Often regarded as more of a "boring chore" when compared to other piano lesson elements, it is one of the most essential subjects of piano pedagogy.
Most children live in the 'here and now', and find it difficult to understand why they must be tortured to practice something "so easy", "so hard", and/or "so boring", and how this tricky hands together finger-twister of an exercise can help their future playing.
Although most students are willing to listen and learn said technique, not many are keen to practice them at home, resulting with it being reassigned week after week, put aside to move forward, or even left on the back burner altogether.
Lifelong benefits of technique:
- finger dexterity
- finger muscle strength
- using the whole arm in playing, not just finger action.
- finger control & precision
- greater sense of keyboard geography
- balanced sound control between the hands
So how does a piano teacher make playing this technique more fun? And who exactly is required to go through with this seemingly torturous warm-up routine?
When your studio is composed of students taking RCM examinations, non-examinees -but still going through the RCM curriculum, children and youth learning for fun, and the handful of adults that have set their minds to: "I don't like classical, I don't want technique".
......in my ideal world, as a music educator, I would say... "Everyone!! No exceptions!" ...but, I know that realistically there will be retaliation, especially with the non-formal learners.
Let's address and solve the non-examinees, 'for fun' learners, and anti-technique adults.
'For fun' learners come in all ages, 4 to 65+. As a believer of the magical long term positive effects of piano technique, I do my best to incorporate at least one technical aspect per lesson - the younger students: I follow the RCM curriculum assigning the simple Pentascales with more of a focus on hand posture (although this is a topic for another time), and if received well I continue on that path. If there is a consistent pattern of not working on it at home, I turn to Edna Mae Burnam's A Dozen A Day (finger exercises! ...the series also offers songbooks with well-known children's songs and more popular songs - a great supplementary to the RCM curriculum). Not only does this series solidify note reading, but also touch and details (staccato, slur, trills, rhythmic patterns, etc) It does incorporate elements of piano technique (pentascale patterns, parallel scales, V7 chords, o7 chords, arpeggios, octaves, etc) and I find that youth are more willing to practice this as it's laid out in a non-threatening, friendly manner. (As compared to the more formal layout of the RCM Technical Books)
But Dozen A Day doesn't jive with some of the older students... usually post-secondary ages and above... things get tricky. So far, it's been bringing up noticing these different patterns and addressing them on the spot during lessons to figure them out- what fingers to use, etc. Then assigning a warm-up (aka technique) that would help with the ease of playing specific patterns in the piece.
My technique goal this year is to encourage more practice at home by assigning more variations of the weeks exercise to mix things up for the student: after feeling comfortable with the technique, to apply different rhythmic patterns (eighths, sixteenths, triplets, dotted rhythms, etc) & styles of touch (staccato, grouped slurs, tenuto, patterned accents, etc), perhaps get the student to come up with a stylized pattern of their own for me to try :)
In the meantime, if you or your student are currently working on RCM Technical Requirements, check out this YouTube page: Piano Pieces
It contains helpful videos of technique at required tempos as stated in the RCM Syllabus (2015), and categorized by individual exercises, making it easy to pinpoint items. Levels Prep A through 7 currently available! All free.