Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The 5 C's of Learning Piano Technique

One of the most difficult things for any piano teacher to impart is the necessity of learning technique properly and incorporating it into a daily practice routine. I have found that talking about how to practice technique, why it is important, and what it can instill in an individual's playing are essential to a piano student's continued development.

Here are five C-words that can help with this task.

1. Command. Scales, triads, chords, and arpeggios are not stand-alone exercises--they are building blocks for creating music, as any composer will tell you. Knowing how to play these musical building blocks will simplify the process of learning and understanding music you encounter. In addition, technique contains the seeds of piano playing's physicality such as finger strength, good fingering habits, finger crossing, arm weight, hand and arm stability, and the integration of these over time into an efficient playing setup. That scale passage in a Beethoven Sonata will be much easier to incorporate into your performance if you know you've already learned and mastered the relevant scale and its fingering.
The Brown Scale Book - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com The Brown Scale Book For Piano. Scales, Chords and Arpeggios for Piano. Technique. Elementary-Advanced. Level: Grades 1-10. Book. 46 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company. (HS1)
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2. Clarity. Have you heard a perfectly executed 4-octave arpeggio lately? They are becoming rarer and rarer these days, to the chagrin of many an RCM examiner. Spending time on these technical exercises can teach you to listen to the details of playing necessary for developing an acute sense of awareness that can allow you to be in the moment in all your playing.

3. Comfort. Technique isn't just about the accuracy game, but about incorporating a large number of physical concepts into a whole. Are you comfortable when you play? Where is the tension? Does anything hurt? Working with your teacher in solving these problems through technique can create a basis for a stable and workable playing setup when playing repertoire.

4. Creativity.
A common myth about technique is that is is boring. Part of a teacher's job is to make the daily dose into a fun and rewarding part of a student's practice day. Why not bundle basic technical exercises with the learning of musical concepts? Here are just a few ideas:
  • Vary dynamics, pp to ff, play with crescendo and diminuendo
  • Vary articulations--try playing scales with different articulations and combinations of articulations.
  • Vary the order--Arrange the order of exercises by type (ie. octave scales, triads, etc.), key, play them all and note the problems, work only on problem patterns. Warm up with technique or cool down with it. Creating a new experience all the time can eliminate the boredom.
5. Confidence. It's performance night and you've waiting backstage. Have you done your work? If you haven't, you may experience the genuine fear associated with performance anxiety and it ain't fun. How to deal with performance anxiety? Do your preparation, both with the specific piece you're performing and the relevant technical requirements, so you can feel the deep confidence of both being able to play both musical works and your instrument with command, clarity, comfort, creativity, and confidence.
Look inside this title
Piano Adventures Technique & Artistry Book, Level 1 - sheet music at www.sheetmusicplus.com
Piano Adventures Technique & Artistry Book, Level 1 By Randall Faber, Nancy Faber. For Piano. Piano Adventures. Level: Grade 1. Book. Published by The FJH Music Company, Inc. (FF1097)
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  1. Thanks for the great essay - and reinforcing why I'm practicing 4 octave arpeggios. I was playing them plain, then in triplets - I'm told the goal is to play them as 4 note groups.

  2. Learning arpeggios can be incredibly useful as you'd be surprised how many times arpeggiated passages pop up in advanced repertoire.

    Try this--play arpeggios starting and ending at the top instead of the bottom for an added challenge.

  3. Of course you know what I'm about to write, Chris -- but some of your readers may not. What you suggested works incredibly well with Chopin 25.12 -- it was humbling the first time I tried it, but paid off greatly.

  4. I am really struggling on my scales that contain most of the black keys (BM, g#m, etc.). I can play the notes just fine, but my thumb is always breaking the line (sounds like thumping). Does anybody have a suggestion for how to fix this?

  5. This site is awesome!!! I am so not there yet, but I am getting there. I just started and I am in my 30's. My sister actually sent me this site to get this resource that has you playing in just a few hours...really. I was so proud. Anyway, if anyone is interested - here is the info...

    “Learn the Piano More Quickly” by Sebastian Mitchell and I found the download here - www.PianoAccelerator.com It's great because you can download it immediately.

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  7. I think "C" for Concentration could be added. By this I mean concentrating closely on the sound of your playing. Most people would think that this goes without saying. However, anyone who focuses on listening very closely for a few moments will quickly realize that they haven't been doing it enough. Our fingers have a way of doing what they want on the keyboard sometimes, unless we use our ears to correct them.

  8. To Danny,
    About your scales with black keys--there's no fool-proof method, but I suggest adding a little extra arm weight to the note prior to the thumb. Also, in an ascending RH scale, for example, begin moving the thumb over to the right as soon as it has played its note.This way, your thumb does not swing over suddenly onto its note.

  9. I have a friend at work that purchased W Barrow's Learn and Master for his daughter who loves it ...its a 2 year course. I am going to give him the link to your blog..never hurts to have experts in your corner.

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  10. What a nice perspective!

    I like to view the study of chords, scales and intervals as fundamental for understanding patterns, both in the notes and on the keyboard; learning fingering, as well as viewing notes in groups of patterns representing certain arm and hand movements.

    I often accompany my students with some fun chords when they play their scales. Boogie, waltz- to tickle their ears with unexpected combinations.

  11. Maria, that's an awesome way to make technique fun!

  12. This is excellent and very useful information! Digital metronomes are another great tool to use when learning to play the piano. Visit the Digital Metronome Shop!

  13. Great suggestions, especially about comfort. Playing the piano shouldn't be super strenuous, and if you are able to play relaxed, you will likely be able to play for a longer period of time.

  14. Google brought me here and all I have to say is.. WOW. Your advice is solid and I cant wait to try it out at home. Thanks so much!

  15. Anonymous1:47 AM

    Thanks Chris for posting this one because I'm learning new trick and tips on how can I improve the way I play the piano. More power!

    Piano Lesson Software

  16. Chris, thank you so much for you great blog. And I'm a big fan of having students practice their arpeggios because those passages DO pop up and knowing it in you fingers can be so helpful :)