We’re pleased to be launching Penelope Roskell’s new online course Foundations in Piano Technique for adult beginners, adult returners and teachers this week. Penelope is Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London, and the author of the award-winning book The Complete Pianist.
This new course guides elementary pianists step-by-step through all the main elements of piano technique in 25 lessons. It will help beginner and returning pianists overcome technical challenges and build strong foundation for quick and confident progress.
In this blog post, Penelope answers some common questions about learning the piano, technique and the new course.
Why is piano technique important?
Good foundations in technique help pianists to play more expressively, to achieve a more beautiful sound and play with greater agility. Establishing a sound technique from the earliest stages will also give you the freedom and confidence to progress quickly and effortlessly through to intermediate and advanced playing.
A well-balanced technique will also keep you feeling comfortable at the piano and help you avoid the pitfalls (including tension and even injury) that some pianists encounter at more advanced stages.
Am I too old to learn the piano?
It’s never too late to start learning the piano – in fact doctors say it is good for the brain, for the body and for overall wellbeing. And if you develop well-coordinated, free technique from the outset, playing will feel easy and effortless.
As a mature learner, you probably already have all the main skills that are needed to learn the piano:
- the desire and motivation to learn
- good coordination skills
- dexterity from typing or texting and other tasks
- cognitive skills
- organisational and time management skills
- familiarity with a wide range of musical styles.
And as you already love music, each piece you learn will motivate and inspire you to greater achievements. The sky’s the limit!
What is piano technique?
Traditionally pianists have tended to think of technique as consisting of just scales, arpeggios and rather boring finger exercises. I, on the other hand, interpret the word ‘technique’ in the broadest possible way. Technique is essentially the means by which we create all musical sounds. In addition to scales, arpeggios and chords, technical skills also include:
- whole-body coordination, good sitting posture and hand position
- developing freedom of movement around the keyboard
- creating a wide range of beautiful singing sounds and playing a phrase expressively
- clear articulation, legato and staccato
- strengthening the hand and finger
- playing with energy and vitality
- the five main piano-playing movements (up/down, sideways, forward/back, rotation and rounded movements)
- playing with ease and enjoyment
These skills can be learnt by all pianists within the first one or two years. Once learnt, they can then be refined and put into practice in all pieces of music for years to come.
Isn’t technique boring?
Speaking from the point of view of a teaching pianist who has devoted her life to studying the craft of piano playing, I can say quite categorically that studying technique is never dull! I always teach technique in a musically-focussed way so that pianists understand the purpose behind each exercise and can immediately put it into practice in a musical example.
I also like to keep exercises short, quick to learn and fun! I find it helps to give them quirky titles, such as ‘The Parachute touch’, ‘Jellyfish jumps’ and ‘Swat that fly’ – the descriptive imagery inspires pianists of any age to achieve the correct movement spontaneously and with ease.
Is it too late for me to change bad habits?
It always surprises me how many pianists say they weren’t taught technique at elementary level. By the time they reach intermediate or advanced levels, bad habits have often settled in and feel ‘normal’. Sometimes these habits feel so normal that the pianist only starts to recognise the need to revise their technique when they encounter limitations holding back their musical development or, in the worst case scenario, experience pain or injury.
Changing bad habits can be quicker and easier than you may think and it’s never too late to start. In fact it can feel uplifting and exciting to suddenly experience greater freedom of movement and the ability to play more expressively.
How does your new course work?
The course comprises 25 video lessons covering every aspect of technique that an elementary or intermediate pianist needs to learn. It can be used by itself, as a complement to other method books or alongside one-to-one and group piano lessons.
The lessons have been planned in a careful sequence and I recommend a beginner pianist to work through each lesson sequentially, perhaps watching each video several times before trying out the exercises in your own time at your keyboard. Each lesson contains downloadable notes, exercises and instructions to help you apply the concepts at the piano.
If you are a returner, or if you just wish to refresh certain techniques, you may wish to focus more on the techniques that you feel are most relevant to you. You may also be interested in exploring the extension activities and some of the more advanced recommended pieces included throughout.
Click here to find out more about the course or click here to view some excerpts from a selection of the video lessons.