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There are no short cuts in developing piano technique, but when you start to practice exercises you will begin to get a small glimpse of the possibilities that are there for you. It will be like getting that small spark when you are starting a fire. It will give you the passion and the desire to do more, to work harder. So now I am going to give you some advice and guidance about working on piano technique exercises so that you can always keep your hope and determination alive.
During my long experience in teaching I have always given exercise assignments to piano students and teachers. The problem was that after a while they rarely continued to consistently practice the exercises. I often wondered why this happened. Why did they start to practice technique only to later give it up. There may be many reasons for this, but there must also be one common reason.
My first thought was that they simply didn't get results right away. They felt a lack of compensation for all of their work. And they compromised with themselves and said, "Do I really have to practice technique exercises? Why not just practice my pieces."
The ability you have cannot be achieved without effort and constant exertion over time. To fulfill your desire to play the piano well you have to do the work.
I will give you a specific way of how and what to practice to people who are full of desire to play the piano comfortably but don't know the way and have been suffering.
In the beginning practice for at least an hour or 90 minutes. Longer will produce better results. Concentrate on only two notes and two fingers at a time. The fingerings combinations for the right hand are1212, 2323, 3434, 4545, and for the left hand 2121, 3232, 4343, 5454.
While you are practicing these two-note patterns remember to focus on the movement of each finger. All of the five fingers are different in length, strength, and responsiveness. All you have to do is find out which of your fingers is weak or tense.
Intermediate II, Chapter I, Exercise 1, and Piano Games 2.
If you don't have the Intermediate II book, don't worry. You can download sample pages here.
Here are the four rhythms:
Practice exercises 1 - 5 as they appear in the book, and with the four rhythms.
Concentration is very important. When you play 1212 do not lift the thumb off of the keyboard when the second finger plays. If your fingers remain on the surface of the keys they will be relaxed. When you play 2323 if you are sensitive enough you will feel if the two fingers are going to the bottom of the keybed evenly or not. When you practice 3434 and 4545 if you feel one finger is weaker than the other finger you can train them to play evenly.
These exercises have two main benefits.
I. You will find out which of your fingers are weak or tense.
II. After you find this out, you can concentrate on training these fingers.
Even though these exercises are short and simple they will lead you to a new world you have never experienced before. Practice these exercises for one week or ten days. This certain period of time of practicing just will show you what you can accomplish when you practice the right way with the right exercises.
Here is how to accelerate your learning in a short period a time and get good results! As the music examples show there are four rhythms for the two-note pattern exercises and four fingering combinations 1212, 2323, 3434, 4545. There are five intervals from a minor second to a perfect fourth in the first five exercises. I suggest that you start with the interval of a minor second with the fingering 1212 in the four rhythms, and then continue this with the next four intervals. Practicing the first five intervals in the four rhythms means you are practicing the fingering 1212 twenty times. With the four fingerings that will be eighty times. This is only one example of the many interesting, concentrated, and highly effective ways to practice this book.
Is it hard for you to choose which piano technique book to start with? There are six piano technique books. For the beginner Piano Games 1 and Piano Games 2, on the intermediate level Intermediate I and Intermediate II, and on the advanced level the Virtuoso and Advanced books.
Right now you must be curious about which book to choose. I will simply help you to categorize these books so that you can choose easily. Piano Games 1 and 2 are for young children or adult beginners who are having difficulty reading music (these books are easy to read because they are written in eighth notes.)
If you are at least nine years old and have some experience playing the piano you are ready for Intermediate I. After you learn Intermediate I and are comfortable with it, go on to Intermediate II. You can then combine these two books and practice them together. After that continue with the Virtuoso and Advanced books.
There is a circle of four books; Intermediate I, Intermediate II, Virtuoso, and Advanced. All four of these books are simple and easy to read. You can practice all four of them in rotation. You will then be on your way toward developing great technical skill.
When we are doing physical activity our body will get used to it and fall into a habitual routine. Walking is a good example. If you haven't been walking for a while and then you start walking, for the first few days your body will react strongly and you will get tired. One week later you are already used to it and you feel good, but if you do the same activity for one or two months you will not feel as strong as you did that first week. This tells us that walking has become a daily habit and our bodies have adjusted to that level.
Of course walking is much better than not walking but when you repeat the same activity you get used to it and it becomes less effective. At that time you need go to a higher level of activity. Now if you physically active you already understand what I am going to say next.
You should not practice only the Intermediate I book. You have to increase the physical activity of playing the piano with the books that follow. The added dimensions of these books will stimulate your brain more and make your arm and hand muscles stronger. Because they are all similar in their patterns and format they are easy to learn and you will enjoy practicing them.
