Category - Technique

Technique Fundamentals According to the Taubman Approach

Do you find your students suffering from an ongoing case of “knuckle buckle?” Do their wrists sag and creep into the “snake pit?” My students suffer from the same issues, too.

Playing the piano with a healthy technique is a prerequisite to becoming a capable (and of course, creative and tech-savvy!) pianist but, it’s not always an easy topic to explain to youngsters. I’m always looking for ways to communicate technical tips that will connect with and motivate students to play with ease and efficiency.

Today’s guest blogger, Doug Hanvey, has been immersed in Dorothy Taubman’s approach–a highly respected legend in the field of technique. In fact, The Golandsky Institute continues to share Taubman’s insight and brilliance with musicians from all over the world looking to improve their technique or heal from injuries resulting from poor technique.

Doug’s article explains what technique really is and the fundamentals for you to share with your students. Ms Taubman’s approach is golden so make sure to build the foundation of your technical approach around it.

Look for a followup article from me on how to model and explain these principles with concrete tips and tools very soon! You’ll gain ideas for implementing the fundamentals below and gather remedies for knuckle buckle, sagging wrists and ways to encourage the use of weight vs force.

Thank you, Doug, for your clear and thorough explanation of the fundamentals!

-Leila


What is Piano Technique?

Many piano students, and some piano teachers, think of technique as a tedious, even grim, subject. We all want to focus on music-making. Yet to the extent that the mechanics of how we make music go unexplored and undiscussed, we risk allowing our students (and ourselves) to develop poor and potentially injurious habits.

Many teachers think that Hanon and similar exercises are “technique.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Hanon exercises are just that – exercises.

Technique is how we position ourselves and move to play, and it should be taught prior to exercises. (Of course there are other important aspects of technique such as breathing and listening.) Playing piano without understanding good technique is no different than playing golf without knowing how to grip and swing the club. Good luck!

Fortunately, unlike Hanon (sorry, Hanon), technique needn’t be tedious or grim. I’ve found that technique can be an absorbing subject, especially when you experience how it helps you to play better and with greater ease.

While as teachers we often have the opportunity to teach good technique from the beginning, sometimes we must also “fix” students’ technique. Whether we are starting or “fixing,” good technique begins with knowing how to optimally position your body at your instrument.

The rest of this article will explore this topic from the viewpoint of the famous pedagogue Dorothy Taubman. Read More

Use iReal Pro to Circle the Keys in Fives

As a pianist, there’s no way around technical exercises if you want to train fingers in the way they should go. Building patterns in the hands will build a strong player, reader and improviser. There’s no better way to work around these technical challenges than by circling the circle of keys. The theory-packed ring breathes life into and logically connects to just about every aspect of music theory.

Start with Five-Finger Patterns

This post is specifically dedicated to how I boost student knowledge and playing of five-finger patterns traveling around the circle of keys. It makes sense to begin with five-finger patterns as they easily fit under the hand. From beginners to advanced, I believe it is essential for all levels of students to know these pentascales as they are the building blocks for understanding chords, scales, modes, and more. I use the phrase “five-finger pattern” because it relates to students’ five fingers faster than the term “penta scale.”Also it is SO similar to another term I use a great deal—pentatonic—and I don’t want students to get confused.

Circle of Keys Drills (1) copy

Find a Groove with iReal Pro

Read More

Did You Win an EasyScales Visual Guide?

The three winners of Jo Tee’s EasyScales Visual Guides were chosen by my son, Levi. All names of those who made a comment and 11signed up for my newsletter were placed in a jar and he drew them without peeking, I promise.
Drum roll please……and the winners are:
HEIDI NEAL
ERIN STALLINGS
BETH T
Congratulations! To claim your prize, please contact me, Leila,  at lviss@me.com to exchange info. (FYI: The EasyScales are free, but shipping is not included. It is preferred that postage be paid via PayPal.)
If you weren’t among the winners but would still like to purchase EasyScales Visual Guides, here’s the pricing:
  • 1 set is USD$24.00 + Shipping USD$3.00 = USD 27.00
  • A total of 6 sets or more in a single group order will qualify for our bulk order quantity.
  • Order 6-20 sets and receive 20% discount off regular price (USD 19.20 per set excluding shipping)
  • Order 21 sets onwards, and receive 30% discount off regular price ( USD $16.80 per set excluding shipping)
  • Shipping for bulk order to be advised upon order quantity. We subsidised up to 60% actual shipping cost depending on quantity.

