Technique

The Hanon Debate (Part 2)

This blog post features the views of pianist Peter Donohoe on the use of Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist as part of our debate on the subject.

By |February 9th, 2021|Technique|0 Comments

The Hanon Debate (Part 1)

As we saw from responses to last week’s post, the exercises of Hanon are a hotly debated topic. It seems there is nothing more provocative than uttering the name of Hanon to a group of pianists and teachers in a social media forum. The ensuing discussion about the use of the exercises in The Virtuoso Pianist so often becomes tainted by bias and polemic and ends up like a debate on religion, with neither side coming out the winner. Those against cannot imagine there might be such a thing as “using” the blank patterns we find in Hanon for various specific reasons, rather than “doing” Hanon as it says on the tin. I think it is very important to make this distinction. Many drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies are found to be useful for other purposes and end up being prescribed off-label. This principle can certainly be applied to Hanon’s exercises. The Controversy Modern piano teaching has moved away from an insistence on mechanical exercises devoid of musical meaning, and away from the notion of lifting and isolating the fingers from the rest of the hand and the arm (as Hanon’s exercises will do if you follow his instructions to the letter). By spending hours drilling the fingers in the way Hanon indicates, we not only risk wasting practice time that might better be spent on music but – much worse – we ingrain muscular habits that will almost certainly be detrimental and potentially injurious. The Middle Path It can be convenient to use the blank, easy-to-remember (and totally harmless) note patterns we find in the exercises as vehicles to easily experience choreography or coordination between the hands so that these skills can be transferred across to […]

By |February 4th, 2021|Technique|2 Comments

How to Use Hanon

In this week’s guest post, Ilga Pitkevica discusses the ubiquitous exercises of Hanon and shares her views on how to use them effectively. *** Mastering all core types of piano technique is essential for the freedom to successfully express musical ideas and communicate them to an audience. It can be quite frustrating to have a piece one wants to play and to be unable to do it just because some technical challenges seem impossible to master. I have heard complaints on this matter many times in many different and, at the same time, very similar contexts. In my opinion, the solution is fairly straight forward: We pianists need to exercise regularly to maintain our physical ability to play at the standard we want. And if we know how to exercise and warm-up, it does not take too much of our time at all. Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises is one of the exercise books which can be used for this purpose. However, the opinions on this book are divided. On one side, I think its popularity lies in its “simplicity” of notes (in comparison to etudes, for example). In these busy times, when everyone is looking for fast problem-solving solutions, this simplicity can be very important. On the other side, because of this simplicity and plainness, “Hanon” (as its widely referred to as) is often called repetitive, boring and dull. I would argue that repetition makes things permanent. But regarding dull and boring…. well, this is up to us as the pianists! What we think and practise is what we get. If we play Hanon in a dull, boring, hammering way then that is what we will […]

By |January 28th, 2021|Technique|1 Comment

Improve Your Technique!

A collection of resources to help you improve your piano technique and achieve your pianistic goals!

By |January 26th, 2021|Technique|0 Comments

Technical Fundamentals Collection

The Online Academy’s content library continues to grow with almost 100 videos added in the last few months alone! We’ve also recently added a new “collections” feature to provide another way of navigating and finding content. These collections provide guided pathways through selections of content based subjects and themes not directly covered with existing browse and search features. The first collection featured highlights from the main content categories within the Online Academy. We have now added another collection offering a selection of resources on technical fundamentals. This selection is aimed at pianists at an elementary level and their teachers. It will also be useful to returning pianists as a technical “refresher” or “health check”, or indeed any pianist looking for tips to improve their technique. Collection contents The collection covers the following topics with a combination of articles, video lectures and demonstrations: A brief treatise on the history of technique and some perspectives on the subject from Graham Fitch A tried-and-tested warm-up sequence from healthy playing expert, Penelope Roskell Tips on developing good pianistic habits from the start from Ilga Pitkevica, including posture, positioning of hands and fundamental movements And finally some suggestions on finger exercises and ideas for using the ubiquitous excercises of Hanon effectively from Graham How to access it? The technique collection can be viewed here, or from the collections listing here. Scrolling to the bottom of the page, “START” button and then navigate backwards and forwards. You can also jump A few of the resources within this collection are freely available to view, whereas most require an Online Academy subscription or can be purchased individually (please see further links below). Other technique resources The full listing of resources in the Online […]

By |December 10th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

Working With Peter Feuchtwanger

Graham Fitch and former student, Daniel Grimwood both had the privilege of working with Peter Feuchtwanger at various stages of their careers. In this video conversation, they discuss and share anecdotes from their experience in working with Peter. The Exercises of Peter Feuchtwanger We’ve recently published a new video module on the Online Academy in which Graham and Daniel give their take on Peter Feuchtwanger’s unique exercises designed to encourage healthy, natural and relaxed movements at the piano. The module is available is available for once-off purchase here or can be viewed here with an Online Academy subscription. Further links & resources Foundations of Good Technique – Video lecture series on how to teach good pianistic habits and ease of movements from the start, and tackle problems in piano playing caused by lack of flexibility. Click here to view. Developing A Balanced Technique – In this video lecture series, Ilga Pitkevica shares insights into approaches and strategies for achieving “pianistic fitness” based on her experience of the traditions of the Russian School of piano playing. Click here to view. Elementary Technique (Introduction and Basics) – The first module in the Online Academy’s technique library exploring the basics of piano technique, covering seating position, posture, whole-arm and legato touches. Click here to view or click here for more information on other modules. Fundamentals of Scales & Arpeggios – The next module in in the Online Academy’s technique library which follows on from the introduction and basics. Click here to view. A Practical Guide to Forearm Rotation – A step-by-step approach to incorporating forearm rotation in your playing to feel strong, coordinated and tension-free. Click here to view. Mastering Piano Technique – Part 2 of Graham Fitch’s Practising the Piano eBook series provides an overview of different schools and traditions through to an extensive […]

By |November 24th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

“Everything You Know Is Wrong!”

