Tapper Technique


Introduction

Every musical instrument has its own peculiar technique, and the various implementations of the conductor program are no different.  An implementation of the conductor program may (and, it might be argued, should) reduce the amount of incidental technique, but it will probably never be reduced to zero.  It certainly hasn't been reduced to zero in Tapper.  When you first start using Tapper, you may feel "it doesn't matter how I do this anything will work" and while that's true in a certain sense (you could press the keys with your nose if you wanted to), some approaches work better than others.  It's no longer necessary press any particular keys, but different keys respond differently and fall under the fingers differently, and different patterns of finger motion have different musical and physiological effects.  So, while learning Tapper technique is not the same scale of undertaking as learning piano technique, there are still things to practice.


Concepts

The particulars of Tapper technique devolve from a small number of constraints, some musical, some physical, and some that are related to how the Tapper software works.  If you are familiar with these constraints, the logic of Tapper technique will be obvious.

The control of Tapper is primarily manual (though a pedal can be used in addition), so many of its operational constraints have to do with the geometry and physiology of the human hand and its relationship to the piano keyboard.  For example there is a maximum speed at which any body part can be wiggled that applies to the arms, wrist and fingers; if notes happen faster than this, multiple fingers must be used in alternation.  Another reason to alternate fingers is that fingers get tired if they are used too often without alternation.  If these were the only factors involved, the optimal Tapper technique might be just to use all the fingers in order, then repeat the pattern.  However, other factors push in the opposite direction.  Some fingers are more agile than others.  Fingers interact differently with the piano keyboard depending on their shape, length, strength, and type of musculature.

Some constraints are mental.  The more fingers you use, the more there is to keep track of.  If a musical pattern repeats, it is easier to control the repeat with a finger pattern that is analogous to the pattern that was used the previous time than to use a different pattern.  The more finger patterns there are, the more there is to remember.

Finally, some constraints have to do with the specifics of the Tapper implementation.  In Tapper, to play legato requires that a key be pressed before the previously-pressed key is released.  Also Tapper requires that there be exactly one keypress per simultaneity (either note or chord) in the score.

These constraints suggest some general strategies.  Use the more agile fingers more than the less agile ones.  Use fingers on both hands.  Use a small number of easy-to-do finger patterns.  Use patterns that are suitable to the patterns in the music.  Use hand positions that make it less likely to press keys accidentally.


Specifics

Following are some hand positions and finger patterns which have been found to work well.

In the finger pattern charts, the following finger numbers are used

and a pattern is indicated in time by showing the sequence of fingers one per row; for example, playing each finger once, from the little finger of the left hand to the little finger of the right hand would look like this:

    5---- -----
    -4--- -----
    --3-- -----
    ---2- -----
    ----1 -----
    ----- 1----
    ----- -2---
    ----- --3--
    ----- ---4-
    ----- ----5

Alternate Thumbs

A simple yet effective fingering is to use only the two thumbs in alternation:

    ----1 -----
    ----- 1----
    ----1 -----
    ----- 1----
    ----1 -----
    ----- 1----
    ----1 -----
    ----- 1----
    ----1 -----
    etc.

This fingering is especially reliable when used with the following hand position:

The reason this is reliable is that there is very little opportunity to press unwanted keys by accident, because the thumbs are on the black keys (which are not directly adjacent to other keys, as white keys are), and the fingers anchor the hands so they're not likely to shift position.  Also, the thumbs and wrist can be moved quite quickly and with good control, and do not tire easily.  I've found this position to be ideal for Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever, because I can play with complete abandon without having to worry about precise placement of my fingers.


Even Tuplets

Once you get into notes that are faster, alternating two fingers starts becoming too slow, and it's useful to break things up into triplets and quadruplets; I find these fingerings good for those:

	
    ---2- ----- triplet 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2---
    ---2- ----- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2---
    etc. 

    ---2- ----- quadruplet 
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    ---2- ----- 
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2---
    etc. 

A good piece to try this quadruplet pattern on is Grieg's Butterfly.

As with the Alternate Thumb position, it's advantageous to use the black notes for these, and to have your fingers somewhat diagonal to the keys ...

... as opposed to this kind of approach ...

... so as to reduce the chance of missing the key (and having either too many or too few keypresses).


One-handed Tuplets

One-handed versions of these are handy when you want to scratch your nose or turn a page:

	
    ----- 1---- triplet 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    ----- 1---- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- etc. 

    ----- 1---- quadruplet 
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    ----- 1---- 
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- etc.

Because the thumb is shaped very differently from the other fingers, its keypresses tend to be different.  This is not necessarily a liability; if a passage needs a certain kind of accent or articulation, a finger pattern that involves the thumb can give the right effect more easily than one without it.  So, experiment.