GOOD NEWS and HURRY! For the month of March Jo Tee is offering a special deal for.88pianokeys.me! Readers can receive 10% off the selling price with promo code ” MARCH10 “

The 10% offer is valid through March, 2013. Don’t miss out. Contact Jo Tee for all the details HERE

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Weighing in the Benefits of Easy Scales

Do you keep a box of tools that immediately solve the problem, make things clear, bring on the “aha” moment you always cherish as a teacher?

My ever-growing stash is stored in my piano bench. I recently added a new tool which will be implemented again and again as mastering scale fingering is always a priority but never easy. First, I make sure pianists learn how to construct a scale with whole and half-steps (ex: major scale = half steps between scale degrees 3 and 4 and 7 and  8). Thanks to the aid of Susan Paradis printables and nifty idea using erasers, this concept is grasped with ease. All students not only learn the major scale “code” (34-78) but I require it to be encoded in their memory bank –comparable to their zip code.

After the pianist is familiar with these numbers, I encourage them to decipher finger numbers for a scale beginning with the RH thumb and ending with the RH pinky (until the trickier black key scales come along!). Inevitably, the fingering is uncovered, of course with some gentle, sometimes generous, nudging from the teacher. Once the right hand fingering is discovered, the left hand seems to fall in place more easily. Many times it can be taught playing hands together in contrary motion. However, it is not easily memorized.

As you know, the trick about playing scales is not only mastering/memorizing  the finger patterns, but playing hands together in parallel motion. Back to the newly acquired tools I mentioned early. Easy Scales Visual Guides offer the perfect solution. This sleekly packaged set of  20 cards features a template for every major, harmonic and melodic scale. Setting a card or guide behind the black keys by the fall board lines up the correct finger with the correct key on your piano.  The color-coded cards provide large-sized finger number for the RH in blue and LH in red with no need for conventional notation. Limiting the visual information to keys and finger numbers seems to be just the concrete information to help scale enthusiasts grab on to the fingering for good.

The pictures demonstrate how to use them much better than I can explain it. What I can tell you with certainty is that my students have found these incredibly helpful as they master scale fingering.

Wait! Just had a thought–you could also use the EasyScale templates combined with the “W” and “H” cards and erasers pictured above for some fun off-the-bench activities. Oooh,  I’ll need to include that in my next group lesson agenda!

If you are interested in adding this tool to your treasure chest (or piano bench), you can order them from Jo Tee, the creator of these incredibly simple but effective visual guides. She lives in Singapore–apparently scale fingering is a global issue. 🙂 Check out the creative ways she suggests using the templates on her facebook page. I’m always seeking and thankful for tools that serve a purpose effectively.  Weighing the benefits, the design, the potential and the price tag, my “scale” tips in favor of employing EasyScales again and again. Jo Tee’s EasyScales can be purchased from her website: www.pianoeasyscales.com.

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FYI: Here’s the purchase price in USD:
  • 1 set is USD$24.00 + Subsidised Shipping USD$3.00 = USD 27.00
  • A total of 6 sets or more in a single group order will qualify for our bulk order quantity.
  • Order 6-20 sets and receive 20% discount off regular price (USD 19.20 per set excluding shipping)
  • Order 21 sets onwards, and receive 30% discount off regular price ( USD $16.80 per set excluding shipping)
  • Shipping for bulk order to be advised upon order quantity. We subsidised up to 60% actual shipping cost depending on quantity.

GOOD NEWS! For the month of March Jo Tee is offering a special deal for.88pianokeys.me! Readers can receive 10% off the selling price with promo code ” MARCH10 “

The 10% offer is valid through March, 2013. Don’t miss out.

EVEN BETTER NEWS! Jo Tee has sent me three Easy Scales to give away for free! Sorry, shipping not included.

To be eligible to win, please sign up for the 88pianokeys.me newsletter (if you have not done so already) AND make a comment about how you imagine using EasyScales. Winners will be randomly selected and announced at March 29th!

