In general, when we speak of virtuosity at the piano, we are referring to physical virtuosity: a great technique that allows the pianist to accomplish the most difficult scale, chord, and arpeggio passages with rapidity and ease, to make leaps with accuracy and precision, and to play for extended periods of time without tension. Most people think that musical virtuosity, or, as I call it, the art of musical expression, comes after one has developed a great technique. Although it is true that one cannot express musically without a great technique, the truth is that the two types of virtuosity cannot be separated; and the great surprise is that, just as physical virtuosity can be learned by everyone, so too, the art of musical expression can be taught and learned.
Based on principles of coordinate motion that Dorothy Taubman discovered, observed and incorporated into her teaching, the Taubman Approach concentrates on teaching the correct positions and movements of the fingers, hand, and forearm, which we call the playing apparatus, so that a virtuoso technique like that described above can be acquired. The emphasis is always on being able to play freely and without tension, and attention is to paid to every aspect of the interrelationship of the pianist with the instrument in order to accomplish this.
Once the pianist has mastered the fundamental movements and principles of the approach and incorporated them into his or her playing, he/she now has the ability to express his thoughts and feelings about the music to a great extent than previously imagined, simply because the technique allows him or her to do so.
However, with specific regard to musical expression, there are four areas that we concentrate on: tone production, physical shaping, control of legato passages, physical shaping, and rhythm.
Tone production: The art of musical expression begins with the ability to create tone of every color and volume. A rich tone is the most sought after and challenging aspect of tone production, yet with the right technique, it is within the reach of every pianist. The Taubman Approach identifies the two fundamental factors that produce and control tone: forearm weight, and speed into the key. Increases and decreases in the amount of forearm weight going into the key allows the pianist to control the volume, while decreasing the speed in which the fingers go into the key – and here I am specifically speaking about the vertical speed, the speed with which the finger puts the key down, not the horizontal speed as the fingers move across the piano – allows the pianist to modify the quality of the tone to achieve a rich and round tone.
Physical shaping: Physical shaping is a foundational movement in a natural techniqueIn physical shaping, the forearm and hand move higher and lower over a group of notes to accommodate the different finger lengths and create evenness in playing. However, as it does so, it creates curved lines and a continuity of sound that changes the music from sounding static to sounding round as well as moving it forward.
Control of Legato Passages: Traditionally, when a passage is marked legato, pianists attempt to physically connect the notes, and this works well in scale passages or passages where notes are close together. However, when there are greater distances between notes, then the hand has to twist or stretch to physically connect, and this twisting and/or stretching not only negatively affects tone production but also can cause tension, pain and even injury. Often the distances are so great that physical connection is impossible. And finally, once the hammer hits the strings and sound is produced, holding down the key doesn´t add anything more to the sound, so physical connection becomes useless. Instead of slavishly following the notation of the score, the Taubman Approach uses the pedal tone production and physical shaping described above to create a “legato effect:” the playing sounds legato, and now the pianist can be at the next key before it has to be played, with time to produce the desired tone.
Rhythm: Rhythm is one of the basic elements in music that people respond to regardless of background and knowledge. It is one of the ways in which music speaks to us all as a universal language. The pulse in music echoes the heart, the rhythm of life, as well as our surroundings. Similar to what occurs in legato passages, the pianist uses physical shaping and tone production to clearly define the stronger and less strong beats, and thus convey the rhythmic patterns of the piece.
In combination with physical virtuosity, these elements of musical expression allow the pianist a palette of tools with which to fully express his or her ideas about the music. In the final analysis, physical and musical virtuosity are inseparable; and the Taubman Approach teaches not only the separate elements of each, but also how they work in unison with each other to accomplish the pianist’s objectives.
If you're interested in learning more sign-up to receive exclusive, free videos on The Art of Rhythmic Expression.