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Eleven potential advantages to learning Taubman rotation using the S P rules

Neuroscience has amply demonstrated that focusing on a very specific movement sensation in isolation, and reproducing that sensation until it is remembered, is the best way to make it part of one’s movement vocabulary. Several of the advantages of the S P system have to do with the severability of the technique into smaller constituent parts so that the sensations can be learned and reproduced. Others have to do with the numerical basis of the S P rules.

In stating these advantages, I do not wish to imply that Dorothy's particular means of educating about rotational movement might not have advantages for some or even many pianists. But people all learn differently, and each pianist has to consider the matter for him or herself.

1. The rules account for the single rotation being a coordination of two movements, supinating and pronating. This is very important because supination and pronation at the piano work very differently in the muscular sense and can never feel like equals.

Sit at the piano or at a table with your hands in your lap, then bring your arm up for a karate-chop. In this position, you are neither supinated nor pronated. You must pronate your arm to bring your hand palm-side down. The range of motion that pronating muscles are capable of is largely used up in this position, so it is important to use what they have left to maximize rebound effects and provide balance to the inherently more powerful supinating motions. This is one of the great tricks of rotating effectively.

The “supinator” muscle, on the other hand, receives backup from the bicep, and together these muscles are more powerful than the pronating ones. In addition, these muscles enjoy being released from the stretch that they endure due to the contraction of the pronating muscle.

2. The S P rules enable a player to approach a piece of music as a series of “drops” that are prepared by either a supination or a pronation, and this helps train attention on the technique’s other necessary components, from the very outset.

For the Scheme to work, you must have an advantageous hand/arm architecture and an appropriately loose arm; you must have the ability to land on a note with the kind of minimal muscular tension that enables a most advantageous use of arm weight ( “a good down”); and you must be constantly shedding muscular tensions that have served their purpose. Some players gravitate towards these anyway because they intuitively understand in them a potential for playing ease and control. Other players learn through the influence of good teaching to cultivate such advantages. For players who fall into neither category, however, it makes a lot of sense to create opportunities to focus on these vital aspects of the technique, and practicing a piece as a series of drops will help with this, a lot.

3. They help demystify double rotation

In a sense, the rules suggest that one learn “double rotation” (which, as you will recall, is nothing more than a note requiring its own “prep swing”) before you learn single rotation. The double rotation is nothing more than a drop from below the elbow done with one of two possible preparatory motions (supinating or pronating). In a sense, it is easier to do effectively than is a single rotation, even if ultimately the single gives more bang for the buck.

4. The rules make it more possible to focus on the unique sensations of landing for each of the five fingers. Good landings are indispensable for rebound effects, so maximizing the quality of landing for each finger is important.

Each finger can be shown to have its tendencies, and these tendencies fall into two categories. The fingers have anatomical differences (primarily in how they join the wrist) that are significant as far as bearing the weight of the arm at the piano is concerned; and they have different tendencies that spring from the numerical logic of the S P rules (see no. 6, below). By separating the sensation of landing on each from other kinds of sensations, it is possible to better arrive at the very best way to use each. There is no use pretending that they all work identically if you want to stoke up maximal biomechanical advantage.

5. The rules are very clear about what you are supposed to do when you play on the thumb in every single situation (you supinate to prepare for it—simple!), so that you can more readily take advantage of the supinating power of the thumb side.

Taubman technique has been criticized for being counterintuitive, and from what I have seen students do before they fully understand how rotations are supposed to work, one of the more difficult things to understand is how to use the thumb. Rule number 1 clears this right up, making it clear that the thumb practically always participates in some kind of single rotation that follows it, even in situations when it is traditionally “tucked under” or played over (as in scales). One of many beauties of this is that you can get so much energy off of the thumb, wherever it is used.

6. They help the player remember to virtually always pronate prior to playing the pinky (one less thing to think about) which provides a mechanism for the thumb-side coming back up.  (Chords are an exception.)