All of the books begin with patterns of two, three, four, and five notes, then broken thirds, sixths, and octaves. After you learn Intermediate I you will understand the entire format of these books. Intermediate II is built on the chromatic scale so it develops new skills. The Virtuoso book introduces held notes which promote a balanced hand position, develop finger independence and delivering arm weight into the bottom of the key bed.
Finally we have the Advanced book. This book is the best book beyond comparison with any other piano technique book I have ever known or heard about. I strongly believe personally there isn't any other piano technique book which will give you so much confidence and improve your technique. This is because of the two-notes patterns with held and repeated notes alternating from one note to the next.
These are the kind of technical exercises which will make all of your five fingers play evenly and strongly. When you are practicing the advanced book you find out which fingers are weak or slow in depressing and releasing the keys and you will be able to solve these difficulties.
The Tersun Press piano technique books by Terrence Rust are the most effective ones available today. Everyone can benefit whether you are a piano major or not. Practicing these exercises will develop your basic fundamental technique so that when you play the piano you will have complete control of your fingers.
There must be many ways you have heard
of in this world to improve your piano technique. Among the many
ways I know of, there is only one which is closely connected to the
physiology of playing the piano. It is the best way and most
effective way to make your fingers work efficiently.
You could ask me how I can be so sure about this. It is because I have been doing many piano technique workshops, and I have a piano technique blog with thousands of members and hundreds of positive testimonials. Even without all of that I can still convince you because my own technique has dramatically improved during the last fourteen years since I first established Tersun Piano Technique.
When you are trying to develop your
piano technique and if you don't know which of your fingers is weak
or slow to respond, you cannot make your playing any better. No
matter how many hours you practice without knowing this, those
fingers will remain slow, unresponsive, and hard to control.
For example, the thumb causes the most tension. The second finger is lazy, the third finger is weak and slow, believe it or not. The fourth finger is obviously weak and it is not easy to develop its strength. The fifth finger is weak and can also develop tension. So to train all of your five fingers to play evenly, you have to acknowledge the characteristics of each individual finger.
Here is what you need to think about
before trying out what I am going to suggest. Even though you
understand the different characteristics of the five fingers, you
still need to watch them closely to see how they are working and if
they are playing evenly. When playing music we go from one note to
the next, so it is very useful to start with two notes at a time.
Start with the thumb and second finger. You may feel your thumb has
tension and the second finger is slower than you thought.
If you practice two-finger exercises with simple, repeated patterns, you can truly concentrate on what your fingers are doing. This is the only way for you to discover what you have been doing wrong. So let's get to the point now. I will show you the best way to fix your old bad habits.
You should begin with two-note patterns with the ten fingering combinations. Two fingers at a time is like walking with the whole body weight shifting left, right, left, right. Now you can imagine your two fingers are walking on the keys just like you walk with your two legs. When you are walking you can easily feel the two legs are evenly balanced, step by step. Playing the piano with two fingers should also be balanced. Then it is like shifting the whole weight of the arm into the fingers left to right, and at that time you can easily feel which fingers did not go to the bottom of the key bed or did not release quickly enough.
Here are the ten fingering combinations where you can imagine two fingers are walking. This is the most effective way to control your fingers to play evenly.
In this example the two fingers play CDCD, hands together two octaves apart. These exercises are to be found at the beginning of Chapter 1 of Intermediate Level Finger Exercises, Vol. I.
R. H. 1212, 2323, 3434, 4545, 1313, 2424, 3535, 1414, 2525, 1515
L. H. 2121, 3232, 4343, 5454, 3131, 4242, 5353, 4141, 5252, 5151
When you are practicing these
two-finger patterns you will clearly find out which of your fingers
is heavy and slow to move. It will give you a sense of motivation to
fix your old problems.
As soon as you make your fingers walk on the keyboard, you will discover a new world. Your talent will come out and you will see how much potential is inside of you waiting for this moment. Then you cannot stop practicing these exercises because you know you are making a bigger improvement than you ever had before every time you practice. If you have passion to improve your piano playing this is the best path for you.
Self taught piano technique is both possible and needed. Teachers cannot make your fingers play evenly. You are the one who makes your fingers play evenly. When you cannot control your fingers why do you need piano lessons? What can you possibly learn? You will keep making the same mistakes over and over. Your teacher will work hard to fix your problems but unless you develop your fundamental piano technique it will seem like the teacher and the student are pretending that teaching and learning are going on. If you agree you can read more.
For a long time I was teaching many university students and other varieties of students. I strongly believe teachers cannot help students to develop their technique. Students have to do the work to develop their own technique. However If a teacher understands and has experience with developing technique the student can get useful information but they still have to work hard.
