How to teach your fingers to walk

October 28th, 2010

I’ve written about letting your fingers do the playing, about walking them.

There’s a trick to doing this.

Think of walking. What do you do when you walk?

You put one foot forward, you put it down, you lift it, and then you do it for the other foot, and you repeat the cycle and you do it again.

The main part of the process is putting the foot forward. The stepping part happens almost like an afterthought, it just completes the cycle.

That’s the same sensation when you walk your fingers.

When you pluck, you put the finger forward, you place it on the string and then you pluck. But the plucking happens almost like an afterthought. You don’t actively pluck, you just let it happen.

Try doing this in Villa Lobos’ Etude #1.

First, make sure your fingers and wrist are light and loose.

Start the exercise by touching the sixth string with your ‘p’ thumb, don’t try to pluck the string, just release it, then find the fourth string with the ‘i’ finger, touch the string, then release it. Don’t try to pluck it. Do it for the next finger in the sequence and the next after that.

The whole point is to touch each string, not to play it. If you do make a sound while releasing the string, that’s okay. Again, the point is not to consciously pluck the string but to find it.

Think again of walking. Focus on putting the next foot/finger forward. Let the stepping/plucking happen like an afterthought.

Remember to do it very lightly. Don’t exert any force. Lightly touch each string and move on to the next.

Maintain a continuous flow. Don’t stop and start between each movement. Even as you let go one string, the next finger is already moving forward.

Again, think of walking, when you walk, you walk in a continuous flow of motion, there’s no stopping and starting between each step. It’s the same sensation when you pluck.

This is only an exercise. When you play normally, you’ll have to focus on the plucking stage, that’s a given, but you’ll find that you’ll be able to exert very fine control over the amount of tension you want to put into each stroke.

This exercise will help you focus your actions on the pre-plucking stage. It’ll give your playing greater accuracy because it’ll focus your actions on finding the string rather than on plucking it. It’ll also result in natural economy enabling you to move faster. And it’ll also reinforce the feeling of moving your fingers at your fingertips, of isolating your plucking right at the fingertips.

And when you master it, it’ll create an automated engine in your fingers. You’ll feel as if your fingers are completely automated and all you have to do is walk them like you would walk a dog.

One final note, this is just one of several techniques I employ in the right hand.

It’s incredible relaxed and produces a very light fluid sound that’s ideal for moto perpetuo pieces like La Catedral or Etude #1, when you just want to create a wall of sound and you don’t want to emphasize individual notes.

2 Responses to “How to teach your fingers to walk”

  1. William Bajzek Says:

    Your “walking” posts are great. I think it’s a great way to look at things and I am trying your exercises. It feels strange, but I can totally see how it will help.

    Something related, at least to the metaphor, is looking where you’re going. I don’t really mean visually, but it’s like when you’re a kid, or at least when I was a kid learning to walk, people kept telling me to look where I was going and not to look at my feet. Until I stopped looking at my feet, I was too caught up in moving my feet instead of learning to walk fluidly.

    My Cathedral and HVL etude #1 benefitted from keeping my attention on what is ahead of me (without ignoring what I am currently doing). Also, recently I noticed that I watch the path right in front of my feet when I hike, worried that I’ll trip and hurt myself. Enjoying the scenery instead makes it a lot more fun, and even though it increases the risk so far I haven’t been hurt by trusting my feet.

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    That’s a great analogy. It reminds me of the centipedal story. A spider asks a centipede, “You have 100 legs, which one do you move first?” The centipede stopped to think about it and soon was unable to move at all, because he couldn’t decide which leg to move next.

    Yes, it’s like driving too, when we drive, we have to focus on the road ahead, not on the controls in our hands. Imagine having to think about how we turn the wheel or change gears or step on the gas as we drive, we wouldn’t get very far.

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