Symmetrical Tuplets

With a quadruplet, these fingerings all tend to make the first note of the group louder and longer; to make them more equal, try

	
    ----- --3-- quadruplet 
    ----- -2--- 
    --3-- ----- 
    ---2- ----- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    --3-- ----- 
    ---2- -----
    etc.

This can also be extended to

	
    ----- ---4- sextuplet 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    -4--- ----- 
    --3-- ----- 
    ---2- ----- 
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    -4--- ----- 
    --3-- ----- 
    ---2- -----
    etc.


Irregular Rhythms

For some irregular rhythms, it's possible to break the rhythm into two parts, a regular part and an irregular part, and assign one parts to each hand.  For example, if a sequence of quarter notes is occasionally interrupted by a pair of eighth notes,

then it can work well to play the continuous quarter note rhythm with one thumb and add the eighth note with the other thumb, for example:

There are several benefits to this approach.  The thumb that is doing the quarter notes is doing the same motion every time, so all its keypresses will be similar, more regular than if they were being played with alternating fingers.  (This is not to say that you're forced to do the rhythm evenly; you can still vary it, but if you're trying to play the quarter-note rhythm smoothly, it will be easier.)  It's easy to coordinate, because all the quarter note keypresses feel the same, and all the off-beat eighth notes feel the same.  If the music is syncopated, this approach is especially helpful, because the "swing" will always involve an across-hand motion that feels the same way.

The same principle can be applied when there are varying numbers of notes per beat, for example:

When you're playing this, the left hand should feel somewhat independent of the right.

In the Tapper display, it's very clear where these "in between" notes go:

 


Cross-rhythms

Cross-rhythms present some special challenges. Take this example, from Claude Debussy's First Arabesque:

In this piece, there are many transitions between eighth-note duplets, eighth-note triplets, and duplets-against-triplets.  Playing the composite rhythm with one hand is difficult and unnatural.  A useful approach is to assign different responsibilities to the left and right hand.  For example: the right hand could be responsible for the note at the beginning of each quarter-note beat, the left hand could be responsible for an eight-note on the second half of a quarter-note beat, and the right hand could be responsible for the last two notes of an eighth-note triplet.  So, duplets would go like this ...

    ----- -2---
    ---2- -----
    ----- -2---
    ---2- -----
    etc.
... triplets would go like this ...

    ----- -2---
    ----- --3--
    ----- ---4-
    ----- -2---
    ----- --3--
    ----- ---4-
    etc.
... and 3-against-2 would go like this ...

    ----- -2---
    ----- --3--
    ---2- -----
    ----- ---4-
    ----- -2---
    ----- --3--
    ---2- -----
    ----- ---4-
    etc.


Using the Fifth Finger

Because it is shorter and weaker than the other fingers, the fifth finger is hard to use in combination with the other fingers, and in most situations, it's better to avoid it.  However, there are some places where its shortcomings are outweighed by other factors.  For example, these diminished seventh chords in the third movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata for piano (opus 27 number 2) have five notes in a row in quick succession, for one hand and the other in alternation:

In the context, it's important to get the right number of notes and to have them happen quickly, but the exact timing and dynamic level is not too critical, so a fingering involving the fifth finger works well:

    
    ----- ----5
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    ----- 1---- 
    5---- ----- 
    -4--- ----- 
    --3-- ----- 
    ---2- ----- 
    ----1 ----- 
    ----- ----5
    ----- ---4- 
    ----- --3-- 
    ----- -2--- 
    ----- 1---- 
    5---- ----- 
    -4--- ----- 
    --3-- ----- 
    ---2- ----- 
    ----1 ----- 
    etc.

The thumb and fifth finger, being shorter, are more comfortably on the white notes in this situation:

Another use of the fifth finger is in passages with duplets that are either too vigorous or too extended for the second and third finger pattern described above.  In this case, the thumb and fifth finger in alternation, like this ...

    ----- ----5
    ----- 1----
    5---- -----
    ----1 -----
    ----- ----5
    ----- 1----
    5---- -----
    ----1 ----- 
    etc.

... work well.  In this pattern, the wrist does most of the work.  Looks like this:


Special Considerations for the Thumb

Because of the thumb's combination of virtues (strength, precision of timing) and limitations (short, differently weighted than the other fingers), it must be used with care.  If a note doesn't stick out in some way, the thumb is probably not the right finger for it.  Here's a rhythm that's ideal for the thumb:

          

And here's a hand position that's natural for it:

 

Credits

Photo credit: Alan La Pointe