La biomeccanica applicata all’arte della tecnica pianistica

L’intuizione dell’uso naturale del peso, teorizzato all’inizio del secolo scorso da parte di R. M. Breithaupt, Die natürliche Klaviertechnik (1905) e T. Matthay, The Fore-Arm Rotation Principle in Pianoforte Playing, its Applications and Mastery (1932), nasce come metodo in grado di sfruttare le enormi potenzialità prodotte dall’evoluzione dello strumento. Negli ultimi decenni dell’Ottocento il pianoforte si arricchisce del telaio in ghisa, la meccanica deve sostenere una maggiore tensione della corde, la tastiera diventa più pesante: il modo di suonare solo con le dita non basta più, non è più in grado di soddisfare le nuove esigenze estetiche, acustiche, tecniche.

Gli studiosi, basandosi sull’osservazione dei grandi pianisti dell’epoca come T. Carreno e C. Arrau  avevano compreso l’importanza del peso naturale del corpo come componente della tecnica pianistica evidenziando la discrepanza tra il modo di suonare dei grandi pianisti e i metodi di insegnamento tradizionali.

I trattati teorici sul tema, dopo una prima fase di diffuso interesse, non hanno mai  trovato  un’applicazione sistematica da parte di una didattica rimasta legata agli stilemi della tradizione, e che ne ha tratto solo dei vaghi  concetti preliminari, e sono stati sviluppati in epoca più recente da A. Esterhazy a Londra.

Si tratta dell’apprendimento di un sistema tecnico globale “a caduta”, contrapposto ad un modo di suonare “a pressione”, “a schiacciamento” dei tasti, che sfrutta il peso naturale delle braccia e che permette la conseguente scioltezza nei movimenti,  il rilassamento delle articolazioni e la modifica della qualità dell’ impatto del martello con la corda.

E’ una tecnica pianistica che si basa sui principi della biomeccanica e ha come obiettivo l’apprendimento teorico - pratico di metodologie fondate sul concetto di rilassamento dinamico che, sfruttando l’uso naturale del peso, consentono di controllare l’impatto del martello con la corda e la conseguente qualità dell’emissione sonora, ed eliminano i blocchi di tensione psicofisica che impediscono il libero fluire della musica per riuscire ad esprimere le emozioni attraverso il suono in modo diretto e comunicativo.

Suonare il pianoforte è un’attività muscolare molto complessa e raffinata nella quale vengono coinvolte centinaia di fibre che tramite l’organizzazione motoria del movimento biomeccanico entrano in gioco in modo ottimizzato e in perfetta sinergia tra loro, evitando l’incorrere di patologie quali tendiniti e borsiti a carico delle articolazioni.

Tutti i muscoli sono raggruppati in modo tale da opporsi reciprocamente: mentre un muscolo funziona da acceleratore il suo antagonista agisce da freno. Idealmente i due muscoli dovrebbero cooperare per realizzare un movimento preciso e uniforme. In particolare quando un gruppo muscolare entra in azione occorre che il gruppo antagonista “ceda” per evitare di “remargli contro”: in questo modo arriveremo ad un movimento semplice e diretto in modo da garantire la massima efficienza con il minimo sforzo.

Il rilassamento dinamico significa far riposare i muscoli che altrimenti fungerebbero da freno nel momento in cui stanno funzionando quelli che agiscono da acceleratore; se ciò non accade il muscolo che dovrebbe riposare è ancora contratto mentre il suo antagonista acceleratore è ancora in funzione comportando per l’acceleratore uno sforzo isometrico maggiore in quanto deve “tirarsi dietro” l’opposizione del suo antagonista.

L’attenzione sarà dunque posta nell’eliminare dal movimento tensioni o attività muscolari non necessarie in modo da raggiungere la mobilità e la scioltezza delle articolazioni, il requisito cioè per ottenere l’attacco tangenziale del tasto che rappresenta oltretutto la principale innovazione che F. Chopin ha portato alla tecnica pianistica.

E’ particolarmente interessante evidenziare come il differente comportamento della meccanica, conseguenza della variazione dei transitori d’attacco e di estinzione, produca modifiche al timbro dello strumento, derivate dal diverso rapporto d’intensità tra i singoli armonici.

La percussione della corda non deve essere considerata come puro esito di un fatto meccanico comandato da un gioco di leve che dal tasto trasmettono il movimento al martelletto; l’azione di abbassamento del tasto non è solo un evento dinamico corrispondente ad un determinato peso: a parità di peso possono esserci notevoli differenziazioni riguardanti la qualità e la durata del contatto fra il martelletto e la corda.

“Il volume del suono dipende unicamente dalla velocità dell'attacco, il controllo del suono dipende dalla maniera di produrre questa velocità" (T. Matthay).

Dal momento che gli effetti della legge di Young sulla generazione delle armoniche sono correlati alla modalità di percussione, è evidente che ad ogni variazione del rapporto forza/velocità debbano corrispondere differenziazioni sullo spettro armonico e quindi sul timbro. 

