The importance of the hand in the production of musical sounds causes its study to be of the greatest possible interest, not only to teachers, but to every enthusiast and critic in the world of musical art.
To study first the fingers and the way they are placed in regard to their span is a very important point. When the span is obviously great between the first finger and thumb the piano is the best instrument to learn. Chords, octaves, and arpeggios always come easier at the keyboard if Nature has arranged for roominess at just this part of the hand, as illustrated in Fig. 1.
The thumb itself for piano work must be a well-developed one. The teacher who takes his profession casually overlooks this point, and tries, in consequence, to make good pianists where Nature has set a handicap. Octave playing, in particular, is most laborious with short thumbs, since their
The Arts curtailed length lessens the span already described as a need.
For the keyboard, long, tapering fingers are undesirable. Superficial knowledge about the hands has led many to believe that this type of finger denotes much artistic power. In this, power has been confused with appreciation, which is altogether another matter.
Skill at the piano is most easily attained when the second finger is of a length from tip to base equal to that between the and the wrist. Longer than this is rarely good for executive purposes, though it shows delight in music in a dreamier kind of way.
Flat palms can only mean much laborious practice to attain even moderate proficiency as a pianist. When the underpart of the hand is arched, difficult passages are mastered by leaps and bounds, and listeners are electrified by the ease with which a strenuous presto is accomplished.
The width of the hand from knuckle to knuckle is another feature to find a place in these careful calculations. Rather curiously, many finished pianists, and violinists, too, show this measurement to coincide with that of the second finger, and the back of the hand from middle knuckle to wrist.
The very pronounced filbert finger tip is by no means the ideal one for the pianist, despite the exalted place the poet gives it. All those subtle changes of tone possible to the piano are drawn from it by the tip which is just prettily domed and nothing more.
The idea that the dome will flatten with practice is erroneous, for there is abundance of elasticity in the musician's finger-tips, a resilience, indeed, unknown in other spheres of artistic power.
In Fig. 2 is shown the position of the hand that every pianist should try to attain. When examined carefully, it will be seen that there is no exaggeration whatever in the pose, which is natural and beautiful.
The wrist is not unduly arched; it is, indeed, level along the arm with the elbow. The slight droop of the back of the hand is maintained by a little downward pressure at the base of the knuckles, a pressure which provides that perfect arch of strength on which the executive power depends.
Of late, many professors have arisen at home and abroad who advocate a position in which the wrist droops in quite exaggerated fashion beneath the knuckles' level. Such a pose is ugly in the extreme, while the whole construction of the hand is against it in the matter of strength.
To return to the illustration, the fingers show very graceful curving; there are no prominent knuckles, no upheavals from base to tip that make the hand look gaunt or bony. In this attitude the fingers can take runs and shakes, turns, mordaunts, and arpeggios with accuracy and perfect finish of touch. The hand and wrist, by this special poise over the keyboard, can attack chords and octaves without that objectionable sense of labour evinced by so many pianists, amateur and professional. Their power is a perfectly independent one, and needs no augmentation from bodily contortions and bendings. To watch their movements is to know to the full the poetry of motion, and to feel no apprehension of exaggerated action.
In Fig. 3 there is hown the span of the violinist. This should be rather an abnormal distance between the third and little fingers. Width in this direction, too, is necessary for playing the violoncello, an instrument which requires good strong fingers of a shapely type. A. wan-looking hand is perfectly useless for strings, for very decisive pressure is needed in forming the notes; if the power to give this is absent, squeaky playing is the inevitable result.
The hand which has shortcomings, which lacks symmetry and good proportion, can, as a rule, never achieve much with any instrument, however great its owner's musical appreciation. In this connection a great deal of time, money, and labour are spent uselessly, both in schools and under private tuition in the home.
Good voices go with all sorts of hands, for the executive power here is with the vocal organs, which means, of course, that span, palms, and tips need not come under consideration.
The people who love music but cannot play could very well interest themselves in musical studies of a non-executive kind. Indeed, their appreciation is a talent awaiting development on its own peculiar lines.
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