06 November 2019
Learn how to implement this well-known approach into your every-day playing
Written by pianist Nikos Kokkinis
Prolific piano teacher and pedagogue Dorothy Taubman (1917-2013) formed a technical approach on the piano aiming to enable pianists to express themselves to the fullest.
For Dorothy Taubman, there was always a way for pianists to avoid all possible limitations that stop them from excelling. She strongly advocated throughout her life that pianists should work on their interpretation undistracted from pain, fatigue, injuries and other trivial matters. In her words “… as time went on, I saw more and more wonderful young prodigies being cut-down much too early”.
Thus, she sought to create a framework by which pianists can reach a possible interpretational perfection. This framework is what we today call The Taubman Approach.
With Taubman’s approach, pianists can:
- Prevent injury and muscle fatigue
- Cure injuries that pianists unwittingly come to experience, and come back to performing, fully recovered
- Return the body to its physiological functioning state, to allow the pianist to work anew on their interpretation
- Enable the pianist to fully express themselves, free from any conceivable body limitations
How it can help me?
Central to Dorothy Taubman’s technique is the coordinate motion. This is a holistic approach, per se, to solving one’s technical problems by allowing the body and mind to work in synergy; pianists should think of their body as a single unit and its parts should act optimally to assist each-other. Our minds should instruct all parts of our body involved in piano-playing —mainly forearms, hands and fingers— using common sense.
We should avoid awkward movements, and use the middle part of a motion; this is in essence when we don’t force our body parts to reach the limits of their effective motion. Regarding the piano, it could mean to avoid stretching our fingers to their maximum limits, for instance.
We should aim to use the natural alignment of our hands, fingers and arms continuously. Well, use the natural alignment as much as possible, that is; arguably, playing the piano is almost an unnatural endeavour for our bodies since we use positions that are not meant to be employed in our everyday lives; we often stretch (to play a long chord, for example), twist and curl our fingers and force our bodies to produce music with strenuous positions and motions.
The Taubman approach seeks to eliminate all those aberrant movements that can ultimately cause injury, and let us concentrate on the music.
Princeton University in New Jersey, USA, holds some of the Golandsky Institute's classes - along with numerous other colleges across the country. ©Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications.
Dorothy Taubman never wrote a manual detailing her technique. However, she taught and promoted individuals that, according to her, have reached a complete understanding of her approach. Nowadays, the Golandsky Institute is the premier centre of the Taubman Technique based in the USA. Edna Golandsky, Dorothy Taubman’s closest associate and long-term student, established the institute. Certified practitioners have made their careers by teaching the approach.
Piano students will undoubtedly enjoy the Taubman approach if only by understanding that their bodies work in tandem with their minds. Students are encouraged to respect their natural body physiology and urged to work on their technique using common sense. As with other techniques that promote healthy pianistic lives, a potential student can only truly grasp the essence of the approach by attending classes with a certified practitioner. A specialised teacher is also required because of the eminent need to assess a student’s unique physiology to plan out their lessons. Potential students may also realise that techniques that they already use in their playing are naturally supported by the Taubman Approach; for example, the rotation of the wrist with which pianists assist their fingers —in ascending arpeggios or in passagework— plays a central role in the Taubman Approach.
Here are a few examples that could help the pianist start off their journey of the Taubman Approach on the right track.
In this first example, we embrace one of the technique’s main pillars, the rotary motion. The pianist is urged to avoid playing the passage by solely using the motion of their fingers; instead, by employing the natural rotary movements of both the forearm and the hand, the pianist is protecting their fingers from fatigue.
Dorothy Taubman extensively supported the forward and backward movement along the axis of the hand. In the example below, instead of twisting the left hand to the left to reach the B flat major chord, the pianist should simply move his arm deeper into the keys, thus allowing for the hand to remain in a linear, more natural position.
In Beethoven’s Rondo from his early Opus 2, No. 2 piano sonata, we can benefit from Taubman’s rotary motion tactics and avoid the build-up of tension in this left-hand wearing movement; every pair of semiquavers should incorporate their own clockwise and anti-clockwise micro-rotation.
In Cramer’s 21st Study from his Opus. 30 we should resist the temptation to leave the right hand in an open position to secure covering of the octaves encircling the demanding passagework; instead, we utilise the logic of Taubman’s middle part of motion and rotate the hand towards the direction of the top note, making sure that the thumb is never left behind at the bottom note.
Lastly, here is another instance where Dorothy Taubman’s rotary motion can be of use: In the example below the right hand should suggest no hint of stillness, forcing the fingers to do the hard work. Both fingers and hand (with its rotation) shall work in tandem to deliver the brilliance of the finale in Czerny’s sixth study from his Op. 299.
The Taubman Approach, still lacking sufficient literature, at the very least renders ground for questioning things in our musical lives, and opens our minds to all perspectives in our road to pianistic freedom.
Want to keep learning? Try out our handy guide to The Alexander Technique.
Main image: ©Unsplash