Più violento e breve è il contatto meno efficaci sono gli effetti della legge di Young: lo spettro risulta ricco di componenti armoniche elevate aventi ampiezza considerevole e il suono tende ad un timbro metallico. Se invece il contatto è morbido e lento gli effetti della legge sono più evidenti: la presenza delle armoniche elevate diminuisce di numero e di ampiezza e il suono risulta ricco e intenso.

Con l’abbattimento dei “rumori” della percussione si riesce a creare  un suono che si espande in maniera progressiva, ricco di armonici, un suono “puro”, “cantato” e “legato”, inteso come illusione dell’unione vocalistica tra più suoni e vero emblema dell’utopia del pianoforte fin dall’epoca di Bartolomeo Cristofori.

 

Igino Vaccari

Natural piano

Welcome to Igino Vaccari’s web site.

You’ll find here my ideas about music, about sound communication, about the creation of sounds capable of transmitting emotions, and about the aspects of piano techniques which can realize them.

I believe we are dealing with a new and original way to develop a rapport with the instrument, to be one with it, to be able to express musical emotion in a direct and communicative way, without the balance of voluntariness.

A different approach to the traditional musical training which transmits a knowledge of tradition or school to the pupil, and where the teacher boasts the proper diplomas, competitions, teaching posts, presences on piano competition juries; where the pupils’ results obtained in the same competitions, not imposing maieutical success as an objective to express the emotions of who is playing, but inevitably imposing himself between the pupil and the music.

Music is in each one of us. It cannot be taught. We can only learn the techniques to succeed in expressing them, to liberate our emotions and the joy music inspires in us.

If you play the piano, at whatever level of ability: neophyte for pleasure, student at the Conservatory, professional pianist, and if you are looking for your own way to express your emotions, if you are unsatisfied with your playing and your planning, if you are looking for a way of playing that makes you feel as one with the instrument, that gives you the marvellous sensation of a direct contact with instrument’s chords, and if you still have the courage to try a new approach, a new piano technique, then my ideas can help you.

 

The flow of emotions.

Art is the communication of emotions.

Musical art is made of sounds, and the presence of someone to make them is necessary, someone who can give life to these sounds, to these notes, successfully communicating through these sounds the infinite range of emotional nuances that music evokes. That person then has to tend to create sounds that are not only “beautiful” or not only “correct”, but which are above all capable of transmitting emotions.

There are many pianists whose objective is a correct execution or simply faithful to the score (the right expression, the right speed, the right sound, the right timbre, the right techniques used, the right style, et cetera), and they don’t realise that the musical notation is symbology, and that the correct execution of and faithfulness to the score are empty values, for which no one can say anything realistic, as has been demonstrated by the history of piano interpretation.

Most pianists manage to successfully express real musical emotions through the sounds. The listener, on the other hand, usually does not notice, does not receive anything; he becomes bored, he takes his mind off it, attracted to exterior aspects of the execution and thus loses motivations even with respect to other artistic expressions.

In general, the pianist, while “trying” a great deal, cannot express anything through sounds, and his satisfaction remains sterile and solipsistic, giving the unpleasant sensation of being “detached” from the instrument and not a unique entity with it, and falling back more or less consciously on facial and gestural imitations.

The ideal condition instead is the spontaneous flow of the music, as if the emotion came directly out of the soul of the player, without the mediation and the remainder of cerebral reflections resting inside the sound.

What impedes emotion from being expressed through sound? Or better, to the sound that contains it? Put more simply, each sound can be “full” or “empty”, that is, capable or not of communicating. It’s the blocks: the psycho-physical blocks, the tension blocks, that impede both the control of the sound and the communication of expression.

As we shall see below, these blocks can and must be completely eliminated, through learning techniques that permit the creation of the correct muscular mass movement and the correct relaxation of the joint tendons.

Can we change the timbre of the piano? The answer to this question is positive and it can be seen in the difference between the sound “of the piano” and the sound “of the pianist”. The timbre is the quality that for the same frequency distinguishes one sound from another, and it is determined not only by the nature of the source of the sound but also from the way in which this is set to vibrating. Every pianist can act knowing the timbre of the piano, becoming in that way “different” and distinguishable from all others, as every man or woman is different one from the other, different for sensitivity, for training and for culture. To act on the timbre and on the acoustics means creating music, expressing one’s own sensations, one’s own personal world, in a word, derive joy from the music.

My way of playing and teaching how to play the piano is based on the liberation of these emotions, on the capacity to express them and communicate them to the listener.

How can one successfully modify the timbre of a piano? In an instinctive way, certainly, but also with methodological and technical bases which allow the 11 mm. of the range of the descent of the key, or better still, the rise of the hammer.

More precisely, controlling the action of the mechanical lever means acquiring the techniques for stabilising the most suitable mass/weight, height, speed, angle of strike parameters in each single sound; in short, controlling the impact of the hammer on the chord.
The so-called “tied” sound is more than anything else the emblem of piano utopia since the time of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731), the successful reproduction of vocal singing through the keyboard, whose evident limits are represented by the percussion of the chords and the length of the sound with respect to those of bel canto.

