm weight", which is mentioned to me all the time by other piano players, but I never got a satisfying explanation by my teachers about:

What I understood so far is that one should use the weight of the arm to press the keys down, instead of muscle force that one could exert with the muscles in the arm. However, if I use the weight of my arm to press a key down, then the arm will of course also lower itself by the same amount of distance that the key goes down. To play the next note, I would have to lift the arm again (which takes a good amount of time). Did I understand the technique of arm weight wrong? Does "use your arm weight to press down the key" mean something else, than what I would have expected it to mean (from a physics point of view)?

Edit: I'm told by an answer that arm weight is not the preferred method of playing fast runs - I think this is a topic that deserves a seperate question, and answers part of my confusion. I'd still like to have an answer to the question what playing with armweight is meant exactly, regarding the part of my question that I put emphasis on.

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Arm weight is a common term, but it's a bit misleading. What it really means is that you use the strength of your arm and shoulder muscles when playing, instead of your fingers doing all the work. You don't move your whole arm up-and-down to play every note (that would be next to impossible), but you can rotate your arm and hand as you play notes with different fingers.

Human anatomy doesn't correspond with "common sense" here. Common sense probably tells you that people play the piano "with their fingers", but even the main muscles that move your fingers up and down are actually in your forearm, not in your hand, and work your fingers via tendons that pass through your wrist. This accounts for why it's hard to use your 4th and 5th fingers independently - they are actually moved by two tendons attached to the same muscles in your forearm, and you have to "teach" the muscle (and your brain controlling it) how to contract to move one without the other, by practicing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forearm has some anatomical drawings of how the pieces fit together (which is complicated!)

A better name for the "arm weight" technique for fast runs is "forearm rotation". See these tutorials:

… and applying the same idea to jumps:

  • Is there a reason why arm rotation would be feasible, compared to bending the fingers in a downward motion? I see that other muscles are involved into this, are there (for example) capable of faster movements without getting tired? – Quantumwhisp Jun 30 '18 at 18:27
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Arm weight should be used in conjunction with the pronator and supinator muscles (many call this rotation) with the addition of in/out motions to facilitate the different lengths of each finger. Grouping will aid in your query about the other fingers for grouping partakes in the weight distribution of the arm. In other words, when employing weight, up/down, in/out, forward shifting, pronation and supination and, GROUPING, this will all give the forearm a "shape" which will make all the subsequent notes just effortlessly fall out of your hands. I don't want to use this analogy but, your hand becomes like a domino chain. None of the fingers are playing in isolation, they are all playing together BUT, you flex the one your are playing just a smidge so it is slightly lower. With all these movements combined, it is is possible to play down while your are lifting up giving you the set up for the next execution of gravity. Even if you are executing a tremolo or trill using only the pronator and supinator, there is still in/out and up/down. Even if you are doing something repetitions, using all these movements simultaneously means you are not using the same muscle fiber twice in a row meaning . . . . . NO TENSION. Each fiber has an opportunity to relax before called upon a second later. Except your pronator and supinator. They are practically indefatigable.

In regard to scales, you were probably taught to abduct the thumb under the palm and this locks up the abductors of the other fingers creating tension and uneven playing. It can also lead to ulnar or radial deviation which also hinders even playing. It also grinds with the index tendon but teachers don't seem to know this. Never cross the thumb under. Use the arm to move the hand (like you are waxing a car) and place the thumb where it needs to be next.

By using arm weight, pronation and a forward shift, your thumb will play effortlessly. As far as playing fast scales, there are several other movements for the rest of the hand to facilitate that. Even if you have all the correct movements, the inclusion of an incorrect movement such as finger abduction, isolation, ulnar or radial deviation, can hinder progress. You must have all the correct motions and none of the incorrect ones.

No part of piano playing should be done in isolation. Consider casting a fishing pole. You don't cast from the wrist. You don't cast from the elbow. You don't cast from the shoulder. You cast from all three AND, in addition to that, they are aided by your legs, hips, abs and back. Likewise, piano playing isn't necessarily in the fingers, it is predominately in the arm. The arm places the finger, the finger doesn't drag the arm. Just as poking someones eye with your finger happens with the finger, it comes from the shoulder. Turning a doorknob doesn't happen in the wrist, it happens in the elbow (or should (pronator and supinator)).

We all know to pick up a piece of paper off the floor by bending the knees but, we are rarely taught how to be ergonomic with our arms.

You need to find a teacher who knows about the arm's anatomy, mechanical nature and physics. There has been three hundred years of poor teaching by people who don't know what they are doing and it just keeps getting passed down. It is a shame but I would estimate that over 90% of the teachers out there should not be teaching. This goes for gym teachers, too.

Find a good teacher who knows what they are doing who can re-train you. Call the Edna Golandsky school in NYC and ask if they have a teacher in your area.

If you complain to your teacher about tension, pain, fatigue, or that you can't play something, and they say "Practice more," "relax" or they assign a finger exercise (your fingers have no muscles), never go back to that teacher. You are wasting time and money. Not that they can't teach you other things but, they will cripple you from their ignorance of anatomy.

  • So (just regarding your first paragraph), the answer to my question is that it's a row of many different movements of the arm, SOME of them using the arm weight, and in this row of motions the arm is (somewhat) lifted up, if armweight actually it was used before to press down a key? – Quantumwhisp Jul 1 '18 at 17:51
  • There are about 10 proper movements and 10 improper ones. When all ten are employed everything is effortless. This is why you need a teacher and not try this on your own. Weight is the starting point but any movement in isolation will create tension. This is why people who play from the fingers run into problems because the flexors and extensors can't relax in time. 2 other things, never press into the keybed, play instead to the point of sound. And always come straight down on a key. Like walking upstairs, our ascending foot lifts higher than the step then straight down-as our fingers should. – Malcolm Kogut Jul 2 '18 at 22:23
  • Everything you wrote sounds great, but I've allready listened to plenty of other great sounding people without any result - This method of the "Taubman approach" (I think that's what you talk about here) - is it somehow proofed to be effectiv by a scientific method? – Quantumwhisp Jul 3 '18 at 15:12
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Arm weight can help with certain aspects of piano playing, and can sometimes be used with the whole arm, from the shoulder.

You ask about fast playing (of single notes, I guess). This does not use any arm weight. In fact, the arm needs to be still (in a vertical plane) in order to hold the wrist suspended, so that fingers can move up and down, pressing the keys. Obviously, smaller muscles working smaller digits will need less time to recover to the position for the next note to be played. It sounds like you might be trying to play fast using arm weight. Techniques are mixed up!

  • Yes, this is what I've been told: Arm weight to be the method to play fast runs. In case this is not the right method for that, I will add this information to be part of the question, but would still like what exactly the method of arm weight is about. – Quantumwhisp Jun 30 '18 at 12:49
  • From a personal point of view, I can't play fast with arm weight. Doesn't mean it's not possible. Arm weight is basically using the arms' weight to press on the keys, as opposed to stabbing them. Which works as well. – Tim Jun 30 '18 at 12:53
  • Yes, and this is precisely what I want to know about: How "Arm weight is basically using the arms' weight to press on the keys": You will see in my question why I find exactly this sentence problematic and illogical, from a physicists point of view. – Quantumwhisp Jun 30 '18 at 17:40

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