When I was a student I practiced the Debussy Feux
(“Fireworks”) in a San Francisco Conservatory
practice room over and over all day long for a few days. Some days I
could play it really well, and some days I went backwards and it got
worse. One day my teacher even came into the room and complimented me
on my even sound. After he left I played it again and the sound was
gone. At that time I didn't know anything. All I had was my
I tried the Brahms and Pischna exercises which my teacher recommended to me. That obviously did not help me to control my fingers so that I could play evenly and consistently. I was one of those students who worked really hard and spent many hours practicing. I was doing everything I could think of to develop my own technique. Sometimes I asked my teacher how to solve a particular passage. I never got a helpful answer and my difficulties remained.
Ten years later I got a piano technique book that was the perfect solution for me, my students, and the world. The exercises helped me to focus on touch and relaxation with each finger and trained my muscles to become stronger.
When you are practicing exercises to develop your technique they should be simple so that you can concentrate on finding out specifically what each finger needs to be trained. Then while you are practicing if something is wrong don't ignore this feeling. You need to fix it. Those exercises that I practiced and taught my students start with two-note patterns and two fingers at a time. You will discover what your weaknesses are, such as touch, tone color, and relaxation.
Please take a look below at the exercises I am talking about. When you are trying out these exercises with two-note patterns depressing one note at a time, such as C, you should fully concentrate on how much effort you are using and then go on to D. It takes very little effort to depress the key only one centimeter to the bottom of the key bed. If you are using more effort than is necessary it will interrupt the quick release of your muscles. Releasing your muscles quickly is the most important training you have to be aware of, all the time. This is very important. This is the only way you will eventually be able to play evenly and fast.
To produce a beautiful tone you have to
go all the way to the bottom of the key bed with a relaxed arm. If
you have tension in your arm then you cannot deliver arm weight into
the bottom of the key bed. Why does tension cause this to happen?
When you are self taught you always have to ask yourself why. This
will lead you to discover the answer.
Tension means that your muscles are contracting, not releasing. Your muscles are holding you back and interrupting your motion of delivering into the keys.
Also see here.
There are 18 hand position pictures. Each picture pinpoints in detail where you should relax when you are practicing the piano. I am the only one in the universe giving out this very specific and unique information. With this knowledge you will go in the right direction and there will be no more frustration or getting lost. After all, practicing and playing the piano is supposed to be joyful, happy, and satisfying.
The energy gathers in the heel of the hand
The energy comes from the back of the waist through the shoulders and arms into the heel of the hand. Think of three vertical lines: the back bone, the left upper arm, and the right upper arm. The arms move vertically (as when we are walking), not horizontally. When we are trying to move any heavy object, it is easier to push than to pull. When we are pushing most of the contact is with the heel of the hand.
So we are using our energy from the back of the waist, through the shoulder into the heel of the hand. The energy then goes from the heel of the hand through the palm and supporting knuckles into the fingertips. At this time it is important that the palm and the underside of the fingers are soft and relaxed.
Be sure the upper arm is relaxed. Think vertically.
In the front of the upper arm is the bicep, and in the back is the tricep. When we pick up our forearm when playing the piano, we are using the bicep to bend our elbow. When we deliver arm weight into the keys with a downward swinging motion we are using the tricep in the back of the upper arm. When playing the piano, both of these muscle masses need to be relaxed the same as when we are walking.
When we are walking and swinging our arms, the upper arm is swinging freely from the shoulder. At this time we do not put the elbow either in or out. It hangs vertically from the shoulder. This is the way we should use our arms when playing the piano. Many people are taught to play the piano with their elbows out in order to relax and to express the music. They don't know how much tension this causes. When you are playing the piano the arms should hang vertically from the shoulders to the fingertips. I recommend that you practice one hand at a time. As seen in the picture, your other hand can feel the upper arm to see if the elbow is out and if any muscles are contracting.
Be sure the top of the forearm is relaxed
play with speed it is most important to keep the forearm relaxed. In this
picture the left hand is indicating where the muscles are that control the
movement of the fingers. Releasing your fingers quickly will keep the top of the forearm relaxed.
So we need to train the forearm to develop a quick attack and release motion similar to what you would do when bouncing a ball. This motion means the forearm is completely going down as you let go of the ball and let the ball bounce back up by itself. This is the same idea that once you depress the key you should release your muscles in your arm so that the key comes back up by itself. The most common problem people make when playing the piano is, after depressing the key, it is held down tightly with finger tension so that the forearm is also tense and will be pushed up.
