19th Century Devices
Outstanding minds of the 19th century recognized the necessity of mechanical aids for teaching piano technique, to prevent possible imperfections in the physical approach of the piano player. The first piano device, the Chiroplast, was invented by John Bernard Logier (1777-1846) in 1814. It was endorsed by Muzio Clementi and manufactured by Clementi's piano factory. Carl Czerny expressed a high opinion concerning its value as a retraining tool: "In modern times several mechanical aids have been invented towards attaining a well regulated facility and flexibility of finger; as for Ex. the Chiroplast, the Hand-guide, the Dactylion, etc.: To such Pupils as have at first been spoiled by improper instructions, these machines may be of great, and striking utility."1 Other contemporaries praised the Chiroplast noting that it "helps one to relax and set the mind at ease."1 Schools based on work with this device were opened in England and India. The Prussian government adopted Logier's system in 1821 and Logier, himself, supervised many state-supported academies in Germany.
The idea for a scientific approach to the mechanics of piano playing continued into the Romantic period. Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785-1849) became an enthusiast of the Chiroplast and invented his own device, the Hand-guide. Kalkbrenner justified the advantage of his device: "What hinders beginners is the extreme tension which they show in all of their practice... With the Hand-guide, it is impossible to contract bad habits... It keeps people from making faces, from playing from the arm or the shoulder; it makes the fingers independent, corrects the position of the hand which it makes as graceful as possible."1 Kalkbrenner's device became very popular in Paris in the 1830's, selling more than 31,000 copies in Paris alone.
Young Franz Liszt, in his Paris studio, used a modified version of Kalkbrenner's device for his students: "Liszt devised a brace made from mahogany, and its purpose was to keep the forearm motionless; this brace was attached to the piano and was nothing more than a device invented by Logier and perfected by Kalkbrenner."2 Camille Saint-Saëns, who was regarded as a piano virtuoso as well as a great Romantic composer, also started his study of piano technique using Kalkbrenner's Hand-guide: "I also was put upon regime of the guide-mains... It was not only the strength of finger that one acquired by this method, but also production of tone quality by the finger only, a precious expedient that has become rare in our days."1
After many years of research in piano technique, while looking for a solution on how to play on modern piano instruments without tension, Mikhail Niks (1935-1996) came to the principle of the increased work of the shoulder muscles compensating for the increased power in modern piano playing. This led to the invention of his first piano device in 1988, called Hand and Wrist Exercising Means. The main principle of the arm resting as a bridge on two points of support: the finger at the depressed level of the key and the shoulder with its forward forced, was demonstrated by this device. This principle was tested and approved by the medial experiment conducted by Pathokinesiology Department in Los Amigos Medical Cener, CA in 1989. Enriched by new knowledge in kinesiology, Mr. Niks went further, searching for the most effective solution for the work of finger muscles in piano playing. As a result the, Hand Guide, his second device that became the teaching aid for the effective and tension-free technique, was invented in 1991 and patented in 1992.
1. Gerig, Reginald R. Famous Pianists & Their Technique. Washington-New York: Robert B. Luce, Inc., 1974.
2. Mach, Elyse. The Liszt Studies. New York-London: Associated Music Publishers, 1973.