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The Six S-P Rules for playing single-note passages

I now suggest some bedrock principles for forearm movement in Taubman playing in the form of six simple rules. I am convinced that thinking of the movements the way I describe, after some practicing, naming movements in your head, and maybe even doing a few worksheets [link] while you’re on the train or during Sunday crossword time, will help you grasp the concepts of “single and double” with clarity and ease, relatively quickly.

1. To prepare to play with the thumb, always supinate the forearm beforehand.

In every single situation, you supinate prior to playing with the thumb. One situation that trips people up and opens the technique to the accusation that it is counterintuitive is where the thumb “passes under” another finger, as in a scale. Even here, you lift the thumb by supinating—and once you’ve found the right feel for the connected hand and arm, as well as the (all important) best place for your arm at all times, this will actually feel easy and energizing.

Take this grand sweeping embellishment in the Chopin G minor Ballade, which I have fingered for the sake of argument. Everywhere the first finger is used, an S appears as an instruction to lift the thumb with a supination of the forearm:

2. When you are about to play on the pinky, you will practically always pronate in preparation. (Exceptions almost all pertain to chords and dyads [link].)  some pictures—passage from a score, “aerial photograph”

Here is the passage from the Ballade again, with all pinky notes marked with a P for pronating prep:



3. If you are about to play on a lower finger number than you just played, you supinate in preparation.




hand icon for supinating











The Ballade example contains several descending 5-finger scales. I already figured I’d have to pronate to prepare for the pinky, and the finger numbers descend thereafter. According to rule 3, I will supinate in preparation for each. If you think about this in terms of how we defined single and double rotation, the first two notes can be connected in a “single rotation” (rule 5 will go into this) and the last three each require a prep swing.

In the left hand, any ascending five-finger scale would involve the same coordinations.


4. If you are going to play on a higher finger number than you just played, you pronate in preparation.




icon for pronating hand


To state rules 3 and 4 a little bit differently, if the finger about to play is closer to my core than the previous one, I supinate in preparation for playing. If it moves away from my core, I pronate instead. So, Rules 1 and 2 are in a way just a spin-off of 3 and 4: Finger numbers 1 and 5 are the end of the line, with 1 closest to the core and 5 farthest.

5. Where prep swings alternate between supination and pronation, you coordinate them into single rotation. Otherwise, you have double rotation.

According to rules 3 and 4, an alberti bass pattern using fingers 5-1-3-1 pattern repeatedly would involve a P-S-P-S-P-S-P-S…. coordination, aka single rotation. In the five finger pattern 5-4-3-2-1 illustrated several times by the Ballade passage, 5 and 4 would be connected with a single rotation (P followed by S), and you would supinate into 3, 2 (double rotations). 1 is very often the first note in a coordination of singles.

I now circle all the single rotations in the Ballade passage:

As you can see, circles begin and end where the same letter, S or P, appears twice in a row. Everything circled must be initiated with a prep swing, and thereafter, until the circle is finished, all preps are courtesy of a continuous coordination, just like in Alberti bass. All notes outside of the circles require their very own prep swings.

But wait! I'm going to have to fix that first circle to account for rule #6.


6. The prep for the first note is always chosen so that the first two notes (at least) are done with single rotation. If note two is prepared with a pronation, note one is prepared with a supination, and vice versa.


In our example, we figured out that the second note (a Bb) would be played with a pronated prep with finger 4. You would therefore prepare with the opposite—a supination—for the first note. This would give you a single rotation for the first two notes, as per this technique's preference for singles.


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