Be sure the underside of the forearm is relaxed
When you depress the key you should check with the other hand to see if the underside of the forearm is relaxed and feels light. The most comfortable position for the forearm is when you turn your palms up. This is because there are two bones in the forearm, one on the thumb side of the hand and one on the fifth finger side. When your palms are turned up these bones are parallel to each other. When your hand is in position to play the piano the bone on the thumb side crosses over the other one, causing a small amount of tension. Be sensitive to this and always keep the underside of the forearm relaxed.
Training the thumb is the most important part of playing the piano.
The thumb is the leader when we play scales and arpeggios. Wherever the thumb goes up and down the keyboard make a straight line from the end of the piano string through the thumb and elbow into the
backbone . This is the most natural motion of the arm. The thumb and all the other fingers move together as one unit on the surface of the keyboard,
the same as when we swing the arm when walking.
To train the thumb you can check with the other hand to be sure the inside of the thumb is relaxed. It should feel soft, not hard. If the inside of the thumb is tight, this will immediately cause tension in the wrist because the thumb muscle mass in the palm is directly connected to the wrist. So when the thumb has tension, this affects other fingers and forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder--everywhere.
In our daily life we are mostly using a grabbing motion with the thumb and the other fingers which is the opposite way from when we are playing the piano. When we are playing we should make an open space between the fingers, especially the thumb and second finger. When you play the thumb be sure to depress the key vertically with the arm while keeping the wrist relaxed. Always keep the thumb on the surface of the keys. Never pick up the thumb by itself. Furthermore, think of the thumb as one unit from the wrist to the tip of the thumb. This means the thumb is hanging from the wrist and depresses the key with the forearm. The thumb muscles are connected to the other fingers in the palm of the hand. If the thumb has tension that affects all the other fingers, the wrist, and the whole arm.
Then how can you find out if the thumb has tension? Put your thumb on the surface of a key and depress the next key with the second finger. At that time put your left hand second finger on the right hand thumb as shown in the picture. If you feel the thumb pushing up or moving, that means it has tension. All of the fingers share one wrist. Because of this, if the thumb or any other finger has tension it will make it difficult for all of the fingers to move freely. The question I get most often is if we should bend the first joint of the thumb. I answer "no." When you are walking what does the first joint of your thumb look like? This is how it should look and feel when you are playing the piano.
Feel the thumb as part of a vertical line into the keys
To train the thumb put your left-hand thumb on C and the
right-hand thumb on E. Then play the thumb feeling a connection from the tip
of the thumb to the elbow. To practice this, play a two-octave scale with only the thumb on
the white keys in contrary motion. Keep the other fingers gently on the
surface of the keys while not changing the position of the hand.
Attack and release the notes with only a vertical motion. Do not push the elbow out by itself in the direction you are playing. Play the
thumb with a free swinging arm motion from the shoulder.
At that time be sure that your upper arms are relaxed and feel light.
The space between the thumb and the second finger must be kept open and relaxed.
The thumb and the second finger are the most important fingers. The proper training of the thumb and second finger provides the basis for developing a brilliant technique. You will have a balanced hand position, finger independence, and be able to play fast passages easily. This is because the thumb is the leader, leading the hand up and down the keyboard, as when you play scale or arpeggio passages. The inside of the thumb and the thumb muscle mass must be soft and relaxed. In this condition, as we mentioned before, the thumb should be played vertically into the key. Always keep an open space between the thumb and the second finger as much as possible.
Think of the second finger from the second joint to the knuckle as one unit
finger is the center of the hand and arm. When you are indicating something you naturally use your second
finger to point because the second finger is independent of the other
fingers and has its own individual muscles and tendons in the hand and
When we are playing the piano it is not as natural to curve the second finger as it is with the other fingers. This is why we have to be more careful that it is relaxed.
The second finger, as the center of the hand, must be trained to have a strong knuckle and second joint in order to support the weight of the arm. To remind you, I will mention again that you should make an open space between the second finger and the thumb and that under the second joint of the second finger it should always feel soft and light.
Think of the back of the hand from the knuckle to the wrist as one unit. This area should always be relaxed
As indicated in the picture, the area from the second finger knuckle through the connecting bone in the back of hand to the wrist affects the motion of the second finger. This area should always be soft and relaxed so that the second finger can move freely. You may be curious about how there can be any tension at that place on the back of the hand. When you are depressing the key with the second finger, check with your other hand, as shown in the picture, to see if the wrist is pushed up. If this happens it means you are only using the finger to depress the key. This is what is causing the tension.
Remember that 1. the second joint to the knuckle (Picture 8), 2. the knuckle, and 3. the knuckle to the wrist should all go to the bottom of the key bed together as one unit with a motion of the forearm. If any of these three joints move individually this will cause tension at that point and block the weight of the arm going down into the key bed.
Be sure the underside of the second joint of the second finger is relaxed.
