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The Energy Superheroes of Taubman Technique


Is the language of the seven-pillars system scary for you? Are the allusions to science causing you to fumble nervously for a crucifix, as if you had momentarily found yourself in a cheesy vampire flick? Let’s try something a little different.

In the spring of 2013, I was starting to plan a half-hour talk for the Taubman Seminar that was to commemorate my completion of its six levels. That’s half an hour to talk about a topic I had become completely obsessed with—kind of like a chocolate addict being served a half-inch square of chocolate adorned with a violet petal and a jicama shaving for dessert at a fancy restaurant. (You know that kind of restaurant, right?) It was important to me that whatever I said in this flash of a talk stuck, like a jingle that worms its way into the mind whether it is invited or not.  Around that same time my fourteen-year old, in a fit of irresponsibility that fell off my radar (probably because I was too obsessed with other matters to be paying attention) had run up a sizable library fine. Eighty bucks! My daughter is very artistic, but was fourteen—not in the mood, mostly, to do nice projects for mom just because asked. So, I tapped my wicked mother fingers together and came up with a nefarious scheme: to compel her to draw up some Taubman energy superheroes to start paying off that fine!

Pianists are very serious-type people, as am I. I’m never so foolish as to tell jokes without giving serious thought to their purpose, nor am I impertinent enough to joke around about really serious stuff like classical music and how to play it. However, I learned from a book written by a couple of medical doctors that some people learn best if you package your material in stories, images, and jokes. I resolved myself to repackage my material because I am, after all, a serious teacher.  Now see what I’m willing to do for you?

My daughter was fresh out of a year of middle-school physical science class at the time she drew the energy superheroes for me, and was quite clued in to the concepts I had in mind. In fact, she wasn’t a whole lot less clued in than I was, and I flatter myself. I mention this to point out that we are not talking rocket science here, and that there is plenty of everyday science easy enough for most fourteen-year-olds and pianists to readily understand, that can make life more satisfying, less frustrating. (Pianists tend to be very smart people anyway, and I have no doubt that you could all be rocket scientists if that’s what you really wanted!) So put away that crucifix, which is really just a crutch. Conceptually, the four energy superheroes are lifted straight out of the pillars scheme and I used them to organize my talk. They are gravity, rebound, muscular and tendonal viscoelasticity, and momentum. My daughter gave them wonderfully intense faces and I want you to feel the intensity of what they have to offer.


In Taubman technique, you get your ducks in a row. You get from key to key, sound to sound, mostly through what you allow to happen. The goal is to maximize passive energies and minimize active ones, all in the service of coherent, beautiful music with infinite shading possibilities. This means you cultivate a few friends:

gravity superhero robound superhero

"G" is for gravity! Gravity is a force that compels everything with mass (like your arm) toward the center of the earth (unless something resists it with equal force--like a piano keybed!). But, you have to get that arm up before gravity can bring it down. This superhero relies on the others....

"G" is also for grim. Our superhero is a regular Sisyphus in reverse, handling the grim part so you don't have to.

"R" is for rebound! Our rebound superhero keeps that arm moving from place to place. He has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, and he wants you to have tricks "up your sleeve" too (that clever punster). Like having great "down" landings and keeping your elasticity level up by relaxing the right muscles at any given moment.


viscoelasticity superhero
"V" is for viscoelasticity! You didn't see that word coming, right? Let's say that V is shorthand for all the properties of tendon and muscle to recoil. If you know your muscle is going to relax in the direction in which you'd like to move, why not use that? Love those boots, V--do you wear them at the beach, too?


momentum superheroes
"M" is for momentum. (Our artist chose twins serendipitously, I thought.) When the other superheroes throw that ball into their arena, our twins here keep it in motion. And once these girls have a game started, with nothing to impede, that ball flies like a bludger in a quidditch match! Or, "it just goes," as the Taubman lingo goes. So leave them to their game and, in spite of their offputting demeanor, they'll see to your interests!


One last point--good body architecture is like an oxygen source for our superheroes. They can't survive without it. Too much in the form of muscular overstabilization is toxic for them, and they can't survive with it.


I'm pretty sure I didn't burden you with too much science--did I? Only just enough to help you understand sensations to pursue as you study this technique. The body, according to Nicolai Bernstein (internal link about coordination theories is forthcoming), has a practically infinite number of ways to coordinate a particular movement, and knowing what these movements should feel like and their functional goal is a huge advantage, potentially saving a huge amount of practice time. We'll keep introducing scientific concepts in small doses. I'll do my best to exercise good judgment about what scientific concepts are actually helpful for accomplishing your goals in a reasonable amount of time, and for you to be able to help your students effectively. One practical objective of science is, after all, to save time through the creation of efficiency.

Next: Which "Duck" First?