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I have been playing for over 10 years but never had technical guidance on piano. Lately I have been trying to correct that. I have been working on getting my scales and runs more relaxed, homogeneous sounding, and fast.

For this I have been trying out a new approach, which involves more playing with the "elbow" rather than with the fingers. A good example of the movement is when you drop your fingers on a table surface, sequentially, like when acting impatient. This movement is guided by the hand, and the fingers just follow and control the hitting moment, but there is no effort coming from the fingers nor from the wrist. Also there is little to no finger-lifting motion, as the whole hand lifts for the next position.

When I translate this into piano, I try to keep the wrist relaxed and guide the downward movement from the shoulder/elbow. The main issue that I have with this is with the lateral movement, on getting the "thumb under" motion (this actually avoids the thumb-under motion, as it forces to rather jump to the next position), and get a smooth transition when I switch the hand position, as the downward movement often makes an accent if I am not careful.

So far this has drastically increased the velocity and lightness of my runs, but I would require a lot more time for perfecting this movement.

Is this a 'traditionally' correct approach? Or is there something that I am neglecting with this technique?

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If I understand your question properly, for playing a scale, you use all (or most) of your fingers, and when comes the time to move to the next position to play the next 4 or 5 notes, you move your hand, by shifting the whole arm laterally.

It's not what I teach. Not to say there are better or worse ways. We don't all play the same! For scales, I prefer that the whole arm moves laterally, and continuously. This keeps the wrist, hand and fingers moving, and obviates the 'thumb under' to a great degree. Proble with 'thumb under' is that the hand gets raised, thumb goes under, and gets dropped on its next key. By moving along as you go, there is actually very little thumb under movement - it's almost in its next position because the whole hand glides along smoothly.

Whatever you do, it's not going to be a quick success. It needs choreographing in slow motion, and gradually speeding up, over several months. Also helps to keep the knuckles at the same height throughout.

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  • upvote for the knuckles at the same height :)
    – fdreger
    Apr 29 '20 at 15:23
  • @Tim your movement also promotes the "centering" of each playing finger with the wrist right? Which implies the lateral movement of the wrist along with the playing finger, and prepares the hand for the next position. That makes sense. Do you see then a lot of lateral wrist movement while playing? as in a "waving when saying hello" type of movement with the hand? Because that feels a bit unnatural
    – hirschme
    Apr 29 '20 at 18:22
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    @hirschme - no, as the wrist and forearm move as one unit laterally. If there is that 'waving' motion, that's when my ruler comes out! The move essentially comes from the shoulder, taking the upper arm initially on its journey.
    – Tim
    Apr 29 '20 at 18:32
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"traditionally" - all parts of your arm always work together, but for each passage you decide what combination of finger, wrist, elbow and upper arm movements will get you the effect you are after - all of them are useful, it's a trade-off.

Generally, the "smaller" parts move faster, so I am surprised that the technique works for you. Do you mean that you move your elbow for each note? That must be quite slow. Or are you using a single elbow movement for multiple keys? Then it seems unnecessary. You should be able to play any scale with just your fingers and a bit of a a sideways motion of your upper arm.

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  • one movement for multiple fingers, I thought that would be clear from the "dropping all fingers on a table" example. So its a burst of notes for one hand position. Why is that unnecessary? The elbow movement is practically non-visible, as it is more of an approach than an actual movement. Also note that I am addressing the specific case of fast runs, I am not imposing this approach for every situation while playing.
    – hirschme
    Apr 28 '20 at 22:30
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    if the actual hit is done with the finger only, without the help of elbow, then any up-down movement of elbow is just a distraction.
    – fdreger
    Apr 28 '20 at 23:11
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I’ve been taught to keep the elbows always near the body but this has been a bad advice!

And I remember that I always thought that pianists who move the elbows this was just for show. Many years later when I was playing pop music or rock’n roll standing in front of the keyboard I’ve seen that is it is more practical to play with the arms and elbows and fingers all together. So I had to learn to play with all my body without thinking that it is just for show. It is the most natural thing and traditional for all centuries and normal to practice this way.

Probably we think to much about, reflecting what is good or bad, and we should better play intuitive like a child that learns sliding, skating or skiing.

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