The “tie” is not something that unites two sounds, but it is the same sound that is “tied”, to create the illusion of vocal union between the sounds. It is the resulting acoustic obtained by the abatement or reduction of the “noises” of the impact of the hammer on the chord, the change of the fleeting nature of the strike, through controlling the impact and thus controlling the quality of the sound emitted.

 

In search of heights.

Controlling the touch happens first of all with the creation of a mass, of a weight and then by controlling this mass with the muscular system. The creation of a mass is the conscious taking advantage of the weight of the hand, of the forearm, of the whole arm, of the whole body, which seldom happens in a singular manner, usually in combination.

Control of this mass is the work of the muscular system of the forearm, the biceps/triceps, the pectoral, dorsal and shoulder muscles, that is, control of the arm movement in both the raising and lowering phases, when the weight can be released completely or partially, at different speeds and from different heights.

The vertical movement of the forearm is controlled by the bicipital and tricipital muscles, while the vertical movement of the upper arm is controlled by the dorsal, pectoral and shoulder muscles.

The free fall of the weight of the arm instead, taught in schools which simplistically predicate “relaxing”, certainly produces strong sounds, but they are completely uncontrolled and full of noise.

The quality of sound is directly proportionate to the weight and muscular mass used and inversely proportionate to the pre-selected height; when speaking of vertical movements, height, understood as the distance of the mass from the key, is a parameter of important definition.

Therefore it follows that: the greater the weight and greater the muscular mass = “deep” sound; the lesser the weight and small muscular mass = “light” sound; greater height = lesser quality sound (“arioso” sound), less height = greater sound quality; greater weight = lower speed, lesser weight = higher speed.

With this technique of the wrist, elbow, shoulder joints are always loose, relaxed, “open”, independently of the speed of execution and of the type of sound (FF for example). They do not intervene in the creation of sound and therefore they do not leave any form of rigidity and percussion in the sound: thus the sound is “freed”, permitting cantability; the “tied” sound, the opposite or struck, pressed sound, “flattened”, which creates the impoverishment of the sound determined by the rapid downfall of the fundamental and of the partials (harmonious sounds)..

The body therefore is completely involved, activating the musculature of the legs, buttocks, the stomach, pectoral, dorsal, shoulder, bicipital/tricipital and forearm muscles.

By playing amongst the notes, the phase of searching for the height is created, after which the type of sound is established: making a mistake of raising during this phase will compromise the sound irreparably, it will always be uncontrolled.

 

Liberating the sound.

The fingers of the hand must never be raised, curved hammer-like, kept in rigid positions; they must never make vertical movements but instead maintain a passive position of relaxation, which predisposes to the sensitivity of touch: the fingerpads must “feel” the key and take advantage of their elevated sensitivity to create the sounds and timbres desired.

The so-called “articulation”, or vertical movement of a single finger, taking advantage of the small flexor, abductor and lumbrical finger muscles, and the relative tendon apparatus, causes the total rigidity of the wrists, and it is the cause of uncontrolled, disconnected sound, devoid of expression. The search for height through using the greater muscle mass instead permits control of the sound, the precision, the creation of connection and of sound capable of conveying expression. The articulated movement of the finger is in practice substituted by the controlled movement of the upper arm or the entire arm.

Subjecting the tendon apparatus of the fingers and elbows to force has physical consequences: tendonitis and bursitis at the expense of articulation. The physical limits of execution are given by the scarce capacity of resistance and development of the small muscles, a capacity which contrarily increases in an exponential fashion thanks to the use of the large muscle mass, which above all can be trained, thus increasing their volume (red and white fibres) and consequently their resistance.

The same speed of execution is therefore an ability of resistance and muscular capacity which can be learned and which is the result of constant training.

Other types of movements which use other muscle masses do not minimally allow the control of sound and, on the contrary, the rigidity of articulation; for example the rotary movements of the forearm achieved by the supinator muscles, typical of split octaves and tremolo, and which are taught in some schools even for repeated octaves and re-hit notes, which result inefficient for obtaining control of the sound.

The rigidity of the articulation is often caused also by wrong fingering; each finger of the hand is different from the other, it has its own specific character and favours a specific type of sound; in a melody I often suggest using a unique fingering to favour maximum homogeneousness of sound and maximum control of the connection.

The position of the hand also has to be maintained in a way as to sustain the weight, in a way as to maintain and not “collapse” the phalanx joints of the fingers and metacarpals; this common mistake, often not even corrected, is caused by the pressure exerted on the key and does not allow the weight on the tips of the fingers to be correctly reached, causing imprecise sounds, “flattening” of the sound, no consistency to the sound. In fact, no type of pressure should be exerted when lowering the key; each form of pressure, even minimal, will inevitably cause the “flattened” sound, a sound that is thin in harmonics, which cannot expand, free itself, reach the listener.