Monday, June 17, 2013
Improving Technique and Reading!
This post is targeted at the late beginners and intermediate players who have been playing for a while and want to improve their technique and reading abilities. Expect yourself to go shopping for some sheet music or printing them off the internet along the way!
Think of technique as a workout, where you build strength and endurance. On the piano, we strive to play with as much relaxation as possible so that we do not have to deal with unnecessary tension in the arms. This will come from finger independence training.
What you're going to do is train every finger to move as independently as possible, without causing other fingers to move but at the same time not feeling tension in your arm while doing so. This process will take a decent amount of time until your muscle fibers are so finely intricate that they get used to such movements and co-ordinations.
Get "Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist" book, which consists of 60 purely technical unmusical graded exercises. Practice 2 exercises for about 10 minutes a day starting with a slow tempo and moving your fingers in a way such that the whole hand doesn't move. This will train your fingers to play efficiently, without much effort, yet achieve much. You will find that the process of speeding up will come along the way naturally, never force speed!
The next step would be Carl Czerny's amazing book "Op.299: The School Of Velocity" in which he wrote 40 exercises that are like Hanon's, technically useful, however very musical. You don't have to finish the whole Hanon Book to go to this one, but better start off this one after acquiring basic finger independence technique. This will work out your co-ordination, where you get to play simple yet tricky passages fast. You will learn it by playing it very slowly first then speeding up until the required tempo, and your technique will benefit greatly from these exercises. I suggest you go through all of the exercises in this book since each one addresses a different technical problem and deals with it in a very effective manner.
Sight reading is the process by which a musician plays music from sheet for the first time, with negligible mistakes in pitch or tempo. Sight reading is much like reading words, you don't read every single letter, but entire words and even sentences. Thus we read and think in terms of patterns. If you want your music reading to be as fluent as your ability to read this post right now, I believe you should tackle it with the same approach.
So what are the patterns in music? Scales, arpeggios, and chords! If you already play scales and arpeggios as part of technical exercises (which you should!) then you will have no problem whatsoever playing music in such familiar keys. After all, what good is a reader if he can't play what he reads in a satisfying manner?
Get the "Beyer: Elementary Instruction Op.101" book, it will help you from the very basics of learning note reading to a pretty advanced intermediate level towards the end of the book. Start each exercise with a metronome beside you, and set it at a comfortable tempo so you can read without mistakes in pitch and always keeping the tempo steady. Eventually your reading speed will increase with a lot of practice, so just be patient. It will suffice to sight read one or two new exercises daily, and by 2 weeks' time you'll already see considerable progress! The more you get the hang of it, the more time you'll spend practicing, because you'll enjoy it! Imagine the day when you're getting the sheet music for a good song or piece you just heard, and playing through it from start to finish for your personal enjoyment. If this doesn't motivate you I don't know what will!