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As a person with "double-jointed" fingers, I struggled with this very issue without much resolution until I studied with piano professor Daisy De Luca Jaffe at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for my master's degree. She taught me exercises to strengthen each finger without joint collapse to support the weight of my arm and eliminate accompanying tension in shoulders, arms and wrists. The end result was a full, even, projected sound with the ability to successfully project melody with any finger. Her "finger drops" consisted of playing each pitch of a five-note scale with a single finger, dropping onto each key with full arm weight all the way to the key bed. Forcing, pushing and "banging" were not allowed. Full, round tone is produced simply by applying arm weight to fingers. Initially, my right-hand fifth finger was so weak that it required support with the other hand and simply balancing on the key, gradually applying more arm weight. After two years of religiously doing Professor Jaffe's exercises, even my weakest fingers could reliably support weight, voice and produce full, projected tone. Additional work with Taubman/Golandsky technique helped me learn to align my forearm behind the weaker fifth fingers for additional reliability. These invaluable techniques are being passed on to applied piano students in my studio, whether or not they have issues with collapsing joints. Learning to use the body in natural, efficient ways keeps the pianist healthy and allows the listener to experience full, beautiful piano tone.

--Jackie Edwards-Henry is professor of piano, piano pedagogy and coordinator of group piano in the Department of Music at Mississippi State University and is director of the New England Piano Retreat for dedicated adult pianists.

A solution that works in my studio is to have the students "poke" the key with their finger in a forward motion as they play--the same motion you make if flicking something away with your finger. Another way of describing the feeling is to feel as if the skin on the pad of the finger is pulling back from the nail. This motion directs the fingers forward "through" the keyboard and the student must maintain the curved finger posture to complete the motion. It is the same motion younger children make when getting into trouble at school/home by flicking a paper wad, and the like. It is a motion that may be practiced away from the piano to build a physical habit. I feel it very important to be sure the student's hand is high enough over the keyboard that their fingers actually have room to move. Their hand often rests too low and the fingers become locked into a "crunched" position creating difficulty in effective movement. The concept of having the skin pulling back from the nail when creating good finger posture/direction was first described to me by Virginia Marks during my undergraduate study at Bowling Green State University. It was very effective for all of her students. Also, when looking straight down at their own hands, students often don't see the true posture of their fingers. Working with a mirror, or a piano with a polished fallboard, can help students see and correct the posture of their fingers.

--Scott Price, NCTM, is professor of piano and piano pedagogy at the University of South Carolina, and president of the Board of Trustees of The Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

Hypermobility ("double-jointedness") is a condition in which the finger joint's connective tissue is abnormally loose. The resulting collapsing effect can impede higher-level playing. Pianists can learn to overcome it, but the process is a painstaking one whose success is determined by the player's awareness and receptiveness to retraining.

My retraining approach incorporates this principle: every student naturally carries the fundamental hand position for playing; its model is accessible when the arms and hands are freely hanging at one's side. The challenge is maintaining that natural architecture against the force of gravity when in a horizontal position at the keyboard.

Basic table-top, five-finger exercises of gently pressing the fingertips on a surface while maintaining balance and alignment can be helpful. These can be transferred to the keyboard in a detached (neither legato nor staccato) fashion. Additional guidelines include: (1) keep the hand position within a comfortable range for stability in the joints; reaching and stretching are counterproductive in the early stages of retraining; I recommend limiting the student's repertoire to intervals of not over a fifth; and (2) guide the student's awareness of unnecessary tension in the wrist, elbow and shoulder--areas susceptible to tightening in the effort of stabilizing the fingers and hand arch.

The Internet can be a helpful resource if investigated with care. Three YouTube sites I've found helpful: (1) Double-Jointed Thumb Remedy; (2) The Amazing Fingercise Cup; and (3) Clothespin Exercise for Double-Jointed Violinists (applicable to pianists as well).

--Virginia Houser is associate professor of piano pedagogy and group keyboard at Kansas State University.

Finger joints, most commonly the joints closest to the fingertips, will bend unnaturally due to stress and tension. Teachers should determine if any of the following physical tendencies are causing the problem:

The student plays:

* with poor physical alignment of the arms, hands and fingers. The wrists are twisted away from the arm or they are too low/high.

* with excessive force instead of using the speed of the key descent to create dynamic levels or is "key bedding" and pressing too hard.

* from the bridge of the hand, using "finger power" instead of creating speed through a combination of gravity (arm weight), centrifugal force (rotation) and a minimum amount of muscular tension.

* with the side of the fingers instead of the finger pads or thumb corners. The hand is under-rotated so that when the fingers curl toward the palm, fingers contact the keys at an insecure and weak angle.

These basic exercises can help students re-align their posture and avoid unnecessary tension:

* On a flat surface, lightly tap the finger pads and thumb corners. Every knuckle should be "bumpy" or flat--no "valleys" allowed. Then slide the hands backwards, feeling the power of the fingers holding the finger pads in place.

* Practice lightly pinching each finger to the thumb. Discover how much pressure can be applied before the knuckle collapses.

* Then, remembering those sensations, play non-lega-to pentascales slowly, using arm weight; play with a forward motion instead of playing directly downward. Also, play the patterns legato while using forearm rotation.

--Courtney Crappell, NCTM, serves as associate professor of piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Houston, Moores School of Music, where he teaches piano and piano pedagogy, and coordinates the class piano program.

Collapsing joints in pre-pubescent children is not something with which I am generally concerned. This condition is common, and many children will outgrow it after puberty. Joint laxity (double-jointedness), however, is a condition with which many young adults, older adults--and consequently, piano teachers--must contend. It may manifest itself in the joints of the fingers (metacarpophalangeal--the joint connecting the finger and hand; proximal interphalangeal--the middle of the finger; distal interphalangeal--below the nail), as well as the thumbs (carpometacarpal--closest to the wrist; metacarpophalangeal--midway between the wrist and thumb tip; interphalangeal--just below the nail and to which tendons are attached).

Visual "triggers" are often easily observable in the movements students make when playing: they may use large muscle groups (forearms, upper); students may play on the side of the fingers rather than the pad of the fingertip; and in scalar passages, the wrist will often "drop" rather than the thumb moving independently. The wrists tend to "sag" below the surface of the white keys.

A balanced hand position--one in which the hands don't lean to the outside--is imperative. Rather than "lifting" a finger from the keys, a "pushing down" sensation from the metacarpophalangeal joints may be needed during a finger swing. It may feel like doing a "push-up" from this joint, requiring a less rounded finger position and relaxed, "weightless" wrist. Joints will always collapse; training them to collapse toward the fallboard is preferred.

--Kevin Hampton serves as department chair and professor of music at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

How do you solve the problem of collapsing finger joints?

The presence of collapsing finger joints is a common issue that teachers often encounter with students. With younger ones, the muscles are often simply not yet strong enough to support firm joints. But with others, the problem often occurs due to double-jointedness. The teachers below offer various suggestions on how to approach this issue.

--Tom Pearsall, NCTM, AMT Editorial Committee member, is professor of music at Georgia Southern University.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2018
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