As shown in the picture, the underside of the second joint of the second finger should be rounded, soft, and
relaxed. Pay special attention to this. When you
play the second finger you should check this area with your other hand.
This is very necessary because if the underside of this joint has tension it is impossible to deliver arm weight into the keys and make a beautiful tone, and it will not be easy to play trills.
When you depress the key with the second finger, this area should remain soft
As shown in the picture, this is a typical place where there is tension. As already mentioned in Pictures 8 and 9, the second finger is the center of the hand and has its own special muscles and tendons. Because of that the second finger is slower to move than we think, and it is not easy to train it to move faster. This is why it so important to check to see if there is any tension. If there is any tension it will be difficult to play scale and arpeggio passage and chords. This area should feel as loose and relaxed as when you are walking.
Important note: when you depress the key with the second finger, this area should remain soft. If that area has tension it will be pushed up and the second finger will become heavy. The second finger second joint, the knuckle, and the back of the hand near the wrist should all go down into the key bed together as one unit. This is the key to training the second finger.
The back of the hand must be balanced, level, and relaxed
No matter which finger is playing, the back of the hand must be balanced, level, and relaxed. There are five bones in the hand and seven muscles between these bones; four on the back of the hand, and three in the palm. The muscles on the back of the hand put the fingers in an open position. The muscles in the palm bring the fingers together. If these muscles become tense the fingers will not move freely. That is why it is important to keep the back of the hand as relaxed as when you are walking. When the right hand is playing, put your left hand gently on the back of the right hand to feel if there is any tension. If there is you will know that you have either over extended the hand or that you are using a only finger motion to depress the keys.
The top of the forearm close to the wrist must be relaxed
When you look at your forearm you will see that the muscle mass is thicker in the middle of the arm. The arm in thinner closer to the wrist because this is where the tendons are which pass through the wrist and connect to each finger. It is common that many people are pushing up the wrist and forearm in order to relax. But it is not necessary to do this because the muscles which need to relax are in the middle of the forearm. The pushing up motion will cause another new tension in the upper arm.
When you are depressing the key a shock occurs. If you quickly relax the wrist after you depress the key, that is already enough. You don't need any other motion. As I have already mentioned the muscles in the forearm are directly connected to the fingers. You should remember that relaxation occurs in the arm. So the pushing up motion is not necessary. It will only interrupt the arm weight going down into the bottom of the key bed.
As shown in the picture, always check this part of the arm with the other hand while you are playing. When you are doing this, you must feel that this area is quiet and relaxed. Without that it is impossible for you to make a beautiful tone because the weight of the arm cannot completely go down to the bottom of the key bed.
Playing with the hand in a open position is difficult. Slant the hands toward the fifth finger side.
Here I am playing an exercise in sixths, Exercise 45, page 26, in
Chapter 1 of
Piano Technique: Advanced Finger Exercises by Terrence
Rust. In this exercise there is an interval of a perfect fifth between
the second and fourth fingers. If you slant your hand toward the fifth
finger side, as shown in the picture, you can easily reach the interval without
stretching the fingers or causing any tension in the top of the hand, the wrist, and the forearm.
The muscles between the bones in the top of the hand need to be relaxed all of the time (this was explained in Picture 12.) This allows you to easily play directly into the key bed. Don't worry about slanting your hands. This is only temporary. Practicing with your hands slanted has two benefits: you can practice wider intervals without tension, and you can develop strong arm muscles. This will lead to a solid hand position and strong finger joints. Only relaxed muscles can develop strength and exercises in sixths will develop the weaker fourth and fifth fingers. Slanting your hand is the best way to develop arm muscles and finger independence when playing wide intervals.
The hands will return to the normal position when your muscles get stronger.
After you practice with your hands in a slanting position as in Picture 14, you will feel your arm muscles getting stronger, and after you are fully comfortable your hands will return naturally to this position.
When playing chords, the inside of the thumb and the inside of each finger facing the thumb should be relaxed
Playing chords is the same as playing octaves. We are just adding more fingers. When playing chords, the inside of the thumb and the inside of each finger facing the thumb should be relaxed. If the inside of the fingers are not relaxed, the energy going into the fingertips will be blocked, causing a hard, percussive sound. Because our five fingers are all different it is important that we develop finger independence and evenness. I will explain this and how to develop the muscles when I discuss the exercises.
The side of each finger facing the thumb must be relaxed
The movement of the fingers is controlled by the arm and shoulder muscles. If these muscles are strong enough we can deliver equal arm weight into each of the fingers when playing chords. Obviously chords cannot be played only with a finger motion. Relaxing the inside of each finger facing the thumb will relax the palm and the entire arm so that we can deliver arm energy into the keys and produce a deep, full, ringing tone.
