How to produce brilliant fingerwork


By Robert Estrin


When I was growing up, I would listen to some of the great pianists such as Horowitz and Rubinstein. I would also listen to some of the pianists from the early 20th century such as Hoffman, Rachmaninoff, and Joseph Levine. I was always so impressed with the pristine finger work. It almost would sound like a string of jewels because of the evenness of the notes, and I always wondered how to achieve that sound. So today’s show is about how to achieve brilliant finger work.


I’m going to regress a little bit more. When I first started studying the piano with my father Morton Estrin, he showed me how to practice scales with raised fingers and often times my students ask me, “Why do I have to raise my fingers?” Let me show you what I’m talking about. With slow scale practice, it’s important for strength to raise the fingers. You may wonder why you would ever want to play that way because obviously when you play quickly, you don’t have time to raise your fingers. The secret to getting the evenness in your scale work and fast finger passages is the release of notes.

For example, if you were to put your hand on a flat surface and just try to lift one finger, some of them are pretty hard to lift. Lift your fourth finger with your hands on a flat surface, and it’s very hard. It’s actually the release of notes that takes more strength than the pushing down of notes! So to strengthen and then to release is the reason for practicing slowly with raised fingers so you’ll practice the release of each note and that will lead to the pristine beauty you can get in fast finger work.

That is one of the secrets for achieving beautiful clarity in your playing. There are many others that I will discuss in future videos in terms of hand position and other practicing techniques. For now, I suggest that you practice very strongly. Practice your scales and your arpeggios slowly with raised fingers then work up gradually faster. As you get faster, your fingers, by necessity, must be closer and closer to the keys until you can play quickly but still have the pristine evenness, so each note is exactly the same length because the raising of fingers accomplishes the release of each previous note.


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