When I first witnessed international piano guru, Peter Feuchtwanger, demonstrate his exercises in a class I was so shocked by them that I had to leave the room for a short while. They struck me as diametrically opposed to everything I had come to understand about playing the piano, but as I later came to realise, this was exactly the point. The traditional exercises pianists practise aim to solve specific technical issues using muscular or athletic approaches, whereas Peter’s exercises are effectively anti-exercises. Putting the playing into neutral, they rely on flat fingers, hanging hand positions and a completely loose, passive arm that generates most of the motions involved in putting the keys down.  It took a leap of faith to embrace these exercises and, while I did not need to throw out the technical approach I had received from my main teachers, I found I was able to incorporate Peter’s ideas into my playing and into my teaching. They certainly made a significant difference. Having spent some time working on the exercises under Peter’s supervision, I began to feel a significant difference in the amount of effort I needed to use at the piano. Often, I just needed to do much less to get the same, or a better result.  Because I find these exercises very useful in my own playing and my teaching, I decided to include a feature giving my take on them in the Online Academy. To get the best out of the exercises, you would really need to study them with someone who has received them from the source, but I offer them here as a tribute to my work with Peter and to satisfy the curiosity of the many […]

By |November 19th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

Developing a Balanced Technique

Mastering core piano techniques is essential in order to have the freedom to successfully express musical ideas at the keyboard. Like a ballet dancer is required to do physical training to achieve perfection on the stage, pianists too must train their bodies to enjoy playing with ease. In her new video lecture series, Ilga Pitkevica shares approaches and strategies for development of a balanced, holistic technique based on her personal experience of the traditions of the Russian School of piano playing. The following is an excerpt from the introductory video examining the importance of technical development: The introduction is followed by videos focussing on the main areas of technique: Scale patterns or “finger technique” Broken chords and arpeggios   Chords Thirds Octaves Each of these videos starts with suggestions for how to develop a specific area of technique from the early levels. There are numerous tips for developing speed, fingering suggestions and many solutions to common problems at various stages of development. The videos will be useful to pianists wanting to improve their technique to enhance their enjoyment in playing. Teachers will also find the videos invaluable for helping their students build a good technical foundation. Two further videos providing tips on how to use the popular exercises in Hanon’s Virtuouso Pianist effectively to develop specific areas of technique will be added to the series shortly. *** Developing a Balanced Technique is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber. Be sure to sign-up to our newsletter for further updates and subscribe to our YouTube channel for previews and video excerpts! Further links & resources Foundations of Good Technique – […]

By |October 15th, 2020|Technique|0 Comments

Why a Healthy Technique is Important

This weeks’ guest blog post by Penelope Roskell looks at the importance of a healthy technique and how to go about acquiring it. *** *** *** Should we suffer for our art?  Piano playing is a physically demanding activity. Just as elite athletes understand and care for their bodies, so should pianists and their teachers think carefully about their approach to playing and practising.  A healthy piano technique not only avoids injury, ensuring a life-long enjoyment of music-making – it also helps to achieve a more beautiful sound, greater artistic freedom and faster progress.     Minimising effort The old maxim ‘no pain, no gain’ has been proven wrong over and over again, but still musicians find it difficult to ignore that inner voice that tells you that unless you are working very hard, then you are not really progressing.  A healthy technique, however, prevents injury by minimising the physical effort we use to play the piano. Movements become more co-ordinated: the small muscles are supported by the larger muscles; the sound is produced naturally by gravity rather than pressure; and stretches are minimised to avoid build-up of tension. Real progress comes, not from endless hours of mindless mechanical practice but from acquiring the technical know-how which allows the fingers, hands and arms to move freely around the keyboard.    Minimum effort for maximum expression  Every movement we make at the piano affects the quality of the sound; the freer the movements, the more flowing the musical phrase. Our technical skills must always serve a clear musical purpose – to express the meaning of the phrase as eloquently as possible, without exaggeration or inhibition – just enough and no more.  Achieving balance If the body is out of balance, […]

Tips for a Natural Hand Position

My approach to piano technique is based on using movements that are most natural to the body, movements that are free, loose and that feel good. It is most important that we are in touch with physical sensations as we play – our feet in contact with the ground, freedom in the legs and thighs, support from the piano stool, mobility in the torso, looseness in the shoulders and arm, and not least the absence of tension from our wrists, hands and fingers. Touching the keyboard can feel delicious and sensual, or strong and energetic. It should never feel tight or awkward. Hand position I have read elaborate descriptions for the correct hand position for piano playing, but finding the position is actually surprisingly simple. If you stand up and allow your arm to swing freely from your shoulder, you will discover your palm is facing behind you. Swing your arm up to a table or your piano keyboard and land there. Provided you have not tensed up or done anything to change the hand shape, you will have found your ideal hand position. There will be a natural curve in the fingers, and all the knuckles will be aligned and supported.  Curved, not curled We avoid the two extremes, flat fingers and overly curled fingers because they tend to lead to tension. The natural curve is the best default position for piano playing as it encourages the best coordination.  Don’t isolate the fingers Traditional pedagogy supplied the pianist with copious finger exercises in which each finger was to be lifted high in isolation from the other fingers, which were to remain on the surface of the keyboard. Modern thinking has moved on, and we don’t […]