THE WELL-BALANCED PIANIST
The Integrated Approach Dr. Teresa Dybvig, Director

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"Before I encountered the Taubman approach, everything was about pushing and 'efforting.' Now it's about letting things flow and getting out of my own way. I've learned that I don't need to create an artifice of myself, that my self will do just fine."
- anonymous evaluation

"Once I gave myself over the wisdom of the work, I made slow but sure improvement... [Taubman work] restored to me the joy of playing the piano. Today I don't even consider myself someone who has dystonia."
— Dr. Mary Ellen Haupert, Assistant Professor of Music, Viterbo University

When I first began studying with Terry, I was severely injured as a result of problems in my playing. Her expertise and knowledge of technical matters were invaluable as she led me through an intense and rewarding transformation. My hands and technique were improved so that I could return to playing unencumbered by pain and with a level of control over sound that I had not previously experienced.
— Tanya Bertram, Ph.D. student
University of California, Los Angeles

See more statements from students of Teresa Dybvig (opens in a new window)

Misconceptions about the Taubman Approach to Piano Technique


You can find good information about the Taubman Approach, particularly in the set of 10 lecture videos, "The Taubman Techniques," available from the Taubman Institute. I also invite you to read the Well-Balanced Pianist overview of the Taubman Approach.

There is also a lot of misinformation available on the Internet on various web pages and in casual conversation on forums. Here are some common misconceptions about the Taubman Approach and the realities behind them.

Misconception: People who want to study the Taubman Approach have to give up all repertoire and concentrate on basic movements such as the C Major scale for a few years.
Reality: There are many ways to incorporate the components of the Taubman Approach. Whether it's more beneficial to work first within repertoire or on basic movements depends upon the individual student. Also, some teachers are more comfortable making adjustments within repertoire than others. If a student isn't able to make changes while working within repertoire, he may be encouraged to allow a period of time without repertoire to incorporate new movements and build a new relationship with the instrument. However, many people make successful changes while working on repertoire.

Misconception: The Taubman Approach is based on rotation.

Reality: Rotation is one of the most recognizable features of the Taubman Approach. However, the approach is based on principles of coordinate motion, not on any particular physical movement. These principles include movement in the mid-range of motion (avoiding extreme ranges of motion, where injury is more likely to occur), mechanical advantage (finding the best possible position for limb parts to function), respect for the engineering of the piano (learning how to cooperate with it to our best advantage) and moving with unified hand, fingers, and forearm.

Misconception: Taubman players hold their wrists stiff to stabilize them.
Reality: Taubman players do not hold their wrists stiff; nor do Taubman teachers recommend students hold their wrists stiff. People who have studied Taubman work describe the feeling in their wrists as "open," "soft," or "nothing." The hand/arm feels stable because it moves and lands in aligned balance, not because any part is held. The forearm and hand move together without ever moving out of alignment, and without pulling the wrist out of its mid-range of motion.

This misconception may have its origins in pianists' preconceptions about movement. Because we drop into the piano instead of the wrist (where there is no sound, and furthermore, there is a delicate balance of nerves, tendons, and ligaments that can't support the weight), the look is contrary to the expectation of some pianists.

Misconception: Taubman players stress their extensor muscles in lifting, in order to keep their wrists stable.
Reality: This misconception is so far from Dorothy Taubman's work that it is surprising anyone would state it with a straight face. Still, you can read it on the Internet, so here is the reality: when the hand and forearm move together while the wrist remains in the mid-range of motion, no muscle group is stressed. Moreover, the lifting movement is only felt as a prelude to the release of the unified hand, fingers, and forearm into the key, with the aid of gravity.

Misconception: Everyone who studies the Taubman Approach sounds the same because they play with the same movements.
Reality: To the contrary! Dorothy Taubman understood that the best quality of movement affords the most creative possibilities. Tension and unfocused, inefficient movement limit speed and sound variety - if you must scramble to get to a key, you have to live with whatever sound you get when you arrive - but if you are moving well, you have time to make more subtle movements which create more choices. Thus, the Taubman Approach provides the skills necessary to bring each pianist's unique artistry to life.

Misconception: The Taubman Approach asserts that all movement takes place only from the forearm with relaxed fingers and hands.
Reality: The fingers, hand and forearm each perform the movements they do best. Fast movement cannot take place without the participation of the hand and fingers. If all movement originated in the forearm, the other parts would tighten or relax excessively, rendering movement incoordinate.

It's possible that many pianists never imagined the role of the forearm in playing before they experienced the concepts of the Taubman Approach, so they focus too much on moving the forearm at first. However, it is not the only part that moves actively.

Misconception: The Taubman Approach focuses solely on technique.
Reality: This is only a misconception if you limit your idea of technique to something gained (or shown) by executing repetitious exercises. The Taubman Approach provides the tools to play fast, slow, soft, or loud, and with a great variety of sounds, articulations, and musical shapes. Many students of the Taubman Approach find that their definition of technique broadens to include not only the skills evinced by playing Czerny etudes, but also the capability to create any kind of sound they want, in any speed they choose. If this is your definition of technique, this is no misconception.

Misconception: The Taubman Approach is only for injured pianists.
Reality: While Mrs. Taubman's work is largely known for its benefit to injured musicians, it is useful for all who desire to improve their velocity, accuracy, and quality and variety of sound.

Misconception: There is only one trustworthy source for training in the Taubman Approach.
Reality: There are quite a few places to get Taubman training. We at The Well-Balanced Pianist are (unsurprisingly) most comfortable recommending The Well-Balanced Pianist. We feel that our integrated approach puts technique in its proper perspective, at the service of the music. We also know that it's easier to improve your piano technique with a healthy mindset in practice and performance, and with the kind of healthy posture you get from excellent bodywork.

There are other options as well. These include The Taubman Seminars run by The Taubman Institute, Sheila Paige's Piano Wellness Seminar, the Golandsky Institute, and Tom Marks' Piano Map workshops.

So if one place doesn't give you what you need, try another. While you search, pay attention to your body, and to how empowered you feel from your lessons. A good Taubman teacher should help you take a practical route to playing that feels better and sounds better, and your lessons should make you feel knowledgeable and capable.
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July 2018