About the Taubman Approach to Piano Technique

Teresa Dybvig

You can find good information about the Taubman Approach, particularly in the first set of “The Taubman Techniques” lecture videos. 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.

Reality: While the Taubman Approach is known for its benefit to injured musicians, it is useful for all who desire velocity, accuracy, and quality and variety of sound.

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 nuanced sound they want, in any speed they choose. If this is your definition of technique, this is no misconception.

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, they 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 improve greatly while working on repertoire.

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 one 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 (starting with optimal alignment and using the best possible movements), respect for the engineering of the piano (cooperating with it to our best advantage) and moving with unified hand, fingers, and forearm.

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-forearm unit 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, a delicate balance of nerves, tendons, and ligaments that can’t support the weight), the look is contrary to the expectation of some pianists.

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 hand-forearm unit into the key, with the aid of gravity.

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.

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.

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 Dorothy Taubman Festivals with Sondra Tammam, 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.