When we learn any new skill, whether it’s a sport or a craft or learning to drive, we start by learning good technical skills. In this way, we progress quickly and confidently in our chosen activity. However, piano playing can feel a bit overwhelming initially because of the many elements we have to consider – right hand and left hand coordination, reading rhythms and notes on the treble and bass clef, finding and playing those notes on the piano, fingering and so on.
Traditional approaches to learning
Traditionally, most pianists have been encouraged to start by learning to read music while the technical skills get pushed aside until later. Most traditional method books taught just one note initially (normally middle C) followed by the adjacent notes. The first few lessons contained very boring musical examples – no wonder many adults look back on their first experience of playing the piano as rather tedious.
The problem with this approach is that it can also allow many bad habits to slip in, such as a poor hand position, tension in the joints, and stiff neck and back, which may be hard to eradicate later on.
Benefits of developing good technique
Research has since shown that the traditional methods are not always the best way to learn the piano – and they certainly aren’t the most enjoyable way! The effort of focusing primarily on complex note-learning can lead to mental and physical tension which hinders freedom of movement. Adult learners can quickly reach a ‘plateau’ where they no longer feel they are progressing. The resulting tension can even lead to serious problems in the future, including piano-related injuries and pain.
On the other hand, there are significant benefits to focusing on learning good technical skills from the very earliest stages. This doesn’t mean to say that the note-reading skills get left behind. On the contrary, they are introduced in a more natural progression (as ‘pattern-based learning’), so they become absorbed more naturally and intuitively and actually become easier!
What are good foundations in piano technique?
Many pianists think of piano technique as just scales and arpeggios. I use the term in a much broader sense, to include all the skills that will allow a pianist to make beautiful sounds and to play expressively, with ease and enjoyment.
My focus initially is on helping a pianist gain freedom of movement around the whole keyboard. This keeps all the joints flexible and also allows a pianist to explore more musically-satisfying pieces. Then over the coming months, pianists can enjoy learning all the movements that create rich and varied sounds on the instrument. Once learnt, these skills will set them up for life – they are there for ever!
Can these techniques be learnt later on?
I often come across many adult amateur pianists who say they don’t recall being taught technique at the beginning stages. Bad habits have slipped in and they are frustrated at not being able to play as freely and expressively as they would like. Relearning the foundations of technique can help a pianist push through these boundaries and make quick and enjoyable progress.
Free Online Presentation!
On 15th February at 17:00 GMT I will be giving a free webinar in which I demonstrate how good technical foundations can be learnt easily by beginner pianists, as well as those wishing to refresh aspects of their technique at a more advanced level. Please use this form to sign-up:
Please enter your email address to sign-up and receive registration instructions for joining this event. You will also receive the recording by email after the event if you are unable to watch it live or would like to watch it again!
Further links & resources
- Foundations in Piano Technique (click here)
- Teaching Healthy, Expressive Piano Technique (click here)
- The Complete Pianist (click here)
- The Art of Piano Fingering (click here)
- Yoga for Musicians (click here)
- Guide to Healthy Piano Playing (click here)
- Penelope’s website (click here)
- Penelope’s author page on the Online Academy (click here)