Pronating with palms facing down is trickier to get than supinating, and it’s harder to find the easy way of doing it. If you can immediately get to the business of equating the pinky lifting with the pronated prep, you’ll be able to more quickly refine this subtle coordination for maximum benefit.

It is useful to practice specifically with this principle in mind. If you occasionally make the pinky the focus of practicing a piece and you remind yourself to do the lifting work with the forearm every time it is used, you will go a long way toward maximizing the advantages of this way of playing. Ultimately, the logic is applied to other “outside fingers” (highest finger number to play before looping back toward the thumb side) for an even greater benefit.

7. They help the player learn to coordinate himself on the fly (and more intuitively in general) because the simple numeric basis of the rules enables him to understand singles and doubles in terms of likelihoods and probabilities.

We can extrapolate other kinds of rules and tendencies from this system once we are using numbers as the basis for what kind of rotation we use. For example, after the thumb is played, you virtually always have a single rotation (as long as you are playing a single-note passage and not playing on the thumb a second time.) Practically as often, you have single rotation coming from the pinky to another finger. You are much more likely to land in the particular stasis of a completed double rotation on the second finger, particularly if you come from or are headed toward the thumb. If you come from 5 to 4 you are very likely not going to be singling afterwards. As numbers ascend, you start with a single and the rest are doubles until finger numbers change direction. Undoubtedly, there are more helpful rules that could be deduced from the six primary rules.

8. With respect to the player’s core, they describe the actual directions of the movements you need to use and are therefore more immediate and easily assimilated functionally.

With the currently conventional terms single and double, any preparatory motion could be either a supination or a pronation. The S P directions involve one less step in thought process, from which we might surmise that they would be more easily processed into a brain language with a fast reaction time, sooner.

9. They follow more easily from a piano pedagogy for beginners that emphasizes arm drops and gravity.

Taubman herself advocated encouraging beginners to play by pumping the forearm for each note: this encourages the formation of a good hand-arm “unit” that the student practices dropping into the piano. As a student develops the knowledge base and reaction time for speed, pumping from the elbows becomes less and less a viable means of lifting fingers because the muscles involved are too slow. The student who understands pumping and arm drops, and the feeling and sound of a good landing, can more readily understand rotational coordination as a “tipping” of the forearm in either direction—i.e., supinating or pronating. Rather than pumping the entire forearm from the elbow to release armweight into the keys, she now chooses one of two directions of lift—supinating or pronating. The requisite dropping and landing skills will be very similar to ones she has already learned.

10. They permit pride of place for the principle that to land well is preliminary to doing an effective single rotation, as well as an effective double rotation.

Effective single rotation requires good landings, and you might not be able to get this if you try to coordinate everything else about the single rotation right from the outset.

With the double, there is, as a matter of Taubman principle, no automatic process in play to supinate or pronate the forearm for the next note (though I will argue later that theoretically there is such a process available), so a new preparatory swing must precede the lowering of the hand/arm unit down into the key. Once again, you must do this from a position of stability. In other words, you must once again be as landed on that note as a gymnast on a springboard. Any wavering or inappropriate slack will dissipate energy that should be directed toward control over the next note.

I’ve saved best (and I speak from my own value system as an educator) for last:

11. They make a heuristic approach to learning to play Taubman’s way possible


When the technique is understood as a byproduct of appropriate landings, it is much more possible to search for appropriate coordinations for oneself—to enjoy experimenting with movement and sound in the spirit of heuristic learning; to find for oneself that holy grail where “it just goes;” and to arrive at a sense of conviction about the mechanics of one’s own playing without being as reliant on the judgment of a teacher.  Though a sympathetic teacher’s technical and musical assessment is still very important, the facets of this technique that are most difficult to convey become more transparent if you can break it into constituent parts—and this is what the six S P rules begin to do.. 











Next: Rebound effects: a metaphor from gymnastics (in progress)