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Examples of passages which may cause problems due to tendon linkages or absences

Richard Beauchamp — 2002

  1. The absence of the flexor digitorum superficialis tendon to the little finger.

Chopin: Scherzo No 2 in B Flat Minor, Op 31. Bars 415 — 416.

Chopin Scherzo

I once had a teacher who insisted that I use the above fingering to create a legato by curling the 5th finger under the 4th when going from the F Sharp to the E. Unfortunately, I — like many others — do not have a superficial flexor tendon (which flexes the fingers at the PIP joint) to my little finger, so the only way I can curl that finger is by using the flexor digitorum profundus tendon, which inserts into the finger tip. Due to the common linkage between the FDP tendons to the 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers, this means that the 4th finger has to curl in sympathy with the 5th, leaving no space for the 5th to travel underneath. My teacher became very frustrated by my inability to carry out his instructions!

Two solutions to the problem: (i) Play the E with the 3rd finger and rapidly change to the 5th. (ii) Don’t even try to physically join the F Sharp to the E — after all the pedal will almost certainly be down at that point!

  1. Examples of passages which may be difficult for pianists who have a linkage between flexor pollicis longus (to the thumb) and flexor digitorum profundus to the index finger.

Example 1.

C Minor arpeggio

According to Marius Fahrer (see “The Hand” by Raoul Tubiana), approximately 1 in 200 people have this connection. In playing the above arpeggio most pianists will want to allow the index finger to straighten as they put the thumb under to prepare for the next “C”. This increases the distance they can reach. In the case of a FPL-FDP connection, the index finger will be obliged to remain curved (or even to increase its curvature) as the thumb is flexed in its passage under the hand.

See videos of this connection: (a) palmar view, (b) lateral view.

Solutions: (1) Pronation of the forearm can increase the reach of the thumb with minimal flexion needed. (2) In faster playing, a rotary technique (supinating the forearm as the middle finger is played and pronating back again to return to the thumb) can be used which eliminates the need to pass the thumb under at all. (3) Radial deviation can assist gently, but should not be used in an extreme way.

Example 2.

Dvorak Cello Concerto, piano reduction, 1st movt. bar 104.

Dvorak Cello Concerto

In the above example, the pianist is obliged to extend the thumb of the left hand during the last three beats of the bar, whilst keeping the index finger strongly curved to allow room for the right hand. Again this can be difficult for those who have a connection between the thumb and index finger as these digits tend to flex and extend together.

Solutions: (1) The passage could be rearranged between the hands — there are a number of possibilities. (2) The index finger could be flexed at the PIP joint by the superficial finger flexor alone, leaving the finger tip free. There should then be no interdependent movement between the thumb and index finger. This is the coordination instinctively adopted by many players in this situation.

  1. Example of a chord which may be difficult for pianists who have a linkage between the FDP tendons to the index and middle fingers. (Approx. 1 in 10 according to Fahrer).

Chord of B Minor

Here the problem lies in having the middle finger straighter to reach the F sharp, while the index finger should ideally be curved enough to play on the wide part of the white key (not between the black notes). The pianist will usually find a compromise between a third finger which is too curved and a 2nd finger which is too straight. Oddly, when this position occurs the other way round — i.e. with the index finger on a black note and the middle finger on a white note (as, for example, in the root position C Minor chord: C, E Flat, G, C), there is less likely to be a problem because the part of the linkage which attaches to the FDP tendon of the middle finger seems usually to be more distal than the part which attaches to the tendon of the index finger. In English: You can curve the middle finger while the index finger is straight, but not vice versa.

  1. Problems caused by normal tendon linkages between FDP tendons to the middle, ring and little fingers.

The FDP muscle is one muscle belly and the tendons to the middle, ring and little fingers are closely bound together as far as the palm, after which they insert into the finger tips. That is why, when we play with active finger tips, these three fingers are forced to work together.

Bach: Prelude in D Major from Book One of “The Well Tempered Clavier.”

Bach Prelude in D Major

Here — as every pianist knows — the 3rd, 4th and often 5th fingers want to play in sympathy with each other. Especially difficult is the third group of semiquavers in the second bar when the 4th finger has to be on a higher level to accommodate the F Sharp. The best solution for most such passages which require great independence and fluency is to allow the fingers to open out as they play (flexing at the MCP joint and extending at the PIP joint) by using the interossei and lumbricals. This coordination bypasses the tendon linkages of the FDP.

Double thirds and sixths show this problem in an extreme form. Without well coordinated use of the intrinsic muscles the hand seems to “seize up.” Pianists who have unusually lax interconnecting tendons, however, can sometimes use the long forearm flexors without experiencing any difficulty. They should be careful how they teach!

©Copyright Richard Beauchamp, 2002
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