The Taubman Approach
The body is capable of fulfilling all pianistic demands without a violation of its nature if the most efficient ways are used. Pain, insecurity, and lack of technical control are symptoms of incoordination rather than a lack of practice, intelligence, or talent.
- Dorothy Taubman
In 1999 I had the great fortune of meeting Dorothy Taubman. Taubman was a Brooklyn-based piano teacher who had an unerring eye for what worked and what did not work when it came to piano technique, and she codified a set of reliable, predictable tools that could be used time and again in any given technical situation, producing maximum results with minimum physical input. Initially Taubman’s method simply provided her younger students a fundamentally healthy physical approach to learning their instrument; but as she developed and codified the technique, more advanced students and professional pianists began to show up at her door, and her reputation grew. She was able to help them achieve a virtuosity and ease at the instrument they hadn’t thought possible.
Along the way it became clear to Taubman that her approach was able to help pianists who suffered from debilitating pain as a result of tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other repetitive-motion injuries. Musicians who previously couldn’t accomplish the simplest everyday tasks without pain, many of whom gave of hope of ever being able to play again, were now able to negotiate their instruments with ease.
The technique involves complete balance, alignment, and poise of the hand on the piano at the point(s) of contact, total freedom of movement of the fingers, hand, wrist, and arm, and a precise set of motions that move you from position to position with accuracy and ease. Understanding the fundamentals is relatively simple, but the application requires, especially in the beginning, an attention to detail that can be daunting.
There's a very good Wikipedia article that accurately describes some of the components in more detail.
After attending the Taubman Institute summer session in 1999, I began my studies with her long-time student John Bloomfield. When I began to study the technique, I decided to give myself up to the approach and abandon, to the extent that I could, any notion of playing as I used to. I understood early on that what I was doing was, in essence, a complete neurological rewiring.
This was more challenging than it sounds, because I had a technique, or thought I had. I played big pieces, some of the most difficult pieces in the repertoire, but I had to admit my approach to them was more brute-force than finessed. What I lacked in technical finish I made up for, I rationalized, with musicianship. But once I began to study the Taubman Approach I realized that I was cultivating a technique that would allow me to more completely and accurately express what I conceived in my mind and felt in my heart. It eradicated the disconnect that I used to feel as a result of having to try so hard to produce sound, to move around the keyboard, to play with delicacy and nuance. It brought a naturalness and ease to my playing that I never thought possible. Most importantly, it supports musical expression. There is no compromise of “music” in favor of “technique”; they synthesize and become aspects of one another. To me, this is the true and only hallmark of virtuosity, and it’s completely realizable with the study and application of this technique.