A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Digitorium

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DIGITORIUM. An apparatus fcr exercising and strengthening the fingers, intended especially for the use of pianists, but claimed by its inventor, Myer Marks, to be of great service to all who require flexible and well-trained fingers.

It consists of a small box about six inches square, provided with five keys[1], fitted with strongly resisting springs, upon which keys such exercises as the five-finger exercises to be found in every Pianoforte School are to be practised. In addition, there are attached to the sides of the box certain appliances for stretching the fingers, and a support for the wrist.

The idea of sparing the ears of pianoforte students, and those who may be in their neighbourhood, by the use of dumb keyboards is by no means new, either here or abroad. Great composers in boyhood, practising under difficulties, have been reduced to muffling the wires that they might practise unheard. It is difficult however to say when the first 'dumb-piano' was manufactured. In 1847 a long article appeared in the 'Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung' censuring the employment of the dumb piano, and Schumann in his 'Musikalische Haus- und Lebensregeln' says, 'There have been invented so-called dumb keyboards; try them for a while, that you may discover them to be of no value. One cannot learn to speak from the dumb.' Though this may be incontrovertible the question is worth consideration, whether the muscles of the fingers may not be increased in speed and endurance (two essential qualities in pianoforte playing), by a suitable course of properly regulated gymnastic exercises, just as the other muscles of the body are trained for running, rowing, etc.

That considerable muscular power is required in pianoforte playing at the present day, will be seen from the following table of resistances, the one set being taken from one of the most recent concert grand pianos, and the other from a grand made in 1817, both by Messrs. Broadwood and Sons[2].

Lowest C. Middle C. Highest C.
1817 2⅝ oz. 2⅜ oz. 1¾ oz.
1877 4 oz. 3⅛ oz. 2⅜ oz.

The resistance offered by the Digitorium is far in excess of the above numbers; it is manufactured in three different degrees of strength, the resistance of the medium touch being no less than 12 ounces. On this account, and also because the resistance is obtained by metal springs, instead of by weights at the farther end of the lever (as in the old dumb pianos), the touch of the digitorium does not in the least resemble that of the pianoforte, but rather a heavily weighted organ-touch, and it should therefore be looked upon as a gymnastic apparatus, and by no means as a substitute for the pianoforte in the practice of exercises.

The question of finger gymnastics has received very full consideration from Mr. E. Ward Jackson, in a work entitled 'Gymnastics for the Fingers and Wrist' (London, Metzler and Co, 1874), in which he quotes opinions in favour of his system of exercises, not only from musicians, but from very eminent surgeons.

[ F. T. ]

  1. Digitoriums are occasionally made of greater compass, with black and white keys, the ordinary digitorium having only white keys.
  2. It will be seen that the amount of resistance is not equal throughout the key-board, and that the left hand, although the weaker, has the greatest resistance to overcome.