When playing octaves, the inside of the thumb and the inside of the fifth finger, facing each other, should be relaxed
playing octaves, the inside of the thumb and the inside of the fifth
finger, facing each other, should be relaxed. Then the fingers, the
palm, and the back of the hand, even the forearm, will also be relaxed.
If the fingers are tight, your forearm and the upper arm will have
tension. Therefore relaxing the inside of the thumb and the fifth
finger creates the perfect situation for delivering arm weight into the
keys when playing octaves.
People with a small hand usually make their thumb and fifth finger tight when they play octaves because they have to stretch to reach the interval. This is a difficult situation. If you stretch, the muscles will become tense and hard, and it will be impossible to produce a good tone quality. Let the other hand open the thumb and fifth finger (Picture 18) while keeping the palm relaxed. The palm should feel the same as when you are rubbing the palms together or clapping your hands. When you open the thumb and fifth fingers to play octaves be sure the top and under side of the forearm and upper arm are relaxed.
When I was young and taking piano lessons Hanon was every student's assignment. I practiced Hanon but I always felt something was wrong with my fingers. I didn't know why this was happening and I didn't know I could ask my teacher. That young girl just kept practicing what the teacher told her without knowing the reason.
As I got older I had to practice Clementi and Kuhlau sonatinas and Bach inventions. Practicing these pieces was interesting but I couldn't find any purpose or anything beautiful. Later for my university entrance examination I had to learn the Beethoven Pathétique sonata and a Bach prelude and fugue. This was not easy. I felt I had to twist my hand because of crossing over the fingers in the fugue and I couldn't keep an even rhythm in the prelude. Even though the Beethoven tremolo was not good they accepted me and I became a piano major.
My frustration remained for four years until I graduated. My graduation recital included the Chopin Barcarolle. The Barcarolle had too many trills but I still graduated!
When I look back at my youth, which was full of passion and love for music, I now realize I didn't know anything, and there wasn't anybody who could guide me to understand what I should be doing. Now I have very sincere question for you. What did Hanon do for you and what is it doing for others? If you are a teacher please consider why you are assigning Hanon to your students. If you are a student ask yourself why are you practicing Hanon. Are you following an old tradition without questioning it?
Practicing Hanon is good for a warm up
for someone who can already play evenly. This was absolutely not my situation. My
fingers did not play evenly at all. How many people are lucky to be able to play evenly
when they were young? Because of my teaching experience I know there are very few. This means that most
people are like I was. So we have to work out the problem of making our fingers play evenly before we do Hanon.
When I was thinking about how to make my fingers play evenly and how to teach this to my students, I developed my own ideas about piano technique, touch, and relaxation as it relates to human physiology and the natural motions of the body. All of this came from my own research, and from my teaching and performing experiences while I was at the university for ten years.
Although I was satisfied with what I had accomplished, I always felt there was something still missing. I worked with my students to teach them reading, fingerings, touch and tone color, relaxation, phrasing, and interpretation. After all of this effort, students and teacher, the result was not as good as it should have been, and it did not carry over to the next piece they learned. There was no end to this situation. I had to decide what to do.
At this time, on the other side of the earth there was a scholarly man, a piano professor, who was thinking about piano technique exercises. He wrote out some exercises in two-note patterns in manuscript form. He believed that Hanon had not helped his technique, and that he needed to write his own exercises for his students. These exercises later grew into what became the advanced piano technique book.
When I received this book I had already given up my teaching position at the university because I couldn't fool myself or my students any longer. After I gave my farewell recital, I never looked back on my teaching career, my studies in America, or all of those long practice hours. It no longer had any meaning for me. The piano lid remained shut.
But then, to proofread the advanced piano technique book, as requested by the author, the piano lid was opened. When I started to proofread I knew the piano was my life. Every time I played the exercises my fingers felt better than they had ever felt before. The exercises matched perfectly with my concepts of tone, touch, and relaxation. It was profound moment for me. Maybe I didn't really want to give it all up. Maybe I could give myself one more chance.
If I believe there is some energy of attraction in the universe which brings something good into our lives, this is why this book fell into my hands. I don't know if this is my fate or an accident in my life for this encounter to happen between these piano exercises and my concepts of piano touch, tone, and relaxation. I believe this was a unique and unprecedented event in the long history of piano technique.
is a saying that the habits we learn when we are three years old still remain when we are eighty, both good habits and bad
habits. Habits are formed by what we are doing over and over again. So now let us consider what
happens when we are learning how to play the piano.
