Franz Liszt at the Piano

What’s Your Musical Angle?
Just as a salesman usually has an angle to sell his product, a pianist should have an angle formed by the tilt of his hands toward his thumbs not only when playing scales and arpeggios but also most of the time.  Prepared thumbs are only one of several necessary techniques necessary for playing scales effectively.

Use your thumb as a fulcrum
With you thumbs resting on the white keys, raise and tilt your hands and other fingers toward the thumbs so that while the thumb along with the first, second and third fingers stay grounded, the 4th and 5th fingers are slightly elevated as follows: The fourth finger barely touches the white key, while the 5th hangs suspended in the air ready to pounce on the key when required.  Since the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers are strong, they do not need additional strength to strike the keys, while the 4th and 5th finger do.  With the hands tilted toward the thumbs, these weaker fingers can make use of lateral motion from above to get a fuller sound.  This is essential because not only are the 4th and 5th fingers the weakest on each hand but as you will now see:

Composer Robert Schuman’s Operation
The great composer Robert Schumann of the Romantic era (1810-1856) actually had an operation on the weaker 4th and 5th fingers to hopefully increase their strength.  Since they both share the same tendon and work better when struck together, he had them separated by a surgical procedure.  Unfortunately, the operation did not improve his piano playing, but rather made it worse.

Lateral Motion Creates Independence and Strength for Piano Playing
The 4th and 5th fingers indeed both acquire power and function independently when played laterally from above. My instructor, Mischa Kottler, told me this secret gem of knowledge was given to him by Emil von Sauer, who learned it from Franz Liszt. Tradition has it that Liszt was the greatest pianist of all time; but alas, there are no recordings, video or audio, of his piano playing.

Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist in history.
Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist in history.

Have you played any Franz Liszt at the piano? Are you frustrated by the incredible tempos and difficulty that the music presents? Let me know in the comments!


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