What is the first artistic gesture that you teach and why?

Many years ago, I discovered quite by accident a book of technique exercises for the beginning pianist written by Louise Robyn, called “Technic Tales” which was published by Oliver Ditson Co. in 1936.  Louise Robyn lived from 1878–1949 was was a member of the faculty at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago for a number of years.  One of the things about this book that immediately grabbed my attention was Robyn’s very creative use of imagery throughout this book when introducing each beginning level technical concept.  

One of my favorite exercises that Robyn taught is an exercise called “Flying Birds Reach Their Nest”-----an exercise designed to teach the child how to move the hand and arm from the lap to the keyboard and back again.  However, it’s actually an exercise that can be used to teach how to leave a 2-note slur, or the end of a phrase in the most elegant and graceful way possible-----with a rising wrist that simply and effortlessly “pulls” the hand out of the keys.

Robyn likens the child’s hand to a little bird------the wrist being the “wings” of the bird, the palm of the hand the “body” of the bird, and the finger tips being the “feet”.  As a bird starts to fly, the first thing to move are the wings.  Consequently, the rising wrist pulls the hand up into the air, followed by the fingers (the bird’s feet) and the bird flies to a branch (the keyboard).   Now, when this bird lands on the branch (if he has any brains at all) he will land feet first…….the body of the bird settles in, and the last thing to settle are the wings (the wrist).   When he leaves the branch, the wings (wrist) pulls the body into the air, and the last thing to leave again are the feet.  I use this artistic gesture when children are first learning how to find the 2 black keys and 3 black keys.  The “bird” travels from the lap, up to the keyboard (branch) and lands on the 2 black keys, feet first, with the palm slowly descending, and finally the wrist. 

It’s really a very simple exercise, but the imagery of the bird works in such a magical way with any child to make this motion “natural” and effortless.   As mentioned in the 2nd paragraph, I use this same imagery when leaving the end of a slow, 2-note slur; or, at the end of a slow piece when we need to have a graceful, slow artistic gesture.   


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