Building on Pumpkin Hand Piano and Pumpkin Tapping, Pumpkin Squeeze gets students to feel their hand and fingers working together. I really could not be happier with the results I’ve seen with this. I’ve found this useful not just with beginners, but with all students who have not quite mastered using their fingers, particularly for finger staccato.
Pumpkin Squeeze is partly what it sounds like, squeezing the pumpkin. But squeezing is a means to and end, and only one part of the means. I’ll let Natalie demonstrate:
By alternating between opening the hand and squeezing the pumpkin, Natalie becomes aware of the feeling of using her hand to muscles to pull the fingers in, as we do naturally when gripping something. Natalie was a transfer student who spent an entire year playing with flat fingers. After teaching her for over a year, I am pretty sure this is because her previous teacher simply was unable to get her to user her fingers properly. She has really struggled. I’ve tried a variety of things, all of which work somewhat, but usually temporarily. I believe the reason is that she couldn’t get it all to work together and she couldn’t really be aware of what working together was, so eventually, her fingers would go flat, because that worked the best from her perspective. She simply did not seem to have any innate fine motor control or awareness. Kate, the student in the first video in Pumpkin Hand Piano is a similar case. With both of them, however, using the pumpkin hand concepts and exercises has enabled them to get over the hump. As you can see, Natalie is able to play Captain’s Coming (from Pirate Ship in the Piano Adventures Technique & Artistry Book 2A) with curved fingers, without knuckles collapsing, and with a flexible wrist. It’s not graceful at this point, but all the right things are working, and working together. What is truly gratifying and exciting for me is that she can feel it. Playing piano in a technically sound way is no longer for her trying to adhere to instructions that have no experiential relevance, but rather playing in a way that feels better.
This may make it sound like magic cure, but it of course is not. She still had bad habits, and it took a few weeks to make this the norm. The ability to know the right way conceptually and experientially has proven a great benefit. Below, Mary demonstrates this. She has not had major problems like Natalie, but is more typical of students who just forget to pay attention to what her fingers are doing. In this Video she is playing Storms on Saturn from Piano Adventures Lessons 2A. I just taught her Pumpkin Squeeze at the previous lessons and this is her first lesson on this piece. As you can see, though, when I tell her to grab the keys with her fingers, she knows exactly what this means and can do it.
To fully utilize arm weight, our fingers must be able to take control of it and manipulate it, very much as our feet and legs take control of a manipulate our body weight when we walk, run, dance, etc. One of the biggest challenges to this is that the arm is attached to the body. If our fingers don’t take control of its weight, it’s not going to fall over as our body would if our feet & legs weren’t in control. Yet, if the fingers are not in control of its weight, the arm is going to instinctively hold itself up. This means its weight is not available to the fingers and we cannot use that weight to manipulate the keys. We can have students do all the dropping of their arms we want, but that isn’t going to translate into playing with arm weight unless the fingers learn to control and manipulate that weight.
This is the larger purpose of what I have been writing about in these posts. In the near future I will do a follow up about integrating the pumpkin hand approach into the larger technical goal of playing with arm weight. I’m looking forward to reporting on Kate, Kathy, Natalie and Mary. I hope you have found these posts helpful. If you try this out with your students, please comment on your experience and feel free to ask questions. I hope your efforts are fruitful!