Teachers for piano lessons place a lot of importance on playing with correct technique for many reasons, including greater musicality and comfort while playing. Some aspects of playing with correct technique are easier than others to master, but one that sticks out as a tough point for many students (including myself in the past) is achieving hand rotation.
Contrary to our instinct, the piano is played more from a perspective of dropping the weight of the arms into the keys to produce sound, rather than literally pushing the keys down. Free hand rotation allows the player to guide and aim each finger into the key directly as the weight of the arm is dropped, which leads to a clearer attack on each key plus the ability to play faster overall. However, discovering and achieving the rotation technique is often easier said than done, but with a few tips, can become much easier to utilize.
The Turning Key
The classic example of hand rotation from a practical standpoint is the motion you make while turning a key in a lock or turning a door handle. This particular imagery is featured in the Faber and Faber Piano Adventures series, which puts a lot of emphasis on correct technique throughout. Personally, I like to use the example of making a “kind of, sort of” gesture with the hand. Regardless of the example used, the overall look of hand rotation, if slowed down and exaggerated slightly, includes keeping the elbow in a neutral and floating, downward facing position and flipping the hand over and back while the elbow stays in the same place relatively. Sounds complicated? It doesn’t have to be, and usually the best examples for students in piano lessons in your home come from demonstration from the teacher, as well as exercises that isolate the individual technique of rotation by itself.
My two favorite rotation exercises that I still use with my own in-home piano lessons were taught to me by my previous instructor. The first involves simply leaning back in a pseudo-reclining position on the piano bench while outstretching your arm and hand to be placed in a normal five-finger hand position on the piano. Your arm should be completely straight, and from this point, start moving the hand back and forth between the fingers 1 and 5 (thumb and pinky) in the five finger position. It is important to note that the fingers should not be pushing the keys; instead, the hand should be directed back and forth between the two keys by the arm itself with the weight of the arm falling to the side towards the thumb, then rotating (or turning) to the complete opposite side towards the pinky. If you see your wrist changing positions without bending your arm, you are rotating your hand! From this point, you can begin to bend the elbow and move closer to the piano while the wrist remains the same.
The second exercise just involves two black keys—let’s say D-sharp and F-sharp. Using fingers 2 and 4 (index and ring), try holding one key down while striking the other by turning into the key, not pushing. When comfortable, and after both keys have been reversed, try moving freely between the two in the same way as mentioned above. You can then move to the white keys and expand to different intervals with the same motion.
When moving the hand through rotation while playing, the result should be a feeling that the arm is behind each finger and that each finger feels a greater sense of strength and reinforcement by having the arm directing it. This means that the fingers are simply aiming and balancing on the keys, and the wrist and arm are doing all the work!
In piano lessons in your home, when a student indicates that he or she feels fatigue or tension in their arms or hands while playing, it’s a cue to me that rotation technique needs to be explored further. Though there is usually a breakthrough moment when rotation is achieved, exercises exploring this technique at every level of playing are an important reminder of not only how to play fast, but also of how sound should be produced correctly on the instrument.
A lot of emphasis is placed on technique by piano lessons in your home teachers, because without it, playing progressively more difficult repertoire would be uncomfortable and tough to approach. Exploring the importance of hand rotation can be difficult, but with isolating exercises, students can reach that “ah-ha” moment of epiphany much more easily.
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