Point of Sound

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Single and Double: Are You Psyched?

The seven-pillars scheme (“the Scheme”) is a theory that is pedagogical in purpose, and I’ve tried to state it in plain language. By creating insight as to how Taubman playing is supposed to feel, the theory is meant to more quickly pave the way for any pianist, no matter how plagued by habits of incoordination, toward a gestalt for playing well, without any fatigue or pain. It shifts the larger burden of proof that the technique is “working” from the teacher, who mostly evaluates in terms of appearance and sound (and who perhaps only pushes as far as he feels the student’s level of talent warrants), to the student, who can in addition reflect on how his body feels as he plays. I hope the Scheme will help you choose coordinations that maximize passive forces in your own playing, or lay the groundwork for you to point students in that direction more effectively and engagingly.

Now I have a few questions for you. If there were an uproar in the Taubman community declaring that the Scheme is not a good way of describing the ideal outcome of Taubman training, have I not nonetheless described a holy grail of piano playing, magical in feel and potentially in sound? If the Scheme were not an accurate description of where Taubman instruction leads, would you choose to be instructed in Taubman, or in the Scheme? And does it not follow that people who are not themselves concert pianists could shed some insight into how to play this way, much as biomechanists are able to help gymnasts identify and successfully work through movement flaws?

I am suggesting two things by asking these questions. First, at least to the extent that Taubman instruction is about the Scheme, it is most worthy of pursuit unless you can’t find someone to teach it to you who inspires your confidence, or the instruction is so tedious that the technique would clearly take eighty years to learn and you’re already forty-seven. Or if the way of teaching assumed (for those of you who have spent any time around Potter-obsessed ‘tweens) that you were a sorcerer but you’re actually just a muggle like me: that it somehow doesn’t reach you, a human being with particular and unique limitations on the way you process information.

Second, the questions suggest that the pursuit of the Scheme needn’t be limited by what Dorothy herself formulated or didn’t formulate. When children have grown up, they can choose to create a way in life, using resources and structures provided during childhood, as they themselves see fit. Similarly, students of Dorothy’s approach can obtain the conditions for flourishing by applying their own creative insights; and when they have the courage to do this, a door potentially opens for everyone else.

If Dorothy's pedagogy helped many forever grateful pianists arrive at the Scheme, other pedagogical means can certainly develop out of her work to help countless others as well. These means might (for example) invoke simple numerical logic, visual cues, engaging explanations, worksheets, appeals to scientific information, metaphors involving subjects known to be dear to the student, etc., etc., and would be limited only by the imagination of the persons doing the teaching or learning.

Of course, I believe that Dorothy over time (if not instantaneously) did figure the Scheme out and that the training she conceptualized does point precisely in the direction it describes. I credit her with coming up with the Scheme way of playing even if she didn’t articulate the thrust of her work in this very way.  I am also very certain that it would be a great advantage, for neuroplasticity’s sake, to be able to chop the technique up into its smallest constituent parts so that every sensation can be duly noted and assimilated; and that it would be a good idea to cultivate the use of gravity [link] as the first of many “ducks in a row.”

This all raises two more questions. Does Dorothy’s own dichotomy for organizing the coordinations of the forearm--“single” versus “double” rotations—serve the purpose of recognizing and cultivating the precise sensations the Scheme would require? (I myself would say no, for many people it does not until they’ve been able to put a lot of time into it, and quite probably gone down many blind alleys in the process.) Can a means be devised that ultimately leads to the same desirable place but is perfect for prioritizing the use of gravity as the first duck? That enables teaching and learning to be conducted in a spirit of exploration? That even gives students who aren’t completely devoted to the piano a shot at nice-sounding playing of simpler music?  And that sets even those young children without tiger moms on the path to playing with fabulous coordination, to be refined rather than fixed should they later in life choose to cultivate piano artistry wholeheartedly? To this, I reply, absolutely! And, here is one such way!


Next: What do Taubman people mean by single and double?