Technique for Beginners

All students need technical studies, beginners included. At student's ability to apply what he knows is compromised seriously if his fingers cannot respond adequately. The strength and finger muscle development necessary for playing the piano are not well-developed in beginning students of any age. Children have an added impediment, since small muscles control is not substantially mastered until about age nine or ten; young students therefore derive a double benefit from technical drills.

Let me talk about beginner technique in a general way here. Details of the technical regimen I use in my studio are available elsewhere on my home page. What specifically to present and suggestions on how to present it are available in that file.

General Elision and Articulation Drills

Beginners need to learn how to "wiggle their fingers," as my father would call it, in an organized way. They need to learn how to elide two notes, how to elide a series of notes (say, a five-finger pattern), how to play two or more notes simultaneously, how to play staccato, how to play staccato in one hand and legato in the other, how to play forte in one hand and piano in the other, and so on.

I have a set of five-finger-pattern drills I call Finger Builders, which I use for beginners of all ages. It is preparatory to Hanon-like exercises.

Specific Skill Drills

A second sort of exercise I have my beginners play are technical drills that address one minute problem; they're not really études, unless you call two-measure exercises études!

For young children, I start with John Schaum's Finger Power (primer level only; occasionally a student will need to do level one also). Kids go to Finger Power only after they can read small F to one-line G, which is the range covered by both hands in Middle C position when both thumbs share C. Introduction of Schmitt is generally 2-3 months after beginning lessons for teens and adults.

Older elementary children (who are generally as mature as young teens), teens, and adults bypass the Schaum and go straight to Aloys Schmitt's Preparatory Exercises for Piano.

Arpeggios

Hand-over-hand arpeggios complete the beginner's technical regimen. These teach triad nomenclature, content, and construction, as well as giving the beginner the opportunity to "cover the whole keyboard." After C, F, and G are learned, we can start fake-book-style playing with songs that have a five-finger melodic range.

Scales

Where are the diatonic scales? you are asking. Surprise! No diatonic scales for beginners in my studio!!

Scales are boring! Kids hate them. Why sentence a beginner to boredom just when you want to open her eyes to the joy of playing the piano?

More imortantly, however, is that beginner music does not have scales in it. By this I mean rapid and continuous scales; certainly there are complete scales and scale fragments but these are not played quickly and are often divided between the hands.

Therefore, a beginner should not be assigned diatonic scales.

Intermediates need diatonic scales, however. When Clementi is introduced (Op. 36 #1) is a lovely time to start scales.

copyright 1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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Last updated on December 3, 1998.