Hammering: Gaining and Maintaining Control in Dexterous Piano Playing

When students play piano passages that push the student to (or near) their limit of dexterity, every student except the extremely gifted will demonstrate a lack of control. Such passages could consist of several lines or pages of quick-running notes such as Burgmuller’s “Velocity”, or it could just be quick notes dispersed sporadically through a piece such as Ellmenreich’s “Spinning Song” (especially when the left hand takes over the melody in the middle section).   I define this “lack of control” to be one or more of the following:

  • Rhythmic unevenness
  • Dynamic unevenness
  • Lack of clarity (no precision in lifting fingers)
  • Lack of togetherness between hands1

This control problem arises when kinesthetic memory of rapid muscle movements starts to become so fluid that the student begins to “forget” about what it was like to perceive every note in the piece with individual Continue reading

  1. It might seem that lack of togetherness is the same as rhythmic evenness, but while rhythmic unevenness will certainly cause lack of togetherness (and vise-versa), it still isn’t quite the same thing from the point of view of human perception. The rhythmic interaction between fingers on different arms of our body feels like a different phenomenon to the human mind than the mere sequence of one linear rhythm in one hand. For those who might follow this esoteric analogy, I think of it kind of like how piano technicians hear beats when they’re tuning a string:  a beat is the newly-created frequency of two separate frequencies interacting with each other. Just as a piano technician cannot evaluate or fix beats without the presence of at least two vibrating strings, a pianist also cannot evaluate or fix lack of togetherness by playing hands alone.

Piano Scale & Arpeggio Fingering Cards

Quantity (each pack: 5 cards)


Quantity (each pack 5 cards)


I wanted my piano students to have a quick and easy reference for all scale and arpeggio fingerings, but I didn’t feel that an entire book should be necessary, nor did I want to continue writing fingerings into their notebooks.

Using colors to show fingerings that are the same from one scale/arpeggio to another, I created this double-sided card, which shows hands-together fingerings in the simplest and most compact possible way for all of the following hands together parallel scales and arpeggios:

  • all 48 major/minor scales
  • all 24 major/minor arpeggios
  • all 12 dominant 7th arpeggios
  • all 7 ways to play the 3 diminished 7th arpeggios
  • three fingerings for the chromatic scale
  • two fingerings for chromatic minor thirds

Features:

  • Before laminating, the paper is trimmed down to 6.75″ x 9.5″ (or about 17×24 cm)
  • Laminated margins are cut down to 1/8″ – the final is small enough to act as a big bookmark for students’ sheet music or notebook.
  • Laminated with 5mil thickness – very sturdy. My students’ cards still look brand new after years of use.
  • The laminated corners are rounded.
  • Great for evaluations and auditions, or for day-to-day use by students during normal practicing.
  • The front of the card also includes instructions for late beginners to be able to quickly play 4-octave hands-together scales.

Continue reading

Piano Yoga: My Journey To Overcome Tension In Piano Playing

I began learning Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 during my freshman year of college.  When the piece started to gain tempo in certain passages, these passages felt difficult when I knew they shouldn’t, and for the first time, I started feeling like I was reaching some kind of physical “ceiling” in my playing.  This realization first consciously occurred to me while practicing the Chopin in a music department practice room.  Since no part of this ceiling was mental – I was able to fully comprehend the music in real time and I literally felt like my fingers couldn’t keep up with my brain – I felt certain that there ought to be a way for me to overcome it.  After all, the pianists who played the piece in all the recordings I owned certainly didn’t sound like they were struggling.  Why should I?

After thinking about this for several minutes in silence in the practice room, it occurred to me Continue reading

Expertise Is Not The Result Of Pure Discipline

In my Talent’s Role In Artistry blog entry, I make a case for the idea that talent exists and that it plays a notable role in the development of an artist. Most people probably don’t need to read that blog entry to arrive at such a widely-accepted conclusion. The title of this article, on the other hand, may raise some eyebrows.

Before we dive into a discipline paradox, let’s first define expertise. A couple of years ago, I read an article called “The Expert Mind” by Philip E. Ross from the August 2006 issue of Scientific American. The article states:

“The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born.”

Continue reading

Reaching The Preparation Threshold

Suppose you have a history of 100 performances in your past that all (or mostly all) went well.  What do you think is going to happen right before you give your 101st performance?  Naturally, you’ll have positive expectations as you walk on stage based on the overwhelming experience of having 100 successful performances, and these positive expectations cause you to perform better.  It’s self-fulfilling.  Unfortunately, the opposite can also happen, and it does quite often.  A history of bad performances – even a short history – can lead Continue reading

How Good Is Your Looking Technique?

That’s right, the last two words of this article’s title are not accidentally swapped.  We’re going to talk about the technique of looking.  Most of us are well-aware of the four types of memory available when we memorize music:  audio, visual, kinesthetic, and analytical.  However, I believe that many are not aware of just how important visual memory can be in the performance process.

Continue reading