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viss_leila-3465_14ret_cropYou are welcome to SIGN UP FOR THE 88pianokeys.me NEWSLETTER HERE

FYI: Stay tuned for a blog from a NEW contributor to 88CreativeKeys.com, Bradley Sowash and I are thrilled to have him on board!
PS: If you were at the MTNA conference did you happen to see the new Simpletek magazine?
It is a terrific new magazine published by Tom Folenta
which features wonderful articles and even features one by me. Pretty cool…

Practice Pouch: Turn Practice into Progress

If you’ve taken a look at my blog, you know I enjoy technology, the latest apps, manipulatives, anything that enhances my students’ experience at lessons. Daily lab assignments accompany every piano lesson. One might think I favor the “bells and whistles” more than the purpose of weekly lessons: to learn how to play the piano. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s my mission statement:

Students at any age will be encouraged to develop

independence at the piano so that music can be enjoyed

on the bench for a lifetime

So, although I integrate technology and other savvy gadgets, students’ progress at the keys is what counts. Growing “lifetime” pianists calls for meticulous planning, appealing music with a dose of  quality teaching and most importantly, an installation of strong technical skills and diligent practice habits. While reading the TeachPianoToday blog…. I was inspired by a post about a special welcome bag given to each new student. I thought this would be a great way to kick off fall lessons in my studio but instead give every student a “welcome-back bag”.  The idea of these bags becoming “practice pouches” made sense as practice is a habit that can always use a boost, especially after a summer break. Here’s the scoop:

During lab time (click here if you want to learn more about lab time) of the first lesson of the fall session, students chose a bag, decorated it with fabric pens and passed through the buffet line choosing one of each of the following:

Clothes pin: My students seem to suffer from “knuckle buckle” syndrome. Some cure themselves with my non-stop nagging and their persistent awareness to mend the condition, but the clothes pin offers a great way for some to build up knuckle strength with “finger push-ups”. Students squeeze the clothes pin between the thumb and finger 2, then finger 3 and 4. Finger 5 or pinky can be omitted as it is “made of steel” and will usually be more straight than curved. Understand, this serves more as a reminder about how knuckles should look on the keys more than an actual remedy for fixing knuckle buckle. Remember Schumann?

Notebook: As much as I would love students to journal about their thoughts and feelings of their practice, I don’t expect many to do so with enthusiasm. However, the note books have been used to record new musical terms, repertoire, metronome markings and tallies for 20x perfect. (When a piece is close to performance ready, students are assigned to keep track of every time a piece is played perfectly. By “twenty times perfect”, it can be expected that this piece will be performed with confidence (and very few errors!)

Mechanical Pencil: For writing in the notebook of course but also, I instruct my students to “practice with a pencil”! Meaning, write in counting or fingering where necessary, circle that one note that always comes out sour…

Eraser: Wrist rolls and a lift at the ends of slurs allow for a natural tapering of sound/volume and immediately provides a more musical technique. The eraser balanced on top of the pianist’s hand is dumped off as the wrist rolls upward toward the fall board. This “dump truck” motion is not very natural for most and the tactile and visual role of the eraser helps to solidify this unique motion. Using the eraser on top of the hand to master the rotation motion (turning the door knob) and keeping fingers in line while playing a scale is helpful as well.

Stickers: A small row of stickers are provided for students to place on a page they are particularly proud of. They must tell me why they awarded themselves the sticker which gives them the sense of ownership of their accomplishments.

Yellow Highlighter: Although I use various colors of highlighters each week to circle important items, yellow has been designated for dynamics only. So once a piece has been learned, students are required to highlight all dynamics and add and listen for each one in their practicing.

Rubber Snake: Wrists tend to get lazy and hang down below the key bed which hampers speed and agility. To keep wrists parallel to the floor, a small snake is placed on the keyboard ledge and students are advised to stay out of the snake pit!

Dice: Ok, it really should be called  “die” as each student receives only one, but I say “dice” and students know what I mean. At the lesson we practice using the dice so practicers know exactly what to do at home. We divide a piece up into 6 sections. The dice is rolled, if the number is 4, the student finds section 4. The student rolls again and that new number is how many times that section will be played. The LAST time the section is played, ZERO errors is the goal.

FYI:

The bags were found at the Dollar Store and are really cosmetic bags (shhhhh!). I could not find pencil pouches big enough for some of the items you will hear about in a future blog featuring my “Traveling Practice Basket”.

Many of the other items were found at the Dollar Store, Target and Staples. My goal was to find things on sale, clearance, etc, and in packs of 3 or more/$1 to lessen the expense and of course, I came armed with coupons. Many stores have deep discounts on supplies like this right now so you may be able to shop and save.

As mentioned above, this is part of the Practice Pouch idea–stay tuned to learn how I use this pouch to keep on giving new strategies to turn practice into progress.