A Philosophy on Technical Exercises

What is needed, when is needed...

In general pianist's parlance, to speak of becoming a pianist without ever mentioning the unparalleled importance of 'technical exercises' could be likened to planning on climbing Mount Everest without taking a warm hat or wanting to build a house without knowing how to mix concrete.  "Concrete?  What's that?" said no builder, ever.

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As a Water Pianist, you have come to understand that the complicated things are achieved by mastering the simpler things.  Thus, it can be said that by tackling the smaller things, the bigger things take care of themselves.  Technical exercises may be considered a 'bigger thing' so they can indeed be broken down into even smaller philosophical and physical components.

(Consider my new eBook: Water Pianism)

Philosophically speaking, technical exercises are useful because they help to develop confidence in fingering, provide experience in all twelve keys and help to give a traceable sense of progress.  Physically speaking, they demand regular practice time at the piano, encourage a variety of finger movements and assist with improving coordination.

However, there is a negative side to technical exercises which applies to both philosophical and physical notions:  over-reliance.

Consider:  Do you wish to become a major-scale, chromatic-runs wizard, or do you wish to become a musician with excellent fingering?  As with all things in the universe, both in our minds and in the so-called physical world, nothing can exist without balance; over-reliance on technical exercises will make you a fantastic 'player' but will steal you away from your 'true pianist' side, resulting in an undesirable imbalance.

Musicality can still be acquired when working on technical exercises.  In this article, for example, in which I discuss the idea of 'practormance', I speak of considering practice time as a kind of performance and a performance an opportunity to practise something.  This doesn't necessarily mean in front of a paying audience but simply when you're playing a full piece for yourself.

Might I now recommend seeing technical exercises as being made up of two components:  dexterity enhancement and finger pattern recognition.

By dexterity enhancement, it is to be understood that the 10 fingers are only physically able to reach particular intervals; of course, hand sizes vary, so sometimes these intervals vary too but the point is to recognise your own limits, accept them and really work what you have to perfection.  For example, my middle and ring finger span:  on the right hand, I can stretch one extra semi-tone than the left hand.  Odd, but true.

By finger pattern recognition, it is to be understood that all music ever written for piano was only written based on the limited number of note combinations playable by one hand (Sure, Liszt did push the boundary of that quite a lot, but it's still true).  Technical exercises are therefore very useful for 'trying out' these combinations (trills, runs in minor thirds, leaps, etc) and is exactly why pianists like Czerny and Hanon, Chopin and thank goodness Liszt wrote 'studies', focusing on a particular 'fingering pattern' to drill into your muscle memory so that it may be employed in a piece of music at will.

Based on the aforementioned, perhaps you are now better able to see how technical exercises are important to do often but should not be seen as the be-all-and-end-all of playing the piano; they are an important component to pianism, like cement to the builder, but they are not the building itself.

The Water Pianist follows this powerful, natural philosophy:  "Acquire what is needed, when needed".

Although this also applies to theory, it ties in very nicely with the non-over-reliance of technical exercises because it encourages balance and priority mixed with targeted practice and purposeful playing.  After all, why master minor 7th arpeggios in all twelve keys over 4 octaves with both hands when the piece you are currently working on (because you like it not because you have to play it) deals with triplets and a bass-to-chord left hand movement?

Such a piece should provoke the technical exercise of triplets up and down the chromatic and major scales using different fingers because it will enforce the technique required in the piece and familiarise the hand with many useful shapes.

Commonly, one is simply told to "work through that book at your own pace" or even "try to do one chapter a week" - which is quite useless since nobody has ever written a book of rules or a method which applies to everybody, and is why I wrote this article on following your own method.

See technical exercises as a 'big thing' which will eventually enable you to play anything you desire, of any complexity but only if they are tackled as and when they are needed and seen as many 'small things'.  Before you know it, your fingers will take on a mind of their own and you will rapidly, in your own time, reach the pinnacle state of mind which is that of being a spectator to your hands rather than their conscious controller.

Happy practormance!

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