The free “plunge” of the hand and tying two notes together

Since the coordination of gross motor skills develops before the fine motor skills, piano playing should begin with gross motor movements involving the whole arm. The task of the arm is to transfer weight to the key via the finger. For this reason, practising starts with the so-called free “plunge”, one of the fundamental movements in piano playing. It is advisable to take up legato playing only when the child has mastered the transfer of weight to each finger with the aid of the arm. Legato playing is learnt gradually, starting with tying two notes together. The idea is to play several notes with one movement of the arm and hand. This involves linking the arm and finger movements. The linking agent is the supple wrist that shifts the weight from one key to another.

In the free plunge, the motion of the whole arm produces the tone. This supple arm movement should be practised from the first lesson on. As the arm plunges into the keys, strictly controlled but freely, the task of the fingers is to engage the key, whereby the wrist is freed and lightened. This is a supple, natural movement. The free plunge is intended to find the playing mode producing the optimal tone. Tone quality is thus present right from the start. A smooth cantabile tone is produced when the weight of the wrist is carefully transferred to every note.

The fingertips should react to the key by engaging it at precisely the right moment. Persistent practice will gradually activate the fingertips, which have to be as steady, accurate and firm as possible.  The distal transverse metacarpal arch must be firmly supported, but supple. The mobility and stability of the fingers can be exercised separately by resting the hand on an even surface, such as the piano lid. From this relaxed initial position the weight of the hand is transferred to one fingertip, whereby the knuckle (the metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP]) rises. This knuckle is the fulcrum of the finger as well as the most mobile of the finger joints. The first and second joints are geared to force, i.e. consolidate the stability of the fingers. If the knuckle does not learn to support the weight of the hand, it will cause pressure in the wrist and the mobility of the fingers is impaired.

It is beneficial to practise the free plunge of the hand away from the keyboard, by letting the hand plunge into your lap or onto the piano lid, side first, thumb facing upwards. Next, the teacher “lends a hand”, whereby the pupil learns to keep his or her hand as relaxed as possible while the teacher is moving it. Pupils may practise this “lending a hand” on their own by supporting and moving one hand (e.g. holding it by the sleeve), keeping it as relaxed as possible.

The next step is practising shifting the weight from one note to another: two-note slurs. The initial arm action is the same as in the free plunge, but continues by shifting the weight to the second note. At the elementary level the pupil should be instructed to perform two relaxations of the wrist, one for each note, and, having mastered this, to proceed to combining the two movements into one, where the weight is gradually shifted from one finger to the other. In the execution of slurs, it is essential that the finger playing the first note engage properly with the key, thereby relieving the wrist and arm of superfluous tension. The weight is then gradually shifted to the second note, which the hand then leaves, wrist first. Both the free plunge and slurs should be practised in varying nuances and tempi.

Does this subject interest you?

Read more (research results with source references). Junttu 2010 pp. 148-150

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