A well-developed technique is essential for realising your musical intentions at the piano. Many pianists and teachers consider the use of technical exercises and studies to be a good way to improve overall technique or to work on specific aspects thereof.
Why use technical exercises & studies?
- To warm up before practising
- To build and maintain technique
- To tackle specific trouble spots in pieces
Tips for using them effectively
While practising technical exercises & studies can be very beneficial (and many great pianists swear by them!), it can too often become mindless, boring and unproductive. Such practice is not only a waste of time but can also expose you to an increased risk of injury.
As with many things, it’s not what you do but how you do it that has the biggest impact. The following are some tips and suggestions for using technical exercises and studies more effectively whilst avoiding boredom and tension:
1. Play them in different keys – Although many exercises are written in C major e.g. Hanon, they are often intended to be played in all keys and doing so enables you to derive greater value from practising them while making them more interesting.
2. Use different rhythms and accents to add variety – Different rhythmic patterns or placing accents on selected notes can also be a good way to add variety while building speed and accuracy (click here for more information on an online workshop on practising in rhythms and accents).
3. Use different touches – Another way to increase your productivity and maintain focus when practising exercises & studies is to use different touches e.g. leggiero and martellato. In this excerpt from his “Jailbreaking Hanon” video series, Graham Fitch demonstrates use how Hanon No. 24 can be used to develop different touches while maintaining a free wrist and using rotations to avoid tension:
4. Incorporate natural movements – Hanon’s instruction to “lift the fingers high and with precision” is a relic of a bygone era. Instead, the exercises can be used as a blank canvas to experience and develop more natural, coordinated movements of the finger, wrist and arm.
In this excerpt from his video on using Berens’s The Training of the Left Hand (Op. 89), Graham Fitch demonstrates how a circular choreography can be used to improve strength and increase velocity in Exercise No. 11:
5. Do as much as you need to – Far too often, duration and excessive repetition are seen as desirable when it comes to exercises and studies. However, in many cases you do not need to play the full exercise in order to derive benefit from it. By playing only as much as you need to, it makes it easier to practise in a focussed manner and reduces the risk of injury.
An alternative approach?
Another alternative (or complement) to using exercises and studies is to invent exercises directly from your pieces. By creating your own exercises for awkward spots in your repertoire, you can avoid separating the study of technique from music making and improve your technique in a highly efficient, creative way. Click here to read a blog post or click here to find out more about an online workshop we ran on this subject.
Further resources & links
- Jailbreaking Hanon – Click here for more examples and information on Graham Fitch’s video series which demonstrates his approach to using Hanon’s exercises creatively and adapting them for various purposes.
- Berens Training of the Left Hand (Op. 89) – Click here to view video walk-throughs of selected exercises and studies by Berens showing how to use the studies effectively to develop left hand technique.
- Online workshop – In this online workshop, Graham Fitch presented a range of exercises, studies, repertoire and practice techniques designed to improve left hand skills. Click here to purchase access to recordings and workshop resources.
- A Cello Suite for the Left Hand – Click here to find out more about our study edition featuring an arrangement of JS Bach’s Cello suite No. 1 in G major for the left hand.