A common refrain amongst pianists is that they lack the technique required to tackle many of the pieces they yearn to play. Many devote significant time to developing their technique, often spending hours on studies and exercises in the hope that these will help them overcome deficiencies and limitations.
There are many excellent resources dedicated to piano technique which can be extremely beneficial. However, if the underlying fundamentals are not in place then the results can be disappointing or even detrimental. Practising with poor technique can reinforce bad habits and lead to tension and injury.
In this blog post we provide some simple, often overlooked ways to build good foundations and make faster progress with your playing.
Warming-up is Worthwhile!
We’re generally eager to dive in and play, but taking the time to warm-up first can pay healthy dividends. Not only does preparing for playing reduce risk of injury, but it also make us more aware of the body and any tension. Furthermore, a good warm-up also enables us to be more mentally focussed to get the best results from our practising.
Expert in healthy piano playing, Penelope Roskell has developed an effective and simple sequence of exercises which warm-up the whole body before playing. In this video excerpt, Penelope demonstrates her “Empty sleeves” exercise (the full warm-up sequence is available on the Online Academy here):
Warming-up doesn’t have to take long either. Author, Pedagogue and pianist William Westney uses an effortless process that takes only a few minutes to ensure successful daily practice (you can find out more about William’s approach to warming-up here).
Do you want greater freedom in your piano playing? Does it feel like your technique is holding you back?
Join Graham Fitch online on Saturday 30th September for a set of workshops which will show you how to:
- Achieve physical freedom using movements that are natural to the body
- Incorporate forearm rotation into your playing for reduced tension, greater strength and better coordination
- Master the technical challenges posed by scales and arpeggios plus fun and creative ways to practise them
- Use popular studies and exercises effectively to get the best results
…and discover a creative way to tackle technical challenges in pieces you’re working on!
Click here to find out more or to book your place!
Our sitting posture at the piano not only affects our overall wellbeing, but it also has a profound effect on our arms, hands and fingers and on our ability to move freely around the piano. The more balanced our sitting posture, the more freedom we have in our arms and in our breathing. And this in turn means that we can also play with a better sound, and greater freedom of expression.
In this video, Graham Fitch gives some tips for achieving an optimal sitting position at the piano:
A natural hand position is also very important for avoiding unwanted tension. Watch this video for a simple way to find your natural hand position:
Not by Fingers Alone
The earlier approach to playing keyboard instruments was very finger-centric in nature. Modern approaches to technique differ in that they incorporate the whole body using natural movements that support the fingers.
Many issues with “finger strength” actually stem from a lack of alignment in the arm. In this video, Penelope Roskell demonstrates how to use align the arm and the fingers to avoid awkward twisting of the wrist:
Other examples of movements that empower the fingers are lateral adjustments and using circles in the wrists to give you greater freedom and control in your playing. Up and down movements (or “wrist hinges”) also release tension, for example when playing chords, and in addition to feeling good, help you create a better sound. Click here to watch a video in which Graham Fitch uses an exercise by Hanon to demonstrate how to use lateral adjustments and wrist circles.
Another movement which you might consider incorporating to turbo charge your technique is forearm rotation. Instead of the traditional “knuckle” approach to finger work, tiny movements in the forearm share with the fingers the job of putting down the keys. This can yield significant benefits, including improved coordination, reduced tension and a feeling of greater strength. Click here to view a demonstration of how Graham choreographs a snippet of a Mozart Sonata using rotations.
It’s How You Do It
Studies and exercises are excellent for isolating a specific aspect of technique and working on it in a focussed manner. Many pianists use these as part of their practice regime but not always in the most effective ways. Mindless repetitions of exercises without any direction or awareness is at best a waste of time and worst, a path to injury.
It’s important to select exercises that enable you to target the area you’re trying to improve and to practise them mindfully and with good technique. Exercises can also be a great way to get a feel for the various movements described above without having to worry about applying them alongside the complexities of a piece.
This article provides some further tips for using exercises and studies effectively and in this video, Graham Fitch gives an illustration of how he uses Hanon to develop wrist movements:
In this further video example, Fred Karpoff shows how Czerny’s Eight-Measure Exercises are excellent vehicles for quickly addressing specific technical challenges and to learning how to get the best results from using tools like rhythm practice:
Further Piano Technique Resources
Click on any of the following links for more information on additional resources for piano technique:
- Elementary Piano Technique – Introduction & Basics
- Elementary Piano Technique – Fundamentals of Scales & Arpeggios
- Jailbreaking Hanon
- A Practical Guide to Forearm Rotation
- Healthy Piano Playing
- The Art of Piano Fingering
- Foundations of Good Technique
- Inventing Exercises from Your Pieces
- Unlock Your Potential with …Czerny?!
- Developing the Left Hand
- Teaching Healthy, Expressive Piano Technique
- Playing Double Notes (Advanced Level)
- The Complete Pianist