Synergy at Level 1

There is much to share with our beginning students. With limited lesson time, how do we maximise results? Fortunately, Level 1 presents three elements of pedagogy that have exponential value when taught in combination.
  • Varied fingerings to develop note-reading skill
  • Arm weight for tone production and technique
  • A braced third finger for a round hand shape and firm fingertip.
Each element is unique yet reinforces the other in synergistic fashion when the teacher conscientiously integrates them.

Varied Fingering

One of the hallmark features of Piano Adventures® is the introduction of new notes using varied fingerings. This allows us to teach a specified set of notes without the constraint of a preset, fixed hand position.

(Unterrichtsheft, S. 36)

Note the varied fingerings in Middle C March. The student does not equate Middle C with finger 1 but shifts the hand using fingers 1, then 2, then 3. Increasing arm weight leads from p to mf to f. Consider bracing finger 3 with the thumb for the forte measures.

The same approach is used for Treble G and Bass F. Students balance on finger 3 for these notes as well as  playing them with finger 5. Varying the fingering boosts note recognition, prevents equating a finger number with a given note, and has technical value for applying the concept of arm weight.

(Unterrichtsheft, S. 39)

Arm Weight

Arm weight is introduced in the Level 1 Technique & Performance Book as Technique Secret 4 with an exercise called “Gorilla Arms.” The student imagines heavy gorilla arms and experiences big arm drops into the lap for a sense of heavy, dead weight.

The ability to release arm weight into the keyboard takes excessive burden off the fingers and tendons.

The weight of the arm can be dropped, tossed, balanced on a firm fingertip, and transferred from finger to finger. This effective handling of arm weight forms the basis for beautiful tone and an effortless, virtuoso technique.

Arm weight can be applied in the Lesson & Theory Book beginning with the pre-reading pieces that traverse the range of the keyboard. In each of these, a short pattern is initiated with a drop of arm weight into the next octave.

(Unterrichtsheft, S. 15)

Students play The Old Clock with a steady, rhythmic drop of arm weight that alternates: right-left-right-left. These larger arm motions help deliver a strong sense of pulse.

All the Stars are Shining in the Technique & Performance Book explores arm weight applied to a grand final gesture. Notice the implications of arm weight for dynamic change.

(Technik- & Vortragsheft, S. 13)

Braced Finger 3

The thumb can be a useful brace for a flattened fingertip. Placed behind the tip of an offending finger, just behind the last knuckle, the bracing thumb rounds the hand and firms a potentially collapsing fingertip. The student’s first activity at the keyboard occurs in the Lesson & Theory Book with The Pecking Hen and The Pecking Rooster. Here the braced finger 3 is used to round the hand as the student explores pitch direction — pecking higher, then lower, up and down the keyboard.

(Unterrichtsheft, S. 9)

In the Technique & Performance Book, the third Technique Secret, Making Glasses, is a great preparation for firm fingertips. Bring the thumb and each fingertip together, then form “glasses.” By adjusting the thumb just behind the first joint, a “pecking hen technique” can be formed with any finger. These concepts imprint in the student’s memory and make learning technique more vivid and enjoyable!

Integration

While the use of varied fingering, arm weight, and the braced fingertip are each effective in individual context, these three concepts work together for great results. Let us briefly explore the concept of alignment — when the arm, hand, and finger are in a straight line allowing arm weight to easily flow into the fingertip.

If this sounds esoteric, read on! The braced fingertip and/or Making O’s handle the issue of alignment beautifully. It can be done at the keyboard — right when the problem occurs. If a fingertip collapses, ask the student to “Make an O” with the finger still on the key. The “O” curves the errant finger tip, and brings the arm, wrist, and finger into alignment, restoring a balanced platform for arm weight.

We’ve seen that bracing finger 3 implicitly aligns the finger, hand, and arm. Thus a braced finger 3 is ideal for experiencing a drop of arm weight into the key. Varied fingering on downbeats is our opportunity! Notice in My Invention and The Dance Band finger 3 kicks off the downbeat, aligning the hand and increasing the sensation of arm weight.

(Unterrichtsheft, S. 48)

Right” from the Beginning

It takes effort and concentration for the student to recognise a note with its corresponding key — but much less effort than having to erase learned finger number associations. It also takes effort and concentration to help a student balance arm, wrist, and finger — but less effort than undoing years of practiced tension. The creative combo of pedagogical elements at Level 1 will help students “get it right”— and right from the start.