To create good habits in playing the piano it is necessary to know it is the muscles in the arm which control the movement of the fingers. I am always wondering why we don't have classes for piano majors where they can learn how human physiology is related to playing the piano, and why it is so important to develop the muscles used in this physical activity. This would open the door to better teaching, faster learning, and a generally higher performance standard.
If teachers would have learned this when they were students, they could pass this information on directly to their own students. With this knowledge students can then practice and learn new repertoire in such a way that they will only create good habits. The students will discover their own talent, develop their musical imagination, and be able to more fully express themselves in the music.
If for some reason this is not happening, then the teacher should ask what was wrong with their teaching. If the student has difficulties with relaxation, controlling their fingers, or other problems, then the teacher has to do more research, learn more, and develop their ideas more fully. This is how the teacher can continuously learn from their students.
I believe teaching and learning go together. It is not one sided. When we are teaching we realize that we are also learning.
Here is my story. After I graduated as a piano major I began a new position as a university teacher. When I met my students they reminded me of when I was a student. I started thinking about the difference between them and me. Do I have permission to teach because I graduated ahead of them and I am older than they are? I must know more than they do because I obtained a Master's degree. Is this why?
When I observed my piano teaching colleagues who had graduated from some of the best schools, my opinion was that they didn't know much of anything. But they were still teaching without any problems, and they were blaming their students for not understanding and not being talented. I think it is shameful for teachers to blame their own students. The reason the students could not understand and make progress was because the teachers were not able to clearly explain or demonstrate the basic concepts.
Thus began my long journey of researching, studying, and meditating on the true nature of playing the piano. I had to pursue the truth so that I could give my students the best possible information. Then they would be able to find fulfillment and express themselves as young pianists.
The first thing is that to play well we must have a strong piano technique. There is no other way. When I started to teach I was aware of my heavy responsibility. I watched and listened carefully to my students so I could find out their strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to make them fully aware of themselves so that they could correct any problems. In this way they would begin to develop only good habits.
My teaching was effective, but I knew there was something missing. I realized that just having the knowledge about how our muscles control our fingers was not enough. We also need to practice exercises with simple repeated patterns to train these muscles for strength, endurance, and responsiveness. This training does not have to be done with complicated and difficult exercises. The most important thing is to concentrate on how we depress and release the keys.
The motion into the bottom of the key bed with just one finger using arm weight should be done many times until that finger automatically responds at the keyboard. To make all of the fingers depress the keys evenly this motion must be repeated over and over. Then all the physical motions we use to play the piano will become spontaneous and natural without our even thinking about it. We will be fully involved in the art of creating good habits.
It is impossible to control evenness by using only the fingers. Each finger has a different characteristic. Playing the piano while only thinking about the motion of the fingers will cause difficulties when you are trying to play fast and evenly.
The movement of the fingers is controlled by the muscles in the shoulder and arm which are directly connected to the fingers. It is the consistent motion of the arm into the keys which makes evenness possible. So remember that you are not playing the piano with just your fingers.
When you are ready to depress the key you are going to use the muscles in your arm along with the muscles in the chest and back which are connected to the shoulder. The motion into the keys from the shoulder to the fingertips will be a natural swinging motion of the arm, the same motion as when you are walking along.
To make progress in playing the piano, you have to think about this connection of all the muscles and tendons from the shoulder to each of the five fingers. You have to develop the muscles in the arm which are connected to each of the fingers. The best way to do this is to start with exercises with two-note patterns. These exercises are in every piano technique book written by Terrence Rust.
When you depress the key you must relax the area between the fingers. Then the energy will flow freely from the shoulder to the fingertips. Before depressing the key, the fingertips should gently contact the surface of the key. At this moment think about how deeply you are going to depress the key. It is less than one centimeter from the surface of the key to the bottom of the keybed. The action of the key is lighter than you think, so you do not need to use too much energy to depress the key.
When the key is depressed with your finger, the muscles in your arm contract. At that brief moment the knuckle is supporting the arm weight. When you feel the bottom of the keybed and hear the tone you have just produced, you must immediately release these muscles so that you are free to play the next note.
To depress the keys with your fingers you have to think about playing…
• from the shoulder to the tip of the thumb,
• from the shoulder to the tip of the second finger,
• from the shoulder to the tip of the third finger,
• from the shoulder to the tip of the fourth finger,
• from the shoulder to the tip of the fifth finger.
Playing from the shoulder to the fingertip means you are using your whole arm to depress the keys. It is the same feeling as when you are throwing a ball. You gently hold the ball, throw it using your whole arm, and then release the ball quickly. This is the feeling of a quick attack and release when you depress each key which is a continuous motion from beginning to end with no stopping along the way. This is how to use arm weight with each finger to make all the notes sound even.
Why did you decide to write your piano technique books now at the
beginning of the twenty-first century when there are so many already
A. I have studied almost all of the many piano technique books published during the last 150 years, many of which are now out of print. They seem to be mostly of two kinds: those which consist primarily of five-finger patterns, which are of limited value, and those of a more complicated nature, which are usually in no particular order and are difficult to learn. None of these books presents a complete program for developing piano technique.
Because of this I created a series of six piano technique
books on three levels of complexity: beginning, intermediate, and
virtuoso-advanced. It is important to
practice exercises on the same level as the repertoire being studied,
from beginner to virtuoso. The exercises are presented in a logical,
sequential order from the first note of the book to the last. Each
exercise builds upon skills acquired earlier in preparation for what
is to follow. Technical problems are introduced gradually, and are
solved gradually, step by step.
All of the books follow the same design, consisting of the basic building blocks of piano technique: (1) exercises in patterns of two, three, four, and five notes, broken thirds, sixths, and octaves, (2) exercises with the thumb passing under the hand and the hand passing over the thumb, (3) double-note thirds, sixth, and octaves, (4) extensions in broken chord patterns, and (5) double-note thirds, sixths, and octaves with a held, supporting finger.
The exercises in two-note patterns have all possible intervals from a minor second to the octave, with all possible fingerings. They are presented in a logical and sequential order, moving from the simple to the more complex. Repetitions of these exercises will train the mind and the muscles to play these intervals with ease, all of which will be immediately applicable to the repertoire, resulting in significant progress. The exercises are easy to learn and remember. There are a variety of ways to practice them, including supplementary fingerings, rhythms, transpositions, and chromatic intervals as well as diatonic intervals.
This is a complete program for developing the technical requirements for playing the great works of the piano literature. With consistent, diligent practice the exercises will do the work for you. You cannot fail.
Q. What is the basic idea?
A. The only problem to be solved in playing the piano is how to go from one note to the next. This means the intervals we are playing and the fingerings we are using. The solution is to begin the technical practice with exercises in two-note patterns, going from one note to the next, concentrating on only one activity at a time. This is important because all of my books each exercise, each group of exercises, and each chapter builds upon skills learned earlier and prepares for what is to follow. The repetitions of these exercises will train the muscles to play these intervals with ease, which will be immediately applicable to the repertoire, resulting in significant progress.
Q. Why did you write these books?
A. I wrote these books to help all pianists who want to achieve their goals and to play with an artistic, expressive piano technique. As a pianist and teacher I have noticed that many pianists have difficulty in developing their technique. Only a lucky few do it naturally. I wanted to discover the most effective and efficient ways to develop a total piano technique. Over the decades, in my teaching, practicing, and performing, and now in collaboration with Eulsun Kim, I developed the ideas and concepts which gradually led to the creation of these books.
Q. What about scales and arpeggios?
A. There are technical skills which are precursors which should be developed before beginning to work on scales, arpeggios, and other idiomatic patterns. These are all presented in my books, especially in the first two chapters with the patterns of two, three, four, and five notes, and the thumb passing under the hand and the hand passing over the thumb. Everything which follows is a multiplication of these basic building blocks of piano technique.
Q. What are the levels of complexity in your books and why is that important?
A. Technical exercises should be practiced on the same level as the repertoire being studied. For young persons there are Piano Games 1 and Piano Games 2. In the middle of the mix are Intermediate Level Finger Exercises, Vol. I, and Intermediate Level finger Exercises, Vol. II. At the highest level are virtuoso Piano Technique, and Advanced Finger Exercises. Practicing these books in rotation at the same time produces a synergism which is uniquely effective. You can look at the inside pages of these books here.
Q. What are your ideas about the daily practice session?
A. In an ideal world there would be no time limit to the practice session. In the real world this is not possible, so we must plan our time very carefully in order to produce the best results in the shortest amount of time. Here is my suggestion. Begin with the exercises. With my exercises you will see improvement every day. After that practice one or more etudes.
On the intermediate level I highly recommend the studies by Stephen Heller. These are delightful pieces with a strong musical content. Piano technique is created in the exercises; piano technique is celebrated in the etudes. Etudes should be played in a way that transcends technical considerations so that the focus can be on expressing and projecting the musical content. This is why it is so important to practice etudes with strong musical content. The last part of the practice session should be devoted to the repertoire from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern eras, with a smattering of the most recent avant-garde pieces.
Q. What if anyone has questions or wants to learn more about piano technique and how to practice these books?
A. The best way to learn is right here on the pages of this blog
in the writings of Eulsun Kim. She writes with great knowledge, wisdom, and
insight, and has a profound, empirical knowledge of the physiology of playing the piano. I suggest you start here.